Monday, April 18, 2016

Review, Excerpt & Giveaway:First and First by Santino Hassell

Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.

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Tell me you love me.

The words were in my head, but for a fraction of a moment, I thought I’d said them aloud. I felt instantly pathetic. Even worse, because I really wanted it. I foolishly desperately wanted it. For someone to love me. For him to love me. But I knew he didn’t, and I knew no one else did, and God but that was an awful feeling to have.


A soft sound slid from Oli’s mouth. “You’re dangerous.”

“Am I?”

“Yeah,” he said, “you are. This kind of thing only leads to complications, and complications lead to people wanting things, losing them, and then winding up with broken hearts. Just look at you.”

I brushed thick, black hair off his brow. “The condition isn’t as permanent as it seemed.”

What I thought about First and First

In this third book in the Five Borough Series by Santino Hassell, we meet Caleb Stone, David's ex.  The book begins on New Year's Eve, with Caleb alone and a bit depressed. It doesn't help that he sees what David now has with Raymond, or that Michael and Nunzio are still together. It's a hard night for him, and he does a good job drowning his sorrows in alcohol.  (who hasn't been there, done that?)  Anyway, Caleb wakes up the next day in Oli's bed with sore, hungover and memory challenged after what could possibly be a life changing event.

What follows is an interesting dance between these two men as they deal with the aftermath of that night and struggle to figure out what they mean to each other.  Both are not all that open with their feelings, and it's entirely possible that Caleb is looking for something that Oli can't give him, or can he?  Does Oli want to take a chance himself?  He's been burned before when it comes to relationships. But yet when these two are together there are some sparks that just won't be denied, especially when Oli is focused on helping Caleb explore his sexual self. We're talking sex parties and sex toys here, folks, and Oli definitely wakes up a part of Caleb he's been denying himself.

Oli and Caleb both have to figure out what they want, not only from each other but from life. It takes most of the book for them to do that.  Since this is Caleb's point of view, Oli is more of a mystery, but both are out of their comfort zone and trying to figure out what they mean to each other.

There's a nice subplot regarding Caleb's half brother Aiden and the formation of a new startup which gets some help from other familiar characters.

I'm giving this five big bold stars. Santino Hassell creates interesting characters and has them deal with some basic and familiar conflicts. It's the story of the tough truths they have to face about who they are and what they want. Like the first two books in the series, I was drawn in from the first pages and didn't put it down until I hit the end.  But most of all, having grown up with three brothers, there is something about how these characters speak to each other that rings so true and familiar to me. There's a cadence to it that pulls me right into the story and lets me fall into the story.

Caleb's story is touching, sexy and his "happy for now" relationship made me smile, and I loved that.  My only complaint was that I wanted more at the end. 

I love this series.  Great writing, universal conflicts, interesting characters.  If you like M/M and aren't' reading Santino Hassell, you should seriously consider getting on that.  Strongly Recommended. 

ARC provided for review.

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Five Boroughs series:


About the Author

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

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Standalone books by Santino Hassell:

STRONG SIGNAL (with Megan Erickson)

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