Review: First and First by Santino Hassell

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Title: First and First (Five Boroughs #3)
Author: Santino Hassell
Date of publication: 18 April 2016
Genre: Contemporary MM romance

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My rating: 5 Stars



Blurb

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.


Review


Third book in the series and my favourite so far. Caleb and Oli's story stands out with its exquisite and powerful writing, great character development, and it is oh, so hot.

In a way it's the hottest book of the Five Boroughs series so far, yet it is also the most romantic for me. Caleb was so unlikable when we met him in the previous books, though I admit I had a soft spot for him from the start. He appeared emotionless and cold, yet his love for David rang true and sincere to me. He just didn't know how to be with someone, how to make them love him. And as this book shows, it all stems from  him not being able to be open about who he is and what he wants. It's uncanny how much I could relate to his fears and uncertainty.

When Oli unexpectedly enters Caleb's life, his whole world gets throw off its axis. Following their relationship develop was such a pleasure to read - sizzling sexual chemistry, repressed desires, shared fantasies, some of them even acted out, some angst and self-doubt, all leading to sharing of secrets and fears and a vision for a future together. 

It was a story of revelations for both of them. As see things from Caleb perspective only which made it a bit more difficult for me to relate to Oli, yet the way he acted with Caleb and later with Aiden (and Jace, and Mere), I couldn't help but fall in love with him.

What I love about this series, and Mr. Hassell's contemporary romances in general, is the complexity of the relationships between the characters he creates. And here I mean all the characters, main and side ones, they seem so vivid and alive and intriguing that I can't help but wanting their to know their stories too.

On the surface, this romance should have been difficult for me to relate to - the setting (the NY super rich) and the lifestyles (somewhat kinky) are quite distant for me and not something I read often. Yet, the intimacy, the personal elements in the romance aspect really spoke to me. Deep down this is a super sexy story but also full of feels and free of judgement, the things I love the most in romance novels. This is a story about figuring out who you are (regardless of your age and background), how to be person who you want to be and also how to be with the person who makes you happy.

Caleb goes on a journey of sexual and personal exploration. I loved how Oli helped him learn to love and not be ashamed of himself and in this process he somehow managed to teach Oli how to accept and cherish the love that had been given to him. 

I like what Mr. Hassell shared in his interview on Just Love Romance, about Caleb realizing that he enjoys his fantasies as such and being able to talk them with his partner but he didn't necessarily needed to have all of them acted out. He didn't go all the way from being repressed and very much closeted about his desires, to being the ultimate party animal either for his own sake, or just to please Oli. I actually don't believe in such fundamental changes and they always strike me an realistic and unbelievable when I encounter them in romance. Caleb grows and opens a lot and ultimately learns to enjoy himself loving someone and being loved, while fundamentally he remains monogamous at heart, a little shy, a little awkward and that's fine. Not everybody can be Oli and there is no need for that. They work perfectly for each otter.

Oli also undergoes his journey though we see less of it (and I so wished we had more insight into his mind). He fights with his own misconceptions about himself, his fear of commitment, his belief that he is not suitable/meant to be a partner a long-term couple.

In short, I LOVED this book so much and urge anyone who likes a good romance with plenty of sexy times and a somewhat brooding, angsty hero to read it! It works well as a standalone, though I'd say it's better to read the first two books, Sutphin Boulevard (review) and Sunset Park (review) because they are just so good!

Purchase links: Amazon / Are / B&N / DSP / Kobo


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