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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Bloo's Reviews | First and First by Santino Hassell

"Being the person you want to be is nearly impossible once you've finally come to terms with who you really are."
First and First

I received an arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5
Author: Santino Hassell
Series: Five Boroughs
Release: 18/04/16
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance

I was recently introduced to Santino Hassell's work when I read his collaboration with Megan Erickson, Strong Signal. Before reading First and First I hadn't read any of his solo works. I knew First and First was the third instalment in the Five Boroughs series but could be read as a standalone so I hoped the fact I hadn't read the previous books wouldn't be a problem. I had read books before that had claimed to work as a standalone but was left feeling a little lost. I hoped First and First would hold up. I was not disappointed.

First and First is the story of Caleb Stone. Caleb hails from the Upper East Side, where wealth and breeding are important above all else. Caleb struggled for many years to meet his parent's expectations and despite finally coming out he still feels beholden to them. Now in his mid thirties he's hit an all time low - being cheated on and dumped, then losing his job - Caleb knows he needs a change. Enter Oliver Buckley. 

"I'm not your Prince Charming. I'm a good fuck, but I'm not special. If that's what you're thinking, you need to get it out of your head now."

Despite being brought up in the same world of wealth as Caleb, Oli is his polar opposite. Carefree, daring, seductive. He knows what he wants and how to get it. His open, confident and independent attitude is everything Caleb wishes he was. After a chance meeting with Oli on New Years Eve and a night he wishes he could remember, Caleb has the opportunity to learn how to embrace parts of himself he's kept suppressed for years. But can Caleb navigate this new world and new self with 'no strings' Oli and keep his heart intact?

"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." 
"The condition isn’t as permanent as it seemed."
I don't have the luxury of knowing what Caleb was like in the other books but I have a feeling he wasn't supposed to be a likeable character. I think one of my favourite things in series is seeing how authors take these characters we've detested before and show us why we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover. Or a character by another character's point of view. In First and First, despite being brought up in a vastly different world to Caleb, I found him to be highly relateable. I think we all have parts of ourselves hidden away, things we'd like to explore... whether we end up actually enjoying them once we do. Most have also felt stuck or have struggled to meet expectations, their own or someone else's.

I also felt I could relate to Oli. While I empathised with Caleb's insecurities when it came to physical intimacy I also felt myself identifying with Oli's fear of emotional intimacy. That's what I look for in a book. Characters I understand. Situations I can relate to. I loved that I could find that in a book set in a world so alien to anything I've ever lived. I mean I've never been to a sex party. 
"...sometimes it helped for me to think in terms of the hundreds of thousands of people living in the five boroughs who felt like me. Anchored to nothing, too afraid to take a chance. Lost and not quite fitting in anywhere - even the places we wanted to be. I felt less alone when I considered all of those other aimless souls. Maybe one day we'd find each other."
Although first person perspective has never been my favourite, Santino Hassell handles it perfectly. I felt like I was living through Caleb. His thoughts, feelings and actions. At no point did I feel like I was reading a bad instruction manual or map. You know the attempts at first person I mean, right? One thing I would have loved though was to see things through Oli's eyes too. I was extremely intrigued by Oli and I would have loved to have a glimpse of his inner monologue. Which is a credit to Santino more than a criticism. 

One thing that left me feeling conflicted about this story was the night Oli and Caleb spent together on New Years and the fact Caleb can't remember most of it. His initial feelings are that he has been violated but he doesn't take long to change his mind and own up to the fact he was a willing participant, inebriated or not. I feel this was a brave move on Santino's part. I understand how it was an important plot device and a catalyst for Caleb and Oli's tryst but I felt it left both characters vulnerable where consent is concerned. I also know this is something that happens a lot and from a storytelling point of view, true to life. I just feel perhaps a trigger warning may be a wise. 

Another warning Santino should give is... this book will leave you with third degree burns. Eh, by that I mean it's extremely hot. I've read a lot of books, not to mention seen things on the internet that cannot be unseen so by now you would think I'd be pretty immune to depictions of sex. And in most cases I am. However, certain parts of this book left me blushing. I enjoyed reading Caleb explore his sexuality and this new world that Oli was introducing him to while maintaining a level of intimacy that it quite easily could have lacked. I applaud Santino for that. 

In short, despite some conflicting feelings at the very beginning of this book I loved Caleb and Oli's story. I didn't want it to end but I was glad they found their happy ever after. Both Caleb and Oli were just the right amount of flawed for me and obviously each other. This is my first time I've received an arc for an honest review and I'm glad it was a book I could really sink my teeth into. There's nothing worse than a book that leaves you feeling uninspired and with no opinions. I really recommend this read and I look forward to going back and reading the first and second instalment of the Five Borough series.

If you're interested in reading First and First you can find it at the links below.


  1. From the sounds of your review this does sound steamy! I loved the fact you added in gifs to this as well, it went with the review so well! This does sound good and I always like to explore different genres so I'll have to keep an eye out for this. - Tasha

    1. I really can't recommend it enough! I just bought the previous two books on sale so I'm going to go back and read them now too. :)

  2. I'm so super late finding this review (just finished the book) but just wanted to say your review was really informative. If you thought First and First was hot, Sutphin Boulevard and Sunset Park (my personal fave so far because RAYMOND!) are ridiculously scorching (if you haven't read them already). Santino's smut is so crazy good and his characters are always so real.

    1. Thank you! I was trying to be informative without giving spoilers. Haha. I have both downloaded but I haven't gotten around to reading them just yet. I'm looking forward to it though after loving this book so much. I'll be reviewing Santino's co-authored book with Megan Erickson in the next week or so, Fast Connection. Looking forward to that. :)


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