Title: First and First (Five Boroughs #3)
Author Name & Publisher: Santino Hassell (Dreamspinner Press)
Publication Date & Length: April 18, 2016 – 244 pgs
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.
Santino Hassell’s New York is a place of contrasts. While the first two books in this series focused on characters working to overcome barriers posed by poverty and alcoholism in Queens, this third book focuses on two men who have been hurt deeply by their wealthy Upper East Side families. But problems are problems and somehow Hassell makes me feel as much for Caleb and Oli in their golden cages as I did for the Rodriguez brothers in the first books.
And wow. There is angst, there are spoiled rich kids and for the first time there is a tiny bit of kink in a Santino Hassell story. A more sophisticated cast leads to more exotic possibilities, making this a steamier read than the other books in the series (I know – anyone who remembers that first Michael/Nunzio/David threesome might find it a little hard to believe but it’s true).
The connection between Caleb and Oli is complicated but the chemistry between the two is brilliant. Both have the fantastic back stories I expect and love from Hassell’s characters and I loved the slow burn romance between the two. I loved the tentative business partnership forged between Caleb, Oli and Aiden and the awkwardness of starting a business with a new boyfriend.
As the Five Boroughs cast grows, supporting characters are so well developed they are starting to steal the show at times. All of the characters from the earlier two books reappear here and the series becomes even more incestuous with the introduction of Aiden, Caleb’s half brother. Charles takes a more central role as he forges a relationship with Caleb and I really enjoyed Meredith, Caleb’s socialite sister. I’m already looking forward to future book(s) featuring Charles and Aiden.
This is a little more fun than the two earlier books – a little more Gossip Girl and a little less 8 Mile. But Santino Hassell’s writing is as brilliant as always. This is a fantastic addition to a great series.
My oh my….. BRILLIANCE! Hold on, need more ice cubes to cool off here, because OH MY GOD…the sex was off the charts smoking hot, but it was needed and the sex itself showed the journey that these two were on. I must say, living in Anchorage, Alaska (bonus points to Mr Hassell for the reference in this story), I thought I would be able to cool off quick, but no, this story was written with two definitely hot men in and out of the sheets, that I am still trying to cool down. So yes, the sex was undeniably hot and erotic, but taking that out of the equation, the men were amazing and I absolutely loved them all with my heart and soul.
Caleb broke my heart in this story. I completely understand of not knowing what you are meant to do and do not want to go through life without some sort of fulfillment. He was a broken man who just wanted to be loved and to love another. Who doesn’t want that, except for maybe Oli, but that was just a fear of his.
Oli was the other half of my broken heart. His past showed him that love was not in his future, or so he thought. Oli may be well practiced in the physical department but the internal emotional department not so much. He is transfixed when he realizes Caleb is so responsive to him from an eye look, to one word, to a soft touch that Oli doesn’t know how to stay away from Caleb and that is what terrifies him, not knowing if Caleb could truly love him.
I enjoyed Oli and Caleb’s growth and relationship development. These two most definitely grabbed me from the first chapter. Besides, who doesn’t want a New Years Eve night turn into day-a-thon of erotic sex? Oli is one hot dirty talker that will make your body buzz on the first word out of his mouth. Caleb was sexually repressed and never knew that is what turns him on and Oli enjoys finding those fantasies of Caleb’s and push his limits to enjoy them himself. These two were perfect for each other. Caleb was sexually repressed and he needed that alpha guidance into the land of sexual enjoyment that David, his ex from Sunset Park, couldn’t be. Oli needed Caleb’s dedication to life and show that you can be with one person that truly loves all of you.
These men were flawed and had rational fears and desires just like the rest of us. I found that the most endearing. But each one touched my heart and soul for one reason or another and that to me is the most powerful. I feel like this series has really spoken the truth of life and not just some sort of romantic fantasy. Mr. Hassell again, has written a raw, emotional, gritty, yet loving and life fulfilling story. Add to that with the play on words about the title with so many things being a ‘first’, I say BRAVO Mr. Hassell, BRAVO.
I just thought that I liked the first two books but hen I read this one and I fell in love. I was not that much of a fan of Caleb in book two when he was still pinning over David but then I read this book and I got more insight into Caled and I fell in love with his character. Then you put Caleb with Oli and you have a couple that throws so many sparks off of them that you will lucky if they do not start a fire.
With this book focusing on Caleb, I was able to finally understand why he had issues with letting go of David. In my opinion Caleb does not have a high opinion of himself. He is scared to give into the sexual fantasies that he wishes he could fulfill or at to a point that he could fulfill. He lacks the confidence to be able to give into his urges so he settles for less than he deserves.
Then enter Oli and he turns Calebs world up side down. With Oli he is able to let his guard down and be the person he has always dreamed of being. Oli pushes Calebs boundaries and in turn he pushes his own. I believe Oli is a loner even though most believe him to be the life of party. He does not allow anyone to really know him and when someone gets close he pushes them away.
These two guys in my opinion was made for each other. They are opposites with Caleb being conservative and with Oli being a free spirit. I think they being out the parts in each other that they both need to be truly happy.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I believe Santino has another hit in this book.
Another fantastic installment in the Five Boroughs saga. This book is erotic and dirty, as well as thought-provoking and romantic. It stands alone quite well but is made richer by reading the rest of the series.
After just finishing Sunset Park it was interesting to switch over to Caleb’s story and not see him through the filter of David’s perspective. Caleb is complex and flawed, and his journey in discovering his own sexuality is fascinating.
It is interesting to watch Oliver struggle with intimacy issues while helping Caleb explore his fantasies. When telling a story from a single perspective it can be difficult to really portray the inner workings of other characters, but I think Santino did a great job with bringing Oli to life.
Lastly, since the exploration of sexuality and fantasy is a large part of the story, this book has a lot of hot, kinky sex. It’s pretty awesome. 😉
I highly recommend this book (and the series) to anyone looking for a romantic story that is down to earth, intelligent, and sexy.
Trigger warnings: Rough sex, dubious consent
This was a book that I enjoyed a lot. It was a journey of self discovery, sexual awakening and friendship.
Oli and Caleb are so very different from the rest of their core group. Both come from money and families that are less than ideal to have.
Oli is patient, kind, a great teacher, open and honest, as well as scared and shy at times. His character is both mature and developed, accept for when he’s not. It’s an odd combination to see someone who is so comfortable with himself freeze up when feelings come in to play. And, while I can understand his reluctance to become attached, it does become a little annoying with the back and forth too.
Then you have Caleb. He’s so closed off, I was worried it would take forever in the story for him to discover himself. But, Hassell did an excellent job at opening him up to his sexuality and to Oli’s teachings. The chemistry between these two burned up the sheets and it each scene between Oli and Caleb was hot and necessary.
So, while the other secondary characters in this book were good, I liked Caleb’s family the most. They were snarky, stuck together and, despite obstacles, they were able to figure out a way to make it work.
This story was not as drama filled as the previous one and for that I was thankful. However, it did still have the disjointed miscommunications that the previous story did and that I found frustrating. Grown men shouldn’t have such a difficult time. Then again, with their childhoods, maybe I should cut them some slack…
I enjoyed this story much more than the previous one and would recommend it highly.
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.