My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Received: ARC Provided by Author/Publisher
Publication Date: April 18th 2016
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Point of View: First Person (Caleb)
Genres & Themes: MM Romance, LGBTQ+, Romance, Contemporary
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.
“I finally understood why people were so unbearably affectionate in public. It wasn’t neediness, and it wasn’t clinginess. It was just pure unadulterated affection.”
When an author manages to make that character that you ended disliking in a previous book just about the best part of your day, then I think that makes him not only a writer, or an author, but a storyteller. And when he does that with two characters then does that make him the boss storyteller? Well, if there’s no such a thing then I’m dubbing Santino Hassell as such.
First and First intrigued me from the “Thirty-something guy gets his freaky on,” (I’m paraphrasing) pitch tweet Hassell posted on his Twitter. When I finished Sunset Park, Caleb was that dirty feeling in my mouth, that “Did he really just say that? Oh hell to the no, did he just do that?” kind of guy. And all through SP, and even in Sutphin Boulevard, I felt conflicted because in the one hand he got cheated on and I felt for him, because regardless nobody deserves that. But when he got nasty, oh boy he went on my hit list.
The thing with First and First is that it is intricate and it is as complex as the characters. Caleb and Oliver are both a life lesson not only to their exes and friends, but they’re also for the readers. Because Caleb and Oliver are just so complex, and more than what we got from them in Sunset Park, and that shows just how bias David and Raymond’s perspective was. The thing is they are so much more than what everyone thinks of them, and I think this might be my favorite book in the series.
Caleb and Oli—let me interrupt to say I love their names, and the nickname Oli (HTGAWM anyone?) —are dirty and I absolutely loved every second, every dirty and tender moment between them. Hassell is a wordsmith with the way he setups not only his worlds, but with each erotic scene that isn’t there simply for filler or for the gratuitous sex scene in a romance story. No, instead he writes each scene with an imagery that will stay with you for days, and with nuances that builds up the story and its characters. Because if there is one thing that might compete with Santino’s sex scene, it’s the way his character and their relationships develop.
“Because we’ve been inside each other so much during the past couple of days that your body is basically my body now.”
Flashbacks have never been this hot, and from the beginning each cookie crumb trail that is Caleb’s recollection of a rather erotic and intense sexathon (let me be, autocorrect!) will have you..thirsting—that sounds wrong, but so right—for more.
One thing that this book is is that it challenges everything. It challenges the normative, the readers presumption to who this two guys are, diversity, sexuality in terms of sexual restrictions, and age. Caleb’s awakening, as I’ve dubbed it, was about a journey. It was about exploring and introducing himself to his sexuality and what makes it amazing was that it showed that there is no age for an awakening. That every second we have the possibility to explore ourselves even if we think it’s too late. That really there is no age to come to terms with yourself. But even more that age stereotypes and roles are not set in stones, and that we shouldn’t ever feel ashamed of that. Caleb is older than Oli, but that has little say in their roles and one thing I love is vers guys, and wow were the scenes steamy *fans hands.*
“People see that they want to see. Or completely miss things when you’re too busy looking for flaws.”
This book is ageless. And I’m loving how both characters grew throughout the book. I also understood where Caleb and David’s relationship went wrong and why it went wrong. Not that I excuse David’s cheating, but this give you insight to what went on and really Santino did a great job with how everything really went about, and just giving you that sense that there is no bad guy in this situation.
As for Oli, I love his deposition since the beginning, because one thing Santino is unapologetic about is that he makes his characters not clingy, but just loving touch and PDA and I want more of that in my books. I’m a firm believer that if a character makes you feel anger and annoyance and just fury at moments then that book is actually doing its job, and at times I felt all feeling towards Oli. But again, you got to know where Oli came from and understood him.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with spirituality and channeling unless I’m going to reach a heightened state by being a few inches deep in your ass.”
Despite some deep themes, this book has the trademark best sex scenes of a Santino Hassell book, and I’m going to have to stop my review and just go back and reread them because they were that hot.
“But regardless of what you think of yourself, when I look at you, I see someone beautiful. Someone who makes me insane, because all I can fucking think about is touching you. Being close to you. Being inside you. And there’s a reason for that, baby.”
“When I give myself over to something, I do it completely. There’s no turning back.”
“No, fool. I said I wasn’t your Prince Charming. You don’t enjoy being banged like a rag doll because I pranced into your life.”
*All book quotes are taken from an uncorrected proof and are not the final text*