Review: First and First (Five Boroughs #3) 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.

This book started to happen for me on the very last page of Sunset Park when I saw the pairing of Caleb and Oli. All I could think was, 'the asexual and The Fucking Firestarter? How's that gonna work?' 

As it turns out Caleb is not even close to asexual. What he needed to jolt him out of his repressed stupor can be summed up in the immortal words of Thelma & Louise.

What started off as a drunken sexathon fueled by loneliness turns out to be the beginning of Caleb's metamorphosis from a sexually repressed, untouchable and isolated prince in his glass tower to liberated, emboldened and proud queer business owner. He becomes a better version of himself and a realistic one. The transformation is incremental and Oli plays a role along with Caleb's weariness at living 36 yrs of his life by someone else's rules.

"I've spent my entire life trying to be what everyone expected me to be even though I was depriving myself all along. I've ruined relationships because of it. I recently lost someone really kind and special because I kept clinging to my puritanical training and principles."

It was a bold choice on Hassell's part to tell this story exclusively from Caleb's perspective. I wasn't a huge fan of the way he handled the situation with Ray in Sunset Park, but it was clear to me that he was hurt and did love David in his own way. I didn't hate him but I didn't find him all that interesting either. Boy, was I wrong. He has a complexity that caught me off-guard. 
I shook my head at them both but made a mental note to potentially take Charles on a trip for his birthday. 
Once I read that I knew I had misjudged him. He's kind and sort of bashful in a way that I found endearing. He's also pervasively lonely. He has some of the ubiquitous palliatives that we all rely upon, but for the most part he doesn't connect with people, he comes across aloof and dispassionate and maybe a bit snobbish. Every time he started musing on his faults, deficits, miscues, what have you, I heard "Nothingman" in my head. 

Anchored to nothing, too afraid to take a chance. Lost and not quite fitting 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.

I know it's a good read when I sort of drop into the character and experience the events from their perspective. That's what happened while reading First and First, though I was still able to see Oli more objectively than Caleb. 

I liked Oli from the first moment he started putting the moves on Ray. I know a whole bunch of #TeamRayvid just gasped at that statement but Rayvid were dicking around with each other and Oli isn't the sort to let an opportunity pass him by. I like that. He's ballsy and makes no apologies for it either. He's a breath of fresh air, very sex positive and he's a bossy/toppy/slightly kinky dude who likes to travel light. 

He's also in denial about his feelings for Caleb. 

They begin spending more time together trying to get a start up business off the ground along with Caleb's half brother, Aiden. The more time they spend together it becomes increasingly evident that Oli is caught in the grips of a jealousy and desire and want so strong it makes him lash out irrationally or withdraw completely leaving Caleb confused and listing in a sea of self-recrimination.

When they do come together the chemistry between them is off the charts. Never in million years would I have figured Caleb to be a horny cumslut with a submissive streak. And nothing could've delighted me more either. Dirty talk, begging, a fuck machine named Black Magic, drooling cocks, a bit of exhibitionism, messy and loud was nirvana. 

"You're so sexy," Oli panted. "And you don't even know it, and that just makes me want to destroy you. Take you apart and fuck you until you're trembling and begging and saying my name."

Although they are brought together by a sexfest this book isn't as risqué as the early buzz lead me to believe. Their relationship and its evolution was the focus. They are both financially wealthy yet bear the burden of backgrounds steeped in emotional callousness and cruelty. Their contrasts are what captivated me, though. Both were raised by emotionally stunted parents who reject them on some level because of their sexuality, but Oli jumps headlong into the hedonistic fray while Caleb takes a more ascetic path. Yet somehow the lottery of life has thrown them together to, perhaps, merge their paths.

"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."

I've also deduced some trademarks of Hassell's writing. You can bet there will be secondary characters that pop off the page. Here we have Aiden, Jace, Charles and Ashton, plus the characters from the previous books make brief appearances. I don't see how he's going to limit this series to five books if he keeps this up, but I digress. Most certainly there will be an intoxicating blend of non-communication between the protagonists with a healthy dose of obliviousness on the side. He's also exceedingly talented at depicting his characters warts and all, yet still makes them sympathetic and even likable. And more than likely there will be an abrupt ending. This one was less so, but I still kinda felt like I got dumped out of the wheel barrow on my ass.

In a nutshell, he has talent and with that comes expectations, so... my niggles.

Caleb's voice got lazy as the book progressed. I think Hassell is a zeitgeist writer. He's proven he has his fingers on the pulse of contemporary society and I think that voice squeezed out Caleb's in favor of proselytizing. Caleb is quaint and square which is part of his charm, so the soapboxing and slang usage seemed anomalous to his character. Actually, they all started to sound alike the more the story unfolded. 

The second niggle is the kink. As much as I enjoyed the Black Magic scene, and I did. I enjoyed it so much I read it twice. If you're going to be dabbling with force play and humiliation, get a safeword. Caleb is probably too naive to know what a safeword is, but Oli has too much sexpertise to not know. Thankfully, the one button that got pushed Black Magic and its unerringly precise targeting of Caleb's sweet spot fucked it right, clean out of his head. Crisis averted. However, in the future he needs a way to tap out if it gets too intense. 

I easily invested in these characters and their journey and while this book can be read as a standalone, I would recommend reading Sunset Park beforehand to get a sense of the scope of Caleb's transformation.

Recommended for fans of the series and those who enjoy reading about the transformative power of love.

An ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads & Dreamspinner Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment