Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Santino Hassell. FIRST AND FIRST is a sweet and sexy story about finding yourself and being true, even if it’s not convenient.
About the book:
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 is the third book in a series, but fully enjoyable on its own. There are recurrent characters who make appearances, some quite heavily, but this is Caleb’s love story, so it’s mostly about him.
Caleb is 37 years old and a trust fund “kid.” He’s got an MBA and really enjoys helping get start-ups off the ground, but has never really felt connected with the culture of the companies he’s assisted as CFO. Perhaps that’s why he’s always been “expendable” to them once they are off and running. Just as he was expendable to his previous lover, David. Caleb feels a bit lost, and totally awkward. He didn’t come out until his was 30 and is a bit repressed when it comes to his lovers. Until New Year’s Eve when he gets absolutely plastered and leaves the big party with Oliver.
Oli was raised with wealth, like Caleb. He knows the manipulations and touchy situations of affluence in a way David didn’t. His family cast him out at eighteen, however, when they discovered he was gay and he’s had to make his own way in life. Like many of his “friends,” Oli is a man Caleb met through David. Caleb and Oli have a rockin’ night that Caleb doesn’t remember. At first. *shakes head* that was the WORST morning after, maybe…ever.
Oli and Caleb strike up a buddy-ship of sorts. Oli likes to go to exclusive sex-club parties and he needs a “plus one,” and Oli thinks it’ll help Caleb mellow out about sex. Caleb agrees, because he does feel too uptight, and knows it was a problem between himself and David. Not that he’s hoping to get David back; he knows that ship has exploded, and the wreckage hit the bottom of the ocean. Still, the exposure to that alternate lifestyle is freeing, in a way. It even reunites Caleb with his half-brother Aiden, a man he had little knowledge of until recently. Aiden was the result of an affair, and he’s a dirty little secret–and treated so. Aiden grew up poor and is married to a man, but lives closeted, in the hope that his father’s bare-minimal attempts to aid his career will result in a better lifestyle.
Being near Oli and Aiden gets Caleb’s wheels turning. He wants to open his own company, making an app that he’ll have an ownership stake in, and not simply get cut out to the loop if it gets successful. Aiden knows marketing and programming, Oli is a computer programmer, and Caleb’s a financial wunderkind, so he thinks the idea is a slam-dunk. It’s not, but they refine it and build on it, and make it what they want–and it marks a turning point both for Caleb and Oli.
Oli is all about casual sex, something he’s very forthright about, but he’s having second thoughts with Caleb. Caleb really doesn’t want anyone other than Oli, and he has to find the strength to make his feelings clear. I think their love story is one that felt real and tangible on the page. It’s not perfect, and it’s easy to see how titillating the parties would be, to a young and single man–or even married couples who like a little variety, like Aiden and his husband. It’s a very sex positive book, with so many interesting and sexy elements.
I liked how Aiden, Caleb and Oli worked together to make this new venture succeed. Caleb wanted to fund the enterprise, but they wouldn’t allow that–which forced Caleb out of his comfort zone in a professional way, and that was also a point of growth for him. It was also cool to see the inside story of Caleb and Aiden and their father–and how the mangled relationships still held a bit of affection. I also really liked that Caleb and Aiden–and their sister, too–began building a real relationship that was outside of all the family drama.
For a book that includes so much public sex, group sex, and plain out filthy talk, it’s surprisingly tender. All of these experiences are filtered through Caleb’s wary eyes and insecure mind-set. I was so happy that Oli finally stopped being a stubborn guy and really allowed what was building between them to progress. He’s clearly been crushed by the rejection of his family, and finding solace and love from Caleb is a balm for his bruised heart and battered ego.
About the Author:
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.
Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!