ARC Review: First and First, by Santino Hassell

Advance Review Copy generously provided by the author
in exchange for an honest review.


cover-santinohassell-firstandfirstCaleb 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.


Dates read:
Edition read:
April 18, 2016
Dreamspinner Press
Contemporary, Erotica, M/M, GLBT+
244 e-book pages
1st person
Five Boroughs, book 3
March 29 – April 1, 2016
Kindle Edition
See the book on GoodReads.

Rating:     ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ratings are 1 to 5 stars and based mostly on GoodReads standards.
Click for more information regarding ratings.


The only thing that gave me any excitement about the conclusion of a glorious ten-day vacation in the Caribbean and New Orleans was the anticipation of getting home to my keyboard to write this review.

I was so excited to get this book in advance of publication. And, like a good girl patiently awaiting Santa’s spoils, I didn’t open it until I had my ass firmly planted on a lounge chair on the sun deck of my cruise ship.


I confess to bouncing in my seat during just the Prologue—thus totally failing in my attempts at looking cool in the sun around 2,600 other people.

The book just got better from there—but I don’t think my behavior did with my jaw dropping and drooling and fanning myself and other such indecorous actions unbecoming a lady.


Santino’s third love letter to New York in the Five Boroughs series is a Tango of push and pull, desire and need, small kindnesses and large expectations. Two damaged men grasping for something real, honest, and meaningful in the only ways they know how.

This book takes a turn from the previous two in the series. We don’t exactly get the gritty urban sensory experience of NYC through the eyes of regular folks of the working class figuring out life and love amid everyday struggle. Instead, this time around the block, we see the city through the eyes of the sons of billionaires.

Don’t worry, though; Santino has delivered a smart and relevant story that’s full of the effortless, clever prose gilded in the grit we’ve all come to expect. He’s just kicked it up a few notches and served it with an aged, single malt Macallan.

It’s an erotic and hedonistic sexploration embarked upon by the somewhat repressed, massively privileged, refined, and stoic Caleb whose tethers to societal decorum and familial expectation are frayed with disappointments but holding firm by safety and fear. He’s led on this journey of discovery and self-actualization by the equally, deeply flawed Oli, who is best at masking his insecurities in the safety of bachelorhood, unapologetic promiscuity, and living life out loud without any serious ties.

We recall Caleb as David’s ex-boyfriend, and Oli as one of David’s friends in Sunset Park. They were passing acquaintances who were…well, not necessarily friends but aware of each other due to overlapping social circles connected by David. My only impressions of these fellas that I can recollect from book two were that Caleb was an uptight snob and that Oli sounded like a lot of flirty-dirty fun. Turns out I was only mostly right about one of them.

And oh, how I love to be wrong about characters.

One of the many things I adore about Santino’s writing is his ability to write characters that needle their way in and resonate with me in big and personal ways. It’s always a little scary to me how he does this. Most really good authors do it to some degree with their nuanced characters’ hopes, fears, and experiences. But, this guy? He manages to take them to depths that are sometimes frightening in their honesty and hit way too freaking close to home.

Both of these guys dug in with pieces of their personalities, experiences, and thoughts that hit home in those scary personal ways that were like looking in a fun-house mirror…the one that manages to magnify every flaw to embarrassing proportions.

To that, I say: Love you, Santino…but damn you to perdition for making me feel and see the things I don’t like about myself.

Okay, fine…no damning…just get back to work doing it again.

Told through the eyes of the privileged elite, I thought I’d miss the…erm…less refined aspects of the New York setting previously portrayed with Santino’s brand of raw, urban elegance. Instead, what I found—and loved even more— were introspections of the contrasts of Big Apple life between the rich and not-rich, the cab-takers versus the subway riders. The viewpoints of those with a skyscraper view to those living in a fourth-floor walk-up.

Through Caleb’s eyes, having been raised in the cushy lap of luxury, we see him acknowledge those differences his privileged upbringing afforded him and watch him take steps to break further from the strictures the expectations of the upper class demanded of him. He wants an honest life, one that’s well-earned, where he’s free to be himself and love freely.

Oli — wild, relationship-phobic, sexually free Oli —comes from the same lavish background. But, was ruthlessly cast aside by his family and left penniless. He’s pulled himself up by his boot-straps and graduated from the school of hard-knocks to make something of himself. He knows there’s no use depending on anyone when everyone leaves. It’s safer to keep things casual, park emotions at the door, get off, get out and move on. It’s worked for him…till Caleb.

And Jeeeezus these two together are an inferno with some of the best sex scenes and dirty talk I’ve ever read.

I don’t think there’s another thing I can say without dropping some serious spoilers. So I’ll leave you with these final thoughts…

Santino Hassell just keeps getting better and better with every new book he releases. Every book is cranked up another notch with fantastic writing, artful imagery, real-to-life characters with at least some small trait each of us can identify with and who go through authentic growth. His stories ebb, flow, and rush ’round the bend to take the reader on an unforgettable journey.

This is the best book of the series so far.

And I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.

This review also posted on GoodReads. Partial review posted on Amazon.

Purchase Links:

Dreamspinner Press    *    Amazon    *    ARe    *    BN

Other Books in the Series:

GRDreamspinner  *  Amazon * ARe * BN
GRDreamspinner  *  Amazon * ARe * BN

2 thoughts on “ARC Review: First and First, by Santino Hassell

  1. Ahhhhh!!!! I knew it would be fantastic! I never get ARCs for his books. I’m like dude, TAKE MY MONEY! I pre-ordered from DSP. 😀 Excited to see where Santino goes with this one. That guy can write his ass off! Great review Katie!

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