Author: Santino Hassell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 4.5 stars
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Publisher
Blurb:A Five Boroughs Story
Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reign 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.
Review: This can easily be read as a standalone.
Being alone on New Year’s Eve is miserable. Caleb Stone is trying to escape the crush of people happily celebrating. It’s not working. Everywhere he sees reminders everyone around him is happier than he is. Then he’s being kissed and the new year starts. Caleb didn’t expect to wake up in Oliver Buckley’s bed. He really didn’t expect it would take so long to figure out whose bed he woke up in. Caleb freaks out a bit, and Oli lets him. Caleb allows himself to be himself and Oli accepts it. Caleb and Oli encounter each other again. Every time they meet Caleb is taken aback by the sexual energy. They can’t keep their hands off each other. In what comes as a total surprise to Caleb, Oli asks him to go to a sex party, and he accepts! At the same time Oli and Caleb begin their relationship (that’s totally what it is, regardless of what Oli wants to think) Caleb begins a relationship with his half-brother. They completely agree their father is a jerk, but they are both beholden to him financially. Caleb comes up with a plan to achieve financial independence for not only himself but also his brother and Oli. For the first time Caleb finds himself wanting his own business and his own relationship on his terms.
Caleb’s life has happened to him. Caleb doesn’t change his mind, his mind changes. It doesn’t matter what he wants or wishes, he accepts what his place in society has laid out for him. Consequently, Caleb is unhappy, unfulfilled, and unemployed. Caleb has to admit he has specific wants and needs to get them met. In some instances this is quite literal. Oli makes Caleb ask for the sexual acts he wants. In other instances this is more nebulous. Caleb wants to be accepted by his family. It’s not going to happen with his parents. His dad is a jerk and his mom is not concerned with her children beyond how they make her look. Caleb gets his acceptance from his sister Meredith and his brother Aiden. Caleb finds himself becoming the active agent in his own life. He’s having the sex he wants to have, he’s got the family he wants, he creates a job for himself he actually fits, and he takes a stand in his relationship with Oli.
Oliver Buckley has a reputation for being a player, and he’s absolutely terrified by how he feels about Caleb. Caleb is a fairly crap narrator of his own story. He’s totally unreliable. Caleb has got no clue what’s going on with Oli even though Oli tells him. Yes, I said tell, and yes, I liked it. Oli tells Caleb, and in turn us, everything that’s going on with him. It’s jarring, and poignant, and provides bursts of emotion that we wouldn’t otherwise get from Oli. Caleb still doesn’t get it. Caleb doesn’t understand how Oli can see in him something no one else has ever seen. This brings about what I felt was one of the most emotional scenes in the book when Oli tells Caleb, “People see what they want to see. Or completely miss things when they’re too busy looking for flaws.” Caleb doesn’t understand the depth of the statement. He doesn’t understand it works both ways. Caleb can’t see Oli means exactly what he says, and it is heartbreaking. This was the real big misunderstanding.
First and First can absolutely be read, and enjoyed, as a standalone novel. When read as part of the Five Boroughs series I feel it has more depth. Obviously, Caleb and David failed as a couple because they were sexually incompatible, but there was more to it than that. Caleb viewed David as a wonderfully altruistic man who chose to work in a Title I school to help people. It doesn’t appear to have entered his mind at all David may have done so to get student loans forgiven. Whereas David and Ray had a romance that worked despite different backgrounds, Caleb and Oli’s romance worked because they had the same background. Caleb and Oli were two sides of the same coin. Both men had powerful, wealthy, and controlling fathers. Where Oli rebelled and stood up Caleb did as expected. Both men were wounded by their upbringing, left wanting what they felt they couldn’t have or were too afraid to trust.
I think First and First has been my favorite book in the series so far. I didn’t like Caleb much after Sunset Park. I wanted to know what would drive a guy who seems to have so much to be such a complete jerk. Caleb had me hooked from the first page. I don’t think I wanted to like him so quickly. I wanted to savor disliking Caleb, but he was so painfully alone. After a lifetime of trying to please everyone else around him it was finally time for Caleb to please himself, and that made for a compelling and emotional read as Caleb learned to ask for what he wanted. This series remains one for which I eagerly anticipate each installment.