Series Review: Five Boroughs, books 3-4 by Santino Hassell

Series Review: Five Boroughs, books 3-4 by Santino HassellFirst and First by Santino Hassell
Series: Five Boroughs #3
Published by Dreamspinner Press on April 18, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 244
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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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.

When I tell you guys that First and First is my least favorite of these so far, don’t get too distracted by the negative phrasing and pay attention to the rating. First and First is still a really good book, but it plays a bit less to my personal interests and is occasionally a bit much for me tbh. However, the quality of Hassell’s novels continues to be so incredibly high with excellent character development.

Hassell does something pretty incredible here. Caleb, also known as David’s toxic ex, is the main character and sole POV of First and First. He’s frankly hateful in Sunset Park, and I was really prepared to hate him. Turns out, though, that Hassell basically immediately manages to make Caleb sympathetic. Caleb turned into the deeply insecure man he is because of his own toxic father. Part of why Caleb was such a terrible boyfriend to David was that Caleb had actually not started dating until he turned thirty because he was so far into the closet.

Caleb’s metamorphosis from an insecure man between jobs to a sexually confident man with a boyfriend and a start up of his own begins with an ill-advised New Year’s Eve hook up. Drunk and sad at a party with a bunch of David’s friends, Caleb kisses Oli (also from Sunset Park) at midnight and then they have a major banging session all night. Caleb was drunk enough he can’t remember all of it, and he’s equal parts embarrassed and thrilled that for once he managed to get past the shame he feels and really enjoy sex.

Caleb and Oli manage to be a fairly cute ship, despite the fact that they get into some stuff that isn’t really my kind of thing. Oli tries really hard to get Caleb into the swinger community, which Caleb’s kind of not comfortable with. It’s saved from being problematic by the way Oli puts the brakes on a planned threesome without complaint when Caleb’s uncomfortable. There’s also a sex scene with a dildo machine thing which they really enjoyed but I didn’t as much. *shrugs* First and First very much falls into the erotica category, which I don’t mind but I’m a fairly boring vanilla person who was sometimes a bit overwhelmed.

Caleb’s relationships with his brother (Caleb’s half-brother Aiden and his partner Jace have an open relationship, not something seen a lot in fiction, and they do seem very happy.) and father are very well done. Hassell continuously does such a nice job developing the full cast, and that’s what really makes this work. Both Caleb and Oli are wealthy white guys who it would have been really easy to hate, but I ended up really liking them both (though actually I wasn’t mad at Oli in Sunset Park like David was).

Though I doubt I’ll reread First and First as often as the first two books, it’s another great one from Hassell.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

Series Review: Five Boroughs, books 3-4 by Santino HassellInterborough by Santino Hassell
Series: Five Boroughs #4
Published by Riptide Publishing on October 24, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 249
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
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The Raymond Rodriguez from a few years ago wouldn’t recognize the guy he is today. He’s left his slacker ways far behind him and is now juggling two jobs and school. But the balancing act doesn’t allow much time for the man he loves.

David is doing his best to be supportive, but problems at work and his own insecurity leave him frustrated—in more ways than the obvious—whenever he goes to bed before Raymond gets home. The heat and affection between them is still there, but they barely have the time or energy to enjoy it. And it doesn’t help that Raymond is still hiding David from his colleagues.

The stress mounts so high that a vacation in paradise is filled with turmoil instead of harmony, and culminates on their return to the five boroughs with broken promises and heartache. They have to figure out how to stop allowing their differences to overshadow their love. It’s the only way they’ll make it to forever.

It will surprise fucking no one that I felt super nervous when I saw that Interborough was about David and Raymond from Sunset Park. Much as it’s great to see those characters again, I’m always so afraid that kind of romance sequel will ruin the ship. Us didn’t really work for me, and it had basically the exact same set up. However, Hassell has the writing chops and top notch characterization to pull off a book about a couple going through tough times and trying to make it work.

Raymond and David have been together for over a year, and the love is strong. Unfortunately, so is David’s insecurity and Raymond’s inability to talk open up. They’ve been going through a rough patch for a while now. At the end of Sunset Park, Ray finally got serious about getting his dream career, but that left him working two jobs and going to school. He’s pulling eighteen hour days, so he doesn’t have much time to spend with David, who is freaking out about that.

David’s insecurities, while frustrating, are very much realistic to who he is as a person and his history with Caleb. Both Caleb and Ray are the type to try to take care of him and protect him from harsh realities, and he’s failing to get Ray to take him seriously. He also messes up sometimes because of his privilege, and he’s just so incredibly afraid that Ray will realize that David’s not the right guy. The more stressed he gets about possibly being a nag, the more he picks fights and nags.

The middle of this book hurt my feels a lot, but Ray and David work through their issues in a very real and mature way, and they emerge from the book a stronger couple by both making concessions. They understand each other better than they did before. I ended this a mess of feels because honestly Michael and Nunzio’s wedding totally ruined me. This whole cast ruins me tbh.

This sort of romance novel will probably always be one of my least favorite set ups, but Hassell’s done it about as well as it’s possible to do it.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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