ARC Review – Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell

Posted August 15, 2017 by smutmatters in ARC, Contemporary, M/M, Reviews / 0 Comments

ARC Review – Illegal Contact by Santino HassellIllegal Contact by Santino Hassell
Series: The Barons #1
Published by InterMix on August 15th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Sports
Pages: 251
Format: Paperback
Source: InterMix Books, Penguin Books
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three-half-stars
three-flames

The rules of the game don’t apply off the field in this first Barons novel. 

New York Barons tight end Gavin Brawley is suspended from the team and on house arrest after a video of him brawling goes viral. Gavin already has a reputation as a jerk with a temper on and off the field—which doesn’t help him once he finds himself on the wrong side of the law. And while he’s been successful professionally, he’s never been lucky when it comes to love.

Noah Monroe is a recent college grad looking for a job—any job—to pay off his mounting student debt. Working as Gavin’s personal assistant/babysitter seems like easy money. But Noah isn’t prepared for the electrifying tension between him and the football player. He’s not sure if he’d rather argue with Gavin or tackle him to the floor. But both men know the score, and neither is sure what will happen once Gavin's timeout is over…

I wish you could have heard the collective ooohhhhing and aaaaahhhhing that happened in the room at the RT17 blogger day when this book was handed out. The copy I have is a true ARC – white background, black lettering, no description of the book, just the title, pub date, and author’s name. And you would have thought Berkley was handing out wine.

I was really excited about this book, too. I haven’t actually read anything by Santino Hassell before, but he’s been on my authors-I-need-to-check-out list for quite a while. So what did I think? (Actually, as I typed this, I realize I’ve read some of the series he’s done with Megan Erickson, which is fantastic and everyone should read it).

Well. I liked this book. I really did like it. But I’d been expecting to love it, so I was a little disappointed with that. Part of the reason I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped was Gavin himself. Gavin was one of those people who just fucking hates everything and everyone around him on sight and treats them like shit immediately. I don’t know if he thinks that’s going to force people to prove him wrong by sticking around and being loyal, or prove him right by telling him off and leaving, but either way, it’s grating. He hates that so many people only want to be around him because he’s a pro football player and he can never be sure of their intentions, but when Noah shows up to apply for the job as his PA, he’s can’t stand that Noah is completely oblivious to football and has no idea who he is. Gavin says Noah’s lack of respect for football translates into a lack of respect for him.

Which plays a bit into the other issue I had. It’s not an issue with this book specifically, but I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with romances involving football players. Every day there’s another report on the physical damage these guys are doing to their bodies and their brains in particular. They’ve found sustained damage and lesions on the brains of high-school players they’ve autopsied. High school, and their brains are already being affected by this. It was difficult for me to not have that thought in the back of my head the entire time I was reading this. Gavin and his friends do make some off-the-cuff comments about brain lesions, but that’s the only acknowledgement of the issue.

And the NFL as an organization has a permanent spot on my shit list, which also doesn’t endear me to Gavin. I really don’t believe there’s any way the NFL would allow one of their star players to be placed on house arrest for 6 months that coincide with the entire football season, and forced to sit out the entire season, because of what amounted to a bar fight. Yes, someone caught the incident on video, but the video showed Gavin pulling the kid out of the car, the two of them yelling at each other, then the kid punching Gavin several times before Gavin punches him once. No way the NFL ever allows that, which they would instantly and forever spin as their player defending himself, to result in an entire missed season.

Noah, on the other hand. Noah I loved. He really did save this book for me. He took no shit from Gavin, and didn’t allow Gavin to make him feel even a little bit bad about anything. I absolutely loved him. Also, he’s a great PA. Everyone needs a Noah in their life. He took Gavin’s entire life and put it back together again.

And Santino Hassel’s writing is fantastic. I was right there with Gavin and Noah the entire time they were falling for each other and fighting it. I love a good slow burn romance, and this was the slowest of the slow. They don’t get together until very late in the book, but by the time they get there, they’ve earned their happiness.

The book doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little bow. I don’t think it possibly could – in 2017, it’s still not ok for an NFL player to come out as gay or bi. (I mean, obviously, I think it’s fine, but much of the rest of the world doesn’t think the way I do. Which is a damn shame.) Gavin and Noah are going to have a tough time moving forward in their relationship, and it could very well affect the rest of Gavin’s career. It’s a little different than players who come out in college or before they’re drafted because those players are more expendable than someone of Gavin’s caliber, but I still don’t know how the league as a whole or the fan base would react, regardless of how individual players and teammates reacted.

Do I recommend this book? Yep. Santino Hassell is a really good writer. But if you, like me, are becoming increasingly wary of the NFL as an organization, know going into this book that it’s not going to change your mind. But do read this book.

About Santino Hassell

Santino Hassell was raised by a strict Catholic 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.