Thursday, January 11, 2018

TBQ's Review: Down by Contact

I am aware of the situation with Santino Hassell. While I will no longer be promoting or recommending Hassell’s books, I am leaving up my reviews and ratings for the books I’ve already read. My feelings and experiences with those books at the time are valid and were never connected to my view of the author anyway. Please disregard any mention of “own voice” or similar remarks that may be in these old reviews, as that is no longer true.
Danielle (TBQ)

Down by Contact by Santino Hassell
Publisher: InterMix (January 16, 2018)
Series: The Barons, 2
Genre: Contemporary Romance (Sports) -- M/M
Dual 1st POV

Two rival football players begin a game with higher stakes than the Super Bowl in this steamy romance from the author of Illegal Contact. 

Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

Where to Buy*:
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Reviews for Hassell's books:

My Review:

Football players? Check.

Queer football players? Check.

Queer football players of color? Check!

Rivals to lovers? CHECK CHECK CHECK

“Oh look the storm is crazy out so we best stay inside and just fuck the weekend away”? CHEEEEEEEEEECK.

Listen, that’s really all you need to know about Down by Contact. If that list doesn’t make you one-click, I don’t know what more I can possibly say to change your mind.

But I’m going to try my best because this book was fucking perfect and you need it in your life, even if you don’t know it yet.

Reading Down by Contact reminded me that I am a sucker for a good rivals-to-lovers romance. [Seriously, I need moooore, give me all your recs, any gender pairing. Please and thank you!] There’s something extremely delicious and fun, watching the couple dance around each other while trying to one-up each other professionally. That tension and dynamic is the BEST to read. And Hassell does such an amazing job with it here.

Adrián and Simeon used to be teammates, and got along pretty well; far better than any of the other players treated Simeon, that’s for sure. When Simeon left the team -- he wasn’t going to get any field time . . . possibly ever – and joins the Barons instead, the switch was flipped overnight, and the rivalry-hatred was on. Since then, they’ve been starting shit on Twitter, making sly comments about the other during interviews, and even coming close to blows a time or two – and not just on the field.

When they clash during a preseason game, injuring Simeon’s arm and setting off fights among both the teams on the field and the fans in the stands, the two are suspended for part of the season. Even better, they must work together at a community center program for kids. But you know that’s not going to be enough to get these two to play nice and make up. Nah, there’s still more tension and bickering in store before they start to let down those thick walls.

"God, I hate you.” 
"No, you just hate that you want to fuck me this badly."

The thing is, it’s not just the rivalry that stands between them – it’s also some deep "Shit, I can’t like you – no really I CANNOT LIKE YOU” feelings from Adrián. See, Adrián is a subtle, but no less harmful, homophobe—or at least that’s how he acts. This is partly because of the very sport he is in (hello, toxic masculinity!) and especially from his teammates in particular, but it’s also from his unwillingness to unpack his internalized shit and accept that he’s not straight after all. So his way of thinking is something like “To avoid anyone thinking I’m not-straight, I need to make sure I act SUPER straight and be a homophobic dick”.

I’m going to be honest with you, this type of story? I wouldn’t really trust many authors with it, most especially not most cishet women writing M/M (…which is basically the entire genre, but that’s a different conversation…). But I trust Santino, and I know that he potentially has more . . . experience, I suppose? . . . as a queer man to be able to tackle this kind of story without it being damaging. And in my [cishet-woman] opinion, I think he did a great job at it.

Because Adrián does come to terms with his sexuality, bit by bit, and Simeon does not take his shit, which is what made this book work for me so much. Doesn’t matter the gender of the couple, if one is going to be a bit of a dick at times, I need the other character to be able to hold their own. And that’s certainly the case here.

As I mentioned on Twitter -- and I am by no means the first to say this, but it always bears repeating – I love that we’ve got a realistic sports romance here and it’s not an all Wonderbread-white team. [We could have an entire conversation about how the genre shows its racist ass with this kind of shit, but I digress. For now.] And I’m mad that getting this ONE book, this one series, with queer players AND players of color has me so excited. Because what does that tell you about the rest of the industry and genre? But again, I digress. In case you were wondering, Adrián is Latino [if we were ever told a specific heritage, I must have forgot, and I do apologize!), while Simeon is black.


So I mentioned that there’s a bit of forced proximity sexytimes, which is SUPER IMPORTANT for many of us, I know. Catnip alert! After they’ve started to mess around, a storm hits the city (hurricane? Tropical depression? My memory is shit, so IDK) and they stay at Adrián’s condo to ride it out. And of course that leads to nonstop sexcapades, because what else do you do when you’re locked inside with your partner and nothing else to do?

I don’t have to tell you that all of their scenes together were all hot as fuck, do I?

I do? *heavy sigh* Okay, fiiiiiine, here’s a peek:

I jerked him upright, enjoying the look of surprise that washed over his face every time I effortlessly manhandled him. Simeon may have been used to being with other men, but he’d never been with one like me—a linebacker who doubled as a wall of ruthless muscle. And he loved it. I could tell. Especially because I could hold him up against me while still moving in and out of his ass with nothing more than an arm crossed over his chest and a hand bracing against the headboard. 
“Adrián,” he panted. “Pretty sure you were born to be a bomb-ass top.” 
“Maybe just yours."

I loved the rivalry dynamics. I loved watching Adrián accept his sexuality (bi). I loved seeing these two together, both in bed and out. And of course I loved Hassell’s fantastic writing and very unique and fun voice.

I mean, really, how can you not love his writing when you get fun gems like this sprinkled throughout:

"Mister Softee? Sounds like a gay-for-pay bottoming porn scene."

I was sitting by my family watching TV – okay, THEY were watching TV, I was busy watching Adrián and Simeone, obviously – when I hit that line and I just barely stopped myself from laughing out loud, turning it into a muffled snicker and a ridiculous grin instead. Because how the fuck do I explain to my grandfather that I’m laughing about soft dicks and porn stars? NOPE, NOT GOING THERE.

Anyway, my point is we always get a lot of that snark and humor in Hassell’s books, and that’s definitely the case with this one, too. And I fucking loved it.

But alongside the fun, we get the angst and feels – not that I’m complaining. While Adrián might come to terms with his sexuality, that’s not the same as being out. Hell, Simeone only just recently came out publicly, though he’s been comfortable with his sexuality since his early teens. The two have to navigate the tough choices, and decide if they’re okay with the secret hookups (while hoping they don’t get caught) or if Adrián wants to come out. And if he does, how that might affect him and his career[because fuck you, society]. There’s some time apart, some makeup sex, and then the entire scene at the Predators vs Barons game and . . . oh, my heart. My heart was a big mess for the last 15% of the book. But it all turns out okay in the end, don’t you worry. These two are too perfect together to be kept apart, messy parts and all.

"I’m a mess. A loveable mess, but still a goddamn mess.” 
“And what the fuck am I? I didn’t even know I was bi.” 
Simeon laughed. “A lot of people don’t figure that shit out from jump. It’s not just you.” 
“Still. We’re both messy. Can’t we just throw caution to the wind and be messy together?” I drew him in for a brief kiss. “And it might be kinda hot. Secretly meeting up before a game, dicking you out hard and then blitzing you the next day on the field.” 
“And then taking out all that aggression and adrenaline on each other after? Mmm. Actually that does sound kinda hot.”

I loved book 1. Absolutely loved it (it has a BatB trope to it). I gave it 4 ½ stars at the time though I have no clue why, it deserves 5 stars too. Down by Contact is my first 5 star read of 2018 and honestly I think it’ll be one of my top picks when I do the 2018 round-up. It left me with all the Happy Reader Feels and I literally have zero shit to complain about – okay, wait, there was one sex scene that they mentioned, but it wasn’t on page, and it sounded super hot and involved some toys, so naturally I half-heartedly bitched that I wanted that scene NOW, but hey, that’s just my dirty-reader complaining a bit. Otherwise, this was complete perfection. I need book 3 RIGHT THE FUCK NOW, but Hassell is still writing it so I guess I’ll have to make do until it’s ready. I can be a good, patient reader.

Is it ready yet?

Is it?


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I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley.

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If you want to read more quotes that I highlighted, check out my Twitter!


Until Next Time,

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