This is a sports romance between a famously aggressive NFL player (Gavin, bisexual and in the closet) who is under house arrest for a brawl that was caught on camera, and the personal assistant (Noah, openly gay former social worker) he hires to help him manage his life while he can’t leave his house. There is much personality clashing, discussion of power dynamics, class issues, football, and sex. It is smart, also, and doesn’t give two fucks about showing its hand and doing its thing. Hassell gets a lot of mileage out of the expectations both parties bring to their hate-to-love romance. Gavin presents as a dumb, violent jock who doesn’t know how to smile. Noah is a bit stuck up and nerdy, with a bit of an intellectual vibe. There is judgment on both ends, and then that judgment is upended.
M/M romance is increasingly becoming a favorite genre of mine, but it (like all romance) is a field dominated by women. It’s refreshing to read one with some experience of being inside a man’s head. One of the reasons I like this genre so much is that it tends to automatically include examinations of gender roles and expectations, because being gay is so antithetical to the mainstream idea of how men should behave (which is utter bullshit of course, and I revel in anything that deconstructs this kind of infuriating expectation). And this book is a triple whammy, because it was written by a man who frequently allows his protagonists to question why they should be ashamed of behaviors that feel natural to them, in a genre (m/m) that frequently throws those expectations out the window, AND it takes place in sports culture, which is like normal culture times 1,000 in terms of masculine expectations.
Like, to give you an example, a genuine thing these characters (especially the football player) struggle with is that in a moment of strong emotion, where he is legitimately heartbroken, his first instinct is to hide it and channel that emotion into some rather aggressive or avoidance-type behavior. It’s like, he’s a manly man and those types have all this subtext hidden under the subtext that’s already there in their normal language. Why can’t they just be? It’s fucking exhausting. No wonder they’re angry all the time. (This is a thing this book is interested in, also.)
Ha, it’s also pretty vulgar, and more aggressive than I’m used to with my romances (much less tenderness, much more talk of pounding and destroying people’s various body parts, but in a consensual, sexy way). But it felt authentic! And underlying the whole thing was genuine human emotion. First person POVs can be dodgy, but Hassell has a firm hand on his craft, and our dual narrators have very distinctive inner voices.
The cover is cheesy as hell, but I liked the book quite a bit. The second one came out today, and it’s already downloaded to my Kindle. Legit, I will probably read the whole thing tonight. Watch this space tomorrow for some complaining about where is book three, give it now.