Review: Illegal Contact by Santino Hassell


Title: Illegal Contact (The Barrons #1)
Author: Santino Hassell
Genre: MM romance, Football
Date of publication: 15 Aug 2017

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My rating: 3.5 Stars


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 admit I was a bit disappointed with Santino Hassell's latest books but was eagerly awaiting this one because I generally enjoy sports romance and was curious what he will do in this subgenre.

Overall, I liked this book. It's a nice, somewhat slower and sweeter romance than his previous books.
While there were a lot of things in it that worked well for, I also had some issues - mainly with some aspects of the writing and some plot points.

Starting with what I think are the best elements of the book. It's an enemies-to-lovers story with a grumpy, seemingly alpha football player and the assistant he is forced to hire for the 6 months of his house arrest. I found the characters rather interesting, flawed, not what they appear on the surface. They started off with some rather snappy, smartass interactions only to move on the somewhat unexpected tenderness once they got together.

At the beginning Gavin fully lived up to his image in the media of a broody, closed off and angry brute. Noah was snappy and feisty in their initial exchanges full of animosity but they gradually brought the best of each other and as they came together we see hidden sides of their characters - they are caring and loving, capable of showing deep affection. I loved seeing Gavn in a new light - he acts like a smitten high schooler and it was very endearing. Noah is a complex character on his own - difficult financial/family situation and some bad experience of mixing business with pleasure made him wary and cautious.

The first part of the story is rather slow moving but I found it useful for introducing the characters, both main and supporting ones and the slow build up reflected realistically to me, the complexity of their situation and all the obstacles before them being together.

And here comes one of my issues with the romance. I'm not generally a fan of office romance, especially between a boss and an employee. It had already happened to Noah and was a painful experience which added to making this a crucial obstacle before them. The forced proximity was ok but Gavin was paying Noah a significant sum to be his assistant and that put them in unequal footing from the start. They do discuss it in detail, but still, I didn't feel quite comfortable with it.

The other thing that I didn't particularly enjoy was the repetitive use of the same jargon Santino Hassell employs in all his books. Despite Noah and Gavin standing on their own as characters, seeing the same phrases used in their speech as his characters from other books made them lose some of their individuality in my mind.

I have to say that for a sports romance we don't see much sport elements and I missed it - the team vibe, the adrenaline of the game (we get that but it's second-hand through watching games, talking about football and the like), the actual interaction with the fans.

Still, I did enjoy the story, the snark and the smartass banter, together with great side characters is more than enough to keep me interested in reading the next in the series.

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