Just Love Reviews Presents: Santino’s Traveling Book

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We’ve been very bad here at Just Love Reviews. Just the fact that we nearly titled this blog post “Surprise! Look How We’ve Defaced Your Pristine Manuscript, Santino!” should clue you in as to just how bad.  But let me assure you that:

1) No books were harmed in the making of this blog post (well, not really), and
2) Everything we did, we did out of love.

You see, over the last five and a half months, the Just Love team has taken “book mail” to a whole new level – we’re talking The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants kind of level. It all began when our fearless leader El received one of those highly coveted manuscript copies of Santino Hassell’s Illegal Contact courtesy of Berkeley Publishing/Intermix.

The evolution of Santino’s Traveling Book

At the time, little did we know that Berkeley would bring their A-game promoting this book over the months to come. But we at Just Love clung tight to our precious little copy and watched patiently (okay, waited very, very impatiently) as our plan was executed. The plan that would take this little manuscript, Santino’s Traveling Book, through nine different cities, three countries and across one very large pond on a trip of a lifetime.

(click for full size)

The journey of Santino’s Traveling Book


Once upon a time (okay, back in March) Santino tweeted that ARC copies of ILLEGAL CONTACT had been printed — and that they were located in the Berkley Romance office in New York. I innocently inquired about the, uh, security measures around these ARCS and the lovely ladies at Berkley were kind (or amused!) enough to provide me with one.

And I promptly went and bragged to the rest of the Just Love team, because duh.

But the thing is– our team of reviewers (and what wonderful reviewers they are!) initially met because of our appreciation for Santino Hassell! In fact, many of us met through his former Facebook group, and since then we’ve really become like family. So I knew I wanted to share this ARC with them. But how? One ARC + nine reviewers = really bad book math.

Queue one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But this time we’d have a Traveling Book, which we’d pass along from person to person. As it traveled across five states (+ one capital) and three countries, it would collect stories and scars. As cheesy at it sounds, it would be a way for us to bond.

I made a decision, before I sent the book out: I wasn’t going to read it until it made it’s way around the world and back to me. I wanted my reading experience to be augmented by the notes and comments of my friends.

So off it went– to Philadelphia and beyond!


There was a ton of excitement when El first mentioned the traveling book idea. ARCs were starting to come out but the cover art had yet to be released so when she said something about us creating our own version of the cover I was like a little kid in class trying to raise my hand up higher than the others, saying “Pick me! Pick me!” When she gave me the go ahead and I read Santino’s incredible story the ideas started flowing. In the meantime, I sent the naked manuscript off to Kristie and then got down to work. It was a bitch finding the perfect Gavin but once I did, everything else fell right into place. It’s been such a fun project to work on and one that I’m so proud to be a part of.

This is a very special book and I think it’s going to be a game changer for Santino. He’s proven that when he puts his mind to something, he not only accomplishes his goal, he excels at it. Illegal Contact is hopeful, funny, sexy and sweet, and a good reminder of why I love reading romance. Thank you for that. ❤


When we found out that there were going to be bound ARCs for Illegal Contact, I was excited. And when El had the fun idea of a traveling book, I was immediately on board. I was the second stop on the journey of this fabulous book. I read it so fast. I couldn’t put it down. I loved every minute of it. I made notes… a lot of notes. I peppered the book with sticky notes. Every time I had a strong feeling, I wrote it down. Then I doodled a little bit on the inside. That was scary… felt like I was defacing it at first. But all doodles were done with love. They were moments we enjoyed. Things we didn’t want to forget. Sending the book off to Gillian, putting together all my favorite notes in a clip (I didn’t want them in her way when she got to read it), and trying to patiently wait until it cleared customs and made it to Canada was an exercise in torture. The stress of worrying when it would get to her, but hoping it got to her in one piece was huge. But then it did, and I got to then wait for her to read it. Waiting for everyone to get their turn has been hard. I kept wanting to talk about it! I mean, I read Illegal Contact on April 30th, so it’s been a long time and as of writing this, the book just barley making it to its final destination. I can’t wait to see what it looks like now, after months of travel, months of all our hands on it, our notes, our doodles.

A few things I got from this book were that it is a wonderful story about two guys who find each other at just the right moment. It’s a story about love, coming out, finding your person, building that trust and having the courage in yourself to move forward. This book has the best first kiss I’ve ever read. I keep telling people that, but I’m not sure they believe me. I’ve read a lot of first kisses, some that were amazing. This one though? This one has all the anticipation and all those tingly feelings that keep you in one moment of pure bliss. I love this book so much. It’s taken the top spot as my favorite Santino Hassell book ever. While there are a couple of minor things I would have wished for, and the pretty unbelievable house arrest, it’s kinda perfect. I loved everything. I hope everyone who gets to read it now will love it too.


I’m not gonna lie (I can’t because I tweeted about it so it’s all out there anyway!) but Illegal Contact had one of *the* hottest sex scenes I’ve ever read. I mean, the build up was stellar and there was all this UST floating around and it was just this perfect storm of lust that Santino created. Look, it’s all in my notes but I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s up there with First & First as one of my fave SH books ever. And as Oliver Fucking Buckley’s fictional gf, that’s saying a lot! 😁😁😁. Aside from that, I hope that Santino finds pleasure in knowing that his traveling book made us all so happy. 💜


So this really suspicious package from Up North shows up one day <looks pointedly at Gillian> with a customs label that had me raising my eyebrows. The book was finally here!

As it turns out, Gillian knows me all too well because sure enough, her gifts came in handy (although I admit, I almost could’ve used a real ciggie, the book was that smoking hot!). There were so many things right with with Illegal Contact, but my absolute favorite parts were the kisses between Gavin and Noah. They were so unexpected and sweet and so full of joy and happiness and GAH they just took my breath away. Best first kiss EVER. And second kiss. And third. You get the idea.

I also loved that there was no manufactured conflict between our two heroes – the pressures and prejudices of the professional sports world was altogether too real. The author tackled some weighty issues facing closeted professionals (in any profession) and their loved ones, while delivering a story that was pure romance. I thought it could’ve used an epilogue to show how Gavin and Noah are doing once they’re out in public (like, out out), but I will assume we will see more of them in book two. Speaking of which, no surprise that Santino brought his A-game with the stellar cast of side characters in Illegal Contact; I need Simeon’s story like yesterday.

All too soon, it was time to pack up the book and send it – along with some Gavin-and-Noah-approved snacks – across the ocean for a quick Eurotrip.


A Just Love Traveling Book Adventure with my lovely co-reviewers? Who could say no to that? Not me! I said yes and didn’t even think about it. Maybe I should have, because I had been struggling with Contemporary Romance for a while. Do you know that feeling or phenomenon of having read too much of the same? That’s me at the moment, and that is why I couldn’t get into the book – which, frankly, bummed me out a great deal. Well, I learned something through the Traveling Book: Some things I cannot force, and, moreover, I should not feel obligated to do them because of some mislead expectations on myself. I am glad I could be a part of this – even though it turned out differently than I thought.


I would give the book 3.5 stars: It was an engrossing read and I couldn’t put it down! Still, I had a hard time with the power dynamics: Gavin’s power over Noah’s employment and Noah’s power over so much of Gavin’s life. Hassell does a great job of balancing this appropriately, but I wanted to see a lot more of Noah and Gavin interacting when they were on equal footing. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Book 2!


This go-around of Illegal Contact was a reread for me. I’d won a copy at RT17 which I devoured in two days so I must say I was hoping it stood up to the test of my original five-star review, which it did. My first read I noticed Noah and honestly he made the book for me. My initial review was all about how Noah surprised me and how his character could have been a cliché twink playing the victim of circumstance and I was glad Santino didn’t go that route.

As with any reread I saw something different this time. Gavin was the character who stole the show for me. I don’t know if it was because I already had my mind made up about Noah and was able to focus on him more but his character was excellent as well. I liked how the relationship between the two were written. In so many reviews I see readers comment on how they couldn’t understand how one second two guys hate each other and then bam it’s sex and they are in love. Well the relationship progression in Illegal Contact was phenomenal. I got Gavin, he actually reminds me a lot of my ex. All sexy sarcasm that is easy to not see for the self-preservation it truly is. Santino sets the book up to give us repeated illustrations of how a guy with sixty million dollars can fall for a guy with student loan debt living with his dad. Noah was probably the only person who appeared to take care of Gavin above and beyond what Gavin expected. The altercation with the photographer on the beach, the telling him about Joe’s request, the giving Gavin credit for his ideas where all things Gavin kind of stepped back from or witness and thought… huh… like this is outside of his job description and it’s just someone honestly taking care of me because they can and want to. It’s easy to assume someone with sixty million dollars who can get ass at the drop of a dime has everything they need but Gavin for some reason read really vulnerable to me. Noah gave him strength which is how he made it through the house arrest, how he recognized his life was more important than football and stupid shit like six cars and mansions in the Hamptons.

Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed and usually don’t is the times the side characters were just having downtime with Gavin or Noah. Even Joe who I thought was a dick-and-a-half felt fleshed out and served a purpose.  The women in the book are strong supporting characters, it would have been so easy and pretty typical of M/M for Santino to write the fitness model as female and I was beyond happy he didn’t. One of my favorite scenes was Noah’s first interaction with Simeon and Marcus. Often times scenes like those feel like unnecessary time-wasters but Santino has a way of writing them so well that they are vital to moving the couple forward.

I cannot wait for the next book in this series to come out…sadly in 2018 🙂


Now the book is back with me, though I’ve moved from NYC to Pittsburgh since I last had my hands on it. And it’s beautiful. I mean, not really, because the book is scuffed and bent and covered in notes (among my favorites: “So many feelings!”, “PAGE FIFTY-EIGHT”, and “Well, that escalated quickly!”), but I think it’s beautiful despite (because of) that.

Now it’s my turn, finally, to read the book. I can’t wait… it’ll be like buddy reading with seven of my best friends.

And that’s it. That’s the story of Santino’s Traveling Book thus far. It’s been one hell of a journey, with one final leg yet to go <shifty eyes>. Tl; dr…

Happy Release Day, Santino Hassell!

DMac, our resident sports junkie, reviews Illegal Contact here.


If you’re one of those lucky readers who are in possession of a naked- we mean unbound manuscript of Illegal Contact and would like to win a book jacket designed by our very own Rita, comment below with your email address! You can also follow us on Twitter and retweet our giveaway for a chance to win. Winners will be chosen by random draw. Giveaway ends when supplies run out.

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3 thoughts on “Just Love Reviews Presents: Santino’s Traveling Book

  1. I love this! I love the cover and the sticky notes and all the photos and silliness. And I love that the reactions ranged from “I love this so much I want to have its book babies!!!!!!” to “meh. not for me.” That’s one of the things I value about this blog – the range of tastes and opinions.

    Liked by 1 person

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