Learning How in SUNSET PARK–A Review

Hi there! To day I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Santino Hassell. His fourth Five Buroughs novel, INTERBOROUGH, releases today, and it’s a pick up from book two, SUNSET PARK. While all these stories have related characters that come in and out, the main couple in both SUNSET PARK and INTERBOROUGH is Raymond, a closeted, bisexual Puerto Rican man and David, a white-bread Connecticut out-gay man. So, essentially, I wanted to make sure I knew lots about how this odd couple got together, before I got snared in their struggles. Having started this series on book three, FIRST AND FIRST, I’ve pretty much been ridic reading out of order…

sunset-parkAbout the book:
Raymond Rodriguez’s days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.

David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.

Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.

My Review:
This is the second book in a series, and is probably best enjoyed when read in order. Raymond Rodriguez is a 26 y/o Puerto Rican man in Queens just holding on in life. He’s the youngest of two boys, and his elder brother Michael is a semi-closeted gay man. Michael wants to live with his best-friend/lover Nunzio, but he can’t make rent on the apartment and pay his half of the mortgage on their late-mother’s home. So, Michael tells Ray he needs to move out so they can clean up the house and rent it.

Ray’s always been shiftless. He’s an habitual pot smoker, and just got fired from his Longshoreman gig because he didn’t show up, or answer calls for work. Mostly because he was high. He’s not a bad guy, really, but he comes from a place where no one expects anything, and he didn’t expect anything from himself. He’s a man-child, and Michael’s tired of floating him along. Adrift, Ray can’t deal, but his close friendship with David–a teacher in Michael’s school who’s become a confidant–gives him some hope. See, David’s a sweet guy, small, and twinkish, and out and friendly. David has an idea: they should live together.

Ray’s not opposed. He’s had bicurious feelings for a while, and he likes how David looks at him, how David cares for him. Ray’s comforted by David’s enthusiasm, and his nearness–they often cuddle, even if it’s all platonic. But, that’s not all either man really wants it to be. David has had a not-so-secret crush on Ray from the start, and their moving in together brings all of this to a boil. Still, it’s not easy. Because David’s fell for straight boys before, and gotten burned. What if he loses his heart to Ray, who decides he’s done experimenting after a few go-arounds? David has an on-again-off-again thing with Caleb, a rich white slightly-older man, but it’s not fitting him at all. While they look great on paper, there’s no chemistry, and Caleb’s sexual appetite isn’t in the same hemisphere as David’s. Caleb’s moving on David, and being kinda wrong to Ray–in his own house no less, but what David and Ray had started is too tenuous for either of them to really commit to. It’s a real rush to see the levels of their jealousy, as each tries to figure out what to do, and whom to do it with.

Add to this mess Ray’s insecurity. He’s an uneducated, barely-scratching-by Puerto Rican. He did find a job, but he hates it, and doesn’t know how to move into a career. David’s this shiny teacher with a good degree and loads of potential. His wealthy boyfriend is always sniffing around, and Ray’s sure David will move on when he’s done slumming. Ray’s brother and Nunzio stick their noses in, pretty much warning Ray not to get involved with David–they have their own complicated history which involves a drunken one-nighter and awkward work history.

There’s a lot of confusion, and hurt feelings as these two knock around trying to make it happen. I had read FIRST AND FIRST already, so I already knew how things were bad between David and Caleb, and why they really weren’t a good fit for each other. Life for Ray and David is nothing but complicated. Ray is surly and a serious introvert, he struggles with authority, after having an abusive drunk for an absentee father. This is a big clash from David, who’s very outgoing, a little snarky, but a fixer. Ray struggles with David discussing their personal life with his friends, and really doesn’t like to examine himself, or deal with David’s examination, either. David’s in absolute fear that Ray will never come out, as a bisexual even, and David will remain a dirty, closeted secret–mostly because Ray’s brother lives two lives, keeping his gay relationship from his entire extended family. It’s a future that David can’t envision, no matter how off-the-charts emotionally and sexually satisfying it is to finally be with Ray.

The end comes with some hard truths, as Ray would say. It’s time to grow up, and own himself–and he does this even before the big blow-out with Caleb. I loved how Ray fixed his head, and followed his heart, and how David made better choices and stopped fretting. He’s a bit of a mess, and that’s still true in their next book, but he’s an acceptable mess. The kind of neurotic that can be endearing, and is really born from standing up for himself, and his right to be loved honestly. There’s a Happy For Now ending, I think, but it’s certainly upbeat and honest. All the books I’ve read from this author have that quasi-HEA where the reader knows: these guys are all going to make it, even without the rainbows and rose bouquets. They’re sturdy and dependable, and honest, even a dope-smoking man-child. He gets it right in the end, and I really enjoyed watching that happen. I’ve already finished reading INTERBOROUGH, their next book, so expect a review from me in the coming week.

Interested? You can find SUNSET PARK on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance.

About the Author:
Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative 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.

You can find Santino online on his website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

2 thoughts on “Learning How in SUNSET PARK–A Review

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