Getting Past the Past: CONCOURSE-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a recently released M/M romance from Santino Hassell. CONCOURSE is another chapter Five Boroughs series and catches us up woth a beatuiful socialite who doesn’t feel so gorgeous on the inside. I’ve loved Hassell’s contemporary romances, SUNSET PARK, FIRST AND FIRST, and INTERBOROUGH, so I couldn’t wait to jump into this new book.

About the book:
Ashton Townsend is the most famous celebutante of Manhattan’s glitterati. The black sheep of his wealthy family, he’s known for his club appearances, Instagram account, and sex tape. Most people can’t imagine him wanting for anything, but Ashton yearns for friendship, respect, and the love of his best friend—amateur boxer Valdrin Leka.

Val’s relationship with Ashton is complicated. As the son of Ashton’s beloved nanny, Val has always bounced between resenting Ashton and regarding him as his best friend. And then there’s the sexual attraction between them that Val tries so hard to ignore.

When Ashton flees his glitzy lifestyle, he finds refuge with Val in the Bronx. Between Val’s training for an upcoming fight and dodging paparazzi, they succumb to their need for each other. But before they can figure out what it all means—and what they want to do about it—the world drags them out of their haven, revealing a secret Val has kept for years. Now, Ashton has to decide whether to once again envelop himself in his party-boy persona, or to trust in the only man who’s ever seen the real him.

My Review:
Ashton Townsend, also known as A-Town, is a celebrity of dubious distinction. His family owns a telecom company, but he’s the black sheep known more for his unauthorized sex tape and twitter feed than any of his philanthropy. And that’s okay, Ash supposes. Just because he’s notorious doesn’t mean he can’t help out. Still, Ash knows he’s mostly being used by his hangers on, and expects that’s pretty much all he deserves.

Val is the son of Ash’s former nanny. He’s had a long-standing love for Ash, despite his mixed feelings about Ash and his family. Way back when, Val’s mom sacrificed time with Val and his sister to take care of Ash and his brothers–and that was hard to take. Then, Val was hired by Mr. Townsend on the down-low to help keep Ash out of the tabloids. It was money Val couldn’t turn down–and Val’s still working crap jobs to pay his sister’s college tuition. If he can win a few fights, he will qualify for the Olympic team. Then, he’d have time to do more than work. Being in close proximity to Ash’s life gave Val insight into Ash’s tender nature. Val was ashamed of how few others, including Ash’s own family, really tried to know the tender, loving person Ash was–beneath his glamorous persona. Val has never forgotten. It’s why Val will give up his few hours of sleep to ‘rescue’ Ash from bad situations.

It’s also why Val’s in love with Ash, and now he’s ashamed he ever took money to hang out with Ash, even if he used the money to care for his mom when she was dying. Now he’s not sure what to do. Ash needs his companionship, but the one time they got physical turned bad, fast. Can they build a relationship? Or will A-Town’s circus life upset Val’s training to be an Olympic boxer.

This is a tender romance between long-time friends who are learning how to be lovers. I enjoyed seeing Ash learn he’s worthy of love, even though it was somewhat bittersweet seeing Ash and Val fall for one another. I understood the conflict and why Val held back–both the truth and his love: he didn’t believe he was worthy, either. Expect a good bit of back and forth as Val comes to Ash’s rescue, and Ash learns to stand on his own. They make a good couple eventually, and I liked being in their heads. There are many other characters that interact with both Val and Ash, so now I’m trying to figure out which one might get a book. I’m fairly sure we’ll see one of Val’s toughest opponents find love, soon…. (Fingers crossed!)

Interested? You can find CONCOURSE on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

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!

Honing One’s INSIGHT–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M paranormal mystery/romance from Santino Hassell. INSIGHT is the first book in his The Community series and features an empathy on the hunt for clues to his estranged twin’s death. Was it murder, or a tragic accident? I’ve loved Hassell’s contemporary romances, SUNSET PARK, FIRST AND FIRST, and INTERBOROUGH, so I couldn’t wait to jump into this new series.

Bout the book:
Growing up the outcast in an infamous family of psychics, Nate Black never learned how to control his empath abilities. Then after five years without contact, his estranged twin turns up dead in New York City. The claim of suicide doesn’t ring true, especially when a mysterious vision tells Nate it was murder. Now his long-hated gift is his only tool to investigate.

Hitching from his tiny Texas town, Nate is picked up by Trent, a gorgeous engineer who thrives on sarcasm and skepticism. The heat that sparks between them is instant and intense, and Nate ends up trusting Trent with his secrets—something he’s never done before. But once they arrive in the city, the secrets multiply when Nate discovers an underground supernatural community, more missing psychics, and frightening information about his own talent.

Nate is left questioning his connection with Trent. Are their feelings real, or are they being propelled by abilities Nate didn’t realize he had? His fear of his power grows, but Nate must overcome it to find his brother’s killer and trust himself with Trent’s heart.

My Review:
Nate Black is a 22 y/o empath trying to make it on his own in a Houston suburb. He’s got some family, but they’re all crazier than him, and he knows from crazy. Theo, his estranged twin, has more powerful empathic gifts and moved to NYC shortly after high school ended, but Nate’s hidden his empath abilities nearly his whole life, like their mother–who went crazy and killed herself–had instructed. Nate wants to fly under the radar, but he’s overcome by a vision of Theo being drowned, in a way that’s totally sketchy, and he knows his brother is dead. The only way to discover the truth behind it: head to NYC. Only Nate has barely a few hundred dollars to his name, and his big idea–to hitch his way from Texas–isn’t the smartest.

Trent is a graduate student living in LA and driving home the southern route so he can visit friends in Houston. This has him crossing paths with Nate twice. The second time, he offers Nate a ride. Along the several days ride, Trent and Nate develop a connection, which is far stronger than Nate has ever experienced. Though Trent has never had sexual relations with a man, he believes himself to be bisexual, and he wants some intimacy with Nate. Nate’s attracted to Trent, too, but he’s used to walling himself off from everyone to keep their emotions out of his head. So, both are reluctant to make the first move. Not that it doesn’t happen, because it does, but this isn’t a traditional romance. What happens in New Orleans, though, doesn’t stop when the trip ends.

Still, once they reach the bright lights of NYC, Nate goes his own way, promising to keep in touch with Trent. Nate knows he needs to touch base with Theo’s closest friends if he wants to learn the truth, and he doesn’t want to involve Trent in what might be dangerous. Plus, Trent doesn’t know about the empath community and Nate’s afraid Trent will balk if he thinks Nate is somehow using his gift to influence Trent into being gay-for-him. Connecting with Theo’s pals alerts The Community that Nate’s on the scene, however.

The Community is a hidden network of empaths and telepaths in the NYC area. Nate had no idea of the scope, what with his sheltered rural Texas life, but he’s appropriately wary of the cadre of folk who want his loyalty and service. The more Nate learns, the more sinister things seem, and he reaches out to Trent for some normalcy, and insight, because Trent is truly the only person he feels he can trust. I really liked the twists and turns of this one. Expect it to morph into a thriller near the end. More empaths have gone missing/dead than just Theo, and Nate’s put himself on a path that is far from safe by poking through the hornet’s nest of intrigue that is The Community. As a reader, it was hard to know from what corner the danger came, and that’s a testament to the fantastic writing here. The romance is not formulaic, and was all the more interesting due to the odd circumstances. Also, it was freaking unbelievably hot when Trent and Nate got it on. Nate’s empathic abilities grow, and he’s able to experience his and Trent’s lust, and turn that back on them–creating a chemistry that is downright combustible.

I’m so looking forward to the next book in the series!!

Interested? You can find INSIGHT on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

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!

Working it Out–INTERBOROUGH-A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly-released contemporary M/M romance from Santino Hassell. INTERBOROUGH is the fourth book in the Five Boroughs series and definitely best enjoyed after reading SUNSET PARK. I definitely enjoyed it, and also loved FIRST AND FIRST, the third book in this series.

interboroughAbout the book:
The Raymond Rodriguez from a few years ago wouldn’t recognize the guy he is today. He’s left his slacker ways far behind him and is now juggling two jobs and school. But the balancing act doesn’t allow much time for the man he loves.

David is doing his best to be supportive, but problems at work and his own insecurity leave him frustrated—in more ways than the obvious—whenever he goes to bed before Raymond gets home. The heat and affection between them is still there, but they barely have the time or energy to enjoy it. And it doesn’t help that Raymond is still hiding David from his colleagues.

The stress mounts so high that a vacation in paradise is filled with turmoil instead of harmony, and culminates on their return to the five boroughs with broken promises and heartache. They have to figure out how to stop allowing their differences to overshadow their love. It’s the only way they’ll make it to forever.

My Review:
This is the fourth book in a series, and should be read after book 2, SUNSET PARK, if not read in order.

Ray and David have been dating on the down-low for a year. Ray came out as bisexual on Valentine’s Day, but only to close friends and his brother, Michael. David struggles to feel his place at Ray’s side, mostly because the uber-slacker Ray has completely flipped his script and is working two jobs, plus going to college. He wants to be a supervisor, or an inspector, on the docks, so he’s putting in third shift duty as a Longshoreman, in addition to his vapid day job. Most nights David goes to bed alone, after worrying that he and Ray are slipping apart. It doesn’t help that Ray’s new work pal, Trey, seems to want a piece of Ray–and Ray is completely oblivious.

Is David being silly, and suspicious, for no reason? David’s only adult relationship was with Caleb, and he snuck around cheating because Caleb had little-to-no interest in sex. Now, David’s worried that he and Ray are slipping apart, and Ray’s so gorgeous he might be getting it on with any of the many male, or female, admirers he seems to collect. So, David’s a wreck, imagining his worn-out lover might be taking some love on the side. Meanwhile, Ray’s so exhausted, his libido has shrunk considerably. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want David; he does. Lots. But they are ships passing, and both are banking on spending some great quality time on a gay-friendly cruise arranged by Caleb’s new company. Ray has promised he’ll quit his day job, but a bad financial turn causes him to change his mind–and keep that knowledge to himself until they get back from vacation.

It’s a tenuous time, and both David and Ray are frustrated. David is drinking more, and it’s upsetting to Ray–not least because David is obnoxious when drunk. Ray takes it in stride, guilty that he’s neglected his lover so much. He thinks if he just works more, and makes enough money to manage his new expenses for a little longer, he and David can weather the storm. But David wants a true partnership. He’s not happy being ‘just friends’ around any of Ray’s work colleagues–and Trey’s encroachment into their personal time is more than David can handle.

There’s a lot of struggle in this book, and part of it stems from Ray’s naivete. He’s never dated anyone seriously, and David’s experience in coupling hasn’t been stellar. Ray still wants to keep his personal life private, and he doesn’t see how this is a problem for David. There’s also some eye-opening business that David experiences, notably the differences in treatment Ray gets from police due to his Puerto Rican heritage. David knows he loves Ray, and that Ray loves him, but love didn’t keep him from stepping out on Caleb, or from all his other friends’ having problems in their marriages. David looks at Michael and Nunzio–Ray’s brother and lover–sees all he wants in the world: a strong, out relationship that is a partnership. There’s so little of that happening between him and Ray that he’s distraught.

These books, where the couple has been together a while but is hitting a rough patch, are always hard to write, and read. It’s a delicate balance between the conflict and the resolution, because you don’t want one character to be embittered, or seem unsympathetic. I felt like this was well-managed. Ray’s still very clueless about how to be in a relationship, and David’s got a lot of paranoia regarding his own missteps with Caleb. The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy, and David fears Ray’s gone apathetic. Ray’s mostly confused, determined to fix all his problems by working harder–which only causes his problems to spiral out of control. It’s hard to get mad at a guy trying so hard, but I could empathize with David, who became more withdrawn and remote, feeling abandoned by the love of his life.

Expect angst and conflict for Ray and David. Expect them to battle, for love and attention. There’s a good amount of love, and that core is solid–if only they can make it work. Spoiler alert: this one ends with a secure HEA. Ray and David finally do the sitting down, talking thing, and they compromise and they build a better love for each other than they had at the start.

Interested? You can find INTERBOROUGH on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

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!

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!

Turning the Corner FIRST AND FIRST–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Santino Hassell. FIRST AND FIRST is a sweet and sexy story about finding yourself and being true, even if it’s not convenient.

First and First (Five Boroughs, #3)About the book:
Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.

My Review:
This is the third book in a series, but fully enjoyable on its own. There are recurrent characters who make appearances, some quite heavily, but this is Caleb’s love story, so it’s mostly about him.

Caleb is 37 years old and a trust fund “kid.” He’s got an MBA and really enjoys helping get start-ups off the ground, but has never really felt connected with the culture of the companies he’s assisted as CFO. Perhaps that’s why he’s always been “expendable” to them once they are off and running. Just as he was expendable to his previous lover, David. Caleb feels a bit lost, and totally awkward. He didn’t come out until his was 30 and is a bit repressed when it comes to his lovers. Until New Year’s Eve when he gets absolutely plastered and leaves the big party with Oliver.

Oli was raised with wealth, like Caleb. He knows the manipulations and touchy situations of affluence in a way David didn’t. His family cast him out at eighteen, however, when they discovered he was gay and he’s had to make his own way in life. Like many of his “friends,” Oli is a man Caleb met through David. Caleb and Oli have a rockin’ night that Caleb doesn’t remember. At first. *shakes head* that was the WORST morning after, maybe…ever.

Oli and Caleb strike up a buddy-ship of sorts. Oli likes to go to exclusive sex-club parties and he needs a “plus one,” and Oli thinks it’ll help Caleb mellow out about sex. Caleb agrees, because he does feel too uptight, and knows it was a problem between himself and David. Not that he’s hoping to get David back; he knows that ship has exploded, and the wreckage hit the bottom of the ocean. Still, the exposure to that alternate lifestyle is freeing, in a way. It even reunites Caleb with his half-brother Aiden, a man he had little knowledge of until recently. Aiden was the result of an affair, and he’s a dirty little secret–and treated so. Aiden grew up poor and is married to a man, but lives closeted, in the hope that his father’s bare-minimal attempts to aid his career will result in a better lifestyle.

Being near Oli and Aiden gets Caleb’s wheels turning. He wants to open his own company, making an app that he’ll have an ownership stake in, and not simply get cut out to the loop if it gets successful. Aiden knows marketing and programming, Oli is a computer programmer, and Caleb’s a financial wunderkind, so he thinks the idea is a slam-dunk. It’s not, but they refine it and build on it, and make it what they want–and it marks a turning point both for Caleb and Oli.

Oli is all about casual sex, something he’s very forthright about, but he’s having second thoughts with Caleb. Caleb really doesn’t want anyone other than Oli, and he has to find the strength to make his feelings clear. I think their love story is one that felt real and tangible on the page. It’s not perfect, and it’s easy to see how titillating the parties would be, to a young and single man–or even married couples who like a little variety, like Aiden and his husband. It’s a very sex positive book, with so many interesting and sexy elements.

I liked how Aiden, Caleb and Oli worked together to make this new venture succeed. Caleb wanted to fund  the enterprise, but they wouldn’t allow that–which forced Caleb out of his comfort zone in a professional way, and that was also a point of growth for him. It was also cool to see the inside story of Caleb and Aiden and their father–and how the mangled relationships still held a bit of affection. I also really liked that Caleb and Aiden–and their sister, too–began building a real relationship that was outside of all the family drama.

For a book that includes so much public sex, group sex, and plain out filthy talk, it’s surprisingly tender. All of these experiences are filtered through Caleb’s wary eyes and insecure mind-set. I was so happy that Oli finally stopped being a stubborn guy and really allowed what was building between them to progress. He’s clearly been crushed by the rejection of his family, and finding solace and love from Caleb is a balm for his bruised heart and battered ego.

Interested? You can find FIRST AND FIRST 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!