Coming Out Soon DOWN BY CONTACT-A Review

Hi there! Continuing my Sports Week theme I’m sharing a pre-release review of a steamy new contemporary M/M romance from Santino Hassell. DOWN BY CONTACT is the second book in his The Barons series and features a quarterback making contact with a former teammate-turned-hater. It’s a standalone, though it features return characters from ILLEGAL CONTACT, the first book in the series. I’ve loved the gritty romances I’ve read by Mr. Hassell, including SUNSET PARK, INTERBOROUGH and CITYWIDE. DOWN BY CONTACT releases Jan 16th, and preorder links are below.

About the book:
Two rival football players begin a game with higher stakes than the Super Bowl in this steamy romance from the author of Illegal Contact.
Simeon Boudreaux, the New York Barons’ golden-armed quarterback, is blessed with irresistible New Orleans charm and a face to melt your mama’s heart. He’s universally adored by fans and the media. Coming out as gay in solidarity with his teammate hasn’t harmed his reputation in the least—except for some social media taunting from rival linebacker Adrián Bravo.

Though they were once teammates, Adrián views Simeon as a traitor and the number-one name on the New Jersey Predators’ shit list. When animosity between the two NFL players reaches a boiling point on the field, culminating in a dirty fist fight, they’re both benched for six games and sentenced to joint community service teaching sullen, Brooklyn teens how to play ball.

At first, they can barely stand to be in the same room, but running the camp forces them to shape up. With no choice but to work together, Simeon realizes Adrián is more than his alpha-jerk persona, and Adrián begins to question why he’s always had such strong feelings for the gorgeous QB…

My Review:
Simeon Boudreaux and Adrián Bravo were teammates and friends on the Predators for a short stretch a few years back, but Simeon got cut, and picked up by the Barons. Adrián blames the Baron’s success against his Predators on Simeon knowing their playbook, but deep inside he’s really angry that he lost his friend. And, he’s using that anger to fuel some anti-gay slurs he makes once Simeon comes out. Adrián’s Predators are all about toxic machismo, and homophobia; Simeon’s glad he left that behind and found a team where he could be himself–and support a fellow out player. He lives his truth and loves his life.

Of course, he’s not happy with Adrián’s trash talk, or with Adrián’s late hit that lands him on the disabled list for eight weeks. Adrián’s suspended, and their PR teams work out a deal to get both players some positive press: have them use their time off to volunteer at a LGBTQ kids outreach center running the sports recreation. Neither Simeon nor Adrián is wild about this arrangement, and the tension is rough. They have outbursts and power trips, and cause more fuss than help. And, somewhere in the hurt they generate, a kernel of desire is born. As neither man is dating anyone, the taunts they let fly turns the tension up to eleven. Adrián is especially struggling with the recognition that Simeon is such a great guy, and soon he’s also seeing his former adversary as a desirable man.

Not that Adrián can act on his impulses. His old school folks would never accept him coming out as bisexual, nor would he find the Predators to be welcoming. But, Simeon is patient even with all the hate sex Adrián is offering. He definitely likes turning Adrián inside-out; his main mission is to turn Adrián into an ally, even if he’s undercover. The press gets wind of their developing relationship, when one of the kids leaks an incriminating photo, and Simeon tries to shield Adrián from the fall-out, but Adrián wants to write his own story. Especially if it includes Simeon.

I always love the gritty, filthy talking, hot-and-dirty sexytimes Mr. Hassell writes. There’s no shortage of those moments here, and the sweet way Adrián comes around to accepting his sexuality is a bonus. I love the urbanity of the writing, and the ethnic dialect and experiences. Both Simeon and Adrián are men of color and they feel culturally authentic and interesting. I liked the football setting, though there are lots of off-the-field scenes, as both players are sidelined temporarily. The banter between Simeon and Adrián is amusing, and filled with athletic trash talk, amidst the flirtatious challenges. Their physical relationship begins with little more than a dare, but it grows more tender the longer they go at each other. Adrián’s fledgling steps into sex with Simeon are a revelation he didn’t expect to find, but the companionship they share fills a void neither man anticipated. It’s unexpectedly sweet. And, the end leaves the reader wondering if the league’s biggest homophobe, Adrián’s friend and teammate, Rocky Swoops, might be protesting just a bit too much. Looking forward to the next book in this series.

Interested? You can find DOWN BY CONTACT on Goodreads, and pre-order it before it’s Jan 16th release on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. I received a review copy 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!

Bringing the Heat–CITYWIDE A Review

Hi there! This week I’m going to feature some SMOKING HOT books mostly featuring menage stories…because I live outside Chicago and I like some heat (and sexy distractions!) in my holidays.  Today I’m sharing a review for a recently released novella collection from Santino Hassell. CITYWIDE is a new book in the Five Boroughs series and features a bunch of folks from Ray’s Queens squad finding love…and super hot sex. There’s a little bit for everyone, including M/M/M, F/F and M/F lovin’. I’ve loved Hassell’s contemporary romances, SUNSET PARK, FIRST AND FIRST, INTERBOROUGH, and CONCOURSE, so I couldn’t wait to jump into this new book.

About the book:
A record-breaking heatwave engulfs the Five Boroughs, and emotions run as hot as the temperatures.

In Rerouted, Chris Mendez is trying to live a drama-free life. That doesn’t include another threesome with Jace and Aiden Fairbairn. But then a citywide blackout leaves them trapped together, and Chris is forced to re-examine everything he thought he knew about relationships and his own heart.

In Gridlocked, former Marine Tonya Maldonado is keeping real estate heiress Meredith Stone on permanent ignore. Mere isn’t Tonya’s type. Not even close. Who cares if she kisses like a dream and has the filthiest mouth this side of the East River? But then a security detail at a summer party ends with her saving Mere’s life and discovering they have more chemistry than she’d ever imagined.

In Derailed, Stephanie Quinones escapes the heat and her complicated love life by going on a company retreat. Trouble is, it’s a couples’ retreat, and she lied about having a boyfriend. Unfortunately, the only person willing to play pretend is her on-again/off-again fling, Angel León. They’re currently “off again,” but after a week in the woods, Stephanie realizes she wouldn’t mind them being permanently on.

My Review:
The stories link many of the single, and not-so-single, characters that have appeared in several of the previous books. CITYWIDE opens with a citywide heatwave that’s causing periodic black outs across the five boroughs of New York City. This is particularly troublesome because the servers for QFindr, a LGBTQ dating app created in FIRST AND FIRST, don’t like being without power or AC for long periods of time. Chris Mendez, is one of Ray Rodrigues’ Queens crew–and he’s had a lot of contact with the sexy QFindr folks, because their crews mingle through Ray. He recruited them to be models for QFindr’s launch, and they all went on a queer-friendly mixer cruise. Through this connection, and Caleb, Ray’s boyfriend’s ex, calls Chris to help with tech support during the heatwave–the company’s tech officer is on vacation.

Chris is not excited about turning up. He’s been avoiding Caleb’s business partner and half-brother, Aiden, and his husband Jace, for a couple of months now. Because Chris’s really attracted to them. And they want him to be a third in their sexytimes. And he wants that super bad, but he’s not down for an open relationship. He’d be their third in a hot second (and even hotter third!) but he’s not willing to share them outside of their triad. And, they’ve been poly for…ever. Trapped in the QFindr offices during a city-wide blackout that lasts three days. Three hot and sweaty, mainly naked, and hawt days. Also, Chris comes to terms t=with his self-esteem issues, and Aiden and Jace consider his needs seriously. They also uncover some big dirt that leads to the firing of an employee who looks for retribution in Gridlocked. Expect heart-to-heart-to-hearts and some seriously filthy frolicking. These guys fill each others’ holes…metaphorically and physically. Happy endings abound.

In the GRIDLOCKED Tonya Maldonado, another pal of Ray’s, reconnects with Meredith, Caleb’s sister. They’d had some fun times before, but Tonya’s not down with being some sort of conquest and that’s how she felt after their tryst. Not that they don’t have mad chemistry. Meredith is a rich heiress, and Tonya’s working as private security now that she’s out of the Marines. While at an event, Tonya helps Mere escape some homophobic stalkers. Tonya keeps her safe, and that prompts Mere’s estranged father to step in with an offer Tonya really doesn’t want to refuse. Mere’s livid that she’d even consider it, though. I’ll be honest, I’ve long loved Hassell’s M/M interludes, but wow! He blew my mind with these F/F scenes. O.O I loved how tough Tonya is, and how she stands her ground. She knows she’s got a great opportunity, but she’s also sympathetic to Mere’s domestic issues. Tonya’s a professional, and she pulls comrades along with her. There’s happiness to spare in this one, and I liked seeing Mere, Caleb and Aiden’s father become more human than his previous introductions.

In DERAILED, the final two members of Ray’s squad, Angel and Steph, acknowledge a deep connection to each other. Steph is pansexual, and though Angel is totally gone for her, he’s not really down for an open relationship. Steph has worked as a paralegal for a law firm for a good while, and wants a raise, but can’t seem to get one, despite her hard work and evident qualifications. She thinks this may be because she’s not settled with a partner, and maybe because she’s female. To keep people out of her business she “invents” a fiance, Angel, her long-time friend and on-and-off sexual partner. Angel, well, he’s interested in playing that game, because it’ll put him and Steph together for a whole weekend on a staff retreat, and won’t a change of scenery be nice? Maybe Steph will see how good they could be together, and want to make it permanent. All their pals are in committed relationships, and Angel wants one so bad he’s stepping outside of his comfort zone for Steph.

It actually works pretty nicely, for a while. That said, it’s not all smoking hot sex. Okay, besides the sex there’s some barbecue, and some Angel being a fab partner, and some Steph standing up for herself and being plain about her needs as a professional and a woman. And some realization that Angel’s been the love of her life for more than a decade. Having grown up with bad parents and unfair responsibilities, it’s tough for Steph to recalibrate her personal goals, but loving Angel isn’t difficult, and she’s finally willing to take the chance. Expect really hot nights and love under the stars.

Having read all six books in this series, I can tell you right now, I’d read six more. Matter of fact, Steph’s brother’s looking a little lonely… Write more, Mr. Hassell. I’ll be waiting.

Interested? You can find CITYWIDE on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. I received a review copy 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!

Getting Past One’s OVERSIGHT–A Review

Hi there! Happy Halloween, y’all! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M paranormal mystery/romance from Santino Hassell. OVERSIGHT is the second book in his The Community series and features an empath on the hunt for answers about his brother’s disappearance. We met Holden Payne INSIGHT, when he sort-of helped Nate Black learn the truth of his twin’s death. I’ve loved Hassell’s contemporary romances, SUNSET PARK, FIRST AND FIRST, and INTERBOROUGH, and I”m glad I jumped into this new series.

About the book:
Spoiler Alert! The following blurb contains spoilers for Insight, book one of The Community.
Holden Payne has it all . . . or so he thinks. As heir to the founder of the Community—an organization that finds, protects, and manages psychics—he’s rich, powerful, and treated like royalty. But after a series of disappearances and murders rock the Community, he’s branded the fall guy for the scandal and saddled with a babysitter.

Sixtus Rossi is a broad-shouldered, tattooed lumbersexual with a man-bun and a steely gaze. He’s also an Invulnerable—supposedly impervious to both psychic abilities and Holden’s charms. It’s a claim Holden takes as a challenge. Especially if sleeping with Six may help him learn whether the Community had more to do with the disappearances than they claimed.

As Holden uncovers the truth, he also finds himself getting in deep with the man sent to watch him. His plan to seduce Six for information leads to a connection so intense that some of Six’s shields come crashing down. And with that comes a frightening realization: Holden has to either stand by the Community that has given him everything, or abandon his old life to protect the people he loves.

My Review:
Holden Payne’s world view got skewed when he realized his father had placed people in his club, a supposedly safe space for LGBTQ psychics, in order to spot their powers and take them for experimentation. And now he fears his father, the highest member of the Community’s organization, is going to frame him for the problems. Holden’s friends were murdered, and his half-brother Chase was picked up for “realignment” at The Farm, and Holden’s beside himself.

It doesn’t help that his father has placed another spy in his club to keep his eyes on Holden. Sixtus Rossi spent a decade as a guard up at the Farm, a place Holden remembers going as a youth. It was supposed to be another safe space, where young psychics could learn their craft and become more adept to blending into society, but –Holden is now learning–it’s really a reprogramming center where undesirables are sent to have their outlook rewired through torture. And Chase, as well as HOlden’s mother, is there.

Through mutual friends of Chase and Holden, Holden learns of the true nature of the Community, to amass power by psychic means, and Six is always watching his back. Is he reporting back to Holden’s father? Or, is he just curious. Six has an Invulnerable mind, one even Holden’s empath charms cannot work on, so the attraction that seems to develop must be all-natural. And that’s unsettling. Holden first wants to trade favors with Six for any information he can provide on Chase, but Six disabuses him of this possibility. Six might be inexperienced, but he’s not a prostitute. And, he’s noticed Holden for years–mostly because Holden noticed him, first. They have a complicated history that’s only further complicated when Holden falls into the thinking of Ex-Comm members, psychics and their family survivors who aren’t happy with the way the Community is/has treated them. While it blows Holden’s mind, he’s also convinced it’s truth, what the Ex-Comm people have to say. And, when Chase’s boyfriend is taken to The Farm, Holden knows he can’t sit idle any longer.

There’s some daring rescues in Holden’s future, but this is the second book in what appears to be a trilogy. I loved how Holden really took his time to be won over by Ex-Comm. How he made his own investigations and tried to find reasonable channels for pursuit of Chase, before recognizing that he wasn’t dealing with a rational situation. That made this all the more real for me to believe. Six is a good foil for HOlden’s emotional extremes, as he’s a rock-solid guy who tells it EXACTLY like it is. Their courtship seemed brief, but they are working against a clock: Chase’s life is at risk, as is his mother’s life, too. There’s some great misdirection and interesting character positioning on the two factions going on here, which made the story that much more interesting. I don’t want to say too much more about the resolution, but I will say that Holden and Six come out of it a strong couple determined to defeat Holden’s father and release the iron control he’s built over the psychics of NYC.

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

Interested? You can find OVERSIGHT 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!

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!