Another powerful New York tale from Santino

Concourse (Five Boroughs, #5)Concourse by Santino Hassell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ashton first appeared in one of the earlier Five Borough novels at the Liberty X party I knew there was going to be more to him than was shown on the surface.

And I was right, throughout this book I wanted to take Ashton away and wrap him up in bubble wrap and give him a big hug and tell him he was a person of worth.

I don’t think there’s much more emotionally damaging than to be told you’re a failure, an embarrassment, to consider yourself to be useless. That he manages to find a purpose is down to him being encouraged to look within for the strengths he possesses comes, rather appropriately, via a Nunzio cameo.

Ashton also has his rock, Valdrin, son of his nanny, a boxer who loves the thrill of the fight but couldn’t care less if he wins, a pleaser who finds it hard to let things go and do what’s right for him.

Together they have a seriously beautiful friendship which Santino allows to play out in slow burn perfectly. The usual New York setting and cast of supporting characters are also here to bring this world to life.

It is a rare talent to make a book feel like you’re reading about a bunch of real people who decided one day to allow their stories to be told and Santino has it in spades.

I can’t wait to take another trip through the streets of New York with these guys and gals.

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Trouble in paradise? Don’t worry the boys come through

Interborough (Five Boroughs #4)Interborough by Santino Hassell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure with this one, did I want to read more of David and Raymond when they’d been left pretty happy at the end of Sunset Park? For a lot of this book there was angst, oh lord was there angst.

But, it was all the good kind, the kind that leads people to have to talk, either to each other or to a trusted friend, and both David and Ray did this in spades during this book. Their troubles were totally believable, this was a slice of real relationship life and it was written so well that, at one point, my heart was in my mouth thinking Santino was going to leave them apart!

I should have known better, he would never do that to his devoted Five Boroughs fans right? And sure enough, with incredible skill and fabulous writing he slowly drew all the loose threads back together again to give us a pairing I have no doubt will be sharing that Viagra tablet aged 80 in their nursing home twin beds!

Now onto the mysterious A-Town!

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My favourite – Hassell knocks it out the park again

First and First (Five Boroughs #3)First and First by Santino Hassell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My favourite so far. I don’t know how Santino did it but he managed to take two of the characters who’d been loitering around the first two books basically being arses and causing problems and create an epically brilliant journey to romance.

I loved, loved, loved Caleb and Oliver in First and First, having been a bit put out by each of them in Sutphin Boulevard and Sunset Park but here, here they were redeemed a thousand times over.

The opening scene is genius, how we’re given a glimpse into the New Year’s Eve sexual escapades which blew Caleb’s mind and firmly threw away his feelings of repression and fear, this drip feed of sexuality was highly erotic and only added to the delicious climax when the pair came together again.

“You’re so sexy,” Oli panted. “And you don’t even know it, and that just makes me want to destroy you.

Caleb and Oli go on such a journey together. This is the beauty of Santino’s novels. His characters have depth and realness, they make mistakes, they’re idiots at times, they hurt each other both deliberately and without meaning to.

Ultimately though, they find happiness in their imperfect pairings and it’s joyous to read. As Aiden says:

“…There’s not one way to to live or to love, and whoever tries to tell you any different will probably be dead in a decade or two anyway, so screw them!”

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New York lovingly stars in Hassell’s latest romance

Sunset Park (Five Boroughs #2)Sunset Park by Santino Hassell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wowzers! That’s pretty much my take on this book. I fluctuated between exasperation, exhilaration and exhaustion watching Ray and David go on their relationship journey.

I love how, in a Santino Hassell novel, the setting is another character, New York is larger than life and utterly central to everything which takes place in this romance. The Puerto Rican background for Raymond, David’s Connecticut childhood, these things are as integral to their pairing as the stupendously hot sex they have as Ray looks to explore the male side of his bisexuality.

I also love “real” and Santino is one of those authors who brings it every time. David’s fears that Ray’s bisexuality is a phase and he’ll ditch him are grounded in truths often expressed not only in literature but in “real life”. There’s angst in this one, but thankfully nowhere near the level of Ray’s brother Michael’s story and it works well with this lower level of tension.

They are flawed men, they’re not caricatures but fully fleshed out with all the frailties of humanity. Ray can’t manage to tell David how he feels, David’s scared he’s not enough and in the background are the rest of the Five Boroughs characters, intertwined and interconnected through everyone’s lives.

This is a well earned and well worked for happy ending and it’s beautiful.

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Angsty start to this New York set series

Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs, #1)Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gosh the angsty in this book! However, I absolutely loved it. I got Michael, I could see and empathise with his fall from grace.

Santino has an incredible talent with words to bring a setting to life. I could see the school corridors and the classrooms, hear the kids running through them, appreciate the New York life even though I’ve never been there.

His sex scenes were epic, the threesome felt organic and central to the narrative, not just chucked in for plot’s sake. Their slow burn and the realisation that their 20 year friendship could be so much more was delicious to read, even while Michael’s alcohol abuse and general withdrawal from Nunzio was painful to see.

This was raw and real, gritty and emotional, a portrayal of the expectations of two living, breathing people, not just characters in a story. I loved the secondary characters as well, they helped build up the whole world setting and fleshed it out fully.

I also loved that Michael went for therapy, no magic dick cure, and that he was sceptical about its effectiveness but willing to try because he knew he’d hit rock bottom and couldn’t do it alone. I loved all the scenes at the therapy centre.

I can see why those wanting a romance felt cheated, as it didn’t really kick in until the final 10% of the book, but I don’t always want to read a hearts & flowers tale, I want something that’s a little bit gritty, a little bit dirty.

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