Review: Concourse by Santino Hassell

Review: Concourse by Santino Hassellby Santino Hassell
Published on 29 April 2017
Published by Riptide Publishing
Source: NetGalley

Copy for review provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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.

Since I first started reading Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs series, I’ve been fascinated by this gritty and authentic New York set world, wholly different from my own experience. Each story has had unique and flawed characters grappling with their sexuality, their complex lives and their day to day challenges. Concourse is a friends to lovers story at heart, while also showcasing two very different lives and how they’ve managed to grow roots in each other.

Ashton is a party boy, cover model, kink fan, and rich kid, all rolled into one package. Growing up with absentee wealthy parents, his best friend was Val, the son of his nanny. Always looking to fit in, Ashton’s built himself a reputation as a social media flirt on a TMZ level, seemingly uncaring about his reputation. Only Val sees into the heart of him, knowing how miserable he really is, but unable to stop him from making mistakes one after the other.

Val’s life shows a clear dichotomy from the vapid one Ashton lives. He’s working two jobs to help put his sister through college and training to be a boxer. When his mother passed away, he assuaged his anger and frustration by sleeping with Ashton, though since then he’s made it clear it was a one-time deal and he and Ashton can only be friends. Lifelong crush on Ash aside, Val’s been keeping a secret he knows will likely ruin the friendship and trust between them when it comes out. Guardian, protector, friend, and confidante is it worth it to put that all on the line for a chance at real love?

Every story in this series has different themes that are appropriate to the variety of characters and their lives, and this one is equal to the others in displaying the challenges of a working class life versus the kid born with a silver spoon. And yet, Ashton’s life is far from perfect. Trying to be true to his nature, he is an embarrassment to his family for his penchant to wear dresses, engage in risky sexual behavior and a sex tape taken six years before that cemented his poor reputation. His brother’s solution is to whore Ashton out to entice a gay investor into supporting the family company and Ashton is willing to do it for the approval he seeks. Val is the one who sees how unhappy he is, the façade of his life, but he also knows he is powerless to change Ash’s behavior unless Ash wills it.

Val is a conflicted character too, his desire to become a prize-winning boxer led by his need for money,  to please his coach, and memories of his father more than by real ambition. He’s overworked, underpaid and exhausted. He feels guilty for not being upfront with Ashton about why he won’t take a job offered to him by Ashton’s father that would solve all his debt problems. Combine that with his deep and confusing affection for Ashton and something’s got to give. It does – in the form of a sexual attraction neither can ignore, leading to some steamy scenes between them as they navigate their real feelings for each other.

Along with these two unique and flawed characters, the city of New York gets center stage with the descriptions of the Bronx where Val lives and Manhattan, Ashton’s stomping grounds. Sex parties, boxing rings, cramped apartments and luxury penthouses – it’s all laid out for the reader in grand style. There are some great cameo scenes from previous series characters, as well as some new people in the ever-widening circle of Five Boroughs friends. Concourse takes the friends to lovers theme and adds the author’s own unique twists to create a compelling story. If you’re looking for sexy, gritty, sometimes shocking but always entertaining romances, the Five Boroughs series should be on your shelf.


About Santino Hassell

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into a guy who spends his days grumbling on social media and nights writing queer romance.

Santino is a dedicated gamer, a former fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of queer fiction 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.