Sunday, May 7, 2017

Book of the Week: Concourse by Santino Hassell #Review

Author: Santino Hassell
Book: Concourse
Series: Five Boroughs #5
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Cover Artist: LC Chase
Publication date: May 1, 2017
Length: 366 pages


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.

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I don't know about y'all, but to me, there's no other author who can manage to write a book that has characters who are flawed, complex, and so REAL quite like Santino Hassell. I don't really know people in real life quite like those portrayed in his Five Boroughs series, but with each book, I feel like I do. Even someone as unique as Instagram sensation Ashton Townsend or as multi-faceted as the boxer from the Bronx, Valdrin Leka feels like a person I could easily see on the street or in a restaurant--they seem that real and that fully developed. It's quite a talent Santino has--to be able to submerse all of us into a world and neighborhood rife with eclectic personalities and an atmosphere all it's own. You get all of this and more in Concourse, the fifth book in Santino's ever popular Five Boroughs series. 
If you've been as avid a fan of the series as I have been thus far, then, like me, you've been on pins and needles waiting for Ashton's story. We've seen glimpses of the enigmatic waif of a man, the one with the gorgeous face, silky blond hair, and attitude bigger than New York City. Of course, since they have just been brief glimpses, we haven't gotten to know the man behind the persona. And oh, boy, what a man he turned out to be! Brash and bold, yet achingly fragile and tender-hearted, Ashton pulled at my heartstrings right from the get go. I also wanted to kick his ass more than a few times, but that just made him all the more endearing and real. He's loved Valdrin for most of his life. Ash and Val have grown up together seeing as how Valdrin's mom was Ashton's nanny. They've been best friends, confidants, and even though they come from such different backgrounds, understand one another better than anyone else. There have been times they've drifted apart, but always they've remained friends and each has harbored very deep and real feelings for the other. Feelings they each have been too afraid to admit for fear it would destroy their friendship. Ashton, who despite the millions of followers on Instagram and his millions more in the bank, is one of the loneliest people I've read about in a long time. Sure he has a very small group of close friends he trusts (something not so easy in the circles he runs in) but it's Valdrin's steadfast loyalty that he relies on more than anything. And the person he needs and trusts to accept the "real" Ashton.
Valdrin was a study in contradictions, but he was SO fantastic. I loved his loyalty to Ashton. I loved his relationship with his sister. Even though it took him a long time to do it, I really loved how he finally figured out exactly what (and who) he wants in his life. He could have so very easily harbored ill feelings toward Ashton based on their childhood, but instead, he became and remained close to Ashton. There is a bit of resentment we see Val work through, but if he didn't feel the anger and resentment it would have been unauthentic. This is one of the things Santino does better than just about anyone else. He never lets his characters take the easy way out. They don't always do or say the right things, but who does? This makes every single character, be they the main ones or those in a secondary role, vital to the story.
There's a lot of back and forth in this story. And A LOT of one step forward two steps backward as Ashton and Valdrin move from friendship to lovers and yeah, this gets a bit frustrating, but again, it's real. These guys have issues. Big ones. And even bigger secrets. Ashton's life in the eyes of the paparazzi and his millions of Instagram followers is not anything Val knows or wants to be a part of. Not to mention the people he associates with, and his views on sex. I loved that Val is demisexual and I appreciated Ashton's sex positive views. That is another thing Hassell excels at--giving his readers a smorgasbord of sexualities and viewpoints.
Concourse is such a fantastic addition to the series. A bit different from the others I think, but it still has the same vibe of the first four books. As always the writing is stellar and the plot engaging. I'd totally be remiss if I didn't mention the beyond fabulous scenes Nunzio appeared in. OMG, I didn't think I could love Nunzio more than I did but my love for him has grown by leaps and bounds after Concourse. He only appears a few times, but they're important scenes and he absolutely steals and makes them. Gah! And that cover? I can't wait to have this one in paperback for sure. All in all, I adored how this book ended and I can't wait to see more of these guys, or at least get an update as the series goes along. Read this one, you'll fall in love with Ashton and Valdrin.


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