Concourse by Santino Hassell (Five Boroughs #5)
Released: April 29, 2017
Reviewed by Tracey
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.
Concourse is book 5 in the Five Boroughs series from Santino Hassell. I absolutely love the writing style of Mr. Hassell as he has a way of giving his characters depth and making them come alive on the page. This series is an enjoyable read, and I love the way NYC comes to life in the book, the cover photos could grace any art gallery they are so beautiful. The story told is very relevant to today’s social media times, it’s a friends to lovers, and a prince and pauper trope that shows the problematic pitfalls of life long friends trying to make the transition to lovers.They are also relatively young men, who seem to be still trying to find their way in world that can be all kinds of fucked up.
Ashton is a NYC socialite celebutante, famous for Instagram postings and an unfortunate sex tape. His family is rich, and has no use for a son who embarrasses them and their name.
“After all my family had done, the dismissing and the slut shaming and forcing me into modeling as a kid to “make use” of my appearance, I would still do anything to feel…like part of their family.”
He hasn’t ever been able to live up to what they expect from him, so he quit trying. He’s living the life of partying, drinking, drugs and sex clubs, and he knows that Val, his childhood friend, is the only one who sees the real Ashton. Val is his rock in a sinking, darkening world.
Val is the exact opposite, trying so hard to stay in the mold of what people and family want and expect of him that inside he is miserable. He trains as a boxer, drives a cab and pays his sister’s college tuition. He is a caretaker in every sense of the word, and his job has always been to take care of Ashton even though he doesn’t understand why Ashton lives the lifestyle that he does. Even their views of sex are diametrically opposed. Val is demisexual, or as Ashton says:
“His horny chip doesn’t activate unless he’s emotionally invested. I don’t think gender matters to him so much as his connection with a person.”
Ashton’s view on sex is totally off the charts from Val’s.
“There’s always a reason why I went to a sex party, or screwed a guy I met while running, or why I’ve blown mostly all my friends. Or why I like watching you get off. You can never just accept that I like to fuck.”
I wasn’t really thrilled when I found out that Ashton was going to be one of the main characters of Book 5. The appearance he made in Caleb’s and Oliver’s story (Book 3) left a lot to be desired. He just wasn’t an appealing character, and I really had no desire to read anything further about him. I bought the book on the strength of the author’s work, and I’m glad I did. This book is Ash’s book, and Ash came to life through Mr. Hassell’s words. Your heart just breaks for him as he struggles to find his way in a world in which there has never been any kindness and he has been used in every way you can be used. Even his true love, Val, has not always been kind, what with the vacillating between I want you…no, get away from me. Watching as Ash grows and matures, watching as his confidence and self-esteem builds is a heart warming journey. He finds his way towards hands on charity work instead of just signing a check, and this helps him to realize that he is a good man, and he does have worth.
Val is a different story. I just wasn’t crazy about Val. He came across as just kind of…meh! He never really developed into a strong character in my mind…he boxed and was hot, that was about it. When reading Val’s POV, it would pull me out of the story where I just wanted to tell him to “grow a pair and grow up”. All of Val’s angst could have been fixed with a few tries at communication. I understand these are young men who probably aren’t the best at holding a deep conversation, it just seemed there was such an easy remedy right at hand.
The sex scenes are hot, and emotionally satisfying. For all that Ash has treated sex like a party favor, when it came to having sex with Val he knew what he wanted. He wanted Val, and only Val.
There are cameo’s from some of the usual suspects from the earlier books. My heart beats faster when Nunzio appears, and his encouragement of Ash’s charity works is one of the things that pulls Ash out of his spiraling funk. The resolution is heartwarming and ties up all the loose ends, while the epilogue shows Val and Ash growing into the strong, loving and happy men that you know they can be. This can be read as a stand alone book, but you would miss out on so much if you didn’t go back and read the preceding books. They are worth it!
This book makes me wish my hometown had a charity like Mr. Hassell’s Gateway Center, and hopefully this book will encourage readers to get out and volunteer at their local LGBTQ charities. If this books pushes even one person out the door to help where it is needed, Mr. Hassell will have done more great work than just writing a good book.