Title: Concourse (A Five Boroughs Novel)
Author: Santino Hassell
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: 366 Pages
At a Glance: Concourse is reason number five that the Five Boroughs series, Hassell’s trademark, is one of the best series in the genre.
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: 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.
Review: I have been looking forward to this book, like everyone else, ever since finding out that Ash—who we met briefly in First and First—was one of the MCs. Then, add in that the love interest is an amateur boxer from the Bronx??? The waiting was torture. And, forget about the teasers. My only thought was Gimme! Well, the wait is over, and Santino Hassell has delivered once again.
Like all the Five Boroughs books, Concourse was almost impossible to put down; I basically read it in one sitting. Something about these guys just grabbed me. Hassell has a way of writing characters that makes me feel them all the way to my toes. He writes them with such a sense of truth and realism, you never once doubt that these people could absolutely exist out in the world, and that they do. These New Yorkers…these Manhattan, and Queens, and Bronx natives…these socialites, and teachers, and blue collar guys. Hassell makes them all real and relatable, his narrative so authentic and effortless. It’s not a gift that every author has, but he has it in spades.
In Concourse, I felt both Val and Ashton. Especially Valdrin. I loved his character so, so much. So earnest, and loyal, he was pretty much a giant sweetheart. His feelings for Ashton were epic and so swoon-worthy, albeit secret. But, he made no secret of his feelings about the front Ashton put on for the rest of the world. He knew Ash inside and out. As childhood best friends, and each other’s first crush—though neither knew it was reciprocated—the feelings and devotion run deep. These three passages killed me:
“The real Ashton—the quirky bastard with the smart-ass smile and thrift-store style—could get me to do anything. The Ashton he played for the rest of the world didn’t have the same power.”
“Despite my resentment and my need to hate him the way I hated the rest of his family, my heart had always pounded for the androgynous boy with the false smile and sad eyes. Still did.”
“I could never stop thinking about Ashton, and I would never stop missing the quiet moments when it was just us and he was a devastatingly beautiful force of nature that had calmed just for me.”
Val hasn’t always understood the feelings he has for Ash—and definitely not the attraction, or why he seems to only feel that way about Ashton (I loved how Hassell wrote Val’s demisexuality)—but, he knows that he has to have him in his life. What he doesn’t know is how his world and Ash’s crazy world of clubs and sex parties and paparazzi can fit together.
One thing that surprised me about Ashton, and that I absolutely loved about him, was that he had no trouble at all picturing himself in Val’s world. Cooking for Val…curled up together on Val’s hand-me-down, multicolored couch in his little apartment in the Bronx…away from the A-town persona, and all that comes with it. He’s a force of nature for sure, but what Ashton desperately wants is to be taken seriously…for someone to see him. And, Valdrin does that. Always has. And, Ashton has no problem admitting to himself that he only truly feels complete when he’s with Val.
“There was nothing I wanted more than to be Val’s lover. Maybe it would sound pathetic to him or Meredith or even Charles, but I’d loved Val since we were children. I’d wanted to be his, and only his, since I’d been old enough to understand why the world was so much brighter when we were together.”
The story’s conflict—the secret mentioned in the blurb—pretty much made me want to shake everyone. Ash’s brother Dylan, and the rest of the asshole Townsends, felt like they could use Ashton however they wanted, and manipulate Val as well, and they did. But, it got dragged out and gave me anxiety waiting for the other shoe to drop. *shakes fist at Santino* Though, I liked that Ash took the time away that he needed to think about things, and the resolution was good. I wish Val could have trusted his and Ashton’s feelings for each other and aired things out sooner.
There were a lot of other little things that made this book great—but, one thing that has to be discussed in a bit more depth is the couple of appearances by my favorite 5B character, Nunzio!, and the work of Gateway, the SoHo LGBT youth center where Nunzio now teaches. I loved reading about the center, and everyone’s enthusiasm for growing and adding new programs, and how Nunzio pushes Ashton to believe in himself and his abilities, and to give volunteering there a shot. So, so good.
The other secondary players in Concourse—many of whom we already knew—were also fantastic. It was great to see Charles, Meredith, Steph, Angel, Jace, Aiden, and Chris. But, I loved some of the new characters so much, too! Val’s friend Matt, who trains with him at the gym, was awesome, and I loved his and Val’s rapport and banter. And, Val’s sister Hana was so wonderful. But, the most memorable and scene-stealing new character was definitely Luis. He and Val aren’t fast friends, but Luis proves himself to be someone worth getting to know. I am crossing my fingers that he appears in a future Five Burroughs story!
Concourse is reason number five that the Five Boroughs series, Hassell’s trademark, is one of the best series in the genre. I adored Valdrin, and loved him and Ash together. This best friends-to-lovers story is an excellent addition to the collection.
You can buy Concourse here: