Title: Concourse (Five Boroughs #5)
Author: Santino Hassell
Date of publication: 01 May 2017
Genre: MM romance
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My rating: 3.5 Stars
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.
I admit I'm a fan of this series and was curious to learn more about Ashton ever since we first met him in First and First (my absolute favourite in the series so far). I quite enjoyed Val and Ashton's story though I have some quibbles with it too.
It's the first time I'm reading any of Santino Hassel's post-ICoS books that I felt a strong resemblance to it. Val and Ashton remind me a lot of Hsin and Boyd, especially at the beginning of both stories. There is same intensity of their relationship, the same sense of meant-to-be love and irresistible attraction and explosive chemistry. Val is demisexual and his thoughts on his attraction to Ashton felt so similar to the way Hsin discovered his own sexuality in ICoS. And the physical resembles between Ashton and Boyd was really stood out for me too, in my mind there were practically twins.
All this gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling of remembering a beloved couple which further endeared Val and Ashton to me. Still, I felt their interaction especially in beginning of the story kept going in circles, Val resisting his attraction to Ashton, Ashton provoking him, yet feeling insecure and confused, them getting closer, crossing yet another barrier to intimacy only to drift apart again, and again. It felt repetitive. What I was most annoyed with though is Val's big secret which I figured out early on. I really resented that he decided to finally start things with Ashton while knowing fully well they they were bound to fall apart sooner than later. I can't accept how foolish and irresponsible he acted, inevitably causing them a lot of hurt and disappointment.
What I found very interesting to read was the way Val's sexuality was presented. All the talk of labels and identities which I often see as too artificial and forced in romance, read as natural and seamlessly fitting the story. On that note I enjoyed immensely all the scenes with Ashton's friends, where we see their support and understanding of one another, a group of friends who respect their differences and enjoy each other's company. There was also the feeling of discomfort of Val (and Angel) felt in such company and it really brought home the point of people being different, having different attitudes towards sex and intimacy and all of them being equally valid and meaningful.
There is a lot going on in this story as is the case with most of Santino Hassell's stories. We get a passionate social commentary, an exploration of richness/poverty and social status, variety of LGBT issues, strong focus on what it means being a celebrity. I loved how he presented the duality of Ashton's life - aspects of true self which he only allowed a handful of people to see (and only being fully himself with Val) versus the public image he projected to the media and his fans (side not, I couldn't figure out why all hate of Instagram. I don't particularly like name dropping in my romances and I found this all it a bit annoying).
Another big plus of this story is the perfect cameo of Nunzio who was his usual amazing self and I was so happy to see him again. The Queens crew and rest of Ashton's friends were amazing and gave the story a sense of community and friendship which I appreciate a lot.
Finally, I have to say I love me a good epilogue but this one didn't work for me at all. It felt forced and out of place which pretty much ruined it.