Review: Sunset Park by Santino Hassell

Sunset ParkRating: 5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Losing both of his parents in the same year hasn’t helped motivate Raymond Rodriguez. But when his brother wants to move in with his boyfriend and rent their family home, Raymond is forced to step it up. Responsibility isn’t a concept he is overly familiar with, but with rent and bills now in his sights, finding a steady job is a priority. When David Butler offers to be his roommate, both men may have ulterior motives for making that match.

Raymond and David are complete opposites on paper, with David hailing from Connecticut and Raymond growing up in Queens, but their friendship doesn’t account for those differences and the men become close. David has always been out, but Raymond has yet to confide in David that he has always been curious about men.

Casual flirting turns to more as David lets Raymond experiment and serious feelings enter the mix. Both guys have a lot of growing up to do and class and ethnic divides continue to hold them back. But those lines indeed get crossed when sexual tension, chemistry, and frustration come together in a perfect storm.

Sunset Park is the second book in the Five Boroughs series and is billed as a stand alone. While this book would work on its own, having the background from Sutphin Boulevard will only further enhance this perfectly awesome book.

Santino Hassell has a way with the first chapters in his books that set the edgy and dramatic tones for the entire story. He did it in the first book and again he succeeds with an opening chapter that is all kinds of intense. The book is also written in first person that is executed in spectacular fashion.

Raymond is dry, sarcastic, and witty. He is prone to mild exaggerations when he speaks and living inside of his head was highly entertaining. He thinks he’s honest about who he is and what he thinks his limits might be. While his brother, Michael, and Michael’s boyfriend, Nunzio, offer him support, he knows that at twenty-five he just doesn’t have anything figured out yet.

Michael was my polar opposite. He took on all the responsibilities and worried too much, while I took on nothing and gave no fucks.

He pushes everyone away at every turn but secretly revels in the fact that they don’t stray too far. And when he starts a new job that he really doesn’t like or want, he sums it up with, “If being an adult amounted to spending my life doing miserable shit just to get by, I wanted a rain check.” Some readers may say the characters are flawed, but to me, they were completely real and Raymond recognizes that he’s not an “ambitious go-getter,” like those around him.

The book also takes on Raymond’s relationship with David as they fall into an easy and close friendship and then Raymond exploring his bi-curious side. Raymond has always been attracted to men but women were always around him and it was just easier to be with them. David has his professional life sorted out, but his personal life is a whirl of uncertainty. Although David wants Raymond, he also wants the best of all of his worlds as he keeps his wealthy ex in his orbit and feels that trying to really be with Raymond will eventually end in heartache for him.

But what would come of that? Would we be fuck buddies? Pretend boyfriends until he woke from his extended, bisexual fever dream? It was only a matter of time before he found a girl he liked.

These guys are also all about the drama and their hold on each other is volatile at times. But, when they get together, seriously, all restraints are off and they completely go for it. Although both men are struggling, Raymond’s journey and attempts of ultimately getting it together is what drives the story.

The book deals with class and ethnic divides and it takes a look at how Raymond is perceived and how his perception of himself changes once he moves out of his old neighborhood in Queens. It is the undercurrent for the entire book, but it doesn’t allow itself to be pulled down too far into it. The city also becomes its own character as it too changes right along with the men. The ending, as in the previous book, is less about the final destination and more about the journey to get there.

He was mine. The featherlight touch of his lashes against my cheeks, the taste and texture of the inside of his mouth, and the feel of his fingers stroking the exposed back of my neck…all of that was mine too.

Hassell was able to open up the characters’ lives and slide us in to watch the chaos unfold around them and that takes true talent. From the first word to the last word and all of the words in between this was amazing story telling.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

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