Review: Concourse by Santino Hassell

30364779Ashton 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.

It’s no secret that the Five Boroughs series is my favorite romance series ever. As I’ve said before, it was what got me into reading romance again and some of these characters are in my list of favorite characters ever written. So yeah, I was really excited for this book and I’m so glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

The characters are the best aspect of the book, of course. Both Ashton and Val are very real, very well constructed, but I must admit Ashton was my favorite. I felt for him the whole book; his struggles, his desires & motivation, his fears, his love for Val. Ashton has been the black sheep of his family for years, and it was heartbreaking to see him put himself through some awful stuff to try to help them (esp his brother) despite the way they treated him his whole life.

Ashton & Val’s relationship was also one I could root for from page one. Since both characters are complicated & multidimensional, it was so interesting to see how they interacted and how their relationship developed. One of the reasons I liked it so much (and I liked it well enough to read the book twice in less than three days) is because while both of them do things we know will just make things worse (like not telling the other things, or acting inconsequentially) they have reasons to do so, and I could understand and relate to them, which isn’t something that happens that often if I’m being honest.

Sunset Park and Interborough have been my favorite Five Boroughs books since they were released because I love both David and Raymond and, of course, their relationship, but I liked Ashton and Val just as much. Something that made me immensely happy in Concourse, though, was Val’s demisexuality. At first, when the first demi coded behaviors/thoughts/etc started showing up, I got excited because then I would be able to headcanon him as demi without the risk of aphobes jumping on me for daring to have an a-spec headcanon, but I was pleasantly suprised: Concourse actually makes it canon, as in, Val is a canon demi character. No headcanons needed.

You guys, I can’t even begin to explain how happy that made me. I was giddy for a whole week because of this. I know of only another demi character in a m/m romance (Saint from Empty Net by Avon Gale) and I already knew he was demi before reading the book (which… was one of the reasons I decided to read Empty Net). I never expected my favorite romance series to have an a-spec character in its fifth book because that never happens. And I’m not even demi myself! I’m gray-ace & aro, but a-spec characters are so rare I’m glad when any a-spec identity is represented.

The one thing I wish was made clearer, though, was the difference between demisexuality and demiromanticism (as far as I understood, Val is both), but besides that? I loved it.

Santino Hassell was already an insta-buy for me, but after Concourse and Val being demi, I’m even more invested in reading his books. 5.0 stars for Concourse.

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