Title: Sunset Park (A Five Boroughs Story)
Author: Santino Hassell
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 230 Pages
At a Glance: Think Sunset Park can’t possibly live up to the beauty of Sutphin Boulevard? Think again…
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Raymond Rodriguez’s days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend, so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.
David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation, since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.
Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.
Review: Sunset Park is a book that had a lot to live up to. At least, it did for me. Santino Hassell set the bar in this series pretty damn high with Sutphin Boulevard, and I can’t lie: I was worried that Raymond and David would pale in comparison to Mikey and Nunzio. I shouldn’t have worried, though. While “Sunset” does have a different vibe to it (it’s lighter without being fluff), it’s a fantastic opposites attracts story in its own right, and what’s become true to form with this series, now I can’t wait for book three, First and First.
The differences between the two novels in this series begin with not only the fact that Raymond and David are night and day to each other, but that the drama in Sunset Park is different from that in Sutphin Boulevard. It’s also all kinds of good. Where Mikey and Nunzio went through hell apart and together, they went through it on equal footing, their lives so deeply intertwined, and they knew each other so well. But who saw Raymond and David’s friendship coming? Hassell explores some interesting cultural divides in Sunset Park through these two men—David, the privileged white guy; Raymond, the Puerto Rican man from the blue collar neighborhood. Watching their worlds converge and their friendship coalesce was sometimes a study in frustration (I wanted to thump both their melons on more than one occasion), but the emotional and physical affection between these two is off-the-charts. And eventually, as we watch their relationship grow and change, we see this night and day contrast is actually more Yin/Yang—opposites that complement each other—and it’s kinda gorgeous.
There’s a palpable undercurrent of tension that flows between Raymond and David in the way they feel about each other—David’s out, while Raymond isn’t sure of much of anything where his feelings for David are concerned. Ray’s trying to figure out what to do with his attraction to David, and all the while, the friendship and the frisson of UST that’s always right there on the surface is crazy-making and crazy hot when they touch and wrap themselves around each other. And then, when they finally start to resolve some of that tension… holy hell. I don’t talk much about sex in my reviews, but I have to say there aren’t many authors I’ve read who can write a sex scene like Santino Hassell does. Just sayin’.
There’s a lot more to the conflict between Raymond and David than just their attraction to each other, though; it goes way beyond sex and has a lot to do with not knowing how to ask the questions that need to be asked, let alone how to answer one of the biggest: how to deal with exactly what it is they want from each other. Hassell teases these problem out through the entire book, until it comes down to make-or-break time, and they each are forced to figure out how to deal with what’s going on between them. The one thing I can respect about these books is that they’re layered with so much realism. There are family and friendship issues, work issues—this book doesn’t read like an angst for angst’s sake story, it reads like a story about real people with real problems, and what it all comes down to in the end is that Raymond doesn’t want to stop being Raymond, nor does David want him to. Raymond just wants to be a better version of himself—and that better version of himself is the man David already sees. It’s kind of gorgeous in its complicated simplicity, really.
This author has such a great voice, which bleeds into his characters feeling raw and real and sweet and sincere, and since “Sunset” is narrated by both Raymond and David, we also get to see the author flexing his writing skills to their best effect by making both characters so completely individual. Some books you read with your head, some you read with your heart. This series is one I can’t seem to help throwing myself into, full immersion, and I can’t recommend it enough. Sutphin Boulevard is simply stellar, and Sunset Park finds its own place to shine just as brightly alongside it.
You can buy Sunset Park here: