Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: April 29, 2017
Received From: Preordered from publisher’s website
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.
SEXUALITY: homosexual, demisexual
TROPES: friends to lovers, class disparity, first love
TAGS: contemporary, adult, sexual content, gender expression, coming out
WARNINGS: homophobia, ableism, biphobia, classism, violence, slurs
“We’re ready for anything,” Val said.
He drew me into another kiss and, even with people flooding the space to surround us, I didn’t see anyone but him.
Don’t tell Raymond, but he might have some rivals for my Fave now.
I’ve enjoyed Ash ever since his first appearance in the series, but I didn’t feel like I really knew him outside of the private shorts occasionally posted on Santino Hassell’s Patreon, so I have been really excited about this book ever since I heart it was happening. And it was even more heartbreaking and stunning than I had anticipated.
Getting to know Ashton is kind of a trip. On one hand, he’s super messy and doesn’t seem to have much self-control, while on the other, he’s this super, sweet, sensitive guy who just wants to love and be loved. With this book, we find out the real Ashton is somewhere in between the two, and it’s heart crushingly beautiful to watch this gorgeous, kind man fully own who he is and begin living his life the way he truly wants to. Ashton is a complicated little angel who effortlessly wiggled his way into my heart.
And then there’s Valdrin. Oh Val. My beautiful, demisexual boxer. He’s a lot like Ashton in that he just wants to love and be loved, and he’s nearly as messy and frustrating as Ash can be, just in different ways. Val is that friend that everyone longs to have, in that he’s there for you through thick and thin, taking care of you the best he knows how. He continues to box, despite having no passion for it, in order to help put his sister through college. He never fails to help Ashton, no matter what the issue may be. He actively tries to get his sister and friend together, since they’ve been pining and flirting for years. Valdrin is the epitome of bad boy with a heart of pure gold.
I very much enjoyed the way Hassell, and his characters, handled issues when they came up. There is a class and financial disparity between Ashton and Valdrin, and while Val doesn’t like discussing money, they were both very open to talk about their issues with the privilege Ash lives with by way of being rich. Val doesn’t hesitate to explain to help Ash understand.
Also, neither of them were they to play when it came to homophobia or biphobia. There were a few separate incidents where they stood their ground against people who had -phobic things to say. I especially appreciated near the end of the novel when Ash immediately shut down an incidence of biphobia, because it’s so often that those things are just left to let fly, never corrected, which lets people think they too can get away with it.
It was so fun, too, to be able to catch up with some of the other Five Boroughs cast! I especially enjoyed seeing Squad Dad™ Nunzio taking care of Ashton and helping to build up and encourage him when he needed it.
One more thing I want to mention, and then I’ll wrap this up. The scene where they talk about Val’s sexuality, and Ashton helping him find a word that fits how he feels, was probably one of my favorite moment.
I have felt the exact same way and this really hit home, so I just wanted to share it. Also, I love the fact that the word “demisexual” is specifically used multiple times, and I just want everyone to see and share the happies with me!
But anyway! This book now holds a huge piece of my heart. I cannot wait for more from this series, and from Santino Hassell in general.
Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.
Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
To learn more about Santino you can follow him on:
Facebook: theonlysonnyhassell | santinohassellbooks
And at his official website: http://bit.ly/16sgcSu