Author ~ Santino Hassell
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 31st July 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.
Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.
When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
You know a book is good when you just can’t stop thinking about it long after you’ve closed the flap on your Kindle. This book touched me in so many ways I can’t even begin to tell you… and it was actually really hard to write this review. Michael and Nunzio have been bouncing around my head and heart for days, however, it wasn’t just the characters that had me so tongue tied but also how impressed I was by the writing, just putting ‘WOW’ and ‘OUTSTANDING’ on a page isn’t really going to cut it for a review. So let the ramblings commence…
I was already familiar with Santino Hassell’s writing and I love his style, but in Sutphin Boulevard he seems to have grown, his style more polished but retaining that honest rawness, with an unapologetic realism, where he’s not afraid to dig around in that open wound. There are some, that like to read for escapism purposes, something light and easy (I include myself in that on occasion). But mostly I go for the books that are going to make me feel, rip out my heart, completely shred it before putting it back together. I’m a masochist when it comes to reading. In Sutphin Boulevard, I got that and so much more, and one of the things I liked the most, was that it gives a believable account of the frailties and flaws of humanity, and all the characters in this book shine because of their imperfections.
Sutphin Boulevard is first and foremost a beautiful and moving love story, but it’s also a true to life and credible journey of a man struggling with life. To all intents and purposes Michael is outwardly strong and dependable but on the inside fragile and on the verge of breaking. A man surrounded by people that love him, but too lost to see past his own pain and indulgences.
Santio Hassell gives an honest and sympathetic understanding of mental illness and substance abuse in this book, which is hard to achieve without becoming too maudlin. Sadly, like all silent illnesses, people find it hard to sympathise or understand, or even relate to, without some kind of personal experience, but it is once again testament to Santino that he was able to incorporate it without disdain or derision. The terms ‘pity party’ and ‘pull yourself together’ are going to fall on deaf ears when you are in the depths of depression. So giving a true representation of the flip side, of those loved ones that are left feeling helpless and inadequate, pushed away and left standing to watch the fallout shows remarkable insight from both sides.
Remember when I said “without becoming too maudlin” well there is the key, because this book is incredibly moving and heartfelt, and yes, Michaels story is not all sunshine and roses. But Santino also incorporates humour, friendship, family and a life steeped in ethnic culture, including Michaels love of an occupation that can be trying but incredibly rewarding. With all of the good and the bad bits of those parts of Michaels life, being relevant to this tale, it’s perfectly balanced in every way… and the sex, OMG!
Well, I read chapter one, and went back and read it all over again. Seriously, the menage scene is one of the hottest I’ve read. (As are ALL the sex scenes in this book, and believe me I am a smut whore) Witnessing the sexual tension and chemistry between Michael and Nunzio was a seduction, it was mesmerising, relegating poor David the little twink to an extra… It was all about Michael and Nunzio, and oh boy, was it HOT! I don’t think I’ve read an author previously, that has so convincingly managed to capture that amount of intensity and have me invested in a relationship so quickly. As well as establishing a genuine bond of friendship that can only come with years of intimate knowledge of each other, be it, previously platonic up to this point… All in the first chapter, amazing! Still need convincing, you can read chapter one for yourself HERE. Prepare to be wowed!
That chemistry and sexual tension in all it’s intensity is a thread that runs through the book with the menage being the start of a series of events which see’s Michael spiralling out of control, I hurt so much for Michael, even thinking about him causes an ache in my chest. He’s a mess, conflicted and confused and had all kinds of shit thrown at him, but in life, some people handle those stress factors better than others and Michael isn’t coping. If you look at the signs, he hasn’t been coping for a long time, despite outward appearances. But when the most unlikely of catalysts tips him over the edge, we see him in a never-ending loop of substances and depression which is slowly bleeding into his ‘normality’. All compounded by the fact he’s retreating into himself and in his denial, pushing away the one person that has been the only constant for the last twenty years. Leaving Michael wanting only to be a ghost amongst the living.
I totally fell hard for Nunzio, because my god, the man is hot with his filthy mouth and dirty words, he certainly had me all of a dither. I want him for myself, in my bed, preferably tied down so he can’t run away. Haha… That aside, I best mention how sincere he is in his fierce loyalty and protection of the man he loves, not only as a friend. I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have wanted Nunzio’s perspective, if only for all those dirty thoughts, but having said that, in itself, that’s part of the genius of this book, because it’s something that consumed me, the pain he himself went through, rejected by his own family and now having to cope with being pushed away by the one person that means the most to him in life… my heart was breaking and I felt all that was unsaid, his helplessness and the love he felt for Michael. It was a bit like listening to opera, where you have no idea what they’re saying but the emotion it conveys is immense. Santino did that with his writing, even though we don’t get Nunzio’s point of view. Actually, Nunzio spends a lot of time on the periphery, however, it doesn’t take away the impact he has on the story, as well as the impact he had on me personally.
This book is special, in an extraordinary, I’m kind of in awe of how special it is way. I was totally captivated by Santino Hassell’s voice, and no nonsense writing style, wow, the man really is such an incredibly talented author, and I’m excited by his potential and of what's to come in the future. He has the ability to make me think past what I’m actually reading, bringing depth to the story and made me want to delve deeper, leaving clues hidden within the text which only enhanced my empathy and emotional connection. This is a book that goes beyond the surface of the pages and evoked so much emotion I had to take time out to ponder and analyse my own feelings.
So here endeth my ramblings and I will just finish with a WOW! and OUTSTANDING!
Connect with Santino Hassell
If you like to get a better feel for a book through it’s soundtrack, check out the playlist… Yep, it gets another WOW! …and it couldn’t be more perfect for the book. Play and enjoy!
Spotify Sutphin Boulevard Playlist
Santino will be with us tomorrow on the blog talking about Sexual Chemistry, and believe me after reading Sutphin Boulevard, the man certainly knows a thing or two about Sexual Chemistry!
Don’t for get to check back TOMORROW 3rd August.