Release Reviews: Interborough: Santino Hassell

Interborough (Five Boroughs #4)
Santino Hassell
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Released October 24, 2016
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The Raymond Rodriguez from a few years ago wouldn’t recognize the guy he is today. He’s left his slacker ways far behind him and is now juggling two jobs and school. But the balancing act doesn’t allow much time for the man he loves.

David is doing his best to be supportive, but problems at work and his own insecurity leave him frustrated—in more ways than the obvious—whenever he goes to bed before Raymond gets home. The heat and affection between them is still there, but they barely have the time or energy to enjoy it. And it doesn’t help that Raymond is still hiding David from his colleagues.The stress mounts so high that a vacation in paradise is filled with turmoil instead of harmony, and culminates on their return to the five boroughs with broken promises and heartache. They have to figure out how to stop allowing their differences to overshadow their love. It’s the only way they’ll make it to forever.

*NOTE: This is a continuation of Raymond and David's story who are the subject of  Sunset Park (Five Boroughs, #2)

Graphics from author's Facebook page

Santino Hassell’s Five Boroughs series has been on my radar for quite some time, coming highly recommended from more than one of my M/M book buddies, but it wasn’t until the opportunity arose to review the fourth book in the series, Interborough, that I finally took the time to delve into it. And now I understand why so many people recommended it.

It’s important to note before I begin that this novel is a direct sequel to the second book of the series, Sunset Park, continuing the story of its couple, Raymond and David, so unlike the first three books individually, this story is best if not read as a standalone. While it isn’t as necessary as reading book two, I do recommend the first book in the series, Sutphin Boulevard, as prerequisite reading because both of these characters are introduced and developed there alongside its point-of-view (POV) characters, Michael and Nunzio. In fact, these four characters’ lives are so intertwined, I can’t imagine enjoying Raymond and David’s story as much without first having met them in Michael and Nunzio’s. Note that at the time of writing this review, I have not yet read the third book, First and First, and in skipping it, I did not feel anything was missing from my understanding and enjoyment of Interborough.

One of the biggest complaints I had about reading the first two books was that neither story ended with a happily-ever-after (HEA). In fact, both books barely ended with a happy-for-now! Raymond and David’s story, in particular, felt incomplete because both of these guys had major issues to deal with individually that made it hard to believe they could make it to forever, given the way their lives were at the end of Sunset Park. This story picks up over a year later, and the biggest difference is that Raymond is holding down two jobs, and he’s attending classes at a community college. This is a far cry from the Raymond we met before. He seems to have this adulting thing down now, except that all this leaves precious little time for maintaining his relationship. While David tries to be supportive, this lack of time to enjoy each other only fuels his insecurities and fears about the state of their relationship and the direction it seems to be headed.

I am nearly always apprehensive to read direct sequels, especially those that were not originally part of the author’s plan. While I’m not 100% certain this is the case with Interborough, I’m fairly certain based on comments from the author both within and apart from Sunset Park. The problem I have is something that’s essentially unavoidable in direct sequels: the couple is already established at the start, so there are generally no more “firsts” within the relationship that I love encountering in a romance. So instead, the sequel must focus almost entirely on the unpleasant real-life aspects of a relationship that’s developing but past its initial bloom. It also seems like the intimate scenes in direct sequels are less intense than during the original, which is (again) rather like real life.

While the individual things that made me love Raymond and David in their first book (Raymond particularly) are still evident in Interborough, this book does suffer from the problems I identified above. Instead of the gritty realistic feel found in books one and two, here we get a lot of them bickering and arguing about realistic things. While the author handles this state of difficulty within their relationship in a believable manner, it’s still generally less enjoyable to read about romance-novel couples having to deal with big everyday problems than it is to read about the lust and discovery of love typical to the genre. It didn’t help any that the arguments they had across both of their two books started to feel a bit repetitive by the time things boiled over.

All that being said, of the three books I have read in the series, I have to admit this is my favorite one, and the reason is simple: the ending. Of course I’m not going to go into details about what happens, but suffice it to say that by the end of Interborough, not only does it feel entirely believable that Raymond and David can survive to their own HEA, the author also establishes Michael and Nunzio’s HEA as well. How can you beat a two-for-one?

Prior to reading this series, I had been exposed to Santino Hassell’s collaborations with Megan Erickson, and I’m glad to see that the writing style is just as engaging and clear within these books as it was there. Raymond and David’s two books are both written in the alternating first-person POV, and at no time was I ever confused about whose voice I was reading. The character and plot development are solid, and while the stories he tells may not always be the most comfortable to read, he is a gifted storyteller. And for that reason, I look forward to reading more of his work, both in this series and outside it.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Interborough in exchange for this fair and honest reivew.

This is a continuation of Raymond and David's story who were first introduced as side characters in Sutphin Boulevard and got their own love story in Sunset Park

But now the honeymoon period is over after they have been dating about a year and a half...not because their feelings or attraction has diminished, but because their time together has decreased and real life is getting in their way.

Raymond is no longer a slacker. He is working two jobs and going to school. David's got his own stressers from work. Time is limited, stress is high, and it is taking a toll on each of them and their relationship. And even just everyday couple, household, and role issues also have an impact. Trying to balance each of their needs, work circumstances, and daily lives is challenging and at times disappointing. Their limited alone time seems to end up in the same arguments.

It took me a while to warm up to David in the previous books and I had finally come to like him more. Maybe reading them all back to back made his faults more obvious and irritating, but he really frustrated me in this one. He comes off like such a whiny, insecure, paranoid drama queen. But he does have some good characteristics as well...he is sweet, affectionate, and loving. But he is definitely insecure, needy, and reactive. His coping skills often just make matters worse. It is not that I hated him as a character, but he could be exhausting and frustrating. But I felt for him and could understand his reasoning.

I loved Raymond and felt that he has shown a lot of growth through the series. He really just wants to take care of everything and be responsible now--the total opposite of how he used to be. He is running himself ragged taking on so much and trying to keep it all together, but there is only so much time and energy. He feels guilty and misses their previous easy life too, but is truly one stressed-out man. But he does have anger issues, is hard-headed, does not always effectively listen, and could be dismissive. 

They are volatile in the bedroom due to their chemistry, but their personalities, outlooks, and differences when under pressure cause other hot reactions. Fears, doubts, insecurities, stubbornness, lack of faith and trust, and outside issues begin to break them down and lead to repetitive fights, patterned behavior, misunderstandings, and not fully listening to each other. It is a circle of negativity that becomes increasingly frustrating and angsty. 

They are still a work in progress and this book is the hard part with them trying to work through it. Old friends and family are a part of this one including Michael and Nunzio (and we see some more good stuff with them), Caleb and Oli, and the rest of their quirky group of friends. I am interested to see who will end up in the next two books scheduled for this series since there are some potentials.

This was sexy, angsty, raw, intense, and real life. Couples go through some unpleasant stuff. Life gets messy. Feelings get hurt. There are disappointments and set backs.  People get mad and strike out at those they care about most. But it is how they deal with it and how committed they are that determine if they find a HEA or end up tearing each other apart. 

Santino Hassell does not pull any punches. His characters are complex, flawed, and well developed. He definitely brings on drama and angst. He writes well in an edgy way that pulls you in and immerses you in the story and setting. It is probably the fact that I read all three back to back that just got to be a bit too much for me and some of it got repetitive especially in this one. There are a lot of negative emotions mixed in with some serious steam and pockets of happiness. But I really have grown attached to all of these characters, even when I wanted to throttle them.  I would definitely recommend reading the first two books to truly understand the characters' dynamics, but I did not read book 3, First and First (Caleb and Oliver) before reading this one and it was not an issue. Having an epilogue on this one instead of the somewhat rushed endings of the first two books made me so happy!

Sometimes I feel like an author writing another story about characters that had a HFN ending is not necessary because it is just to throw contrived drama at them, but I think it was important for us to see this progression with Raymond and David. They really did have some growing to do and it was good to see more into their future and  how each character handled changes. So this felt like a necessary step to follow along with them.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 
Five Boroughs series:

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2 more coming in 2017!
Santino Hassell
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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.


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