Sunset Park (Five Boroughs #2) by Santino Hassell

Disclaimer: This review contains entirely too many photos and gifs because Raymond is sexy and I’m a sucker. Sue me.

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I didn’t think Santino would be able to follow up Stuphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs #1) with a book strong enough to rival the original, but I guess he really likes to prove me wrong, because holy hell Sunset Park was… dare I say it? Better than Sutphin Boulevard?

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And ungh, can we all say Thank You Santino! for bringing Juan Forgia back for the visuals?

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I honestly thought that this man was a great fit to be Michael, but now I’m not so sure…

And then there were the tattoos… the word fearless on the inside of his bicep, a memorial tattoo for his mother[.]

– Sunset Park

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He is soooooo Raymond. And I can’t bring myself to be upset even in the slightest. There’s a slight difference in hair styling and attitude between Forgia on the cover of Sutphin Boulevard vs. Sunset Park… enough to make it believable that he might be two different people. Brothers, perhaps?

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I see what you did there, Santino. But enough rambling about this sexy book cover, it’s time to talk about why Santino Hassell is my favorite author. So lets get down and dirty with Raymond and David, shall we?

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To make this review all-inclusive, I have to start from the beginning, so lets throwback to Stuphin Boulevard where we initially met Raymond and David…

Raymond’s driving was a summation of him as a human being: reckless and much too fast.

– Sutphin Boulevard

I feel like this quote couldn’t be more true. Reading Sutphin Boulevard, I had no love for Raymond. None at all. I could actually almost say I hated the little punk, and I wasn’t so sure that I was going to like him in Sunset Park… but I read it anyway because I had to figure out what was up with David.

“Wow, son. You’re mad retarded.”

David whipped his head around and pinned my brother with a lethal glare. “Don’t say that word.”

“Sorry.” Raymond kept staring at me. “You’re mad special ed.”

David scoffed, and I burst out laughing.

– Sutphin Boulevard

It seems to be a pretty popular opinion that people don’t like David. A lot of reviews are saying that they couldn’t connect with him and that they thought he was the equivalent of a clingy M/F “heroine”… but I have to disagree. I actually really liked David as a character, because how could Raymond fall in love with anyone else?

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“I tried to make rice the other day, and it was a disaster.” David tilted his head. “Just follow the directions on the box.” The look of disgust that Raymond aimed at David dragged an unexpected laugh out of me. David looked between us in confusion, and Raymond shook his head. “White people.”

– Sutphin Boulevard

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He brought Raymond a sense of structure and normality in a world where everything was falling apart and he couldn’t get a grip. He got so caught up in others’ expectations of him and was so afraid to fail that he completely gave up trying. He’d become a deadbeat son who had no real relationship with his family, a stoner who couldn’t hold a job, and a lonely asshole who caught a break when his ex-girlfriend/friend with benefits decided it was time to fool around again. And David tried so hard to make his life perfect and find the type of love that he deserved that his tunnel vision actually ended up ruining his relationship with Caleb (which was kind-of a disaster to begin with).

David gave Raymond affection and support even when he didn’t know he needed it.

Wake up or I’ll do the lamprey thing all day. I don’t have anything else to do.

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I mean… could they be more perfect for each other?

“His affection wasn’t just something I tolerated. I fucking craved it. It was strange how I could be so hungry for something I’d never known I needed.”

They completely consumed each other in a love that was passionate and intense.

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“There were only so many ways I could explain that he’d infiltrated every nerve, pore, and vessel of my being before it started sounding like I was comparing my unrequited feelings to an infectious disease.

But maybe that’s what it was.”

But of course clueless Raymond didn’t see it. His relationship with David, while he knew that it was important to him, was also “just an experiment.” Raymond had grown so accustomed to people leaving that he was afraid to let David in. He was just a really (extremely) attractive means to an end.

“Go to hell. I’m not playing this game with you.”
“Who’s playing? I’m just giving you what you want even if you won’t say it. That’s why you like me, right?” He ground harder. “‘Cause I’ll touch you when I want, without asking, and I’ll do it right. But he treats you like you’ll break. Doesn’t like to get messy.”
I flinched. “Don’t use things I told you against me.”
“So admit it,” Raymond said, pushing my pants down. “You like me because I’m not scared to get nasty.”

 

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It took Raymond nearly the entire book to finally realize that David wasn’t just a source of experimentation. Their sex was more than just sex and the quite moments and laughs that he had with David meant a hell of a lot more than he’d initially let on.

I didn’t just want him – I needed him. He wasn’t just one of a few options. He was a fucking necessity.

Raymond and David were perfect for each other in every way, and I will not be convinced otherwise. This book was a sexy, fun read and getting to see not only their relationship but also Raymond evolve as a person was perhaps one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in a while.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Santino writes characters that are real, from every minute detail to the bigger picture. While this may have only been a book, the connection that Santino makes possible with his characters definitely has the potential to impact your life. This was a beautiful book, and I expected nothing less from one of my favorite authors.

 

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