Title: Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs #1)
Author: Santino Hassell
Release Date: July 31, 2015
Page Count: 264
Reviewed by: Gigi
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
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.
This is my first Santino Hassell book so I went in not knowing what to expect. I read Renee’s review, which convinced me to read it, and braced myself for “raw and gritty” and some exceptional story telling.
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been inseparable friends for over 20 years. Nunzio is Michael’s touchstone. When the world gets too crazy, Nunzio is the person who centers Michael and makes everything OK. They went to middle school, high school and college together and currently teach at the same high school. Both men are gay but have never taken their friendship to the sexual level. (While Nunzio is out-and-proud, Michael is still in the closet with his family and co-workers.) All that changes (or so we are lead to believe) when they “share” a one-night-stand and have a threesome. The book is told entirely from Michael’s POV so we don’t hear Nunzio’s thoughts, but Michael enjoys the experience and having his friend involved. It opens up dialogue about a “friends with benefits” situation with the boys and they decide to give it a go for now. While the sex is hot and satisfying for Michael, it begins to change their relationship in negative ways.
In the meantime, Michael’s dead-beat, estranged father has asked to live in Michael and his brother Raymond’s house on Sutphin Boulevard in Queens. Neither man is happy about the arrangement but agree out of a sense of family and the fact that their father’s health is failing. This causes Michael extreme angst and he starts hitting the bottle harder than usual.
I should mention that both Michael and Nunzio have an extremely unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Both men drink to access when they go out and when they are kicking back at home. While it doesn’t seem to be a problem for Nunzio, Michael uses alcohol to numb his pain over the complications in his personal and work life. A major event happens in the book that causes Michael to take his alcohol consumption to dangerous levels and that, mixed with his depression and anxiety medications, gets him into a whole mess of trouble. He completely cuts himself off from work, his family and Nunzio. Without Nunzio as his touchstone, he loses himself in a haze of intoxication.
This book packs some serious angst. It can definitely be defined as “raw and gritty” and there were times I wept at the sorrow Michael was experiencing. I would not categorize this as a romance, but Michael and Nunzio do get a HFN/HEA so many will definitely see it as a romance.
- It’s pretty much a given that they get their HEA because the blurb for the second book mentions them moving in together.
- When Michael finally realizes that Nunzio is “the one” for him, the emotions start flying, but we have to wait until the end of the book for them to finally get together in a romantic way.
I really enjoyed this book, but I have to say that one of the reasons I did was because I read it with a carefree, open mind. I knew there would be angst, but I felt prepared for it and I ultimately was. I have to pick-and-choose what books I read very carefully because of my “real life” stressors and what I need in a book at any given time. (I even have a shelf at GoodReads titled wait for a better mood where I save the high-angst books for later, when I feel I can handle them. Honestly, most of the time I reach for light and fluffy romances mixed with hot sex that leave me happy and smiling. But everything was hunky-dory in my world and I was actually on a camping trip on the North Shore in Minnesota when I read Sutphin Boulevard so I was about as happy, content and relaxed as I could get. Angst was my friend.
I can highly recommend this book to M/M book fans who want to read a raw and gritty (thanks Renee!) drama about two best friends and how they navigate through pain and sorrow in the tough, working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens, New York. Mr. Hassell’s writing is beyond excellent and he created characters that were easy to care about and suffer with.