Earlier this week, I was on Birdie Bookworm reading about the book Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell. I had previously come across a review for this book by Woolfswhistle on YouTube, earlier this year. She had also read the second book and explained that she “didn’t know true love, until she read the second book,” so as a result I decided to download the first book and see how I felt about downloading the second book after that experience. The long and the short of it is, I liked Sutphin Boulevard (book 1), well enough, but didn’t love it. However, given how intrigued I was by the characters/potential character relationship in book 2 (paired with several reviews saying book 2 was better), I had to continue on with the series. Suffice to say I fell deeply in love with Sunset Park (book 2). Then I started reading reviews for First and First (book 3), which is now my favourite in that series so far (and one of my favourite books of the year). Suffice to say, I’m well down this rabbit hole now. If you’d like to know more of my in that thoughts, check below the cut.
First let’s take a look at Sutphin Boulevard and it’s absolutely delectable cover.
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.
What I find amazing about this series is that the favourite book that people has in this series varies from person to person. Suffice to say, this one was not my favourite. I liked it well enough, but I was left far from loving it.
I’m generally not into reading about breakdowns like this, and I think that was my main issue. Michael was depressed and a debby downer, and I get that it was the point, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed reading this book purely from his perspective. I myself have depression and anxiety, and while I don’t deal with drug or alcohol problems, I do have an unhealthy relationship with food. In addition, I worked hard to get out of my lot in life (while often ignoring my mental state) and was closeted from my family until recently (I’m 32). Why am I getting so personal on here? Basically this is my way of saying I’m a lot like Michael in ways that I didn’t want to relive through his experiences. My reasons for not loving this book are what I’m bringing to it as a reader.
That being said, I do love the trope of best friends to lovers when it is done well, and it is done very well here. I was also a huge fan of Nunzio and loved him to bits. Raymond became a fast favourite and David grew on me considerably by the end of the book. Knowing that the second book was going to be about Raymond and David, and knowing that I just had to get the scoop on their relationship, I downloaded Sunset Park before I’d even finished Sutphin Boulevard, just so I could have it all queued up and ready to go when I finished.
My verdict on Sutphin Boulevard:
Next up, Sunset Park, continuing the trend of drool worthy covers.
Raymond Rodriguez’s days of shoving responsibility to the wayside are over. His older brother wants to live with his boyfriend so Raymond has to get his act together and find a place of his own. But when out-and-proud David Butler offers to be his roommate, Raymond agrees for reasons other than needing a place to crash.
David is Raymond’s opposite in almost every way—he’s Connecticut prim and proper while Raymond is a sarcastic longshoreman from Queens—but their friendship is solid. Their closeness surprises everyone as does their not-so-playful flirtation since Raymond has always kept his bicurious side a secret.
Once they’re under the same roof, flirting turns physical, and soon their easy camaraderie is in danger of being lost to frustrating sexual tension and the stark cultural differences that set them apart. Now Raymond not only has to commit to his new independence—he has to commit to his feelings for David or risk losing him for good.
I love how this book introduces both a bisexual character and a pansexual character. Both of those identities are not explored nearly often enough in media at large.
For me this was such a vast improvement over the first book. Not that the first book was bad, by any means, but I found this story to be way more compelling. Hassell writes an narrative where these two characters who are at least on the surface, seemingly so different, get into a believable relationship together that is boiling over with chemistry.
I loved the growth that both David and Raymond went through, and that this book was written from both of their perspectives. David learns that it’s ok to take a chance on something that doesn’t seem safe or like a “sure thing” and starts to understand all that he deserves. Raymond explores his sexuality, comes more to terms with who he is in this regard and becomes far more serious about his life. Ray has grown so much since book 1, and I love both these characters to bits. I can’t wait until I read the next installation of the series (book 4 – Interborough) which delves more deeply into Raymond and David’s relationship and the realities that they are facing.
My verdict on Sunset Park:
Damn these covers are perfect, such an awesome picture of Caleb. Here’s First and First.
Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.
Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.
As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.
HOLY HOTNESS BATMAN!
This is easily my favourite out of the three books I read so far, and it’s something I never could have predicted given that I was not a fan of Caleb in the last book, but Santino Hassell seems to have a talent with taking a character you previously hated, telling their story in such a way that you don’t hate them any more / understand their point of view, and then he makes them grow a ton. Thank you for your genius Mr. Hassell!
At the start of this story, Caleb was too afraid and self-conscious to really give into what he wanted. A drunken tryst with Oli changes all of that, as he becomes more confident in himself sexually and as a partner. Oli’s ne’er settling down ways also change over the course of the story, and Caleb helps him to grow by having him take more ownership over his professional life by taking a huge risk. I love how both men help each other to become better in the ways that they need, while remaining distinctly them.
Also, the sex in this was flaming hot sexiness. ; )
Given how each book has steadily gotten better for me, I don’t trust that the trend of one upping will continue, but I am trusting that I will continue to enjoy this series. Unfortunately I’ve reached an end to what is currently available for me in audiobook form, so now I just need time to sit down and read the remaining books!