Ashton Townsend is the most famous celebutante of Manhattan’s glitterati. The black sheep of his wealthy family, he’s known for his club appearances, Instagram account, and sex tape. Most people can’t imagine him wanting for anything, but Ashton yearns for friendship, respect, and the love of his best friend—amateur boxer Valdrin Leka.
Val’s relationship with Ashton is complicated. As the son of Ashton’s beloved nanny, Val has always bounced between resenting Ashton and regarding him as his best friend. And then there’s the sexual attraction between them that Val tries so hard to ignore.
When Ashton flees his glitzy lifestyle, he finds refuge with Val in the Bronx. Between Val’s training for an upcoming fight and dodging paparazzi, they succumb to their need for each other. But before they can figure out what it all means—and what they want to do about it—the world drags them out of their haven, revealing a secret Val has kept for years. Now, Ashton has to decide whether to once again envelop himself in his party-boy persona, or to trust in the only man who’s ever seen the real him.
One thing I can always count on, with Santino Hassell, is that his characters always feel so real. To me, anyway. They're flawed - and amazingly so - and they struggle and they make some awful decisions and though they eventually find their way, the road getting there is fraught with obstacles. And even if I can't directly identify with them, I can understand their motivations and empathize with were they are coming from.
Concourse has two, very flawed MC's whose lifestyles and backgrounds are pretty different than my own. So, on the surface, you'd think I wouldn't be able to identify with them at all, but somehow, I could. I could identify with Ashton's bad choices and looking for affection in all the wrong places. I could identify with his struggles of self-worth that carried him from one bad decision to the next. I could identify with Val and growing up with what amounted to nothing and feeling like you have to do everything on your own.
The specific lifestyles that they both lead are very foreign to my personal life experience, but that is just window dressing on the same issues that young adults have always dealt with and probably always will. And people my age will invariably forget that though the window dressing was different when we were young, we probably weren't all that different and the generation before us didn't get us either.
Ashton Townsend is a party boy. He's known for coming from a rich family and a sex tape some years ago that follows him, still. His family mostly ignored him, when he was growing up, because he refused to conform to their cookie-cutter ideas of how boys should be. Ashton, who is not only queer, but also has the uncrushable need to express himself. He was starved for affection and attention from childhood, so when he got a bit older he acted out and he got more and more outrageous with his actions. His self-esteem is pretty low and though he found the admiration he thought he wanted, it was based on something that wasn't real, at all.
Valdrin Leka grew up in a much less privileged environment than Ash did. After his father took off, his mother went to work for the Townsend's as their nanny, so Val and Ashton grew up together. Val always felt like he had something to prove. He made it his mission to look after Ashton and to put his sister through college and to make his boxing coach, Tony, proud by trying to go pro. The problem was, though, that Val didn't do any of those things for himself, except looking out for Ashton, but even that Ashton's family turned into something dirty.
Val and Ashton are two young men trying hard to figure out happiness and making plenty of mistakes along the way. They did the best they could, though. One does not miraculously figure out how to succeed at adulting. There is a lot of trial and error. And considering where they came from, I think they did ok. I can't identify with living ones life so publicly and having it be so fake, but I completely get what drove it and how and why Ashton got there. And Val's sense of responsibility, I actually admire, even though he made mistakes along the way and let his pride get in the way of happiness. It can take a while to figure that shit out.
Concourse isn't my favorite book in this series, I'm sad to say. I did like it, though. I found it real and engaging, as much as I struggled with the window dressing of Ashton's life and Val's pride. And I loved how it resolved and am more than confident that our guys are in it for the long haul.
PS -- I love this cover.
ARC of Concourse was generously provided by the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Get the book: