If you’ve literally never been to this site or its associated Tumblr before, you might not know that I am a huuuuge fan of Santino Hassell and his fantastic Five Boroughs series of m/m Romances, so, lemme set that record “straight” (heh) – I am a huuuuge fan of Santino Hassell and this wonderfully written, emotional, inclusive, hot-as-hell series, and I’m thrilled to have him on the site today in honor of the release of its fifth book, Concourse. It’s a sexy new friends-to-lovers romance that can be read independently of the earlier books, although I promise you are seriously missing out if you skip over the others.
Here to talk about Concourse and five of his fave friends-to-lovers Romances, please welcome Santino Hassell!
It’s no secret that I love the friends-to-lovers trope. In Five Boroughs, my queer romance series set in NYC, mostly every relationship has initially stemmed from friendship or a strong bond. Concourse, my newest standalone novel in the series, is not much different.
Ashton Townsend, a former model loved by the paparazzi falls for his best friend (who also happens to be the son of his former nanny) Valdrin Leka. They’ve supported each other emotionally in a friendship that has spanned over a decade, which gives them a solid foundation to overcome all the barriers I threw at them in the book.
The bedrock of friendship, no matter how long, is the perfect jumping off point for a romance, so here are my top five recs for queer romance novels where a strong connection came first:
Roller Girl by Vanessa North is one of the most uplifting stories I’ve read in a long while. Not just because of the romance itself, but because the characters are surrounded by supportive people. There are already strong friendships built into the story, so when Tina and Joe connect, it’s one of many positive relationships, which is excellent. Once Tina joins Joe’s roller derby team, camaraderie and attraction leads to sex hidden from their teammates, but I’ll let you pick up the book before I tell you more.
Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen is the story of two boys who were raised in a cult. That’s right. A cult. They’ve barely experienced the outside world and the only source of joy in Josh’s small world has always been his best friend, Caleb. He kept his feelings a secret for years until they eventually escape the cult and run away together. It’s only then that their strong friendship blossoms into romance and even then, it’s a very slow burn. Their priority is always preserving their friendship as they get through the difficult transition from cult-world to the real world, together.
Where We Left Off by Roan Parrish is a great tale of a connection that blossomed over a long period of time. We first meet Will and Leo in the first book of the Middle of Somewhere series when Leo is a teenager still figuring out who he wants to be, and Will is the surly ex-boyfriend of one of the main characters. The transition to kid-sorta mentor, to crush-sorta friend, to the third book when Leo is older and wanting to pursue a romantic relationship, is spectacular.
Bend or Break by Amy Jo Cousins is a series full of awesome tales of people who forge strong bonds leading to intense physical and romantic relationships. Off Campus, the first book, will always be my favorite, because of the emotional support Tom and Reese give each other as Tom hides from an infamous scandal and Reese recovers from a traumatic assault. However, The Girl Next Door is a close second. You first meet Steph and Cash in book 1, and you instantly grow to love them both. Steph is a queer confident badass, and Cash is the dudebro you just want to hug because he is so damn sweet and likeable. Pick up this series!
Housemates by Jay Northcote is a series packed full of friends-to-lovers stories. What I really love about this series is that the characters are always wary of messing up their friendships because of the value they place on them. The friendship dynamics of everyone in the house is very realistic, and you come to love all the characters. Again—check out this whole series! You won’t regret it.
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.