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Strong Connections: 5 Books Where Emotions Came First, a Guest Post by Santino Hassell

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!

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Buy now from Riptide!

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.

http://www.santinohassell.com
Santino@santinohassell.com
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New Releases: May 2017

Concourse by Santino Hassell (1st)

30364779Ashton 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 envelope himself in his party-boy persona, or to trust in the only man who’s ever seen the real him.

Buy it: Riptide | Amazon | BNkobo | iBooks

The Wishing Heart by J.C. Welker (1st)

With a book in her bag and a switchblade in her pocket, Rebel’s been thieving her way through life while hoping for a cure to fix her ailing heart.

But when the bejeweled vase she just tried to hawk turns out to be a jinni’s vessel, Rebel gets lost to her world and dragged within another. Now every magical being in the city wants the vase for himself.

Thrust into a game of cat and mouse in a world she never knew existed, Rebel must use her uncanny skills to find a way to free Anjeline the Wishmaker.

But wishes have consequences. And contracts. Anjeline’s freedom could unravel a love like Rebel has never known, or it could come at the cost of Rebel’s heart…

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * iBooks * Kobo

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake (2nd)

howtomakeawishAll seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn’t have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace’s mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * IndieBound

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate (2nd)

noteworthyIt’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.

Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped … revered … all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N * IndieBound

Notes on a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin (2nd)*

*Release is of a new translation of the Chinese

Set in the post-martial-law era of 1990s Taipei, Notes of a Crocodile depicts the coming-of-age of a group of queer misfits discovering love, friendship, and artistic affinity while hardly studying at Taiwan’s most prestigious university. Told through the eyes of an anonymous lesbian narrator nicknamed Lazi, Qiu Miaojin’s cult classic novel is a postmodern pastiche of diaries, vignettes, mash notes, aphorisms, exegesis, and satire by an incisive prose stylist and countercultural icon.

Afflicted by her fatalistic attraction to Shui Ling, an older woman who is alternately hot and cold toward her, Lazi turns for support to a circle of friends that includes the devil-may-care, rich-kid-turned-criminal Meng Sheng and his troubled, self-destructive gay lover Chu Kuang, as well as the bored, mischievous overachiever Tun Tun and her alluring slacker artist girlfriend Zhi Rou.

Buy it: Amazon

The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember (4th)

32890474Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies.

Buy it: Amazon * Book Depository * Wordery * Interlude

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy (9th)

31449227Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon * IndieBound

It’s Not Like it’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (9th)

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Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich (16th)

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Buy it: Amazon * B&N

Rough Patch by Nicole Markotić (16th)

31944911When fifteen-year-old Keira starts high school, she almost wishes she could write “Hi, my name is Keira, and I’m bisexual!” on her nametag. Needless to say, she’s actually terrified to announce—let alone fully explore—her sexuality. Quirky but shy, loyal yet a bit zany, Keira navigates her growing interest in kissing both girls and boys while not alienating her BFF, boy-crazy Sita. As the two acclimate to their new high school, they manage to find lunch tablemates and make lists of the school’s cutest boys. But Keira is caught “in between”—unable to fully participate, yet too scared to come clean.

She’s also feeling the pressure of family: parents who married too young and have differing parenting styles; a younger sister in a wheelchair from whom adults expect either too little or too much; and her popular older brother who takes pleasure in taunting Keira. She finds solace in preparing for the regional finals of figure skating, a hobby she knows is geeky and “het girl” yet instills her with confidence. But when she meets a girl named Jayne who seems perfect for her, she isn’t so confident she can pull off her charade any longer.

Buy it: B&N * Amazon

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman (22nd)

Small-batch independent yarn dyer Clara Ziegler is eager to come up with new color combinations–if only she could come up with ideas she likes as much as last time! When she sees Danielle Solomon’s paintings of Florida wildlife by chance at a neighborhood gallery, she finds her source of inspiration. Outspoken, passionate, and complicated, Danielle herself soon proves even more captivating than her artwork…

Add it on Goodreads

The Wrong Woman by Cass Lennox (22nd)

As an independent filmmaker, Katie Cherry is used to difficult shoots—but a band’s music video in a tiny lesbian bar is proving worse than most. Stress-busting, expectation-free sex with Zay, the calm, gorgeous bartender, seems just the ticket. But then she and Zay discover the band’s lead singer beaten into a coma in the bar bathroom. They need an alibi, but playing girlfriends is a role Katie’s never excelled at, so she can’t see this ending well.

Zay Fahed-Smith finally getting her life back together after her junkie ex broke it apart. She’s working part-time while pursuing her dream of being a lawyer, and definitely keeping things chill on the girls front. Of course, that’s when a crime happens in her bar and her ex shows up wanting to try again. “Dating” Katie seems like the best way for Zay to keep her head down and teach her ex a lesson.

Except pretty soon, the charade begins to feel less and less like acting. And when the attacker turns his attentions toward Katie, they have to cut through the lies to discover what’s real.

Buy it: Amazon

Heels Over Head by Elyse Springer (29th)

33976926Jeremy Reeve is one of the best divers in the world, and he’s worked hard to get where he is. He intends to keep pushing himself with one very clear goal in mind: winning gold at the summer Olympics in two years. That medal might be the only way to earn his father’s respect as an athlete.

Brandon Evans is everything Jeremy isn’t: carefree, outgoing, and openly gay. With his bright-blue eyes and dramatic tattoos, he’s a temptation that Jeremy refuses to acknowledge. But Jeremy can’t ignore how talented Brandon is—or that Brandon has no interest in using his diving skills to compete.

They’re opposites who are forced to work together as teammates, but Jeremy’s fear of his own sexuality and Brandon’s disinterest in anything “not fun” may end their partnership before it begins. Until a single moment changes everything, and they help each other discover that “team” can also mean family and love.

Buy it: Amazon