I discovered Santino Hassell last year at some point, and even though I have been reading this genre in worryingly large quantities for a very long time, and have reader friends who were fanatical about his In the Company of Shadows series, I never partook. I am bit of contradictory spirit and was like, “meh…he can’t be that good, it’s all hype. They don’t know…”. I was a bit off on that one! This dude can write, and when I say that, I don’t mean he can effectively put me in a “romance nod” with a book full of the delicious fluff I count on when I pick up a gay romance novel…Oh no no, he is W.R.I.T.I.N.G. fine urban fiction. There are a few reasons I have for saying this.
First, his sense of place, I live in the New York City area, I am Latinx, and I can say he captures the world I’ve lived in and know like few other authors I’ve read, IN ANY GENRE. And he is not just giving us the same old same old “white dude in Manhattan trying to make it” story line, no he is looking into the New York that those of us who have that concrete running through our veins love with undying passion. He knows the humanity in those bodies captured in all those “New Yorker” snapshot, and it’s gorgeous.
Second, the characters, specially in his contemporaries. The word “representation” gets tossed out a lot these days, and it can feel like the concept has lost all meaning, but like most abstract things you know when you feel it. And as someone who LOVES this genre with, yet rarely see myself portrayed in the stories I read, I cannot express how meaningful it is to pick up book with characters that feel personally familiar. Then there’s the dialogue, Santino’s command of the vernacular is always impressive. It gives the characters an authenticity that really sets his work apart.
OK…So now that I’ve gone on and on, let me get to the actual book I’m discussing here today…Santino’s new paranormal series, The Community, introduces us to a world where psychics, empaths and mediums and all kinds of other gifted individual squietly exist among us. Their secretive ways, of course, create all kinds of fuckery, which we get to enjoy for at least three books! This being first in a series, I thought Santino did well with giving us a sense of who the players are, while keeping enough of a mystery to build on in subsequent books.
Before I get into what I thought about Insight let’s cover the basics, and by basics I just mean the wine. For this book, I chose a Pinot Noir, which like Santino’s novels, I waited way too long to get into. I’ve just recently decided that I actually love Pinot Noir, and have been testing various bottles, the one I chose today is from Hanging Vine Winery in the Central Valley of California. It is a light, flavorful wine, very smooth and with nice fruit notes. It is also about $11 a bottle which is a great deal for a nice California wine.
Back to the book…So our Nate Black has some issues, some of them have to do with his psychic powers, but MOST of them come from belonging to a family where EVERYONE has some kind of paranormal ability. He tries to stay away from the as much as possible, which is not easy to do living in a backwater Texas town. He tried hard though, because being around his family always makes him feel fucked up. Besides there are only a few of them left, him mom died years ago, and not long after his twin brother fucked off to parts unknown and hasn’t made any effort stay in touch. Not that Nate can blame him, if he had the guts to do it, he would have been gone too.
Things change suddenly when he dreams of his brother’s death, something about what he saw compels him to make his way to New York City, where his brother died and find out what happened to him. He hitchhikes a ride from Trent, a hot dude also headed Northeast, and before he knows it, not only is he in the middle of a super shady secret psychic society situation, he’s also falling in love.
First things first, I enjoyed this book. I thought the premise was clever, and I am curious to learn more about the secrets and Scientology like shiftiness of The Community. Like any first in series paranormal it had its quirks, there is a lot of information to deliver when you are creating a universe that will be fleshed out in multiple books.
I liked Nate’s character a lot, he really evolved throughout the story, it almost felt like he went from a shadow to a full formed body by the end. The rest of the characters were great as well and as always with Santino’s book added a lot substance to the story. I specially enjoyed Elijah and Chase, those two will be amazing to read when their time comes.
I thought the mystery was done well, it was set up so that I did not feel totally lost, but had enough twist and turns to keep me guessing. The romance I thought was not as intense as the usual from Santino, but given all that was happening with Nate and Trent, it could have made for just too much. It felt to me more like a paranormal with a strong romance component, and that is alright. There is a lot to build on here, Trent and Nate were our first foray into The Community, and I am very interested in getting more of the people living in that world, now that it is solidly built for us.
I hope you go and explore more of Santino’s writing, in the off chance you’ve been reading gay romance under a rock and don’t already know his work. :0)
So there it is, your book and wine for the weekend. You can thank me later.
Cheers and Happy Reading!!!
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