Insight (The Comminity #1) by Santino Hassell (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

Growing up the outcast in an infamous family of psychics, Nate Black never learned how to control his empath abilities. Then after five years without contact, his estranged twin turns up dead in New York City. The claim of suicide doesn’t ring true, especially when a mysterious vision tells Nate it was murder. Now his long-hated gift is his only tool to investigate.

Hitching from his tiny Texas town, Nate is picked up by Trent, a gorgeous engineer who thrives on sarcasm and skepticism. The heat that sparks between them is instant and intense, and Nate ends up trusting Trent with his secrets—something he’s never done before. But once they arrive in the city, the secrets multiply when Nate discovers an underground supernatural community, more missing psychics, and frightening information about his own talent.

Nate is left questioning his connection with Trent. Are their feelings real, or are they being propelled by abilities Nate didn’t realize he had? His fear of his power grows, but Nate must overcome it to find his brother’s killer and trust himself with Trent’s heart.

I listened to this audiobook back in February 2018 and wrote this review – but before it could be posted at AudioGals, the author crashed and burned in a very spectacular way, and given the unethical nature of his actions and everything that ensued, we decided not to publish the review.

I’ve sat on it all year and have decided to post it  here, basically because this is home to ALL my reviews – plus I’m having a computer clear out, and keep tripping over this review and wondering what to do with it.

I kept well away from the row when all this blew up and didn’t get into the nitty gritty of it – I know basics and that’s all I want to know.  At the time it was all going on, someone said to me that if we had to throw out everything that had been created by people who were shit-bags, then we’d be throwing out work by people like Hemmingway, Wagner, Byron, Flaubert, Cellini, Hemmingway, Picasso… and a long list of famous artists who were sexist, mysoginist, antisemitic, fascist, murderers or just plain bonkers.

I’m not condoning or sympathetic to anything he did – people were hurt, and that’s not acceptable in any way.  But this is my blog, and I’m posting this review because when all’s said and done, I enjoyed the story and the excellent performance in this audiobook.  It’s no longer available for sale at the time I’m writing this (December 2018) and perhaps has disappeared forever.  But like I said, I’m posting this purely because this is my place for keeping track of what I read, listen to and write. I take time over writing reviews to get them right and to make sure I’m saying what I want to say so and I wasn’t going to just throw it out.

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – A-

I’ve come to the books of Santino Hassell fairly recently, and positive reviews pointed me in the direction of his Community series of paranormal romances – although it will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading my reviews over the last year or so that my decision to pick up Insight – the first book– was a no-brainer because it’s narrated by the fabulous Greg Boudreaux.

The series consists of three books which tell an overarching story through the PoVs of three romantic couples, so each contains a romance which reaches its HEA or HFN in that book.  As the first in the series, Insight has quite a lot of work to do in terms of the set-up, introducing listeners not only to the protagonists of the story, but also to secondary characters who will feature throughout, and to the concept of the Community itself, a cult-like, secret society whose aims – to protect psychics and help them to develop their talents in a sympathetic environment – while at first seemingly benign, is gradually revealed to have other, darker purposes.  The author strikes just about the right balance between romance and plot, and I raced through this audiobook in two sittings because I was so gripped by the whole thing that I couldn’t bear to put it down.

Nate Black comes from a family that would have been screwed up even its members hadn’t all been possessed of psychic abilities.  He and his twin brother, Theo, never really got on and haven’t seen or spoken to each other for several years, and their mother – a powerful psychic – ran away to New York when Nate and Theo were boys;  when she returned, it was as though she’d become a completely different woman and she committed suicide shortly after.  His overbearing aunt is paranoid that nobody outside the family should ever know what they can do, and her brother – to whom Nate used to be close – drinks to excess to keep his visions at bay. Nate has always been an outsider – bullied at school for being openly gay and for being just plain weird, he’s lonely and isolated, knowing he’s different because of his ‘gift’ – he’s an empath –  which means that even the most accidental of touches can give him strong impressions and visions.  Even without touching, he can still sense what the people around him are feeling if their emotions are strong enough.  With no knowledge of how to control his ability, Nate’s reactions to these impressions and visions can put him completely off balance and can make him physically ill… so he tends to keep to himself and sees nothing but an empty, loveless future ahead of him.

Nate’s life is hitting an all-time low; he’s lost his job and is about to be evicted from his apartment when he has a sudden vision of Theo or, more to the point, Theo’s death.  When the news arrives officially, the family is told that Theo – who had lived in NYC for the past few years – committed suicide by jumping into the Hudson, but Nate knows that isn’t true.  The vision he received was like nothing he’d ever experienced; it was as if HE was in Theo’s body at the time of his death, and Nate is convinced, beyond a doubt, that Theo was murdered and is determined to find out why and by whom.

Impulsively, he decides to hitch-hike to New York – his car was stolen and he doesn’t have the money to travel any other way – and is surprised when he’s offered a lift by the guy he’d met a couple of days earlier in the liquor store he used to work in.  He’s not forgotten the feelings of warmth and safety he’d picked up from their single, brief touch that day (or how attractive the man was) and, albeit a little nervously, Nate settles in for the long journey from Texas to NYC.

Trent Castille is an engineer, on his way from grad school in California to his home in New York.  The story is told entirely from Nate’s PoV, so we never get into Trent’s head, but it’s clear from the start that he’s a good guy.  He notices straight away that Nate is skittish and secretive, but he’s drawn to him and starts looking out for him in small and subtle ways.  During their long road-trip, their simmering attraction heats up but also, Nate comes to realise that Trent is someone he can trust; and when he eventually tells Trent the truth about his abilities and why he believes Theo was murdered, Trent knows Nate well enough to believe him, no matter that what Nate tells him is weird and fantastical.

The chemistry between Nate and Trent is electric, and Mr. Hassell builds their relationship slowly and believably.  Both men are in uncharted waters; Nate has given up on love and sex, while Trent hasn’t been with a guy before – although he’s definitely thought about it and doesn’t let his inexperience stop him from acting on the strong attraction he feels towards Nate.  Nate’s empathic abilities lead to some pretty steamy love scenes, too, as he’s able to feel both his own and Trent’s arousal and reactions.

In the later stages, the book becomes as much about the Community and the mystery surrounding Theo’s death as it is about the romance, and as I said at the beginning, this element of the plot is just as well-handled and compelling as the love story.  Nate tracks his brother’s former colleagues – Theo  was in a band – to the club they often performed at, Evolution, a place frequented predominantly  by queer psychics, which is where he meets Holden Payne the handsome, charismatic owner of the club and the son of the Community’s founder (Holden’s story is next up, in Oversight).  Here, for the first time in his life, Nate finds acceptance and a sense of belonging – but even those things – things  he’s longed for all his life – can’t blind him to the fact that the Community isn’t the altruistic, benevolent organisation it seems to be, a suspicion confirmed when he learns Theo isn’t the only psychic to have gone missing or died recently.

I thoroughly enjoyed Insight and can’t wait to jump into the next book.  Nate and Trent are likeable characters and I loved Trent’s frequently sarcastic pronouncements – his confidence and pragmatism are the perfect foils to Nate’s introversion and uncertainty, and if I have a criticism of the book overall, it’s that I’d have liked to have spent more time with him.  Nate is a fabulously developed character; he’s young (early twenties) but life has been tough and frankly, he’s a bit of a mess.  But he’s loyal and loving, and no matter that Theo wasn’t a great brother to him, he was his brother and Nate is determined to get to the truth about what happened to him.

Greg Boudreaux’s narration is utter perfection.  Seriously.  I honestly can’t think of a single thing about his performance that doesn’t work, or that I can say was maybe a teensy bit ‘off’ – because it’s flawless.  Pacing, diction, characterisation, differentiation – it’s all spot on, and his portrayals of the two principles capture them both to a T.  Nate sounds appropriately youthful, his voice pitched at a higher level than Trent’s as well as being subtly and consistently (to my British ears!) accented, while Mr. Boudreaux’s interpretation of Trent brings out every facet of his sharply ironic, smart-mouthed personality.  The scorching chemistry between Nate and Trent that’s so evident in the book is brilliantly amplified in audio; the strength of the attraction and longing that pulls the pair together is palpable and Mr. Boudreaux gets right into the swing of things in the love scenes, making the most of that sizzling tension but without going over the top.  All the secondary characters are expertly realised using a variety of accent and timbre… and I’ll stop waffling and just say don’t walk, RUN to Audible or whichever is your preferred audiobook vendor and pick up Insight immediately. I don’t need to be psychic to know you won’t regret it.

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