Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

Sam knows his One True Love is out there.  He just hasn’t quite been able to find him yet.  Tall, gangly, geeky, and suffering from low self esteem thanks to his jerk of an ex-boyfriend, Sam doesn’t have a lot of confidence in himself or his looks.  But Sam is a romantic at heart and hopes that one day he will find the man of his dreams.  When Sam has a chance meeting with Ian, Sam finds him romance hero swoon-worthy.  But Ian is clear that Sam is not his type. Not that Sam is suprised. Ian is huge and gorgeous and reminds Sam of those Highland lairds on the covers of his books.  So Sam knows a guy like Ian would never been into someone like him.

It turns out that Ian is the cousin to Jurgen, partner to Sam’s best friend Nik.  So when Jurgen and Nik have a party, the guys are surprised to encounter each other again.  And there is enough of an attraction there to lead to a hot hookup.  But even as the guys slowly begin to see more of each other, there are struggles along the way.  Sam has a hard time accepting his worth as a partner, especially after Ian’s initial dismissal.  It is hard for him to believe that Ian really wants him and that a real relationship is possible between them.  And Ian is just coming off a major life upheaval.  He has recently recovered from an accident on the job as a fire fighter. He has changed careers and uprooted his life to get a new start.  He also decided to make some other changes, including no more casual sex and to look for something more real.  But this is not so easy for Ian who doesn’t have any relationship experience.  He never really expects to find it with Sam, who is so different from Ian’s usual type.  But the longer they spend together, the more he finds that Sam is exactly what he wants.  Both guys need to accept that what they are looking for is right there in front of them and be confident enough to reach for that happiness.

I was really excited for this story, having first met Sam in Nik and Jurgen’s story, Whitetail Rock.  This is a free novella and one that I just adored.  Sam is a major side character in that story, as Nik’s roommate for the summer while he and Jurgen begin dating. I think Tenino does a great job carrying Sam’s personality through from that story to this one.  I love a good geeky hero and I found Sam really sweet and likable with enough humor to give him a bit of an edge.  I could really feel for him as someone who had suffered the emotional abuse of a bad boyfriend who made him feel unattractive and unworthy.  As much as Sam likes Ian, and knows Ian likes having sex with him, he really struggles with accepting that Ian finds him attractive and cares for him enough to want a real relationship.  I really liked Sam and found him a well-developed and really relatable character.

Ian faces different challenges as their relationship develops.  On one hand, he is determined to make some changes in his life, but he really doesn’t have much experience with anything beyond hookups.  He starts off sort of growly and gruff, but it is clear there is a lot of tenderness underneath.  And he is so sweet and loving with Sam, soon opening himself up in ways he doesn’t really expect.  Ian doesn’t quite know how to be a “boyfriend” and there are several amusing scenes as he attempts to brood over Sam or act in other appropriately boyfriendly ways.  I really liked Ian too, and he is a nice mixture of tough and sweet and sexy.  I will say though that I didn’t totally have a handle on him and his issues.  Every time I sort of thought I got him, things shifted a little.  One one hand he says he wants to stop the hook ups and have something real.  Then he seems to be scared of actually having a relationship and discourages Sam from thinking there is more to them than sex.  We also learn about some issues with his father and Ian’s anxieties about coming out, especially to a long time friend. I guess maybe it was a little muddled to me with too many different things going on and I could never quite get a handle on what was driving Ian the way I could with Sam.

Too Stupid to Live very cleverly uses the romance novel as a foundation to the story telling.  Sam is a romance fan and often thinks of himself and his life in terms of the story.  When he first meets Ian he imagines him as kilted Highlander, ready to claim Sam as his war prize.  And often throughout the book Sam assesses his situation and looks at it through the lens of romance tropes.  “Too Stupid to Live” references the common criticism of many a romance hero/heroine who do incredibly stupid things like explore that strange noise in the attic all alone during a power failure, or doing incredibly dumb things in pursuit of the wrong guy.  At times Sam sees himself that way, worried that his feelings for Ian won’t be reciprocated.  I found this element of the book a lot of fun.  Tenino manages to poke at some of the romance world tropes and stereotypes without being too heavy handed.  There is just enough here to be fun and humorous without drowning in self-reference.

As I mentioned, we met Sam in Whitetail Rock, but this book actually launches a new series.  If you are fans of Whitetail, Jurgen and Nik do appear as major side characters in this story.  I think this book would easily work as a standalone, but I think it is much more fun if you have read the first story.  Especially because Sam and Nik have such a great relationship and you get to see more of that in Whitetail Rock (plus Jurgen is an mmm growly sexy motorcycle cop…).  And even more so because Whitetail Rock is a great free story, so really it is worth checking out.

I love Tenino’s writing and really adore these characters so I liked this book quite a lot.  I think we get enough conflict to keep the story interesting, but really see these guys grow emotionally throughout the book without an overdose of angst.  Both Ian and Sam are really sweet and this story is incredibly sexy.  Lots of heat and intensity (and a super sexy kilt scene for my fellow kilt lovers). So I really enjoyed this one and would definitely recommend it.

P.S. Love the cover! Sadly Ian doesn’t wear the kilt too much, but I love the playfulness and the humor here.  Very nice!

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