everything to lose coverRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Dante is a little nervous about heading off to college, particularly as his best friend, Jonathan, will be in school across the country. Fortunately, Jonathan’s older brother, Zane, is a senior at Dante’s school, so he has someone there to lean on. Dante’s mom is mostly absent from his life, and he is like another son in Jonathan and Zane’s family, so Dante has known Zane all his life. The problem is that Dante has also been crushing on Zane for years, and Zane is straight, so his feelings are unrequited.

When the guys get to school, Dante finds himself spending more time with Zane, only reinforcing his attraction. For his part, Zane enjoys hanging out with Dante and realizes he wants to see him for more than just keeping an eye on him. Zane feels caring and protective over Dante, but even more, he realizes he is attracted to Dante as well. It surprises Zane, as he has only ever been into women before, but he has no trouble accepting his feelings. The bigger issue is that Dante is wary of losing his connection to Zane’s family if things go badly. They are the only real family he has, and he can’t imagine being without them. Dante also has a lot of insecurities about being wanted after his mom has made it clear he is not a priority for her. He worries about whether Zane will want him for long, and if their relationship can last. Dante and Zane are so close to having everything they ever wanted with each other, but they just have to take a chance.

Everything to Lose is the first in E.M. Denning’s new Learning the Ropes series and it is sweet romance with a great new adult feel. What I particularly liked here is that while Zane is older, both he and Dante are coming to the relationship from a place of inexperience. Dante has never had much sexual experience, and Zane has never been with a man. So there is a nice sense of discovery here for both men as they explore a relationship with each other, as well as their sexual connection. Denning also does a great job really capturing that freshman experience, with Dante a little overwhelmed and uncertain and trying to figure it all out. The guys are good together and I enjoyed their dynamic. Zane is doting and caring, so there is a nice sweetness and tenderness to their relationship. I appreciated that he manages not to be overprotective, but also looks out for Dante. Dante is more reserved, but Zane helps give him that confidence that he needs to step a bit outside his comfort zone and I liked watching him find his footing as the story develops.

One of the main conflicts here is that Dante is largely ignored by his mother, leaving him feeling like he is generally unwanted and causing insecurities when dealing with Zane and their new relationship. Denning does a good job highlighting that toward the later part of the book, and there are some nice moments with Zane’s family as they show Dante how much he means to them. I do think it would have helped to understand Dante better if we got more of this information earlier on though, to help better establish the root of some of his issues when they show up, as a lot of the background comes toward the end of the story. I also found myself somewhat frustrated with the late story conflict, as both Zane and Dante seem to blame Zane completely for the issue that arises, which to me didn’t really seem like his fault. It has to do with a need to prioritize school, and while things could have been handled more smoothly, the overall issue seemed perfectly legitimate to me. Yet Dante runs away (more than once) rather than face the conflict and Zane beats himself up for being at fault, which didn’t seem fair to me, particularly as Dante doesn’t give him a chance to talk. So I wished this had been a little more balanced to show Dante’s responsibility for the conflict as well.

Overall, this is a sweet (and a little sexy) story with a great tone. There are some fun side characters here that I hope we will see more of throughout the series, and a nice foundation for upcoming books. If you like new adult stories, particularly with a “brother’s best friend” trope, I encourage you to check this one out.