nothing to gain coverRating: 3.75 stars
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Length: Novel

Linden Jacobs has left his small town for college. He is making friends and even crushing on the guy at the thrift shop. But Linden is also hiding his desire to explore his more femme side. Linden’s father accepted he was gay without a blink, but Linden still worries what his dad would think about the fact that Linden also wants to explore makeup and more traditionally feminine dress. And while he knows his friends care about him, Linden fears their reaction as well.

Brett McHale decided long ago he is living true to himself, even if that meant losing his family after they kicked him out. Fortunately, Brett has a wonderful boss at his coffee shop job, and a great best friend, Angus, whose family took him in as a teen. It’s not always easy to dress in a way that catches attention, but Brett’s feminine style reflects who he is and he isn’t interested in giving that up for anyone. When Brett meets Linden, he is drawn to him immediately. But what Linden needs most is a friend who can help him navigate figuring out his desires, and Brett steps in to do just that.

As the men spend more time together, bonding over clothes and makeup, Brett helps to give Linden the confidence to dress to express his true self. The attraction between the men also continues to flare, and Brett and Linden finally admit their feelings and act on their desire for each other. The men seem like a perfect match, and with Brett’s support, Linden finds himself reaching for exactly what he wants in life and love.

Nothing to Gain is the second book in E.M. Denning’s Learning the Ropes series. This is a found family type series, and Linden appears as a major side character in Everything to Lose, and side characters from that book appear here as well. So while I think you can follow this story without having read the first book, the connections among the characters and their past relationships definitely add a lot here.

Femme characters tend to be less featured in gay romance, and a book where both characters are femme is incredibly rare. So I really appreciated the chance to explore that here. Brett and Linden are attracted to each other from the start, but they begin the story as friends and with Brett in sort of a mentor role. He is further along in his journey to live on his own terms and he provides Linden a lot of support and encouragement along the way. It is really lovely to see Linden gain in the confidence to embrace the look that he wants for himself, as well as to share that with his friends and family. We know that Brett did not have an easy time of it, so it is nice to see Linden have a smoother ride and the way that Brett’s support, as well as that of his friends, makes such a difference. The story has a very natural flow with the men moving from friends to lovers, as the bond between them is clear.

I did at times feel not quite enough was happening here, however, as the men settle into things so fast. That’s not to say that they face no conflict, as Linden is still dealing with coming out as femme and Brett has some family issues. But I’m not sure there was enough going on to fully carry the story for me.

As I mentioned, this story also has a found family vibe and there is a nice cast of secondary characters that includes Dante and Zane from the first book; Brett’s best friend and roommate, Ansel; Zane’s roommate, Ricky; and Brett’s boss and his husband. The group spends a lot of time together and there is a nice connection among them. I liked seeing the safe space they create for Linden, as well as how they support Brett when he has issues with his family. We get some intriguing bits about some of these side characters that I am hoping will be the lead up to their own stories.

So this is a nice addition to the series and I am enjoy the new adult feel of these books. It was rewarding to see Linden finding himself and I really liked the two men together. I am very much looking forward to seeing what is next for this group.


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