Title: “If I Loved You Less”
Author: Tamsen Parker
Pages (eBook): 222 pages
Publishing Date: 20 September 2018
“Matchmaking? Check. Surfing? Check. Falling in love? As if.
“Sunny, striking, and satisfied with her life in paradise, Theodosia Sullivan sees no need for marriage. She does, however, relish serving as matchmaker for everyone who crosses her path. As the manager of her family’s surf shop in Hanalei Bay, that includes locals and tourists alike.
“One person she won’t be playing Cupid for is the equally happy bachelorette down the street. Baker Kini ʻŌpūnui has been the owner of Queen’s Sweet Shop since her parents passed away and her younger brother married Theo’s older sister and moved to Oahu. Kini’s ready smile, haupia shortbread, and lilikoi malasadas are staples of Hanalei’s main street.
“However, Theo’s matchmaking machinations and social scheming soon become less charming—even hazardous—to everyone involved. And when she fails to heed Kini’s warnings about her meddling, she may be more successful than she ever intended. Theo has to face the prospect of Kini ending up with someone else, just as she realizes she’s loved Kini all along.”
Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:
- parental death
- sexual harassment
- queer antagonism
- mention of drugs/marijuana/getting high
Representation in the novel:
- Hawai’ian love interest
- f/f relationship
- sapphic women
- East Asian side character
I received this eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Wow, my first ARC ever, and I’m posting this almost a week after it came out. Go me?
I wanted to love this so bad. I had no idea what it was about going into it outside of the fact that it was an f/f retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. And I never read Emma, so I didn’t even have anything to go off of in terms of if it was a “good” retelling. So, obviously, my review won’t be focused on that aspect of the novel at all.
It takes place in Hawai’i, where the protagonist Theo lives with her father and helps run his shop, along with giving tourists surfing lessons. She thinks of herself as a matchmaker, and she takes credit for at least two marriages. Between running the shop with newcomer Laurel, going over to her friend Kiki’s bakery, surfing, and getting people together, Theo is pretty content with where she’s at. Until she isn’t.
I suppose that’s as good of a synopsis as you’re going to get from me.
So I’ll start with the things I liked about If I Loved You Less. The setting is pretty cool — I never read a book set in Hawai’i, or where the protagonist works at a surf shop. There are multiple characters of color that I enjoyed, as well as multiple non-straight characters. Laurel, the newcomer from mainland U.S., was adorable, and she was probably my favorite character. She’s one of the definitions of “soft character.” I also liked how most people are chill about Theo being queer.
Now…on to the things that I didn’t really like (which, sadly, is quite a bit…). I thought Theo was an annoying character who didn’t understand boundaries, or when to stop, or when to think before she says things. I wouldn’t be as annoyed if there was some character development, but all we have is a “oh, wow, what she did might not have been good” at the last 15% or so. And that’s that. I just…didn’t like how she treated Laurel, either? For a good portion of the book, she treated her like trash, in my opinion, and that was never resolved either.
While it’s pretty obvious (I think) who the love interest is pretty early in the novel, I’m just not going to say who it is, but I still have…feelings. About her relationship with Theo. I’ll start out by saying this is an age-gap romance, with 14 years between Theo and the LI. Which I have not issue with, I’m all for it.
However, throughout the novel, the reader is constantly told, from Theo’s point of view, how much of a sister figure the LI was as she was growing up, and how much Theo cared for her as family/a friend. Nothing about maybe liking her more than that, or nothing that I could pick up. And then suddenly….BAM. 90% into the book, the reader’s hit with Theo pretty much saying “lol, wait, I love her romantically.” I’m all for slow-burn (it’s actually one of my favorite tropes), but…this? Wasn’t slow-burn. At all. The ending felt rushed, and instead of the book being about Theo’s and her LI’s romantic relationship, the reader just gets a little blip, a “one year later” epilogue, and that’s it.
I also had an issue with the whole side-plot with Theo and her childhood friend, Austin. Nothing specific, just all of it. I didn’t enjoy it at all, and a lot of the “twists” that happened throughout it felt choppy and came out of left field.
I dunno, I was really hoping for a cute age-gap romance between two women, and I was blindsided by a not-so-fun protagonist and a romance that was only the last 10% of the novel.
Wasn’t that impressed, but if you read Emma, maybe it would still be for you?