Rebecca reviews If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker

If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker

Tamsen Parker’s If I Loved You Less is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. While I love the well-written setting, the plot and characters are underwhelming and the unconvincing romance is so slow burn that it’s practically non-existent.

Theo lives in the beautiful paradise of Hanalei Bay with her overprotective father. She spends her days running her family’s surf shop, surfing, and spending time with baker Kini who runs Queen’s Sweet Shop. Theo’s life is wonderful and she’s not interested in marrying or settling down. But, she loves playing matchmaker for others. When a new friend arrives, Theo is determined to find her a perfect match. As Theo’s scheming spirals out of control, she realizes that she’s in love with Kini and may lose her to someone else.

The setting is so vivid and beautifully written. I also love the inclusion of Kini’s bakery and the delicious Hawaiian food that is mentioned throughout. I didn’t mind having to constantly Google the names of dishes and terms because I appreciate the exposure being given to indigenous Hawaiian life. I also really appreciate the diversity. Although Theo is white, Kini is native Hawaiian and Theo’s friend Laurel is of East Asian descent.

Theo is selfish and pushy. However, I didn’t hate her because she is lively and well-meaning at times. I’m disappointed that she doesn’t grow. Although there is a turnabout at the very end, it feels unnatural because she never really attempts to change. Although I do like kind Kini, I wish she was more developed. She just seems to be there to bake and give advice to Theo. Additionally, the other characters lack personality and are completely forgettable.

The book really fails to live up to its summary. It mostly focuses on heterosexual relationships and any actual romance between Kini and Theo only happens within the last few pages. But, it is a faithful retelling of Emma. However, certain outdated plot points do not translate well. This novel also doesn’t improve on aspects of the original story that didn’t work. The plot is slow and uninteresting. There are several twists that are insufficiently resolved while the underdeveloped characters often act implausibly. Theo’s friendship with her childhood friend Austin is unrealistic. Although she hasn’t seen him in decades, she is obsessed with the old-fashioned belief that they will be best friends and get together because their fathers liked the idea of them as a couple.

The romance between Kini and Theo is unconvincing. The familial nature of their relationship is constantly reiterated as Kini often acts like a mother or an older sister to Theo. Although the age gap isn’t an issue, their supposed interest in each other is puzzling because Theo is immature while Kini is wise and reserved. They have no chemistry together. Furthermore, Theo only realizes that she is in love with Kini near the bitter end of the book. Parker rushes towards a happy ending without sufficiently building a tangible romantic connection.

Moreover, while I understand that sexuality is fluid and labels can be restrictive, readers may find certain aspects of this book problematic. The way that the book handles Theo’s sexuality and her obsession with Austin as a potential future husband can be reflective of the stereotypical belief that lesbians simply haven’t found the right man yet.

I was really disappointed with If I Loved You Less. While I love the beautiful Hawaiian setting, the plot dragged and the unconvincing romance is almost blink and you’ll miss it. The book had a lot of potential but it just misses the mark.

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Rebecca reviews Back to the Start by Monica McCallan

Back to the Start by Monica McCallan cover

Monica McCallan’s Back to the Start is an okay read featuring the trope of rekindling first love. Although the book has a wonderful love interest and interesting plot twists, it’s bogged down with tedious writing and an unlikable protagonist.

Our protagonist is Remy who must leave San Francisco and return to Farmingdale after her grandmother dies. Although Remy only lived there briefly and hasn’t been back in twelve years, the small town left an indelible mark on her. She’s vowed to forget everything that happened there, especially Fallon, the beautiful and popular girl who broke her heart. However, their paths inevitably cross. As misunderstandings are cleared up and Remy and Fallon form a tentative friendship that blossoms into something more, Remy must decide exactly what she wants from life.

I struggled with this book. Although the plot is decent, I dislike McCallan’s writing style. Every other page is filled with phrases like “the blonde said” or “the brunette did” and it’s frustrating and boring to read. The writing is very flat and lacks emotion. I really would have liked some relevant descriptions because I struggled to picture people and places.

Remy is an unlikable, selfish, and narrow-minded protagonist. I couldn’t connect with her at all. But, she does experience some much-needed growth by the end of the book. However, I really would have liked the narrative to feature more of Remy’s change in attitude toward the town and other people. On the other hand, Fallon is the perfect love interest who is honestly too good for Remy. She’s a great and relatable character who is generous, caring, and sweet.

While the plot isn’t ground-breaking, it’s well-paced and kept my attention. There is a decent amount of tension and sweetness in the romance. I like that there isn’t an instant love reconnection between Remy and Fallon. Instead, they take time to rebuild their relationship, move past their issues and learn about each other. I particularly like the last few twists which finally allow Remy to show some growth.

Back to the Start is an okay take on the rekindling first love trope. While I love Fallon and the plot held my attention, I couldn’t fully get into this book because of McCallan’s writing and Remy’s off-putting personality. I wouldn’t read this one again. But, if you like the rekindling first love trope and well-written love interests, maybe you can give this book a go.

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Rebecca reviews Gold by E.J. Noyes

Gold by E.J. Noyes cover

E.J. Noyes’ Gold is a sports-centred novel with a great and relatable protagonist and a very steamy and sweet romance.

Our protagonist is Aspen Archer, a former Olympic skier whose career ended after a disastrous injury. With her body and spirit broken, Aspen hides out at ski resorts, coaching tourists and avoiding her problems. While coaching at a ski resort in Australia, she meets the beautiful Cate Tierney. Cate is a physical therapist, has a teenage daughter and is recovering from a painful relationship. There’s an instant and intense attraction between Aspen and Cate. However, both women have lots of emotional baggage. Can they be more than just a vacation fling? Can Aspen take control of her life to have the future that she longs for?

The aptly-named Aspen is a wonderfully written character. I felt for her as she struggled through panic attacks and chronic pain. I rooted for her when she finally took charge of her life and rediscovered herself. While I do like Cate, I didn’t fully warm up to her because I couldn’t connect with her and I felt like I didn’t know her.

The secondary characters are interesting and well-written. I really like Cate’s daughter, Gemma and Aspen’s student, Stacey. However, I wish Aspen’s relationships with both teens were more developed because they could have been much more meaningful and memorable than they were. Additionally, other characters like Aspen’s hilarious sister Hayley sometimes disappeared from the narrative unnaturally.

I like that the book examines issues like Aspen’s former addiction to painkillers and how it hurt her life and family. However, the book does drag a little. I wish that the plot had been more exciting and slightly less predictable. But, Noyes creates such great characters that I remained invested in them.

The romance between Aspen and Cate is well-written. There’s believable conflict, some sweet moments and enough super steamy scenes to get your pulse racing. Seriously…you may not want to read this book in public!

Although I couldn’t fully connect with Cate and I wish some aspects of the plot were better developed, Gold is a good read with great characters and a sweet romance. If you’re looking for a sports-themed book with a lovely happy ever after, give this one a try!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

Rebecca reviews Seeing Red: A Sapphic Fairy Tale by Cara Malone

Seeing Red is a cute and quick read with a sweet romance and really well-written characters. It’s loosely based on the fairy tale and I absolutely enjoyed this modern take with relatable characters.

Hunter has too much on her plate. She’s living with her sister, Piper and helping with the bills and her two nephews. She’s balancing a job in a care facility while also trying to keep Piper away from her jailed criminal husband, Jed Wolfe. Although things are really desperate, Hunter tries to show Piper that there’s a good life away from pulling cons. Meanwhile, wealthy college student Kiera has just moved in with her grandmother who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Kiera isn’t only taking care of her grandmother but also hiding after an embarrassing encounter at her sorority house. A chance meeting brings Kiera and Hunter together. Kiera needs help with her grandmother and Hunter becomes the old woman’s caretaker. The pay is great, Kiera’s grandmother really likes Hunter and her family, and…there’s something magical happening between Hunter and Kiera. Maybe, Hunter can finally slow down. However, Jed still has his claws in Piper and her desperation to provide for her family will have consequences for all.

The split perspective between Kiera and Hunter with an occasional chapter from Piper really works because the characters have such distinct voices. Malone deftly avoids stereotypes and creates characters that are wonderfully written and relatable. Kiera and Hunter are great protagonists who are brave, interesting, and very real. They are so well-written that I was totally invested in them individually even before their romance blossoms. However, I would have liked more development on Hunter’s history, and Jed’s presence needed to be more ominous because he doesn’t seem like that much of a threat.

The romance between Kiera and Hunter is gentle, sweet, and natural. Despite the fairy tale romance, I like that Malone avoids leaning on classic tropes. She examines real issues like manipulative relationships, financial struggles, and Alzheimer’s. There are many instances that could have been melodramatic but Malone excellently handles her plot and characters to avoid unnecessary drama.

Cara Malone’s Seeing Red is a lovely read. The characters are really well-written, the romance is cute and the happy ever after perfectly fits. If you’re looking for an adorable lesbian romance that’s loosely inspired by a fairy tale, you won’t be disappointed!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/