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ARC review–If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker

4/5* for fans of Emma by Jane Austen

3/5* for those who are not familiar with Emma

If I Loved You Less is a modern retelling of Emma, by Jane Austen. I have never read the Austen novel, but of course I’m familiar with the most famous modern take on it–Clueless. This review contains SPOILERS because I couldn’t figure how to *not* make it contain spoilers. I won’t reveal anything that the flap copy doesn’t. Plus the original Austen has been around for more than a hundred years, and Clueless has been out for more than twenty.

I looked Emma up on Wikipedia to see how the plots compare. Parker has written a faithful adaptation set in a small town in Hawaii.

Theodosia, Theo to everyone, believes she deserves credit for the wedding between her former nanny, Charlotte, and her new husband at the start of the book. She decides this makes her a successful matchmaker. So when newcomer Laurel moves to Hanalei, Theo decides that she’s just the right person to connect Laurel to her inevitable Mr. Right. Laurel’s choice is a cashier at the local bakery, and Theo thinks she should set her expectations higher, which of course is an unmitigated disaster. Theo is charming, but human to the point of making you actively dislike her a few times.

I like that the setting has been changed to Hawaii and that Theo is a surf instructor. I like that with only a few exceptions, it is a majority minority cast of characters. Touches of authentic Hawaii are found throughout the book from food (and wow does most of what Kini cooks sounds delicious) to the culture. I also like that Theo identifies as queer–she’s never been with or wanted to be with a man, but she’s not a fan of closing doors.

However, the biggest weakness is Kini, Theo’s eventual love interest. Kini is 39 to Theo’s 25, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that Kini was Theo’s more or less maternal figure. Or at least like a beloved aunt. So when Theo realizes she’s in love with Kini, it’s rushed and I didn’t buy it. Moreover I didn’t buy that Kini would be attracted in return. Not because I think a May/December romance is unrealistic–I’ve written several. Rather, my problem is that Parker develops the maternal/aunt vibe to the point where them falling in love actually squicked me a bit. However, it’s true to Emma, sort of, except in Emma it’s her sister’s brother in law, which implies an age gap but not that deep familiarity. (Fan of Emma, set me straight on this.) I do think that anyone not familiar with Emma’s story may also stumble over this.

Perhaps if we’d also seen inside of Kini’s head, the story would work more? I’m not sure. But I didn’t feel like there was a romantic build…just boom out of nowhere.

Personally, I’d give it the 3/5 stars from me, but when I post reviews, I’ll go with the 4/5 stars because I think that fans of Emma will genuinely like this.

Currently If I Loved You Less is scheduled for release on September 20th, but there are currently no pre-order links.

 

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