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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.

 

Review: Rogue Hearts

I recieved a copy of Rogue Hearts in exchange for an honest review.

Rogue Hearts is the fourth book in the Rogue series.

From high office to the heartland, six brand-new romances about #resistance for readers who haven’t given up hope for a Happily Ever After…

In Her Service by Suleikha Snyder

U.S. Vice President Letitia Hughes has one thing that’s hers and only hers: her relationship with much younger Secret Service agent Shahzad Khan. When push comes to shove, what will take precedence: political ambitions or protecting their hearts?

In Her Service was one of my favorite stories in this anthology. I wish Letitia Hughes was the VP already. It’s 2020-2024 in this story, and Hughes and the president (also a woman!) are cleaning up the mess of the administration that came before them. But in private, Letitia has Shahzad, a man devoted not just to protecting her body, but to loving her. I adore a  forbidden romance, especially when there’s a power dynamic as well, and it’s great to see the woman as the more powerful one in a m/f story.

In Her Service also has plenty of hot sex as well as heart.

Run by Emma Barry

Public defender Maddie Clark doesn’t want to be a candidate for the state senate—but she’s running. Her high school nemesis turned campaign advisor Adam Kadlick shouldn’t be back home managing campaigns—but he is. They definitely should avoid falling for each other—but they won’t.

Another favorite story. Maddie and Adam have this great slow burn of a relationship. The evolution of Maddie as a candidate is done in a deft, believable way. When it comes out that Adam was planning to return to LA, it breaks the burgeoning relationship, and Adam has to work to repair it. Meanwhile, Adam is struggling with the decision of whether or not to go back to LA or to stay in Montana. The story has depth and it’s easy to root for Maddie and Adam.

The Rogue Files by Stacey Agdern

Reporter John DiCenza wants to go back. To New Jersey, to his life, the hockey team he covers, and the fanbase he’s proud to know and support. Back to before he had the Rogue Files, documents rumored to be the final nail in President Crosby’s term.

Journalist Sophie Katz wants to move forward. Toward her new TV show, and a life where the stories she tells will make a difference. She needs the Rogue Files and the story behind them to get there.

But when life comes at them, John and Sophie realize that the true story behind the files is standing up for the truth right where you are.

John and Sophie have history, but neither wants it to get in the way of the story. John has the information but is tired of looking over his shoulder, and Sophie wants to expose the corruption in the files. The story is good, although a bit disjointed at times.

Coming Up Rosa by Kelly Maher

When her mother’s health crisis forces Rosa Donnelly back to her hometown, she crosses paths with her former crush, and town goldenboy, Ian Stroman. Ian’s shine is even brighter thanks to his advocacy work to fight inhumane government policies. However, their past hurt sand a current business threat may spike their chance at happiness.

Another favorite is Coming up Rosa. Rosa is uncomfortable in the small town she comes from, but she has to go home to support her mom. She has a lot of insecurity about how her family has taken handouts from the Stromans in the past, and Ian’s mother picking up the tab for her mother’s medication at the start of the story only reinforces that. Ian has begun to speak out about injustice in a company newsletter, just as he knows his grandfather would have. But his relatives believe his political beliefs will hurt their bottom line.

Rosa had a crush on Ian as a young woman, but he’d brushed her off. But now, he wants to win her over. The development and hiccups in their relationship are well done, and I enjoyed it immensely. I especially love the way Maher includes snippets of the company newsletter that is causing all the controversy in Ian’s life.

The Sheriff & Mr. Devine by Amy Jo Cousins

There’s a new sheriff in Clear Lake and he has Eli Devine, the town librarian, on edge. Between arguing with the town council about inclusive library programming and keeping his three grandmas from getting into trouble, Eli has enough on his plate already. He doesn’t need the imposing Sheriff Baxter to be so very . . . distracting. Luckily for Eli, John Baxter is full of all kinds of good ideas, both for the town and for one stubborn librarian in particular.

The Sheriff & Mr Devine is a sweet romance. Eli has an instant crush on the new sheriff, until he suggests that one of his aunts might be developing dementia. Meanwhile, John has plans to win over Eli.

I really liked this story, but it feels incomplete. There’s a lot of set-up, but it feels like there isn’t really a payoff. We never see the issue of the aunt’s dementia resolved, for example. Cousins sets up what looks like a great m/m romance, but it just stops. Cousins says that she plans a longer story about them, and I would be very interested to read it.

Good Men by Tamsen Parker

Laid-back Benji Park is the keyboard player for the world’s hottest boy band, License to Game. While LtG is no stranger to charity gigs, Benji’s never been what you’d call a social justice warrior. But when smart, sexy, and ruthless immigration lawyer Jordan Kennedy comes along and asks Benji for a favor, he just may change his tune.

Good Men has an excellent extended sex scene. I love the emphasis on consent, and the way Benji is willing to stop if Jordan is uncomfortable. The set-up is well done–we know where the band came from, and why Benji cares about immigration. Jordan convinces Benji, who in turn convinces the band, to play at a benefit concert. But I would’ve enjoyed a longer story with these characters.

 

I highly recommend Rogue Hearts, and I’m now interested in reading the other books in the series. Buy it on Amazon today.