I read this book in less than a day. This doesn’t happen often to me anymore, but with all its flaws, I have to admit I found this addicting.
If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker is a f/f new adult retelling of Emma set in Hanalei Bay, Hawaii. It follows Theo, a 25-year-old woman who is a “matchmaker” in her small town, but isn’t interested in marriage herself.
I thought Theo was a really interesting character, and with that I mean that she annoyed me a lot – in a way no character ever had before.
Unlikable narrators are difficult to write, and Theo got on my nerves a lot, but I can’t say I had ever read about a character like her. You see, Theo is a very well-meaning, extroverted person who happens to be bad at reading social cues and who has little understanding of boundaries. She is irritating and kind of clueless, especially at the beginning, but I ended up caring about her. I appreciated her character development, but what I liked the most was how, for once, this book broke the “introverted = socially awkward / extroverted = good at reading and understanding people” stereotype. People like Theo exist, but so far I had only seen them as annoying side characters you’re meant to hate on.
I can’t say I liked the side characters as much. All of them were a bit flat, even the love interest – I liked her and the way the romance developed, but I didn’t feel that strongly about Kini and Theo as a couple. They were cute, and not much more. The other side characters, however, were one-dimensional and all ended up paired up together because… plot? (but we’ll talk about that later). Brock is boring and a plot device, Austin isn’t much better, Laurel felt like a walking stereotype – she never got more characterization than “nerdy East Asian sidekick with no spine”, which was a shame – and the other characters were so forgettable I don’t even remember their names.
I also didn’t love the way the main character and the story were obsessed with romance. Trying to push people to date isn’t great, this is acknowledged in the book, but all the major characters end up paired up anyway. I would have loved if someone was shown to be happy without needing a partner, especially since part of this book was about Theo being pushy about romance.
What I liked the most about this book were the setting – Hanalei Bay is a beautiful place and I could feel that – and the food descriptions. There were a lot of them, because Kini is a baker and Theo loves eating sweets. I don’t know exactly what it is about food descriptions but they always make me like a book more. Just like atmosphere, they make the setting feel more real.
Also, this book is easy to read. If I Loved You Less is the kind of book you can fly through when you have to spend hours in a hospital waiting room, and it will make you forget you’re there. It gets that right, and that’s why I’m giving it a positive rating even though I often struggled with the characters.
While this book is new adult, there are no explicit sex scenes, which helped (sex scenes are great! Just not what I’d read in a waiting room). If you have a lot of time during which you have nothing to do but you need something that is easy to read and will keep you distracted, I can say that this works.
My rating: ★★¾
Undertow is the second novella in the paranormal romance series Port Lewis Witches. The first, Darkling, is one of my favorite novellas I read this year, and this sequel didn’t disappoint.
While Undertow is a direct sequel and not a companion, it’s told in Liam’s PoV, and this time we get to know more about both the witchy world of Port Lewis and about Liam’s family.
One thing I really loved about the first book was the rainy small town atmosphere, which set the perfect tone for the story. I appreciated this aspect even more in this book – not only this novella was atmospheric and immersive, it also got creepy at times. Undertow follows a water witch, and the water hides a lots of mysteries. I love books with sea horror scenes (I think the ocean is terrifying).
Undertow also expanded the worldbuilding, introducing other magical creatures apart from witches and demons, and that was really interesting to read.
I really like Liam’s and Ryder’s relationship. Demon involvement can lead to trouble, but they try to make it work. Also, it’s a m/m romance with a trans love interest! Their relationship with the rest of their circle, however, is strained at the moment – prejudices against necromancers and secrets kept for too long worsened the situation – and those scenes were a bit painful to read (I just want them all to be fine!) but I still really liked reading about this very queer group of witches.
The main reason Undertow isn’t a 4.5 stars for me, unlike the first book, is that it’s told in Liam’s PoV. I really liked Liam, but that meant we see very little of Jordan (Ryder’s sister), who is probably my favorite character in the series. I love her a lot and wanted to know more about her, but I liked getting to know more about her girlfriend Thalia.
I also still don’t love the writing.
My rating: ★★★★
[Content warnings for explicit sex scenes and blood magic.]