by Kristi Cook
Original Publication Date: August 4, 2014
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Obtained Via: Bought
View at the Traffic light:
In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.
Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.
But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.
Sweet tea. Hot afternoons. Slow drawls and Sunday strolls. These are the things I think about when I consider southern culture. Not to mention friendliness and charm, and Magnolia has that southern charm in spades.
Magnolia sets out to portray a reverse Romeo and Juliet of sorts. Jemma and Ryder’s partners would like nothing more than to see the two families united by the marriage of their dear children eventually, but at the start of the book Jemma and Ryder can’t stand each other. They’re in close proximity all the time, due to their parents’ friendship, and they trade pointed barbs and sharp words when they speak to each other at all. However, through a series of circumstances, Jemma’s parents have to leave for a while to go to Houston with Jemma’s sister for a major surgery. They end up asking Ryder to help Jemma prepare their house for an oncoming hurricane, and the two end up stranded together.
Fluff ensues. Magnolia does actually deal with some pretty serious issues(including one which was handled in the most bizarre manner, but we’ll get to that). First, there’s Jemma’s sister’s brain surgery. Jemma is understandably freaked out about this. There’s also the fact that Jemma wants to go to New York for film school and break out from the path her parents have set from her.
One thing that’s really refreshing about Magnolia is that it’s not that Jemma hates her life. She actually really likes a great deal of it. She’s the best sharp shooter in the county, winning most of the competitions and dressing as girly as she can doing it just because she wants to. Her family’s well-known and well-connected. She’s popular and doesn’t really have problems with the small town life, but she just wants to experience something on her own for awhile, and that’s understandable. During the storm, Jemma and Ryder talk about what they want from life and while the book keeps the atmosphere mostly on the lighter side, these conversations are one I think anyone can relate to. It can be tough to figure those things out.
The romantic tension between Jemma and Ryder was set up just right. They’re at odds from the start of the book, getting under each other’s skin, but it’s clear from Jemma’s inner narration that she doesn’t really hate Ryder(though she is often irritated with him). At first, Ryder seems to good to be true. He has the southern manners, the football star status, and the well-connected family, but as the storm raging on the reader gets to see some of his vulnerability. I was rooting for them so hard very early on in the story. I mean the banter, the wit, the sass(Jemma is so sassy, I love it), the gradual realization that they like each other. . . it was so spot-on.
There were also a lot of other selling points for this novel. The setting was so well-done that I could vividly see this sprawling scenery. And yes, that means the actual setting, but also the little things, down to way that Sunday dinner was described as an important, if regularly ongoing, affair. The family dynamics were also great. Jemma’s parents aren’t in a whole lot of the book due to being in Houston for the surgery(and I have to point out, as someone who was regularly left by myself for stretches of similar amounts of time at the same age for a similar medical reason, I thought this was handled with the right amount of delicacy. Jemma’s parents weren’t just up-and-leaving, and they set parameters and people in place to help check in on her), but when they are around they’re shown as caring. Jemma’s mom can be a little overbearing, but she means well, and the conversations between Jemma and her dad were great.
The only thing that kept me from out-right LOVING this novel was some of the more serious story lines, one in particular that’s a bit spoilery, so I won’t go into it in detail. Let’s just say that a certain plot twist happened and the resolution was. . . so incredibly bizarre. The entire event felt out of place with the tone of the rest of the story, and then it wasn’t really resolved in full. When it happened on the page I actually said out loud, to an empty room, “What just happened?” and that wasn’t a good moment of my mouth dropping in shock. I was unsure if my reading experience was going to recover from it at all. It did(mostly because I loved Ryder and Jemma), but it did lessen my overall assessment of the book.
There was a pretty major plot point that felt out of place, so this book loses a star for that, but other than that I really loved it. I was rooting hard for Jemma and Ryder, which is always the most important thing in a contemporary romance. The southern dressing was just a bonus. 4/5 cupcakes.