There is nothing like the right book at the right time. I mean, obviously, a good book is good whenever, but a good book just when you needed it? Bookish heaven. Magnolia is what I needed in this slumpish mood I’ve been in. I’ve been craving fluffy romance with a great ship and Magnolia is that. Technically, Magnolia is a review book, but egalleys are supposed to be lowest priority, so it also felt like a free read, like I was cheating my schedule. Ah, beautiful liberation. Even more odd, just as the storm in Magnolia Branch hit in my reading, the thunder started going outside. How about that for timing? Magnolia is everything I hoped it would be: a southern Swan Princess with a glorious ship and all the feels.
Kristi Cook is writing about the popular kids in Magnolia. All the people that Jemma and Ryder hang out with regularly are the pinnacle of society in their Mississippi Town. Jemma’s a cheerleader and Ryder’s the head quarterback. Though Cook doesn’t get into the popularity stress stuff or show everything as unhealthy as it usually is, I also don’t think it’s quite idealized. There are definitely some drunken mistakes and some people are clearly not the nicest. My point is, though, that Jemma and Ryder aren’t the sort of people I would hang out with in real life and they’re nothing like me, but I still got completely sucked into this story and fell in love with the characters. I’m always so impressed when an author can make me feel for a character without me having too much in common with that character.
From the beginning, I loved Jemma’s narration. The occasional bit of dialect irked mildly, but Cook keeps it to a minimum. Otherwise, Jemma’s voice was just immediately full of life. I can’t put a finger on what makes a character go from believable but still only a character to being so real and immediate. Whatever it is, Jemma has it. I love too that Jemma has so much passion for things I don’t care about, particularly shooting. I actually hate guns and have zero interest in all of that, but I love that Jemma, who enjoys refashioning vintage clothing and cute dresses, is the best shot in her town and has a pistol named Delilah. I care about this because she makes me care. Also because woman power for the win.
Before I get into the ship, I want to talk about my other favorite part, which is the storm itself. The hurricane that hits Magnolia Landing, a whole six hours from the coast, is diminished but still monstrous. I was so incredibly tense as I read the chapters during the storm. There’s a special sort of helplessness as they sit there and listen to crashing sounds, not knowing whether the house will still be there when they come out. Like with the characters, I think Cook got this so perfect that I felt like I was there myself.
Now, I’d never really given it much thought, but this is actually a trope I LOVE. Two people who hate each other for one reason or another are forced together by circumstances and have to work through everything. This trope happens all the time in manga and kdrama. Being trapped together by circumstance forces the two to talk about things they never have before. There’s also an added sense of danger, sometimes very real and sometimes merely that of being stuck in unfamiliar circumstances. In this context, being honest is a lot easier and this is where all the feels come. Oh boy do they come.
This ship is a marvelous ship. The book’s been compared to a flipped Romeo and Juliet, but I definitely think it’s more Swan Princess. You know that opening song where the parents are trying to force the kids to get together and the kids are like BLECH. It’s like that. These two have serious chemistry and the ship is done just right. There’s a certain amount of pain and JUST KISS ALREADY and then the moves happen exactly when they should. It’s also awesome how Jemma and Ryder have to learn to throw off their old patterns of hatred, even once it’s become clear that hatred is not the emotion there. THIS SHIP IS GREAT.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The one thing that didn’t quite ring true for me was how perfect Ryder and Jemma are. Ryder’s gorgeous, incredibly smart, gentlemanly, and an amazing football player. Jemma plays down her own skills, but she’s talented with film, dress alteration, cheerleading and shooting, on top of being really attractive and smart. I mean, Jemma’s got so many talents that are shown that I have trouble feeling her passion for film as any stronger than any of the other things at which she excels. They’re flawed primarily in how stubborn they are. The other thing is that I feel like Cook threw in a few too many serious side plots for a fluffy book and then didn’t tie them all up satisfyingly. Personally, I feel like the plot about Jemma’s sister Nan sort of fell by the wayside. It wasn’t terribly handled, but I also don’t really get what it added to the story.
The Final Verdict:
If, like me, you love fluffy books with swoony romances, THIS BOOK. Also, if you like southern contemporaries or books about storms/survival, Magnolia‘s just what you need.