Jenna and Ryder are far from friends—until a storm stirs up their passion in this contemporary southern romance from New York Times bestselling author Kristi Cook. In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, The Cafferty and Marsden families are practically 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 the families finally have a baby boy and girl at the same time, the perfect opportunity seems to have arrived. Except Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen—oh, and also? They hate each other. Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would prefer it if stubborn-headed Jemma didn’t exist. And their communication is not exactly effective: even a casual hello turns into a yelling match. But when a violent Mississippi storm ravages through Magnolia Branch, it unearths feelings Jemma and Ryder didn’t know they had. And the line between love and hate just might be thin enough to cross…
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.
This book ended up being a sweet, quick, entertaining summer read. I really enjoyed the setting and the history of the families and the area. It could be a little predictable and the characters made me want to shake them at times, but those were things that also kept me reading.
Jemma was a character who’s personality fit the tone of the book so well. She had all these expectations placed on her by her parents(marriage to Ryder, school, her future) and she had her own plans that didn’t fit with anything her parents wanted from her. She could be very self-aware when she was making decisions, even when she knew those decisions were a mistake, which was refreshing. And she could be very, very stubborn. There were times when I wanted to yell at her to talk to the people she was angry with because they weren’t mind readers, but at the same time, I could understand her hesitation at wanting to open up to them. Ryder was a great counter-part to Jemma. Golden boy athlete also with a ton of parental expectations placed on him. Kristi Cook did a good job making him likeable even when Jemma hated him, which could have been tricky since the reader is in Jemma’s POV.
Together, whether they were hating each other or had a tentative truce during family time or discovering their true feelings, there was definite chemistry.
I really enjoyed the twist that it was the teens who hated each other instead of the families. It added to the parental expectation that was already crushing Ryder and Jemma, and I thought it helped make their resentment of each other less petty. The emotions during the storm were high and done really well, keeping the tension through the whole storm. I also liked that there was more than just the hate-to-love romance plot going on. There was the two main characters finding themselves outside of their parents’ expectations and dreams for them.
It was a good summer read book that I started to read and, before I knew it, I was finished.
The book is separated like a play in three acts and each chapter is one scene I never have read a contemporary divided like that but in this one it totally make sense since these parts are very different between each other (especially the second one) and at each part we see the relationship between the main characters develop - and I loved this development that they had, I feel like a lot of authors throw childhood friends as main characters and love interests and expect us to just jump into the train and forget that we didn't read about all these children memories so a lot of time the relationship ends up being underdevelop but not here!
The main characters start this book hating each other, and I mean genualy hating as in they have - well, at least Jemma has a true reason to not want anything to do with Ryder. But then the storm hits Magnolia Branch and shit went down, so Jemma see herself enjoying having someone by her side during that hard time - as well as Ryder found talking with Jemma a good distraction to his fear. Anyway I couldn't get over the cuteness of these two, they relationship was very sweet and they just are the exactly match, completing each other.
So yeah, I highly recommend this book if you want some very good romance, that isn't all angst and drama and the normal YA stuff but I true story of you know just two people falling for each other in the most sweetest way possible.