Published by Simon Pulse on August 5th, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
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.
Everyone and their mother said that I would love Magnolia, and everyone was absolutely 100% correct. Once this book was in my hands, I couldn’t help but ditch my towering stack of review books to read it instead – and it ended up being one of the best decisions I made in a while. I devoured it in one sitting, riding the tidal wave of feels, until I finally finished at 2:30 am… and I’m not a late-night reader. Damn this book was good.
Now, you’ll probably know how much I love hate-to-love romances. I’ve written a whole post about it, after all. Most of my favorite ships use this trope. What Magnolia does with it makes it even more fantastic: it’s the weather disaster trapping two characters who “hate” each other together! Oh man. This book uses a lot of tropes that can make you think it’s a bit cheesy and corny and whatever, but that made me love every single second of it. I was giggling like a mad woman. It’s predictable, sure, but it’s BRILLIANTLY executed to the point where you can’t help but ship them. You’re crushed with feels. It’s pure gold.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Magnolia takes place in Mississippi, and it has a wonderfully authentic southern feel. The main characters, Jemma and Ryder, are sort of southern royalty. They live in a very close community, where all their previous generations have lived, and their families have always been close. However, they’ve never gotten the family lines to intertwine, due to the children constantly being born of the same sex in each generation. Until Jemma and Ryder. So, their mothers have a *mild* obsession to try to get them together. Their constant hinting and shenanigans to try to push them together are freaking hilarious.
As with any teenagers – that’s what mom wants? No thank you. But I love how for both characters this is not just about spiting their parents. They don’t feel like they have any control over their lives. Their mothers have not only been planning their wedding from birth, pretty much, but have also planned out where they’re going to college, that they’ll then come back and settle in the big family house, etc. It’s not hard to feel sympathy for that. Jemma clearly wants something different: she wants to go to film school. Her struggle with making her parents understand that was really endearing. Basically, I greatly admire any character who has the guts to stand up to their parents for what they truly want.
Ryder is a bit more mysterious. He grew up with Jemma, sure, and has always sort of looked after her from afar. He is a hot, successful, intelligent football player with gentlemanly manners – basically the total package. Due to some typical dude behavior, because he has some typical dude friends, his friendship with Jemma ended years ago, and both are rather spiteful to each other. Banter banter banter. Denial. Hilarity. But from the first interaction I could sense the chemistry. Dude, Kristi Cook can write CHEMISTRY. I insist she write more contemporary romances because damn.
They get caught together in a hurricane where some predictable yet glorious hijinks ensue. Hurricane = tornadoes = tiny storm shelter, stuck together. Upstairs is probably not safe, so obvi we should share a bed now. Rain and mud means clothes should come off. I swear I was hyperventilating laughter, almost to the point of tears – not because it was directly funny but because of the feels that were KILLING ME. Obviously, the fear of the situation kind of brings them together. Having lived through Hurricane Rita in 2005, I know things. But Jemma’s not the frightened, helpless little girl. She’s actually a pistol-wielding fierce human being who I grew to absolutely love. Ryder’s actually more scared about certain things, but that makes him so much more adorable. (“Six foot four and scared as a puppy.”) And being stuck together for so long, cut off from the world, Jemma and Ryder start to get to know each other a little better and unravel the misunderstandings. THE CHEMISTRY.
But just when you think YES, HERE WE GO, THE SHIP IS SETTING SAIL, WE’RE GOOD, a plot twist hits and EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE and the only legitimate reaction is to SPAM YOUR FRIENDS WITH CAPSLOCK, BECAUSE HOW COULD YOU PUSH THIS BOOK ON ME CHRISTINA AND KARA, OMG SO CRUELLLL, FEELSPLOSION. Was that plot twist a bit unnecessary? Possibly. But it also was handled in a really realistic and heartfelt way that again made me sympathize with and feel for Jemma. In the end, it’s okay though. The cuteness comes back and it is wonderful and Jemma and Ryder forever and yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.
Honestly, it’s not just about the romance for me though. The family dynamics also truly make Magnolia a wonderful read. Her mother’s pestering about Ryder aside, Jemma’s family is so touching and realistic. Her relationship with her father (who is a Trekkie – MAJOR BONUS POINTS) brought me the feeeeels as well. I love a good father-daughter relationship. They maybe don’t discuss issues much, but they have such a great understanding of each other and the kind of support they can give each other. And then there’s Jemma’s sister, who encounters some spoilery difficulties during the story. The way the family stands up and faces adversity together, truly caring about each other, was just another tidal wave of feels for me. So touching and wonderful. And the same goes for Jemma’s friends: Lucy and Morgan. They’re absolutely brilliant, and I wish I had friends like them in my life.