Published by Simon and Schuster on August 5th, 2014
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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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…
I have to be honest, this is not my preferred genre. I tend to avoid romance at all costs, and have complained many times that I’d like to read books that don’t have plot-killing romances. But when I saw Molly talking about Magnolia, her enthusiasm just spoke to me. Magnolia turned out to be exactly the book I needed it to be – a happily ever after, feels-inducing romance with the perfect setting, and heavier issues that I was not expecting.
The best thing about this book is its heroine, Jemma. From my little time here living in the south, it seems like Jemma is the quintessential southern girl. She’s a cheerleader, she’s a devoted daughter, she likes dressing up and being pretty – but she’s also tough as nails, gets the job done, and is the best shot in all of Mississippi. Jemma is incredibly self aware and I appreciated how much she analyzed her feelings and her actions. I may not have agreed with all her decisions, but I did understand where she was coming from when she made them.
If you’re the type of reader that swoons, Ryder will make you swoon. Gorgeous, gentlemanly, and just a tiny bit frustrating, Ryder is everything I want from a love interest. He’s the “alpha male” without being controlling or abusive. He’s assertive, but not an asshole. I love that he gives Jemma the space she deserves and doesn’t try to take over her life or make her choices for her. He’s honestly a very decent, stand up guy and I found him to be incredibly likable even when his broody silence was a bit irritating. I understand that half the reason romances are great is the waiting period, and sometimes the hero and the heroine have to act like dolts before they finally get together.
What surprised me the most about Magnolia was how much else was going on besides just the romance. While I loved all the tension of the hate-to-love romance, the atmosphere of this novel really drove it all home. The scenery of their plantation houses, the barns and the creek and the Spanish moss covering everything. The voices of Jemma and Ryder’s classmates. The formal family dinners held once a week. It all just screamed Deep South to me in a way that brought me deeper into the pages. And when the storm hit and Ryder and Jemma were preparing the house for the damages, I could practically feel the wind slapping against my own walls. However, having lived through Sandy, I know what that horror is like, and honestly I did not feel the fear as urgently as I would have liked to. And when morning came and they saw the wreckage, I wish I had felt more devastation. Instead it was cold detachment that I felt and it kind of killed the mood.
I think a lot of readers will love Magnolia. I know I did. With the rich southern atmosphere and the swoon-worthy hero, there’s not much that can go wrong. Be prepared to want to shake these two characters, though – the tension can get frustrating at times! Altogether, though, this book was a lot of fun to read and it delivered all the warm fuzzy feels I expected from it.