Book review: “Magnolia” by Kristi Cook

magnolia cover kristi cookIt’s not a secret that I have a soft spot for romance novels and young adult novels, so when Pinoy Book Tours offered a tour of what promised to be a cute young adult romance novel, I jumped at the chance. Today’s review is for Magnolia by Kristi Cook. The official summary reads:

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.

[Personally, the blurb is misleading. It’s not that Jemma “can’t stand” Ryder being a “golden boy” – more like she’s slightly envious of him. And Ryder doesn’t pretend that Jemma doesn’t exist – it’s Jemma that tries to not think about him because of what happened in their shared past.]

In a nutshell, the book is okay. There were some parts I loved, some I liked, and some that I wish were done better. Magnolia is good for a quick and fun break from your daily life.

The good:
1. Kristi Cook paints a vivid and sweet picture of small-town living in the southern United States. You have mosquitoes, the humidity, the “y’alls”, the football crazies, and a head cheerleader who sidelines as all-star shooter. As to whether that’s an accurate picture of life in the South, I have no idea (my only point of reference is The CW’s Hart of Dixie), but Cook makes me want to visit.

2. The not-Romeo-and-Juliet twist is entertaining, with the Cafferty and Marsden matchmaking mamas pulling out all the stops in trying to get Jemma and Ryder together. Their antics see-saw between cute and harassment, all based on the belief in “I’m your mama and I know what’s good for you!”. What amused me the most was that these women aren’t even Caffertys and Marsdens by blood. Brad Cafferty and Robert Marsden just happened to marry two girls who were BFFs and hellbent on keeping the families close.

3. The backstory on what sparked the animosity between Jemma and Ryder in the first place, or more like what Ryder did that hurt Jemma so much that she spent the next three years disliking him, is a pretty decent one.

4. Ryder Marsden is a well-rounded character despite being perfection personified. The mommy issues balance out being the best high school quarterback in Mississippi, top student, over 6 feet tall, gorgeous, and generally an all-around good guy. And apparently he wears boxer briefs. Yes, that part was included in the story.

What could have been done better:
1. Jemma doesn’t seem to like herself very much. Despite being co-captain of the cheerleading squad, a champion rifle and pistol shooter (she’s won the county crown since age 13), and a talented clothing designer (she reworks damaged vintage dresses into beautiful new pieces), she constantly describes herself as “nothing special” and that girls like her are a “dime a dozen” in the great state of Mississippi. It takes Ryder to clue her in on how special she is. While I’m not opposed to some self-doubt in a character (heck, I was pretty insecure in high school too), it’s hard to root for someone who has no sense of self-worth. I’d have also preferred it if she achieved that self-confidence on her own instead of it being reliant on Ryder’s good opinion.

2. The novel is written from Jemma’s point of view and the way she described Ryder made me feel vaguely guilty for crushing on a 17-year-old.

3. Remember that good reason for the rift between Jemma and Ryder? Yes the reason is a pretty good one but Jemma girl, this could have been settled a whole lot sooner if YOU’D JUST TOLD HIM.

4. There’s a plot twist after the big hurricane that’s supposed to serve as another obstacle for our couple. I can’t describe it in detail because spoilers but I can say that the whole thing felt like a glaring Public Service Announcement. While I do appreciate the warning for today’s teenagers, the story didn’t need it. In fact, I think we could have gotten a lot more drama if it didn’t happen.

Overall rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars. Something nice to read while waiting for the bus.

Thanks again for Pinoy Book Tours and Simon and Schuster for the eARC! Magnolia is available at Fully Booked and The Book Depository.

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