Blog Tour: Magnolia by Kristi Cook

Rating: 5 stars
Pub Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: DRC, from the publisher
Status: standalone

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour, which was organized & hosted by Fantastic Flying Book Club. The full tour schedule can be found HERE. Please go give my fellow tour hosts some love!

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.

I am so glad that I get to be part of this tour. I loved reading Magnolia! Not only is Magnolia well-written technically, but it also has great heart in addition to being an homage to one of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare. But I'll get to that in a minute.

I think the first best thing about Magnolia are the characters, particularly Jemma and Ryder, who are most definitely not in love with one another. I mean, Ryder seems like a nice guy so at first Jemma's outright hostility confused me. What was awesome is that Kristi addressed this situation very early, and as a girl, I can totally relate to Jemma for her dislike of Ryder. At the same time, I'm like, okay, Jemma, yes, Ryder did something stupid, but you're taking it out of context! So there is a bit of a misunderstanding that blew their dislike of one another out to another level, and that means there's some fantastic tension between the two. I also felt like the two of them were individually well-rounded. Not only do they have obvious interests, but they've both got secondary interests as well so Ryder is stargazing football player while Jemma is the fashionable filmmaker who's also an incredible shot. By showcasing many different sides to her characters, Kristi proves they've got real depth.

I also really liked the complexity of the plot. Sure, there's the requisite romantic drama between Jemma and Ryder, but there's also the physical threat of the weather, romantic entanglement (which is courtesy of Shakespeare, but again, I'll get to that), and the familial sideplot concerning Jemma's sister Nan. Oh, what a tangled web we weave (okay, that's Walter Scott, not William Shakespeare, but whatevs)! I thought each of the plots was wholly necessary to the overall plot of Magnolia, and each afforded readers the opportunity to witness all the characters in different situations. I thought it was cool that the combined Nan and hurricane storylines in particular gave Jemma and Ryder the opportunity to be apart from all other characters but together. You're bound to work through some issues when you are secluded from the world with only one other person, two dogs, and three cats! As the excerpt below shows, the moments when Ryder and Jemma are alone together are ripe with tension in the best way (totally my favorite chapters in the whole book!), but I also like that those chapters don't make up the entire novel. It's good to see them interacting with their friends and their family at other functions such as the gala and school and homecoming and football games and the like. The result is that we see the characters face good times and bad–like, really bad–together and apart.

Normally in a contemporary, the setting isn't a huge player other than to say this is a beach story or this is New York, I thought Kristi portrayed the small southern town well. The setting felt so realistic and sensory in description that it actually seemed like one of the characters. As a Tennessee girl, I could really relate to this setting. Imagining it took no trouble at all, and I felt very nostalgic about my own upbringing. Jemma and Ryder feel a bit trapped by their families' combined history, and in that way, the setting itself also felt like an antagonist, adding to the conflict. At the same time, during the storm, the way their homes are under attack really emphasized their positive feelings toward their town and the plantation.

Finally, the English lit major in me had a major squeal fest when I realized that Magnolia is to Romeo & Juliet what She's the Man is to Twelfth Night (coming from someone whose favorite movie is She's the Man, this is a high compliment!). It's not an exact retelling, but it's high points of the story plus a few twists. RM + JC? Tip of the iceberg. There's a former(ish) love(ish) named Rosie for Ryder, Jemma's sister Nan who takes the place of the nurse, cousins Ben (Benvolio) and Tyler (Tybalt), plus a friend named Mason (Mercutio) and the other love interest Patrick (Paris). I squeed inside with the fire of one thousand Shakespeare fangirls every time I recognized another element representative of the play. I think it's really cool that Kristi incorporated so many of these elements to play homage to Romeo & Juliet, but I also love that she wasn't a slave to the story (because Ryder and Jemma killing themselves in the name of love would be such a downer). Kristi gave herself the freedom to do her own thing, which makes Magnolia a complete success in my book because she does just enough to say, "I see what you did there, Will, and a tip of the hat to you," but then she also used the characters however she wanted.

Basically, Magnolia is a wonderful book in all aspects. I loved all the emotion reading Magnolia inspired, and I also just had a lot of fun reading it. At this point, it's entirely possible that Magnolia will make my best of 2014 list at the end of the year, and I will definitely be keeping an eye on what Kristi writes in the future. Magnolia will be released on Tuesday, and it comes with my highest recommendation!

Of course, we’re sopping wet and dripping everywhere by the time we step into the dry mudroom to pull off our boots. “This is crazy,” I say, shaking my head like Sadie does when she’s wet. “We can’t walk through the house like this—we’ll make a mess.” Ryder’s jeans are soaked through and caked with mud. I’m wearing shorts, but my bare legs are spattered all over. “We’re going to have to strip here,” I say, shaking my head. “Just leave it all in a pile. I’ll toss it in the wash after lunch.”

He just stares at me, wide-eyed. “What? Now?”

“Yeah, you go first,” I say, amused by the blush that’s creeping up his neck. “Geez, Ryder.  It’s not like I haven’t seen you in your underpants before.”

I have vague memories of Ryder running around Magnolia Landing’s lawn wearing nothing but superhero undies. And after all the years of shared beach houses and hotel suites, well…like I said, we were more like siblings when we were little. “If it’ll make you more comfortable, I’ll turn around,” I offer.

“Nah, it’s fine.” He reaches for the hem of his T-shirt and pulls it over his head in one fluid motion.

And then I remember why this was a bad idea. My mouth goes dry at the sight of his tanned, sculpted chest, his narrow waist and jutting hipbones. Oh, man.  What was I thinking?

I swallow hard as he unbuttons his jeans and slides down the zipper. Boxers or briefs, that’s all I’m thinking as he peels down the wet denim—slowly, as if he’s enjoying this little striptease. He steps out of them gracefully and tosses them into a heap beside his shirt before straightening to his full height, facing me.

Oh. My. God.

I exhale sharply. The answer is boxer-briefs, heather gray ones. And right now they’re clinging to him wetly, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. He looks like a god. A six-foot-four, football-playing god and I am staring at him with my mouth hanging open like some kind of pathetic freak.

Snap out of it.

“Sorry,” I say, averting my gaze. My cheeks are burning now. I probably look like a clown—that’s what happens when a fair-skinned redhead like me blushes. “If you…um…want to shower. I mean, you know—”

“I’ll just go put on something dry for now. We really need to eat and then get that stuff out of the barn.”

I just nod, biting my lower lip. I can’t even look at him.

“Your turn to strip,” he says, and my gaze shoots up to meet his. He’s smiling now, his dimples in full effect.

“Ugh, just go and change.” I cover my eyes with one hand and flap the other toward the hall.

“I’ll meet you in the kitchen in five,” he says.

“Great.”  I only let my hand drop when I hear his footsteps move away. Then yeah, I’ll admit it—I allow myself a nice, long look at his backside as he walks away from me.

And let me tell you, it was well worth the look.

Oh my goodness. *fans self* This was definitely one of my favorite moments in Magnolia. If you liked that small excerpt, I can guarantee that you will love the rest of the book too. You should definitely buy this book!

Book Buy Links:

About the Author:

As a child, Kristi Cook took her nose out of a book only long enough to take a ballet class (or five) each week. Not much has changed since then, except she’s added motherhood to the mix and enjoys penning her own novels as much as reading everybody else’s. A transplanted southern gal, Kristi lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

That’s the official version–here are some other fun facts:
  • As an undergrad, I majored in History and minored in English at the University of Southern Mississippi. While at Southern Miss, I was a member of Phi Mu sorority, and I was a Dixie Darling. And yep, Brett Favre was our quarterback at the time!
  • I studied American History in grad school at Columbia University. I *love* history, especially the Civil War era (U.S.) and Regency- and Edwardian-era British history.
  • My all-time favorite book *and* movie is GONE WITH THE WIND. My favorite literary characters are Rhett Butler, Atticus Finch, and Mr. Darcy. I kind of want to add Peeta Mellark to that list!
  • Weirdly enough (or maybe not so weirdly?) I’m also a big fan of STAR TREK (the original series). I never can remember if I’m supposed to call myself a “Trekkie” or a “Trekker,” though!
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1 comment:

  1. Probably not? I don't trust my dad's taste at all. I might consider it, if it was my mom's idea and if I were getting a little desperate.

    Great review, Mary! I can't wait to read Magnolia. :D