Contemporary · Review · Romance

Magnolia by Kristi Cook


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.  (From Goodreads)

Source: egalley from Simon & Schuster/Edelweiss for review purposes (thanks!)

Having grown up side by side with Ryder Marsden, Jemma knows that their parents want them to end up together.  It’s their greatest wish.  Because of this, though, Jemma and Ryder try to stay as far away from each other as possible, though they live on the same property and they run in the same circles.

Jemma is a typical southern girl, cheerleader, gun enthusiast (ha), and expected to attend Ole Miss, just like her mother and father.  But she wants more, of course, because kids cannot be expected to just follow whatever path their parents think they should.  That includes avoiding Ryder.  Jemma wants to go to school in New York, not Oxford, Mississippi.  But then her sister, Nan, gets sick and now the pressure is really on for Jemma to stay close to home.

What I loved most about this book, and there was a lot, was the setting.  Growing up in Louisiana, I do see a lot of similarities between Jemma’s lifestyle and my own.  The setting was very authentic and it made me wish for more books like this.  I’ve read other southern-based books, but this one sparked a nostalgia in me.  No, the south is not perfect, and this book does point out some casual racism that still exists there, but it’s home and there is no other place like it.  I could feel the humidity on my skin and practically taste the sweet tea. Well done, Ms. Cook.

Another thing I loved are the friendships which were, again, realistic.  The friendships were dynamic. There wasn’t just one best friend and there was no back-stabbing, but people who genuinely liked each other and hanging out together.  I find that to be kind of rare in YA books.

Finally, I loved Ryder Marsden.  He was the perfect southern gentleman, ace quarterback, all around good guy.  At 6’4″, brown hair and eyes, he really got my motor running.  Plus, he was just a nice guy. It was quite fun to watch he & Jemma dance around each other and, though Jemma was the narrator, you could tell he had feelings for her, despite the fact that they both didn’t want to fall into their parents’ trap.

I did love this book, but I don’t know how others will like it.  It was romantic and sweet, I wanted to hug my nook to my chest.  There were several heart-flopping moments, but also, there were several times I wanted to shake Jemma.  Typical teenager, she didn’t do everything I wanted her to do, but she was a great character.  And I really cannot say enough about Ryder. Sigh.


Notes I took while reading:

“This really makes my heart happy.”

“Not cool slut-shaming yourself.  Especially if you only kissed both guys.”

“Ryder goes to the top of the fictional boyfriend list.”

“This reads more like a contemporary romance than YA.  I like it.”


I do think the darkness of the cover really has a great southern gothic feel to it, I don’t like the models, so I decided to cast the book myself. 🙂  You’ll have to forgive me because both actors I picked for Jemma and Ryder are well past their teenage years, they are both how I pictured our main characters (and they were both young actors, so I could find younger pictures of them).

Jemma: short, red-headed, not beautiful like her pageant-loving best friend, Morgan, but Ryder thinks she’s the prettiest girl in Magnolia Landing.

Bonnie as Jemma in Magnolia

Bonnie Wright, the former Ginny Weasley, has the perfect look for our Jemma.  And she’s fiesty enough to pull off Jemma’s personality.


Ryder: 6’4″, football (quarterback) body, dark hair & eyes, dimples, plus sweet and protective.

jared as Ryder

Jared Padalecki, of Gilmore Girls and Supernatural, was the first person I thought of and never moved past him.  He’s the exact same height and I can just stare at him all day. Sigh.

According to the author’s pinterest account, she modeled Ryder on A. J. McCarron, the former QB for Alabama, so I wanted to show you guys what Ms. Cook imagined, and he’s pretty adorable:



So that’s it, I hope you guys enjoyed my extended review today because I really think you’ll love the book!

6 thoughts on “Magnolia by Kristi Cook

  1. This is the second review I’ve read for this book and both have made me want to read it SO BADLY. I love Southern books – I’m not from the LA South, but I am still Southern so I want that setting that you mention! Pretty grabby-handed over this one.

  2. I will for sure be picking this one up at the bookstore when it’s released! It’s gotten a few mixed reviews, but it sounds like something I will just love. The setting, the story, the romance. My fingers are crossed. Great review, D!

  3. I really liked this one! The setting definitely won, hands down for me & I thought the two leads had some great great chemistry. Had a lot of fun with it.

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