Friday, January 12, 2018

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories by Celeste Fletcher McHale, 2017

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Jacey met the man of her dreams a year ago—and hasn’t seen him since. Finally relocating him as the pastor at her best friend’s wedding was the very last thing she expected.

A year ago, Jacey was trapped on a rooftop during a flood with perfect strangers, including a family and a man named Colin. After two days there together, she had no doubt that Colin was the man of her dreams. When they were finally rescued he tucked his phone number into her pocket. But an accident with the rescue boat left her hospitalized with amnesia and PTSD . . . and his number nowhere to be found.

Now, Jacey has still only recovered bits and pieces of her memory from that time. She clearly remembers Colin—but not his last name or any other details that would help her locate him. She’s trying to immerse herself in the joy of her best friend’s wedding . . . when she looks up at the end of the aisle only to discover Colin there in the minister’s role. Shock is an understatement.

On one hand, she’s elated to see him again. And then reality sets in. She never intended to get married or have kids. And being a minister’s wife was definitely never on her list. Was Colin not the man she thought he was? Or has the amnesia changed her more than she realized?

With the typical wit and honesty Celeste Fletcher McHale is becoming known for, it’s time for Jacey to take a fresh look at her life. Could this string of unexpected events have been setting her up for something far better than what she had planned for herself?

(320 pages)

I alternated between loving this book and heavily rolling my eyes at it.

I think the basic scenario of a young couple who were brought together and then torn apart by a flood is a very interesting one, and McHale to a large part does it credit. She also, however, adds a lot more plot elements and devices which quickly stretch the story past any semblance of realism. There are too many coincidences, comical misunderstandings, and sudden life-changing decisions for my usual taste, but I was in just the right roll-with-it mood so I could appreciate the emotions of the story without getting buoyed down by logic.

And I did enjoy reading about Jacey and Georgia, quite a bit! Colin irritated me a bit more: he seemed kind of condescending, especially considering his philandering past, and he moved way too fast when Jacey was clearly still grappling with PTSD from the flood. The supporting characters were all well-drawn, though, and all of the main characters had interesting backstories that blended well together.

But seriously, let's go back and hit a couple of the things that have bothered me most since I finished the book. For one thing, the instalove is almost gag-worthy: Jacey and Colin both decide that they must be either in love or at least deeply attracted to each other after spending very little time together, all of which was under very horrific situations which would clearly have been affecting their judgment. They never really had a chance to get to know each other before jumping into things. Also, there are some coincidences that keep their plots entwined about halfway through the book that are just too far out there for me to swallow (though I can't go into them because of spoilers). There's also some mention of the foster care system, which I can't go into too much either, and–as a member of a foster family with quite a bit of experience with "the system"–I thought the representation was a little off. That could just be the result of varying practices across state lines, though, so I'm willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The Sweet Smell of Magnolias and Memories was a nice relaxing read, but it was also frustrating in parts. If you're looking for a light read to while away your days, then this is just the sort of forgettable read that could hit the spot.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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