Modern Reader

"Never trust anyone who has not

brought a book with them"

-Lemony Snicket

Magnolia Secrets - Beth Hale

Walker and Lainey share one explosive night together and he awakens to find her gone. Shrugging it off as just a glorious one-night stand, he accepts a new job in a small town: New Hope, Mississippi. That's where he finds Lainey again. She just happens to be married to the Chief of Police-and Walker's new boss.

And so begins a tale of melodrama in the quaint and unassuming town with the ironic name. Upon reading the first encounter between Hale’s Walker Bell and Lainey Holley, I could not help but cringe at the overwrought description of sexual tension. I wanted so badly to believe that there was natural chemistry between the two characters, but every time he called her kitten, I was dragged further away from the moment and closer to closing the book for good.

Two intertwined plots compose this story. The first involves the volatile relationship between the brutish Evan Holley and his wife, whose one night stand in the midst of an escape from her husband comes back to haunt her. The second plot consists of a drug deal gone badly and a scattering of dead bodies. While the first storyline was well constructed, in fact a wrenching portrayal of an abusive marriage, the second storyline strayed. It came together in the end as a Law in Order-esque show down that had me questioning whether I was still reading the same book. As a reader, I felt as if I knew very little about the victims involved, and therefore I struggled to empathize, detached from those Hale presumably meant for readers to feel a connection to; namely Jimmy and Johnny—the ill-fated brothers—who were you guys really? I barely knew you.

Criticism aside, Hale did a spectacular job at illustrating the importance of helping those who are victims of abuse. Lainey is surrounded by supportive figures who each do his and her best to keep her out of harm’s way. Despite being given a brief glimpse into Lainey’s past--how young she married and her experience in foster care--she was the one character that I wanted to be truly happy by the book’s conclusion. In my mind, her happiness should not only derive from the gallant police officer with whom she slept with that one time, but rather her experiences volunteering with children at the local school. Hale did a wonderful job at this too; she reiterated the importance of a woman’s independence and the blessing of having one’s own life to live.

The relationship between the two protagonists is thinly developed, hanging by a thread of flirty one-liners and pet names. Walker started out as that guy who will just not leave you alone at the bar, but he developed into someone who may actually come to value a woman (but still insists on using the demeaning nickname, kitten). However, there is promise between the two protagonists, the ending of the book a clear harbinger of a budding substantial romance.