The latest in the author’s Sweet Magnolia series begins where most romances end, with a happy wedding scene featuring not only the bride and groom, but the bride’s two children who are eager to marry the man. What follows isn’t quite as happy. This definitely qualifies as a Marriage in Trouble but it’s not one I would recommend adding to your reading list.
Just a few years after their wedding Karen and Elliott Cruz face major problems. Karen’s first husband abandoned her and their two young children, leaving them with overwhelming debt. Now Karen faces similar fears with Elliott. Karen’s learned from friends that Elliott went behind her back and arranged to open his own gym with a group of partners. Karen and Elliott don’t make a lot of money as restaurant cook (Karen) and personal trainer (Elliott). They work long hours, struggling to save money to have a child. Karen feels Elliott’s actions have threatened their plans.
While Elliott and Karen are at the center of the book, they’re by no means the only story. The book is filled with characters from previous books in the series. The opening pages were slow going as countless characters from previous books had conversations with Elliott and Karen. I’ve read a few earlier entries but was overwhelmed by all the characters. Everyone in town knows everyone else. They’re all close friends and are unable to keep secrets. I liked the town in earlier books but it felt cloying here.
I like the premise of telling the story after the traditional HEA, but it didn’t work for me for many reasons, chief among them that I didn’t care for either Karen or Elliott. Karen finds fault with everything Elliott does and Elliott hides far too much from Karen. I know that in real life disagreements over finances are a major marital stumbling block but Karen and Elliott’s discussions with each other and with other people about their disagreements were endless. The two have major communication problems. One of them would talk with a friend about a problem and the next thing you know the friend unintentionally spills the information to the other. After a few such incidents you’d think they’d remember that no one in town keeps a secret.
This is not the place to start with the Sweet Magnolia series. Karen and Elliott’s problems are just one thread. Additional subplots involve Elliott’s sister’s crumbling marriage, the fears that one of the older women in town may have Alzheimer’s, Elliott’s niece acting out over her parents’ crumbling marriage, the troubling behavior of the teenage daughter of a woman in town, and countless mentions of potential marital problems of people I don’t recall from other books.
Ultimately there are too many other town residents cluttering up the story. We’d get a discussion and/or argument between Karen and Elliott and then quickly turn to the problems of other residents or to a discussion between Karen and someone else or Elliott and someone else.
Although the cover labels this a romance it feels more like women’s fiction, and grim women’s fiction at that. Karen and Elliott are dreary and there are too many secondary characters to keep track of. I suspect this will be my last visit with the Sweet Magnolias.