When the Magnolia Blooms
by Ann DeFee
Bellastoria Press

"What she wouldn’t give to go back to her daily routine—the hospital, a trip to the local coffee shop—going to the grocery store—and yes, that sounded incredibly boring, but she’d give anything to turn back time."

Rhys Fitzgerald, a non-slave-owning Confederate soldier, returns home from battle to learn that his wife has left him for another man. He dies shortly thereafter, but instead of passing on, his soul lingers in a sort of limbo between this world and the next. In the present day, Fiona O'Flaherty—a thirty-something redhead descended from an Irish family with magical powers—learns that a murderous policeman is stalking her. With the assistance of a group of men calling themselves "the Four Amigos," she changes her name and appearance and heads home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she finds a handsome young ghost waiting for her. Aided by her psychic sister, a little girl who can see spirits, and her quirky extended family, Fiona struggles to sort through her conflicted feelings about this odd romantic entanglement while defending herself and her property from the rogue policeman blazing a trail of death across the United States.

The breadth of the author's imagination is impressive, with seemingly every chapter introducing some striking image or inventive concept. These imaginative flourishes lend the story an air of unpredictability and keep it from being a mere modern retelling of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. DeFee succeeds in creating a palpable bond between the heroine and her family. The use of specific Southern signifiers, such as deviled eggs, iced tea, and homemade ice cream served with fresh peaches, grounds the author's exuberant inventiveness in the concreteness of a real place. The central conflict is resolved rather abruptly, and its resolution may strike some readers as anticlimactic. However, the sheer weirdness of the author's vision and the liveliness of the supporting cast make the book a joy to read.

DeFee's Believe in the Magic was the 2012 Eric Hoffer Book Award Fiction Legacy First Runner-Up.

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