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Brunswick

Lights, Camera, Novel: Nicholas Sparks’s The Last Song, The Lucky One and Safe Haven

When it comes to romance, Nicholas Sparks has made a name for North Carolina. Although not a native North Carolinian (he hails from Omaha, Nebraska) Sparks’s geographical obsession with the state has become a hallmark of his writing. In all, Sparks has authored seventeen novels and one autobiographical travelogue. All but the travelogue are set in various locations around North Carolina. Sparks is often very active and hands-on in the process of adapting his novels for the big screen. As of now, eight of Sparks’s novels have been made into films and the ninth and tenth are on the way. Three of the eight adapted novels have been blogged on here in the past: The Lucky One (2008), The Last Song (2009), and Safe Haven (2010), so we’ll focus on those. His five earlier adapted novels: The Notebook (1996), Message in a Bottle (1998), A Walk to Remember (1999), Nights in Rodanthe (2002), and Dear John (2006) haven’t been covered on the blog, at least not just yet.

Chronologically, Sparks wrote The Lucky One before the The Last Song, but the film based upon the later was released first. The Last Song (book released 2009, movie released 2010) is a bit of an anomaly in that formulating the screenplay for the film inspired Sparks to create a corresponding novel.

The idea for the novel came about when Miley Cyrus, at the time primarily known for her starring role in Disney’s Hannah Montana, was searching for newer, more mature work. Cyrus met with Sparks and he devised an idea based on her interest. His story focuses on a daughter and father healing their estranged relationship. A budding romance between the daughter and a privileged local boy and loggerhead sea turtles appear heavily in the sidelines. The Last Song was a slight departure from his other works as the characters were teenaged and most of his works featured adult and middle-aged characters.

Although Sparks stuck to his customary North Carolina setting (Wilmington) for the novelization of The Last Song, the film was relocated to Georgia and shot on Tybee Island and in Savannah. North Carolina vied against Georgia during the selection process. Ultimately, Disney selected Georgia over North Carolina on the basis of film tax incentives. Losing a deal with Disney and The Last Song was an especially hard blow since Sparks’s last adaptation, Dear John, was also filmed outside of North Carolina. Reviews of the film were mixed, though Miley Cyrus’ performance was praised — see an enthusiastic review of her acting by Roger Ebert here.

By contrast, The Lucky One and Safe Haven featured romances between attractive twenty-and-thirty-somethings. The Lucky One (novel released in 2008, film released in 2012) starred another Disney teen sensation, Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling.  Like Cyrus, The Lucky One was one of Efron’s gateway roles as an adult actor. The plot follows a Marine, who during his third tour in Iraq, finds a photo of a mystery blonde woman that becomes his lucky charm. After his return to the US, the Marine searches for his lucky Jane Doe. Again, the setting was the defining change for the adaptation. The movie was set and filmed in Louisiana as a result of film tax incentives. Sparks seemed unconcerned about the geographical shift. In a quote from Nola.com, website of The Times-Picayune, Sparks explains that he aims for his novels to feel interchangeable and relatable: “I try to write stories that feel like they could happen anywhere…And that’s what I’m trying to do, too, is write a universal story that people will really enjoy.” Audiences enjoyed The Lucky One while critics were split.

Safe Haven (novel released in 2010, film released in 2013) tells the tale of another mystery woman, who quietly moves into the small, coastal city of Southport. She doesn’t mean to fall in love, but she can’t escape the attentions of a handsome widower with two children. Once she gets to know him, she can’t help but to fall in love. Unlike the other two films, Safe Haven was filmed entirely on location in Southport and Wilmington. IndyWeek notes that the movie is only the third of Sparks’ eight adaptations to be shot exclusively in-state. The other two films were A Walk to Remember (2002) and Nights in Rodanthe (2008). Yet again, the critical response was mixed. Roger Ebert issued a much harsher review compared to his review of The Lucky One, based on his visceral response to Safe Haven’s surprise ending. Despite critics’ response to Safe Haven, it was a success with audiences again. Clearly the divide between critics and audience is a pattern with Sparks’ book-to-movie adaptations.

A Look at box office stats

Screen capture from Box Office Mojo site representing the box office sales of Nicholas Sparks film adaptations.

While critics might not universally laud his films, audience-goers buy the tickets. All three films were box office successes. Sparks has cracked the secret to commercial success, now only if North Carolina could figure out a way to keep his adaptations in-state. The Best of Me stars James Marsden (who replaced the late Paul Walker) and Michelle Monaghan. Filming is underway in Louisiana. His latest novel, The Longest Ride, is in pre-production and it was recently announced that Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott Eastwood will play one of the lead roles. Here’s to hoping that movie will be filmed locally in NC.

Read the original blog posts on The Last Song, The Lucky One, and Safe Haven. The novel and film for The Lucky One are available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog. Currently, only the novels for The Last Song and Safe Haven are available. Both films are available through the Chapel Hill Public Library though.

Sources consulted:

Box Office Mojo, Forbes, Hollywood Reporter {two articles}, IMDb {Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song, The Lucky One, Safe Haven, The Best of Me, The Longest Ride, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, IndyWeek, Movie Clips, New York Times, News & Observer {two articles}, Nicholas Sparks, Nola, Relativity Media/iamROGUE, Roger Ebert {The Last Song, The Lucky One, Safe Haven}, Touchstone Pictures, Variety, Vox, Vulture, Wikipedia {Nicholas Sparks, The Last Song – novel and film, The Lucky One – novel and film, Safe Haven – novel and film}

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2010-2019, 2012, 2013, Brunswick, Coast, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Jacqueline DeGroot. The Secret of the Kindred Spirit. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2002.

kindredDevelopment is always a contentious issue on the barrier islands along the North Carolina coast.  Be it beach nourishment, road improvements, or an ocean-front mansion, locals perceive that there will be winners and losers.  As this novel opens, Cassie Andrews has arrived on Sunset Beach Island to begin a controversial, long overdue replacement for the bridge linking the island with the mainland of Brunswick County.  As she surveys the old bridge close up in her kayak, she is horrified to discover a man’s head bobbing up against a pylon.  Soon the police are on the scene, and when the man is identified as one of the chief opponents of the new bridge, Cassie knows that this assignment will be more challenging than previous ones.

Part of the challenge for Cassie will be to keep her mind on her work.  Michael Troy, one of the police officers on the murder case, is instantly attracted to Cassie, an attraction that grows when he follows her to nude bathing section of Bird Island.  Much of the novel is devoted to verbal–and other–interplay between Cassie and Michael.  Interwoven with that is the story of the victim, Damn Duke Ellington, a seemingly destitute island native who was known chiefly for his opposition to the new bridge and his support of the island’s feral cat population.

The break in the case comes from a message in a notebook left in the Kindred Spirit mailbox on Bird Island.  Micheal’s good detective work with the notebook leads him to the murderer, and not a minute to soon.  The Kindred Spirit mailbox is a real part of the Sunset Beach story, and it figures in at least one other novel on this blog, Marybeth Whalen’s The Mailbox.  Readers who like softer, more meditative romances, should read The Mailbox.  Readers who prefer a fast-paced, more graphic story will enjoy The Secret of the Kindred Spirit.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2002, Brunswick, Coast, DeGroot, Jacqueline, Mystery, Romance/Relationship

Marybeth Whalen. The Wishing Tree. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

The Wishing TreeJust as the pieces of Ivy Marshall’s life are shattering, it seems like all of the elements in her sister Shea’s life are fitting together seamlessly. Shea’s long-term boyfriend Owen plans a grand, romantic proposal on national television. Meanwhile, Ivy discovers that she’s losing her job at the family company because her father is shutting down her local branch in Asheville. On top of that, she finds out that her husband Elliot has cheated on her. Ivy bears Shea’s good news through gritted teeth. To add insult to an already terrible situation, Ivy’s family and friends blithely tell her not to worry about her job termination and to see it as an opportunity to prepare for Shea’s upcoming wedding. For the time being, Ivy has decided to keep word of her marital discord under wraps. Since she and Elliot married under tense circumstances, she is ashamed to admit possible defeat to her family.

Six years ago, Ivy was engaged to Owen’s cousin, Michael. Childhood friends Ivy and Michael and Shea and Owen coupled off naturally in their teens. Their lives were set on a happy track, but when Ivy met Elliot at a ski lodge on vacation, she recognized Elliot immediately as her true soul mate. She abandoned her family and her home in Sunset Beach and tossed away her former life to move to Asheville and wed Elliot instead. Lately though, Ivy observes that she and Elliot only seem to discuss “the business of life – what groceries they were out of, what bills needed to be paid, when they were expected to be somewhere” and she rues that their spark has mellowed. Elliot’s betrayal unhinges Ivy, but it is not a total surprise. The instant Ivy learns of Elliot’s infidelity, she sets out for Sunset Beach without waiting around for an explanation.

The process of wedding planning is near traumatic for Ivy, especially since the news team that covered Shea and Owen’s engagement story is also interested in broadcasting their wedding. As all the decisions and preparations play out before Ivy’s eyes, she cannot help but consider the wedding she was supposed to, but never had. She fights back jealousy for Shea and what appears like a perfect wedding. Disillusioned by a broken engagement and a failing marriage, Ivy flings herself alternately between the men in her life, Michael and Elliot, confused about which path to take into the future – her past or her present. As she wonders what could have been with Michael, she plays a dangerous what-if game.

But Elliot is not ready to let Ivy go and he uses creative measures to communicate his remorse. In a charming and modern twist on traditional love notes, Elliot creates a Twitter account and tweets his apologies and affections for Ivy through the handle, @ElliotIdiot. Forgiveness is a concept central to novelist Marybeth Whalen’s The Wishing Tree. One of Ivy’s greatest struggles is learning to accept being alone. While Ivy owes forgiveness to many people in light of her impulsive actions, she must also separate her individual desires and fears, and forgive herself, before she can find a happier ending.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Brunswick, Buncombe, Coast, Mountains, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship, Whalen, Marybeth

Marybeth Whalen. The Guest Book. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Macy Dillon and her family used to take a vacation to Sunset Beach, North Carolina every year. Her most treasured childhood memories are of walking the beach with her mother, brother, and especially her father. But Darren Dillion passed away when she was just sixteen, and Macy’s life has contained a gaping hole ever since. Macy is barely holding it together, working at the local grocery store, and suffering through her mother’s forced celebration of her father’s birthday each year. The only good thing that has happened since Macy’s father’s death is her now five-year-old daughter, Emma, even though Emma’s father walked out on them both shortly after she was born.

But this year at the birthday celebration they hold annually for her deceased father, Macy’s mom announces that they are once more taking a family vacation to Sunset Beach. Macy begins to hope. As a child, her father encouraged her natural artistic talent by asking her to draw a picture in the guest book at their beach house rental each year. Amazingly, another child, a young boy, would answer Macy’s drawings each year with a drawing of his own. The children traded drawings for ten years without meeting, but in what she knew would be her final drawing, Macy promised to come back and find him. Macy is determined that this trip to Sunset Beach will be the one in which she finds the boy. But when they arrive, no less than three men begin vying for Macy’s attention…and any of the three could be the artist. Will she ever find out his identity? And will her family ever find peace without her father?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Brunswick, Coast, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship, Whalen, Marybeth

Laura S. Wharton. The Pirate’s Bastard. Kernersville, NC: Second Wind Publishing, 2010.

Edward Marshall’s life in 1741 is a classic tale of the self-made man: by the age of twenty-four, he’s risen from a lowly orphan in Barbados to a master shipwright in  Brunswick, a bustling port town in the great colony of North Carolina. A possible lumber deal with the wealthy merchant Thaddeus Jenkins of Wilmington means that Edward will achieve even greater success; it doesn’t hurt that Jenkins has a beautiful daughter, either. In addition to being extremely pretty, Miss Sarah Jenkins is also smart and adventurous, and Edward is soon head-over-heels in love. But an old seaman in Merchant Jenkins’ employ, Ignatius Pell, thinks he knows Edward from somewhere else, and he  threatens to ruin the young couple’s future happiness by revealing  a dark secret Edward thought he left behind on Barbados. For Edward is not Edward Marshall, but the illegitimate son of the infamous pirate Stede Bonnet and his French mistress Anne Marie, a redheaded lady of the night who passed her crimson locks and steely blue eyes on to her baby son before she tragically died.

Ignatius Pell certainly has a long memory, and trapped in his twisted brain is the location of a rich treasure buried by Bonnet in the islands before his untimely death at the hands of the law. Since Edward has convenient access to many ships and may have a bit of the pirate spirit in him, Ignatius proposes that they set sail in search of the treasure, unless Edward would rather that Miss Jenkins and her father learn of his sordid family tree. What follows is a seafaring adventure of the best kind, but reader beware: just like quests for pirate treasure, pirate tales rarely end in a predictable, or peaceful, manner.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Brunswick, Children & Young Adults, Coast, Historical, New Hanover, Wharton, Laura S.

Blonnie Bunn Wyche. The Anchor: P. Moore Proprietor. Wilmington, NC: Banks Channel Books, 2003.

I don’t consider my questions treason. I think it’s more about common sense. Pauline Moore is full of questions, and opinions. Everyone is: it is 1764 and the small town of Brunswick, North Carolina, along with the rest of the colony, is stirring under England’s stifling taxation. Unfortunately, since Pauline is female and only fifteen at that, she is expected to stay quiet and serve the real thinkers: men. But when her profligate father leaves town, Pauline is the only one left to take charge of her little sisters, sick mother, and the family tavern. The next few years will be hard ones: this spunky heroine will face the chaos of a budding rebellion, the daily tasks of managing a business and household, and powerful men who assume that her gender makes her a weak and simple target. Pauline is anything but. Educated, strong, and stubborn, she grows to adulthood alongside her new nation, where she imagines everyone, including slaves and women, will be free.

In this beautifully written and precisely researched tale, Blonnie Bunn Wyche provides a stirring look at the colonial town of Brunswick (now in ruins), the birth of the Revolutionary War in North Carolina, and a strong and fiery heroine who dares to stand up for freedom for all. Pauline Moore’s bravery and moral code will resonate in the minds of young women and readers everywhere.

Winner of the Juvenile Fiction Award from the American Association of University Women, and the N.C. Historical Society of Sherrills Ford’s Clark Cox Fiction Award.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Brunswick, Children & Young Adults, Coast, Historical, New Hanover, Romance/Relationship, Wyche, Blonnie Bunn

Blonnie Bunn Wyche. Cecilia’s Harvest: A Novel of the Revolution. Wilmington, NC: Whittler’s Bench Press, 2009.

Cecilia Moore is certain of two things: first, that she has to get away from her hardworking older sister Pauline and the hateful family tavern, and second, that Kenneth Black, atop his fine stallion, Big Boy, is the handsomest man in Wilmington, if not all North Carolina. The winter’s day in 1775 when he asks for her hand in marriage is the happiest of her sixteen-year-old life: he drapes her in a diamond necklace and promises to whisk her away to his prosperous farm full of servants. Cecilia cannot imagine that within a few months, just as the country plunges further into deadly warfare, she too will be fighting for mere survival. Murder, pregnancy, wild animals, and marauding British soldiers make life an unforgiving onslaught, and as quickly as Cecilia’s fortunes rise, the next day only brings more brutal tests. But Cecilia, in addition to being a crack shot with her rifle, is possessed of a nimble mind and a brave heart. Whatever dangers threaten, she finds she has the strength to rise and meet them again and again.

As Americans, we know the story of the Revolutionary War: taxation, then Declaration, followed by fighting and eventually freedom. But what of the smaller stories, the personal tales that won our nation its liberty? Blonnie Bunn Wyche follows her award-winning novel, The Anchor: P. Moore Proprietor, with the suspenseful story of a young woman struggling to survive the bitter years of revolution. Cecilia Moore Black is a stalwart, gutsy heroine who will make an excellent addition to any young adult’s reading list.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library Catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Brunswick, Children & Young Adults, Coast, Historical, New Hanover, Pender, Romance/Relationship, Suspense/Thriller, Wyche, Blonnie Bunn

Ellen Elizabeth Hunter. Murder at the Holiday Flotilla. Greensboro, NC: Magnolia Mysteries, 2010.

Both Ashley and Melanie are filled with happiness as this latest novel in the Murder in Wilmington Series opens.  Melanie is about to become the president of the North Carolina Association of Realtors, a post that she has long desired.  Ashley is a new mother, with twin boys who delight her and Jon and their extended family–Melanie and her husband Cam, half-sister Scarlett, and Aunt Ruby and her husband Binkie.  Family is much on Ashley’s mind, and she is tickled to learn that her sons’ pediatrician, Amy Wood, may also be kin.

Dr. Wood lives on land across the river in Brunswick County that has been in the Wood family for generations.  Ashley hopes to explore her kinship connection–and family tales of hidden treasure–when she helps Dr. Wood restore the house on the property.  But when Ashley and Jon’s first visit to the house is interrupted by an ugly confrontation between Dr. Wood and a neighbor, the reader is alerted to the fact that something is up.  That something involves animal cruelty, land speculation, dirty politics, and old documents that point to the truth about those stories of hidden treasure.  Melanie’s professional goals are put in jeopardy when she is connected to two murders, but once again the sisters emerge relatively unscathed in this cheerful, history-rich mystery.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Brunswick, Coast, Hunter, Ellen Elizabeth, Mystery, New Hanover, Novels in Series

O. C. Strunk. Satan’s Angels. Baltimore, MD: Publish America, 2009.

Matthew Glass has settled in nicely to the beach house that his friend Christopher Fry left him in An Ever-Fixed Mark.  It’s a comfortable place and Matthew is feeling a sense of peace until one morning he discovers that a young woman’s body has washed up next to his dock.  Matthew is not looking forward to interacting with the local sheriff, a man who Matthew tangled with when he investigated Christopher Fry’s death. Surprisingly, Sheriff Gore seems to have buried the hatchet, and rather than suspecting Matthew of the murder, he only asks Matthew to keep him informed if he learns anything about the case.

Of course, Matthew does not do that.  He delays telling the sheriff that he has met with an older Hispanic man who asked about the woman’s appearance, and he tries to keep the authorities from learning about the activities of the wife of one of his friends.  Belita, the wife of Father Mark Wyatt, an Episcopal priest in North Myrtle Beach, has been letting undocumented workers on their way north stay in a cottage that the couple owns in Sunset, North Carolina.  Readers come to find out that the dead woman and two friends stayed in the cottage, on their way to a modeling school in Wilmington.  When Matthew looks into the modeling school, he learns from Sheriff Gore that the school might be a front for shadier activities, but neither the sheriff nor Matthew is prepared for the connection between the school and one of the most admired citizens in the area.

This is a book with timely themes–Hispanic immigration, celebrity culture–and much older ones–the innocence of youth, the exploitation of the weak, and the urge for vengeance.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Brunswick, Coast, Mystery, New Hanover, Novels in Series, Strunk, O. C.

O. C. Strunk. An Ever-Fixed Mark. Baltimore: Publish America, 2007.

Matthew Glass, psychologist and former university administrator, moved to North Carolina after the death of his wife and daughter.  He’s opened up a cafe and a bookstore in the coastal town of Calabash, and there he connects with a diverse group of people: Tomeka who cooks at the cafe; Tizzy who runs the bookstore; Micki, a college-age Korean orphan whom Matthew intends to adopt; and Christopher Fry, a retiree who befriends Matthew.

As this novel opens, Christopher has just died, in what appears to be an accident. When Christopher’s long-estranged daughter arrives to make funeral plans, Matthew is in for a few surprises: Christopher has left Matthew his house and his dog, and the circumstances of Christopher’s death don’t square with the cautious and precise man that Matthew knew.  As Matthew spends time at his new house he gets a better sense of Christopher’s professional achievements and his compassion, and he uncovers some puzzling things: a stash of the local community newspaper with strange marking on some of the papers and books on the animal-human bond.  With Micki’s help, Matthew follows the clues in Christoper’s things, but those clues lead to cruelty, corruption, and murder, not the treasure that Micki expected.

This is the second book in the Matthew Glass Mysteries.  The first book was set in Maine.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2007, Brunswick, Coast, Mystery, Novels in Series, Strunk, O. C.