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Kim Wright. The Unexpected Waltz. New York: Gallery Books, 2014.

theunexpectedwaltzKelly Wilder Madison finds that she has walked into Canterbury Ballroom in Charlotte, North Carolina, when she meant to walk into the grocery store next door. At fifty-two, she has recently lost her older husband and has no idea what the next step in her life should be. Kelly never thought of making that next step dancing. But Kelly has never believed in accidents either. So when she is offered a free introductory lesson, she takes it and decides to come back for more.

After spending the past twenty years of her life, “pretending to be a whole lot nicer, stupider, and more conservative than she really is,” Kelly must step out of her comfort zone in order to succeed in an activity that requires her to stand out, take big steps, and risk it all. Soon, Kelly realizes that she enjoys the demands put upon her by dance and is feeling more herself than she has in years. At first, Kelly is reluctant to venture into the group class. When she does, she begins to make friends in this new world, which reminds her that there was more to her life before she settled down and became a homemaker.

On the road to rediscovering life, Kelly bonds with Carolina, a young mother in hospice. Carolina shows Kelly that it is never too late to begin anew. Also, Kelly forms an attachment to her dance instructor, Nik, who she longs to protect like he’s the son she never had. Free-spirited Elyse, who has been Kelly’s best friend since their days of youth, also inspires Kelly to breakout. These connections all help Kelly to regain confidence in herself. She gains the courage to confront the fact that she failed her marriage as much as it failed her. She also develops the strength to face the man who got away. Finally, she learns to embrace the little moments that can lead to life changing experiences.

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

 

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Mecklenburg, Piedmont, Wright, Kim

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

Emilie Richards. One Mountain Away. Don Mills, Ont: Harlequin, 2012.

onemountainawayCharlotte Hale has lead an outwardly enormously successful life, building her own real-estate company in Asheville, North Carolina from scratch. Her rise from the poor daughter of a drunkard in the tiny mountain town of Trust to a wealthy mogul is the stuff of which American legends are made. Unfortunately, while the financial and business portions of her life have been rich, her personal life has suffered greatly. Her twenty-seven year old daughter, Taylor, cut her mother out of her life when she became pregnant at seventeen, and Charlotte has never met her granddaughter. Similarly, Charlotte has not spoken to her ex-husband, Ethan, since he left their marriage to support their daughter during that time.

Charlotte has never regretted her actions, moving ahead with confidence. Until the day that she is diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia, and realizes that life is too short and precious to waste on anger. She begins to focus on the important parts of life, and to attempt to rebuild many of the relationships she damaged, including those with her ex-husband and daughter. Along the way, she reaches out to a young, pregnant woman named Harmony, who is a complete stranger to her, but who desperately needs help. Since she refused to help Taylor so many years ago, opening her home to Harmony is a way of partially absolving her sins. But it doesn’t help everything–Charlotte still knows that the greatest reconciliation, and the hardest, is with the blood kin whom she betrayed. Will Taylor ever be able to forgive her mother?

Part of the Goddesses Anonymous series from Harlequin, this thoughtful novel encourages the reader to reconsider what’s most important in life before it’s too late.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Buncombe, Madison, Mountains, Novels in Series, Religious/Inspirational, Richards, Emilie

Jean Reynolds Page. Safe Within. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2012.

safewithinElaine and Carson Forsyth have been married and living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for nearly thirty years when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At first Elaine and Carson carry on with their lives but later Carson decides he wants to spend his remaining weeks in Elaine’s childhood home–a whimsical house her parents built in the trees above a lake just outside of the Triangle. Elaine is devastated at losing her husband, but what’s worse when he passes on she’ll be left with her acerbic mother-in-law. Greta Forsyth does not like her daughter-in-law. Although both her son and his wife have tried to convince her otherwise, Greta knows what the woman who walked in on Elaine and that other boy saw all those years ago. She knows that her supposed grandson, a handsome young man in his late twenties called Mick, is really a cuckoo’s child. Her son might be taken in, but Greta is not that kind of fool.

Elaine doesn’t know how to get through to Greta; at this point in their long, bitter relationship, she’s stopped trying. Mick, her son, knows to leave his grandmother alone, but he can’t be absent for his father’s last few weeks of life. He comes home to Carolina from his shipyard job in Rhode Island, but runs into trouble he doesn’t expect when he stops to catch up with some old acquaintances. His high school sweetheart, a beautiful local girl named Kayla, went away for a time with her mother after she and Mick broke up. When the two returned, they brought Kayla’s new little brother with them. Kyle is six now, and everyone but Mick is sure they know who his parents are in reality. Caught between Greta’s accusation that he’s not his father’s son and Kayla’s family’s anxiety over his attempt to reach out to little Kyle, Mick must decide who he will be for himself. As the family dynamics shift with Carson’s death, Greta and Elaine must also reconsider their assumptions.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Orange, Page, Jean Reynolds, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship

Shirley Lerch Crum. Nailed!!! Baltimore, MD: PublishAmerica, 2006.

Cathy Cleveland and her best friend Linda Tate almost died last summer when they inadvertently got involved in a diamond smuggling scheme.  Since then Linda has been living life to its fullest, and she is about to be married to dapper airline captain David Sokol.  Cathy has a wonderful man in her life, handsome FBI agent Peter Channing, but she is keeping him at arm’s length.  As a cancer survivor, Cathy is aware that that life can take some cruel turns, so she is reluctant to let Peter, whose wife died from cancer, know how she feels about him.

John Marley has provided Cathy with a nice diversion.  Marley is a visiting professor at the college where Cathy teaches, and she enjoys his company when he is in town.  But Professor Marley is out of town quite a bit, guest lecturing at a number of colleges in the Carolinas.  He’s quite the showman, demonstrating scientific principles in exciting lectures that sometimes include walking on hot coals or lying on a bed of nails.  As this novel opens, Cathy goes by campus to pick up Marley so that they can spend the evening together.  She finds that Marley has been murdered–someone tampered with his bed of nails.

As the person who found the body, Cathy is a suspect.  But Cathy saw Peter Channing on campus shortly before Marley’s murder, and she fears that he might have been jealous enough of Marley to kill him.  The mutual distrust prevents Cathy and Peter from cooperating, and puts Cathy and Linda in danger.  John Marley’s academic career was just a cover for a sinister conspiracy to destroy a number of beach communities.  In chapters that alternate between Cathy’s activities and those of the conspirators, author Crum reveals the details of the conspiracy, the self-interests and double-dealing of the conspirators, and the reasons that Cathy’s life is in danger.  The action-packed finish takes place during the Wrightsville Beach Holiday Flotilla.

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

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2006, Coast, Crum, Shirley Lerch, New Hanover, Suspense/Thriller

Kim Cash Tate. Hope Springs. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012.

Hope Springs is a small, fictional town 40 minutes east of Raleigh, North Carolina. Geraldine “Grandma Geri” Sanders, the matriarch of the Sanders clan, holds family reunions here every summer and every Christmas, welcoming her far-flung chicks back to the nest where they grew up. Some, like her granddaughter Libby who lives in Raleigh, haven’t strayed so far. But her other adult grandchildren are so far away; some haven’t visited in years. Sisters Cyd and Stephanie grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, where they spend most holidays with their husbands’ families. Janelle has refused to make the journey down from her home in Maryland ever since she lost her husband two years ago.

The Sanders aren’t the only family in Hope Springs hosting a reunion: the Dillons, their neighbors for many years, are all congregating after the death of their patriarch, Jerry Dillon, who also happened to be the local pastor. His son Todd and daughter-in-law Becca are also heavily involved in ministry, but have moved outside of Hope Springs. Now all the adults from both families have a chance to reconnect over shared happiness and sorrow, and each person must ponder what God truly wants for him or her in their hearts. When Grandma Geri contracts cancer, everyone pulls together, and what is meant to be a Christmas visit turns into a months-long extended stay.

While the novel is told through the eyes of Stephanie, Janelle, and Becca, we witness everyone’s journey together as a family in more ways than one. Will Stephanie be able to adjust to her family after so many years away? Will Janelle eventually overcome her husband’s death, and even find new love? Will Becca do what’s right for herself and her children? Most importantly, will everyone survive in a house full of young children and toddlers? Only God has the answers.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational, Tate, Kim Cash

JT Kalnay. The Topsail Accord. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace, 2011.

Shannon has come to Topsail Beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina to escape; surrounded with work and family, she feels stifled instead of loved and fulfilled. Yet, she is somehow also lonely. Convinced that no one will notice her at the “decrepit” age of forty, she is content to walk the beach in front of her rental cottage and reflect on her sad past. What Shannon doesn’t realize is that someone has noticed her. Joe jogs along Topsail Beach every morning, and has lately noticed the new renter out walking. He thinks she’s striking, but as a local, Joe is used to being treated as something subhuman by visitors. It’s not until fate intervenes and he literally crashes into her, spilling her coffee, that the two really meet.

Falling in love, or at first in lust, is inevitable, but Joe and Shannon are both damaged goods. Shannon is a divorced scientist, and thanks to rich natural gas deposits discovered on her property in Ohio, a billionaire. Joe is a widower after the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter and runs a coffee shop just off the beach. In the face of their feelings for one another and these obstacles, Shannon and Joe develop the Topsail Accord, agreeing to spend two months a year together on Topsail, one week in Costa Rica in July, and one week in October at a different lighthouse. But as much as they attempt to limit their time and feelings to something manageable, both must ultimately face love’s one constant: in order to love and be loved in return, you have to be willing to be vulnerable. Joe and Shannon’s relationship is initially satisfying for both, but after a few years each feels as though something is missing. When Shannon is struck with a terrifying disease, the lovers must admit what they truly mean to each other before it’s too late and tragedy strikes their lives again.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Coast, Kalnay, JT, Pender, Romance/Relationship

Rose Senehi. Render unto the Valley. Chimney Rock, NC: K.I.M. Publishing, 2012.

Karen Godwell is a curator at one of the most prestigious institutions in the United States: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She has carefully hidden the North Carolina-born mountain girl she used to be behind a veneer of New York sophistication, but when her husband Joel dies, everything changes. Joel, with his writer’s soul, fell  in love with North Carolina as much as Karen tried to forget it, and he always urged her to return. When Karen gets wind that something has gone badly wrong with her family there soon after Joel’s death, it’s the impetus she needs to fulfill his wish. She and her young daughter Hali pack their things and move south, where Karen takes a job at the Folk Art Center just outside of Asheville.

But it was a famous Ashevillean who knew that you can’t go home again so easily, and trouble waits for Karen in spades. Karen fled the Old North State for a reason: her sociopathic brother. Abused and neglected by their alcoholic mother’s string of shady boyfriends, Karen and her siblings Travis and Amy had a hard life that improved only when mom left for good, leaving the children to be raised by her parents. Grandma Pearl and her farm saved Karen, but there was never any hope for Travis.

Outwardly handsome and charming, Travis takes delight in seemingly random acts of cruelty and violation. Finally he has gone too far, placing Grandma Pearl in a rest home and taking her ancestral farm for himself by force. Obsessed with becoming wealthy, only his sisters stand in the way of his selling everything that their family has held dear for generations. In order to save her family’s, and daughter’s, future, Karen must finally face her childhood, with all its traumatic secrets.

The third of Senehi’s stand-alone novels set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Render Unto the Valley is an absorbing tale of homecoming, family, and the courage it takes to face the past. Art, environmental protection, and the preservation of personal and local history are all themes that make this an enriching and entertaining read.

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

 

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Buncombe, Mountains, Romance/Relationship, Senehi, Rose, Suspense/Thriller

Nancy Gotter Gates. Life Studies. Detroit: Five Star, 2011.

Liz Raynor, widowed at 55, is struggling to find any joy in her life in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her husband, Peter, lost his battle to cancer only two months previously, and nothing catches her interest until someone comes to her door who feels Peter’s loss as deeply as she does. Samantha, a homeless young woman of twenty, is looking for Peter Raynor, although she won’t say why. She is visibly distraught when Liz tells her the news of his death, and disappears from town shortly after. But Liz can’t stop thinking about her.

Soon, retired Liz decides to take a fine arts course –  it was her favorite subject while in school, and painting is an activity she still enjoys occasionally. She doesn’t expect Jay, a local artist and the course instructor, to be so attractive … or to share her feelings. Liz is surprised to find that she wants another intimate relationship so soon after losing Peter, but Jay is good for her and the two become very close. When Samantha reappears, Liz decides to take her in and help her while she attends the local community college. But the young woman has an unexpected secret linking her to Liz, one that will change the older woman’s life forever if she chooses to accept its consequences.

Life is difficult, and Jay, Samantha, and Liz will all experience more trials, but the loving relationships they build with each other them help them to survive.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Gates, Nancy Gotter, Guilford, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship

Grace Greene. Beach Rental. Louisville, KY: Turquoise Morning Press, 2011.

Juli Cooke has been beaten down by life. Passed from foster home to foster home as a child, she didn’t even graduate from high school, and now works multiple jobs just to keep her head above water. She doesn’t have time for dreams – her life is an endless slog devoted solely to survival…until she meets Benjamin Bradshaw. Ben is dying from pancreatic cancer and feels almost as alone as Juli does since his devastated family can’t seem to stop grieving his impending loss. What he wants most is someone who will treat him normally and who can be a caring companion through his last few months. Juli’s sad life story and vulnerability move him, and he concocts an impulsive plan: if they marry, he could compensate Juli for her platonic companionship, and he wouldn’t be left alone with the disease or his loving but overbearing relatives.

Juli likes Ben, and while she first rejects his plan in alarm and suspicion, eventually agrees. She sees something in Ben worthy of her trust, and besides, how hard could it be to act as a platonic companion for a dying man? But living with Ben is far more emotionally entangling than she imagined. Despite the fact that their relationship is strictly contractual, Juli begins to want to belong.  Ben makes no secret of his feelings for her, and he nurtures her soul as much as he provides her body with food and shelter. His family may think she’s a tramp, and other problems from her past arise to haunt her, but Juli begins to feel safe in Ben’s beautiful home on the Crystal Coast.

Of course, this is the moment that everything in her new life changes, and Juli must draw on the lessons of faith and hope that Ben has been instilling in her. Life will always be difficult, but the difference is that Ben has empowered Juli not to give up. In her struggle with the meaning of love, widowhood, and her own past, Juli Bradshaw discovers strength that she didn’t realize she possessed.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Carteret, Coast, Greene, Grace