Category Archives: Sparks, Nicholas

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, 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

A Walk to Remember: Nicholas Sparks’ New Bern

The WeddingWant to walk in the footsteps of some of your favorite Nicholas Sparks lovers? The City of New Bern has designed a “Walk to Remember Tour” based around three of Sparks’ novels: A Bend in the Road, The Wedding, and The Notebook. The tour is self-guided and highlights fifteen spots around New Bern. A copy of the tour guide is available on the City of New Bern website along with a short video showing a glimpse of Nicholas Sparks’ new home.                          The Notebook

Although not a North Carolinian by birth, Nicholas Sparks has lived in New Bern for many years, and as his fans are probably well aware, Sparks has been heavily influenced by the state. All seventeen of his novels are set in various locations around North Carolina, predominantly in small cities and towns and around the coast. Sparks has also influenced North Carolina. He and his wife established the Epiphany School of Global Studies and donated a track to New Bern High School.

A Bend in the RoadNew Bern, the second oldest town in North Carolina and birth place of Pepsi, boasts a lot of state firsts: movie theater, printing press, public bank, bookstore, postal service, capital. The town has more than 150 sites officially recorded in the National Register of Historic Places. With spring break coming up, Nicholas Sparks fans and history buffs might be interested in mingling fact with fiction in New Bern.

Read some of the blog’s past posts on Nicholas Sparks novels here.

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Filed under Coast, Craven, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. The Longest Ride. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2013.

The Longest RideNicholas Sparks returns with another solid effort that is sure to have readers everywhere reaching for Kleenex. The Longest Ride, Sparks’ seventeenth novel, weaves together two seemingly disparate love stories. Readers might not immediately spot any connections, however, by the conclusion of the novel, Sparks stitches the two stories together with surprising poignancy.

The first story concerns 91-year old Ira Levinson and his beloved and deceased wife, Ruth. As the novel opens, the combination of Ira’s failing eyesight and a snowstorm has caused him to run his car off the road and down a steep embankment. The front of his car has smashed into a tree, and Ira is lodged tight in his damaged car. From what Ira can tell, he has sustained several possible injuries. If he tries to climb out, with his age, his wounds, and the icy slope, he would never be able to make it back to the road. So Ira has no choice but to wait in his car until someone discovers him. While Ira bides his time, he imagines that his late wife, Ruth has materialized in the passenger seat of the car.

She and Ira reminisce about their marriage. Their story starts in Greensboro. They met through their families. Ruth’s parents recently immigrated from the threat of Hitler’s burgeoning regime and Ira’s parents owned a local haberdashery. The courtship was slow and managed to endure through World War II. Ira revisits all the unexpected twists in their lives, some good and others bad. Ruth, or at least the fantasy of her, helps keep Ira conscious as he struggles to hold onto life. Sparks drums up a great depth of emotion and convincing detail with Ira and Ruth’s romance. Readers will feel invested in this plot line and will wonder what will happen to Ira. Will someone rescue him in time?

Meanwhile, in the second story, Sophia, an art history major and senior at Wake Forest, has called it quits with her unfaithful boyfriend Brian.  She has discovered that Brian has cheated on her once again. She insists to herself that this will be the last time–she is done with him. But slipping away from Brian’s clutches is easier said than done – as evidenced by her past failed attempts to break it off. As Sophia’s best friend Marcia puts it, Brian “is funny, good-looking and rich” plus he’s the most popular guy in his fraternity. Essentially, he possesses all the characteristics of a perfect catch (minus the infidelities, of course).  Brian can’t accept that the relationship is over. He has followed Sophia around campus since the break up and she’s sick and a little bit scared of his stalking.

During a weekend trip to a bull-riding competition with her sorority sisters, Brian approaches Sophia. Just before the confrontation escalates into something nasty, one of the cowboys intercedes and diffuses the situation. After the awkward incident Sophia and the cowboy, named Luke, become acquainted. Luke lives with his mother on a ranch near King. He competes in bull-riding competitions partially out of love of riding and partially to help pay the bills. Soon Sophia is spending all her free time with Luke. Marcia warns her against leaping so quickly into another long-term relationship and predicts that Sophia and Luke’s lives are headed in different paths. For a while, the pair is blissfully happy. Then the real world intervenes–Luke withholds a serious secret, and Sophia feels pressured about finding a job after she graduates in the spring. Can the new couple brave the strain from the outside world, or will the hard realities of life crush their relationship?

Despite the surface differences, the two love stories mirror each other in several respects. Ruth and Sophia are both immigrants with who have an affinity for art and date rich, important men. Ira and Luke are the men who stand on the sidelines and come to marvel that such special women could fall for them instead of the obvious choice. Ira and Ruth’s tale is expansive in its recollection, but the actual story within the span of the novel is compacted given the parameters of the car accident in terms of time and space. Luke and Sophia’s romance is more spread out and has a longer time frame to develop. Sparks alternates between the two stories, told from the point-of-view of Ira, Sophia, and Luke. Together they play off each other nicely – one love story at its end and the other at its beginning.

Check out this title in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Forsyth, Piedmont, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. The Best of Me. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011.

Amanda Collier and Dawson Cole both live in Oriental, North Carolina, but they might as well be from different planets. Amanda is a daughter of one of the oldest, most respected families in the town, while Dawson’s kin make up the resident drunks, hoodlums, and moonshiners. But Dawson is different, and when he and Amanda bond over a high school chemistry assignment, their friendship soon turns to true love. When you’re seventeen and in love, life is difficult – Amanda’s parents are outraged at their daughter’s choice of boyfriend, and finally refuse to pay for college if she continues to date him. Divided, the two move far away from one another. Hardened by an unfair prison sentence and family violence that he barely escapes, Dawson finally finds refuge in New Orleans, but Amanda is always in his heart.

Years later, the death of a mutual friend reunites them in Oriental. In fulfilling their deceased friend’s final wishes, they begin to wonder if they might find happiness in life after all…but Amanda is married, and Dawson’s family has a long memory for revenge. With a compelling cast of small-town characters, a gripping plot, and just a touch of the supernatural, longtime fans of Nicholas Sparks will not be disappointed in his latest offering.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Coast, Pamlico, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. Safe Haven. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010.

Erin is a young woman on the run from an abusive husband. When she arrives in Southport, North Carolina she adopts the name Katie and begins to make a new life for herself. Her job as a waitress doesn’t pay much, but people are kind and she has a nice place to live. Katie hopes that by keeping to herself she will avoid discovery and entanglements that would necessitate revealing who she is. But the heart has a mind of its own.  Katie becomes close to widower and his two young children, falling in love with him and the children. Katie knows that her husband Kevin, a police officer in Massachusetts, will not let her go and that his possessiveness and violence could endanger not just Katie but Alex and his children.  The reader knows this too since the author takes us inside Kevin’s mind as he makes his way to Katie and a climatic encounter of desperation and violence.

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

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Brunswick, Coast, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. The Last Song. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2009.

Ronnie’s parents divorced when she was in middle school, and her dad left New York City and moved to the North Carolina coast.  It’s three years later, and Ronnie is still angry at her parents–especially her dad. Spending a summer with her father is the last thing that she wants to do, but Ronnie has no choice when her mother sends her and her younger brother Jonah to their dad’s home in Wrightsville Beach.

Ronnie’s been in trouble in New York, and when she falls in with a bad crowd in Wrightsville, it looks like more of the same.  Her dad’s response to her troubles helps to cool Ronnie’s anger.  Ronnie starts to appreciate her father, even as she also begins to fall in love with a local boy, Will.  But as Ronnie makes steps towards peace and happiness, there is a malevolent character who will block her path and something about her dad that she doesn’t yet know.

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

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Coast, New Hanover, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. The Lucky One. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2008.

This is one of those stranger-comes-to-town tales, but since it’s a Nicholas Sparks novel, it’s also a romance.  Logan Thibault is a veteran who believes that a photograph that he found in Iraq is his lucky charm.  When he comes back to the states, he searches for the woman in the photograph.  She is Elizabeth, a divorced mom living in Hampton, near the North Carolina coast. Elizabeth’s grandmother runs a dog training facility in town, where Thibault soon gets a job.  Thibault, a veteran of many battles during his years in the Marines, has his demons, and his interest in Elizabeth can be misconstrued.  Elizabeth’s ex-husband, Keith Clayton, sets out to discredit Logan.  The conflict between Thibault and Clayton builds, putting Elizabeth and her son Ben in danger.  In a raging storm the men battles for their lives, and for Ben’s.  Thibault’s dog, Zeus, helps to save the day.

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

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2008, Coastal Plain, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. At First Sight. New York: Warner Books, 2005.

The first time writer Jeremy March visited Boone Creek, NC, he met and fell in love with the town librarian, Lexie Darnell. Now their whirlwind romance and Lexie’s pregnancy is forcing big changes in Jeremy’s life. He leaves New York to move to the fictional town of Boone Creek, where he works on renovating a house, planning his wedding, and preparing for fatherhood. Meanwhile, his writers-block becomes more frustrating and a series of anonymous emails make him doubt the strength of his relationship. At First Sight continues the story started in Sparks’ True Believer.

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

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2005, Coast, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Pamlico, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. The Choice. New York: Grand Central Pub., 2007.

Beaufort, NC resident Travis Parker has a pretty good existence: he has seen the world, owns a boat and a house on the beach, and is satisfied with his small-town veterinary practice. One evening he meets his new neighbor, Gabby, and Travis quickly realizes that she is a woman he could share his life with. Gabby falls for Travis as well, but she already has a long-time boyfriend. Her choice between the two men is only one of many choices made by this book’s characters as they struggle to find happiness.

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

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2007, Carteret, Coast, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Nicholas Sparks. The Guardian. New York: Warner Books, 2004.

Julie Berenson is only twenty-five when her husband dies of a brain tumor and she struggles to decide how to go on with her life. As the novel progresses, Julie begins to date again, but one of the men she encounters becomes too possessive too quickly and when somebody begins stalking her, she fears that it’s him. The “guardian” is a Great Dane puppy, a posthumous gift from her late husband. The novel is set in the coastal town of Swansboro.

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

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2004, Coast, Onslow, Sparks, Nicholas