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Nicholas Sparks is a well-known American author who has earned the title of both No 1 Times Best-seller and The World's most beloved author. I'm not sure about the last one as his genre is exclusively in the romance genre but for that category he is certainly the best in terms of sales, with well over 50 million copies of his books in print. This latest offering is being described as 'an epic love story from the author of The Last Song and The Notebook.' If you have seen any of the film versions of his books you'll probably be most familiar with The Notebook, which captured the hearts of many people.
With this new book he shows his mastery of the genre and although I find his books tend to have a similar theme, this one has a few twists that lifts it above the romantic story of two star-crossed lovers.
Dawson Cole and Amanda Collier were lovers from the wrong side of the tracks and their romance was doomed almost from the beginning. The Cole family had been troublemakers for generations and it was a miracle that Dawson turned out as well as he did, with an alcoholic abusive father and a mother who left as soon as she could.
Amanda came from a family name, one of the most important residents in the little town of Oriental, in Pamlico County North Carolina. Despite this they forged a bond stronger than their families could shatter and although they went their separate ways, their love was still there, some twenty years later, when both were summoned back to their hometown to pay homage to their friend and mentor, Tuck Hostetler who passed away recently.
The book opens with Dawson recovering from injuries sustained while working on an oilrig and barely escaping with his life after an explosion killed many of the workers. He is still concerned about his mental health because he is hallucinating a mystery man who appears to him in times of trouble, has the frequent accidents he's been exposed to damaged his brain?
Amanda is now married with two almost grown children and one little girl, but her life is far from happy. After the tragic death of Bea, in babyhood, her husband Frank started drinking heavily and is now an alcoholic. When she receives the letter from Tuck's attorney, she doesn't hesitate to return to her hometown, despite the sad circumstances of Tuck's death. Through her thoughts on travelling back the reader learns her side of the romance with Dawson and why they broke up.
With both ex-lovers converging on a meeting at the one place they used as a retreat while they were courting, the question is whether they will resume their doomed relationship or has too much happened in between?
This is a dilemma that is often part of Spark's books. His first book, The Notebook, had a similar theme, but since then he's written many other stories with some happy and some tragic endings. Which will this one turn out to be? Hopefully I can pique your interest enough to give this a try.
I liked Dawson immediately because he seemed an ordinary type of man in a dangerous job, but without the overly romantic hero character that Sparks sometimes writes of. He has written of other characters that were somehow damaged by their backgrounds and can't learn to let go, but with Dawson we get the sense that he's alone because he prefers it that way. He still has family back in his hometown but doesn't want to be associated with them and after meeting some of the characters later on I can't say I blame him. But Dawson isn't too good to be boring; he has other skeletons in the closet, which we learn about later.
Amanda is also well written and you can't help but feel sorry for her problems. A strong woman who admits to herself that maybe she doesn't love her husband Frank enough and maybe this helped turn him to drink, she does voluntary work at the cancer hospital where her daughter died. She's a good mother to Jared, 19, Lynn, 17 and Annette, aged 9. At times I found her a bit exasperating as she puts up with a husband I might have walked away from years ago, but, as usual in Spark's books, she stays for the sake of the children.
The character I really liked is Hutch, who is written about in the past tense as he's just died in the book. In his early 60's when he gave shelter at his garage to Dawson and Amanda, we know by the letters he leaves for Dawson and Amanda that he was ready to join his late wife whom he adored. Sparks writes a lot of characters like Hutch into his books. It's fairly standard but doesn't take anything away as he makes them all a lot different. The only bit I can say bothered me was the use of letters to describe a person's feelings. It does get a bit wearing after a few books. Hutch leaves behind wisdom and a place where the two past lovers can go to if they decide they want to get together once more.
I've mentioned a few of Spark's methods and there are a few more he uses quite often. These include car accidents, a tragedy waiting to happen and the unsettling part of 'will he, will she,' when the lovers get together again. At the start of each of his books you know the ending will be bittersweet even if it turns out happily. So readers will wonder why read another of his books if he is so predictable? The answer lies in how the ending is reached. Sparks keeps his plot moving fast enough to keep a readers interest and his formula is a tried and tested one. Another incentive is that his books are fairly short (for me at least) at around 300 pages on average.
The main incentive though is the fact that most women love a good weepie and you can guarantee this with the author in full mode. His writing is lyrical, often poetic and sharp storytelling with something happening on every page. Few authors can sustain that level of interest so we can excuse him the formula because it works so well. He knows his geography and uses it to draw the reader into the stage set (that's what it feels like). Also, by paying attention to every detail and fleshing out even minor characters, the book stays very readable even to people like me who often see the similarities in plot as too much of a good thing when overdone.
With this book he's added some violence and a thrill-a-minute in one part with an ending that's designed to keep you guessing as to the outcome. Unfortunately I did guess it well in advance, but I know the style so well, having read most of this author's books.
Despite the fact that in his Acknowledgments pages he says the book was hard to write, I imagine the author has some recent experience of either bereavement or some other trauma that added the slight twist to this particular book. I did feel it was stronger than some of his others and particularly liked the hint of a ghostly presence watching over Dawson. I didn't find it frightening and I did guess the identity after a while. That doesn't take anything away from the book, it's very readable and a satisfying book that delivers a story you would expect from someone who has made his career on such books.
This is a new book that came out in October and I'm the first person in my local library to read it. At the moment most stores haven't got any stocks in and you might have to pre-order it. It will retail around the £13 mark for a hardback and about £7 for the paperback for a while. My library copy is a hardback and was printed in both America and the UK in 2011. So I'm not expecting this to be going cheaply for a while. This is the author's 17th book so you can see how prolific an author he is. This would make a good present for most women who enjoy romance (50 million readers can't be wrong).
If I sound a little critical at times it's because I don't normally like a lot of romantic fiction but can't resist the author. So a full 5 stars from me.
Thank you for reading and I hope I've given you a good idea what to expect without spoiling the story, I've been very delicate with the plot this time.