Author: Nicholas Sparks
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, fiction
You pretty much know what territory you’re heading into when you get a Nicholas Sparks novel. It’s cheesy to the core, with (sometimes successful) attempts to make you believe love is oh, so real. (Bet you cried buckets reading The Notebook.)
Since it is a Sparks novel, the romance goes without saying. But this time he does something different by throwing in a spoonful of mystery.
Colin Hancock is trying to turn over a new leaf. With a history of violence behind him, and the threat of going to prison a dark cloud over his head, the outlook doesn’t look too positive. But he’s trying hard to stay out of trouble and put the past behind him.
OK, let me just interject here and say that it was rather unbelievable how someone could just flip a 180 and decide to be a goody two-shoes. This is brought up many times in the book, each character questioning a move that seems too fast, too soon. Mind you, I still don’t buy it.
Maria Sanchez is the typical, clichéd heroine who doesn’t know how gorgeous and intelligent she is (cue the eye-roll). Born into an immigrant family, she believes in hard work, setting expectations, and achieving goals. It’s hard to believe gorgeous people get into trouble every now and then, but here we have it – Maria’s practice in her previous law firm comes back to haunt her.
The two then meet under rather curious circumstances. No, they don’t hit it off immediately. No, sparks do not fly. I’m still trying to locate the chemical reaction they call “love” between the pair.
This writing style is rather new for Sparks, and it shows. The characters just don’t quite seem to fit the mould. The story droned on and on, and it was only halfway through the book that there was a second date. Talk about a slow-paced plot!
It came to a point when I even questioned the originality of Sparks’ writing and ideas. It seems to me he drew inspiration from various sources. Evan (Colin’s best friend) and Lily are like Lumiere and Mrs Potts from Beauty And The Beast; she’s constantly mothering him, watching over him, and reminding him to “control his temper”. How do you even have friends like that? Being there every time Colin screws up, “bribing” witnesses, getting him out of trouble. Do they not have their own lives to attend to?
And Colin’s one-word reply – “OK” – becomes downright irritating. It mimics Hazel and Augustus’s conversations in The Fault In Our Stars. But where John Green succeeded superbly in making that one word hold so much promise and meaning, Sparks’ attempts had me gritting my teeth every time it came up.
So there we are, strolling along with two star-crossed lovers, and halfway down the path we get whammed by a mystery.
Sparks’ dramatic shift of gears is unnerving and, quite frankly, threw me. Did he run out of ideas with Colin and Maria? Why was the whole “catch the stalker” storyline necessary?
I wouldn’t have minded if the plot was well executed; in fact, it could have been a welcome change from the stale, lifeless romance. The thing is, Sparks is no John Grisham. A poorly executed mystery-thriller antagonises this reader, especially if the end is such a predictable one. It felt like a knee-jerk reaction – the sudden switching of gears was not well oiled. To be entirely candid, Colin’s reflections on figuring out who the stalker is are so, so lame, they were a trial to trudge through.
The read would probably have been so much more interesting if Sparks had just stuck to what he’s good at – perhaps focusing on Evan and Lily instead (I adore this super couple, bless their hearts). Now that might have had the “Sparks magic”.
A little bit of digging revealed that this is Sparks’ first novel after his divorce (ouch). While I am not an avid Sparks reader, I do hope his future attempts bring back the Noah and Allie story we all fell in love with in The Notebook – a story that was relatable, that reached a million hearts, that is the go-to for all romantic dramas.