Nicholas Sparks-Part I

How much do I love Nicholas Sparks? Let me count the ways.

I randomly picked up my first Nicolas Sparks novel while I was bored at a family friend’s house. It looked intriguing. It was called The Rescue and to this day it is still one of my favorite Nicolas Sparks novels. (Fact: I have read all of Sparks’ novels including his Autobiography ‘Three Weeks with my Brother’).

Many of his books have been turned into movies, because his novels translate extremely well into movies. They’re heartfelt, chick flick, tear jerkers that readers and viewers can appreciate. A lot of people accuse him for being too sad and always having his characters die, which can be the case. However, tragedy can strike at any time and dying is a part of life. I think that’s what Sparks’ illustrates in his books, love and loss.

I thought of reviewing his most popular book/movie releases such as The Notebook and A Walk to Remember, but I actually watched those movies before reading the books so I have very different opinions about them. I decided to go with the books I had read first before seeing their movie counterparts. The ones I will be reviewing are Nights in Rodanthe, The Last Song, and Dear John.

One of the things I like about Nicholas Sparks is that not all of his books are about young, summer love. He depicts romance across all ages, including those who might be past their prime and get a second chance at romance. Nights in Rodanthe is one of those. Adrienne has been abandoned by her husband and takes the opportunity to get away and tend to her friend’s bed and breakfast. Paul is a successful surgeon, also divorced, and the B&B’s only guest. In preparation of a storm about to hit, the two fall in love.

It’s really a story about two people who have broken down and find each other amidst a storm. When I read it, it wasn’t one of my favorites. Maybe I was too young to appreciate the older and divorced pain that the two have gone through. One of the big differences in the movie was Adrienne’s husband asking her if they can get back together, which becomes a theme through the movie as she ponders the question.

Richard Gere is getting old but I still think he’s super sexy in the movie. Diane Lane was brilliant as well. I liked their chemistry together. I would say that I enjoyed the movie more than the book. I would give the book a 3 out of 5 and the movie a 3.5 out of 5.

The Last Song is about Ronnie (Veronica) and her younger brother living with her estranged dad for the summer, finding first love, and saving the sea turtles. The book was well written, seamlessly plotted, and poignantly told. All the characters were fully developed and evolved throughout the novel. It’s one of my favorites by Nicholas Sparks. (Fact: Most of Nicholas Sparks’ books are my favorite).

I was really hesitant about the movie because Miley Cyrus was playing Ronnie. I didn’t think she could pull off the depth of Ronnie’s character and growth that she goes through in the novel. Much to my delight, the basic storyline was very similar to the book and I felt myself drawn into the story. Greg Kinnear, who played her dad, was fantastic. Although I still think Ronnie should have been recast, Miley Cyrus was not as terrible as I imagined. I enjoyed Liam Hemsworth as the leading man as well. They obviously have great chemistry together.

The movie was a very decent adaptation of the book, despite some minor plot changes. I think the book though was much more enjoyable and included less Miley Cyrus. I would give the book a 4 out of 5 and the movie a 3 out of 5.

Dear John

Dear John is another one of my favorites of Nicholas Sparks. It follows the story of John Tyree who falls in love with Savannah while he’s on leave from the Army. They continue their love through letters as John finishes his assignment. Until 9/11 happens and John has to decide to fight for his country or return to his true love. The book is heartfelt and well written. Nicholas Sparks wrote this as a tribute to the people enlisted in the US military, and I felt it was portrayed well (especially with the aftermath of 9/11).

I initially had not heard very good reviews of the movie, but I had to decide for myself. I actually thought the movie was a decent interpretation of the book. I like that it still involved John’s relationship with his father, as that is a large part of the book. It also of course touched on how 9/11 changed the military, which resulted in John’s relationship changing with Savannah. However, I had two issues with the movie. The biggest problem was the chemistry between Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried falls very flat. That factor alone affects the whole movie. The other problem is that the ending is different. I don’t mind a different ending if it works. In this case, it did not.

The book is extremely good and I cried through most of the last chapter. (Fact: I cry often when reading Nicholas Sparks). The adaptation of the book to the movie was decent, but the lack of chemistry between the actors made it unbelievable. I was a bit disappointed. I would give the book a 4 out of 5, but the movie gets a 2 out of 5.

Charlie St. Cloud

It started with my interest in wanting to see the movie. Mostly because I have an undeniable weakness and love for Zac Efron. Then I found the movie-tie in of the book with Zac’s lovely face on the cover. I had no idea that it had been a book, and of course I had to find out how they compared.

Sherwood, Ben. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud (2004). 277 pages. Bantam Dell. $12.99.

I started with the book. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is told from the perspective of the paramedic who saved Charlie’s life. Charlie was in a tragic car accident, which resulted in Charlie being brought back to life and the unfortunate death of his younger brother, Sam. Fast forward 13 years later, Charlie works at a graveyard and, due to a promise he made, plays baseball with this spirit of his dead brother every day at sunset. Charlie’s ability to see his dead brother also allows him to converse with other spirits, and clearly illustrates that he is not truly living hence his “death”. Everything begins to change once he meets a girl, Tess.

I was initially very confused in the beginning, when the story started from the viewpoint of the dead paramedic who once saved Charlie’s life. Despite that, the story telling was simple and straight forward and, I admit, I was drawn in and teared up at the emotional bits. I like Charlie’s character and the bond he has with Sam. I also really like Tess and the connection she has with Charlie. I really cared about the characters and what happened to them.

Although I liked the characters, the writing itself had some issues. The twist to the story wasn’t much of a twist, as I predicted it several pages before it actually happened. The symbolism was a little overdone in comparing Charlie’s “life” to his “death”, and the ending was a little much. In the end, I realized that it was like the writer was trying too hard to be Nicholas Sparks, and kind of fell short. The one thing that bothered me the most was that Charlie had been working at the cemetery for thirteen years, he was 28 years old, and still playing baseball with his 12 year old brother. It just seemed a long time to be playing ball with your dead brother, and I just don’t see how the relationship between them would remain the same. Overall, I liked the story about Charlie, Sam, and Tess but the book seemed overwritten. I would rate the book 2.5/5.

Charlie St. Cloud (2010). Starring Zac Efron, Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta. Directed by Burr Steers. 99 minutes. $12.99.

I watched the movie soon after, and I was pleasantly surprised how close the movie was to the plot of the book. Charlie has a promising college career which abruptly ends with the death of his brother when he starts working at the graveyard instead. I thought the relationship in the movie between Charlie and Sam was played really well. The paramedic was a part of the story (played by Ray Liotta), but was not as big of a part as he was in the book. I pretty much just love Zac Efron, and I thought he did well.

One of the improvements from the book to the movie is that only 5 years pass from the death of his brother instead of 13. Charlie from the book is still hanging out with Sam when he is 28, while Charlie in the movie is only 22 or 23. I felt like it just made more sense. 13 years is a very long time to hold onto guilt, grief, and meetings with your dead brother every day at sunset. I felt like 5 years made a lot more sense. I don’t know why this little thing bothered me so much, but it made the characters in the movie more believable to me.

It still included the same twist to the story, which I felt wasn’t as predictable as it was in the book. I like the chemistry Zac Efron had with Tess (played by Amanda Crew). They filmed the movie in a north eastern harbor town that fit perfectly with where the book was set. I felt that the movie had all the good elements of the story, without the overwriting of the book. I would rate the film 3.5/5.

Eat Pray Love

I initially wasn’t very interested in reading Eat Pray Love. I had a friend who raved about it, but I’m usually not into self discovery, self help non-fiction. When the movie came out, I decided to check it out. I was slightly more interested to see the visual interpretation. It’s a very non-committal way to see if a book sucks before investing in it. After the movie, I obviously decided to give the book a chance.

Eat Pray Love (2010). Starring Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, and Richard Jenkins. Directed by Ryan Murphy. 133 minutes. $19.99.

I admit that I didn’t have high expectations for the movie. The critic reviews were sub-par and I’m not a big Julia Roberts fan. However, I was pleasantly surprise. The movie follows the true story of writer Elizabeth Gilbert who decides to travel for a year, after a crushing divorce and debilitating rebound relationship. She starts with Italy which is purely about pleasure with the food and the Italian language (EAT). She goes to India for her spiritual journey at an Ashram (PRAY). Her last stop in Indonesia brings her to a shaman in Bali, who she had met a couple years previously and who asked her to come back. However, she also unexpectedly finds love (LOVE).

The movie was visually beautiful as it went through every location she traveled. Italy’s art, architecture, and food. Bali’s tropic, exotic paradise. India was probably the least visually stunning but that’s because she’s at an Ashram. I understood the journey that Julia Roberts’ character was on. It reminded me of my own world traveling adventures and inspired me to want to travel again. The only scene that was odd was the flashback/day dream of her wedding day with her husband and the two of them discussing their failed marriage. Although I understood her need for closure, the scene was awkward. I wish I could just imagine a conversation that vividly and receive closure that easily.

I also decided that I love Javier Bardem. I actually never had seen him in anything before (or if I had, it didn’t make much of an impact). His character suits the exotic feeling of Bali and the surprise of finding romance between the two of them. Julia and Javier also had really good chemistry together and I believed the romance. Overall, I would rate the movie 4 out of 5 for the visual beauty of Italy and Bali with the sexiness of Javier Bardem.

After the movie, I decided I wanted to read the book. I think what I found fascinating about the movie was that it was based on a true story. When the movie was enjoyable, I decided that I wanted to know the rest of the story.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat Pray Love (2006). 352 pages. Viking Adult. $24.95 (hardcover)

The book filled in all the pieces that the movie was missing. One of the big differences was the movie showed the failing of her marriage and rebound relationship. In the book, those scenes were interspersed with her travels as she explained why she was on a journey. I understood why she structured the book that way (Eat, Pray, Love. Backstory isn’t included in those 3 things), but it cut down her Italy section a lot (which is the only place I would travel to out of the 3 places she went to).

Also, India was much more boring in the book. She discussed meditation and enlightenment which was an interesting topic, but it was hard to keep my interest for over 100 pages. Bali was more fantastic. Overall, it was interesting and inspiring. It really made me miss traveling.

I really liked that it was a true story. That it ended with love like a fictional story would. That she found love when she least expected it (so much like life).

I felt that the movie was a decent visual interpretation of the book. And Javier Bardem fit his character so well in the book, that I pictured Javier in my head. If you enjoyed the movie, you should definitely read the book. If you didn’t enjoy the movie, I would still think you need to read the book. because the book is different enough that you might be able to appreciate the journey she is on more than you would appreciate the movie of it.

In a surprising twist, I would also rate the book a 4 out of 5. I really enjoyed the book, but would have preferred to have more Italy, less flashback, and less India.

Chick Lit into Chick Flick

Out of all the different books I read, I find that the genre turned into movies most often is “Chick Lit”. Like most females in their young 20-something age bracket, I admit that I enjoy “Chick Lit” type novels. I don’t enjoy annoying, bitchy, or sissy heroine main characters (who would?), but I do like the easy-escape read it can provide.

Since I enjoy reading those types of novels, I tend to read them long before the movie comes out. I thought I would review a few of the novels and their movie counterparts for an entry. I would rather prefer to read the books and watch the movies again for a more in-depth review, however the copies of the books now reside several hours away from me. Besides I remember them well enough to give an opinion for each of them. If I happen to get the book/movie versions at a later date, I would happy to review them again if necessary.

McLaughlin, Emma and Kraus, Nicola. The Nanny Diaries (2003). 320 pages. St. Martin's Griffin. $13.95

First I would like to start with The Nanny Diaries. The book begins as a sociological type of framework as if the narrator is conducting a study, where the main character is called Nanny and the parents as Mr. and Mrs. X. Nanny is a college student who starts her first nanny job for the X’s to work around her school schedule. Chaos ensues. The only name the book gives is 4 year old Grayer.  I understand that the authors themselves were nannies for Manhattan higher society types, and this probably helped them keep their experiences with those clients somewhat anonymous. However, I felt that it distanced the reader from the characters. Nanny is very one dimensional except in her love for Grayer (although why I can’t imagine, since he continues to be the biggest brat in the world). Mrs. X is a total bitch who terrorizes the Nanny as she realizes her own son doesn’t love her, much less anyone else.  I have to admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of the book. The love story even fell flat with Nanny’s love interest, nicknamed “Harvard Hottie” (again he is not given a real name). The book can be amusing at times, but the writing style didn’t work for me. It’s a decent read if you enjoy reading about those types of situations. As an avid babysitter for most of my teenage years, I was just annoyed. Annoyed with Grayer’s brattiness, Mrs. X’s bitchiness, and Nanny’s cluelessness. Rating: 2.5/5.

In comparison, the movie counterpart starring Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney was a vast improvement. The movie began with an archeological study framework which worked a lot better for the film than it did the book. The love story involving “Harvard Hottie” was written so much better (with the help of adorable Chris Evans). Also, certain scenes with Mrs. X were done a little bit differently making her seem not entirely heartless.* Laura Linney did a great job with the role and Scarlett had all the charisma that her book counterpart lacked.  The movie exceeded my expectations, and I enjoyed it a lot more than the book. Rating: 3.5/5.

The next book I wanted to go over is Confessions of a Shopaholic. I absolutely love Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series! Becky Bloomwood is quirky, funny, and smart. She gets herself in the most ridiculous situations, but it always works out and she manages to grow as a character. The movie is based on the first book also titled Confessions of a Shopaholic. It’s not my favorite book in the series, but I still enjoyed it.  Becky works for a financial magazine, including how to save and stock tips, except Becky has a secret obsession called shopping. And her obsession starts to cause a big problem as she becomes more and more in debt. The book is broken up with letters from her banker which get more and more irate as Becky tries to stall for more time. Becky has a great witty, narrative voice that always makes me laugh out loud, and she has a unique, creative way to get herself out of situations. The book also introduces one of my favorite male characters, Luke Brandon. The only problem I had was the book drags a lot in the beginning. I almost had a hard time getting into it, but it definitely picks up at the end and I couldn’t put it down for the last 100 pages.  Rating: 4/5.

Kinsella, Sophie. Confessions of a Shopaholic (2001). 320 pages. Dial Press. $14 Book Cover pictured with Isla Fisher.

I was really excited when I heard the movie was coming out. First problem I had with it: they chose Australian actress Isla Fisher to play an American Becky and set it in New York (the book and characters are actually set in England). I wasn’t sure what to expect.  As a comparison to the book, it was a huge let down. When I realized that this movie was not going to be like the original story, I put the book out of my mind and focused on the movie for what it was. It was very cute. I love Isla Fisher and she really did embrace the character perfectly. The storyline was different, but the situation and resolution was similar. The only thing that really bothered me was how they wrote Luke and his relationship with Becky. Although Hugh Dancy did his best, he just did not embody Luke for me. Also there was a running joke/thing about Luke, Becky, and the green scarf they met/fought over. It was entirely written in and it really bothered me for some reason. As itself, the movie was cute and enjoyable. However, it lacked for me as a true book adaptation. Rating 3/5.

The last book I wanted to go over is The Devil Wears Prada. It was first time novel and best seller by Lauren Weisberger. It follows the story of Andrea Sachs, a recent Brown graduate, who wants to get into the world of journalism. She lands her first job as a personal assistant to the tyrannical Miranda Priestly, fashion editor of Runway magazine (it is speculated that the character is loosely based on the editor of Vogue, Anna Wintour). Chaos ensues. I had heard so much about this book before I finally made the trip to the library, and I wanted to like it. But I just didn’t. As Lauren’s first novel it shows. The book drags on too long, the writing style was flat, and her characters were forgettable. The only redeeming thing about the book is Miranda’s character. Although she’s a huge bitch (Mrs. X times 3), Miranda makes the book at least interesting. Andrea’s character is utterly forgettable and annoying. She hates her job but she doesn’t do anything about it until it’s almost too late. My biggest issue was that the book was simply too LONG. By the time it finally gets to the ending, the show down between Miranda and Andrea is anti-climactic and I just don’t care anymore. Rating: 1/5

The Devil Wears Prada (2006). PG-13. Starring Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Emily Blunt. Directed by David Frankel. 109 min. $14.98

The movie adaptation took out all the filler in the book and made it better. I love Meryl Streep and she nailed the role as Miranda. I adore Anne Hathaway and she made Andrea’s character charming and remembered. They added a couple scenes featuring Miranda that made her seem more human, which added a lot of depth to her character. And I felt Andrea had a lot more growth as a character in the movie than she ever did in the book. Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci add to the cast of characters that just weren’t there in the book. It was so much more enjoyable to watch then the book ever was as a read. Rating 3.5/5

I was thinking of adding one of my all time favorite Chick Lit book/movie duo Bridget Jones’ Diary to this entry, but I feel that I should reserve a whole entry for that one at a latter date (mostly because I want to reread the book again).

And for regular readers (all two of you), I am trying to be posting regularly on Wednesdays for now. We will see how it goes.


*I have issues with books/TV/movies of heartless bitches. Mean girls do not amuse me, I only get annoyed. It’s why Mrs. X** and Miranda did not amuse me. They just annoy and frustrate me. And I cannot imagine why a main character would bother putting up with it.

**Okay, I realize that Miranda maybe didn’t bother me as much. I think Mrs. X annoys me more because she’s a mom and a drama queen. Terrible combination.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Niffenegger, Audrey. The Time Traveler's Wife (2003). 546 pages. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $14.95

I remember seeing this book everywhere when it became a best seller several years ago. The idea of the book appealed to me but I never had the chance to pick it up. My chance came when they recently came out with the movie version starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. As I always prefer to read the book first, I finally made a library trip.

The novel follows the lives of Henry De Tamble and his wife, Clare. Henry is a time traveler, affected by a genetic disorder that enables him to involuntarily travel through time. Henry and Clare’s lives are completely intertwined as he begins visiting her while she is very young. The novel follows the story of their relationship.

Although the concept of the book seemed interesting, I was a little worried. A cohesive narrative for someone who time travels is not an easy feat. I was afraid that the narrative would be jumbled and the time jumps would be confusing. I am delighted to report that I was wrong.

Each chapter is listed with time, place, and how old Henry is (which helps a lot). And the novel is set up in a way where things all tie together in their own time. Henry is a complicated character who changes and develops as he goes through the unique time line that is his life, and especially grows as a character with Clare. Clare is his perfect match, and some of the chapters of her waiting for him to return from his ventures in time are heartbreaking.

One of the main issues in the book is Henry and Clare attempting to have a child, and Clare has several miscarriages. These scenes are not for the faint of heart as they are very descriptive and gory, but heartrendingly told from a woman who desperately wants a child of her own. The supporting characters surrounding Henry and Clare were vividly told and played some key parts in the novel: Henry’s dad, Clare’s family, Clare’s friend Gomez, and Henry’s neighbor Mrs. Kim. Be warned that the book is somewhat of a tearjerker, and I was crying a bit at the end (like the soft-hearted sap that I am).

Overall, I absolutely loved the book. I thought the storyline was executed well and the story was beautifully told. Henry and Clare had great chemistry together and I believed their story. I rate it a 5/5.

I knew making a movie based on this book would be incredibly hard. There is SO much detail about Henry and Clare’s life, there would be too much to fit in the movie to accurately represent the beauty of the book. When I learned that the movie was only 107 minutes, I knew it would be lacking a lot for me.

The Time Traveler’s Wife (2010). PG-13. Starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. Directed by Robert Schwentke. 107 min. $28.98

I was right.

The beginning was set up well considering that it can be a difficult narrative to follow. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams (playing Henry and Clare respectively) represented their characters well, and overall the movie script stayed very close to the book.

However, the slight deviations the writers made from the storyline were not done well. I’m not opposed to writers changing or adapting certain parts in the movie, as long as it is works. Unfortunately, that was not the case. There were two key events involving Clare’s character that change the entire story, and they were only glossed over in the movie. The way these events were written and perhaps performed in the movie ruined Clare’s character for me. Instead of painting Clare as the devoted, patient wife, she seemed manipulative, bossy, and a little b*tchy. Those scenes really irked me, and I had a hard time enjoying the movie afterwards.

Overall, the movie was okay. I wish they had spent a little bit more time on some of the supporting characters’ roles such as Henry’s relationship with his dad or Clare’s relationship with Gomez. I did like that the movie followed pretty closely with the book, and there were certain scenes that were done very well. However, I still was bothered by how Clare’s actions seemed so manipulative in the two scenes I mentioned. I rate it a 2.5/5.

I do feel that the movie was a decent visual adaptation of the book, and could be enjoyed without reading the novel. In this case though, the book is much more rewarding.