Confessions of a Part-time Reviewer

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Tuning in to a ‘Song’ of Unexpected Harmony April 20, 2010

Filed under: Adult Review — adkennison @ 5:16 am
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Need another reason to hate Miley Cyrus? 

     After reading the latest Nicholas Sparks novel, The Last Song, I found one.  Her presence in the movie adaptation has ruined my prospects of seeing of my new favorite Nicholas Sparks translates into film. 

     Sparks’s newest novel follows disgruntled, fiery seventeen-year-old Ronnie as she spends summer far away from her native New York City in a tiny beach town in North Carolina.  Exiled to the south to spend some quality time with her estranged father, Ronnie is anything but pleased with the arrangement.  In three short months Ronnie maneuvers through the complex chaos of love: first love, familial love, platonic love, and most importantly self-love. 

     In trademark form Sparks explores what makes up the essence of life, mixing together the decay of past romance with the budding promise of young love, examining the impossible strength of a parent’s love and commitment to his child, and reminding readers of the cruel difficulties that go along with forging a personal identity.  The author’s masterful handling of intense emotional baggage and uncanny insight into the female perspective—especially the teenage female—proves unsettling.  Sparks seems to understand women and love better more comprehensively than any woman actually does. 

     Through the story readers are forced to align themselves, often unwillingly, with a restless protagonist.  Unlike most of Sparks’ past heroines, Ronnie isn’t easy to get along with—the bratty, rebellious teenager persona characterized a little too well.  And yet, somehow by the end, a brilliant transformation occurs and you are almost guaranteed to forget how painfully annoying the girl was for the first hundred pages or so. 

     What saves this novel from being a completely cliché coming-of-age, recognizing that the parent is always right story, is Sparks capacity to bring together a group of distinctly flawed characters and somehow turn their excess of discord and discontent into a web of nurturing necessity.  Grant it, Sparks borrows from the arsenal of stock characters: the unruly teenager, the golden boy next door, the spunky younger brother, the withdrawn but trying father, but he saves his story from falling into the ranks of forgettable fiction by infusing his creations and their respective stories with bittersweet release. This isn’t a happy-ever-after tale.  Readers have to suffer for any sense of warmth that they can extract from the cold marrow of the book. 

     But producing happiness isn’t on Sparks’s agenda.  Instead, readers are introduced to how delicious disappointment and desperation can be.  Nothing worthwhile in life is easy or uncomplicated.  In The Last Song Sparks teachers readers that it is only through experiencing struggle and true helplessness that people gain the insight to recognize who they are, what they want, and the significance of lasting relationships. 

     For those of you familiar with Sparks’s work, you know that a book wouldn’t really be his unless tears are shed somewhere along the way.  Unless you are heartless and/or incapable of feeling human emotion, this story will definitely tug at your heartstrings.  Readers won’t be able to put the book down, as Sparks skillfully and apparently cruelly leads his audience through a story so rich and raw that the final pages will echo throughout their head and hearts for days afterward.

Titles of a Similar Thread:

 

Someone Like You, Sarah Dessen

 

 

 

Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas, James Patterson

 

 

 

House Rules, Jodi Picoult

 

Clark Captures Readers’ ‘Heart’s Once Again

Filed under: Adult Review — adkennison @ 3:06 am
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Somehow after thirty acclaimed novels, Mary Higgins Clark’s creative stream has yet to run dry.  With her recent release, Just Take My Heart, Clark protects her title of “Queen of Suspense” and provides a great model of what a “page-turner” should look like.     

     Switching between New York and New Jersey home fronts the book bridges the world of celebrity-studded theater and courtroom prosecutions.  When acclaimed Broadway star Natalie Raines is found shot, lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor of her suburban New Jersey home accusations point toward her soon-to-be ex-husband, Gregg Aldrich.  However, Aldrich vehemently professes his innocence, and without any hard evidence tying him to the crime the case runs cold.  Two years after the murder, a career conman, Jimmy Easton, steps forward and claims Gregg hired him to kill Natalie but he backed out after accepting a $5,000 advance.  This confession sends shock waves throughout the community but gives assistant prosecutor Emily Wallace the ammunition to finally bring Natalie’s killer to justice.  As bits of missing information trouble Emily, her resolve beings to falter and a seemingly open-and-shut case becomes muddled.  The question running throughout the book is does Emily have what it takes to put Natalie’s killer behind bars, does she even have the right man?

     Clark draws readers in through her raw, emotional portrayals.  Readers may have never experienced the murder of a loved one or stood on trial for allegedly killing someone they love, but reading this work forces the audience to question their own limits and the lengths they would go to in order to hang on to someone they love. 

     Clark rivets readers by seamlessly juxtaposing impossible twists with characters so real readers will have no difficulty imagining them shopping in the local grocery store or taking a morning jog through the neighborhood.  It is this extraordinary ordinariness Clark supplies her characters with that gives readers a vested interest in the text—you come away feeling like you’ve just read a story about your cousin or your best friend’s brother.  . 

     Of course, that doesn’t mean the author doesn’t like to make things interesting.  Amidst the routine structured court proceedings, Clark throws in some patented twists—a serial killer here, a life threatening surgery there—just in case readers become too comfortable with the text.  Reading this book is basically like watching all the versions of Law & Order rolled in to one. 

     For anyone familiar with Clark’s work the story may become a little too recognizable by the end.  The author has clearly found a successful framework for writing suspense novels.  After thirty books at least a touch of redundancy and predictability is bound to seep in.  But, who can blame the woman for sticking to a largely fool-proof formula, when on the whole this novel stands alone just as well as any other one picks off the shelf.  

     Just Take My Heart is just one more notch on Clark’s long belt of successful stories.  Fans will undoubtedly race through the nearly 400-page ride of thrilling turns, breathlessly awaiting the culmination of a plot so massive it seems a living entity in its own right.  And just when the story seems to come to an end, Clark masterly integrates yet another shock that will effectively “take” the hearts of many readers.

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Titles of the Same Thread:

The 8th Confession, James Patterson

Intervention, Robin Cook

No Time to Way Goodbye, Jacquelyn Mitchard