• Nicholas Sparks may be known to the world (even if you haven't read his books you know them, because they tend to get made into movies. Like Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song) he belongs to North Carolina. The New Bern-based author has a next romantic novel — Safe Haven — is due out this fall (and Xpress has been promised an advanced review copy!) but to tide readers over this summer, Sparks' 2008 novel The Lucky One is out in paperback.
Okay, spoiler alert: If you read/saw Rodanthe and didn't appreciate the tear-jerker of an ending, Lucky is your book. It's got all the sensitive touch-and-go romance that a Sparks novel is known for, but with a totally satisfying finish.
The story is of former soldier Logan Thibault who, while on tour in Iraq, finds a photo of a woman wearing a "Lady Luck" t-shirt. The photo seems to serve as a good luck charm for Logan, saving him from disastrous situations. Five years later, back in the U.S., he decides to find the woman in the photo because he feels he owes her. So, with his faithful German shepherd by his side he walks cross-country from Colorado to the N.C. coast.
That bit, the walking a couple thousand miles, seems unlikely. But readers don't have to suspend belief because Sparks does such a seamless job fleshing out Logan's character and making him viable. The former marine is steely-cool, pensive, secretive yet straightforward, reserved yet accessible.
Early into the story, Logan does find the women in the photo. Her name is Beth, she runs a kennel, lives with her grandmother and young son, and has little in the way of a love-life thanks to an overbearing and possessive ex-husband. Small-town politics, haunting memories and fear of getting hurt continually threaten the burgeoning romance between Logan and Beth.
What's interesting is that, while neither Logan or Beth are expecting a relationship, we the readers know from the beginning what will unfold. Yet — and this is the genius of Sparks — we still want to read the story. And, while the end result is pretty much guaranteed from the start, how Sparks steers his characters to that point provides a compelling ride.
Also interesting: Lucky is actually a fairly spare book with a slow build and a narrow scope. Yes, Logan comes with an incredible back story — his tour in Iraq, his cross-country trek — but that's it. No rambling monologues, no childhood flashbacks. The details are just enough to make us believe and nothing extra that would confuse or burden the story line.
But, for all the gradual build and low-key trajectory of Luck, the end is a surprise with plenty of action and tension leading to a dramatic, but ultimately happy, conclusion.
• Southern mystery writer Lawrence Thackston, author of The Devil's Courthouse reads at Malaprop's on Saturday, July 31 at 7 p.m. Read a review of the book here.
• Waynesville-based author Mary J. Messer announces the release of her memoir, Moonshiner's Daughter. According to a press release, "Moonshiner’s Daughter is Messer’s early life story of a young girl raised in some of the most remote, backwoods parts of Haywood County, North Carolina, deep in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. Her father, an ardent moonshiner when he wasn’t in prison, and her mother, often showing mental illness from an earlier brain injury, raised their four children in some of the grimmest circumstances imaginable. Messer eventually escaped her extreme living conditions by going to live with the Queen family as their mother’s helper outside of Washington, DC. She then moved to New York City to join her older sister who had run away from a forced marriage."
The book is for sale at the Bargain Book Store (1032 Mauney Cove Rd., Waynesville) and Blue Ridge Books (Main St., Waynesville) and will also be available at Messer's upcoming author events (dates TBA).