Book Review: Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

nicholas_sparks_safe_haven_book_cover.jpg*SUMMARY from Goodreads:

Love hurts. There is nothing as painful as heartbreak. But in order to learn to love again, you must learn to trust again.

When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor, Jo. Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her…a past that set her on a fearful, shattering journey across the country, to the sheltered oasis of Southport. With Jo’s empathic and stubborn support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards… and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven.

*REVIEW:

Hey guys! It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review. Today I’d like to review a book I just finished a couple of days ago, Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. Romantic? Cheesy? Cheesier? From the tearjerker ‘A Walk to Remember’ to the classic-epic ‘The Notebook’ to the downright depressing ‘Dear John’, to the new ‘Safe Haven’.

I am a self-proclaimed Nicholas Sparks fan. :) Without Nicholas Sparks I would never have added North Carolina in my list to travel to or walked down the aisle at my wedding to a guitar-violin playing “Only Hope” (just like in A Walk to Remember). Although I’ve only read couple of Nicholas Sparks’s books, and the few I haven’t read are on my to-read list. I’ve watched enough of his movies to know that I’m a fan of his storytelling. I know, I know. Nicholas Sparks’ stories are cheesy. They are all set in a similar, small, southern town, and for the most part, they follow this predictable storyline…Boy meets girl, Boy falls in love with girl, For some reason, boy and girl split up, Boy and girl get back together, Boy and girl live happily ever after…. But I LOVE these cheesy stories. I love curling up on the couch with one of Sparks’ books or popping in a Sparks’ movie in my DVD player, and knowing exactly what I’m going to get.

I gotta warn you, there might be some spoilers following. Maybe this would be a good place to shout SPOILER ALERT! because, as in all my book and movie reviews, I can’t be stopped from giving away too much things happened. So, if you don’t want to know, then stop reading now and come back later (if you want to). :D

But on to the discussion.

Not too far into the story, I realized that this book was…different. Although it had all the hallmarks of a Nicholas Sparks tearjerker – an aura of sadness, and a safe, sleepy North Carolina town – it also had shadow of darkness.

Safe Haven is a really brilliant love story; we see love, fear, friendship, family and a controversial issue of domestic abuse, introducing us to Katie, a girl who has rocked up in Southport leaving people wondering where she’s come from. She is being hunted however, and life might not always be happy or safe. She catches the eye of Alex, not only because she is beautiful, but because she looks scared. He is owner of the biggest store in Southport, finds himself wondering about Katie, and the two slowly get to know each other. Alex used to be in the CID department of the Army and had learnt to read people.

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Another person who befriends Katie is her new neighbor, Jo. Between Jo and Alex they bring Katie out of her shell and eventually, as she falls in love with Alex, she reveals what she is running from. The story follows her and Alex as they fall in love and Katie slips into the family, spending time with Alex and his children.

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Around halfway through the book Katie reveals her real name and tells the story of her marriage, and her husband Kevin. What I liked is that after that we then follow Kevin’s story as well. I was intrigued that he regularly quoted Bible verses. I did like that both sides of the story were told, it added depth and meaning to the story. There were darker undertones to the novel, and I thought Sparks handled them sensitively. I’d guessed Katie’s secret, it’s well written and it didn’t necessarily bother me that I already knew. I don’t want to give too much away because although I knew what was going to happen and I’d guessed it, I still enjoyed the way Sparks presented it and there were many little surprises I enjoyed learning as I was reading. The novel is probably predictable in more ways than one, but for me, I got into it easily from the first page and I constantly wanted to pick it up and read yet another chapter.

I found the characters to be very well presented and very easy to like. I liked the characters, especially Katie and Alex. I loved how delicate they were at the beginning. Katie grabbed me from page one, with her hesitancy and her want for secrecy. Her life isn’t perfect and she isn’t perfect but I liked how direct she was. I also really loved Alex. It was so easy to feel sympathy to him as his wife had passed away…I found his kids Josh and Kristen to be totally adorable; I’m not that a fan of children but I could have totally kidnapped those two as they were so sweet. Her only friend, Jo, a grief counselor who lives in the neighboring cottage.  I was incredibly surprised about what I learned about her and I liked her too. The one character I didn’t like in any way was Kevin. He was an awful, awful person. Memorable, very memorable, but horrible. I don’t feel at all bad saying that he deserved what happened to him in the end.

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L-R: Noah Lomaz (Josh), Julianne Hough (Katie), Mimi Kirkland (Kristen) and Josh Duhamel (Alex)
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David Lyons as Kevin Tierney
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Cobie Smulders as Jo

In one scene where Alex gives a sealed letter from her wife to Katie or, as she puts it, to the woman he chooses. This is where things get a little weird. Katie’s about to open the letter, alone at her house, when she notices that Jo’s house is completely deserted and ramshackle-looking, as if no one has lived there in years. Before Katie even opens the letter she begins to think about her times with Jo. In a burst of the sixth sense-like clarity, Katie (and I) realized the obvious – that Jo was the ghost of Alex’s wife. Well the truth about Jo truly knocked me for a loop. It was something I didn’t see coming, and it was actually that secret that had me in tears more than the rest of the story. I had known there was something off about Jo but had chalked it up to her being one of those nosy, meddlesome friend characters. I was also a little creeped out. Jo’s letter to Katie is every bit as heartrending as you’d expect it to be. Sparks pulls out all the stops with his signature story-telling device – the letter.  It adds a whole new dimension to the kind of love triangle between spouse, deceased spouse, and new lover.

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Finding out Katie’s secret though, I pretty much saw that one coming, and had already guessed that it would lead to some kind of explosive encounter towards the end of the book…and it did. The character of Kevin made me squirm and feel disgusted, and I really wanted to reach through my iPod screen and kill the guy. So excellent job at creating this horrid and nasty character. He definitely falls into the villain category.

Anyway, I haven’t watched the film adaptation yet, but, I am looking forward to seeing it. I can already see a few changes they’ve made, based on watching the trailer. In the book Katie starts out as a blonde and then dyes her hair to become a brunette, but in the movie it shows her as starting off as a brunette and then becoming a blonde. Okay, not a huge change really but still it could have remained true to the story. Also, in the book Alex is described as being one of those younger men who goes grey prematurely, but in the movie he has a nice brown hair. Come on, again, it is a small detail, but they could have done it. There are a few other minor stories and plot details I noticed have changed, but I can’t make a full comparison until I actually see the movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed Safe Haven. The ending is very fast-paced and I found myself constantly reading, reading, and reading so I could finish it and see how it was all going to end. It was frantic and I just couldn’t put it down. Nicholas Sparks is a hugely enjoyable author. I love his books and movies. There’s no shame that he’s a romance author, his love stories are traditional and I can see why he’s so popular and why a lot of his novels are made into movies. Safe Haven was just a wonderful read; it made me believe in love (corny, right?). I liked that Safe Haven eschewed all of the normal love story rules. Katie and Alex’s relationship progresses at a nice, steady pace. There are so few traditional love stories in Romance Lit that Nicholas Sparks provides a nice distraction. He always seems to have something sad in them but even so they are amazing!

The ending of the book was so exciting! Kevin came and chased Katie. I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down once he discovered where she was. The ending was tense, but really good. There was a twist that I didn’t see coming and I enjoyed the ending. I was satisfied and gripped until the end.

So overall, this is a must read story. This is a great book. I think Sparks dealt with the issue of domestic abuse and death very well. The characters were so easy to like. It has it all. The love story, the suspense, and a little bit of a ‘wow factor’ which is how I like to call it. I’m not going to spoil it but Jo is the wow factor in this story. I absolutely recommend this book. I believe you won’t be disappointed. All I can say in the end is thank you Nicholas for this incredible story. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Here’s a sweet glimpse of its film adaptation:
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