Awesome Authors #17: Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks

Image Credit: NewInBooks

Nicholas Sparks was my absolute go-to for romance novels for a long time. I own nearly every one of his books, and he was a defining author for me for several years.

In fact, I did my college senior thesis on his books. I studied the perceptions of love and romance from female readers. I would like to eventually publish it!

Born on New Year’s Eve 1965, Sparks was the second of three children. The family moved frequently while his father was pursuing graduate studies in Minnesota and California. Eventually, they settled in California after his father became a professor. On a track and field scholarship, Sparks majored in business finance at Notre Dame.

He married Cathy Cote in 1989, and they have had five children, three sons and twin daughters. He started writing in his early college years. His first publication was as a co-author in 1990. The book was titled Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding.

While selling pharmaceuticals in the early 1990s, Sparks wrote The Notebook. Literary agent Theresa Parks offered to represent him after finding it in her agency’s slush pile and liking it. She secured a $1 million advance from Time Warner Book Group in 1995. After its publication in October 1996, it made the New York Times best-seller list in its first week.

He lives in New Bern, North Carolina, where he donated $9 million to New Bern High School for an all-weather tartan track. He and his wife amicably separated in 2015, and subsequently divorced.

As of October 2018, he has published 22 books. He has published one book nearly every year since 1996, with two books being released in 2003, as well as 2005. Eleven books have been New York Times best-sellers. His most recent book is Every Breath.


A Walk to Remember (1999)

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

I honestly can’t remember if this was truly the first Sparks book I read. But, I loved it, and the movie adaptation (2002) was very good. It was also incorporated into some of our Sunday School classes and youth group activities.

The Notebook (1996)

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

I think I read this after the movie adaptation (2004) came out, but this is one of Sparks’s books that I treasure and re-read frequently. The movie adaptation is one of the best that’s ever been made, hands down.

Nights in Rodanthe (2002)

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

I felt a special connection with this book, since Rodanthe, North Carolina, is only about two hours south of where I live!

I wanted to love the movie adaptation (2008) so badly, especially since I’ve visited the house that’s featured in it multiple times, but it wasn’t that great.

Safe Haven (2010)

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

This book was a hard read for me. I myself was a part of an abusive relationship for several years, and this book brought back several memories. Thankfully, by the time I actually read it, I was several years into dating Al.

I’m pretty sure we watched the movie adaptation (2013) together. I liked it a lot, despite the subject matter.

The Last Song (2009)

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Image Credit: Goodreads

I waited for what seemed like FOREVER to get my hands on a copy of this from the library! I devoured it on a car trip either to or from Florida.

Most people hated / loathed the movie adaptation (2010), but I liked it.


What about you? Have you read or seen any of Nicholas Sparks’ work?


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #64: “Forgetting My Way Back to You” (ARC Review)

Forgetting My Way Back To You

Image Credit: Amazon

Karina Bartow asked me months ago to be a part of her blog tour, and I happily agreed! I chose to review her new book Forgetting My Way Back To You.

Here’s the link to her release /announcement blog post: “Forgetting My Way Back To You” Release: Twelve Years in the Making

Here are my thoughts!


It was just released yesterday – October 15th – but Karina was nice enough to send me a PDF to read in advance. Thanks, Karina!

Many of you know that I prefer physical copies of books to e-books, but I made an exception in this case. My eyes were a bit blurry once I finished, but I enjoyed the story.

It’s not a super-long book – The PDF was roughly 218 pages. However, it has been a LONG time since I’ve touched a book that was a love story / romance.

I liked Charlee from the beginning. I recognized several themes from the first few pages – Perseverance, determination, and grit. She’s been through a lot in a few short years, between her own struggles, and her family dealing with a serious illness / setback.

I was very skeptical about Hunter. I wasn’t sure if I could trust him, or not. I think other characters had that vibe, too. However, I feel like the skepticism was a benefit to the story. It kept me interested. Considering I flew through the first 17 pages in less than 20 minutes, and then I read pages 17-58 in just thirty minutes during one of my lunch breaks, Barlow’s writing kept me engaged and interested. My husband thinks I broke a speed record with how fast I read this book!

The one plot point I had a significant issue with (no spoilers, I promise) was integral to the story, but it definitely made me roll my eyes and groan a little. Having that situation happen to Charlee was a bit cheesy, I’ll admit. I told my husband what happened in the story – I was reading next to him on my iPad while we were relaxing one night after work – and he had a similar reaction.

Despite the slight cheesiness, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and their interactions. The dialogue was well-written, and it was really easy to follow along and lose myself in a book for a while. The Pennsylvania setting was picturesque, and she captured it so well!

I look forward to reading more of Barlow’s work!

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #140: Welcome Home, Pablo!

Greyhound Love

Image Credit: Pinterest

It’s been a minute since I posted. Mainly because we welcomed a new family member to our home on September 10th. Welcome home, Pablo!

We’ve had him for nearly a month. It’s been exciting, but also challenging.

We’re taking it day by day, but we have a good routine set now. It’s like we had a kid, but he has fur. We love him, though. And he’s super sweet!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Getting Personal #139: Eight Years

Love Quote - BrainyQuote

Image Credit: BrainyQuote

I love writing these “dating anniversary” posts every year!


Today, Al and I celebrate eight years together!

Here are eight photos that are special to me.

Image may contain: Laura Beth Vardaro and Al Vardaro, people smiling

September 2010: This was the very first photo that was taken of us!

Image may contain: Laura Beth Vardaro and Al Vardaro, people smiling, outdoor

January 2015: Spending the weekend with friends in Richmond.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, wedding, tree and outdoor

November 2015: One of the best days of my life!

Image may contain: Laura Beth Vardaro and Al Vardaro, people smiling, people sitting and outdoor

October 2017: One of my favorite photos of all time. This was at the start of Nick and Savy’s wedding reception at the farm.

Image may contain: Laura Beth Vardaro and Al Vardaro, people smiling, people standing

October 2017: Dancing the night away!

Image may contain: Al Vardaro and Laura Beth Vardaro, people smiling, beard, closeup and outdoor

April 2018: We took this at The Main in Norfolk!

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April 2018: This was part of the “Love Gallery” at LanternAsia, the amazing display at the Norfolk Botanical Garden.

 

Image may contain: 3 people, including Al Vardaro and Laura Beth Vardaro, people smiling, closeup

August 2018: This was the Norfolk Tides game on my birthday!

Happy Anniversary, Al. I love you!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Tag #57: First Date Book Tag

First Date Book Tag

Image Credit: Pinterest

Thrice Read does some of the best book tags! Here’s another one!

Here’s the link to their original post:


The awkward first date – A book where something felt off. It wasn’t a bad book, but lacked that spark for you.

Go Set A Watchman, Harper Lee.

I wanted to like this book so much. But, it felt weird almost the whole time I was reading it. However, I can’t rate it higher than a 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

The cheap first date – A book that turned out less than you expected.

This Is Where It Ends, Marieke Nijkamp.

This is one of those books where I was really intrigued by the synopsis, but ended up being let down. It didn’t help that the main plot coincided with a real-life national tragedy, either.

Well-prepared first date – A book that was better than expected.

The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware.

I’d heard good things for a while, before Al bought me my own copy for Christmas. But, this book knocked it out of the park. One of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read so far. Give me more!

Hot but dumb – A pretty book, not so hot on the inside.

Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer.

Vampires aren’t for me.

 

Blind date – A book you picked up not knowing anything about it.

The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

I found this book purely by chance during a Barnes & Noble expedition. Completely worth it!

Speed dating – A book you read super fast.

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne.

I was writing the Book Review just two days after starting it. I couldn’t put it down! I think that’s nearly a record for me.

The rebound – A book you read too soon after a book hangover and it kind of ruined the book for you.

Camino Island, John Grisham.

I ended up in a two-week reading slump right after starting it, and once I picked it up again, I knew I needed to set it aside. It’s back on my nightstand after several months, and I look forward to reading it all the way through very soon.

Overly enthusiastic date – A book that felt like it was trying too hard.

Allegiant, Veronica Roth.

See my review of the trilogy for more.

The perfect first date – A book that did everything right for you.

Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide, Patrice Banks.

I loved this book. She offers excellent advice, tips, and experience. Be a #shecanic like Patrice and I!

Humiliating first date – A book you’re embarrassed to admit you liked / embarrassed to see reading in public for whatever reason.

I’ve read quite a few of the Gossip Girl books.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #71: “My Non-Fictionalized Love”

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Image Credit: BrainyQuote

I’m part of a really cool group on Facebook called Bloggers Helping Bloggers. It’s a unique community, where members can share their recent posts, publicize their blogs, and provide tips and tricks to the group as a whole.

Through Bloggers Helping Bloggers, I recently discovered Melissa, the author of Perspective Changes Everything.

She posted a link to her most recent post to her Facebook page this morning, and I devoured it immediately. What a powerful message!

Here’s the link to her post:

 


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Image Credit: Thought Catalog

Melissa and I are a lot alike. We’ve always had our noses in books, since we were kids. She loved Danielle Steel as much as I did.

She watched more soap operas than I did, but I remember learning about them from my grandmothers and a few other female family members. Personally, I never saw the appeal of watching them religiously, although I did see a few episodes when I stuck home sick in middle school and high school. I always found myself rolling my eyes, hardly believing the drama that the actors were projecting, and changing the channel within a few minutes.

Melissa also referenced the movie adaptation of The Notebook, which I still watch occasionally. I’ve read almost all of Nicholas Sparks’ books at this point, plus seen most of the movies. I told Melissa in a comment on her Facebook post that I did my senior thesis in college on the perceptions of love and romance with the Nicholas Sparks books. True story!

But, as time has passed, I noticed that my perception of love and romance had always been heavily influenced by the books I read, and the movies I watched.

And, today, those perceptions are very different from the media portrayals.


I’ve seen this evidence in my own relationships. I’m a Christian woman, so I was raised to save sex for after marriage.

However, as early as middle school, I noticed that some of the Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs), and young adult literature was already shaping my young mind. I thought about, dreamt about a boy kissing me in front of the entire school, youth group, what have you. PDA all the way, LOL.

When I was in high school, I found myself fantasizing about being swept away by a handsome boy/man, falling in love, and eventually having sex with him. Marriage would be nice, too, and hopefully kids (ideally a boy and a girl), but I knew that was a long way off. I’d dated two guys by the time I was headed to college, and I was a full year into the third relationship by the time I started at Longwood in August 2007.

Some of you know that my third relationship, from 2006-2010, quickly became manipulative and eventually abusive. Not a Lifetime movie type of situation, but there was definitely drama.

When I first met Al in 2010, I was just starting to heal. I’d been through immense trauma, and it’s taken me many years to deal with all the repercussions. Nearly four years of manipulation and abuse is a long time. But, I’m grateful that I was able to finally recognize the signs, and escape when I did.

If I had stayed with John any longer, he would have proposed to me less than a month later, the day after my birthday in 2010. Knowing me, I would have said yes.


It’s interesting to think about my first date with Al. When I’ve told the story to people, I usually get the following comments:

  • Oh, wow. That’s so sweet!
  • It sounds like a fairy tale.
  • It sounds like something out of a Nicholas Sparks book / movie.
  • That’s so romantic.
  • Awwwww!

I’m always flattered. Trust me. That first date was something truly special, and I think about it often.

I learned on our wedding day, more than five years later, that Al knew he wanted to marry me after that first date.

For me, it took me about a week to realize that’s what I wanted. Mainly because I wanted to make sure this whole thing wasn’t a dream – That it was reality.

Nearly the first year of our relationship was “long-distance,” because I was a senior at Longwood, three hours away. Thankfully, we got along so well from the very beginning, that we didn’t have a lot of fights, disagreements, arguments, etc.

Were there stressful times? Absolutely. I remember multiple times feeling incredibly guilty because I only had 5-10 minutes to talk to him on the phone, because my schedule was so packed. It’s a wonder that I slept well at all during those two semesters!

I’m grateful that we both are good communicators, because I’m convinced that’s one of the main reasons we’ve been together for so long. Sure, there are definitely times that we struggle with it.

Because of the manipulation and abuse, I was truly afraid to speak my mind and express my feelings for the longest time, and Al helped me overcome that fear. He was so respectful of me from the get-go, willing to listen, and to just hold me if all I could do at that particular moment was cry. I’ve learned to become a better listener throughout the years, and I know that’s improved my communication skills.

Another revelation for me was being diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in the summer of 2015. I always knew that I had anxious tendencies for many years, but getting the actual diagnosis was huge for me. It answered so many questions. I know Al was grateful that I saw the need to see a counselor at that time, given my expression of unresolved feelings regarding my relationship with John, and we were toward the end of planning our wedding. I knew I needed to lay everything on the table before making this life-long commitment to Al a few months later. At the time, I was also struggling with a friendship/relationship with a male classmate-turned-friend, Justin.

We got married on November 14, 2015. Al makes me so happy, truly. Together, we bought our house in the summer of 2016, and we hope to adopt a greyhound later this year.

We both have stable jobs. We look forward to doing some traveling before 2018 ends. And, we’re starting to plan for the future, too.

One of my favorites :)

One of my favorite photos from our wedding. Image Credit: Stellar Exposures

I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that we were meant to find each other. Al’s brother, Nick, was the main instigator for getting us together, and I can’t properly express my gratitude.


Throughout the years, I’ve witness multiple “true love” stories, many in my own family.

  • My parents, married for 36 years.
  • My in-laws, married for 36 years.
  • My mom’s parents were married for 64 years before my grandfather passed away in 2008.
  • My dad’s parents were married for 51 years before my grandmother passed away in 2011.
  • Both sets of Al’s grandparents were married for decades before his grandfathers passed away in 2004 and 2006.
  • Many of Al’s aunts and uncles have been married for more than 30 years.
  • My Aunt Marny and Uncle Butch, married for well over 40 years.
  • Many couples in our church congregation have been married for 30, 40, 50, 60 years.

Every couple that I’ve listed has gone through their own trials and tribulations. My parents struggled to get pregnant, Mom had three miscarriages, and then I was born 15 weeks early. I was the only child. We were a Coast Guard family, and moved twice before I was five. Dad retired from the USCG in 2002, and worked for NOAA until his retirement in 2016. Our wonderful federal government brought its fair share of stress and frustration, but they stuck it out.

Al’s parents didn’t have a lot of money at first. They started dating when they were in high school – Their best friends also married each other. Then, Al’s dad got a job with Newport News Shipbuilding, and stayed there until he retired in 2014. They both have had health scares, but they’re doing great now.

All of our grandparents, in some way, shape, or form, were touched by war or military service.

Several of our aunts and uncles have children, but several don’t. Many have had health issues. A few have had mental health crises, and a couple have been unemployed for periods of time. But, through it all, their marriages have been strong and solid.

I think about all these strong, stable, solid marriages often. More often now that I myself am married. I feel blessed, knowing that I am surrounded by so many people, mostly family, that have made their marriages work, blossom, and prosper. I learn from all of them, constantly.


I love what Melissa says about never throwing in the towel. Never giving up. Realizing that marriage is work.

This is the third time this week that I’ve seen Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages book come up, in either blog posts or conversation. I’m taking this as a sign that Laura Beth needs to read it!

Through Melissa’s post, I’ve resolved to read Chapman’s book, give my marriage more attention, helping Al and I grow even stronger as a couple.

I know Al’s not going anywhere. And neither am I. We’re in it for the long haul.


So, thanks, Melissa. I needed to read your post today. I needed to write about it. To share it. To digest it.

Thank you. I’m so grateful!


What about you?

Do you have a “non-fictionalized love” story?

What do you think about the influence of media on love and romance? Let me know!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

 

 

Book Review #58: “Prez: A Story of Love”

Prez: A Story of Love

Image Credit: Amazon

I learned about this book through my P.E.O. sisterhood. The author, Margaret Garrison, is the sister-in-law of one of my chapter sisters, Cathy W.

Since our chapter typically plans our programs about a year in advance, I knew I definitely wanted to be there when Margaret was discussing her book. I had my money ready, because I was pretty sure I was going to buy the book on the spot. She even signed all books that were sold!

During her talk, she enveloped us in the often-mysterious world of college and university administration, having worked in the higher education arena for much of her adult life. She’s also a professor.

Her book, although a work of fiction, combines several of her real-life experiences and passions.


Although this book is Garrison’s first novel, you wouldn’t know it. It’s a hefty book, but a lovely and solid read!

I love all the characters she created for the book, but Katherine Embright shines as the protagonist. She’s breaking new ground in the small university town of Hurley, North Carolina – She’s the chancellor of Wickfield University during the 1989-1990 academic year. You could say she’s breaking the proverbial glass ceiling.

She’s tested multiple times throughout this watershed year – In her chancellor duties, her love life, and reacting to both current and world events.

Reading Prez gave me impressive insight into the challenges that higher education officials and administrators go through. I laughed a lot, and definitely shed my share of tears, I found myself thinking back to my days at Longwood University, where I covered the Board of Visitors (BOV) for The Rotunda student newspaper for several years. Longwood had an impressive female president, Dr. Patricia Cormier, for nearly 15 years. She proudly served from 1996 through 2010.

I thought of her life as I was reading about Katherine’s.

Although it took me more than a month to finish the book, I can only think positive thoughts about this book. It’s a wonderful story, especially for it being the author’s first novel.

The story certainly has its share of controversy – No spoilers. But, in spite of several characters’ transgressions, the book gives an incredible message of hope and faith, among other positive qualities.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a feel-good love story. One that, at the time that I bought it, I didn’t know that I needed.

The book came into my life at a time where, when I was more than halfway through it, my family was experiencing several losses – Three uncles passed away in a matter of two weeks.

This book helped me renew my faith, and helped me recognize the true importance of family.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂