*This review will contain spoilers!*
I don't know what pushed me to pick up this Nicholas Sparks book, but I was sure that I wasn't going to enjoy it in the slightest; if every book you publish has 'an epic love story' (or some variation of that) scrawled across the front cover, chances are not all of them are going to be 'epic'. Actually, even though I seriously enjoyed this book, I still wouldn't have described it as epic, but I guess it's certainly one way to sell your novel. This is the first Nicholas Sparks book I've ever read, and because I enjoyed it a lot my hopes are set pretty high for the rest of them - particularly 'The Notebook' which is meant to be the best love story of all time ever - but if you don't like love stories then I'm pretty sure you won't enjoy this, so you should probably turn away right now.
'The Longest Ride' tells us two stories running parallel: the story of Ira Levinson, a 91 year old Jewish man who is trapped in his car after running off the road late one night, and Sophia Danko and Luke Collins, a girl and boy who meet after a rodeo, him one of the competing riders, her a student who didn't even want to attend the event because of her fear of running into her recent ex.
Knowing that it was two stories in one, I was expecting to greatly favour one over the other, but in reality my enjoyment of the two parts fluctuated equally - there were times when I just wanted to resume Ira's story, and equal times when I wanted to see what would happen next with Sophia and Luke's burgeoning romance - which meant none of the book felt unnecessary. Ira's entire story is based upon reflections and reminisces with his dead wife, Ruth, who he is imagining is in the car with him, so if anything I enjoyed his story a little bit more because it included a lot of information about the war and what life was like growing up in a time that I will never experience, which was enjoyable. Similarly, because him and Ruth were Jewish, I was unfamiliar with a few of the things referenced throughout the book (such as the 'ketubah' and the 'shiva') and it was also interesting to look up those events and find out more about a culture I hadn't realised I was so uneducated in.
On the other hand, I preferred Sophia's character most, possibly because she was the only female whose story we followed directly, possibly because I just really liked her, however her relationship with Luke was mildly irritating. For a girl who was adamant she wasn't in the right space of mind for falling in love, their relationship moved quite quickly, but the romantic in me really enjoyed the fact that they were both so sure that the other one was who they were destined to be with. I think Sophia's constant questioning about where she was going with her life after graduation was one of the things that really made me like her - since I've left sixth form I'm plodding along not doing much at the moment - but she also has moments where she's funny and sarcastic in a way that doesn't come across as annoying or petulantly childish, which is a pleasant change compared to some of the novels I've been reading recently.
Don't get me wrong, I really liked Luke's character as well, but when he was initially introducing his life on the ranch and his daily activities it felt a bit too much like Nicholas had done his research and decided to cram it all into a paragraph to get it dealt with as quickly as possible, so I didn't really connect all that well with his character. By the end of the book I was liking the ranch scenes and the hard work that he did, even though at times it did start verging on feeling a bit repetitive, but his decision to give up bull riding due to his feelings for Sophia was a noble decision, so he redeemed himself in my eyes.
The aspect that I think I enjoyed the most about this novel was definitely the art world that both stories shared. Ira and Ruth were art collectors, gathering one of the largest private collections in all of America, buying pieces from unknown artists who then became famous, while Sophia was training to work in the art world, desperately applying for internships at museums across the country. Art has always intrigued me, and because I was so interested in the artists that were being name dropped throughout this novel I actually even created a Pinterest board to help me picture the collection that the Levinson's were gradually accumulating. I was already familiar with some of the artists (who doesn't know about Warhol's soup cans?!) but a lot of the artists were unknown to me, so I'm grateful to this novel for teaching me about a new area of something that has always grabbed me.
The ending of the novel seemed a bit too happily ever after to appeal to me quite as much as the rest of the book - with Luke obtaining Ira's entire art collection, proposing to Sophia and managing to save his family ranch from being repossessed - but I can imagine that most people think that's part of the charm with Nicholas Sparks books; no matter what bad things happen throughout the bulk of the novel, you can always guarantee a happy ending (or so I'd assume, this is only the first book of his I've read so I might be jumping to unfair conclusions).
If you're interested in the art world or ranch life then I'm guessing you'll already want to pick up this book, but, even if you're not, reading this book might change that. Nicholas Sparks has a way (even if at points it might come off as cliched or soppy) of getting you interested in his characters lives and making you want to feel more involved in the novel, even if it's something as simple as creating a Pinterest board. 'The Longest Ride' is following many of it's predecessors ('The Notebook', 'The Last Song', 'Safe Haven' etc.) into getting a big screen adaptation due to be released next year, so if you don't want to read the book just wait until then and I'm sure you'll still get all you really need to get out of this story.