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This is a review of the 2003 book 'The Guardian' written by Nicholas Sparks, who is also the author of the Notebook which was made into a film not so long ago. The Guardian has been in my reading pile for ages and it was only recently that I picked it up and carried on reading past the first page!
A bit about...
In 'The Guardian' the book's main protagonist is Julie who was unfortunately widowed at a young age. Still in her 20s, she clings to the memories of her time with Jim (who sounds like a lovely man) and it is only a few years after his death that she feels ready to move on and begin dating. Her job as a hairdresser puts her in good access to men but a few disastrous dates with unsuitable men have given her a bad start and she meets a man called Richard who is working in her small town. Richard seems to be really nice but he is very keen and this puts her off a bit. Her friends Mike, his brother Henry and his wife Emma are all looking out for Julie, as is her dog Singer who was a gift from her husband that arrived the Christmas after his death.
Romance or thriller
Well, both actually. After Julie decides she is not interested in Richard (which is pretty early in the book), he turns a bit weird on her and she is sure he is stalking her. Is she imagining the rustles in the bushes when she walks her dog and who is the man on the beach looking at her on a boat through binoculars? When she begins a relationship with Jim's best man, Mike who is also a good friend, she knows that Richard is not going to be happy about this.
I found the storyline a bit predictable and the things that were going to happen were heavily hinted at in the book. For example, when Richard gets drunk and has to stay over the night at Julie's house, she says that he 'looked as if he was sound asleep' and I straight away thought - aha! He isn't asleep then so what is he going to do? The book was quite psychological in a way as it messed with Julie's head in her terror of what Richard was going to do next and you as the reader share that worry. The small town mentality of Swansboro, North Carolina was funny, everyone grew up together (except Julie who was technically an outsider) and went to school together so everyone knows everyone else's business. Any newcomers to town are of public interest and it takes a while for them to be accepted by everyone.
I liked 'Mike the Mechanic' - he sounds a bit rough and ready but he sure was handy around the house. He loves Julie unconditionally and will do anything to protect her. Richard is definitely weird but he starts off OK. It's the necklace gift after only a couple of dates that starts off his weird behaviour, when he gets all arsy because Julie is not wearing it at work. Henry and Emma sound like great friends and are good for both Mike and Julie. They are relaxed about their relationship and definitely love to have fun going out dancing and days at the beach (just leave the kids at home hey!). The hairdressing colleagues are a bit strange, Mabel the owner is OK but Andrea sounds like a real flake, always hitting on the wrong men and feeling jealous of any relationship Julie has.
As I mentioned above, I found this book a bit too predictable and there was not a lot of surprises in there. I enjoyed the drama of the sand dunes at the beach house at the end of the book and there were a few guesses in me about who might get to live and who would die! I don't usually read this sort of book but I don't mind one for a change every now and again. It was penned as a part romance but in no way did it get close to a Mills and Boon thankfully. I would hesitantly recommend this book if you enjoy a bit of a thriller but don't expect too much from it.
Nicholas Sparks for those of you who don't know is the author of many best selling novels such as The Notebook, Dear John and A walk to remember all of which have been made into films, a testement to their popularity.
Although Spark's in normally a romance writer. I was intrigued to find that he had written a thriller and when I came across The Guardian in a local charity shop I knew I had to check it out, and for a pound I couldn't have had a better bargain.
The story begins with Julie, a young widow, who after the death of her husband four years previously is just beginning to feel ready to dip her toe back into the dating pond. We hear about a few of her not so succesful dates, and then we hear about a true possiblity. Richard! A man who from the outside looks like the perfect man. Tall, gorgeous, definitely single, with a good job, and who seems genuinely interested in what Julie has to say. He whisks Julie off to fantastic restaurants, the theatre and even on a balloon ride. What more could a girl ask for? A spark, one it would appear that just isn't there for Julie.
For the past three years Julie's deceased husband's best friend Mike, who has been a constant in Julie's life before and after Jim's death is harbouring a not so secret love for Julie but no matter how hard he tries, he can't seem to break out of friend cycle and just ask her out. But when Julie begins to realise that they could be more than friends, they decide to see what could happen.
In a slightly predictable storyline, Mike and Julie along with Singer, the dog Jim left Julie when he died and who seems slightly more human like than any other dog they've known seem to be getting along famously. With Mike spending most of his spare time with Julie and Singer.
But in a twist not so remeniscent of your average fairytale happy ending, Richard (the eledged mr perfect) makes an unwelcome return to their lives. Suddenly appearing where Julie happens to be. In the supermarket, coming into her salon for haircuts, and looking at buying a home in her street. Is it just a coincidence or something a little more sinister?
With her two men Mike and Singer by her side, Julie sets out to prove that it's not just a coincidence and that Richard is in fact stalking her, there is no way that he could just happen to know exactly where she would be at anytime of the day. But will the police believe her before it's too late?
In a fantastic game of cat and mouse, who will be the victor? Will Richard finally get what he wants? Or will Julie and Mike live happily ever after?
I was worried about what I would think of this book as Sparks is not known as a thriller writer but I am glad I gave this one a chance. It was a slightly slow starter with the first few chapters mainly giving you an insight into Julie's life before Swansboro but as you get to chapter four the book begins to speed up and from then on I was hooked. Only taking me two nights to read, often keeping up till early morning wanting to know what would happen next.
I found that I empathised a lot with the character of Mike, being in love with a woman he was scared to approach, in part because he thought she was out of his league and also in part because she was his best friend's widow I really felt my heart going out to him. I think a lot of people have been in a position where they wish they had the guts to ask someone out but something seems to be holding them back. Definitely a favourite character of the novel for me.
The storyline was predictable in parts, and although I had guessed the ending to the novel there were still some surprises in their for me that I hadn't picked up on. So although not someone who is going to make their true mark on the Thriller genre, definitely one to look out for.
The book is available on amazon for £5.48