The Guardian
by Nicholas Sparks, contemporary (2003)
Warner, $7.99, ISBN 0-446-61343-6


Oh look, Nicholas Sparks has written a romantic suspense novel! What happened to the sappy love stories starring heroines that weep and weep and weep, Mr Sparks? Is catering to the Kinkade porn audience in the Bible belt no longer a lucrative business like it used to be? I know, Robert James Waller is so over, and the last of the pioneers of the sappy Kleenex books feels that it is time to move on. Those readers that read The Notebook to tatters or until the onset of hyperglycemia, whichever comes first, will be so saddened by Mr Sparks' departure, but I personally like this one.

Of course, The Guardian is actually free from suspense and filled with cardboard characters all over the place, but at least it's not inept and sickly sweet at the same time. It could be worse, of course. Nicholas Sparks could have followed where the money is and write a chick-lit book. What, you are having dry heaves just envisioning that scenario? Let us all be grateful for what we have in this life, I'd say.

Our heroine is Julie Barenson. While weeping over the death of her husband, although I must say her weepiness is much less and hence more bearable than any of this author's other heroines, she gets an unexpected gift at her doorstep: a great Dane puppy. This puppy becomes her best buddy and even guardian. Her husband vowed to always look after her even after his death. You connect the dots. Heaven forbid a woman to be independent and be not dependent on a man, yes? Then Julie meets a nice guy, Richard Franklin. She likes him. Her husband's best friend Mike Harris is not too pleased. Why? Because he loves Julie too.

What does a mediocre writer do to solve a love triangle problem? Why, make one of the guys a complete psycho, of course. I'm not giving anything away by saying that Richard is a nutcase. Early on in the story, the dog Singer growls at Richard but is all happy around Mike. Mr Sparks is so good with subtle imageries in his story, I tell you.

The first half of the book is like watching a cardboard cut-out reenaction of a Hallmark romantic movie. Julie, Mike, and Richard are flatter than flat. Julie is this gullible, codependent woman and apparently Mike is attracted to her because she's beautiful and she is so helpless and in need of a good man's love. I shudder and wonder whether I will die of sugar shock at the end of the day - serve me right for reading this book when it's available for loan from the library.

And then, woosh, Richard goes crazy. If there is ever a time to be grateful when a man goes crazy, this is it. When Richard goes crazy, all that sappy tears-on-cardboard nonsense ends at once and the story turns into a campy thriller. It's campy because the whole set-up of this story is pretty insipid and calling the characters halfway to being one-dimensional will be pushing the definition of "generous", yet everything is very readable. Nicholas Sparks may be an awful romance writer but he's a decent writer when it comes to fast-paced action/thriller scenes. When I wail and go, "Nooooo, doggie!" at one point of the story, that's when I realize I've come this close to biting Mr Sparks' bait hook, line, and sinker.

Stick to the inept thriller and skip the romance, Mr Sparks, for the next book. I could always use a new guilty pleasure author to read.

Rating: 74


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