Synopsis from Goodreads: Julie Barenson's young husband left her two unexpected gifts before he died: a Great Dane puppy named Singer and the promise that he would always be watching over her. Now, four years have passed. Still living in the small town of Swansboro, North Carolina, 29-year-old Julie is emotionally ready to make a commitment to someone again. But who? Should it be Richard Franklin, the handsome, sophisticated engineer who treats her like a queen? Or Mike Harris, the down-to-earth nice guy who was her husband's best friend? Choosing one of them should bring her more happiness than she's had in years. Instead, Julie is soon fighting for her life in a nightmare spawned by a chilling deception and jealousy so poisonous that it has become a murderous desire...
Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Warner Books, 2004
How acquired: Bought
First line: Exactly forty days after she'd last held the hand of her husband, Julie Barenson sat looking through her window toward the quiet streets of Swansboro.
My thoughts: When I first read Nicholas Sparks, many years ago, I thought he was an okay writer but a great storyteller. Well, his writing has improved, and his storytelling skills are still intact. And of the Sparks books I've read, THE GUARDIAN is by and far the best, a little ahead of my previous favorite, SAFE HAVEN (which is one of my favorite movies ever, seriously), and way above A WALK TO REMEMBER, THE NOTEBOOK, and TRUE BELIEVER. (I've also read MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE and A BEND IN THE ROAD, but so long ago that I honestly do not remember much about either one.
The prologue starts with Julie mourning the death of her husband, Jim, and suddenly received a belated gift from him of a Great Dane puppy, who she names Singer. Then we jump ahead four years later. Singer is a huge dog now, and at times almost seems more human than canine. Julie still misses Jim, but she's slowly putting herself back out into the world and starting to date.
In his Author's Note in the back of the book, Sparks says that this book was his first attempt at adding an element of “suspense and peril”, and I think he did it very well. There are a lot of days where the only chance I have to read is when I fall into bed at night, and three nights this week I sat up reading long past the time I should've been asleep, staying up until I finished the book last night.
The slow dawning of Julie and Mike's relationship was sweet and believable, and on Mike's side it also provided lots of humor. Mike was Jim's best friend, and has loved Julie for ages, and watching her start dating other men is torture for him. But while he and Julie have a wonderful easy friendship, when it comes to trying to start a relationship with her he becomes awkward and tongue-tied. In fact, when they do finally go on a date, it's Julie who instigates it. Mike's brother Henry teases him unmercifully, and some of those scenes were so funny that I actually laughed out loud, the first time that's happened with a Sparks book.
Sparks is a detailed writer, with lots of stretches of narrative where not much actually happens but we get a good look into the characters and what makes them tick. And then there were also lots of scenes played out more through dialogue, and in both instances my attention never wavered. Towards the end of the book, the tension and suspense ramped up, and knowing Sparks' propensity for tragic deaths, I began to feel nervous and worried about how the book was going to end. And I'm not gonna spoil it for you by telling you how it ends, but I will just say I loved this book.