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The Guardian    by Nicholas Sparks order for
by Nicholas Sparks
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In The Guardian, Nicholas Sparks blends his usual combination of love, loss and a burgeoning relationship with a new element of horror. It has elements of a psychological thriller, since it's pretty clear to the reader from the beginning that the charming stranger has some underlying problems.

We meet recently widowed young Julie on Christmas Eve 1998, in Swansboro, N. Carolina. At the age of twenty-five, she has lost her beloved husband Jim to cancer, but receives a posthumous gift from him, a Great Dane puppy, whom she names Singer. She also receives a letter in which Jim urges her to find someone to make her happy again, and promises to keep her safe and to be her 'guardian angel'.

The story fast forwards five years and Singer is behaving oddly. He's grown into a dog with an eerie ability to understand Julie, but recently he's clung closely to her and has had growling fits at night. Julie, who works in a hairdressing salon, has recently begun to date again and has just met an attractive engineer named Richard, who begins to take her out on fantasy dates.

Completing this love triangle is Jim's best friend Mike, a brilliant, easygoing mechanic who adores Julie, but is viewed by her as a 'really good friend' and fears that 'Nice guys finish last.' Neither Singer nor Mike likes Richard, who soon evolves from a considerate boyfriend to an obsessed one, and then reveals himself as a manipulative, potentially violent, psychotic. As the nightmare progresses, Mike and the Great Dane strive to protect Julie, without much initial help from the police.

It's an involving story, set in the minutiae of everyday life. As usual, Sparks creates a community of very real characters; including the villain whose perspective is presented with empathy. Mike and Julie are ordinary people - she, positive despite a tough childhood and time on the streets, and he, holding to foolish dreams of artistic talents and teased mercilessly by his big brother about his shyness with Julie.

Overall, The Guardian speaks of the triumph of love and decency in a world that can be dangerous; it's an engaging, compelling read with likeable human characters, and Singer as its star.

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