Guarded Love
by AlTonya Washington, contemporary (2003)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-408-0

Guarded Love is AlTonya Washington's second book after Remember Love, but if this book is anything to go by, the author still has some way to go before she becomes a good writer. Guarded Love is a standard boy-meets-girl story but the plot is so paper-thin that the author uses all the contrived tricks she can think of to prolong the story. And with zero character development, the whole story comes off as totally artificial.

Selena Witherspoon is a drop dead gorgeous heroine whose only sole personality trait is that she is wary of men for all the usual reasons. She runs a magazine catered to African-American women, Reigning Queens. The title seems more suited for a fashion magazine targetted at crossdressers if you ask me. She meets Darius McClellan, a man who is drop dead gorgeous and whose personality trait also consists of just one thing: he is wary of women for all the usual reasons.

There is no plot in this story, just some painfully contrived episodes of conflicts straight out of a Romance Novel Writing for Amateurs Handbook. The only other sole attractive woman in this story that isn't related to the hero naturally turns out to be a fake skanky type that spends a lot of time trying to cling to Darius. When that is done with, it's time for Darius to judge Selena wrongly and condemn her for the very thing he can be condemned of doing with his ex-girlfriend Velma. Conflicts in this book could have been avoided if the main characters think and behave like rational human beings instead of robots programmed Romance Novel Idiots 101 style.

Everything about Guarded Love feels stilted and staged. The characters don't behave like human beings. They bicker when the plot demands it. They sleep together and then announce that they love each other without the author showing me why these people will change their minds about their prejudices regarding the opposite sex. Then, when the author needs more conflict, the characters switch back to their old silly selves again. Character development is zero because the characters behave so much according to the author's whimsy, she all but adds in puppet strings to her characters' list of superlative physical descriptions.

Also, Ms Washington seems to have an aversion to the word "said". For example, when "No," said Serena will suffice, Ms Washington will instead write "No," denied Serena. Her characters don't speak as often as they deny, confirm, agree, cry, scream, yell, and more. While I don't mind such overgarnishing in the writing - although "No," denied Serena and "Yes," she confirmed seem redundant - Ms Washington also bewilderingly adds "whisper" to her personal list of words to replace "say". In this book, the characters can easily deny, cry, and confirm in one paragraph, whisper in the next line, and cry and laugh again in the line after that, before going back to whispering again. These people come off as demented. After a while, I feel as if I'm in the middle of a Ring Appreciation Society meeting surrounded by Gollums. The thing is, I don't even know why they need to whisper in the first place.

With a string-thin plot, too many artificial conflicts, zero character development, and far from polished writing style, Guarded Love is a very difficult book to read because the writing is stilted and awkward while the storyline isn't interesting enough. This book is just very dry as a result. Hopefully the author will polish up her writing and work on her style before coming up with her next book.

Rating: 49

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