Fans know what to expect from Nicholas Sparks: a compelling love story centered on two appealing individuals. In SAFE HAVEN, readers find that --- and much more. This gripping tale of love and survival begins with Katie, a young woman working as a waitress in the North Carolina town of Southport. As she takes orders and delivers meals, she remembers how grateful she was when the owner hired her. At that time, she had been without food for two days. Today, as always, Katie scans the crowd, noticing people and watching them. Although the customers all seem innocent and no one has been asking about her, her hands still sometimes tremble while her heart pounds. Even with her blonde hair shorn short and dyed brown, men notice her --- unfortunately. Attention is the last thing she wants.
"As we learn that Katie is certainly not as safe as she hopes to be, Sparks expertly amps up the suspense --- turning what has been a pleasant romance into a riveting 'read all night' page-turner."
After hours of scrubbing and painting, Katie has made a cozy home in the shabby cottage she can afford to rent. She appreciates that it's a solitary spot at the end of an out-of-the-way gravel road. One morning, as she's enjoying a cup of coffee on her porch, she's startled to hear a voice from the previously deserted cottage next to hers. A thirty-something woman with long curly dark hair stands on the dilapidated porch, holding a rug as if deciding whether to shake it or not. The woman introduces herself as Jo; she confides that she is from Southport, has returned after going away, and would like to fix up her cottage the way Katie has. Soon, they’re sharing coffee. Although Katie doesn't yet trust anyone enough to confide in, little does she know that she and Jo are beginning an important and necessary friendship.
When Jo and Katie part, Katie mentions that she plans to walk to Fisher's, the local store. Jo asks if she has met the gray-haired owner. Katie says she's seen him a couple of times. The story shifts to the store owner, Alex, who loves his small shop. Alex has been the single parent of two young children since his wife, Carly, died. All of his energy is spent keeping an independent grocery store viable and being a father to Josh and Kristen. Although a year has passed since he lost Carly, and although he is lonely, he's had no interest in a new romantic relationship.
But he can't help being intrigued by Katie, the mysterious newcomer in town. Alex tries to engage her in conversation, but the young woman barely responds in a fearful whisper. The only time he glimpses an unguarded moment or two is when his daughter speaks with Katie. One day, as Katie pays for her meager groceries, an unexpected near-tragedy draws the two together temporarily. It is the tiniest opening of a door. Will it be enough for Alex to make a connection with this mystifying woman?
Meanwhile, Katie's secret is slowly and tantalizingly revealed to readers. We are privy to her terror, which is wholly understandable. As we learn that Katie is certainly not as safe as she hopes to be, Sparks expertly amps up the suspense --- turning what has been a pleasant romance into a riveting "read all night" page-turner. That almost unbearable tension of inevitable impending doom comes to a natural yet unexpected conclusion. While readers are likely to be more than satisfied by the resolution, they have one more unexpected treat on the way (I'm not telling…or even giving hints!).
Nicholas Sparks's bevy of fans will be wowed by SAFE HAVEN. But I also predict this book will attract many new admirers with its crossover into thriller territory.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 14, 2010