The BookBrowse Review

Published May 15, 2019

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

The Guest Book
by Sarah Blake
7 May 2019
448 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN-13: 9781250110251
Genre: Historical Fiction
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Chris H. (Wauwatosa, WI)

The Guest Book
This book tells the story of a family through the times of life. I enjoyed every bit from start to finish. I find that the longer it has been since I have finished it, the more I appreciate and think about it. The characters (there are many) are interesting, unique, and relatable. The stories of family and friends being together ring true. I loved reading about how this family evolves over time. Great book, wonderful setting, interesting characters. What more could you want?
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Esther L. (Newtown, PA)

Not To Be Missed
Thank you to BookBrowse for sharing this wonderful book with me. It was beautifully written and the characters were human and deeply compelling.

The book follows the Milton family through three generations from 1935 until the present. Kitty and Ogden are from prominent, upper crust New York families. Ogden runs a private bank that he inherited from his family and Kitty is a devoted wife and mother, both believing that perfect manners and their insular and quiet life are what matter most.

1959 brings both a Jewish man and a black man into their orbit and their prejudices are shown. The author uses the stereotypical mannerisms for both men. Len being gregarious, money grubbing and noisy and not knowing his place in their polite society. Reg is portrayed as the angry black man.

I finished The Guest Book wanting to start reading it again. It's a perfect discussion book for my book club.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Barbara L. (Novato, CA)

The Gust Book
Wow... just finished this wonderful book and I miss it already. Beautifully written, this story is of love, class, race and our own individual blindness to all of these. The setting on The Island makes the perfect backdrop for the tale of sameness and change. I loved it.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by M K. (Minneapolis, MN)

History Through Many Vantage Points
From the first paragraph on the first page I was hooked by how beautifully written this book is. The Guest Book by Sarah Blake is about the Miltons, starting in 1935, and their history is about wealth (including an island they bought off the coast of Maine), power, tragedy, and secrets. Through nearly five hundred pages, like any detective, I was curious as to how each character would evolve while all that happens within the family is shadowed by a World War that's going on and the racism against Blacks and Jews that permeated our country. From the first words to the last words I was not disappointed.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Jean B. (Naples, FL)

The Guest Book
If you have ever believed you could write you will feel diminished by this novelist. Sarah Blake is an extraordinary writer. Her prose enables the reader to know the people in her novel and to see and feel the settings. But this novel, The Guest Book, is much more than beautiful descriptive writing. It is an indictment of a group of wealthy and entitled citizens. This is an important novel.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mary B. (Laguna Woods, CA)

Great historical fiction
This book follows the Milton family through 3 generations from 1935 to today. Grandmother Kitty has many rules the upper class live by and these lead to secrets that almost tear the family apart. I found the alternate chapters in different time periods hard to follow in the beginning, especially since two of the main women are named Evelyn & Evie. The last part of the book is hard to put down. It would make for good discussion in a book club.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Ariel F. (Madison, WI)

A three generation saga
Can money, greed, mistakes, and lack of trust destroy a family? The author of The Guest Book, showed the reader extremely well how money, greed and lack of trust can destroy a family in this 3-generation saga of the Milton family. In some instances, I felt some of the incidents could be tied to things happening today.
A great big thank you to Book Browse and the publisher for providing me with this advanced reading copy of The Guest House to read and review and provide my personal opinions and comments.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Patty S. (Towson, MD)

Family Secrets
The Guest Book is the story of a family, an island, and the secrets that are held within the walls of a treasured house. Sarah Blake has written a beautiful and thoughtful book about the way money and power can color the way we see – and want to be seen in – the world. Ogden and Kitty Milton purchased an island off of the coast of Maine in the 1930s. The grandchildren are now left to decide what to do with it. As they struggle with reality and their childhood memories, they must grapple with the truths they come to know. I love a good family saga, but this one went well beyond my expectations.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Deanna W. (Port Jefferson, NY)

Family Saga
I enjoyed Sarah Blake's previous novel - THE POSTMISTRESS ...Her new novel is also an enjoyable read...THE GUEST BOOK is a family saga that follows three generations of the Miltons ...The reader travels back and forth in time to experience the family myth on a beautiful island in Maine...It covers the classic theme of how we remember and what we choose to forget...It is perfect for Book Groups...
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Gail K. (Saratoga Springs, NY)

Kudos to Sarah Blake
Three generations of intriguing women. An exclusive family-owned island off the coast of Maine. Lives of privilege versus lives without. A strict sense of matriarchal duty. Secrets. Regrets. All elements that draw me in for a good read. All elements in Sarah Blake's The Guest Book. I was hooked from page one. Indulge yourself, and take this one to the beach, along with your sand chair, your umbrella, your sunscreen and a nice, cool beverage. Plan to settle in for a long afternoon of reading. You won't be sorry.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Joy N. (Scottsdale, AZ)

The Guest Book
I really liked this book. The story was engaging and the characters were fully developed. She captured the culture of our country during WWII and the racism towards Jews and Black people at that time in a compelling way.I would recommend this book to our younger generation so they would have a window into what the world was like then.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Dorothy L. (Manalapan, NJ)

An Interesting but Imperfect Novel
I was debating whether to give this novel a rating of 3 or 4. I really wanted to give it 3.5 but that wasn't possible. There were good things about this novel--lovely writing and description, important subject matter, but this novel could have been much better! What I liked most was the depiction of the time period--especially the pre WWII period. I found this family saga way too long. It needed to be edited more. The middle part especially dragged. I agree with other readers that a family genealogy chart at the beginning would have been helpful and dates at the beginnings of the chapters were needed. There were stereotypes in the ways Jews and Blacks were depicted and I think the author's characterizations were an easier way out for the Milton family's views and actions. Too bad. My feeling at the end was that this novel could have been really special if there was another draft before publication. It was overlong, but yet sometimes lacked sufficient characterization and depth.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Kate G. (Bronx, NY)

The Sins of the Father or Grandfather
This will be one of the hot books of the summer of 2019! It is perfect vacation reading: A multi-generational story which mostly takes place during the summer on private island at a decrepit beach house off the coast of Maine. The Ogden Miltons were a moneyed family as the patriarch had started his brokerage house in the 1920s, catering to like minded people and making them money. Decisions made mostly by Ogden's wife Kitty reverberate not only through to their children, but to their grandchildren. Kitty was all about keeping up appearances, believing there was a right way to do everything and there were the right people to be kept in your social system. Her beliefs and decisions reverberate down to her grandchildren and as secrets are revealed, her granddaughter Evie realizes that peace may be found not only in a particular place, but rather in a particular situation.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Claire M. (Sarasota, FL)

Secrets and Lies
I started The Guest Book with some expectation, and in the end, it is a good book, a good read. As it jumps around in time it might prove helpful for the publisher to include a page with a family tree. People who name their children after themselves make it confusing as the book goes back and forth in time, especially if one does not read this in one sitting.

Perhaps the ability of those who come from and continue privilege in our society who never confront, even within their own family, their secrets, their indifference to the excluded allows them to live in a world of their own with peace.

Ogden and Kitty Milton are the beginning line of this family saga and I find Ogden to be the most interesting character, but his is not developed, perhaps because he appears to be more enlightened. Kitty is ruthless in her maintenance of how life should be lived, and will not tolerate anything that might interfere. And that brings heartbreak to two of her children.

Blake has left us with much to infer as secrets are never directly revealed. Or the results of those secrets may be revealed but never the life between the deed and its result.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Sherilyn R. (St George, UT)

The Guest Book
The Guest Book is the story of three generations of Milton women, the island they own, and the summer house that comes to define who they are.

The novel tells the story of Racism, Manners, and Power systemically embedded in the United States from the mid-1930's through the dawn of of the 21st century.

It is a beautifully written novel, and I enjoyed the plot and the characters but often wished the author had taken a less esoteric approach. I after found it difficult to understand some of the views expressed by the characters and wanted the story to move at a faster pace.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Kathrin C. (Corona, CA)

Thought Provoking
It's been a while since I've enjoyed a historical fiction novel as well written and thought-provoking as this one. The family saga traces the Milton family, very wealthy, very powerful and very upper crust, over three generations from the early 1930's through the early 2000s. First generation Kitty and Ogden Milton view their world and America through sight molded by privilege. Race, class, equality, history and society are all destined to play out according to their experience and expectations. Except that they don't. And the choices they make will come to haunt their descendants many decades later. A very engrossing read. But it may have gone a bit smoother with a handy genealogical chart posted at the front of the book. With frequent passes back and forth between many generations of family, relatives and friends... pay attention – don't mix up the Evies and Evelyns.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Sheryl M. (Marietta, GA)

The Guest Book—A Timely Warning for Our Lives
This book follows the 19th Century lives of three generations of the Milton family, leaders of the "old money" world of New York who spend summers on their own private island off the coast of Maine. It is on this island that the mores, manners, and beliefs about their roles in America; choices about people who should be included in their lives are burnished and passed on to each new generation.

A beautifully written book with fresh and vibrant descriptions; some characters are imbued with such passionate joy and hope that I felt I was walking beside them. The Guest Book explores many sub-themes about relationships, but two major ones are paramount. Leadership is a role that must evolve through time and societal change, and family secrets hurt all not privy to the "walled up" events and are likely to continue their hurtful legacy through succeeding generations.

This book is timely, relevant to the "Me Too" movement and the electrifying growth of diversity in our government. I enjoyed this book very much and feel that it would stimulate thoughtful, meaningful debate, especially in book club discussions.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Susan R. (Julian, NC)

Family Saga
The Guest Book is a sweeping saga of three generations of the very rich Milton family from the 1930s to present day. It's the story of not only how money and privilege isolate a family from the rest of the world but the way it affects their feelings about other races and religions. Each generation feeds their views and their secrets into the next until no one is really sure what is true about the family history.

The novel begins in 1935 with Ogden and Kitty Milton and their three children. They are living a very privileged life and when a tragedy happens in the family, Ogden buys an island and a grand house in Maine to help the family become whole again. The family spends their summers on the island, entertaining all of their rich friends whose lives are reflections of their own. This all begins to break down in the next generation when the 3 Milton children grow up and realize that they want different things out of life and their values are different than their parents. Moss doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps in business but wants to write music, much to his parent's dismay. One daughter marries the man who is just like her dad but the other daughter falls in love with a Jewish man which was totally not done in their upper class lives. By the next generation, the money has run out and the grandchildren have to decide if they afford to keep the island and all of their memories. Will this decision also help uncover some of the secrets from the previous two generations that have affected their lives so much?

This book is a well written look at past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations., It examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America.

Thanks to BookBrowse for a copy of this book to read and review. All opinions are my own.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Nikki M. (Fort Wayne, IN)

A bit disappointing...
I was excited to receive an early access copy of this one, but it just didn't quite live up to the hype for me. I think sometimes you anticipate a great book, and then your expectations are unrealistically high. That usually leads to disappointment, which is what happened in this case.

Other reviewers loved it, so take my opinion with a grain of salt!
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Judi R. (Jericho, NY)

Long Family Saga
The Guest Book was an ambitious undertaking by the author, Sarah Blake. It is a family saga spanning three generations in the early 1900s. There were many threads covering multiple chronologies told in alternating narrative voices. Blake has a lot of confidence in her readers' abilities to follow these threads and piece together hints and clues throughout the chapters.
What I liked: The writing is beautiful, poetic and descriptive. I enjoy historical fiction as a genre and especially like family sagas. Blake touches on the anti-Semitic and racist feelings among the elite upper crust society of this day in a poignant and aching way. This has relevance in today's culture as well. Many lessons to be learned.
What I didn't like: This book is too long. It got bogged down in too much minutiae. There are several characters named after relatives and sometimes it was confusing trying to figure out the timeline and narrator. The book could benefit from a family tree graphic, possibly making one available on a website. The chapters could be headed with a date or some other reference. Several details, although significant to the plot were so slightly developed that they could have been missed entirely by the reader. Some threads seemed to go nowhere, leaving some conclusions to the readers' imaginations.
That said, I was compelled to finish. I cared about the characters. Some I really liked. Some I really disliked, but I needed to know their stories. The author had some important points to make. The threads twisted and several remained unraveled in the end. I just wish the book could have been a little tighter and focused more on fewer story lines.


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