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The Guest Book

by Sarah Blake

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake X
The Guest Book by Sarah Blake
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  • Published:
    May 2019, 448 pages

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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.
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.
Power Reviewer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

If you don't mind at times reading a sentence consisting of 58 words, you will enjoy this book. If you don't mind reading a book in which settings change rapidly with few transitions, time periods skip from decade to decade, and characters appear and reappear, then Sarah Bake's book is for you. House Guest is an epic family drama of wealth, secrets, and mindless characters. I really tried to like this book, but I did not care for the religious and ethnic intolerance of the Milton family. Barnes and Noble selected this book for its monthly book discussion. Some of the group did enjoy the book but also agreed that it could have been about 150 pages shorter.

Beyond the Book:
  The Islands of Maine

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