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An unforgettable love story, a novel about past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations, The Guest Book examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America. It is a literary triumph. The Guest Book follows three generations of a powerful American family, a family that “used to run the world”. And when the novel begins in 1935, they stil An unforgettable love story, a novel about past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations, The Guest Book examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America. It is a literary triumph. The Guest Book follows three generations of a powerful American family, a family that “used to run the world”. And when the novel begins in 1935, they still do. Kitty and Ogden Milton appear to have everything—perfect children, good looks, a love everyone envies. But after a tragedy befalls them, Ogden tries to bring Kitty back to life by purchasing an island in Maine. That island, and its house, come to define and burnish the Milton family, year after year after year. And it is there that Kitty issues a refusal that will haunt her till the day she dies. In 1959 a young Jewish man, Len Levy, will get a job in Ogden’s bank and earn the admiration of Ogden and one of his daughters, but the scorn of everyone else. Len’s best friend Reg Pauling has always been the only black man in the room—at Harvard, at work, and finally at the Miltons’ island in Maine. An island that, at the dawn of the 21st century, this last generation doesn’t have the money to keep. When Kitty’s granddaughter hears that she and her cousins might be forced to sell it, and when her husband brings back disturbing evidence about her grandfather’s past, she realizes she is on the verge of finally understanding the silences that seemed to hover just below the surface of her family all her life. An ambitious novel that weaves the American past with its present, The Guest Book looks at the racism and power that has been systemically embedded in the US for generations. Brimming with gorgeous writing and bitterly accurate social criticism, it is a literary tour de force.


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An unforgettable love story, a novel about past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations, The Guest Book examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America. It is a literary triumph. The Guest Book follows three generations of a powerful American family, a family that “used to run the world”. And when the novel begins in 1935, they stil An unforgettable love story, a novel about past mistakes and betrayals that ripple throughout generations, The Guest Book examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America. It is a literary triumph. The Guest Book follows three generations of a powerful American family, a family that “used to run the world”. And when the novel begins in 1935, they still do. Kitty and Ogden Milton appear to have everything—perfect children, good looks, a love everyone envies. But after a tragedy befalls them, Ogden tries to bring Kitty back to life by purchasing an island in Maine. That island, and its house, come to define and burnish the Milton family, year after year after year. And it is there that Kitty issues a refusal that will haunt her till the day she dies. In 1959 a young Jewish man, Len Levy, will get a job in Ogden’s bank and earn the admiration of Ogden and one of his daughters, but the scorn of everyone else. Len’s best friend Reg Pauling has always been the only black man in the room—at Harvard, at work, and finally at the Miltons’ island in Maine. An island that, at the dawn of the 21st century, this last generation doesn’t have the money to keep. When Kitty’s granddaughter hears that she and her cousins might be forced to sell it, and when her husband brings back disturbing evidence about her grandfather’s past, she realizes she is on the verge of finally understanding the silences that seemed to hover just below the surface of her family all her life. An ambitious novel that weaves the American past with its present, The Guest Book looks at the racism and power that has been systemically embedded in the US for generations. Brimming with gorgeous writing and bitterly accurate social criticism, it is a literary tour de force.

30 review for The Guest Book

  1. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    The Guest Book by Sarah Blake is a 2019 Flatiron Books publication. An Epic multi-generational family saga exposing long buried secrets and truths- not only providing a mirrored reflection of the privileged Milton’s, but of the entire country as well… “There is the crime and there is silence” In the mid-thirties, golden couple Ogden and Kitty Milton, recovering from a horrific tragedy, purchase Crockett Island, making it a point of renewal. They will ‘summer’ there every year of their lives, ther The Guest Book by Sarah Blake is a 2019 Flatiron Books publication. An Epic multi-generational family saga exposing long buried secrets and truths- not only providing a mirrored reflection of the privileged Milton’s, but of the entire country as well… “There is the crime and there is silence” In the mid-thirties, golden couple Ogden and Kitty Milton, recovering from a horrific tragedy, purchase Crockett Island, making it a point of renewal. They will ‘summer’ there every year of their lives, thereafter, as do their children, and their grandchildren. But now the money has run out and the house is in ill repair, leaving the painful decision about the island’s future to rest in the hands of the only surviving family members- a trio of cousins, who each have their own agenda. “Nothing will ever change. Sunlight. Starlight. Drinks on the dock. A single sail out in the bay. It will never change. It seems to promise. ‘You will not die’ On and on. Like a painting. Here you are. As long as the Island stands, we stand. Time never minds” Evie is fighting hard to keep the island, while her cousins are open to selling it, and her husband, Paul, constantly reminds her of their financial situation. But is Evie holding on to the island, or to her mother’s memory? Evie can easily laugh at her family's 'WASP culture' history, yet she becomes irritated if anyone else passes judgements on them. And- Despite evidence to the contrary, Evie stubbornly turns a blind eye to the dark secrets hidden in her family’s past. As Blake takes us back across time, a heart wrenching story unfolds, revealing an ugly, sad, guilt ridden underbelly to the affluent Milton family, one deeply rooted in entitlement, prejudice and racism. Yet, future generations attempt to provoke a new value system, one which requires a conscience, insists on a shift in attitude, and demands change. The contrasts between entitlement, power and control, against idealism, and then juxtaposed against certain harsh truths, stirs up a tragic fire storm, which left this reader with a fire in my belly, on the edge of my seat, and with an ache in my heart, not only for the characters, but for -Us “History is sometimes made by heroes, but it is also always made by us. We, the people, who stumble around, who block or help the hero out of loyalty, stubbornness, faith, or fear. Those who wall up—and those who break through walls. The people at the edge of the photographs. The people watching—the crowd. You.” Sarah Blake’s writing is beautiful. Her prose is elegant, powerful, poignant, and almost hypnotic. The characterizations and dialogue are so incredibly vivid and devastatingly realistic. The trappings of wealth, the narrow- mindedness of class distinctions, the half- lived lives, the progression and changes of the times unfolding through the years, stripping away decades of racism and prejudice is mesmerizing. Yet, for Evie, as the blanks are finally filled in, there is a revealing defensiveness, a conspiratorial, protective silence, and a stubborn refusal to accept the reality of her family’s history, one which is too painful to acknowledge. (view spoiler)[The progression, throughout the generations, though startling and inspiring, is still very fragile. Though Len and Reg regarded Moss’s optimism and idealism as naïve and ineffectual, that vision may have been the catalyst for change. However, the two men weren’t wrong in their assessment, and not just about the times they lived in. Their admonishments serve as a reminder that paying lip service, no matter how well-intentioned, is not helpful, and most people offering it, do so without fully understanding what it is truly like to walk in another’s shoes. (hide spoiler)] Although the story leaves us with a hint of hope, it is a shy, tentative first step. Mirrors don’t lie- looking into one, seeing the dark corners of our nation’s past, and our own personal histories exposed, is neither easy, nor kind. However, it is an opportunity to break the chain, learn from the past, work diligently to prevent history from repeating itself. It is a lesson we can all learn from. Stay on the forward path, ever alert, never silent, or willfully ignorant. That is the key to releasing the past, where healing begins, where forgiveness takes root, and hope’s seed is planted. This is an outstanding family saga, so well-written and packed with tautness and poignancy. I was absolutely riveted to the pages of this rich, compelling novel from start to finish. If you can only fit in one book in this summer- make it this one! 5 stars

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”She knew silence often flew in between families and roosted. Slow, inexplicable angers grew without roots. Nothing special, no story. What the study of history had taught her, clearly, after years and years, was that she might pull up the single moments from the darkness where they lay centuries old, she might point to a spot in time, a line in a diary, the particular shredding of a blue ribbon used to tie a shoe, she might string these together and say--here is what happened. And history would ”She knew silence often flew in between families and roosted. Slow, inexplicable angers grew without roots. Nothing special, no story. What the study of history had taught her, clearly, after years and years, was that she might pull up the single moments from the darkness where they lay centuries old, she might point to a spot in time, a line in a diary, the particular shredding of a blue ribbon used to tie a shoe, she might string these together and say--here is what happened. And history would sit back on her heels and laugh and laugh.” Most families have secrets tucked away in every nook and cranny of their family history. The Miltons are no different, maybe just more so because they are a rarefied breed of the American success story that most dream about, but few obtain. ”They expected the moon, and they got it. And they got it all, all the while impeccably dressed.” The rich have more immunity from the hiccups and bumps in the road than the rest of us do, but as I always say, Life doesn’t let any of us escape scot-free. Tragedy has a way of finding every one, sooner or later, and those with money have not figured out a way to bribe death...yet. After one such tragedy, Ogden and Kitty Milton decide to buy an island off the coast of Maine. A mystical place where fairy tales can be written. ”’We were talking about this place, and she said, very sweetly, almost reverently--’Nothing will ever change. Sunlight. Starlight. Drinks on the dock. A single sail out in the bay. It will never change. It seems to promise, ‘You will not die.’ On and on like a painting,’ she said. ‘Here you are. As long as the Island stands, we stand. Time never minds.’” The Island remains the constant affirmation of the family’s success through three generations of Miltons. When the grandchildren struggle to afford to keep the Island, the potential loss feels like failure, but also something more than that... a loss of identity. The influence of Ogden and Kitty on the family is perfectly illustrated in this moment where they are defended by one of their grandchildren. Long after they have passed away, their creed is still being believed. “‘We’re different,’ she answered simply. ‘We don’t believe in taking advantage of a situation. In grabbing for money.’” How does Ogden strengthen the family fortune during World War Two? Few family fortunes can survive scrutiny. They are built on the backs of the poor. They are made by flagrantly breaking the rules of fair play. They are compromised by the corrupted hand shakes offered to the unscrupulous. Are the Miltons different? Is Ogden just a good shifter of wealth, without ever getting his fingers smudged with dishonesty? To shake things up, Moss, Ogden and Kitty’s son, invites his black friend, Reg Pauling, to the Island. He will be the first black man to ever set foot on the Milton sacred soil. Moss means well. It is 1959. He feels the times are changing, but really they are just changing in him. The soul of America does not feel the guilt of their ancestors, and racism is still a virus running rampant through their blood. ”’The bill is due,’ Reg pushed, echoing Jimmy Baldwin, ‘It is not coming due. It is due. And it must be paid--or this shit will go on and on and on.’” And so it goes on and on and on. The Island, the sanctuary, proves fallible, and when tragedy finds the family there, it is quickly bundled and tucked away in one of those nooks I alluded to earlier. It isn’t spoken of. ”’Our family? You think we ever heard the truth about anything?’” Bad behavior, bad breaks, uncomfortable conversations, and indiscretions are all neatly tucked into boxes wrapped in chains and clasped with a strong padlock. The keys are thrown into the Atlantic. How else can the family portray their flawless perfection? It is a lot to live up to. When the missteps are never discussed, every descendent is completely unprepared for things to go wrong. The shield of their grandfather is buried with him. Bad things are simply not supposed to happen to a Milton. Sarah Blake writes with lyrical ease. I kept waiting for a jarring sentence, a dialogue debacle, or a plotting problem, but they never happened. You would almost think she was a Milton. I did struggle with the book, though. I fully recognize Blake’s writing gifts, and maybe it has to do with my own disinterest in rich people worrying about first world problems, but I wanted some jazz, and this book is decidedly easy listening. I will predict that many of you will love it, and I will be happy that you do. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Lovely writing, a historical family drama featuring generations of characters, a focus on important social themes related race and privilege. Slow and a bit lengthy for my personal preference, but I can see many readers enjoying this overall. Thank you to Flatiron Books for generously mailing me an advance readers' edition of Sarah Blake's The Guest Book. In exchange, I agreed to share my honest thoughts on goodreads and my other favorite social media sites. #readtheguestbook

  4. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    4+ stars A family saga spanning three generations, a story complicated by secrets that take decades to be revealed. A privileged family, with money, a father so conscious of the family status reflected in the symbol of the island off the coast of Maine that he just has to buy it. “I want this place,” he said quietly. “I want this house to be ours. And everyone sailing by would know it stood for us. It would mean something. They’d see it and think, there’s the Milton place. Kitty and Ogden Milton. 4+ stars A family saga spanning three generations, a story complicated by secrets that take decades to be revealed. A privileged family, with money, a father so conscious of the family status reflected in the symbol of the island off the coast of Maine that he just has to buy it. “I want this place,” he said quietly. “I want this house to be ours. And everyone sailing by would know it stood for us. It would mean something. They’d see it and think, there’s the Milton place. Kitty and Ogden Milton. The Milton’s of Crockett’s Island.” The mother’s belief that they are somehow better, know better and are above anything even prejudice. But it’s a self delusion really, as they harbor deep seated bias and prejudice that they don’t show outwardly. But, Kitty’s son Moss knows things need to change. “Why are we here? How did we get here? ....”To this point in time. The situation with the Negroes. Dad was talking as if it didn’t matter what the television show was called, just that the blacks were sounding off.....But why are they sounding off. It’s the why that has us here.” (The show was called The Hate That Hate Produced.) Len Levy, the young Jewish man who works for Ogden and falls in love with his daughter knows . “It was a game, wasn’t it, after all. Come and visit, if you’re up there anyway, come and see us. You went to Columbia, you went to Wall Street, but you were a visitor. How could he have missed it. He was a guest.” The Milton’s, though are not above everything so no amount of their money or status could make them immune to tragedy, to unhappiness for some of them and there are some heartbreaking moments. This started out a little slow for me, but then I found that I was so pulled in by wanting to know all of the things that had happened to get to the present day where the grandchildren of Ogden and Kitty Milton are in disagreement over what to do with the island. I was pulled in by the writing as I was in a previous novel by Blake , The Postmistress. There was one chapter, Chapter Twelve that depicts the house and the island and the family over the years so beautifully that I found myself highlighting long passages. The alternating narrative focus on the family in the mid 1930’s, late 1950’s and then late 1990’s and reflect how the ideals of the family change as well as being a commentary on racism, antisemitism, class. It is all of those things, but it is also a story of family and it a story of love stories. It’s a fairly lengthy book at almost 450 pages, but once I got the rhythm of the chapters which are not chronological, I couldn’t stop reading the story of the Milton’s of Crockett’s Island. I received an advanced copy of this book from Flatiron Books though NetGalley.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    There’s a stunning scene toward the beginning of Sarah Blake’s new novel, “The Guest Book,” that follows a wealthy young mother gliding around New York and then to her elegant mansion in a charmingly choreographed dance of delight that ends with her 5-year-old son falling from a window to his death. Such a tragedy might shatter other families, but the Miltons are not other families. Ogden and Kitty Milton are the union of America’s bluest bloodlines, aristocrats who have provided a model of decor There’s a stunning scene toward the beginning of Sarah Blake’s new novel, “The Guest Book,” that follows a wealthy young mother gliding around New York and then to her elegant mansion in a charmingly choreographed dance of delight that ends with her 5-year-old son falling from a window to his death. Such a tragedy might shatter other families, but the Miltons are not other families. Ogden and Kitty Milton are the union of America’s bluest bloodlines, aristocrats who have provided a model of decorum to a grateful nation since they arrived on the Mayflower. (“Always remember you are a Milton,” a young scion is advised. “Not a Lowell.”) Ogden guides the family’s Wall Street firm with wisdom and discretion, just as Kitty manages their home. As soon as they bury their son, everyone agrees that it’s “best not to mention it. Best not to dwell on it. . . . Some things were better off left unsaid.” This is very much a novel about what is left unsaid, which is ironic considering that so much is said — hundreds and hundreds of pages of repressed grief and strained smiles. Despite its dramatic opening, the bulk of the story is far more immersive than propulsive. These are people who imagine their boutique blend of gold and goodness can protect them from the vicissitudes of life, even as their dynasty dissipates with each passing generation. “The Guest Book” offers an exhaustive study of Brahmin pain, the suffering stoically endured by that class of people who ask each other, “Where do you summer?” It’s part of a long, distinguished line of beautiful costume dramas that allow us good liberals to luxuriate in the silken folds of privilege while reassuring ourselves that such privilege is doomed. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    Privilege. Secrets. History. Family. The Guest Book is a sweeping tale of three generations of the Milton family. This book moves back and forth in time, showcasing secrets and consequences. This book showcases old money, racism, glamour, status, opulence, limelight, privilege, power, choices, inequality, and the economic divide. Each generation showcases the mindset of not only the family but society at large. With each new generation comes acceptance, awareness, growth and change. But is it eno Privilege. Secrets. History. Family. The Guest Book is a sweeping tale of three generations of the Milton family. This book moves back and forth in time, showcasing secrets and consequences. This book showcases old money, racism, glamour, status, opulence, limelight, privilege, power, choices, inequality, and the economic divide. Each generation showcases the mindset of not only the family but society at large. With each new generation comes acceptance, awareness, growth and change. But is it enough? Time changes, society changes, the beliefs of society changes, but seriously is it enough? What happens to a family that has it all (heck, they even own their own island) and over time becomes a family desperately trying to hold on to it. When a family feels their privilege but doesn't want to lose it. The family home (ahem, island) has been handed down, but so has elitism, racism and antisemitism. What happens when change occurs? What happens when you look back at your heritage? What happens when you learn certain truths about your family? What happens when secrets come out? This book started slowly for me and I admit it took me a long time to get through this book. In the beginning, there were times I felt this book was painfully slow and then I would put it down and pick up another book. But I trudged along and soon found myself enjoying it. This book is told through three POVs in three different times. The book is a family saga but also looks at class, racism (lots of racism), inequality, and how choices made in the past can still be felt in the present. Well written and thought provoking. We pass a lot of things down in families- our grandmothers broach, or our grandfathers service medals, a wedding dress, pictures, art, etc. But we also pass down our stories, our actions, our words, our beliefs. The next generation is always watching, learning, absorbing, and this book is a good example of how we pass down things some unintentionally and some covertly. The book shows not only how the Milton family changed but how society itself has changed. Again, thought provoking. Slow to start but won me over. This is not a book to speed through, take your time, absorb it, ponder it, think about the issues this book brings up, and maybe examine your own family history. Thank you to Sarah Blake and Flat Iron book who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

  7. 5 out of 5

    leslie hamod

    This book is THE BOOK for general fiction in 2019. An amazing, brilliant read which will have the power of Steinbach. An incredible read encompassing three generations, the origins and fall of the old wealth. A book which comments on society and bigotry of pre - war money, behavior and views on to the recent past. This is a profound novel, one which holds you in thrall to the last page, the last word! Reasons I enjoyed this book: Easy-to-readEntertainingGreat world buildingHauntingInformativeInspi This book is THE BOOK for general fiction in 2019. An amazing, brilliant read which will have the power of Steinbach. An incredible read encompassing three generations, the origins and fall of the old wealth. A book which comments on society and bigotry of pre - war money, behavior and views on to the recent past. This is a profound novel, one which holds you in thrall to the last page, the last word! Reasons I enjoyed this book: Easy-to-readEntertainingGreat world buildingHauntingInformativeInspirationalOriginalPage-turnerRomanticRealisticScarySteamyTear-jerkerTragicTwistedUnpredictableWhimsicalWittyWonderful characters

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    The Guest Book is epic in its scope covering three generations of a larger-than-life, well-to-do American family. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ In the beginning of the story, it’s 1935. Kitty and Ogden Milton have all the best in life: adorable children, beautiful appearances, and the perfect relationship with each other. A tragedy happens, and Ogden attempts to soothe Kitty by buying an island for her in Maine. That house holds such importance for the family in the present and the future. It’s also where Kitty proc The Guest Book is epic in its scope covering three generations of a larger-than-life, well-to-do American family. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ In the beginning of the story, it’s 1935. Kitty and Ogden Milton have all the best in life: adorable children, beautiful appearances, and the perfect relationship with each other. A tragedy happens, and Ogden attempts to soothe Kitty by buying an island for her in Maine. That house holds such importance for the family in the present and the future. It’s also where Kitty proclaims something that will never be forgotten, the effects of which potentially rippling down to her grandchildren’s generation. Years later, in 1959, Len Levy, is employed by Ogden’s bank. Ogden and one of his daughters accept and admire Len, but no one else does. Not only do they not like him, they despise him. Why? Because he’s Jewish. On top of that, Len’s best friend is a black man, often the only black man in the room in social gatherings, at college, and in the Milton’s Maine house. Moving along, in the late 1990s, the Miltons can no longer afford to own the island. Kitty’s grandchildren may have to sell it, but one of her granddaughters, Evie, refuses to accept this. Her husband uncovers a scandal related to Ogden, and now she realizes the potential root of all the secrets embedded in her family. The Guest Book blends past and present in a powerful narrative addressing multi-generational racism in all its insidiousness. The writing is beautiful, and the themes are absolutely thought-provoking. Sarah Blake isn’t afraid to go to the bold places. The Guest Book stirred my emotions – making me think and feel and examine. As each generation of the Milton family goes on to become more aware of racism and privilege, is that awareness ever enough? Or can they (we) always continue to grow and open our minds and work to make the chasms in our society smaller? It was a fascinating and intelligent view on this topic that certainly illuminated many points for self-reflection. Overall, The Guest Book is an important look at the evolution of society over time, as reflected in one privileged family, and just how slow that process can be. How do we fix the transgressions of the past? I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own. My reviews can also be found on my blog and instagram: www.jennifertarheelreader.com & www.instagram.com/tarheelreader

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    An emotional, heart wrenching story of true love is one aspect of why I loved this multi-generational story. The Guest Book will not be on everyone's best list, but it definitely is on mine. Ogden and Kitty Milton are a couple that have it all. Wealth, privilege, love and the right lineage. They suffer a tragedy early in the book and for that Kitty has a hard time coping. To help "snap Kitty out of it", Ogden buys her an island off the coast of Maine, where they can summer each year with their la An emotional, heart wrenching story of true love is one aspect of why I loved this multi-generational story. The Guest Book will not be on everyone's best list, but it definitely is on mine. Ogden and Kitty Milton are a couple that have it all. Wealth, privilege, love and the right lineage. They suffer a tragedy early in the book and for that Kitty has a hard time coping. To help "snap Kitty out of it", Ogden buys her an island off the coast of Maine, where they can summer each year with their large family and use it as a place to repair and recover from immense grief. We also read from the perspective of Moss, Joan and Evelyn (their children) and then Evie (one of their granddaughters). Evie is the grandchild that takes her love of the island the most seriously and when it becomes financially clear that it might not be possible for the island to stay in the family any longer, she puts everything on the line to keep it, even when she learns of controversial circumstances in which her grandparents acquired it. The Guest Book must be read deliberately and at the right time as there is a lot to absorb. If you read too fast you will miss the depth and nuanced ways in which Blake weaves together themes of entitlement, privilege, prejudice, racism, social injustice, idealism, love and family. It really makes you look not only at the characters, but at yourself and your own family history through a different lens. One of my favorite things about reading it, is that there were moments sprinkled within the book that seemed inconsequential at the time and then later on in the book these moments reappeared and it was like an emotion bomb was dropped. If this weren't a library book, I would have been on a highlighting frenzy for all the brilliance that was put on display. The writing was beyond fantastic and it was never something I tripped over. What I loved so much outside of the love story was how thought provoking this was. It really made me look more deeply at myself and I think it raises some very interesting questions. As the book and Milton generations progress, some members of the family begin to evolve and examine the circumstances that they are surrounded by. The older generations did a lot of brushing their emotions under the rug that were unbecoming so as to appear respectable and not to create a fuss. The truth of very consequential events were also hidden and purposely not talked about. The regret this later caused and how this rippled through the family almost 100 years later put a burden on the grandchildren that they (in my opinion) were not willing to confront. I will refrain from writing more because I think it best to read this for yourself without being clouded by someone else's opinions. Choose to read it for the family drama and historical fiction, but stay for the journey you will take in retrospect. "With his open American face, his frank American voice, one might think to oneself, There walks a good man. A noble man. He appeared dashing and splendid. He had the place and the power to make good, to do good. And he did so. He believed one could do right. He had been raised to expect that one could. His was the last generation for whom those givens remained as undisturbed as a silk purse." "Listen to me, Moss. We have always been here at the center. Always. It's only that you've just decided to take a look." "The bill is due," Reg pushed. "It is not coming due. It is due. And it must be paid--or this shit will go on and on and on."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Not rating it... But also not going to finish it. It’s rare for me to mention a book I’ve not finished. ( a few times).. some books I read and don’t even mark - let alone review because it was OK... or I just didn’t feel like writing anything—or there are already TONS of reviews - and I don’t feel I have much more to add ... But this book has me wondering- I just can’t seem to care enough about it enough. Could be the HOT WEATHER... lol 100 degrees here for days!! If my local book club picks it - I Not rating it... But also not going to finish it. It’s rare for me to mention a book I’ve not finished. ( a few times).. some books I read and don’t even mark - let alone review because it was OK... or I just didn’t feel like writing anything—or there are already TONS of reviews - and I don’t feel I have much more to add ... But this book has me wondering- I just can’t seem to care enough about it enough. Could be the HOT WEATHER... lol 100 degrees here for days!! If my local book club picks it - I’ll try again- but for now - glad many people liked it... I’m going to say goodbye to it for now.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kend

    This is a novel about white guilt, and it does so many things right and cares about so many of the right things that I almost—but not quite—am willing to love it. The blot upon its freshly starched canvas is of such a nature, however, that it does more than just prevent me from loving the book; it renders it in its entirety so deeply problematic that I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it—at all. Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Please note that there will be some low-key spoilers thro This is a novel about white guilt, and it does so many things right and cares about so many of the right things that I almost—but not quite—am willing to love it. The blot upon its freshly starched canvas is of such a nature, however, that it does more than just prevent me from loving the book; it renders it in its entirety so deeply problematic that I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it—at all. Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Please note that there will be some low-key spoilers throughout this review. The front cover of The Guest Book ARC which I so kindly (thank you, thank you so very much) received from Flatiron Books features a quote from Cynthia St. John of Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California. This quote, writ large and sleek across the ARC cover, states simply that “Sarah Blake has written the Great American Novel” (I’m assuming the implicit capitalization here; the actual quote happens to be printed in all-caps). Inside the front cover and for four pages after the title page, other booksellers and literary notables rave about the book, saying such kind things as it is “a coming-of-age story for the country” packed with “fully realized characters” and “depth and nuance”—an “epic family story of privilege, history, prejudice, secrets, love, and loss.” I mean, could you be ANY MORE in love with this book, people? As I mentioned, this is a book that tries very hard indeed to care about the right things and write about them the in right way. It’s a book about several generations of a privileged white family which owns its own island. For comparison, my parents were each raised in a farmhouse, and my mother’s childhood home got an upgrade to a non-dirt-floor during her childhood. We were, in short, ROLLING IN IT. You might assume that I have very little patience with rich white peoples’ problems, and you’d be right. Poor white people, especially the children of evangelical Christian missionaries and the grandchildren of Mennonite wheat farmers and the great-grandchildren of immigrants, have plenty of their own hang-ups—and plenty of their own privileges, frankly—but they’re nothing alike. And it’s hard to relate to people who try to pass off their islands as being rather shabby by comparison to the Rockefellers’ mansions. And this tension—between having an island and wanting to keep it, and having a shred of self-awareness and wanting to not be thought of as just another privileged white woman, is the root core of every interaction the character Evie has in this book. Yes, Blake makes her characters aware of their privilege. The POV characters all hate or at the very least are all deeply uncomfortable with their privilege. GOOD. EXCELLENT. I can get behind that. Still hard to relate, but at least they’re not literal Nazis. Oh wait. So. Here’s a spoiler: The Guest Book deals not just with matters of wealth inequality, but also with racial inequalities and the mistreatment of minorities during WWII. In Germany. Read: here be Nazis. Blake, again very admirably, makes her characters implicit in various ways in the mistreatment of both Jews and people of color. She makes them aware of their involvement. She makes them uncomfortable with their involvement. Great. People whose families poured financial support into the German war machine during WWII should have MANY crises of conscience. That’s definitely a thing that should happen. What … maybe … shouldn’t … happen … is letting those characters reach absolution through self-erasure, and have Jews and people of color absolve them again in the book’s touching final scenes. Let me back up here a second. It is the rare book which spurs me to write a scathing review, and I don’t know if this is so much scathing as it is confused and a little cloudy on the details. I slept on this review, several times. This is therefore the most mild, calm, and generous take on this novel that I could summon. My first reactions, by comparison, were much more … full of feeling. I think that sort of response is a valid one to chronicle, but this being such a considered book, I felt it deserved a considered reply. I distrust any book by a white person which absolves us collectively or individually of the wrongdoings of our predecessors. Do I think Blake was trying to show that she cared enough to write several minority groups into her book, and that her heart was in the right place? Probably. But there are some things we don’t get to do, and forgive ourselves or erase ourselves from history are two of them. It is so perfectly accurate that the privileged white person’s greatest fear is not being remembered, and that both our greatest crises and our greatest denouements are all tied up with being forgotten. We’ve started wars—many of them against minority groups—for less. It is accurate, yes. And it is brilliant of Blake to identify this fear and lace it like poison throughout this novel. It is less brilliant to allow her characters to erase themselves, and to find catharsis and maybe even peace in the process. We don’t get to do that. Why not? Because we are the historical record. We don’t get to walk away from the crimes we have enacted. For not just decades but centuries, millennia of cultural and racial and religious warfare. We can’t give ourselves permission to disappear before the final verdict has been handed down by the people who do have the right—and I strongly suspect that the only people who have the right to forgive us and absolve us also have the right to be angry for many, many more generations to come. This week, I had an epiphany. Not just to do with Blake, but to do with many of the investigative nonfiction books coming out right now. It’s a popular idea that we have the right to tell stories about the cultural wrongdoings we have enacted throughout history by using our personal experiences and by putting our bodies and our stories into cultural and religious and queer spaces that do not belong to us. There are some stories, however, that we just don’t have the right to tell. And as every two-year-old toddler knows, we don’t get to forgive ourselves. Only the people we have wronged have permission to do that. And if by chance we’ve wronged the world itself, we never get to make our peace; people have long memories, but Uranium-235 has a half-life of almost 704 billion years. The carbon cycle will hold your footprint against you for longer than the dinosaurs walked this planet. Early on in The Guest Book, Evie is confronted by an African-American colleague whose pregnancy is described as having “taken over her body like an occupying army” (p. 62). And while it’s entirely true that many women lose both a sense of agency and satisfaction with their bodies during pregnancy, it’s hardly a nice thing to observe about someone else’s body—especially when that someone else comes from a minority group specifically and historically linked to the loss of agency due to white assholery. This colleague comes to Evie because she wants to revise a popular work of third-wave feminism that Evie published twenty-five years earlier to reflect her own take on the power dynamics at work in Medieval Europe. Not only is this colleague portrayed as pushy and insensitive, but she’s Evie likens Hazel’s desire to pay homage to “thievery” (p. 67), even while she, Evie, agonizes over her own privilege. Because her family owns an island that they purchased with Nazi money. The book never returns to Hazel, or to the classroom, where Evie begins her story by delivering a kick-ass rallying cry to her freshmen on the value of learning from history. “‘So know yourselves first,’ she finished. ‘Then look back and account.’” (p. 44). Only, Evie doesn’t. One black man gives her back agency over the island, then she decides her story ends with vanishing, not looking back and being called to account or making up for her personal wrongs. It’s cathartic. It’s peaceful. It’s a goddamn lie. Look, there are a lot of really beautiful moments and beautiful sentences in this book. I teared up a little when the book finally—finally—got around to the climactic final showdown. Which, predictably, involved a lot of hetero sex on beaches under the moonlight and a lot of coded-queer erasure. Bury your (maybe) gays, unless you live by water; drowning them is easier. Damn, but Blake knows how to quote James Baldwin. And when. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that Blake really tried. She has proven that she cares about making sure readers know we white people are sorry. We’re sorry for screwing up in WWII. We’re sorry for screwing up in founding America on the backs of minorities. We’re sorry that systems like academia and finance left us private islands—even if they’re only shabby and we’re just barely hanging on—and left everyone else scrambling for room in the margins. We’re sorry, and probably we should just go ahead and disappear now? That would be so much easier than actually sticking around—in real life, or in the novel—to let the wronged be rightfully angry at us. Beautiful sentences and well-intentioned gestures at equality aside, this book lets us off the hook when it really doesn’t have the right to. And as much as I respect California’s incredible booksellers, we don’t get to call this book about white guilt “the Great American Novel.” It’s unfair to all of those hungry #OwnVoices authors whose voices still haven’t been heard simply because they don’t have the all-access pass to blockbuster American success yet. The least we can do is not use our power as the privileged majority class in America to erase ourselves before we can be held to account. Where does this book end? “‘We vanish,’ Evie whispered.” (p. 480). How convenient for us. ** Please note: throughout this review, I kept typing The Beach House instead of The Guest Book, but I guess Hallmark owned the rights to that one. And I also kept typing The Lake House, and I'm crippled by the thought of Keanu Reeves showing up in this book. *** Please also note: hells yes, I have white guilt. The fact that only other white people keep telling me to stop kind of reinforces it, and it's just too damn bad that none of my uncles had maybe-sort-of-queer relationships with people who could, half a century after I was conceived, show up to give me another 1/5 share of the family island and thereby forgive me in deed, if not in word, for all the crimes of my ancestors. And oof, if you want to talk about crimes I don't get to be absolved for, maybe we should take a moment to review the literature about all the times my predecessors contributed to cultural genocide. Yeah, I don't get to forgive myself for that, ever.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Burnett

    The Guest Book is a sweeping family saga that shines a glaring light on the effects of privilege as well as cultural and racial divisions and injustices in the United States. Secondarily, the novel examines the issue of whether a distinction should be made between inaction and willful decision-making when an individual is faced with a moral dilemma, and the age-old issue of buried family secrets. Spanning three generations, the book focuses on the Milton family, a powerful East Coast family, beg The Guest Book is a sweeping family saga that shines a glaring light on the effects of privilege as well as cultural and racial divisions and injustices in the United States. Secondarily, the novel examines the issue of whether a distinction should be made between inaction and willful decision-making when an individual is faced with a moral dilemma, and the age-old issue of buried family secrets. Spanning three generations, the book focuses on the Milton family, a powerful East Coast family, beginning with Ogden and Kitty Milton in the mid-1930’s. Both Ogden and Kitty make choices that reverberate for years to come, and much of The Guest Book addresses the tragic impact of those decisions on their children and grandchildren. Blake’s prose is carefully and beautifully crafted. She raises a variety of thought-provoking issues requiring her readers to contemplate how these issues impact him or her and how the country can continue to learn from the past. The book will be perfect for book clubs and classrooms as it will foster healthy and vigorous debates. The Guest Book is an ambitious and challenging addition to the debate on how to redress past transgressions.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katy Nowoswiat

    I really wanted to like this book more given the high praise it received, but I just couldn’t. First, the plot is so loose that the thread holding the story together is barely visible sometimes. Second, the book tries to address issues of otherness but never really makes any progress besides highlighting differences between characters and their inner struggles. Additionally, the extremely long sentences had me frustrated at points as it made finding a rhythm difficult. Finally, after dragging th I really wanted to like this book more given the high praise it received, but I just couldn’t. First, the plot is so loose that the thread holding the story together is barely visible sometimes. Second, the book tries to address issues of otherness but never really makes any progress besides highlighting differences between characters and their inner struggles. Additionally, the extremely long sentences had me frustrated at points as it made finding a rhythm difficult. Finally, after dragging the reader through every grungy detail for 200+ pages, the ending was tied up so quickly and disappointingly. I was excited to be able to read an advanced copy of the book but wasn’t excited about the outcome of the book in general.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    “‘Do you remember that day right before she died, when Granny K told us there were two moments at the gate in every life?’ Evie nodded. ‘One at the beginning.’ ‘And one in the middle.’ It had been her last summer. They had filled the golf cart with pillows from the Katherine and driven her up to the house, carrying her through the door into the second parlor, where they had fixed a bed onto which Uncle Dickie had carefully, gently, set her down. And she lay there, all the windows open to the air a “‘Do you remember that day right before she died, when Granny K told us there were two moments at the gate in every life?’ Evie nodded. ‘One at the beginning.’ ‘And one in the middle.’ It had been her last summer. They had filled the golf cart with pillows from the Katherine and driven her up to the house, carrying her through the door into the second parlor, where they had fixed a bed onto which Uncle Dickie had carefully, gently, set her down. And she lay there, all the windows open to the air and facing down the lawn – through the foggy mornings, the sunny days, the screen door opening and shutting, all of them calling out around the house, coming in to sit beside her. It had been one of those mornings she had pulled the cousins in, pointed them to the chairs at the foot of the bed, and told them about those gates…” - Sarah Blake, The Guest Book In the opening, two-page teaser of Sarah Blake’s The Guest Book, a smug, new-monied day-sailor takes his companions past Crockett’s Island, off the coast of Maine. The island belonged to the Milton family, he explains. The Milton family of old-money investment house fame. Someone died there, he adds portentiously. Someone drowned. As prologues go, this is pretty damn effective. Once I read it, I was compelled to keep reading. Based on that tease, I assumed The Guest Book would be a lush, involving tale of the loves, betrayals, buried sins, and ultimate downfall of a super-rich family. I thought it would be the kind of novel where you get to simultaneously worship and despise the Masters of the Universe; the kind of book you might read on the beach, or read while dreaming of the beach, and of lobsters, and of playing croquet while wearing a white cable knit sweater. I was wrong. And if that’s what you’re looking for, stop. Put down your G & T and just stop. The Guest Book is not here to entertain you, or carry you away, or let you experience a bit of schadenfreude against your social betters, while also imagining a pot of mussels floating in butter. No, in the end, it is here to lecture you. It is here to discuss themes; it is here to say something about America. Blake’s novel encompasses three generations of the Milton family and their relationship to Crockett Island (it is probably no mistake that the Milton’s share a surname with the author of Paradise Lost). These three generations exist in two separate timelines. The first begins in the 1930s, with Ogden and Kitty, and their children: Moss, Evelyn, and Joan. This timeline moves forward in hurry, taking big chronological leaps in order to arrive at a climatic pre-wedding party held on Crockett’s Island in 1959. The second timeline takes place in the present day, and is focused on Evie, the daughter of Joan Milton. When we meet Evie Milton, she is a feminist historian on the downslope of her career. She has two big problems in her life, which aren’t really problems at all, unless you inhabit a certain economic stratum. First, she finds her previous work being outflanked on the left, discarded as insufficiently doctrinaire (in an uncooked sub-subplot that is hardly addressed once introduced). Second, she is worried about losing the Island, which she owns in part along with several of her cousins. The trust devoted to maintaining the property is running out, and Evie is faced with the horrendous possibility that they will have to sell it and split $3.5 million. Evie’s husband, also a historian, despises the Milton clan, and in several scenes of acute psychological abuse (which is passed off as righteousness), he essentially gaslights her for the sin of loving her grandparents. This sets Evie down the path of exploring her family’s past, uncovering the secrets of the Milton’s wealth and legacy, and coming to terms with their place in the modern world. The two different timelines are structured so as to inform each other. As Evie is pulling on the threads in the present, we are given answers – eventually – in the past. While this is not a bad idea in concept, its execution is lacking. The problem is that many of the mysteries can only be solved by knowing the internal thoughts and motivations of the characters. As the reader, we are privy to this knowledge, because Blake writes in an omniscient, third-person voice. Evie, though, cannot possibly learn this information, so her search for clues is doomed from the start (requiring an eleventh hour deus ex explainer). Thus, there is a striking lack of tension in the present-day timeline. It is, in fact, rather redundant, as significant portions follow Evie discovering what we’ve already been told. Blake is a very talented writer. There are some beautiful scenes, especially in term of descriptions. There were moments when I could hear the pock of a tennis ball, when I could feel the salt breeze as we sailed around the coast. The descriptions, though, are really all we have. In nearly 500 pages, nothing much really happens, save for the microscopically-detailed 1959 party on which so much of the story turns. Most of the narrative consists of small groups of people in a room having really fraught, self-important conversations, filled with the kind of “big ideas” and “deep insights” you might have experienced the first time you got high in college. Blake clearly has serious ideas she wants to impart. Far be it from me to criticize that. I will, however, criticize the manner in which she undertakes to present those ideas. Specifically, Blake gives us the characters of Len Levy and Reg Pauling. Len is Jewish, and though he has been hired by Ogden Milton, he is convinced that Ogden supported the Nazis in World War II. Reg is black, and though he has no particular grievance against the Miltons, he believes that their inherent aversion towards upheaval and change stands in the way of social progress. The result is a series of uninspired dialectics that are neither profound nor effective. Despite being an epic-sized novel, Blake seems unable to find the space to show, rather than tell. Rather than demonstrating the Milton’s impact on America, for good or ill, she relies on a series of subpar wannabe-TED Talks. The ineffectiveness of these sermons is a function of the general confusion in the message. Reg and Len provide a postmodernist/structuralist critique of history, which is then refuted by what we know about the Milton family members as individuals. For example, Len is convinced of Ogden’s pre-WWII Nazi ties, and we are supposed to agree with him and be shocked. However, Blake also puts us squarely inside the head of Ogden, and we know that he is not a bad person. Flawed, perhaps, but far from evil. And that’s the thing: even though half the characters in the book spend all their time attacking the Miltons, Blake never gives us any evidence that they are other than fundamentally decent human beings. (In an unexpected twist, I found myself siding with the blue-blooded, Harvard-matriculated, lobster-fed Island owners, which is not a position I expected to inhabit). On the other hand, Reg Pauling isn’t given any kind of interior life. He seems to have no purpose save to deliver sharp lessons to clueless white folk. To be sure, he may be imbued with moral rightness, but because he is not so much a character as a mouthpiece, the lesson falls flat. I picked up The Guest Book with some vague notion that it might be a good summer read. Big and sprawling and maybe even a little fun. It is, instead, big and dreary and surprisingly dull. The biggest knock against it, though, is that it badly confuses good intentions and high ideals with actual substance.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    The Hook Northshire Bookstore, Booktopia May 2019 Event hosted Author, Sarah Blake presenting this May 7th release of The Guest Book. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed The Postmistress, I requested Blake's latest book from Edelweiss. My thanks to Author, Sarah Blake, Flatiron Books (Macmillan), and Edelweiss for the privilege of being a early reader in exchange for my honest review. The Line - No direct quotes are allowed until compared with the finished product. The Sinker - Over 100 “Much Love” The Hook Northshire Bookstore, Booktopia May 2019 Event hosted Author, Sarah Blake presenting this May 7th release of The Guest Book. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed The Postmistress, I requested Blake's latest book from Edelweiss. My thanks to Author, Sarah Blake, Flatiron Books (Macmillan), and Edelweiss for the privilege of being a early reader in exchange for my honest review. The Line - No direct quotes are allowed until compared with the finished product. The Sinker - Over 100 “Much Love” ratings on Edelweiss, numerous 4 to 5 star reviews on GoodReads, top seats on The Boston Globe and NY Times Best Seller Lists, you name it, this book is getting the buzz to make it a summer 2019 best pick. The chosen cover promises us an invitation to a grand old house high on a hill within walking distance of the water. It's not clear that this beautiful old gal sits on an island, the house a vacation retreat of old money, one that brings together family and friends for fun, sun, food and drink, summer upon summer, from generation to generation. Ms. Blake scapes this saga with literary expertise. It is evident that she has grown her writing skills. Her characters are vivid and real, yet there seems an effort to burden them with every social issue there is. I felt their pure determination to hold on to this family property, regardless of cost and to save the ghost of a time long gone. Their love, their laughter, their struggles, their sorrows all seem a bit more calculated to cover the bases of every ill in society than was necessary to carry the story's theme, one of love and family. I liked it. I could not “much love” it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    I enjoy compelling multi-generational family stories and this is one I’ll be thinking about for quite a awhile. Have you ever heard the phrase “the sins of our fathers?” That kept popping up in my mind. There’s so much truth to it in this story. The sad thing is in their minds I think they felt they were so far above everyone else they couldn’t see it. White privilege, racial inequality, and guilt all played a role in the three generations of the Milton family history. Blake’s writing was perfec I enjoy compelling multi-generational family stories and this is one I’ll be thinking about for quite a awhile. Have you ever heard the phrase “the sins of our fathers?” That kept popping up in my mind. There’s so much truth to it in this story. The sad thing is in their minds I think they felt they were so far above everyone else they couldn’t see it. White privilege, racial inequality, and guilt all played a role in the three generations of the Milton family history. Blake’s writing was perfection and kept me turning pages. 4.5 ☆

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aga Durka

    4 Exquisite Stars! Thoughts-provoking, powerful, and elegant. “The Guest Book” is a family saga spread over three generations of the Milton family written in an exquisite style. I was truly captivated by the extraordinary writing style of Sarah Blake and I could not get enough of the beautiful descriptions and well-developed characters. To fully enjoy this book I had to read it slowly and with my full attention on it. I tried to savor each sentence and immerse myself in the stunning landscape of t 4 Exquisite Stars! Thoughts-provoking, powerful, and elegant. “The Guest Book” is a family saga spread over three generations of the Milton family written in an exquisite style. I was truly captivated by the extraordinary writing style of Sarah Blake and I could not get enough of the beautiful descriptions and well-developed characters. To fully enjoy this book I had to read it slowly and with my full attention on it. I tried to savor each sentence and immerse myself in the stunning landscape of the Island. This is not an easy and quick read, but it is so worth the time and patience it requires. Thank you NetGalley, Flatiron Books, and the author, Sarah Blake, for giving me an opportunity to read this beautiful book in exchange for my honest opinion.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Donna Ferber

    Could not put in down. The Guest Book covers three generations of the Miltons of Oyster Bay and their summer home on an island in Maine. It is on the Island where the family comes each summer, ("when summer was a verb") that we get to know the Miltons and their devotion to family, adherence to tradition and unfortunately to secrets. From the early twentieth century until the present, the island keeps the Miltons insulated from change but the waves of unrest crash at the shore converging in a sto Could not put in down. The Guest Book covers three generations of the Miltons of Oyster Bay and their summer home on an island in Maine. It is on the Island where the family comes each summer, ("when summer was a verb") that we get to know the Miltons and their devotion to family, adherence to tradition and unfortunately to secrets. From the early twentieth century until the present, the island keeps the Miltons insulated from change but the waves of unrest crash at the shore converging in a story that breaks your heart as the past and future collide and clinging to the past is no longer an option.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aisling

    This is a nearly 500 page book. I found it enjoyable for the first 300 pages and then the last 200 were gripping! Usually "slow burn" is used to describe romance books but this book was a slow burn. There is enough mystery that you care about the family and enough thoughtful presentation of race and religion issues to make the book more than a sweeping family saga. The writing swings between lyrical and prosaic and can go from deeply philosophical to everyday banter. It was an impressive book. I This is a nearly 500 page book. I found it enjoyable for the first 300 pages and then the last 200 were gripping! Usually "slow burn" is used to describe romance books but this book was a slow burn. There is enough mystery that you care about the family and enough thoughtful presentation of race and religion issues to make the book more than a sweeping family saga. The writing swings between lyrical and prosaic and can go from deeply philosophical to everyday banter. It was an impressive book. I enjoyed it !

  20. 4 out of 5

    Colleen

    This family saga novel sounded exactly like the type of book I like to sink my teeth into. Unfortunately, I’ve slogged my way slowly through the first 150 pages and all I’ve got for my efforts is a LONG list of characters’ names and timelines that jump around without warning. I’m setting it aside for now; may return to it at a future date.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Thanks to St. Martin's Press for this ARC. As a side note, I did not request this book, it just came in the mail. I started this book and stopped at page 77 to go to another book temporarily. I decided not to go back and finish it because it was so slow. I tried to read her other book The Postmistress a few years back and couldn't finish that one too. That should have told me something. I think it's the style of her writing that I can't understand.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    4.5 stars This book is definitely a winner. A thoughtful composition on wealth privilege and the subtle racism that hides behind good graces. You can find my full review "What's in a Name?" on my blog: Carryabigbook Special thanks to Flatiron Books for this giveaway.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carrie (brightbeautifulthings)

    An ARC of this book showed up unexpectedly at my door like a lost puppy, and I couldn’t very well leave it out in the cold. I don’t remember requesting a copy or entering a giveaway for it (though, admittedly, I don’t track giveaways very closely). It doesn’t sound like the sort of book I would choose for myself, so I may be the wrong audience for it. With a few exceptions, I don’t care much for historical fiction. Fans of the genre may find more to like about it than I did. Trigger warnings: an An ARC of this book showed up unexpectedly at my door like a lost puppy, and I couldn’t very well leave it out in the cold. I don’t remember requesting a copy or entering a giveaway for it (though, admittedly, I don’t track giveaways very closely). It doesn’t sound like the sort of book I would choose for myself, so I may be the wrong audience for it. With a few exceptions, I don’t care much for historical fiction. Fans of the genre may find more to like about it than I did. Trigger warnings: anti-Semitism, racism, ableism, epilepsy, death, child death. The Guest Book follows the Milton family over three generations. When tragedy strikes Kitty and Ogden Milton shortly before the second world war, they purchase an island in Maine that remains in the family for years. In 1959, Len Levy gets a job at Ogden’s bank and falls for his daughter, Joan. When he and his best friend, Reg Pauling, visit the island, they both realize that prejudices, no matter how veiled, will always draw a clear line between them and the Miltons. Kitty’s granddaughter, Evie Milton, and Evie’s cousins are the last generation to inherit the island, and they may not have the money to keep it. Secrets and silence have always ruled their family, and what Evie learns about her grandparents could change the Milton legacy forever. This book is nothing short of arduous in both content and writing style. One or the other would have been enough, but it’s difficult to find something to like about either. Lilting descriptions disguise the fact that nothing actually happens for hundreds of pages. Given that it spans three generations and provides details about all of them, there are long lists of things that happen along with all the minutiae of the island and the scenery. The point of view wanders in and out of different characters’ perspectives, sometimes with neat section breaks, but sometimes in the middle of a page. It’s hard to know who is thinking what at times but, worse, it forces the reader to pay total attention at all times. It’s exhausting and took entirely too long to get through. The characters are worse. The only likable ones, and the only ones with a shred of self-awareness, are the marginalized: Len, a Jewish man, Reg, an African-American man, Moss, a closeted gay man, and Joan, a girl with epilepsy. Guess which characters don’t get happy endings? The ones who are already in the margins. There’s hardly a tolerable Milton to be found except for Moss, who at least tries to understand how he comes from a position of privilege. The rest of them, Kitty and Ogden as possibly the worst, stay safely behind their money, their whiteness, and their manners. They would never be so gauche as to make their island guests uncomfortable, but those guests are always guests and never one of them; they’re progressive enough to hire a Jewish man, but their daughter could never marry one. The hypocrisy is almost a little worse than straightforward bigotry. The Miltons have the power to change things, but they fail to acknowledge that there’s even a problem. They flat-out refuse to deal with their issues, whether those are past mistakes or on-page character deaths, so there’s never any chance for development. And it doesn’t get better with Evie. As the newest and maybe last generation of Miltons, she’s in a position to acknowledge the sins committed by her family, but she doesn’t. (Unlike her mother, Evie does marry a Jewish man but doesn’t listen when he tries to tell her she’s privileged.) The characters are philosophical, but not introspective in a way that matters, and the island is a symbol of a toxic, privileged, and anti-Semitic history that they refuse to let go of. Throughout the novel, she’s more preoccupied with losing the island (or, God forbid, changing anything about it) than she is with where that island money came from. There’s no sense of development when she finally learns the truth; if there was, I have a feeling the island dilemma would have resolved in a completely different way. My drama professor used to say that one of the best ways to test our knowledge of a play was to guess what happens the day after the story ends. So often, the answer is exactly the same thing that already happened, and that’s my overwhelming sense with The Guest Book. Evie and the others learned nothing, and their legacy of quiet hypocrisy and privilege will continue the way it always has. I review regularly at brightbeautifulthings.tumblr.com.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    The Guest Book by Sarah Blake. It caught my interest early with beautiful, descriptive language and interesting characters. It is a family drama covering three generations of a wealthy, white family of privilege with deep American roots. There was a Milton in the first class at Harvard. They built a banking empire and thrived even during the Depression. It is about the culpability of silence and the family secrets of the Milton family, how wealth and privilege control the gates of power, and th The Guest Book by Sarah Blake. It caught my interest early with beautiful, descriptive language and interesting characters. It is a family drama covering three generations of a wealthy, white family of privilege with deep American roots. There was a Milton in the first class at Harvard. They built a banking empire and thrived even during the Depression. It is about the culpability of silence and the family secrets of the Milton family, how wealth and privilege control the gates of power, and the acceptance of prejudice, racism, and anti-Semitism. The first chapter is set in 1935 when young wife Kitty is filled with the joy of spring and ends with a horrible tragedy. I was hooked and compelled to read on. The Guest Book recalled to mind E. M. Forster's Howard's End, one of my favorite novels. Forster's novel set in Edwardian England considers class and inheritance. Blake's novel considers prejudice and inheritance. Some characters can not give up their protected status of privilege and some rankle against it, hoping for a more just and equitable system. In 1939, at the height of the Depression, Ogden Milton purchased an island retreat in Maine. Ogden hopes to begin anew with his wife Kitty after a tragic accident shattered their world. The island becomes part of their lives, representing all that is good and beautiful. It also holds them to the past, a place that resists change, from the upholstery and wallpaper to the ghosts that haunt it. Milton's banking concern survived the Depression and continued to thrive during the war--partly because of German investments in steel which lead to business with the Nazis. When the steel magnate's daughter, who married a Jewish musician, asks Kitty to keep her child, Kitty turns her down. They return to Germany and are never heard of again. It is a guilty secret she keeps for decades. Kitty and Ogden have daughters Joan and Evie and son Moss. Evie behaves correctly, going to college and marrying the 'right kind' of man. Joan has epilepsy and believes she will never marry. Then she meets Len Levy, a self-made man hired by her father's bank. He is a man of vision but his idea of opening the stock market to the middle and working class is rejected. Len is Jewish and people like the Miltons stick to their own kind. They keep their affair secret. Moss is to inherit his father's position but chaffs under the expectations and prejudices of their aristocratic social class. He dreams of writing music for a new America and the changes he hears humming just out of reach. On a fatal night in 1959, the family gathered on the island for Evie's wedding, when two outsiders arrive at Moss's invitation. Len Levy and his Chicago childhood friend, Reg Pauling, an African American writer. Although they went to Harvard with Moss, these men know there are walls and gates that shut them out. In spite of Moss's vision of a new American of inclusivity and the tearing down of walls--in spite of the passionate love between Len and Joan--they understand they are outsiders. The Miltons can be benevolent but never open. What happens on that fateful day is kept secret. It is only known as the day Moss died. After the passing of their grandparents and parents, Joan and Evie's children and their cousins must decide what to do with the Milton island home. Joan's daughter Evie can't bear to let go of the place, vivid memories mooring her to the island. But the family has run out of inherited money and the grandchildren have chosen idealistic careers that don't come with a large income. Evie's husband Paul, who is Jewish, can't understand her need to hang on to the island. Evie is tormented by questions. Why did her mother Joan ask that her ashes be scattered on the rocky beach on the island? What was the story behind the photograph of their grandfather Ogden with a Nazi? How did Uncle Moss die? Why did Kitty want the stranger Reg Pauling to get Moss's inheritance? Clues impel Evie to detangle the past until the family secrets that are finally revealed. In Howard's End, Forster asks who is to inherit Britain. In The Guest Book, the question of who is to inherit the island is at stake. But the island becomes a symbol of the monied, white elite's world of privilege. I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jamckean

    An exquisitely written, poignant family saga that illuminates the great divide, the gulf that separates the rich and poor, black and white, Protestant and Jew. Spanning three generations, Sarah Blake deftly examines the life and legacy of one unforgettable family, the memories and mistakes made as they learn what it means to be “a Milton.”

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Thank you MacMillan/Flatiron Books for this beautiful ARC. This book is simply remarkable, the writing, family dynamic, just everything. I loved it. Pub day is soon! Definitely recommend.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Secrets and lies….what every interesting family is made of….add in a family fortune made through questionable means and you have an intriguing family saga worthy of your time. Evie is one of five cousins who must decide what to do about an inherited island where the trust money has run out. She longs to hang on to it, to treasure her memories of childhood summers and honor the memory of her mother Joan’s attachment to it. But little does she know that the plans the cousins have devised to keep th Secrets and lies….what every interesting family is made of….add in a family fortune made through questionable means and you have an intriguing family saga worthy of your time. Evie is one of five cousins who must decide what to do about an inherited island where the trust money has run out. She longs to hang on to it, to treasure her memories of childhood summers and honor the memory of her mother Joan’s attachment to it. But little does she know that the plans the cousins have devised to keep the island will lead her down the path to discovering truths about her family she’d rather not know. I always find the story around the story as interesting as the story itself. Author Sarah Blake, who we met at Booktopia alluded to family money that “you don’t talk about”. In her acknowledgements she thanks her friend, author & activist Claudia Rankine. It isn’t hard to read between the lines if your mind works the way mine does. Another fascinating aspect of this book is that thanks to the publisher I received an early review copy. Yes, it took me a while to get around to reading it. This is the first time I have received an ARC that was so obviously an early draft and the reason I know it is an early, early draft is because I listened to the audio concurrently with reading. It was a rare look into the editing process and made me realize how much a good editor can contribute to a book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    DeAnn

    4 Maine summer house stars This is a sweeping novel, covering three generations and several complex social issues. I enjoyed the writing in this one and felt very drawn into this dynamic. It’s not always pleasant/comfortable to read about the world this book creates, but I think it was realistic for the times. This book definitely made me think and self-reflect on my own thoughts about race, religion, and ethics. The book centers around the wealthy and powerful Milton family – Ogden and Kitty are 4 Maine summer house stars This is a sweeping novel, covering three generations and several complex social issues. I enjoyed the writing in this one and felt very drawn into this dynamic. It’s not always pleasant/comfortable to read about the world this book creates, but I think it was realistic for the times. This book definitely made me think and self-reflect on my own thoughts about race, religion, and ethics. The book centers around the wealthy and powerful Milton family – Ogden and Kitty are the crème de la crème of wealthy New York families that summer in Maine. Ogden is a titan in the financial world while Kitty is the perfect wife and mother. However, a family tragedy marks the early days of their marriage and I’m not sure Kitty ever really recovers. The island and house in Maine that Ogden buys for Kitty becomes the setting for the last chunk of the book. Kitty has a way of creating a perfect party atmosphere, but tragedy again touches the family at this fateful summer party. I thought it was an excellent choice to end the book on the island. The book opens in 1935 and alternates chapters with different family members. We’ve got Kitty and Ogden’s children – the tortured son Moss, and daughters Evelyn and Joan. We follow the different routes their lives take and how their children end up at the point where they can’t afford to keep the island and house in the family. One granddaughter, Evie, finally uncovers deep family secrets. The book grapples with weighty issues of the time (and still today) – what role did American financing play in the rise of the German war machine? How can families like the Ogdens better integrate with Jewish families and black families? Can we move forward? One additional thought as I ponder this review, the title has so much meaning. Who gets to sign the guest book? Thank you to Flatiron books and Sarah Blake for the advanced copy of this book in return for an honest review.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carolw

    I read this book for the Barnes and Noble nationwide book club and I started to give this book a 3 star rating but I just couldn’t after looking back at other books I gave a 3 star rating to and enjoyed more. So I will give it a 2.5 star rating. This is a story about 3 generations of a wealthy New York family that go through tragedies and triumphs but follow the rules of what wealthy, powerful people do during tragedies and triumphs. Sweep the tragedies under the rug but celebrate the triumphs. I read this book for the Barnes and Noble nationwide book club and I started to give this book a 3 star rating but I just couldn’t after looking back at other books I gave a 3 star rating to and enjoyed more. So I will give it a 2.5 star rating. This is a story about 3 generations of a wealthy New York family that go through tragedies and triumphs but follow the rules of what wealthy, powerful people do during tragedies and triumphs. Sweep the tragedies under the rug but celebrate the triumphs. Anti-Semitism and racial inequality play roles within the storyline too. There is also a lot of avoidance of the truth. Definitely was not one of my favorite books but it did have a few worthy messages, one being secrets are bad and the truth is good!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    This certainly was a page turner with multiple sensitive issues brought to light. I'm looking forward to meeting Sarah Blake at next week's Booktopia.

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