Friday, May 31, 2019

Fiction Review: The Guest Book

The last book I finished for Booktopia this year was The Guest Book by Sarah Blake, which I listened to on audio (it definitely counts as a Big Book, if anyone wants to add it to their summer list!). I thoroughly enjoyed Blake's earlier novel, The Postmistress (review at the link), so I was looking forward to this new one, and it didn't disappoint. Blake has created a multi-generational family epic that traces the changes in both a prominent family and the country over the decades.

In 1936, Ogden and Kitty Milton are living a life that others dream of, though there is tragedy in their past. Ogden's financial business is so successful that he and Kitty buy a small island, Crockett's Island, off the coast of Maine and vacation there with their children and friends. Some say that war is coming and the Nazis are dangerous, but they don't take that talk seriously. A friend of Ogden's visits from overseas and asks a huge favor, but Kitty says no, a decision that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

In 1959, Kitty and Ogden's children, Moss, Joan, and Evelyn, are in their early 20's and enjoying life in the Big Apple. Evelyn is about to get married, Joan is working for a small, revolutionary publisher, and Moss works for his father, though his heart is in his music. The siblings meet two new people, outside of their parents' usual circles, and insist they come along for the annual summer lobster picnic on Crockett's Island. That turns out to be somewhat awkward, with the younger generation insisting that the world is changing, while Kitty and Ogden and their old friends laugh at the notion. When disaster strikes, everything does change, in an instant.

In the present day, Joan's daughter, Evie, teaches history. After recently losing her mother, she comes across some old photos that cause her to begin looking into her own family's history. She and her cousins are meeting with lawyers to determine the fate of Crockett's Island because this generation of Miltons just can't afford to own an island anymore. Wrapped in memories of endless childhood summers on the island with her family, Evie returns with her husband and son and cousins while trying to get to the bottom of what could be a great family secret.

The novel intricately weaves together the stories of the three generations, as multiple family secrets are hidden and later come to light. It is the study of a family changing over time but also that of a country, especially in the 1959 parts. The novel delves into memory, lies, and secrets, as well as what we inherit from our family and how the generations are tied together. It's a family saga but also a chronicle of the social and political changes of the 20th century. I found it thought-provoking and entirely engrossing, with a fast pace and intriguing, three-dimensional characters. I very much enjoyed meeting Sarah Blake at Booktopia and hearing her speak, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

496 pages, Flatiron Books

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

Listen to a sample of the audio (it starts in the first 1959 section) -  Orlagh Cassidy does a great job narrating!

You can purchase The Guest Book from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order The Guest Book from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. This sounds good! I like books that follow a family through generations.

    1. Me, too, Helen, and this one delves into society as well as family in a really interesting way.