The Guest Book

The Guest Book

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...

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Title:The Guest Book
Author:Sarah Blake
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Guest Book Reviews

  • Michelle

    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

    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.

    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.

  • 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…

    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…

    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.

    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

    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.

    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

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

    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

    ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

    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:

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  • 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.

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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

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  • 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. . . .

  • 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.

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