Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: The Guest Book

Summary: Twenty-five years after she began exchanging drawings with a mysterious boy in the guest book of a Carolina beach house, Macy Dillon is back at Sunset Beach---this time toting a hurting heart and a broken family. Will she be able find the man whose drawings moved her so deeply when she was a child? Questions of childhood, loss, and longing for love are explored in author Marybeth Whalen’s touching and thought-provoking, The Guest Book. -- Zondervan

I haven't been reading a lot of Christian fiction lately, but I thought I'd make an exception for Marybeth Whalen's latest novel THE GUEST BOOK. First of all, I think the book sounded like an ideal summer read since it takes place at the beach. And secondly, Ms. Whalen just seems like the nicest person. If you don't believe me, then just ask any of those fortunate bloggers who met her at SIBA.

THE GUEST BOOK tells the story of Macy, a young single mother who has always dreamed of being an artist but works at a grocery store instead. (Granted, her boss occasionally "allows" her to do painted murals but it's a grocery story all the same!) Macy is just trying to do her best for her daughter, but life hasn't been easy for her. Macy had to give up her dreams of being an artist when she got pregnant, and the father of her child wasn't committed to Macy or their daughter. Although he deserted them a few years ago, he's back and seems to want Macy and his daughter to be part of his life. In addition, her family hasn't recovered from the death of her father many years ago -- her mother is still actively mourning him and her brother tends to be a bad boy with a drinking problem.

Maybe it's because of all these reasons that Macy has been clinging to some happier times from her childhood. Each summer, Macy's family would head to Sunset Beach for their family vacation. One year, about 25 years ago, Macy began exchanging drawings with an unknown boy. She never learned his identity and has spent all of these years wondering who he was and if they were possibly meant to be together. However, when Macy's father died, these vacations ended... until now. Macy's mother decides that the family needs to return to the Carolina beach house for some healing and closure. Macy is thrilled to be returning to the place of so many happy memories, but she also realizes how much the family will miss their father.

Macy hopes to take this time and truly heal from the loss of her father. However, she also hopes to track down the identity of the boy (now man!) who left her those drawings so many years ago. During these few weeks of vacation, Macy discovers that she has an abundance of men interested in dating her; and the irony is that all of them could be her mysterious artist. As Macy begins to narrow down her search and hopefully discover her soul-mate, she also begins to learn some valuable things about herself and her family.

I enjoyed THE GUEST BOOK quite a bit. It was a touching story about love, loss and second chances; and it definitely touched my heart. My only regret was that I didn't take this along with me on my beach vacation last month because it is a terrific "beach read." I thought Ms. Whalen did a great job of describing the beauty of the beach as well as the quaintness of the small Carolina town. Plus, this book kind of served as calorie-free comfort food ( if that makes sense!) It just satisfied some cravings for a sweet story and made me feel good.

I am somewhat hesitant to read Christian fiction because I fear that the books will be preachy. It might sound awful to say that, but I know I'm not alone with that concern. And that's one of the things that I really have to commend Ms. Whalen for in writing THE GUEST BOOK. The references to faith and the characters' relationships with God were very crucial to the story, and I thought they were extremely well done. In fact, I actually appreciated how Ms. Whalen used the symbol of "an artist" throughout the story, and some of her prose even made me take a breath and reflect. That's truly saying something! 

Another strong aspect of this novel was the character development. For the most part, this novel was Macy's story; and I loved how much she grew, both mentally and spiritually, by the end of the book. I especially liked how she was able to remember her father and his strong faith. However, I also appreciated how much Macy's mother and brother evolved throughout the story. This entire family was unable to move on after the death of the father, and both of them were very damaged souls. I loved how their visit to Sunset Beach not only brought back pleasant memories of their happier times, but it also allowed them to finally let go of the pain and move forward.

THE GUEST BOOK would make an interesting book club pick especially for groups made up of women. I wasn't able to find a link to the discussion guide, but there is one in the back of the novel with eight thought-provoking questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family dynamics, sacrifice, loss, grief, love, second chances, and faith. In addition, I was happy to see that there was a recipe for Brenda's Cranberry-Cherry Spritzer that you could serve at the meeting.

Overall, I recommend THE GUEST BOOK to fans of Christian fiction or anyone who enjoys a sweet story about love, loss and redemption.

Thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this novel.


Kim@Time2Read said...

This one sounds good! I'll be adding it to my list! Maybe even start my beach read 2013 list!

bermudaonion said...

Marybeth is truly wonderful! I generally avoid Christian fiction because of the preachiness too. I read one of Marybeth's other books and it wasn't preachy at all. I'm excited to read this one.

Serena said...

Sounds like a good read..and I like the artist angle. I'm not one for Christian fiction given some of the preachier ones I've seen, but this sounds good.

Beth Hoffman said...

Count me in on not wanting to be preached to. But I'm sometimes in the mood to pick up lighter fare, and I've heard good things about this one.

Nice review, Julie!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Marybeth is TRULY one of the nicest women you will ever meet, but she is so much more than nice. She is grounded and practical and the amazingly sane mother of six children. She is my idol. What I love about her books is that they sometimes involve real-life issues that are not-so-Christian-ish, like adultery and deadbeat dads. But Marybeth always brings it back around in a subtle way that never feels preachy. So glad you enjoyed this!