Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Guest Book - Marybeth Whalen

A few words that describe Marybeth Whalen:  spiritual, gentle, genuine.  You really couldn't meet a nicer person.  She is a true Southern girl, married for 20 years to the love of her life and has six (yes you read that right, and they are all gorgeous by the way) kids.  And she writes.  And she contributes once a week to the blog Southern Belle View.  And she directs the website She Reads.  I know at this point you are shaking your head in wonder.

And you have probably also gotten an image of the type of book she writes, and you would be right.  Her books are wonderful, Southern stories about women.  The women may not be perfect...they have had obstacles in their lives, made some bad choices perhaps, but strive to do the right thing, and reclaim their spirituality.  These are stories you can embrace.

Synopsis:  From the time Macy Dillon was five years old, she vacationed with her family at Sunset Beach, North Carolina.  Because she has always been a talented artist, her father encouraged her to draw pictures in the rental house's guest book each year.  And to her delight, an unnamed boy would draw pictures as well, and the two began a unique correspondence.  Until Macy was 16 years old, that is, when her father unexpectedly dies, and her family decides never to return to this place so filled with memories.  Macy has always wondered what happened to that boy, and if he was her soul mate that got lost in bad timing.

Ten years later, Macy's life has gone astray.  She has turned her back against God, had a daughter out of wedlock, and is struggling to make ends meet.  The father of her daughter Emma has recently come back into their lives, but for how long?  And her dream of being an "artist" seems to have been lost in the chaos.  It seems that none of her family has gotten over the death of her father...he mother lingers over a shrine of sorts, and her brother is engaged in a self-destructive battle with alcohol.  One day, though, Macy's mother suggests that the four of them go back to that rental house in Sunset Beach for two weeks.  Perhaps they can face the painful memories and move on with their lives.  

And in the back of Macy's mind is her friend from the guest book.  Is he still around?  If they were able to meet today, would they rekindle their childhood connection?  Or is that just a silly fantasy born from a lonely heart?  In a moment of desperation one night on the beach, Macy prays, asking for Him to bring her the long lost boy.  But you know what they say!  Be careful what you wish for...

My thoughts:  The best way I can describe my reading experiences with Marybeth's books is snuggling down in my comfy clothes in my comfy chair and enjoying myself without fear.  Her stories are not all resolved easily, and sometimes things can get awkward, but I can relax knowing that I am in good hands.  I know she will take care of me and not manipulate me or mess with my head.  

Granted, once in awhile I LIKE to be messed with, but there is comfort in knowing where I can go for safe harbor.  

Years and years ago, pre-kids, pre-everything grown up, my husband and I vacationed at Sunset Beach.  It was magical and beautiful and so untouched by tourism.  The Deep South crossed with the tranquility of the sea and sand.  This story reminded me that I needed to get back there.  This is the perfect location for Macy to find herself.

The idea of retreating to a childhood beach rental in order to battle demons, and to perhaps find one's soul mate was precious and whimsical.  The fact that at one point it seemed to be raining hot men made it even more fun.  It almost becomes a mystery...a guessing game...on which of these men might be Macy's childhood romance.  I'd bet that each reader will be rooting for their own favorite.  The best part is that there really is no wrong answer.  Maybe it is a little fantastical but it will cure what ails you.

What makes this story unique, I think, is that Marybeth weaves some heartfelt spirituality into the story without it ever getting preachy or overbearing.  This is her gift.  She makes it all work seamlessly.

So go read Gone Girl and get your head crushed, then relax and dip into something that will nurse your battered soul.  

4 out of 5 stars  

   

13 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I agree - Marybeth weaves spirituality into her stories without being preachy. I haven't read this one yet so I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Your first paragraph shows me there is someone in the world who actually does more than you! LOL

Meg @ write meg! said...

Good to know I can relax and unwind within the pages of a story like this -- definitely sounds appealing! And as someone who has returned to the same grimy-but-lovable beach house for decades now, that plot intrigues me.

Zibilee said...

I can't wait to get to this one. It isn't easy to find an author who connects fully with the reader in a gentle way, but Marybeth does, and she really gets to the heart of her characters. I know that I need to hurry and clear some room for this one; not only because I look forward to it, but because my soul could use some healing balm, and that's what her books provide for me. Fantastic review today!

Julie P. said...

I have this one and so want to read it! Maybe next?

Anita said...

I've got to get this one in my line up soon. I admire and respect Marybeth so much,her gentle spirit is such a nice change of pace. Wonderful review Sandy.

StoriesAndSweetPotatoes said...

This is on my shelf also for SheReads :) And I do plan on reading Gone Girl as well so I will balance it out with this one!

Jenners said...

I love how you describe this … it seems like a balm for a battered reading brain.

caite said...

I love that cover..if that reflects the mood of the book, I can see why for feel the way you do about the book.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've never read one of her books (where have I been?!). I do like the way this one sounds; think it might be a good one to start off the spring next year!

Stephanie Ward said...

After reading Boy A and We Need to Talk About Kevin back to back, I need some literary comfort food! This does sound like a really good read.

Jackie Bailey said...

I love the idea of people drawing pictures in guest books! I'm no good at art, but would love it if everyone created something instead of just writing things. Sounds like a good premise for a book, but I worry that local connection is what makes it so special for you.

Kathleen said...

Of course after reading your review I am dying to know if she finds that guy again! I love that I can read Gone Girl and then read this one to balance it out and not drive myself too crazy!