When Macy Dillon was five years old her father encouraged her to draw a picture in the guestbook of a Carolina beach house. The next year, Macy returned to discover a drawing by an unidentified little boy on the facing page. Over the next eleven years the children continue to exchange drawings … until tragedy ends visits to the beach house altogether. During her final trip to Sunset, Macy asks her anonymous friend to draw her one last picture and tells him where to hide the guest book in hopes that one day she will return to find it—and him. Twenty-five years after that first picture, Macy is back at Sunset Beach—this time toting a broken family and a hurting heart. One night, alone by the ocean, Macy asks God to help her find the boy she never forgot, the one whose beautiful pictures touched something deep inside of her. Will she ever find him? And if she does, will the guestbook unite them or merely be the relic of a lost childhood?
About the Author
Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. She is the cofounder of She Reads, an online book club focused on spotlighting the best in women's fiction. Marybeth is the author of The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, The Guest Book, and The Wishing Tree. Marybeth and her family live in North Carolina. Visit her website at www.marybethwhalen.com.
Read an Excerpt
The Guest BookA novel
By Marybeth Whalen
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Marybeth Whalen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe first thing Macy Dillon noticed when she entered her mother's house on her dead father's birthday was the missing pictures. The front room—a place she and her brother Max had dubbed "the shrine"—was usually filled with photos and mementos from her father's short life. It was a place Macy had a habit of breezing through, if for no other reason than to avoid the memories the room evoked. But this time she paused, noticing space where there had once been pictures, gaping holes like missing teeth. Macy looked down and saw some boxes on the floor, the framed photos resting in them. Perhaps her mother was just cleaning. That had to be it. Macy couldn't imagine her mother ever taking down the shrine. She glanced up, her eyes falling on one of the photos still standing. In it, her father, Darren Dillon, stood beside Macy on the pier at Sunset Beach the summer she was five years old, the sun setting behind them, matching smiles filling their faces.
"Mommy? Is that you? We're back here making Grandpa's birthday cake!"
Macy followed the sound of her daughter's voice coming from the kitchen, feeling the pang she always felt when she heard her daughter refer to Darren as Grandpa. He died years before Emma was born, so she had never known him as a grandpa who doled out candy and did magic tricks. Instead, Emma Lewis knew her grandpa only through an abundance of pictures and stories. Her grandma had made sure of that since the day she was born.
Macy made her way to the back of the house where the sunny kitchen faced the backyard. The large bay window gave a perfect view of the tree house and tire swing she had loved as a child. Earlier this spring, Macy's brother had refurbished both so Emma could enjoy them. Macy smiled at the thought of Max's kindness toward the little girl who had come along unexpectedly and who had, just as unexpectedly, stolen all their hearts, as though they had been waiting to breathe again until the day she was born and injected fresh life into what had become a lifeless family.
Macy leaned down and kissed the top of her daughter's head, then touched her mother's back lightly, noticing the slight stoop to her shoulders that had come with the weight of both grief and age. "You guys sure look busy in here," she said.
Emma stared intently into a bowl where a creamy off-white substance was being turned blue by the food coloring her mother slowly dripped into the bowl. "Grandma's letting me stir," she told her mother without looking up. "We're making blue icing for Grandpa's cake 'cause it was his favorite color. Right, Mommy?"
Macy's eyes filled with tears, surprising her, as she nodded. She could still see her dad pointing to the sky. "I think blue is God's favorite color too," he'd once told her. "It's the color of the sky, the ocean, and your eyes." He had tweaked her nose and tickled her until she giggled.
Looking away, Macy willed herself the emotional control she would need to get through the meal. She wished her mom, Brenda Dillon, wouldn't carry on this ridiculous tradition of marking the day with a cake and Dad's favorite meal, wouldn't continue insisting that Macy and Max join her in the morbidness. Macy had heard that other families moved forward after loss. But her family seemed determined to stay in the same place, trapped in grief. She hated involving her impressionable daughter in the grim annual tradition and wondered if she would have the courage to tell Brenda that she and Emma and her husband, if she had one, would no longer participate.
Emma smiled at her and looked up at her grandmother. "Mommy, did you tell Grandma what we're doing tonight?"
Macy tried to paste on a smile instead of grimacing at her daughter's mention of their plans for after the depressing dinner. She had hoped that Emma would forget and that Chase, Emma's long-time missing father, would back out, as Macy knew he was likely to do. When she agreed to the plans, she hadn't thought about them falling on this very night. She hadn't thought about anything besides making her daughter happy, keeping the radiant smile on her face by giving her whatever her heart desired. It was, Macy reasoned, the least she could do for bringing such a beautiful little person into her wreck of a life. If that meant sleeping in a tent in the cold of their tiny backyard at home, then that's what they would do. If it meant she had to invite the man who seemed to know best how to slip into the cracks of her heart, then she would go along with it.
Macy's mom looked at her. "What are you doing tonight?" Her eyebrows were already raised as though she sensed the answer would not be one of which she would approve. Brenda, a willing and hapless participant, had accompanied Macy through the drama that was her relationship with Chase. She had whispered cautionary advice to her daughter when Chase first pursued Macy. She had found a way to rejoice over Emma despite the lack of a wedding ring on Macy's finger. She had let Emma and Macy move in when Chase had suddenly left, just like everyone expected. She had encouraged Macy to find work and a place of her own. She had championed her daughter's single-mother status, telling people how proud she was of her daughter as Macy scraped her life together, renounced Chase completely, and moved forward.
When Macy didn't say anything, Emma rolled her eyes, a habit she had picked up, far too young, from the evil Hannah Montana. Emma knew every word to "Best of Both Worlds" and often forced Macy to put the song on repeat play.
"Since Mommy won't tell you, I will," she announced. "We are sleeping under the stars tonight ..." she paused dramatically, "in a tent!"
Macy thought she had dodged the bullet of giving any more information than that. Her mother relaxed visibly.
"That sounds like fun!" her mother said, taking the spatula out of Emma's hands to give the thick icing a forceful stir, the lines of blue spreading and melding as she did. Macy watched, wondering if she had ever really stood and paid attention as her mother made the traditional blue icing for Dad's birthday cake. Had she always looked away in an effort to protect herself from the reality of what they were marking?
"It's going to be fun!" Emma said, sticking a small finger into the icing and scooping out a dollop she popped into her mouth with a giggle. "We're going to be like cowgirls. And we don't have to be scared, because Daddy's going to be there to protect us because he's a real cowboy."
Macy raised her eyes skyward, her hopes of dodging the taboo subject vanished. She could imagine Chase telling Emma he was a real cowboy, explaining his absence over the last five years in a made-up story. He was good at making up stories.
She looked at her mother, who was staring at her over the top of Emma's head, her frown knitting her brows together.
"Your daddy's going to come?" her mother asked Emma, still staring at Macy. "Really now."
Macy stared right back at her mother. "Emma invited us both," she said, feigning a stalwartness she didn't possess. "It was what she wanted."
"Oh, well then," her mother said, "if Emma invited you both then all's well." She shook her head slowly at Macy over the top of Emma's head. "Hey, Emma, why don't you go get our special Grandpa candles out of the buffet in the dining room? You know where I'm talking about?"
Emma nodded vigorously and scampered out of the room, eager to help. Sometimes Macy wondered if Emma ever shared the bizarre aspects of her life with her teacher or friends at school or day care. Disappearing fathers and dinners for dead grandfathers were sure to make people wonder about the environment the child was being raised in.
Macy just looked at her mother. "Don't," she said.
"Don't what?" her mother asked, hefting the bowl of icing onto the counter beside the freshly baked cake. She slapped a scoop of icing onto the center of the cake and began to spread it around a little too forcefully. Looking down at the cake, she added, "Don't tell you what a horrible idea it is for you to spend the night under the stars with Chase Lewis?"
A memory flashed across the canvas of Macy's mind. Chase leaning close to her, his breath on her face, igniting her insides as he always did whenever he stood so close. She could feel the heat of his body, the beat of his heart. She could hear his Texas drawl as, lips centimeters from her ear, he said, "We make a good couple, I think. Mace and Chase. We rhyme."
She pushed the thought of him from her mind and focused on trying to catch her mother's eye. "Emma will be there," she pointed out.
"A five-year-old is going to serve as your chaperone? You're really going to stand there and offer that up?" Her mother spun around, waving the blue-tinted spatula at Macy to emphasize her point. "You're smarter than that, Macy. Do I need to remind you where you were when he left?"
"At least I'm not in the same place I was then," Macy said, turning things back on her mother. "You're doing the exact same thing now that you were doing ten years ago. Nothing about your life's changed, Mom. At least things change in my life."
It was a weak argument, but it worked to deflect the heat she was feeling under Brenda's disappointed gaze.
Her mother sighed, lowering the spatula in defeat. She turned back to the cake and stood for a few seconds, not moving. Macy was about to launch into how awful it was that her mother kept special candles for a man who'd been dead for ten years when she heard a door slam and then, from the dining room, Emma's voice calling, "Uncle Max is here!"
Macy couldn't decide whether to thank her brother for his impeccable timing or curse him for interrupting. Something told her she wanted to hear what Brenda would've said if she'd been able to confront her.
Yet there was part of Macy that wanted to be saved from having to hear the truth. For just one night, she wanted to enjoy sleeping under the stars with her precious gift of a daughter and the man who had given Emma to her. Like a real family. There was nothing wrong with that.
* * *
Max pushed back from the table and laid his hands across his stomach with a groan. "Mom, you outdid yourself, as always," he said.
Brenda smiled at her son and avoided looking at Macy, a holdover from their angry words in the kitchen. Dinner would've been a quiet affair if not for Emma and Max bantering back and forth.
Max was the quintessential uncle—silly, fun, a big kid himself—and Emma loved him.
Without saying a word, Brenda stood and began to clear the dishes from the table. Normally Macy would jump up to assist, but this time she let Brenda leave the room without offering to help.
Max turned to her. "Okay. What's up between you two?"
Macy shook her head. "Nothing I care to discuss with you, Uncle Max," she responded as she nodded her head toward Emma, who was making Goldfish crackers swim through the remaining gravy on her plate.
Max grinned and raised his eyebrows. "Hey, Emma. Why don't you go help Grandma in the kitchen?"
Emma left the Goldfish to drown in the gravy and ran to the kitchen, calling, "Let me help, Grandma!"
Macy stuck her tongue out at Max and rolled her eyes as he grinned in victory. "Okay, spill it, Sis," he said.
"She's mad at me. That's all." She gestured toward the clattering of dishes and running water coming from the kitchen. She guessed Brenda was taking her frustration toward Macy out on the dishes. "Why don't you go help her and be the good child in this family?"
He waved her suggestion away. "I'll go help in a minute. First I want to know why she's mad at you."
"Well, she doesn't approve of a decision I made. And, in my defense, I might have criticized her decision to have this dinner year after year." She pointed toward the shrine that was housed in the room adjoining the dining room. She almost commented on the missing photos but decided not to bring that up. "It doesn't bring him back."
Max shook his head, not bothering to look in the direction she was pointing. She lowered her finger, feeling somewhat ashamed. "It makes her happy to remember him in this way. It makes him seem close. What's wrong with that?" Max asked.
"I guess I'm just tired of living with Dad's ghost, of living in the same place. I want her to move on." She faced her brother, unblinking. "I want to move on."
He shrugged. "So move on, Mace. No one's stopping you." He paused, looking past her, out the window behind her. "Except maybe you?" He smiled at her. "You don't get to stick Mom with that. I have a feeling that whatever Mom's mad about has something to do with Chase. Am I right?"
It wasn't difficult to guess. Their usually unflappable mother got her feathers ruffled in a hurry whenever the subject of Chase came up.
Macy couldn't help but smile. "Yeah." She held her hands up. "You got me."
"And?" Max asked, showing his dimples even as he pushed her for the truth she didn't want to divulge. She loved her brother and often wondered why he wasn't married, rarely dated, and always seemed to mess up anything good that came into his life. Not unlike her.
She shook her head, knowing the absurdity of what she was about to reveal and bracing herself for Max's reaction. She told herself it was really no big deal—that Max and her mother were making more of it than it really was. She had spent the last few years getting stronger, creating a healthy distance between her and Chase. One night wasn't going to undo all of that.
"Well," she began, looking away from Max, down at the empty space where her plate had sat, at the round indentation still visible on the tablecloth, "Chase is back."
Max chuckled. "So I guess this is your version of 'cutting to the chase.' "
She looked up at him. "Ha-ha. Very funny."
She looked back down at the circle on the tablecloth, tracing it with her finger. "He's been coming to see Emma. That's all. He wants to be in her life. And he should. I mean, it makes her happy."
Max laughed loudly, and she looked up at him with a glare.
"Seriously, Mace, do you buy this? You obviously expect me to."
"Buy what?" She looked at him, willing herself to look like an innocent bystander instead of the initiator her family was painting her out to be.
"'Buy what?'" he mimicked her, chuckling to himself. "Look, I am not one to offer advice on love."
Macy snorted. "I'll say!"
He rolled his eyes. "You don't have to agree so readily," he grumbled, taking a sip of his sweet tea.
"If the shoe fits," she challenged, kicking him under the table.
"Ah-ha!" he said. "I'm not wearing shoes!" He stuck his tongue out at her and kicked her back with his bare foot.
She shook her head and laughed in spite of herself. She was thankful to have her brother, even if he was a pain. "I can take care of myself. Emma and I are doing fine."
"But?" he countered. "Something set Mom off."
"Emma told her that Chase is coming over to spend the night tonight. They're sleeping outside in a tent."
He raised his eyebrows and wiggled them. "And you will be ... where, exactly?"
She closed her eyes and inhaled. "I promised Emma I would be out there with them." She paused as he slapped his hand down on the table like he had just won a bet. "But!" she continued. "But! I have thought better of it. And now I am going to tell Chase he can sleep outside in the tent with Emma, and I will be inside the house making good decisions."
"And when did you make this good decision?" Max asked, nudging her under the table with his bare foot.
She raised her eyes to meet his. "Just now," she said quietly.
The corners of his mouth turned into a half smile. "Good girl." He rose from the table. "Now I've got to go tell Mom that I talked you into doing the right thing." He pretended to rub an imaginary halo on top of his head, a long-standing joke between them. "It feels good to be the good one. For a change." He picked up his glass and Emma's glass, pausing before he left the room. "Good call, Sis. Keep being the smart, strong one. I know you can."
She flattened both of her hands on the tablecloth and breathed deeply, imagining the conversation she would have to have with Chase, dreading Emma's tears when she realized her plan of family togetherness was ruined.
Excerpted from The Guest Book by Marybeth Whalen Copyright © 2012 by Marybeth Whalen . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was a wonderful summer read. It was very suspenseful and the characters were well developed and likable. I visit this part of the country often and the story made me feel like I was there. I will certainly read more books by this author. She is a gifted writer.
This is a great modern romantic read for any time of year - in the summer, it'll have you longing for some time at the beach, and in every other season, it'll have you looking forward to the fun possibilities that every summer brings. The characters are fun and full of life, and there is a sweet, very romantic mystery involving the Guest Book that had me guessing all the way to the end and left my heart happy. I found myself identifying with and really rooting for Macy, the protagonist. The only thing I didn't like about this is that it had to end... I want a sequel!
Twenty-six-year-old Macy Dillon is a single mother of one. She doesn't love her job, she isn't sure if she should take back her daughter's father (that left them when Emma was born), and she just has a general feeling of being unsettled. Add on to that a brother that she has to bail out of jail quite frequently and a mother who can't get over Macy's father, that died ten years ago, and you've got a family that needs some healing. So they decide to head back to the family vacation spot that they stopped frequenting after Macy's dad died. Time In a Bottle, a beach house that has many bittersweet memories for the Dillon family. But, Macy also wants to go there because a part of her has never gotten over the boy that she's been corresponding with through pictures in a guest book since she was five. Macy has hopes of finding this man that she's never actually met, and tries to keep her heart open when she arrives at the beach house. Just hoping that he hasn't forgotten about her. We're given three possibilities of who the mysterious artist could be from very early on in the book. Also, it could, quite possibly, not be any of them. I find all three of the men that Macy meets to be likeable and I was switching back-and-forth through the book as to who I wanted to artist to be. I also enjoyed seeing Macy's mom and brother on their own journeys to healing. You can see that all of them have a large amount of pain to get over before they move on with their lives. But, Time In a Bottle, promises to bring each of them a little bit of joy to erase some of their heartache. I absolutely loved this book. When I got to the end and the "big reveal", I was honestly surprised. But, extrememly please with how Ms. Whalen chose to go. I also loved the message that if you just depend on God to take care of you and realize that He'll never forget you or leave you alone, you can find your way home.
Budding artist, Macy Dillion drew her first picture in the guesthouse at a vacation beach house when she was five. Over the years, a young boy drew pictures back to her, and they developed a line of communication that followed them through the years. Then Macy¿s father died, she got pregnant, and the father of her child left her. Now five years later, her child¿s father returns, but her mother plans another vacation to Sunset Beach. Macy is determined to find the artist from the guestbook to see if he still feels the connection from the past.I wasn¿t prepared to like this book, since I perceived it to be a basic romance novel, but I did. The story weaves around Macy, her mother, and her brother, who have all reached turning points in their lives. The characters captured me from the beginning and pulled me in as I watched this hurting family turn toward joy. This is a great read to curl up and enjoy.Received Galley from NetGalley.com
This should have been described as Christian Fiction. I would not have bought it.
Read. Nook did not dowload my review, but I liked the book. GJRA
Very predictable. Definitely not a "keep on shelf" book.
This book should have been in the religious section. Poorly written and very predictable..
Not great, but good.
As a general rule, I do not read books that are advertised as being Christian or religious, but the story behind this book sounded intriguing, so I thought I would give it a try. Besides some religious books a subtle and this one did start out that way, but when the religious zest kicked in it was every other page until the ending. Some readers would not mind that. But, the book is dull and boring; which is a shame because it could have been so much better. The main character, Macy, has a victim mentality and is a self-doubt, extreme over-thinker. There is way too much self-dialog in the book to the point of repetition. And speaking of repetition, the author must have thought it heightened the curiosity by constantly referring to the mysterious artist, but it just gets old. Many times, as I read through the repeated drudge, I wished that the story would move forward. We do not get a lot of character development—only the over-thinker Macy. There rest of the characters, could have been so much more interesting, but they are way too superficial. I wish there had been more dialog between the characters, not just the narrative about Macy. The ending is unresolved in my mind.
Wish I didn't waste my time.
Loved this sweet story. Took a number of unexpected turns. Would highly recommend.
At our little cabin in the northwoods we have a cabin journal in which we capture the special moments of each trip. We encourage others who visit the cabin to write in the journal, too, even the little ones. Sometimes they draw pictures. Throughout the entries there is a kind of back and forth communication, even a little campfire cooking rivalry. If someone else has been at the cabin since we were there last, both my husband and I will check the cabin journal right away after we unpack to read the latest news (which is very silly because we've usually talked to those people directly and already know the important stuff). In The Guest Book by Marybeth Whalen, young Macy had that same eager anticipation to check the guest book of the beach cottage she and her family rented for their annual vacation. It all started the summer she was five and she, encouraged by her father, drew a picture of some shells in the guest book. The next summer she found another picture had been added by a boy who also left behind a photograph, but not his name. Over the next ten summers drawings went back and forth and a secret friendship was forged. Then when a teenager, Macy received a note that she should go to a particular pier at a certain time and they would finally meet. Instead Macy convinced her mother to leave the beach house early and that they should not return next summer. Why didn't Macy meet her secret friend? How can an innocent childhood game still affect the now 26 year old woman? The answers to those questions are the heart of Whalen's contemporary novel. For now I will say that Macy, her mother, and her older brother all are emotionally stalled because of the father's death which happened that year when she was 15. Life has gone on, Macy has become a single mother, brother Max has "settled" into a life of partying and destructive behavior, and mom has built a shrine of memories to insulate her. A crack of change appears when mom suggests that once again the whole family travel to the same beach house for two weeks. Then the first night at the beach, Macy, who has simply buried God with her father, prays a single prayer - that God will finally reveal who the childhood artist is. Seemingly like miracles, three possibilities appear, each interested in the adult Macy, and she in him. But a larger lesson comes with the possibility that none of them is the childhood friend -- the lesson that we all have an Artist to our lives. Do we recognize the strokes of His brush, the shape of His clay? Are we willing to accept his creation within us? With the side stories of brother Max and mom, this is a book that offers something to more than just young romance readers (although that is still the target audience). This book was published in July and I was given an e-copy for review purposes. All opinions are my own. Secular publishers always seem to have a list of "beach reads" for the summer months. For Christian fiction readers, this title would be a good vacation read. Since it is now Labor Day weekend, I can only hope that maybe you have some late, late summer vacation time for some light, but meaningful reading. If not, perhaps you'll want to read this in the depths of January/February when you can only dream of sand beaches.
Loved this novel-what a great beach read. It was especially meaningful to me as I have been fortunate enough to vacation at Sunset Beach for many years
Are you looking for a great vacation read? Marybeth Whalen’s sophomore novel, The Guest Book, is a charming book for vacation, especially if you are going to the beach. Having lived in the Carolinas most of my life and vacationed at Sunset Beach, NC, I was very excited to read Marybeth’s newest book. Marybeth combines a love story that spans many years through pictoral exchanges in a guest book in the beach rental house her family stays in year after year. After the death of the lead character’s (Macy’s) father, the whole family falls into deep grief and stops vacationing at the beach house. The memories are too painful for the family to return to a play of joy and fun memories. After 10 years, the family is ready to move on, and the lead character’s mother rents to same house to put the past to rest. Through the journey this family takes, Macy and her mother find healing and a chance at second love. Marybeth weaves the family’s story together beautifully through flash-backs and current experiences. I enjoyed reading this book. Zondervan provided me with a copy of this book for an honest review.
A GREAT SUMMER READ FULL OF SECOND CHANCES AND HEALING~ THE GUEST BOOK by Mary Beth Whalen is a christian fiction set in Sunset Beach,North Carolina. Follow Macy Dillion to Sunset Beach, North Carolina.Go with Macy with her struggles,grief,healing,regrets, a mysterious guest book,love,second chances, a few twists and turns. A great summer read! Of course, being from Eastern North Carolina myself,and knowing the area only made it seem more real. "The Guest Book" is a complex,compelling,story of childhood memories and God's neverending love. Macy gets her answered prayers with a flood of men. Follow Macy on her journey of discovery and find that dreams do come true after all. A very special book that Guest book turns out to be. Anyone who enjoys Christian reading,a great summer read,love,and God's healing powers.Received for an honest review from the publisher. Details can be found at Zondervan,the author's website and My Book Addiction and More. RATING: 4 HEAT RATING: SWEET REVIEWED BY: AprilR, My Book Addiction and More
Macy and her family spent a few weeks every summer at a beach house in the Carolinas. Each year she would draw a picture in the guest book. And every year she would return to find a picture from a boy in response. Years go by. After the death of her father the family quits their yearly visits. But in order to heal they feel the need to return. Will Macy find the guest book again? Will she finally get to meet the mysterious artist? I loved this book. Maybe it's in part because I grew up in the Carolinas and spent quite a bit of my adult life there as well. But even without that connection I know I would enjoy reading this author's books. The visuals were perfect for picturing the guest house and beach. The characters are well thought out and engaging. I found myself loving each family member and caring about them. The plot was enough to keep me entertained in the story, but the main character and her daughter were the main draws. Definitely a good summer (or any other season) read. I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.