“The Guest Book” by Sarah Blake; Flatiron Books, New York, 2019; 508 pages, paperback (2020), $17.99.

Maine’s islands have made nice, solid settings for novels for a long time, and three recent ones happened to come my way this summer.

Sarah Blake’s “The Guest Book” traces the story of the wealthy Milton family from the 1930s, when patriarch Ogden and matriarch Kitty on a youthful whim buy the fictional Crockett’s Island, just adjacent to the real Vinalhaven. They fix up the old house and turn the place into the family summer retreat, which becomes an idyllic nexus for their family and social complexities.

Ogden’s international finance business takes him to Nazi Germany, where in the turmoil prior to World War II he makes decisions which come to affect the whole family decades later. As their children come of age during the fast-paced 1950s, Ogden and Kitty, and their old-money beliefs, start to feel the stresses of America’s changing social mores, especially those of class and race. By the beginning of the 21st century, the grandchildren are struggling with fraying family loyalties, finances and moral underpinnings, all in different ways. The family’s complex problems play out mainly on the island, and what you get from this well-written book is likely a quite accurate picture of the well-to-do summer people whom many of us here in Maine glimpse only from the ferry.

Sarah Blake, of Washington, D.C., is also the author of “Grange House” and “The Postmistress.” She told an interviewer that the island in “The Guest Book” was “inspired by an island I grew up going to, one that my grandparents bought in 1936.”


North Haven resident Kate Hotchkiss in her first novel, “On Harbor’s Edge,” tells the story of Mildred May Gale, a resident of an outer island early in the 20th century. She gets married to a somewhat older fisherman who whisks her in a dory to his home on neighboring Popplestone Isle, where she becomes the island schoolmistress.

Mildred starts out her new life with youthful hope and enthusiasm, but difficulties soon set in. She finds herself struggling to help right the island along with dealing with her stodgy husband, Thaddeus, who is in many ways the stereotypical old-

“On Harbor’s Edge: Book One: 1912-1913” by Kate Hotchkiss; Maine Authors Publishing, Thomaston, Maine, 2020; 300 pages, trade paperback, $18.95.

fashioned working-class male chauvinist. Mildred spars nobly against his efforts to control her, including in bed.

At one point the push and pull of their relationship is aptly revealed when Mildred decides to teach Thaddeus to read. His first text is “Goodnight Moon,” a copy of which Mildred has somehow acquired about 35 years ahead of its first publication. They work on it until Thaddeus, in a characteristically fragmentary exchange of dialogue, asks her to read a different picture book about a boat because he’s “sick of saying goodnight to the goddamn moon.” Mildred comes to “cherish” the reading sessions, “treating my husband just as I did my younger students.”

“On Harbor’s Edge” is the first in a projected series of novels of island life spanning the 20th century into the 21st. Kate Hotchkiss is a photographer and journalist who has contributed to local publications such as Island Journal, Maine Boats Homes & Harbors and The Working Waterfront. The book is available through Maine Authors Publishing’s website as well as local and online book sellers.


Mary Kubica’s “The Other Mrs.” is a straight-up psychological thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock school of storytelling. Will and Sadie Foust have just moved to a Maine island suspiciously similar to Peaks Island in Portland, after Will inherited his sister’s house there following her sudden death. Sadie is from the outset uncomfortable with the whole scene, observing upfront that “There’s something off about the house,” not to mention the remaining resident of the house, Will’s disaffected 16-year-old niece.

As narrator of most of the chapters, Sadie slowly reveals, mostly unwittingly, that she is not always quite in touch with reality. When a neighbor is horrifically murdered just down the street and the island police get involved, Sadie appears to edge toward a psychological tipping point. Interspersed among Sadie’s chapters are mostly shorter chapters narrated by Camille, who pursues Will and is the flamboyant dead opposite of neurotic Sadie, and a little girl named Mouse who tells the story of “Fake Mom,” an evil stepmother.

As in all well-paced murder mysteries, it all comes together, and offers a wholly believable surprise ending to boot. “The Other Mrs.” will not win any awards for stylistic excellence, but it’s a good read, like we say, and compact enough in its wintry,

“The Other Mrs.” by Mary Kubica; Park Row Books, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2020; 364 pages, hardcover, $21.95.

semi-gothic Maine island effect that it is in the process of being turned into a Netflix movie.

Mary Kubica lives in the Chicago area and is the author of other best-selling novels such as “The Good Girl,” “Pretty Baby” and others.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

Comments are not available on this story.