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review 2019-01-06 02:17
A novel about the choices we make and the possibility of going back to change them.
The Dinner List - Rebecca Serle

The dinner list, - A Novel, Rebecca Serle, author and narrator

When Sabrina was still a university student at USC, by chance, at a photographic exhibit, she meets a young man from UCLA who is studying photography. For her, it was kismet, but they made no plans to meet again, and he soon disappeared from her life. When, four years later, not in California, but in New York City, she spies him again, their friendship begins in earnest. She is sure it was written into her destiny as their relationship develops and grows stronger. He is working as a photographer, and she works in publishing. Her career is more suited to New York, but California would be better for his future. It is a dilemma. How would it be resolved?

Sabrina had a best friend, Jessica, who was close to her and her mother and was almost like family. They had a birthday ritual. Every year, the girls took each other out to celebrate. The birthday girl chose the restaurant. One time, the two discussed which five people they would invite to their birthday dinner, if they could have anyone. Sabrina’s list was Audrey Hepburn, her father’s favorite movie star, Tobias, the love of her life, Jessica, her friend forever, Robert, her father who had abandoned her and her mother, and Conrad, a former professor who always left her with something to think about.

When Sabrina arrived to meet Jessica for her birthday celebration, there were more seats than she expected at her table. Her five people were actually attending her dinner. She stopped thinking about how and why the guests were there and allowed herself to experience an evening that shouldn’t have been possible.

As the dinner progresses, Conrad is the one who encourages the conversation and Audrey facilitates it. Jessica keeps interjecting with her own opinions which are sometimes contrary to Sabrina’s, and Tobias seems to want to reassert their relationship. Robert reveals the details of his life. The reader discovers that not all of the guests are alive! The dinner conversation delves into their lives and examines their relationships. Love, loss, friendship, grief, disappointment, and need are just some of the emotions that are explored. The conversation allows each guest to relieve their minds of certain burdens.

The story takes on a bittersweet reunion atmosphere. Poor choices are revealed and some of the guests are able to explain the circumstances that changed and influenced her life and theirs, although Sabrina had not known about a lot of the facts that they are exposing. It enlightened her and enriched her life in such a way that she was now able to move forward, where before she had been stuck grieving over past mistakes, losses and things beyond her control.

At times, she had been selfish and at times she had deliberately overlooked things that she should have dealt with that could have solved a problem, Instead, she took the less stressful, easy way out. At times, she was immature and wouldn’t deal with reality because it was painful. As each of the guests faced and revealed their lives by looking back, through memories, at their pain and sorrow, Sabrina realized that she was not alone in her feelings of sadness and pain, there were others who also suffered losses and grief, and dilemmas that were difficult to solve. Although there would only be this one brief dinner to work through all of her questions and doubts about her life and to ponder about any changes she would have or could have made, the conversation was able to enrich her and enable her to move forward.

There was a bit of magical realism in the story, but it was more dreamlike than make-believe. It was simple and easy to read. The characters revealed themselves well as they explained behavior and character traits she had never understood or accepted. The experience allowed Sabrina to say good bye to her past instead of remaining stuck in some part of it. It also allowed the rest of the characters to move on to occupy a space in her life that was more acceptable to both Sabrina and them.

In general, I don’t think authors should read their own books on audios and this one reinforced my belief. The author’s voice lacked the resonance and maturity of a professional and, at times, it was irritating to me because it was almost too matter of fact in its portrayal of the narrative. Still, it was an interesting story with an imaginative plot. It made me wonder, at my stage of life, if there would be five people I would like to revisit with in order to explore our relationship, and it made me wonder if there was anything in my life that I would go back to and change if I could.

What would you do if you could pick five people to have dinner with, living or dead? Who would you pick? If the opportunity really arose, how would you handle yourself? Would you be happy to be with the people or would you unload all your hidden anger and resentment? Would problems get resolved? Would they grow worse? Could you be mature enough to deal with the issues that are suddenly revealed to you that you never knew about, unknown families, resentments, needs? It is an interesting question to ponder. It makes one realize the importance of the choices we make because we carry them with us down the road of life.

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review 2018-08-16 02:14
THE DINNER LIST BY REBECCA SERLE
The Dinner List - Rebecca Serle

I was pleasantly surprised to find The Dinner List in my mailbox a week back. The premise was interesting, I think we've all at least considered the question, if you could name five people, living or dead, who you could invite to dinner, who would they be? So the idea of having this dream dinner come true, what would that ACTUALLY look like, would everyone get along? Would some people end up not being what you thought they'd be like? Etc. Well our MC Sabrina had just this happen at 30th birthday dinner, her five living and deceased people there for her.

 

 

The story takes place over the span of this one time only dinner, and also jumps back to past events between Sabrina and all of the guests. While the story starts off a little awkward between the guests and what they are all really doing there, it starts all coming to light as it progresses. With a twist or two along the way!

 

This was a little of a slow burn. Not action packed by any means, but ultimately very emotional with some truly fantastic ideas about what it is to grow up, relationships, love, loss, and forgiveness.

 

A few things that resonated deeply with me:

 

1) The brilliant portrayal of what it is like to become an adult. To really start to question all the things around you, the relationships, the goals you want to achieve, what you want to do or be, want you really want and need vs what others may want or need or expect you to. The last one especially, we are almost hardwired on what to expect from life, go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, start a family, etc. I feel like we don't start questioning these things, if any or all of them are truly what we want or if we are just operating on someone else's playbook until we are in our twenties. It was refreshing and so real to see this exactly so beautifully on display in this book.

 

2) How relationships change over time. This can be such a difficult lesson to learn, but as we grow and our lives carry us in new exciting directions, our relationships change. That doesn't always mean they change for the worse, but one they definitely become something other than the center of your life, which is mostly how they feel when you are young. More often than not, it isn't even anything definable that changes it, no big dramatic moment, not one thing, it changes "Not with a bang but a whimper". Just a progressive shift of priorities, opinions, and lifestyles.

 

 

I thought this was expertly portrayed by Sabrina and Jessica in The Dinner List. Sometimes it can be so difficult to see that while your relationships look different, it doesn't necessarily mean make them less than they were. Jessica had a husband and a baby, living in the burbs, while Sabrina was in the city with a job and a long term boyfriend. Neither one being better than the other, but time, distance, priorities, these all account for just how we can be there for each other sometimes.

 

This was also highlighted well with Sabrina's relationship with Tobias as well. With them getting together when they were younger and growing up as a couple. I felt like in some instances as they grew, they started veering in different directions and it can be really hard to accept that some of those directions may just end up being deal breakers. They seemed more content to try and live in a bubble of denial that things were changing, maybe because they were afraid of what that change would mean for them as a couple. Unfortunately denial can only last so long and their bubble was reaching the bursting point for quite some time.

 

3) The absentee parent. Being someone who never met my father, I could relate to Sabrina and her inclusion of her father on her dinner list. If for nothing more than the burning questions, because there are always questions you have for someone meant to be there for you that wasn't. I was riveted by all their interactions with each other tbh. So many small details even, that rang so true, like Sabrina's apprehension to give him a chance to explain things like it would somehow be a betrayal to her mother.

 

There was something so brilliant and sad about them finally having only a few hours to say what they had to say to each other. And something so relatable to anyone, when you finally see your parents for what they are, human. Such a jarring realization to know that these larger than life pillars are merely flesh and bone people who aren't always right, make mistakes, and aren't all good or bad, but varying shades of grey like the rest of us.

 

Honestly, this book was more heavy than I anticipated going in, but in a wonderful way. And the inclusion of Audrey Hepburn and a random teacher of Sabrina's helped lighten the load a little throughout. They ended up bringing a nice balance to the dinner and the story itself. This was one dinner that just might change Sabrina's life, and one book that will make you think about your own. Very well done and I look forward to reading more from this author.

 

*I received an ARC of this book via Flatiron Books and this is my honest review*

 

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review 2018-08-06 02:45
Memorable for Its Message
The Dinner List - Rebecca Serle

About half-way through this book, I realized that the author was the same woman who wrote Famous in Love (which I shamelessly adored). This felt like a huge revelation, since this particular book seemed like a huge deviation from her former releases. The writing style and mature story line are almost unrecognizable, and I really appreciated this aspect. It showed me the diversity of her skills as a writer, which makes me even more excited for her future releases!

 

But onto the actual book review...

 

Though this book is short, there is a lot of info and emotion packed into the 288 pages that are given. Rather than reading a story from start to finish, the book's short chapters made me feel like I was taking brief sneak peeks into Sabrina's life. The timeline is as befuddled as her emotions, and though it seems as though it would be confusing to understand, it somehow works. I felt the emotions of the characters in all their anger, resentment, and denial. Audrey Hepburn's inclusion on the dinner list is truthfully what initially drew me in, but I definitely stayed for the characters and their tangled relationships. While there were some relationships that I felt deserved more of a spot light, I did feel like everything was successfully wrapped up by the story's end. Though the ending did feel slightly depressing, the book delivers a nice message that will leave an impression on readers. All in all, a good read that feels memorable! 3.5 stars!

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review 2018-07-11 06:05
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle
The Dinner List - Rebecca Serle

Sabrina thinks she is celebrating her 30th birthday with a quiet dinner with her best friend and old roommate. She arrives to find four extra people around the table.

This was a book with a cute premise and a frothy surface, but there was more to the plot then I expected at first. Sabrina at the prodding of her roommate wrote down a list of the five people, alive or dead, that she'd want to have dinner with. Over the years, if subconsciously, she's revised the list and now has the chance to speak with them all together. The night will have plenty more surprises.

Her guest list: her best friend Jessica who Sabrina feels growing away from her now that they have such different lives; her ex boyfriend of many years; her father, who left her and her mother when young for a new family and is now deceased; her professor, a father-surrogate and fount of wisdom; and Audrey Hepburn, because, duh.

'The Dinner List' is a fun book to read, even the serious parts. It begs the reader to ask the question of themselves. My list:

My husband, because, duh.
Grandma, my father's mother,
The woman who lived in our house for almost 100 years before us,
Glenway Wescott,
Shirley Jackson

There are so many possibilities - I liked how Serle examined this question so closely, the reasoning behind Sabrina original choices and why substitutions were made. A good idea, well explored.

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