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555 of 580 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Kitchen House", a Noteworthy New Novel
"The Kitchen House"

After reading "The Kitchen House" I believe that Kathleen Grissom has crafted an absorbing historical tale that probes the darkest edges in this villainous period of American history by employing an extraordinary and distinctive approach. The author cleverly created two contrasting protagonists, Lavinia, the white girl-to-woman, and Belle,...
Published on February 11, 2010 by D. Eckert

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640 of 706 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing story, but it had some rough spots
I had a hard time deciding exactly how to rate this one, and I'll explain why. "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom is a novel I was sure I'd love when I read the blurb. I'm a history buff, particularly fond of the South, and an avid reader.

First, the parts I loved. The characters are well-drawn and easy to love or hate, depending on which one we're...
Published on May 27, 2010 by Tina Hayes


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555 of 580 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Kitchen House", a Noteworthy New Novel, February 11, 2010
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"The Kitchen House"

After reading "The Kitchen House" I believe that Kathleen Grissom has crafted an absorbing historical tale that probes the darkest edges in this villainous period of American history by employing an extraordinary and distinctive approach. The author cleverly created two contrasting protagonists, Lavinia, the white girl-to-woman, and Belle, the mixed race slave, to move the story alternately from their separate perspectives; Ms. Grissom guides the reader into the deepest reaches of the soul of each character in the book. For me, at least, this memorable cast of characters, from the good ones to the downright evil ones seems to have established permanent residence in my thoughts. While I agree with M. Jacobsen's comment that Belle's chapters could have been longer (I really loved Belle), I don't believe her role to be less significant than Lavinia's. Lavinia, as a white person observes and shares the slave experience from within. This approach is unique, I think. At least, I don't recall encountering the technique in literature, and I found it extremely compelling.

The actual historical events of the period are less prominent than the actions, emotions and motivations of the people who live on either side of the implied, but not to be violated, boundary between the races. I think that the complicated relationships between Lavinia and Belle, Mama, and many of the other characters, allow the reader to discover tiny, but significant, cracks in this boundary through which the plot races along from crisis to crisis and then to the shocking, yet fitting conclusion.

Ms. Grissom obviously conducted exhaustive research into the time period of the book. As a born Canadian, she must be commended. In the book she succeeded in describing the customs, mores and artifacts of this period in a clear and entertaining way. Often, when reading a novel, I tend to skip over descriptive passages so as not to interrupt plot progression and character development. In "The Kitchen House" I found the descriptions and details charming and sometimes melancholy. Who can forget, now, what a vasculum is, or forget the image of little slave children pulling the cords of the ceiling fans in the dining rooms to cool their masters on stifling summer days?

I enjoyed reading this book so much that I bought several extra copies to share a very inspiring and special reading experience with special people. So, Ms. Grissom - will we be finding out what happens to the "Kitchen House" characters in the next generation? Kathleen Grissom's powerful first novel leaves me eagerly awaiting the next, whether or not it is a sequel or a totally new historical novel from a totally different perspective.

Reviewer,
D. Eckert
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263 of 274 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A review., February 27, 2010
At 17, I realize that I'm not the greatest authority on literary merit. My life has been short, relatively unlived, inexperienced. I spend most of my time living through the lives of fictional people on someone else's pages and I feel the uneven weight of the book in my hands. I read The Kitchen House and couldn't feel a thing that wasn't being felt by Belle and Lavinia. I saw only them, their world. And when it was all over, I felt that I might cry because the last page had turned but suddenly, it seemed like the room wasn't empty.
As I read, all of them- Belle, Ben, Marshall even- had peeled their backs off the words to hover around me. And they haunted me for days, followed me everywhere. This novel is the kind that pulls in one as one person before spitting you back out wholly other. Maybe it's the raw, unabashed emotion, the unhindered heartache that claws into you, snags on that darkest part of you and intensifies it. Makes you regret your sins and rejoice in your loves. Either way, I felt what I've rarely felt- that my short life may have been slightly changed by The Kitchen House- or, really, the lives of those inside of it. That I had moved one inch, however miniscule, closer to that part of my bloodline, my heritage, which had remained so almost dreamlike in its distance, untouchable.
Belle could be anyone's ancestor, Lavinia could be anyone's history.
Yeah, that's it. I felt, I think, for the first time, really connected to a past I had only ever read about in text books. In 2 days, this novel revealed more than 12 years of U.S. History. And made it real, true, beautifully horrible in every ghostly- or ghastly- way.
There really aren't words, though I've used a considerable amount, to describe the swell of emotions you feel while reading this. But I suppose that's where the beauty lies. In the ability of words on white pages to create from their inhumanity that rawest spectrum of feelings which mark us as truly human.
The "O" of OSG, Olivia
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640 of 706 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing story, but it had some rough spots, May 27, 2010
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I had a hard time deciding exactly how to rate this one, and I'll explain why. "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom is a novel I was sure I'd love when I read the blurb. I'm a history buff, particularly fond of the South, and an avid reader.

First, the parts I loved. The characters are well-drawn and easy to love or hate, depending on which one we're talking about. Most points are plausible, which shows the author must have done a great deal of research. The plot gave this book a storyline I absolutely enjoyed; as I fell asleep each night during the time I read this, I'd wondered about the characters and what would happen to them.

Now onto the parts I wasn't so fond of. The main problem I had with the prose was that so many large sections were told in a summerized fashion, as opposed to being written in a way that gave the reader more connection with the story, a great example of the wrong side of the 'show vs tell' writers are warned against. Some historical facts were recited in a teacherly manner instead of being better incorporated into the story. There were A LOT of redundant areas where the reader repeated the exact same thing over and over and over, which greatly detracted from the story and made me wonder if word count had been an issue. One example would be when the parentage of a particular person was discussed between different characters in one chapter at least four times using nearly the same wording. There were a few historical points that I think were a bit off, and the accents could have more accurate. For example, the main character Lavinia is straight off the ship from Ireland but there is only one mention of her accent and it never shows through in her dialogue.

I was enthralled with the story, but the prose could have been more polished.
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145 of 165 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This one isn't for me, August 4, 2010
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The reviews I read prior to picking this up were great and, as a fan of historical fiction, I thought I was getting ready to read a real winner. I usually enjoy stories of the south and enjoy southern writers of all types so I was eager to get started.

Set on a tobacco plantation right after the Revolutionary War, the main character is a young Irish girl (age 7) who's parents died on the Atlantic crossing. She becomes the slave/servant of the plantation owner and lives among the slaves but has one of the higher positions in the kitchen house. The slave stories and the stories of the plantation family are interwoven throughout the novel and much about life during that time period is explored.

I know I am going against the popular opinion on this one, but I didn't like it at all. I often read books that are less than cheerful such as novels about the Holocaust, so I don't have a dislike of "downer" books, but this one was just too much. Every page is filled with one tragedy after the next. Rape, incest, beatings, mental illness, physical and mental abuse fill page after page after page. I know life as a slave had to be horrible and want to be clear that my expectation was not happy, grateful slaves, but the constant tragedies in the family of the master went on and on as well. If something awful could happen in this family, it did. I found myself hating to pick the book up and actually felt out-of-sorts emotionally when not reading - the negativity just bled over into my everyday life. The novel felt like a soap opera jam packed with disaster after disaster.

I also had some difficulty with the writing and there were believability issues so those aspects didn't save the novel for me either.

I wanted to like it; hoped to like it; and tried to like it (I really did). This one wasn't my cup of tea.
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102 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Plantation life in antebellum south unvarnished! An epic novel of life and tragedy in the antebellum south, February 16, 2010
By 
Carlene E. Baime (;Kittery point, me United States) - See all my reviews
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Kitchen House presents an unvarnished tale of life in the antebellum south. While grounded in carefully researched historical fact, the exquisitely developed characters take on a life that envelopes the reader. The author so cleverly evokes the story's time and place, that the reader virtually feels present as the the tale unfolds. The story itself compels one to continue reading and yet not want the story to end. It is impossible not to be permanently touched by this novel. I could not put this book down! Encore!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting at first, but ultimately disappointing, May 18, 2012
Seven year old Lavinia's world changes beyond all recognition when her parents both die during their long passage from Ireland to America. Left with Lavinia and her brother, the captain decides to make up what he's lost in passage fare from the parents and sells Lavinia's brother into indentured servitude while taking Lavinia to his own home in Virginia. The little girl is taken in by the captain's illegitimate daughter and the rest of his house slaves, and there becomes part of their family in most respects; in a few others she exists in the uneasy gray space between black and white.

Those are the facts, and the story begins well. I liked the character of Lavinia, and my heart hurt for her as she takes her first steps into the world of slavery (for she does not find out that she is actually an indentured servant for many years). Belle, the captain's illegitimate daughter, is drawn well, as are Mama Mae, the head of the household/kitchen staff, and her husband, Papa George. They are the strong support for a secondary cast that is sketched more than fleshed out, and help the story trot at a fairly brisk pace for the first half of the story. I found it interesting that the questions of slavery that we see most often (right or wrong? good or bad?) are neatly sidestepped by basing the story in the late 1700s rather than the far more common 1800s. I also found the differences in the treatment and status of house slaves versus field slaves depicted strikingly; it's not a comparison that is made often in historical fiction.

Problems begin in the second half, though. Lavinia ages fairly unbelievably--it's very difficult to believe that a girl raised since small childhood in the realities (and close quarters) of the slave quarters of a Virginia plantation would be quite as naive as Lavinia. The characters that begin so believably denigrate to stock: the 'Evil Overseer', the 'Noble Father and Mother', 'Neglectful Owner', 'Crazy Southern Woman'. That was disappointing. It's not that those characters could not exist; the fact that they have become stock seems to indicate that there is more than a whiff of truth to them. The problem arises when they become interchangeable with any other character of the same type in any other book of the genre.

As a student of history, I was put off by the fairly astounding (and pretty unbelievable) events as Lavinia grows up. Taken in as an indentured servant, but accepted as family? Courted by not only a man of social standing in Philadelphia, but also by the handsome, fairminded, and Noble NEW Overseer AND the new master of the plantation? By the time of her marriage (and I won't give away that one), I was ready to toss the book.

Still... I was interested enough in Belle to keep reading. That's something, right? I also found myself a bit fascinated by Marshall, the captain's son. Of all the characters in the book, he was the most faceted, a bit tortured, the most interesting, and ultimately the least explained. Though it's made clear by the author what she thinks destroyed his character, I found myself wondering where his fascination with the Evil Overseer came from (as it's noted that he spends time with Rankin even before his personal calamity). I also was a bit jarred by one of his later relationships, as it seemed out of sync with his character as presented up to that point.

At the end, I left the story with a shrug. The writer seemed to do the same, as the book ends quite abruptly, with Lavinia's version of"... THIS happened, then THIS happened, then THIS happened, and then we all lived happily ever after as one big happy family." YAWN.

"The Kitchen House" began well, had some high points, but ultimately disappointed. Still, I liked it well enough to finish.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars Despite Flaws, July 31, 2011
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I have decided to rate this book on entertainment value. I listened to this book during commutes to and from work. For the first 2/3 of the book or so, I found myself riveted by the interesting angle of the plot; in the last 1/3, I had gotten into the soap opera-ish twists and turns.

It's funny how some have commented on the lack of mention of historical events of the time like the American Revolution. As though an 8-year old Irish immigrant and isolated slaves in Virginia had access to CNN. Exactly which part of the war would have affected them? Valley Forge? The Crossing of the Delaware? Bunker Hill? Just a hop, skip, and a jump from rural Virginia. Or perhaps they would have been reading about them in the newspaper that was delivered daily to their homes? (We all know how literate indentured servants and slaves were.)

Some of the characters were ones you've read about before or seen in movies. I wish they had been fleshed out a bit more, particularly Rankin, who mirrored every overseer I'd ever read about or seen in film. I would also like to have seen a white woman of the period who was not so delicate. Let's face it, many had to be tough to live through childbirth and the harshness of life during those days. Couldn't Lavinia have toughened up a bit over the years?

It's very true, and I noted this as I listened to the book, how much of the story was "told" not "shown". I didn't mind this much although I sort of felt that the end was rushed because of there being a bit too much summary.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my commute for several days because I was engrossed in this story and would recommend the book to anyone based on the uniqueness of the the basic story line.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, March 18, 2010
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My hat is off to Kathleen Grissom for creating such a wonderful and moving story. I recently read 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett which I also highly recommend. I think the two novels compliment each other very nicely.

Lavinia, born in Ireland, is an indentured servant who comes to live at Tall Oaks tobacco plantation in southern Virginia in 1791. She is placed in the care of Belle, the master's illegitimate daughter. Lavinia lives and works in the kitchen house along side the slaves on the plantation and forms a deep and loving bond with them, they become her family.

This story is complicated and compelling with realistic characters and complex relationships. There is a richness in detail for the setting and the period. Grissom is able to paint a vivid picture of the love of a family and the joy in the simple things in life as well as the deeply moving sorrow that affected many of the characters in the book.

I loved the two female protagonists, Lavinia and Belle, who narrate this story. They narrate in alternating chapters which has become a very popular technique for writers. I'm not always fond of it, I think it can often make a story feel awkward or disconnected. But I thought it was a clever technique for this story and it was well done. Grisson allows Lavinia to narrate the majority of the story with Belle's chapters being only a few pages in length. Lavinia's voice changes as she matures to adulthood and Belle is able to give the reader adult insight into relationships and the motivations behind other character's actions.

Grissom does a good job of creating a realistic character in Marshall, one of the antagonists, whose behavior is often horrifying and despicable and other times tender and protective. I loved the gentle and caring male characters of Uncle Jacob, Papa George and Ben, who nicknames Lavinia 'little bird'.

This is both a tender and horrifying depiction of a time when life was complicated and dangerous. I felt Lavina and Belle's fear as they navigated the obstacles of their daily life and struggled with who to trust and how to keep their secrets.

This novel reminds me of 'March' by Geraldine Brooks which I would also recommend to readers. Part of that story takes place on a cotton plantation that employs freed slaves and there are similar relationships between the characters.

It isn't often that I give a book five stars and I almost never find myself wanting to re-read a book but I find that both apply to this one. I think this would make an excellent book club choice. In my opinion 'The Help', 'March' and 'The Kitchen House' would all make excellent choices for book clubs.

This is another first novel that feels like it's written by a seasoned author. I found the author's note describing how she came to write this book very interesting. And I enjoyed reading the conversation with the author included at the back of the book. I will be looking for Kathleen Grissom's next novel 'Crow Mary' and I hope she writes what happened after 'The Kitchen House'. If she does I will certainly read it.
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146 of 180 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Soap opera in the guise of a historical novel, July 29, 2010
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I love historical fiction; I really do. I was excited to read this book, but it was drudgery from beginning to end. I am still puzzled that so many people gave this book a five-star rating. This book is terribly written, with flat, undeveloped characters, absurd plot twists (rape! murder! lies! intrigue! incest! child abuse!), and unbelievable resolutions which feel like another vehicle to speed along the very predictable, very drawn out, but paper-thin plot. This novel is supposedly set in the late 18th century, but there is little in the book that shapes the time or place; some of the dialogue feels like it's right out of a soap opera. Too much happens; too much of it is negative; there are too many tragedies. None of the politics of the time (after all, the Revolutionary War just occurred) are mentioned. There is little that moors the reader in the historical period of the time. And, oh, yes, let's not forget the sloppy ending, which is supposed to resonate with bittersweet optimism but actually had me laughing out loud at its absurdity. I skimmed the last 30 or so pages because I just wanted to have this book done with. A huge thumbs down from me.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kitchen Nightmare for Me, October 5, 2011
By 
Carol A. Sym (Maspeth, New york United States) - See all my reviews
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I do not comprehend all the five star reviews for this novel. It had some redeeming qualities but on the whole it was like a run on soap opera with all the things that come with that genre.........Rape, incest,drugs,polygamy, stereotypical villians, and too good to be true heroes. I never got a real feel of the history of the time in this novel. There were some aspects that held my interest but on the whole it did not work for me.
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The Kitchen House: A Novel
The Kitchen House: A Novel by Kathleen Grissom
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