The Kitchen House - Kathleen Grissom The prologue of this book was pretty damn awesome. So much so that I was ready to give this book 5 stars right off the bat. But as the story progressed Grissom threw the kitchen house, the master’s house, the slave quarters and then some into this story. It became melodramatic. The problem was that it hit on one too many topics- the power of withholding secrets, incest, slavery, indentured servitude, drug use, mental illness and abuse just to name a few. It seemed like the characters in this book never received a break and it became difficult to see the silver lining. I know that real life is like this, but for me the problem was that the good times were glossed over. They were briefly mentioned, dismissed and then we were onto the next drama. I needed more good times to balance this novel out because it became tiresome to read of how these characters were living in constant fear. That is one of the main reasons this book earned 4 stars rather 5.

Despite my complaint, this story was well researched and written, especially for a first time novelist. Grissom’s characters really popped out of the story. My favorite character was Belle, simply because she kept it real. She knew what she wanted, didn’t care what others thought about it but at the same time she wasn’t selfish. Kudos to Grissom for writing such a balanced character. Oddly enough, the character I didn’t like was Lavinia, who was one of the main characters. The young Lavinia started out well enough and tore at my heartstrings a few times, but as she grew up her naivety became annoying. It seemed like she never smartened up, especially when it came to race relations, which I didn’t understand considering she grew up with the slaves. I didn’t think her naivety, and at times stupidity, were realistic because she wasn’t sheltered from the issues even though they weren’t directly communicated to her she was still observant. Most of the story was told from her viewpoint after all, so it really didn’t make any sense that she didn’t learn any lessons along the way. I was really disappointed with her as she became another Mrs. Marshall. To me this plot line only served to fulfill the stereotype that white women can’t cope with life, which was actually commented upon several times by the black characters. I thought it was a cop out for Grissom to go in this direction, which was another reason for my 4 star rating.

I did like the end though. I thought Grissom gave readers a realistic ending. She tied up loose ends, but not in such a manner that I felt she pushed it too much in the happy zone, so it didn’t feel “fairytale-ish.” It wasn’t happily ever after, but it was just enough to make me happy.

The audio for this story was well done for the most part and I can see why it’s a popular pick over at Audible. The narration is done by two narrators: Orlagh Cassidy (Lavinia) and Bahni Turpin (Belle). To me it sounded like Cassidy changed Lavinia’s voice about halfway through the audio. At one point it sounded like Lavinia lost her Irish accent and then at odd times she would get it back. At first I thought it was the narrator’s way of showing Lavinia’s new station in life, but after the accent came back I think it was just shoddy narration. I also didn’t like that Cassidy added a bit of vibration to her voice causing it to sound more dramatic than it needed to be on certain already emotional parts. It made the audio version even more melodramatic than it already was. I did love Turpin as Belle though. I thought she gave Belle the right amount of attitude and I looked forward to listening to her parts.

Overall, this is a good piece of historical fiction about family, the power of love and togetherness. If you don’t mind having your characters battered around for a good chunk of the story and have a strong stomach you’ll probably like this one.