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Literary Friday: The Kitchen House

Friday, May 17, 2013

This week I read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.  It's been on my Wish List for several months.  My daughter bought me a copy for my birthday because it's our Book Club's Selection for the month.

If You Give a Blogger a Book Club

I'm looking forward to discussing The Kitchen House with my book club.   I love historical fiction, especially set during the Old South.  Part of the plot is set in Old Williamsburg, and I'd like to research a few of the places mentioned in the novel.  Grissom was inspired to write the novel while restoring a plantation tavern in Virginia.  She describes in her Author's Note that while researching the history of the area she finds a map with the notation "Negro Hill" on it.  Local historians suggest it must indicate that something tragic occurred there.  I usually read the Author's Note before reading a book, so I wasn't expecting a happy ending.

Lavinia is a young girl when she is sent to a tobacco plantation in Virginia as an indentured servant from Ireland.  Her parents perish while onboard the ship, and Lavinia's brother is sent to serve another family.  She has been so traumatized by her loss that she can't eat, she has memory loss, and she's mute.  Captain Pyke places her in the care of Belle in the kitchen house. Belle is the captain's illegitimate daughter, and the two serve as the book's narrators.  I enjoyed the two points of view, but at the same time it was frustrating as Lavinia grows-up and makes decisions based on lies when Belle knows the truth.  One of the biggest misunderstandings plaguing the Pyke family is Belle's role in the household.  Miss Martha and other family members believe that Belle is the captain's mistress due to his affection for her.  The captain keeps her true identity secret, but he does love his daughter.  Had he been honest, this would have been a far different story. Lavinia begins eating well after a few months and talk to her new "family." The slaves are so good to her, and she begins to thrive.

Lavinia grows-up and eventually lives with Miss Martha's sister and her husband during her formative teen years in Williamsburg while Miss Martha is a patient at the mental hospital.  Lavinia is tutored and groomed to be a lady. She remains loyal to Miss Martha and secretly visits her in the hospital over the years. In her late teens when Lavinia returns to Tall Oaks, it becomes clear that her role has changed, and she doesn't fit in the way she did as a child primarily because of her skin color.  The adjustment is a hard one for her, and her reluctance to maintain certain boundaries causes conflict. Family and more specifically what constitutes family is an underlying theme of the novel.

The Captain's son, Marshall, is a tragic character.  He has many dark secrets and was abused as a child. My heart breaks for him, and as much as he is gentle and protective at times, he's also violent and cruel.  He is the root cause of many tragic events, and I so badly wanted his kind and protective self to win out in the end.  If I could have read the story from another point of view, it would be from Marshall's.  I found him to be so frustrating and a bit of an enigma.  

As I approached the end of the book, I was concerned about the story arc. The ending seemed rushed, and I would have much preferred a longer book. I hope that there is a sequel because I'd love to learn what happens to the next generation.

Grissom has shared a couple of recipes on her website.  I want to try Belle's Molasses cake soon.  I wanted to bake it this week, but I didn't have the time.

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Here is an introduction to The Kitchen House narrated by Kathleen Grissom.

What have you been reading?  Link-up and share!

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Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. I had heard about this book for a while and I'm so glad that I finally read it! Can't wait to discuss it with you!

  2. This book sounds really interesting. I always have to get my dose of historical fiction every few months.

  3. Man Ricki you are always reviewing books that I know I want to read. Right now I am reading three books I can't add another one to the pile! Guess this will have to go on my Wish List.

    But that recipe, that I will have to make this weekend with the girls.

    I love the look of your blog and the new button! I am off to update my blog with your new items.


  4. It sounds tragic and heavy! And somewhat depressing.

  5. Sounds like a sad but interesting read.
    Gotta love when a book comes with recipes. I love that.

  6. I love historical fiction as well. This sounds like a great book. The recipe looks great too. Great reads with recipes are such a bonus!


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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