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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars


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on 2 October 2015
I have to preface this review by noting that I read this book for my book club and it is not a book I would have picked up on my own. As a result, I can't say I enjoyed reading it. I felt satisfied by the ending (thank goodness) but I basically had to force myself to read it. This, however, is more a symptom of not being a preferred story type for me than actual quality of the book or writing.

Having said all that, there were a few things that I think, even outside my general dislike of depressing fiction, are worth mention and critique. First, while I understand Josephine is/was an artist and sees/saw things through an artists eye, the overly descriptive writing got on my nerves. Even in people's hand written letters to one another, they were describing refracted light and how the moon shimmered, etc. It was just too much for me.

Secondly, the interminable lists, there are soooo many lists of things in the book, some of them very long. Yes, some of this served a purpose, but god, so boring to read. Third, there are a number of unbelievable coincidences that occur. Yes, some of them could be that information wasn't hidden so much as no one had thought to look for it, but still Lina's investigation was too easy.

Fourth, why did Lina have to romantically consider almost every man she encountered? You don't see this with male characters. Fifth, the resolution of the mother...just no; that's all I'll say on that.

I did very much appreciate that there was no apology for, dressing up or hiding the horrors of slavery. Nor was it ever gratuitously shown. We didn't need to see a man whipped to death or a woman raped to know those things were happening. The inhumanity of the establishment came through quite clearly, as did some people's blindness to it and other's struggles with living with it but feeling helpless to change it, even when they wanted to.

My final assessment is that this is what it is, a thought provoking, 'book club' sort of book. Does anyone read these just for enjoyment? No one I know.
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on 17 March 2014
A fascinating story involving flash backs into the past and an intimate insight into the life on slave plantations. The portrayal of that life and relationships between owners and their slaves is particularly well drawn. Of consuming interest is that between the House girl and her Mistress which is very well written showing a great deal of feeling and colour. This contrasts well with the modern life and relationships between the heroine and her employers.
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on 6 March 2014
A well written novel and a story which told to me a different story I hadn't heard of until I had read this book. I've read many books on this topic but this was unusual as the story covered highlighted new insight into the lives of many people whose lives can easily be forgotten.
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3.5/5 The House Girl marks Tara Conklin's debut novel.

The story is told in two narratives - that of Josephine a 17 yr old house slave in 1850's Virginia and Lina - a class action lawyer in 2004 New York.

The opening chapter belonged to Josephine and I was immediately captivated. She is planning to run - and it won't be the first time.

"Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run. She heard the whistle of the blow, felt the sting of skin against skin, her head spun and she was looking back over her right shoulder, down to the fields where the few men Mister had left were working the tobacco."

Lina's law firm is looking for the "perfect plaintiff" to be the 'face' of a lawsuit being brought, seeking reparations for descendants of American slaves. She stumbles across Josephine's name through her father's work. He is an artist and there is great controversy concerning who really painted a series of paintings attributed to Josephine's 'Missus' - Lu Anne Bell. Was it Lu Anne or was it the slave Josephine?

Lina's narrative follows the search for the descendants and I found this part of the story extremely interesting. Lina is also going through her own personal difficulties - she has her own family issues that have been left untended for many years. I wanted to like Lina more than I did. Although she is a high powered lawyer, she is still a petulant child with her father. And given that she is highly intelligent and quite adept at research, I cannot believe that she never sought to confirm the details of her mother's life and death. By the middle of the book I found myself speed reading through her sections.

It was Josephine's story that grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go. I know it's a fictionalization, but Conklin has based her novel on facts. Heartbreaking facts. Additional narrators are introduced through their letters - that of a slave doctor and a young woman whose home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. I enjoyed these sections very much as well.

I chose to listen to The House Girl. The reader was Bahni Turpin. She was excellent - her interpretation of Josephine chillingly brought her story to life. The cadence and tone she used for Lina was completely different of course, but I found it matched what I thought of Lina - a bit whiny. The accents used for other characters - especially that of Lu Anne Bell were excellent and believable.

This one is poised to be the darling of book clubs everywhere. I did enjoy this debut effort, but there are other books dealing with slavery (and in a deeper manner) that I would recommend ahead of this title. Still, it was an entertaining listen.
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on 14 January 2014
The House Girl is the debut novel from Tara Conklin. I love it when I find a new author as it always feels like a world that I am yet to explore, it holds so much promise and possibility and I was left slightly disappointed by this effort.

The story is told in two narratives - that of Josephine a 17 yr old house slave in 1850's Virginia and Lina - a class action lawyer in 2004 New York. Their stories become intertwined when Lina starts working on a retribution case for a big client and whilst looking for the perfect plaintiff, Lina discovers that Josephine may actually be the true artist of the famous works of her owner.

The opening chapter belonged to Josephine and was immediately captivating. She is planning to run from her master and it is not for the first time. We learn a little about what her life is like day-today and the how she is treated by the people that she works for. We feel that she has some genuine affection for her Mistress and a lot of pity.

Lina is a high-powered lawyer with serious issues with her parents. I really wanted to like Lina but I struggled. She seems rude and petulant and although she seems very skilled at research, she has failed to research her Mothers whereabouts. Her character just didn't seem real to me.

Overall, I enjoyed the book as I have a natural interest in this period and situation but I have read better books addressing this issue.
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on 23 August 2014
A great read, one of those rare books you just can't put down.
I loved the twin track stories of Josephine the slave and Lina the modern lawyer. Its a moving reminder of the degradation of humanity associated with slavery.
I highly recommend this book and look forward to more work from this author
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on 31 March 2014
A wonderful book which kept me up way past my bedtime. I honestly couldn't put it down and can't wait to see more from this outstanding new writer!
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on 21 January 2015
I really enjoyed this book, and it was well written. The characters are believable and the story shows some of the tragic events that were encountered in the middle of the last century.
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on 25 September 2014
This book starts a little slow but hang in there. A beautiful portrayal of two very different women. One a New York lawyer and the other in Slavery on a Virginia Tobacco plantation.
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on 16 May 2015
Read this book as a book club selection, told in to halves modern day and in 1850's I found myself liking one have of the story better and " skimming" the other, not for me.
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