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The House Girl: A Novel | [Tara Conklin]

The House Girl: A Novel

The year is 2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves. The year is 1852: Josephine is a 17-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm - an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell. It is through her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: Art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine.
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Publisher's Summary

Two remarkable women, separated by more than a century, whose lives unexpectedly intertwine....

The year is 2004: Lina Sparrow is an ambitious young lawyer working on a historic class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves.

The year is 1852: Josephine is a 17-year-old house slave who tends to the mistress of a Virginia tobacco farm - an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.

It is through her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers a controversy rocking the art world: Art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of the slaves who worked her Virginia tobacco farm, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine.

A descendant of Josephine's would be the perfect face for the lawsuit - if Lina can find one. But nothing is known about Josephine's fate following Lu Anne Bell's death in 1852. In piecing together Josephine's story, Lina embarks on a journey that will lead her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother's mysterious death 20 years before.

Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing tale of art and history, love, and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and asks whether truth can be more important than justice.

©2013 Tara Conklin (P)2013 HarperCollins Publishers

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (236 )
5 star
 (92)
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3 star
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4.0 (200 )
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Story
4.3 (192 )
5 star
 (103)
4 star
 (53)
3 star
 (26)
2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    Jeanette Finan Little Rock, Arkansas 02-21-13
    Jeanette Finan Little Rock, Arkansas 02-21-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    131
    ratings
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    Story
    "Disappointing"

    This book looked really great from the summary I read before I purchased it. And in a lot of ways it was a pretty good book. It's just that I had to keep suspending my disbelief so often that I finally got tired of doing it. But let me be clear, I am not complaining about the writing. While I thought this book was well written it could have definitely used some professional editing to keep the plot from drifting off into implausibility so often. Had this not been basically such a good book (interesting plot line, good writing) I could have shrugged this book off and I would not now be going to all the trouble of writing a long review to critique it.

    The story of the slave Josephine Bell was the most interesting to me. I thought the parts of the book relating to her life very poignant and probably basically true to life. But even here I had to quibble with the fact that she was so educated and had so much opportunity to spend time not to mention access to art supplies that she was able to produce the body of work that was apparently floating around in the 21st century. At first I wondered at some of the risks she took but then I realized at the end she was only 17 years old and at that age one does not consider risks as carefully as a say, a 27 year old would have. I was able to suspend mild mild disbelief while reading her portion of the book ecause it was a very good story line.

    Lina came across as even more unbelievable. She didn't fit the type one would expect to have even been hired at a high powered NY law firm that specializes in corporate litigation. The amount of the damages being sued for also struck me as highly unlikely. No one, especially the Government is going to sit still for a suit asking for that kind of damages without pulling some major strings to stifle it and the fact the author had all the attorney's sitting around with sugar plumbs dancing in their heads just did not work for me. High powered corporate lawyers ought to have a firmer grasp on reality than the ones in this book did. Still, they are part the 100% and reality is not their strong suit so . . . . . . . .

    Also that all the research necessary to prove this case just fell into Lina's lap from a source that was least likely to help her was the final straw for me. And last but not least, I thought the ending was messy. There was not closure to any of the plot lines.

    Still, this was still an OK read. I think I am complaining because I think it could have been so much more.

    11 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rachel Tucson, AZ, United States 04-06-13
    Rachel Tucson, AZ, United States 04-06-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Don't Bother, Unrealistic"

    I was hoping this would be up there with The Kitchen House. It's not. It's based on an unbelievable lawsuit and shallow character development.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maggie Bootman 09-12-14

    Big-time reader/audiobook nut

    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    "Unimpressed and Disappointed"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    When I first saw a summary for this book, I thought I would be impressed and the story would be fabulous. Not only was I wrong but I was so off I'm surprised I listened to the whole thing. The story is unrealistic and I don't have any sympathy for Lina the lawyer.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    The narration was good and listening to it was the only tolerable part of the experience.


    Any additional comments?

    The story line was weak and the character development was lacking. We only saw Josephine from the third person and never the first. Lina drove me crazy within the first few pages.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Teresa Rowlett, TX, United States 04-14-13
    Teresa Rowlett, TX, United States 04-14-13 Member Since 2012
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    "The more I listened, the more I HAD to listen!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I did recommend it to my friends! I loved it, and couldn't wait until I could listen to the story again each day. As the story progresses, it grips you.


    What other book might you compare The House Girl to and why?

    It's a "slave" story, so it's comparable to lots of historical fiction stories featuring slaves. However, it has a different slant from others I've read, making it fresh and more thought provoking.


    What does Bahni Turpin bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I've enjoyed Bahni Turpin's narration ever since The Help came out, and her flexibility with dialects is good here, too.


    If you could take any character from The House Girl out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    Josephine -- I would want a firsthand look at her art!


    Any additional comments?

    I truly loved this story and was amazed at the lackluster reviews I read on this site. I'm really glad I didn't read them before I bought the audiobook! This is one of my favorites of recent memory!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Diane Clio, MI, United States 03-24-13
    Diane Clio, MI, United States 03-24-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Loved it, hated it to end..."
    What did you love best about The House Girl?

    Learned more about the past re: slavery but also about laws pertaining to reparations...interesting how she intertwined the story.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I loved the character developement and the side plots.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    I loved all the scenes involving Josephine....what a strong woman she was! She endured so much.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes, I wanted to listen to it all at one sitting but if I had, it would've been finished too soon.


    Any additional comments?

    Ms. Conklin was extrodinary in her imagery in this book. Even now, as I'm finished and have been for a few weeks, I can visualized many parts of the book. I "felt" this story as I listened....it was so real. I bought a hard copy book for my mom and she could hardly put it down....she's almost 91 yrs old!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gennie Indianapolis, India 03-18-13
    Gennie Indianapolis, India 03-18-13 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Lots of Characters, not much depth"
    What made the experience of listening to The House Girl the most enjoyable?

    Bahni Turpin was an excellent narrarator, especially for Josephine. She might have changed her voice, intonation or something when doing Lena's part of the story. She always sounded like Josaphine to me.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Tara Conklin? Why or why not?

    Yes, the story was interesting I just felt there were too many plots and not enough depth into the characters.


    Which character – as performed by Bahni Turpin – was your favorite?

    Josephine


    Who was the most memorable character of The House Girl and why?

    Josephine, probably because Ms Turpin sounded like Josephine.


    Any additional comments?

    This book seemed more like the first draft--before the characters were all beefed up and given personalities, backgrounds, a reason for being in the story.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paulette United States 03-18-13
    Paulette United States 03-18-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    5
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    "Bitter Sweet"

    I love Bahni Turpin's voice and ability to capture the essence of her characters. The story didn't have the drama I was looking for, but it was interesting to see the connections.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 03-12-13
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 03-12-13 Member Since 2012

    i like to read. i like to listen.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Would have liked a little more...but GOOD story"

    i really liked the way this story was told in alternating chapters -- Josephine's story of being a slave girl in the house of Lu Ann Bell. Josephine's a strong, exciting character -- full of spirit and fight. Lina's story set in modern day NYC. a lawyer taking on a case regarding slavery reparations. their stories connect in a really interesting way...unfolding across generations with rich with history and turmoil.

    this book feels like it should be a sweeping story, but it's not. it has the feel of that kind of novel.

    my favorite parts of the book were letters that Lina read, from Dorothy to Caleb. the history that she uncovered through those types of documents.

    i think the story could have gone deeper into Lina's own history, it brushes upon the story of her mother and father, but doesn't deliver with the details as i would have liked.

    but over all this was a good book.

    -----

    All that being said...Bahni Turpin did a great job with narration.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 02-27-13
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 02-27-13 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Lackluster"

    The book moves through two different linked stories at the same time. The chapters nicely meander back and forth from 1850 to modern day. The intertwined stories of this book are fascinating - especially the historical tales. I personally enjoyed both sides till the modern tale started having plausibility issues for me. I found the modern day heroine soon to be extremely childish and completely unbelievable.

    The book was an enjoyable read for the most part. My big problem with this book was the pace. To me it felt like the author got bored of her own story lines; quickly dripping them after taking her time getting you there. At times I felt she intended for character to return later in the book because why bring them up if there was no point, but they never did. The end is extremely rushed.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    tracey CHARLOTTE, NC, United States 03-11-13
    tracey CHARLOTTE, NC, United States 03-11-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    "Wasn't able to finsh"

    Another book like the Kitchen House genre and The Help but just not worth my time. There wasn't anything special about this book so I just stopped listening to it after a few hours.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
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