I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction. But I do occasionally enjoy it, and Bonnie Kistler’s debut novel, House on Fire, caught my eye. It seemed like a great family drama. I was hoping for a new Celeste Ng, and that’s not exactly what I got. While I don’t regret giving this book a chance, it definitely isn’t a new favorite.
(All reviews are spoiler-free unless otherwise noted.)
(From Goodreads) Divorce lawyer Leigh Huyett knows all too well that most second marriages are doomed to fail. But five years in, she and Pete Conley have a perfectly blended family of her children and his. To celebrate their anniversary, they grab some precious moments of alone time and leave Pete’s son Kip, a high school senior, in charge of Leigh’s fourteen-year-old daughter Chrissy at their home.
Driving back on a rainy Friday night, their cell phones start ringing. After a raucous party celebrating his college acceptance to Duke and his upcoming birthday, Kip was arrested for drunk driving after his truck crashed into a tree. And he wasn’t alone—Chrissy was with him.
Twelve hours later, Chrissy is dead and Kip is charged with manslaughter.
Kip has always been a notorious troublemaker, but he’s also a star student with a dazzling future ahead of him. At first, Leigh does her best to rally behind Pete and help Kip through his ordeal. Until he changes his story, and claims that he wasn’t driving after all—Chrissy was, and he swears there is a witness.
Leigh is stunned that he would lie about such a thing, while Pete clutches onto the story as the last, best hope to save his son, throwing his energy and money into finding this elusive witness. As they hurtle toward Kip’s trial date, husband and wife are torn between loyalty to their children and to each other, while the mystery of what really happened that night intensifies.
This richly conceived and tightly plotted psychological exploration of family and tragedy will have you racing toward its shocking and thought-provoking conclusion.
House on Fire drew me in immediately. Bonnie Kistler managed to create characters that I was invested in fairly early on in the story. To be honest, I haven’t had the best attention span for books lately, but this one definitely captured my attention. It felt like a family drama along the lines of Celeste Ng’s novels – which I love – and I was so excited to find a new contemporary author that I really enjoyed.
But while this book started off strong, it didn’t exactly end that way. Which is a shame, because I truly enjoyed the first half of this novel. I thought the characters and story were really compelling. And while the writing was good throughout the novel, the story lost me. This felt like two different books mashed together, and it was kind of disorienting. I really liked the main family drama – the storyline covered in the synopsis – but then this book turned into something completely different, with quite a few different characters. I honestly had trouble seeing how the two connected other than that some of the characters were involved in both. They just didn’t go together. Honestly, I might have even enjoyed what I can’t help but think of as the second book within this one had I not been blindsided by it. Surprise! This book has a twist ending! And by twist, I mean a completely new story.
I think this had the potential to be a great contemporary family drama. I did really enjoy Bonnie Kistler’s writing, I just feel like she attempted too much, and it didn’t really work.
★★☆☆☆ – Two stars because I really enjoyed the first half of this book. If it hadn’t turned into a completely different story, it probably would have been four or even five stars. I wish the author had just kept it simple, and saved all the subplots for a different book (or several).
House on Fire will be available in bookstores March 12. If you’re interested, you can order a copy on Amazon now.
To get the audiobook for free, use this link to sign up for a free trial of Audible and choose House on Fire as one of your two free books.
This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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