Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A House Afire by Emma Kinna

Title: A House Afire
Author: Emma Kinna
Publisher: Publish America
Paperback, 504 pages
Date Published: December 1, 2009

Description (Taken from Goodreads)
Phyllis Sorin has seen all sorts of people. With two kind Aunts who rent out the rooms of their house to anyone in need, the people she calls family are a little different from most. There’s Bill, who takes on the personalities of movie characters. There’s Quincy, whose best friend is a drag queen. There’s Anna, an opera singer and kung-fu master.
And Phyllis, well, she’s not exactly normal herself. But even as she begins to navigate high school’s social jungle, Phyllis finds comfort and humor in her odd home.
When Dominick Siddons moves in, however, all of Phyllis's priorities become inferior to finding out his secret. A young lawyer with a vicious wit and ferocious temper, Sid may understand Phyllis in a way no one else can. And through truth and fiction, through the inevitable chaos of the house, Phyllis finds much more than she bargained for.


A House Afire is a difficult book to surmise. It chronicles the life of Phyllis Sorin, a 14, turning 15, year old girl who lives in a large house with her aunts and the various characters that they board. The family is eccentric to say the least and Phyllis has this strange little ability to breathe fire.

I’ll be completely honest and say that I didn’t enjoy A House Afire. It took me forever to finish because I just couldn’t get into it. By page 100, it was picking up a little and it wasn’t so bad to read anymore. But still, it was not for me. And here’s why:

Reason #1: I have no idea what the premise of the story was
For 504 pages, I didn’t see the point. I nearly gave up around page 50, but I soldiered on. Phyllis can breathe fire, but that isn’t even a big part of the story. It’s just an extension of who she is. The story is very journal-like and it’s basically a walkthrough of Phyllis’ life. It’s also very methodical. Phyllis tells us exactly what she’s doing.
I got up, out of bed, and looked in the mirror. I brushed my mane until it looked like human hair again. Then I went into the bathroom to wash my face. – pg. 84

Reason #2: The characters
There are far too many characters and I had trouble keeping them straight. And along with that, the Aunts were unrealistic to me. They love Phyllis and that’s fine. And they’re very kind and that’s fine, but they basically cater to Phyllis. They rush around to cook for her and they’re dialogue just seems unrealistic to me. The aunts aren't old at all (I think they're 50is?? But, at times, their dialogue makes them seem wicked old).
“Pish tosh, Phyllis is beautiful.” – pg. 13
“Now I think it would be quite appropriate and do you three some good to apologize to one another. – pg. 53
“Phyllis! You’re up!” said Aunt Chasey happily. “I’m glad to have your company.” – pg. 86


Reason #3: The characters
With so many characters, I felt like very few of them actually had their own voices. I couldn’t tell the aunts apart. There are several gay guys and the only one who had his own personality (or just that we hear from most) is Quincy. I also didn’t get the purpose of having all these eccentric characters if they didn’t play into the story in any significant way.

Reason 4: The romantic relationships
Phyllis gets a boyfriend and her friends have boyfriends and maybe some of them have sex. I understand that high school kids do have sex and that didn’t bother me at all. The thing that disturbs me is Phyllis and Sid’s relationship. The entire story has Phyllis pining over Sid, who is at least 10 years her senior. It would be fine if it was just a schoolgirl crush, but Sid kisses her. I’m not talking a peck on the cheek. He full-on kisses her and that disturbs me. He continues to flirt with her, even though he says he is too old for her. It just really disturbed me.

Reason 5: The plot holes
There is so much introduced in A House Afire but there is no follow-through. A paranormal element creeps in and I clung to that, but nothing happens with it. The story ends without any resolution of that part of the story. What’s the point in introducing this elaborate world if that storyline just ends? (I learned from my interview with Emma, that she is working on another story about Phyllis, so these plot holes may actually just be an open for a sequel).

All that being said, I didn’t hate the book. I was able to finish it and it really wasn't bad, just not for me. Once I hit the 100 page mark, the story got better. I don’t know if it was just that I was used to the writing or what, but it was easier to read from there. A House Afire is not a story for everyone and while I didn’t love it, that doesn’t mean other people won’t.

Opening line: Jeremy Heron was my good friend Janelle’s boyfriend.

Favorite line: Intentions are immaterial, action is what counts.
Not really for me - 2.5

3 comments:

Rheanna said...

I had heard of this book and wondered if it was n e good. I'm sad to hear it didn't stand up to my expectation. But maybe I'll still give it a try. As you pointed out it may not be for everyone but that doesn't mean others won't like it. Thx for the review!!

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

Thanks for the comment Rheanna! A House Afire was by no means a bad book, but not really something I could get into. I hope others find it un-put-downable though.

katie said...

I just read this and I actually really liked it. I was a bit skeptical but I thought it was pretty good. Thanks for the honest review!

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