House on Fire

house on fire, bonnie kistler

Synopsis: 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.

Author: Bonnie Kistler

Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Blended families are not uncommon in this day and age. Some say it works, some say it doesn’t. The Conley-Huyett-Porter family begs to differ. Leigh and Pete’s marriage could not be any more perfect if they tried. Their children – all five of them – are the kinds of kids any parent would be proud to have. What could go wrong?

In the space of twenty-four hours… everything.

You’ve heard of the saying ‘blood is thicker than water’? Well, this a story that explores that in great detail. What would you do if your son, who has just turned eighteen and been accepted into a prestigious university, is charged with manslaughter for the death of your wife’s teenage daughter? Pete Conley is about to find out the lengths he will go to in order for his son’s story to be heard, even if it means losing his marriage in the process.

This story was compelling right from the beginning – I couldn’t put it down. Bonnie Kistler wrote a book that was not only gripping and suspenseful but one that was written exceptionally well. I found her writing style easy to follow, with an even mix of description and dialogue.

The pacing could have used some work. It started off great, getting into the thick of it right from the get-go, but this stopped somewhere in the middle, where it slowed down. Then, suddenly, towards the end, it jammed so much in that the story became sloppy and lines were blurred in terms of what kind of story was being told. From the synopsis, I was expecting to read a story about a blended family that suffer a great tragedy – and I did – but it started to mix real life with an action movie. However, that being said, I have a penchant for dramatic stories (example #1: Grey’s Anatomy), and so I did enjoy the twists and turns Kistler threw into the book. If that’s not your cup of tea, just be aware there are multiple subplots running alongside the main plot and it has the possibility from the way it’s paced to confuse someone – I know it confused me. Although it didn’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the book.

House on Fire alternates between the POV of Leigh and Pete, both of who are on their own journey of grief, trying to come to terms with the crazy narrative that has now become their life. I adored both characters and was rooting for them to save their marriage the entire time. This is where the saying ‘blood is thicker than water’ comes in. How can you look the boy you helped raise and think of like your own son when your daughter dies as a consequence of his actions? How can you abandon your son when he needs you the most and is going to have to live with the fact that his step-sister died because of him? Grief can make us say, do, and think things we never would have done before. Grief can change us. The journey both Leigh and Pete go through in this book is heartbreaking.

Kip… oh boy, Kip was the character that divided me the most. On one hand, I loved him and I wanted to reach in and pull him out of the book to give him a hug because what an utterly horrible situation to find yourself in. Then, on the other hand, he frustrated me so much that I wanted to reach in and pull him out of the book to shake him silly until he came to his senses. I don’t want to give away too much because I would definitely recommend this book to, but my god does he frustrate me. I’ve said before that I love characters that illicit many different emotional responses from me because characters shouldn’t be one dimensional. Kip is one of those characters. My only gripe is that I would have loved to have read more from his POV, especially during the thick of the story.

If you enjoy books by Jodi Picoult, as well as twists and turns that make you feel like you’re reading a Tom Cruise movie, then I would definitely recommend you read House on Fire. For a debut novel, I was thoroughly impressed with Kistler and cannot wait to read any future work from her.

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing an ARC of House on Fire in exchange for an honest review.

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