Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An Excuse and a Book Review (A House Afire)

Remember how I said I might be going away for a bit? Well, I'm back, and am admittedly a little later than expected -- a couple days later. Which also explains why this post is so dang late (sorry about that, by the way).
Anywho, since I was on break, there was actually time for me to read, *GASP* so I'm going to wait to do the next Supernatural post until Friday (or sometime over the weekend, whichever) and today do a review for one of the books I read over the past week. Random, I know.

Book: A House Afire         Author: Emma Kinna
Pages: 504                        Chapters: none         

Back Book Blurb: 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 than 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.

Overall: A humorous and slightly romantic novel, A House Afire walks the line between YA and adult books. On the one hand, Phyllis is so clearly an adolescent -- she speaks with a young voice and complains frequently about all the homework her teachers give her -- and on the other . . . there are definitely some adult themes in the book. (examples: Excessive swearing, teen sex, relationship troubles, and a teenage girl falling seriously in love with a man who appears to be in his mid to late twenties.) Yet A House Afire takes itself fairly lightly, focusing prominently on humor and the dialogue between the characters; this is what makes Kinna's book so interesting to read.
However . . .

  • most of the book ends up as either dialogue or short sentence bursts (the work needs a lot more description), and there are long stretches of dialogue between two characters where you can't always tell who's speaking
  • the beginning didn't really grab my attention -- it was difficult to get into, as one of the main problems of the work begins: there is a major case of "telling" instead of "showing."
  • lots of missing commas
  • it was hard to tell the aunts apart; the characters tended to blend into each other -- the only ones that seemed well defined were Philly, Sid, Taylor, Quincy, and Anna, out of a cast of "thousands."
  • Minor and supporting characters had a habit of popping up with little or no introduction, which made things even more confusing.
  • "The Voice" was a bit vexing to figure out. At first I thought it was just Philly's conscience, but after a while I wasn't so sure. Maybe it's some side effect from the lab experiments that have her the ability to breathe fire and be fireproof -- she also gets a double internal personality. Right now, my guess is the latter.
  • The best scenes in the book occur when Sid and Philly are exchanging witty banter, especially after she discovers his secret.
  • There was no definitive climax to the book; the pace and action remained the same as in the rest, and there were no amazing revelations, etc. Philly was miserable for a couple of pages, but then she cheered right up / Anna and Side had a big, awkward fight. (But what else is new?)
Specific Problem Spots:
Page 382 -- Philly says she's annoyed by Anna; she says that Anna hardly knew her, that she was just trying to get to know her, and that she didn't want to be Anna's "buddy." This is odd -- out of sync -- because before Anna returns (after 3/4 of the book), Philly mentions her often, and says she thinks of the woman as part of her family. They've lived in the same house for most of Philly's life. That one paragraph seems to clash with the whole rest of the book.
Page 452 -- When Philly and Taylor are talking about how Philly is different from when she was younger, she asks how, and the way in which Taylor responds leads you to believe she's talking about the former self until the next paragraph. Confusing.
Page 452 -- Bill takes on the personality of a Scottish character for the 2nd time. It would have been better if he picked one from a different nationality or type of accent -- more diversity, no repeating

Favorite Parts:
Page 129 (bottom) into page 130 (top): -- Sid & Phillis are in the laundry room / basement, talking
Page 148 (bottom): Sid & Philly are helping Anna (who's still abroad at this point) move stuff in, talking -- the banter between the two is great
Page 339: Philly & the two aunts are talking -- meatballs and a hamster are involved (sounds less idiotic if you actually read it)

Despite the rough parts (take into account that the book was self-published and did not have an official editor besides the author herself), A House Afire is worth picking up, especially if you're into realistic fiction [fire-breathing aside] with a slightly humorous and supernatural edge.

A Diamond in the Rough   ----   3 1/2 Stars 

For more information on the author and her project, visit her blog, Breathing Fire.
If you're interested in purchasing this work, visit its page on Amazon.

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