Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

41150382Fiction – print. St. Martin’s Press, 2019. 320 pgs. Purchased.

As a firefighter in Austin, Texas, Cassie Hanwell is accustomed to running into emergencies when others are running away. As one of the few female firefighters, Cassie is accustomed to people questioning her fitness for service during those tense moments.

But there are two situations Cassie has always run away from: her estranged mother’s desire to spend time with her after leaving Cassie and her father for another man on Cassie’s sixteenth birthday and what happened between Cassie and a high school classmate on the night her mother left.

When her mother calls to ask if Cassie can move to Rockport and help her out after an illness has left her blind in one eye, Cassie adamantly refuses and insists that she cannot uproot her life. Her hand is forced, though, when an interaction with that former high school classmate goes south in a very public way.

Facing expulsion from the force, Cassie agrees to leave Austin and join an all-male firehouse near her mother’s home in Rockport, Massachusetts. As the newbie on the squad, Cassie faces the same hazing that any rookie would be subjected to. Except the hazing takes a nasty turn as some on the squad grow to resent the presence of a female – the first in the firehouse’s history – and as Cassie does exactly what her former (female) caption told her not to do: date firefighters.

None of the Book of the Month selections for July 2019 aligned with my typical reading tastes, and I went back and forth on whether to skip selecting a book for that month before settling on Center’s novel. If nothing else, I told myself, it could be the light, easy to follow novel that I tend to seek out as a palate cleanser between heavier tomes.

It ended up being the light, easy to follow novel I needed while watching a rambunctious, twelve-week-old puppy for four days last week. Light might be a mislabel; it is clear within the first chapter that Cassie’s experience of a terrible, traumatic assault will be a hurdle she must overcome to move on with her life.

But, overall, the story was sweet. The characters were nicely crafted, especially the female lead who experiences emotional situations without losing the firm, foundational aspects of her character. (As someone who cared for her mother through a cancer diagnosis, I really appreciated that Cassie was still allowed to be angry and disappointed with her own mother. Her illness aided their reunion, but it didn’t immediately erase their history.)

The romance was okay. I don’t love when women literally swoon over the physical appearance of a man, but the Rookie grew on me as Cassie got to know him. And the rest of the novel had enough positive aspects to make up for the “instant love” romance angle. I’m glad I took the chance and selected this book from BofM. It ended up being exactly what I needed to read last week.

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