Monday, December 17, 2018

Book Review: "Things You Save in a Fire" by Katherine Center

Add Katherine Center to the list of authors I've discovered this year whose work has utterly wowed me. Between her newest book and How to Walk Away, which I read earlier this year (see my review), I've become a big fan while becoming emotionally unglued. Because that's how I roll, y'all!

Cassie has always been tough as nails. As one of very few female firefighters at her Austin firehouse, she knows that she has to do everything better, be stronger, faster, and tougher, and never show one ounce of emotion. It's something she's been comfortable with since her mother abandoned her and her father on Cassie's 16th birthday. Cassie has never really let anyone get too close to her, because vulnerability means weakness in her book.

But on a night that should be one of her proudest achievements, Cassie's carefully constructed façade cracks, and the results are shocking, to say the least, to those who know her best. She creates quite a mess for herself—so much so that when her estranged mother calls and asks her to move to Boston for a year to help her through some serious health issues, Cassie ignores her gut instincts and agrees. But she makes it perfectly clear that she's not there to reminisce or be friends with her mother, she's only there to help.

"I reminded myself again that she was only Diana. Of course, our parents get an extra dose of importance in our minds. When we're little, they're everything—the gods and goddesses that rule our worlds. It takes a lot of growing up, and a lot of disappointment, to accept that they're just normal, bumbling, mistaken humans, like everybody else."

Cassie takes a job in the small town of Lillian, a town which has never had a female firefighter and isn't interested in one. In fact, the captain thinks female firefighters may very well lead to the decline of Western civilization. So once again, she's bound and determined to do everything better than any of the men on the squad, and not allow them to treat her like a girl. She ignores the hazing, the teasing, and those who want to see her fail, and she outdoes them at every turn.

The one thing she can't seem to ignore, however, is the rookie—Owen Callaghan, son of a retired firefighter, who joined the squad in Lillian the same day Cassie did. Sure he's good-looking, fit, and can cook like nobody's business, but Cassie knows she is a better firefighter and EMT than he is. But why does her stomach flip every time she seems him? It's not like she hasn't worked around gorgeous men before, but for some reason, she can't get him out of her mind, and it doesn't help that they get paired up for everything.

Cassie came to Lillian to work, not to date, and besides, dating a fellow firefighter is career suicide. That's the one main thing her captain in Austin told her before Cassie left—never date firefighters. So no matter what, she's just going to ignore the rookie and treat him like one of the guys. Because in Cassie's eyes, love equals vulnerability, which equals failure.

If you've spent your entire life guarding yourself from any sign of weakness, keeping everyone at arm's length, can you be truly happy? Which is harder, forgiving someone for hurting you or forgiving yourself? How do you decide whether it's worth risking everything you've built your life around to pursue something that might not work out, and might hurt you?

Things You Save in a Fire is one of those books where you can probably guess most (if not all) of what will happen, but it doesn't matter one iota, because you're totally hooked. Once again, Center creates vulnerable, likable, relatable characters and makes you care about them, makes you root for them, makes you angry when roadblocks occur, and makes you fearful that something bad will befall these characters you've come to know.

This is a book about how the walls we build to protect ourselves often keep more people out than we realize, and before we know it, we're safe but alone. This is a book about realizing that being a little vulnerable doesn't mean you're still not tough or brave, and it's also a book about when you know it's right to sacrifice what you want for those you care about.

Like any story where matters of the heart, family issues, and relationships are dealt with, Things You Save in a Fire is moving at times, a little poignant, and you might find something is in your eye once or twice. But this is one of those books that wins you over from the very first page, and doesn't let up, so it's worth a few tears (at least).

NetGalley and St. Martin's Press provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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