Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Things You Save in a Fire book coverThere was a lot of buzz about this book—I saw it on several high-profile writers’ recommendation lists. So I finally bought it even though it’s still in hardback. I pulled it off the precarious stack of TBR books in my bedroom and cracked it open.

And I’m glad I did. Although it wasn’t at all what I expected. Let’s face it—a lot of romances (even exceptionally good ones) are a little fluffy. People have problems, but you wonder if maybe they aren’t overreacting just a little to be swearing off relationships for that particular reason. But in this book, I completely bought Cassie’s aversion to relationships, and I also completely bought (and loved) her aversion to all things girly. I also liked that she does not forsake everything she worked for to become some super-feminine flower at the end. She’s still her badass self.

Because Cassie is a badass. She’s a tough firefighter/paramedic who dives boldly into dangerous situations when it involves the opportunity to save someone. She’s only 5’5” (if I’m remembering correctly), but she works out and is very strong. I mean, she can dead-lift 200 pounds and do twenty pull-ups.

The book opens with Cassie at an awards ceremony, where she’s supposed to get an award for rescuing a bunch of kids from a schools in a river. This goes a little wonky when the guy they send out to give her the award turns out to be someone from her past who had done a great deal of damage to her (she doesn’t tell us what he’d done, exactly, but I guessed right) and then chooses that particular moment to grab her ass while they’re behind the podium. This is not a good choice on his part, because she goes ballistic and beats him over the head with the award.

Somehow she escapes punishment from this (she rightly guesses he won’t press charges). But the city wants her to apologize to him and she refuses. So her choices are to be fired, or to transfer to a fire station far, far away. As it happens, the latter works out well because her mom has requested that she go live with her in Massachusetts. So she does, but not before getting some advice from her (female) captain:

If your captain says to run a mile, run two. If he wants you to dead-lift one fifty, do one seventy-five.

Don’t even act afraid. Don’t even hesitate. Don’t ever admit when you don’t understand.

Don’t back down from a challenge, … and if you go up against somebody, make damn sure to win. No fear! If your hands start to shake, sit on them.

New rules: Never admit to being hurt. Pain is for the weak.

Don’t have feelings.

Typical. Cassie’s captain wasn’t wrong about what she’d face as the first woman firefighter in this fire station. It’s rough. A rookie starts the same day she does and they bond a little, but she keeps her distance because she finds herself attracted to him and knows that’s the biggest risk of all for a woman firefighter. But they spend a lot of time together, both getting pranked and on more productive things like training. She faces a lot of trouble, with the pranking, the actual secret harassment from one of the guys (it takes a while to figure out which one), and her new captain being a real hardass. But eventually she earns the respect of the crew, by following her old captain’s instructions—for the most part. She doesn’t manage to quite keep away from the rookie. But then everything appears to be lost when the rookie gets injured in a fire. I won’t give away how that exactly works out because it surprised me.

If you like genuinely tough characters, especially a woman trying to make it in a male-dominated profession, then you will like this. But even if you’re just looking for a tame romance (heat-wise) with some real struggles, you should also appreciate this book. I really enjoyed it and recommend it without reservation.

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