Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center

Cassie Hanwell is a firefighter and EMT in Austin,Texas. She’s very good at her job, respected and well-liked by her crew. She has a unique ability to remain calm under the most stressful circumstances and is fearless in dangerous situations.

Her well-ordered, tightly scheduled life begins to collapse when she is confronted by the past and when her semi-estranged Mother calls, begging her to move across the country to help her, Cassie reluctantly agrees. She can no longer stay at her current job so she packs up her life and moves to the Boston area.

Life at the small town fire station Cassie transfers to is very different from her job at the progressive and brand new Austin station. The all-male crew resent her and consider her a newbie. Funds are short and much of the equipment is old or lacking. Cassie is forced to prove herself over and over, enduring the pranks and hazing along with the rookie that joins the same day as she does. Cassie takes it all in stride except for one thing – that rookie. She has shut herself off from emotions for so long, the attraction she feels toward him is confusing and upsetting. She believes that emotions, especially love, make you weak. To top it off, her Mother is a constant source of anxiety and frustration.

Things You Save in a Fire is fast moving, exciting and complex. The descriptions of the life of a firefighter (at work and at play) are very interesting and help you appreciate what a difficult but rewarding career it must be. There are funny parts – most of the hazing is done in good spirits and Cassie has a dry sense of humor. Cassie is a wonderful character, fiercely committed to her job, strong yet vulnerable. and the crew grow to respect her. There is a serious side to the book as well, how the past can shape you and overshadow your life.  It gradually becomes apparent why Cassie has shut down her emotions and built nearly impregnable walls to protect herself; breaking down these walls is difficult and plagued with setbacks. You’ll find yourself rooting for Cassie every step of the way. Highly recommended.

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.

The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.

Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.

In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!


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