Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center is the perfect read to sweep you through the chaos of the holiday season. Despite several disturbing threads, the novel brims with humor and hope, love and forgiveness. It’s unique, it’s quirky; it’s a heartwarming tale of survival with an outstanding heroine.

From the first line, I was transported into the world of Cassie Hanwell, a kickass firefighter who can outshoot men on a basketball court or calmly enter a dangerous situation that has a male cohort throwing up in the gutter. She’s also the youngest person—and first woman—to win the Austin Fire Department’s valor award. An honor that happens on the same night as a firefighting buddy, who routinely sits on top of her to fart, propositions her. And that’s only the beginning of her world turning upside down.

Cassie excels in a guy-dominated career, taking pride in her skill and rejecting coworkers’ offers of hugs and anything “girlie.” She’s determined and courageous, can take a guy down in combat, but at her core, she’s broken in horribly believable ways. Outside of work, things are lonely and bleak. I kept flipping pages, desperate to know why, admiring her even more as her truth is gradually revealed.

The surrounding cast is equally memorable, including her estranged mother—an artist who wears calico eye-patches—and the rookie, a gifted chef on his own journey of redemption. As Cassie and the rookie are thrown together in firehouse pranks, he sparks a desire that could threaten everything she’s achieved.

There’s a rare balance of light and dark in the story, with the serious weighed against the funny. As my son would say, “This book has all the feels.” Things You Save in a Fire is one of my top ten reads of 2019.

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