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Book Review: Things You Save in a Fire

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire, 2019

I think I may have found a new guilty pleasure. I recently came across an American writer, Katherine Center. Well, I assume she’s American otherwise her surname would be spelt Centre, wouldn’t it??? Anyway, joking aside, I read one of her (surprisingly many) novels…Things you Save in a Fire. Published in 2019, this is the story of super-tough, no-shit-taking, straight-talking Cassie Hanwell, a firefighter based in Texas who has worked incredibly hard to be the respected professional she is, held in high esteem by her predominantly male colleagues.


It seems like Hanwell has life all figured out, and her past nailed down shut so that nothing can derail her. That is until there’s an unfortunate incident at an awards ceremony, sparked by the past breaking through to the present, as it always does sooner or later. To save face, she is forced to up sticks and move from Texas to Boston, where she joins an old-school firehouse who are not best pleased to have a “lady” on their team.

Ostensibly, the move has been made so that Hanwell can, reluctantly, look after her estranged mother, who has taken to wearing an eye-patch after surgery and is vague about the nature of her health, except to say she could use a hand for the next year because she can no longer drive. It seems like a way of killing two birds with one stone…get out of Dodge, as the old saying goes, and look after Mum as a good daughter should!

While Cassie battles to win round the misogynistic men on her new squad, she is forced to deal with her relationship with her mother and everything else she has been unwittingly running away from since she was sixteen, when her life was inexorably altered. (You’ll need to read to the end of the novel to find out how and why….no spoilers here.) Moreover, while all of this is going on, she is also trying desperately hard not to fall in love with the smoking-hot, rookie firefighter who has joined alongside her.


But beware of dismissing this book as simply a chick-lit romance in a uniform. It is so much more than that. As most of us realise after a certain age, the only way to really be free of our pasts is to face them, so this is a novel of courage and forgiveness, alongside love and new beginnings. And, as its title suggests, it forces us to question the things that are truly important in our lives. I mean, really, what would you would save in a fire?


Let’s just picture that for a minute or two. You smell smoke. You know you don’t have much time and you need to grab a few things….what do you head for first?

Fire-extinguisher? In Cassie’s case, unconscious colleague…

In my case, err…parrot….notebooks….laptop….? It’s not an easy list to populate.

I once knew someone whose answer to this, when asked by his therapist, was simply, a credit card and a toothbrush, which to me probably explains why he was having therapy in the first place! To my mind, you can’t live life without forming strong attachments. First and foremost, these will be to people – family, pets (who are just people in fur and feathers), – but you’ll also attach incredible fondness to inanimate objects, largely because of the powerful memories bound up with them. To have no such attachments is just not living, at least not fully. That’s window-shopping. And this is one time when you need a bit of baggage!

So go on, think about what is really important to you. The answer must surely lie somewhere between Marie Kondo’s ruthless chucking out of things, and Katherine Centre’s holding on! And if you don’t want one more paperback stuffed into your already over-full book shelf, I guess you could settle for reading the e-book instead.

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