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Friday, September 25, 2020

'How to Walk Away' by Katherine Center


From the BLURB: 

Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment. 

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect. 

Having just finished Center's 2019 book 'Things You Save in a Fire' - I went back to this 2018 title because they're *kind of* linked.

In 'Fire' the firefighter protagonist Cassie references one particular call out that stayed with her; a woman badly burned and with a spinal injury after being involved in a light aircraft accident. An accident that happened within a few hours of her boyfriend proposing - the boyfriend who was the pilot and walked away from the crash without a scratch. Cassie in 'Fire' wonders what became of that woman, that she can't quite fathom the ways her life was altered from that moment on. This pinged for me, because I thought it sounded like one of Center's previous books and - lo! - it was indeed.

'How to Walk Away' details that very woman whose life was so utterly altered by one accident - Margaret Jacobsen who has to have skin-graft surgery and may have paraplegia below the knee forever. The book is very concentrated on the six weeks that Margaret 'Maggie' begins physical and occupational therapy, once she's well enough to grasp her new situation and start working towards rebuilding her life.

Six-weeks is all that her insurance company will cover, so that's why it's such a tight timeline and very focused on her rehabilitation (which rings true for American healthcare systems, and I found quite moving in and of itself). She's not only trying to get her altered body to cooperate, but she's juggling a fiancee (maybe?) who's gone off the rails, a pushy mother, understanding father, and her estranged sister Kitty who has flown home from New York to nag her sister into healing, apparently.

There's also physical therapist Iain - a Scottish giant of a man who wears crankypants constantly and pushes Maggie and her belief in herself. The two of them develop a special bond, that also feels very fragile for the circumstances in which they've met ...

I really enjoyed this novel (and I'm glad I followed my instincts to keep reading Center's backlist - particularly this one that harmonises so well with 'Things You Save in a Fire' the two of them acting as a sort of duology). I was also glad that the same way Center did such a marvellous job in 'Fire' of telling a true and fascinating story about firefighting, she did the same here about the challenges of spinal injuries, reality of PT (physical therapy) and existing in a world unfairly designed for the able-bodied. I did worry when a lot of Maggie's internal story seemed to be around "fixing" herself and recovering fully ... but that's actually Center being very honest about the stages of grief a person goes through for their own health and body after an accident.

I also thought the end-point that Maggie got to with her career ambitions was a little twee and cliche, and as with 'Fire' I did wish we got to exist a little longer in the happily ever after and how her life looked down the line.

But overall I loved this story too, and it has further clarified for me how much I love Center's writing!


'Things You Save in a Fire' by Katherine Center


From the BLURB: 

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s a total pro at other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own. 

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew—even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping . . . and it means risking everything—the only job she’s ever loved and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

'Things You Save in the Fire' is the 2019 novel from Katherin Center, and it was my first time reading her, but it won't be my last!

This is the story of a female Texas firefighter who lands in hot-water when she gives a politician from her past their comeuppance ... but her career is somewhat saved when she's offered a move to Boston, to let the controversy blow over - that also coincides with her estranged mother begging her to come stay, and help her out post eye-surgery.

There's a lot of tension and fault-lines established early; our heroine Cassie hasn't been close to her mother, ever since she walked out on the family on Cassie's 16th birthday to be with the man she'd been having an affair with. Cassie is also moving to an old-school (and rundown) Boston firehouse full of old-guard firefighters who don't like the idea of a woman on their turf.

To add to the complications is Cassie starting her new job alongside an Irish-legacy firefighter rookie who is the first person to make Cassie's heart beat fast and even consider knocking down some of the walls she's put up over the years to protect herself.

I loved this book - I wasn't surprised at the acknowledgements to find that Center's partner was once a medic and is still a volunteer firefighter, because the insights she gives to the culture of camaraderie (tinged with misogyny) and the patterns of fires was really fascinating and clearly came from a place of deep respect to understanding. I also really loved the romance between Cassie and 'The Rookie' - Owen. It was a slow-burn (ha!) that really paid off.

I cried buckets reading this, and my only criticism was that the last two-thirds or so of the novel felt extremely rushed and like a fast-forwarded montage I would have appreciated living inside of a little more as reader.

But overall I'm glad I've finally given this author a try, and I look forward to delving into her backlist!


Monday, September 7, 2020

'Flyaway' by Kathleen Jennings

Received from the publisher 

From the BLURB:

Strange what chooses to flourish here. Which plants. Which stories. 

Bettina Scott lives a tidy, quiet life in Runagate, tending to her delicate mother and their well-kept garden after her father and brothers disappear - until a note arrives that sends Bettina into the scrublands beyond, searching for answers about what really happened to this town, and to her family. For this is a land where superstitions hunt and folk tales dream - and power is there for the taking, for those willing to look.


Not sure this is the *cheeriest* lockdown reading but by golly, did I love it anyway! 

‘Flyaway’ by Kathleen Jennings is a novella of interconnected, fantastical Australiana fairytales that a young woman is unravelling to find and understand her family ... it’s had a simultaneous release in the US, and I recently saw that one of my fave review sites - Smart Bitches, Trashy Books - gave it a stellar A- rating and a *wonderful* write-up! “I call this a feminist story because so much of it involves people who are destroyed or silenced by patriarchal systems of capitalism, colonialism, and marriage – that is to say, by greed or by possessiveness.” 

Like SMTB, I was also pleasantly relieved to find that this isn’t a book of fairytales and folklore that relies on sexual abuse of women ... that doesn’t mean it’s not violent, or there isn’t psychological torture - but to not rely on women’s bodies being torn down in the “typical” ways was a relief of the tallest order. 

This is a must-read novella from an Australian talent who many of us have been anticipating would absolutely break-out, and I’m so thrilled this book has done exactly that. I can see a groundswell starting around Jennings, and anticipation growing for *whatever* she does next. ‘Flyaway’ is outstanding Gothic Australian fantastical fiction and one that imprints on the reader.


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