I read the first 14 pages of Houston author Katherine Center’s new novel, Things You Save in a Fire (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99 hardcover), and I was hooked.

The story revolves around Cassie Hanwell, who at age 26 is the youngest person — and the first woman — to receive the Austin Fire Department’s Valor Award after saving a busload of school children. Headlines call her the School Bus Angel.

Her fellow firefighters stand in the banquet hall and chant her name as she makes her way to the podium and is handed a heavy wooden plaque, which she proceeds to use to attack the man presenting the award — knocking him unconscious and sending him to the hospital with a concussion.

She refuses to say why she attacked the city councilman, just that it goes back to something that happened in high school. Anyway, Hanwell’s promising career with the Austin Fire Department is pretty much over.

New possibilities await in Massachusetts as she reconnects with her mother — who deserted her 10 years ago — and accepts an opening in a suburban fire department that is overtly hostile to women. But there is this other new hire — a chef turned rookie firefighter — who is not at all like the other guys.

Hanwell proves her strength and toughness in the fire service while battling prejudice and harassment. But she finds she has a lot to learn about life, forgiveness and love.

Things You Save in a Fire, Center’s seventh novel, goes on sale Tuesday.

Her latest was How to Walk Away, which was one of my favorite novels last year. Cassie Hanwell had a small but critical role in that story as the firefighter who rescued the main character from a wrecked and burning airplane.

On her website — katherinecenter.com — Center says she believes “the single most inspiring thing about the human race is the way life knocks us down over and over and over, but we just keep on getting back up.”

Her stories, she says, “are always about resilience and struggle and finding ways to savor life’s moments of grace.” She promises that she “will never, ever, run the main character over with a bus in the final chapter.”

Not a Texas novel

Mega-best-selling author David Baldacci’s new novel, One Good Deed (Grand Central Publishing, $29 hardcover), is not set in Texas, but Texas does figure into the story in a few scenes. And, anyway, I really enjoyed the book and recommend it to you.

The main character is World War II hero Aloysius Archer — or just Archer — who has served time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and finds himself on parole and a suspect in the death of the most prominent businessman in town.

But there are several other suspects as well, and Archer needs to help police solve the crime and clear his name.


Glenn Dromgoole writes about Texas books and authors. Contact him at g.dromgoole@suddenlink.net.

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