"Taking the Heat," Katherine Shay

Pros: Some fun characters; interesting look at the FDNY and the problems of people in dangerous jobs and their loved ones
Cons: Depressing, frustrating book; poor pacing at the end; too-factually delivered research information; too many characters
Rating: 2 out of 5

Review copy courtesy of Penguin Group.
Visit Kathryn Shay’s site.

 

Liam works as a cook at his family’s pub in New York City, cooking food for his firefighter regulars. One in particular catches his eye: Sophie Tyler. He’s gun-shy, having lost his wife to cancer just several years earlier, but everyone’s encouraging him to get on with his love life.

Sophie takes a part-time job at the pub so she won’t need a roommate in order to pay the rent—and Liam’s presence there doesn’t hurt either. She even gets along great with his two sons. Unfortunately her dangerous job seems determined to get in between them, particularly with an arsonist targeting buildings, then firefighters… and finally Sophie herself.

 

I’m rather torn on the matter of Kathryn Shay’s Taking the Heat. On the good side, there are some fun characters in here (Sophie’s pretty neat, as are some of her co-workers). I enjoyed the milieu of a fire department—it isn’t one I’ve really read about before, and it was great to experience something all-new and interesting there. It was also pretty fascinating having the difficulties of spouses and significant others in dealing with a loved one’s dangerous job brought to the page.

However, there were a lot of things that frustrated me and left me feeling rather annoyed with the book as well. For one, several of the guys came off repeatedly as petulant, sulky children in how they reacted to the situations around them. It got old pretty fast, and made it hard to like them. It was also hard to believe that Liam was this uber-sweetheart everyone painted him as when, instead, there were a number of times when he came across as rude or selfish. It’s one thing to say, ‘hey, we need to talk about Christmas plans’, and another to make plans for someone without their consent or knowledge and then get righteously angry when things don’t work out. It’s also the case that Liam should have had an easy solution to their supposed Christmas problem, that no one bothered to think of or propose: If Sophie couldn’t make it to be with his family because her Army brother in Iraq only got the one week off and couldn’t make it stateside, and Liam wanted her at the White House for goodness’ sake (because his sister married the VP, apparently), then why the hell couldn’t he arrange for them both to be brought to the celebration just by asking his sister? But no, if someone had thought of that he couldn’t have stormed off in a huff and broken up with her.

There are waaaay too many couples in this book working out (mostly failing to work out) their relationship problems, and really too many characters in general. I couldn’t keep most of them straight, and it got seriously confusing at times. Also, with that many relationships flaring up the book got pretty depressing at times, which is not what most people are looking for when they pick up a romance. I’m all for the reality of relationships being hard and taking work, but if your characters are always fighting like cats & dogs then you might be going overboard. There are also too many point-of-view characters without enough differentiation between their voices; in particular there’s a spot where we see things from young Mikey’s point of view and for part of the time he sounds distinctly like an older teenager.

I love it when I learn new things in the fiction I read, but I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a documentary. In many places, that’s exactly how I felt here. Characters frequently recite or think about statistics, facts, etc. related to firefighting. Using research in fiction is great, but it wasn’t incorporated into the narrative well enough in this case.

Finally, the plot with the arsonist was just… off, in a number of ways. The culprit was fairly obvious and there’s only the flimsiest of explanations given after s/he’s fingered. It isn’t really given that much page-space. It’s also made painfully clear that the whole thing was little more than a plot device when the arsonist was caught and dealt with entirely off-screen and even the after-effects took up all of two pages at most.

 

This is the sort of book that I can’t help feeling could have been a lot better than it was. The author obviously has talent, but there were a number of things that kept the story from sucking me in and making the world fall away.

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