I confess the reason I wanted to read Amie Denman’s In Love With the Firefighter was the cute cover. I pride myself on selecting my titles for my precious reading time with the confidence that this is an author I’ll enjoy; ALL are carefully curated. BUT, *throws hands up*, the kitten got me … also the word “firefighter”. I do love a firefighter hero, so much easier to pull off than policemen, or military, so much more convincing as heroes. I admit I was leery of the “heartwarming” label: how saccharine will this be? I’m as guilty as the next romance reader of being addicted to the Hallmark Christmas movie, but I don’t want to watch them year-round. I’m happy to say that Denman’s Firefighter+kitten takes place during a hot Virginia-Beach-like summer in fictional Cape Pursuit and is surprisingly un-saccharine. It opens with firefighter Kevin Ruggles and his firefighting crew barrelling through tourist-heavy streets to reach the site of a fire. Though Kevin is a seasoned rig-driver/firefighter, the call’s urgency sees his fire-truck swerving skills take down a double-parked car’s driver-side door. Said car belongs to newly-arrived-to-Cape-Pursuit heroine, Nicole Wheeler. Their meet-cute is hardly the stuff of romance, more of annoyance, insurance claims, and shame-faced remorse on Kevin’s part.
A job managing her best friend’s art gallery, “See Jane Paint”, has brought Nicole to the coastal-Virginia town. Though the work is modest compared to the position she held in Indianapolis, we learn Nicole leaves behind the heartache of her brother’s loss, grieving parents, an unhappy sister, and job that lost its appeal when her relationship with the company owner fizzled and died. That evening, as Nicole and Jane relax at a local watering-hole, Kevin and his firefighting buddies walk in. Kevin gets Nicole and Jane’s tab and makes it obvious that he is not only contrite about the accident, but very much attracted to Nicole. While Nicole finds the gentlemanly, handsome man attractive, she cannot be involved with a firefighter. She and her family lost her younger brother to a summer job fighting California wild fires only last year. Nicole’s pain and fear are much stronger than any liking and attraction she may have for Kevin. In the meanwhile, Nicole also notices Jane seems to have a strained relationship with Kevin’s partner, Charlie Zimmerman. The two are exchanging awkward glances and yet also circle round each other with amorous interest.
I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Denman’s romance. While it had the Hallmark movie’s ensemble cast and low-key-ness, I found Kevin and Nicole sharper and funnier. I found the firefighting rescue scenes exciting and real, described with suspense and a great use of detail. (There’s a fantastic attempted water rescue scene.) Denman neither romanticizes nor glorifies what a firefighter like Kevin does. The dangerous rescue scenes are as real-feeling as the more likely and mundane work that comprises Kevin’s daily routine. Denman also uses Kevin’s work for excellent pacing: the firefighting scenes are interspersed with the development of his and Nicole’s growing feelings for each other. They also serve as a great foil to their relationship. With every Kevin-in-possible-danger scene, while her heart pulls towards Kevin, Nicole’s fear, borne of the pain of her brother’s loss, keeps her cautious and pushes Kevin away.
Every scene also paints Kevin as a great guy, caring, affectionate, funny, loving, and protective of others, without the over-sexed alpha-ness that makes for most contemporary romance heroes. Kevin isn’t angsty and crushed by the break-up of his, as he puts it, one and a half past relationships, but he is a guy who likes commitment, to his job and the woman he wants to be with. He very nicely, also rare in romance, asks Nicole out on a date, like good-old-fashioned wooing, on several occasions. Nicole, I think, is less well-developped, mainly because her fear and how she’s haunted by her brother’s loss makes her a one-note symphony. With the Heartwarming’s length, I thought too often, “come on, girl, get over this”. But that’s churlish of me, grief has no rules and Nicole obviously comes from a close-knit, loving family who would feel this loss deeply. Moreover, Denman shows healing and recovery in Nicole and we can see her inching closer and closer to Kevin’s good-guy offers of love, friendship, care, fidelity, and commitment. Denman also infuses her narrative with some greatly humorous scenes, like a trip to Busch Gardens with Nicole, Kevin, and Kevin’s five- and three-year-old nieces, precocious and really really funny.
Another critique of In Love With the Firefighter is some questionable use of POV. There’s no pernicious first person narration, thank the narrative gods. Instead, Denman tries to balance an alternating focussed point of view between Jane and Nicole and their internal ruminations about Charlie and Kevin, respectively. There were often times I didn’t really know who was thinking what about whom. “What, is this Nicole?” “No, it’s Jane” … and so on like that, too often taking me out of the story. In addition, the prose isn’t impressive and tends, in the first few chapters, to the stilted, but it becomes much smoother and adept as the novel progresses.
On the other hand, kudos to Heartwarming. I enjoyed being in a universe where down-to-earth people think about entering relationships with their heads and hearts, instead of being in a constant state of sexual awareness and run-away-train desire. Where bodies are noticed and admired, but more so are smiles and personalities. Where protagonists proceed relationship-cautiously and yet are honest about their feelings and desires, with themselves and each other. I was delighted with Denman’s In Love With the Firefighter and not only because of the kitten. With Miss Austen, we say that it offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Amie Denman’s In Love With the Firefighter is published by Harlequin Books. It was released on July 3rd and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Harlequin Books, via Netgalley.