because bibliophiles require refreshment

Playing with Fire by Kate Meader

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Playing with Fire is the second book in Meader’s fabulous Hot in Chicago series and my first exposure to her writing. I seemed to have missed the gene that makes firefighters irresistible, so I usually give romances around the firehouse a pass. Hoo buddy, am I glad I picked this one up. I loved the idea of the gender swap – it’s the woman who is the firefighter – and the heels on that cover were just attention grabbing.

Alexandra Dempsey is a brash, bold, curvy heroine whose mouth is talented in more ways than one. From a sprawling tribe of Irish-Americans committed to the Chicago Fire Department for so long that they have their own moniker, Alex is the only girl and the only one adopted amongst the tribe of foster kiddos. She gets herself in trouble with her sass more times than not, but she is fiercely loyal, absolutely hilarious and I spent most of the book wishing we could knock back whiskeys together. She’s a Macallan lady and I totally respect that, but I feel like we could do some damage on a bottle of Middleton together.

Eli Cooper is the current Mayor of Chicago and seemingly the most beautiful man in the city. Sex-on-a-stick does not really even cover, especially once he and Alex hook up and Meader treats us to wonderful descriptions of his prowess. The chemistry between the two of them is off the chart and after Alex and I bond over that bottle of whiskey, we’d be inviting him to join us for some fabulous banter.

The story is great, but largely irrelevant to why I loved this book. I didn’t care about any of the details of what was happening, I was 100% invested in what happened to them. That might not make much sense, but for me that’s one of the marks of a fabulous romance. The twists and turns and moments were grand, but what I cared the absolute most about were the moments were Alex and Eli were learning each other and themselves. The moments where they realized that intimacy isn’t scary and that connections between two people can be holy.

One of my favorite parts was a fight they have after Alex finds out that Eli has withheld some important facts about their relationship. I braced myself for an annoying fight where they talked past each other and their internal monologues told us more than they told each other. I hate those. Instead, Eli apologized, Alex considered and they negotiated their reconciliation appropriately. Because they behaved like adults, I was more prepared to buy their commitment to their happily ever after. The Epilogue, by the way, will knock you off your feet.

I also could wax poetic for a while about the way Meader handles Alex’s gender identity in her world of latent misogyny. It’s not just the overt shit from co-workers that she needs to handle, it’s the unintentional and well-intentioned misogyny of her brothers. She navigates it well at times and poorly at others and it’s not an overbearing part of the story. Instead, it’s more realistic than that. This is a daily weight that will never not be heavy and it’s a reality she shapes her life and her choices around. And don’t so many of us know exactly how that feels.

There is simply no other drink for this book than whiskey. If you’d prefer scotch whisky, then Glenlivet 12 or Macallan 1824 would be my recommendations. As for whiskey, Bushmills Black Bush or Jameson Caskmates are my two current obsessions.

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Further Reading:

  • Women and Firefighting: This is from the organization for women firefighters around the world. Fascinating reading for a world I know little about.
  • On the Line: A book where women firefighters tell their stories
  • Chicago Politics: There’s probably not a person in America who doesn’t know Chicago’s political reputation. NPR provides their suggestions for a few books to understand it better.

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I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. The tongue-bath is entirely my choosing. 

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