by Candace Calvert, contemporary (2013)
Tyndale, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-4143-6112-3
I enjoyed the first book in Candace Calvert's Grace Medical series, Trauma Plan, so it was without any hesitation that I ordered a copy of Rescue Team. Unfortunately, my reaction to this book is a complete opposite of my reaction to the previous book.
First off, some PSA from yours truly: this may be marketed as an inspirational medical romance, but were not for the quill logo of Tyndale Fiction on the spine and back cover, this one could have easily fit in with more secular contemporary romances out there. There are some mentions of God here and there, but infrequently enough especially for a romance of this nature. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends, of course, on how much element of faith you're expecting from an inspirational romance. I'm a heathen only here for the story, not the gospel, so it's of little consequence to me, but you may beg to differ.
So, the story. Unlike the previous book, which was set in Alamo Grace, this one moves to Austin Grace, where things are completely the opposite of Alamo Grace. Kate Callison was introduced in the previous book, and when this story opens, she has relocated to Austin Grace to serve as the acting ER director. Oh boy, the problems. First, the previous ER director is MIA, with possible foul play involved. Staff morale is at an all time low, and the administration - currently dealing with a lawsuit - often acts against the best interest of the staff, so it's a vicious cycle at work. Also, Kate is often compared to the MIA ER director by everyone she works for and with, and she always come off lacking in one way or another. For poor Kate, the stress just keeps piling on.
Making things even more difficult is the discovery of a near-dead newborn in the bathroom floor. The entire ER department is thrown into an uproar as the hospital braces itself for another lawsuit (possible negligence on the staff's part, that kind of thing) and members of the staff, already demoralized, have to deal with guilt and such. Worse, Kate is caught between the staff and management, as the management wants someone to take the fall (and it's always someone lowest on the totem pole) and Kate is pressured by the lawyer to do some things that makes her uncomfortable.
But worst of all is how the whole incident reinforces Kate's sense of guilt. Kate's secret is not a spoiler, as it's revealed early in the story, so I may as well share it with you guys: years ago, Kate was raped by her employer when she was a teenager, and she subsequently gave birth to his child. The moment she could walk again after giving birth, she left that baby at a fire station. Her guilt weighs so heavily on her that she not only deliberately damages her ties to her father, she also lets the guilt define her entire life. She changes jobs often, doesn't let anyone get close to her (which naturally makes it difficult for her to be a good team leader for her staff), and, as the story progresses, practically becomes catatonic and barely functional.
Our hero is Wes Tanner, a certified EMT who led a rescue team to look for and rescue lost souls, which in this story includes old ladies with Alzheimer's disease. Yes, the author is not very subtle with the whole "Wes will rescue Kate" thing, not even a little. Wes dedicates his life to searching and rescuing people who are MIA and possibly in danger because, when he was a kid, his mother abandoned him in the woods before driving herself off a cliff. You can imagine Kate's reaction when she realizes that Wes has issues with women that abandon their children, I'm sure.
Here's my problem with this story: it's trauma porn to the extreme. Everyone has issues up his or her wazoo, main and secondary characters alike, and these issues are fighting for my attention alongside with all those non-stop medical emergencies and that MIA ER director plot. Everything is just too much here, and yet, nothing gets fleshed out well because the author could only devote superficial attention to so many things over a limited number of pages. Judith's issues and Lauren's as well could have been taken out of this story without affecting the overall story too much, and this would have allowed the author to develop the drama of the main characters more adequately.
Cluttering up the story are the non-stop medical emergencies, which are ramped up from the already exaggerated level in the previous book to an even more hilariously over the top degree here. Characters cannot finish a sentence without being interrupted by someone screaming about victims of gunshot and such. Worse, these scenes are pure filler in nature as they don't serve as a catalyst for the main characters' emotional development. Mostly, they are just scenes to allow Kate to once again whip herself into catatonic guilt.
Oh Kate. There's a woman with issues, and then there's Kate - who is barely functional because she cannot even dig her nose without voices in her head reprimanding her for daring to dig for boogers when she abandoned her baby. She can forgive all kinds of sins committed by other people, but she equates her sin to that of women who willingly left their babies to die in the woods. Now, I can understand guilt, but it is not pleasant to read a story where the heroine spends the entire book repeating non-stop that she is the worst creature on earth. It's not pleasant because whining is all Kate does in this story.
That's the biggest problem I have here - the entire story has Kate going on and on about her issues without having her do anything to either move on, forgive herself, or repair her mistake. I can understand why she is the way she is, but it is excruciatingly tedious to sit through this woman's repetitive melodrama. The other female secondary characters aren't much different - they all repeat the same whine and cheese a lot, and the author didn't develop these characters' issues beyond the superficial, so I feel like I'm trapped in an elevator with these people and they just won't stop wailing, oh god.
Wes has issues and he's as damaged as Kate, but he's normal. Because he's surrounded by neurotic people who seem to enjoy wallowing loudly in their guilt too much, he comes off as a saint by comparison. The unfortunate implication here is that women are incapable of dealing with their inner demons unless they have a boyfriend they can depend entirely on for support. Poor Wes spends the first half of the book wondering why Kate is so prickly and stand-offish, and in the second half, he has somehow fallen in love with her and becomes her emotional crutch. I have no idea why these two people are in love as any sign of romantic development happens very late in the story. For too long this story is all about drama, drama, drama, and even when the romance is supposed to be in bloom, it's mostly Kate screaming to herself that Wes won't want her because she is the worst human being on earth.
And then, after so many pages of female shrieks of misery and self-flagellation, to the point that I am starting to feel vaguely embarrassed by the way women are portrayed in this story, the author quickly provides a beautifully abrupt and convenient turnaround of sorts. It is as if a switch had been thrown and all the negative feelings are magically banished from the land, leaving only pink happy hearts and music of the unicorns. Kate goes from being one Gillette pack away from self-mutilation to a big bag full of cheers, and so does the other wailing and moaning women in this story. I don't know how that happened, but I guess it's because Kate has a man to love so this makes everything beautiful and perfect forever. It takes only one conversation for broken relationships to be mended completely, and likewise, a lifetime of guilt is shrugged off as a result of the power of love.
No, I'm not buying the whole thing. In fact, I feel cheated because the author piles on the drama in an artificial ten-car pile-up manner, only to undo the whole thing with a happy ending that exists only in the land of Care Bears. God may be powerful enough to exact such change, but He is barely present in this story, so I don't know what the deal is here.
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