by Candace Calvert, contemporary (2012)
Tyndale, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-4143-6111-6
Despite its rather morbid title, Trauma Plan is an inspirational romance. Why are you snickering... oh, I see. Come on, people, it's not that bad. There is no heavy Bible-thumping here. While faith does feature prominently during the characters' scenes of epiphany, for the most part, this is a romance that won't make heathens wince. That's good, I guess, or awful, depending on which side of the fence you are on when it comes to Christian-themed romances.
This is the first book in a series set to revolve around the folks of Alamo Grace Hospital. Now, this is a premise that can get thorny, as the idea of a hospital run according to Christian tenets could end up pretty ugly, but Ms Calvert manages to pull the whole thing off without making a first class heathen like me cringe, so I think this one is okay. The reason for this is that, while the hospital has a chaplain, our heroine Riley Hale, the author makes it clear that the hospital doesn't force Christianity down the throat of every patient or discriminate against non-Christians. There is an element - or, perhaps, illusion, heh - of choice offered to the patients, so I'm all okay with things here.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a Christian, but I do believe that there is a deity up there, somewhere. Only, I'm not sure which club I should join, so to speak. There is always an idealistic part of me that reacts to scenes of faith that are well done. That's why this book works for me - the scenes revolving around faith tugs at that idealistic part of me that is still hoping that a caring deity will one day show me that I am loved and cherished by that deity.
I'm saying all this because, in a roundabout way, I just want to say that Candace Calvert manages to tell a great story and gets me to feel for her characters. And, for a brief moment, I am tempted to think of Christianity as something beyond that religion with some hot guys in black robes and pretty music sung In a dead language.
Oh yes, the story. Riley came from a rich and privileged background, and in her efforts to be independent and carve an identity for herself, she ended up being an ER nurse. That is, until a brutal assault - one of those senseless hit-and-run crimes - left her severely injured. She lives, but her right hand will never be the same again. An ER nurse with only one fully functional hand is... not good to have in an emergency, let's just say, and Riley is relegated to chaplain at the hospital. Even then, it's a concession to her parents, who contributed considerably to the hospital, and Riley is fully aware of that. She wants to get back her old post, but her right hand seems unwilling to cooperate despite her best efforts to retrain it.
Our hero Dr Jack Travis, formerly of the army, is currently running the community clinic. The clinic caters to everyone, usually the poor, those of not-so-nice professions, and other people generally considered those people by everyone else. Unfortunately, the clinic operates from a property located in an affluent neighborhood (the previous owner stated in her will that her home should be used for charity), and Jack's neighbors want the clinic shut down. When he meets Riley, he asks her to come over and volunteer at his understaffed establishment. He privately hopes that Grace's family name will help improve public relations matters since Jack is not exactly diplomatic where it counts.
Now, be patient with Grace. From the start, she seems to be stubborn for the wrong reasons, as I don't think there is anybody in this world kind enough to let Grace become his or her ER nurse during a medical emergency. Grace's determination could end up endangering lives of the people under her care, so I'm not exactly rooting for her to be given a chance to prove herself. However, this is actually Grace's story arc, and she will eventually realize that she is meant to serve God and the people under her care in another manner. Also, she will learn that she is far more content and at peace with this new role, mostly because she's doing this for the right reasons. Oh, and don't worry, I'm not talking about staying in the kitchen and popping out babies in her free time.
Jack has the obligatory "I'm not sure whether I believe anymore after a tragedy in my past" baggage, but his angst is balanced very nicely by his proactive stance to serve and care for those that are deliberately overlooked by most of society. He has the swagger and the permanent stubble of a typical bad boy type, but he's actually my favorite kind of good guy hero: the guy who plays the hero without aspiring to be one. He's just doing what he thinks is right, and he puts everything into his efforts, and all this is part of what he is. Oh, and he doesn't whine, act like the world owes him an explanation, or treat the heroine like dirt just because he can.
I have to hand it to Ms Calvert, there are some fancy G-rated scenes of intimacy that not only makes it clear that these people would be doing more than reading aloud the Bible together in the honeymoon bed, they also show how real the emotions are.
So yes, I have a really great time reading Trauma Plan that I am willing to wave away the unrealistic amount of medical drama hitting this place. Seriously, it's like every medical drama in California is concentrated in this region, with the characters can't even swing a cat around without hitting the face of someone with a hand sawed off or something. Then again, the author calls her stories "medical hope opera", heh. Still, I do enjoy how detailed the scenes of the happenings in a hospital are in this story. It's like ER, except that these guys are focused on their work instead of sleeping with each other and mooning over broken relationships.
The only serious issue I have with this story is the suspense angle, or more accurately, its closure that conveniently - and unrealistically - wraps up several loose ends in this story. The bad guy is so obvious from the first scene this fellow pops up in, as the author practically draws a sign in neon that says, "Bad guy here! Please look!"
Trauma Plan has some very obvious soap opera elements, not that this is an issue, as there are also strong and believable emotions, tender romance, and feel-good drama to bring the love into the house. Now I'm certainly intrigued enough to seek out what else this author has to offer.
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