Monday, September 15, 2014

With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden

With Every Breath is an engaging Christian historical romance centered around the conflicted relationship between two people as they struggle to treat the scourge of tuberculosis.

The novel's prologue sets the stage for the story. It is 1879 and at a private school in Washington, the top two students, Trevor McDonough and Kate Norton are competing for the coveted college scholarship. It's not likely Trevor, who is from a wealthy Scottish family will need the money, but for Kate, the scholarship represents her only chance to attend college. Trevor, who arrived at the private academy four years earlier has made few friends with his icy demeanor and brooding ways. However, Trevor does win the academic competition meaning Kate will likely have to spend her days working at her parents boarding house.

Twelve years later finds Kate recently widowed from husband Nathan Livingston and working as a statistician for the census bureau in Washington, DC. Inexplicably she has received a request by the world famous Dr. T. Kendall to apply for a prestigious position at Washington Memorial Hospital. However, when Kate attends the interview she is stunned to discover that the prestigious Dr. T. Kendall is none other than her old nemesis, Trevor McDonough. Shocked Kate struggles to understand why Trevor changed his name and why he has requested her to work with him. Trevor tells Kate that he is undertaking research into a cure for tuberculosis, "measuring the effect of a new serum to see if it can strengthen the blood of patients suffering from tuberculosis." His patients are all terminal, having no hope of recovery. He recognizes that Kate has the mathematical ability to work as a statistician for the research.

But Kate has always feared illness especially after the death of her two younger brothers, Carl and Jamie, from diphtheria. Compounding this is Trevor's cold demeanor and the fact that Kate has never come to terms with him winning a scholarship he did not need many years ago. However, Kate knows her family needs the money and at twenty-nine, as a widow she recognizes that she has few good employment prospects. So Kate accepts the position and begins working for Trevor at Washington Memorial.

When Kate arrives her first Monday morning she learns that she will share an office with Trevor. Each Monday both Kate and Trevor have to be tested for tuberculosis due to their repeated exposure to patients.Trevor refers to each patient as a number and requires Kate to record data about them. Trevor gives each patient a serum consisting of beef bone marrow and minerals in cod-liver-oil in the hopes of strengthening their blood. He tells Kate that once tuberculosis enters the blood a person rarely survives.  Also working in the lab is Henry Harris who does the testing of sputum samples, Nurse Ackerman who is in charge of the ward on the fourth floor of the hospital.

As Kate settles into her job it soon becomes apparent that someone is determined to destroy Trevor's research. Nurse Ackerman shows them the most recent article appearing in the Washington Times about Trevor's clinic, claiming the remedies are quackery. Supplies disappear and it appears that someone has been searching his office.  As more anonymous letters appear in the newspapers, Trevor begins to suspect that whoever is writing them knows a great deal about his personal life and that the person wants to see him ruined.

Trevor explains to Kate that someone is trying to get the hospital to evict him and close down his research. Kate is understandably worried about her job but Trevor tells her that he is paying for the research out of his own money and that he has the backing of the surgeon-general. The hostile stories in the press continue into the summer months but Kate grows to love her job. She tries to inject some warmth into the lives of the patients in the ward by reading to them and insisting on referring to them by name.

Trevor himself is a mystery to Kate. She doesn't understand why he changed his last name and why he was so determined to win the scholarship from  her twelve years ago. As she traces his personal history she uncovers two years where there are no records of any achievements.  She wants to know why he went to the Himalayas and where he was from 1887 to 1888. As she gets to know him better she begins to suspect that beneath that cold facade is a complicated man.

"Trevor was different. Austere and reserved, she wondered what it would be like to peek beneath that shell. Trevor wasn't emotionless. Oh no. She'd caught glimpses of a mighty passion simmering beneath the surface, but he always held it so tightly locked down. Restrained. What would it be like to tear away his stern outer layer and see that smoldering emotion unleashed?"

Can Kate uncover the mystery behind the enigmatic Trevor McDonough and help save the clinic and his reputation from ruin while coming to terms with the realization that she is falling in love with the man who stole her chance for a college education?

With Every Breath is a slow paced novel in which tuberculosis research provides the opportunity for Trevor McDonough and Kate Livingston to meet twelve years later. Kate is still recovering from the death of her husband Nathan and has never forgiven Trevor for capturing a scholarship that he didn't need. And as secrets are uncovered we learn that Trevor was captivated by Kate but due to circumstances could never truly pursue her. Both gradually begin to lose the prejudices they have formed towards each other as they come to know one another better.  Kate sees that Trevors cold, cheerless exterior is a form of protection against becoming to close to either patients or those around him. Instead she finds a kind hearted man who cares genuinely about his patients and is passionate about his work. And Trevor finds that the joy Kate carries redeeming

Once Trevor and Kate work through their past and they discover that have a mutual affection for each other, another conflict arises and that is over the possibility of sharing a life together. Kate cannot accept Trevor continuing to work with tubercular patients, placing himself at risk. She doesn't want to loose another husband like she did with Nathan. However, Trevor feels he is called to work with tuberculosis patients and he's not prepared to stop his research for a cure. Eventually Kate comes to realize that nothing in life is guaranteed and that she needs to trust in God's providence.

"'I don't understand what God has planned for either of us, but I know it's pointless to keep worrying about it. I think your life is going to unfold exactly as God intends. I think you  are at the beginning of a grand, monumental quest, and God sees the bigger picture, even if I can't. I'm willing to trust what I cannot see, even if it's frightening and uncertain...."

With Every Breath is a well written romance that doesn't ever stray into a preachy tone. In fact the Christian references are subtle but relevant. A good example is when one of the tuberculosis patients reminds Kate about the necessity of grieving; "Dr. Kendall. Oh, he's right that we're all in God's hands, whether here on earth or on our journey to the other side, but there's no shame in grieving. It's normal. Grief freshens our perspective on life; it helps us appreciate the blessings we've been showered with..."

Camden has created a sort of heroic character in Trevor McDonough. Trevor unknowingly contracted tuberculosis at the age of thirteen. When he arrived in America he had to keep his illness a secret or risk being sent away. Mrs. Kendall, the woman who cooked for the family he stayed with also suffered from tuberculosis and she helped him eat properly. By the time Trevor left for college he was clear of the disease. But curing others of the deadly disease became his goal. In an effort to understand the disease better he reinfects himself with tuberculosis bacteria and managed to at least show that he does not have immunity to the disease. Trevor's courage is demonstrated in working with those most susceptible to contracting tuberculosis, the marginalized poor and prostitutes. He doesn't care what people write about him visiting the poor, only that he can minister to them and try to help them. Yet Camden has crafted a realistic character because Trevor has his weaknesses too - he can be arrogant and selfish.

Camden was inspired to write With Every Breath after reading the memoir of Edward Livingston Trudeau, a pioneer in the development of sanitarium care for tuberculosis patients. Dr. Trudeau contracted tuberculosis from his brother and managed to live for forty years with the disease.

With Every Breath is a light, enjoyable read for fans who prefer gentle romances with an interesting storyline.

Book Details:
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden
Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers    2014
356 pp.

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