Sunday, June 12, 2016

Peace Corps Nurse

By Josephine James, ©1965
Cover illustration by Stan Klimley

Kathy’s decision to join the Peace Corps was the most important step she’d ever taken—and the toughest. Strict self-discipline was required to face the cram courses, endurance tests and survival outings. Each day offered new—and demanding—experiences. Then, suddenly, she realized that something sinister was happening at the training school. A strange African spirit mask had been stolen—and the theft threatened the success of the entire program. Kathy knew that if she tried to solve the mystery, she’d be risking everything she had worked for … but she also knew that if she didn’t try, she would never find peace with herself …


“I’ve seen  movies of Africa, and it’s no place for a girl.”

“Falling in love isn’t like falling in a swimming pool. There’s no lifeguard around to haul you out if you can’t make it.”

This book is billed as a romance novel, but I have to say that is a huge stretch. Nurse Kathy Martin does have a boyfriend, Steve, who is mentioned now and again, but the truth of the matter is that she is basically leaving him for a couple years to head off to Liberia with the Peace Corps, and we’ll see if he’s decided to wait around until then.

Though titled Peace Corps Nurse, this book is about Kathy’s application to the Peace Corps and then her training, which is held in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has nothing to do with any actual nursing while on assignment, which disappointed me, but it was still a pleasant enough story. Kathy arrives on the college campus with her best friend, nurse Jenny Ramirez, who has also been accepted into the Peace Corps. The pair has been assigned to Liberia—as has pretty much everyone they run into on their training—so they are especially interested in Africa and are taking classes about what life is like there. In a book written in 1965, this could well be a recipe for a racist-laden nightmare, but author Josephine James does a stellar job of discussing the problem. One character, Tony Kepatu, is a Liberian native who is a graduate student acting as a teaching assistant for the Peace Corps training, and he is an upstanding, intelligent teacher. Though accused of stealing a Liberian mask, Kathy and her fellow students largely refuse to believe it. Another Peace Corps student, Faith Channing, is a wealthy black woman whose father is a college professor. She is somewhat spoiled, but she is also vigilant about pointing out racism when she sees it, such as when a group of costumed native Liberians sings and dances for the trainees. “That’s how people think about all Negroes. Happy, dancing clowns,” she says.

The main story is about Kathy’s efforts to locate the Liberian mask, which belongs, coincidentally, from her field nursing teacher, a woman who has spent many decades practicing nursing in rural Liberia. The mystery is not the strongest element of the story, as clues are dropped ham-handedly at routine intervals. But the main reasons to read this story are its light touch, its sense of humor, and the Bay Area armchair travel. If it’s not the greatest nurse novel, it’s easily a pleasant afternoon.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Nurse Transplanted

By Teresa Holloway, ©1971
Cover illustration by Martin Koenig

Nurse Karen Carty was upset about her father. Unless the deadly disease he had was overcome, he was doomed. There was hope, of course. Dr. Court Delaney—young, capable, dedicated—had an idea that just might work. Suddenly—out of the blue—Karen and Court realized that there was a sinister plot afoot—one that was more violent, more horrible than any conceived by nature. But then—almost at the last minute—a sacrifice paid off.


“Anybody who can design and sew like you do is wasting her time as a nurse.”

“Oh, come on, Milly. You’re tiny enough to fit into a man’s pocket. Just be sure it’s not Dr Bryson’s.”     
“No corner of America is immune from the scrutiny of alien eyes.”

Nurse Karen Carty lives with her father, who works at the local paint factory—you don’t have to be a close reader to figure out that this guy isn’t just inventing new dining room colors. It’s also pretty easy to tell that the envelope her father gives her to hide is more than just the light bill, particularly when someone tries to snatch her handbag as she leaves the hospital and after her locker is ransacked. Third time’s the charm, though; eventually the house is totally ransacked and the envelope goes missing.  

Also complicating her life, Dad has been admitted to the hospital, and it turns out that he has kidney failure and needs a transplant—hence the book title! Fortunately, Karen’s childhood sweetheart, Court Delaney, is a doctor who specializes in transplants, and coincidentally has just come home to practice medicine, so he’s available to help save Mr. Carty’s life. But his “big brother attitude,” as Karen calls it, is wearing thin. If only nice girls made passes!

Court has a human kidney that’s been transplanted into a chimpanzee, so as to “heal” it from the rigors of the donor process, just waiting for someone to need it, so things are looking up for Mr. Carty. But then Nurse Milly, a good friend of the Cartys, is attacked and badly burned, but she insists that she just “fell” on the wood stove in a clumsy accident and won’t tell who did it. Milly’s biggest concern, actually, seems to be about her beachwear: “Am I going to have such a horrible scar that I won’t ever be able to wear a bikini again?” she pathetically cries to Karen. (Rest assured, readers, that the answer is no.)

Finally the FBI arrives on the scene and the agent spills the beans that Mr. Carty has developed a special paint that is immune to light and heat, which means, apparently, that it has huge benefits to the military. Still Karen hasn’t figured out that the envelope has something to do with this. For a highly intelligent surgical nurse, she can be mighty dumb.

The last twist in the case is that the chimpanzee is found shot dead, so there go Mr. Carty’s chances at a new lease on life. A meeting at the hospital of likely suspects finishes with the guilty party being led away in handcuffs, but there’s still the matter of Mr. Carty’s need for a kidney. The obvious solution finally reached, all that remains is for Karen and Court to arrive at an understanding and smooch us out the back cover.

The ham-handed patriotism is so dated it’s almost cute, but the extensive plot to steal the paint formula is as far-fetched as housing a kidney inside a chimpanzee. The writing is not terrible, but not great either, and in the end I find it hard to come up with any real reason why I should try to persuade you to read this book.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Art Colony Nurse

By Jane Converse, ©1969

It was all so simple … in the beginning. Handsome young Dr. Larry Rhodes wanted a capable nurse; Eileen Bonham, R.N., had all the qualifications. Eileen wanted romance with marital possibilities; Larry had all the qualifications. Simple. Storybook perfect … until the day Eileen discovered the Bohemian art colony on the California coast and nothing seemed duller than life with a successful, hard-working doctor, nothing more exciting than a free-swinging affair with a flamboyant artist. Suddenly Eileen found herself torn between the man and career she’d always dreamed of—and a thrilling, carefree adventure she’d never dared to imagine.


“Nobody bothered to warn me you were beautiful.”
Eileen Bonham has taken a break from nursing in Los Angeles to spend a few weeks at her parents’ house in northern California, though her parents keep hoping she’ll stay for good. There are no good job prospects to keep her there, however, until local GP Dr. Larry Rhodes advertises for an office nurse. On the interview, she finds him hunky but a bit somber for her taste. Nonetheless she takes the job—well, after she learns Dr. Rhodes is single. After weeks at work, though, she becomes increasingly disenchanted, busy and interesting though the job may be, because Larry hasn’t asked her out yet.

In addition, she soon sees a side of him that she doesn’t particularly care for, when a family of hippies brings in their young son, who has fallen from a tree. Dr. Rhodes, disgusted with the young parents’ lifestyle, terrifies them by painting a horrific description of the lockjaw that will almost certainly ensue, he says, if young Tad Shearer hasn’t gotten his vaccinations. After a few calls to the boy’s pediatrician, it’s found that he’s up to date, but man! What a bummer! Eileen is not impressed with Larry’s deliberate cruelty to the parents, and when they do go out to dinner for the first time, they get into a heated discussion about whether the Shearers have any right to have children, since they are not financially stable and live in an art colony of dubious reputation and plumbing. The date, needless to say, is a fiasco, and Eileen decides that Larry is a rigid square who thinks that only an orderly life is worth living.

Curiously, however, Eileen, chides herself for having “fallen in love with a man whose basic thinking was so at odds with her own,” and she continues to believe that she loves him, even though through many of the ensuing pages it is quite clear that she doesn’t like him one bit. She’s hoping that “some restricting bonds inside him would break, he would sweep her into his arms, and she would reach to the warm, relaxed core of a human being named Larry Rhodes who had only been pretending he was made of wood.” It seems imprudent to wait around hoping that someone you dislike will suddenly change into someone you do like, but maybe that’s just me.

Also curiously, Eileen deliberately decides to do something that would piss off the good doctor: hang out with the Shearers at the art colony. There she meets another irritating ass, Nick Hamilton. Tall and handsome, he has a tendency to sport dandyish outfits such as a white Nehru jacket trimmed with gold braid, tightly fitted black Edwardian trousers, and gray suede boots. Spotting an unattached female with a steady paycheck, Nick proceeds to woo the gullible Eileen. Though she spends many ensuing evenings canoodling with Nick on a picnic blanket in the hills, she is still having Larry over for dinner on occasion despite the fact that she dreads his boring conversation, and again, she chastises herself that “this was the man she was supposedly in love with.” So when Nick announces to the entire colony that the pair are engaged—without having consulted Eileen—“it seemed right, somehow,” and she goes along with it. Really, not one thing in this woman’s love life makes any sense to me at all.

Eventually she tells off Larry, letting him know what a straitlaced dullard he is and that his condescending attitude toward the artists is appalling. Unexpectedly, Larry seems to take her words to heart and soon is inviting her to carnivals and otherwise trying to be less stultifying. She instantly warms to him, but decides that it’s “important to let him know that she liked him (loved him?) for himself, for what he was, and not only for what he was trying, in the hope of winning her approval, to be.” When she’s just spent the last five chapters sneering at how tiresome he is? Then, when Larry proposes, she accepts—now to quickly call it off with Nick before Larry finds out!

It’s just not to be, however, because a tapestry weaver whom Nick threw over for Eileen attempts suicide, and when Larry is called out to save the woman, Eileen’s double engagement comes to light. Eileen has written her letter of resignation to the doctor and is about to clear town when Mrs. Shearer comes to her in the middle of the night—there’s an outbreak of hepatitis at the art colony! Eileen rushes out to the encampment, leaving word with Larry’s love-sick secretary to let him know what’s going on. Needless to say, the jealous secretary fails to pass on the message, leaving Eileen to manage copious infectious bodily fluids alone for almost a day before the situation is revealed. Then the two are working side by side for almost a week to cure everyone, and when it’s over, Larry has a new-found appreciation for the hippies and the art they produce, and for Eileen as well, so she gets her man in the end, after all.

I never understood Eileen’s feelings for either Larry or Nick, so it’s difficult to find any satisfaction with this book. The artist colony and the hippies are a fun bit of cultural time-traveltheir vocabularly in particularand of course the title of this book is pretty superior, so there may be some reason to pick it up. But if you’re looking for a satisfying story, you will not find it in this art colony.