Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Nurse Named Courage

By Florence Stuart
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1965
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

Soon after she became a nurse at Shields Memorial Hospital and met Dr Bert Ives, Courage Williams found she’d have to live up to her name. Handsome, intense and moody, Bert was known as much for his iron will as for his brilliance as a surgeon. He was not used to being contradicted. But Courage could be stubborn too, and she and Bert clashed violently over the treatment of a handsome young ward patient. Before long, Courage began to wonder whether Bert’s anger was professional—or jealous…and whether she was reacting so strongly to him as a nurse—or as a woman.


“One glance from your blue eyes, and the good doctor gives all the signs of a man entering a strong magnetic field.”

“It was doubtful, very doubtful, if the beauteous Bernice knew how to do a colotomy. But what man with all his marbles would want her to?”

“All you could say for her flannel robe was that is was warm and comfortable.”

“Why don’t you get busy and rescue him from that glamorous dish?”

“Maybe she has enough brains to pretend she hasn’t any, and that’s why she’s won the man you’d like to have.”

“‘Hello,’ Courage said, and was told that if every girl looked that cute in pants, he would happily approve the fashion.”

“She smiled back, and decided that the melting feeling that came over her when he was near might well be the beginning of some form of virus.”

There are some badly named VNRN heroines out there, but poor Courage Williams may well near win the prize. Even the man she loves, Dr. Nat Warren, can’t bring himself to call her by her name, and instead calls her “Billie,” for some odd reason. Courage is named in honor of her grandfather, who captured an entire platoon of Germans during the war with just one itty-bitty rifle, and just about every unsuspecting passerby is forced to hear the story of granddaddy’s bravery. But it’s the key to Courage’s feistiness, which in this book is focused on saving poor Wally Savage, a whimpering slip of a man who’s been overwhelmed by his domineering mother.

The woman, who wears tight lime-green pants and a satin jacket embellished with a bedazzled parrot, has forced him to go to law school, when all he wants to do is—is—sing! And marry Maria Marino. But mom breaks up the love-struck kids and ruins Wally’s singing career, and the poor lad is so distraught that he drives his car off a cliff, which is why he is now a patient at Shields Memorial.

Mom has enlisted the help of Dr. Bert Ives, who is a brilliant surgeon but not too straight in the head himself. Bert is obsessed with Courage, having conflated her with his mother, who never cared for him much, but rather doted on her older son, Kevin. When that god-like hero had been eaten by a shark off the coast of San Francisco—I kid you not—Mrs. Ives had killed herself, and now Bert is living some sort of sick Oedipal complex, insisting Courage be both his wife and mother. Attacked several times in his office, even slapped in the face, Courage keeps showing up when ordered and neglecting to bring the cops with her.

She concocts a hare-brained scheme to rescue Wally by convincing Maria to marry him—Maria will surely go along with it since she’s “probably very romantic, because Italians are like that. That’s the reason they wrote so many tragic operas, all about lovers dying because they couldn’t have each other, on account of somebody stood in the way, or somebody clobbered one of them, or something.” Amazingly, the plan goes off without a hitch, and now Maria has the right to spring her husband from the hospital, just in time to save him from the lobotomy that Mrs. Savage has planned to send him for with Dr. Ives. Now if only Dr. Nat can free himself from his gorgeous fiancée Beatrice, who is “quite a dish” …

Florence Stonebraker is easily one of the best, and her prose here is top-notch. She loves a screaming shrew, beautiful or otherwise; insanity-driven shoot-outs; and the spunky roommate; and lucky us! Here she’s given us all three! There’s not a lot of the usual squirrelly games that VNRN heroines frequently play with their beaux, just some legitimate lack of confidence, which Courage easily makes up for by being one of the few VNRN women who actually tells her man how she really feels. This book is a light and thoroughly pleasurable romp, and we can be grateful that the venerable author has yet again delivered a fantastic book into our eager hands.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Nurse Is Born

By Bess Norton
(pseud. Olive Norton), ©1962
Cover illustration by Bern Smith

For a long time Candida Jones had set her heart on becoming a nurse. But her parents were on the other side of the world, and she had a hard time persuading her uncle and aunt to allow her to start training. It was a hard life for a girl, her uncle reminded her, unless she had a real vocation for it. However, Candida eventually received their consent to train at the local hospital near their Welsh Valley home. And sure enough, Candida turned out to be a born nurse, and found nursing even more rewarding, exciting, andwith the advent of Doctor Randon Lordmore romantic, than she had ever imagined.


“He must surely be a surgeon, with those slim, strong fingers.”

“Kindly do not giggle. A most unpleasant habit in a nurse. Indicative of a light mind.”

“I never knew such a girl for minutely studying the movements of every male creature on her horizon.”

“If you’re a very good girl, and get full marks for anatomy, I’ll give you a lift.”

“It’s ‘not done’ to tell a man how you feel.”

“That’s got to be a pretty dull book,” my son quipped, “while you wait for her to grow up and go to nursing school.” Fortunately, the title refers to a metaphorical birth, so we miss watching Candida Jones wean off diapers and trundle her way through high school. She’s still only 19 when we meet her, though, parking her scooter outside the hospital to stare at the man who spends a lot of time in the rose garden, on whom she has developed a painful crush despite the fact that she’s never so much as said hello to him.

She meets him soon enough, though, when she enrolls in the hospital’s nursing school. He’s Dr. Randon Lord, who is developing an anticoagulant drug made from the extracts of roses and rhododendrons. He pretty quickly appreciates Candida, too, but of course there are the usual who-likes-whom tangles to sort out. Here we actually have three intertwined messes, with Candida’s cousin and a classmate also in the mix. Plus all the usual shenanigans like a rock slide trapping one couple in a cave that only Candida can find, the dormitory catching on fire and Candida getting burned rescuing her classmates, and her parents going missing on a plane trip in Brazil—not to mention the many patient stories to round out the book as well.

Making it more interesting is that this is the first VNRN I’ve read that’s set in Wales, so we get to do some armchair travelling and meet people whose names contain only consonants (Twm) or who are suffixed with their occupations or hometowns (Robert Pugh, forestry; Margery Hughes, Pennal), and struggle with place names like Eglwysfach and Llwynau—what a relief when you’re only going to Cardiff!

The story trots interestingly along, for the most part, although Candida’s romance with Ran does unfortunately indulge in some overwrought crises—you do have to nod in agreement when a friend of Candida’s tells her, “You’re quite a girl for building fences so that you can climb over them, aren’t you?” Also, it feels a little creepy to me in that, though we are never told Ran’s age, he  must be at least ten years her superior, if not more, as he is superintendent of the hospital, not to mention a doctor with a prestigious research lab, stuff you don’t get your first year out of med school. And if the writing style is not especially witty or campy, overall it’s an appealing read, if not especially special.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Nurse Knows Best

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1953
Cover illustration by Tom Miller

Nurse Ellen Copeland suddenly found three men in her life:
Tom Spendler, her boy friend since high school, who was demanding she set a date for their wedding.
Paul Dixon, once a brilliant author and now dangerously close to suicide, who needed her to help him write again and to restore his faith in women and in love.
Dr. Eric Hendricks, attractive, young psychiatrist and the man Ellen was in love with. Only he seemed more interested in his work than in her.
What should she do about these three men? She had to come to a decision. Should she marry Tom out of loyalty? Should she sacrifice herself to Paul because he desperately needed her? Or was there some way for her to make Eric see her as a woman and not just as his nurse?


“This younger generation—well, there simply was no accounting for some of the things they would do, at least from what one read and saw going on. Driving souped-up cars, smoking marijuana, drinking and boldly making love in public places, getting divorces almost before the marriage had time to take. But then, in Miss Rutledge’s opinion, the whole world had gone mad, what with all these atomic experiments and tornadoes and floods and talk about so many persons secretly belonging to the Communist Party, and the entire Government, after twenty years, being taken over by the Republicans again.”

“A mother wanted marriage for her daughter, but she wanted to keep her sons as long as possible. That old saying, perhaps, that one lost a son when he married, while a daughter was a daughter all her life.”

“Dr. Hendricks, being the doctor, thought he knew more than the nurse. That might be, but sometimes, Ellen believed, a woman knew more about some things than a man.”

“It did not mean anything—a good-night kiss. Not any more. This was the atomic age, not the stone age.”

“Butch judged a man by his handshake. And if he liked guns and that sort of thing.”

“She was the life of the party and so much fun that no one cared how fat she was or what was the color of her hair.”

“I presume an author can do strange things and it’s expected.”

“Her mother was a dear, but sometimes she got weird notions in her head.”

Ellen Copeland is a psychiatric nurse, working in the plush Park Avenue practice of young, hunky Dr. Eric Hendricks, when one evening just as the office is about to close, a hobo stumbles in, saying he needs to see the doctor or he will kill himself. As the efficient front-office secretary tries to put him off until next Thursday, Ellen steps in and invites the man back into a treatment room. Dr. Hendricks is a good sort who actually sees the occasional pro bono patient, and he agrees to assess the patient, even if it is after hours. Ellen departs for home, convinced she’s lost her job, but the next day she finds that Dr. Hendricks is pleased! The patient is actually a very successful author, Paul Dixon, who has come home from the war only to find his fiancée has married someone else. He becomes so depressed that he cannot write and is experiencing a psychosomatic loss of sight. Dr. Hendricks enlists Ellen in caring for Paul Dixon, and takes her out for dinner and dancing ostensibly to discuss the patient, which Ellen enjoys just a little too much.

Ellen has a boyfriend Tom, who is pressuring her to marry him, but he is moving to Tennessee for work, and Ellen does not want to leave her family in Brooklyn. It’s fortuitous that he is packing up to go just as Dr. Eric is moving in, metaphorically anyway—soon he and Ellen are dating every Friday night.

Ellen is meanwhile helping out Paul by moving him out of his tenement apartment into a farm owned by her uncle, where Paul is finally able to write. Everyone is starting to get ideas about Ellen and Paul, particularly since Paul is clearly in love with Ellen, and she is starting to entertain horrific ideas about actually marrying Paul so as to further his mental stability—especially since Eric finally kissed her and then immediately took off to go on a cruise with a wealthy, beautiful divorcee and former patient. Because a VNRN cannot exist without multiple misunderstandings, Ellen believes Eric is pursuing marriage with the boating divorcee, and Eric and pretty much everyone else, Paul included, is misled into believing that Ellen is in love with Paul.

Naturally everything is sorted out in the end, but believe that the ride is thoroughly enjoyable. Adelaide Humphries is a superlative writer, who in her best books gives you a meaty bone to chew on, with many lovely characters, painterly scene descriptions, and few of the more frustrating devices other VNRN authors fall on too easily—our heroine is never suckered by situations that wouldn’t fool a five-year-old, never manufactures her own misery, never plays stupid mind games. A book by Ms. Humphries, in short, is bound to be excellent, and in this one, she does not let us down.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Nurse with the Red-Gold Hair

By Jane Corby, ©1964
Cover illustration by Mort Engel

She knew how to deal with the drama of life and death … but Nurse Nancy Rogers had to learn how to control her emotions when Scott Lathrop walked into her life. After all, she was engaged to Dr. Ty Abbott—and besides, Scott seemed more interested in his work than in her. She knew she couldn’t go on hiding her feelings forever. It wasn’t fair to herself—or her fiancé. But how was she going to make Scott see that love was just as important to his life as his work?


“Perhaps a cheery word or a pat on the hand was not prescribed for patients, but Nancy knew they often helped. A word of encouragement when a woman was combing her hair or a suggestion that she might arrange it in a more becoming fashion always gave the patient a lift.”

“Darling! What an ungodly hour for you to look so crisp and efficient!”

“She carefully fed one of the heart patients her evening meal; the woman was not allowed to lift even a cup of tea to her lips.”

Poor Nurse Nancy Blake Rogers. Life has been so cruel, endowing her with a mouthful of a name and bipolar hair, which seems to be all anyone can remember about her; almost every patient “chose to forget her name” and instead calls her “Goldilocks” or “red-headed spitfire” or, even worse, “the nurse with the red-gold hair.”

From outward appearances, she is managing her own life and career quite well. An orphan, natch, she sold the rambling family mansion when her mother died and bought a six-room ranch, which she shares with her aging housekeeper, whom she can’t let go even if the old woman is slowing down; to accommodate her, Nancy packs away the sterling and the Haviland and opts for stainless steel cutlery and cheap dishes.

Of course, Nancy has a steady boyfriend, resident Tyrone Abbott, who “roused the maternal instinct in every woman who knew him. Nancy could not fight down the impulse she had, on sight, to pat down his unruly cowlick or ask him if he had remembered to drink his milk.” Ty is clearly doomed.

But Nancy is in fact kind of a pushover. When cousin Joyce, whose “whole world crashed when her parents were killed in that airplane accident,” arrives to stay at Nancy’s house in the middle of the night with two cars full of rowdies intent on an all-night party, Nancy curiously allows all these hoodlums in. For hours she feeds them chips, dip, soft drinks, and all her milk until her “smoldering resentment” finally gets the best of her and she throws them all out at 1:00 am, since she has to be at work at 7:00—and the next day she plans to apologize to Joyce “for her sharp remarks.”

Enter the rocks upon which the ship of their relations will founder: Scott Lathrop, engineer and friend of Joyce’s who has just accepted a job at the Glenville electronics plant, where he will be doing “experimental work” with “violent reactors.” As Joyce continues in the role of ungrateful, bitchy houseguest, slowly commandeering Ty’s free time, that’s just fine with Nancy, who, at Ty’s 26th birthday party, no less, is literally swept away by Scott to the ubiquitous terrace that no self-respecting dance floor would live without. Some time later they return to the party, she looking “like a girl who has been quite thoroughly kissed,” but her enthusiasm dampens when Joyce cattily reveals that Scott was fired from his last job.

While we wait for Scott to explain this shocking blot on his character, we go to work at the hospital and learn about diabetes, a disease which Nancy, despite years of experience, doesn't know much about. Dr Mason, who believes that “most bodily ailments come from some malfunction of a gland,” lectures us that most diabetics, by the time of their diagnosis, are admitted to the hospital in a coma and die. Nancy also brings home a boy of five who goes into convulsions every time he sees his mother, when the woman herself is admitted to the hospital for appendicitis and the six children are packed off to foster homes despite the fact that their father is unemployed and so is home all day with nothing to do.

In the meantime, Nancy is giving Scott what passes in VNRNs for the cold shoulder. When he drops by to ask her for a date, she tells him that although she would love to go out with him, this darned flu epidemic has her working double shifts seven days a week, so she can’t tell him when exactly she will be free. The highly perceptive young man understands this exactly as it was intended and stomps off in a huff.

So what else is there to do while she is snubbing the man she loves? Well, go on a picnic with Ty and have “a scuffle” with him under the trees during which “the hot dog was dropped into the dirt and lay for a while unheeded.” (These VNRN euphemisms are absolutely divine!) Further, the duplicitous cat becomes irritated and depressed when Ty talks as if he’d “had a heart-to-heart with her cousin.” She has Ty drive her to their usual “parking” spot and returns his fraternity pin, slipping it into the pocket of his beach parka, a garment I am trying very hard to imagine.

Next, Scott rescues a woman from a burning building and is marginally injured, laid up for a total of two weeks, but Nancy is enlisted to care for him. As her strange romance with Scott gets back on track, she decides to drive to New York to pick up the very latest book on electronics for him—and bizarrely brings Ty with her on a date, although “she did not feel the excited anticipation she had known on previous dates.” Then she refers to Scott as “nothing more than a friend,” despite the fact that the two are quoting Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene to each other. During her outing with Ty, he proposes behind a screen of potted palms, and she gently turns him down. She decides Scott does not love her based on her own weird twisting of events: She thinks Scott lied to her at their first meeting about why he came to town, and because he has referred to his two weeks stuck at home as a prison, this means he does not care for her.

Then the boy she’s taken in runs away, and after a frightening night in which she and Scott sit up and snap at each other, the boy is found by police and taken to the hospital. There he undergoes a glorious reunion with his dear mother, suddenly transformed into a caring, doting woman even though she never once visited her son in Nancy’s home and—even worse!—“never attempted to keep house; not even a shred of curtain hung at the dirty windows.” This miraculous revision occurs apparently because her husband has finally gotten a job, so “it looks as if they’re going to be a happy family now.” With the boy out of Nancy’s house, all it takes for Scott to surprise Nancy on her porch after she gets home from work to propose, the romantic fool, and we can wrap up the nurse with the red-gold hair.

The writing isn’t terrible, but Nancy is bewildering, managing her career and patients with aplomb while blundering her personal life with self-delusion of monumental proportions and a complete inability to express even her strongest feelings. Displaying less personal growth than her shallow cousin Joyce, who eventually decides that the boring guy who’s desperately in love with her is the one she really loves too, Nancy should really stick to being a nurse with no name. Clearly as a human being—certainly as a married one with yet one more name for her collection—I can’t see how she is going to be very successful.