Monday, December 30, 2019

The Story of Andrea Fields Woman and Doctor

By Elizabeth Seifert, ©1950

"Is that the Doctor?"
"Yes it is."
"Why, she’s a woman!"

Andrea Fields had heard these words many times. But until now she had never doubted herself as a doctor … or as a woman. Because now she knew that Luke Liddell wanted her. That he was ready to take her, without one backward glance at his wife … or the town … or his reputation. She loved Luke. But she loved medicine, too. Yet the inner woman … the trhilling, desirable and desiring creature Luke had awakened in her … hungered for love—demanded love. Luke knew it, too. And Luke would not let her go. How long, how long, she wondered, could she endure it? How long resist?


"Holidays are why they have Residents."

"He went to medical school at Harvard or Yale—some eastern school. He’s a nobody, obviously."

"I’ve been a Resident. I know they do anything the janitor doesn’t get around to."

Sometimes I develop a little grudge against a book, usually through little fault of its own, and my own prejudice makes me keep pushing it to the bottom of the pile. So it was with Andrea Fields, Woman and Doctor. Part of it was the title, which you must acknowledge is a complete dud. And it’s long, 256 pages, so I imagined it to be a conceited thing. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found this truly lovely, smart, rewarding story inside the bland cover.
Woman and Doctor Andrea Fields has returned to her home town of Claxton, Missouri, at the request of her manipulative Aunt Sophia, who has a lot of money and no husband or children, so she’s looking for someone to puppet around. She sends Andrea off to work with the town GP Dr. Martin Luther Faust, one of these ole-timey quacks who really loves his patients but whose methods are a century old. To Dr. Faust’s credit, and Andrea’s, they debate his methods, and he acknowledges his shortcomings, as well as his inability to change in the last few years of his working life. He pushes Andrea to dump him for the shiny new clinic that’s opened up down the street, and soon she is working there full-time with a lovely group of (all male) doctors who practice evidence-based medicine, work collaboratively, and support Andrea as the valuable and talented pediatrician she is.

The only problem is that one of the doctors, Luke Liddell, is a boy whom Andrea grew up with—and whom she fell in love with. She’s arrived in town just four weeks before Luke’s wedding, and though he instantly realizes there’s something between him and Andrea, and admits there is little to nothing between him and the 18-year-old virgin he’s affianced, he goes on with the wedding. It’s his honeymoon, actually, that brings Andrea into the clinic, as he is also a pediatrician, and while he’s away the group needs a locums, and quickly finds that even when Luke comes back, they can’t live without her.

The head of the clinic, a reserved, insightful, intelligent gynecologist named Dr. Hawkins Dolan—most unfortunately, he goes by the name Hawk—is immediately attractive to Andrea, as he is able to trade quips with Andrea as readily as Luke does, but he has a confident stillness about him that she appreciates more than Luke’s boisterous crashing around. Hawk is astute enough to realize the attraction between Andrea and Luke, and gently helps steer Andrea right when she’s most in need of support, but as much as she is attracted to Hawk, he barely acts more than the friend to her.

Luke, on the other hand, is crushing her daily with his flirtations, and after one late night after they perform emergency surgery on a farm table to lift the depressed skull fracture of an 18-month-old who’s been kicked in the head by a mule, Luke pulls into an all-night truck stop to get some coffee—but finds he really needs a little sugar instead—and then it’s even more difficult for Andrea to ignore her deep love for Luke, who now wants her to run away with him, his marriage and their reputations be damned!

From this point on the book is about Andrea’s anguish about whether she should follow her passion or her morals—essentially choose between being a woman (i.e. get the man) or a doctor (i.e. give up love). It’s not tough to figure out which way the wind will blow in the end, but as a genre the VNRN is not known for its surprise endings, and frankly, the ride here is so lovely that it doesn’t matter that the end is obvious.

Andrea herself is one of the best heroines I’ve met. She’s strong and independent, sassy, puts up with no bull, and a very good doctor. Luke and Hawk also are well-drawn, their attractions and their faults depicted with nuance and sophistication. Andrea’s feelings for Luke are also completely real, not at all silly or plastic. Author Elizabeth Seifert can deftly paint a mood, describing homes or scenes that instantly and easily feel completely real. For one quick example, in an effort to shake Luke off, Andrea goes for a drive in the country: "Her hat and gloves and jacket lay on the seat beside her; the day was warm and she was grateful for the freshening air which came from the woods now that the sun was low." Maybe it’s just me, but even with that simple sentence I feel what it’s like to be in that car. The warm camaraderie of the doctors in the clinic, too, is palpable, though a lot harder to depict for you here in a quick quote. Then there’s the story’s sense of humor; this very amusing and witty book gives us lots of very enjoyable exchanges between Andrea and her two main men. To wit: One day Dr. Dolan is trying to guess why Andrea is looking so pleased. "You come into money?" he asks her—but that’s not it. "Catch you a man?" Wrong again. "Then you must have a new hat," he says, and without waiting for an answer, sails off through the OR door. We really do like that Dr. Dolan, even if he must call himself Hawk. The only flaw I can find in this book is that the last third of the book, with Andrea fighting her feelings for Luke in long inner conversations, drags a bit. Also, the binding was a bit tight so holding it up and open with one hand when reading in bed required more effort than usual. But other than that, this is one of the best sort of VNRNs, and I urge you to bear this vapidly titled book no grudge but instead put it at the top of your reading list.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Believe in Miracles

By Florence Stuart, 
pseud. Florence Stonebraker, ©1968
Also published as Celebrity Nurse and Television Nurse

Nurse Clare Kincaid was caught in a web of conflict which was tying her in knots. Dr. Hal Grove, the handsome, brainy, rich psychiatrist, was in love with her, but he would not take on the responsibility of the child who had become so much a part of her. How could Clare leave Tracy, the five-year-old daughter of her adoptive brother Larry? The child was hungry for love and clung to her. Yet Larry, though charming, was totally irresponsible, while holding onto his hope of marrying Clare. To complicate matters still more, Jeff Haymes, a TV personality in Clare’s care, was making sensational proposals to her and extravagant promises to Tracy. Clare had to make a choice. How could she be sure she was making the right one?


“‘You should wear that white swim suit around the hospital,’ Jeff Haymes told Clare. ‘The male patients would have no further need of wonder drugs.’”

“Try some hot compresses on your heart. See if you can’t warm it up while I’m gone.”

I love author Florence Stonebraker (here writing as Florence Stuart) so much that I am reluctant to actually read her books because it means there will be one less for me to enjoy (it took me more than a decade to read the last Jane Austen). I needn’t have held off with this one, because enjoy it I did not.

Here we have nurse Clare Kincaid, at 25 a well-established nurse who has managed to hook desirable Dr Hal Grove, a 38-year-old former confirmed bachelor psychiatrist of the Park Avenue type, with a thickly carpeted office suite and highly bankrolled female clientele—we know the type all too well, and he never turns out well, does he, readers? Particularly since in this case he’s a psychiatrist, as author Florence does love a psycho psychiatrist (see also A Nurse Named Courage). The writing is writ especially large here  because Clare is effectively the guardian of her five-year-old niece, whose mother is dead and whose father, Clare’s adopted brother Larry, has abandoned the girl. Little Tracy is now living with Clare and mother Rose, who has suffered several heart attacks and as a result is a near invalid likely to keel over at any second. Clare is essentially a mother to Tracy, but Dr. Hal has absolutely refused to accept Tracy into his home when he and Clare are married. Clare spends a lot of time worrying about what to do—give up Tracy for adoption? Dump Hal and fast is not high on her list of options, unfortunately, though the reader is completely unable to see why.

At work Tracy is caring for wealthy television show star Jeff Haymes, who hosts a sort of gotcha-type program where “he gets people up to interview them; then all he does is make fools of them. He’s made a big name just by insulting people.” Many nurses are won over by Jeff, but not Clare: “She did not imagine she could ever possibly like Jeff as a person.” This means, of course, that they’ll be engaged at book’s end. If Clare is not impressed, Tracy is: Clare had brought Tracy to work one day to cheer up the patients, and never mind how wildly inappropriate that is, but now Tracy is smitten with—brace yourself—“Unk Jeff,” who wants to take her to Disneyland for her birthday.

Though no one has ordered a psych consult, Hal takes it upon himself to interview Jeff, who is recovering from his second plane crash, and tells Jeff that he has suicidal tendencies. Jeff responds by beaning Hal on the head with a crystal ball, and I am not kidding, which makes me think Hal may have a point. And now Hal is insisting Clare stay away from Jeff—but she goes to his room to tell him to stop making empty promises to her lonely little niece. Instead Jeff turns the tables and asks Clare about her own empty promises to Tracy, whom she is considering abandoning to strangers when she marries Hal. Jeff then suggests that he could get Tracy some work in TV commercials so Clare could afford to hire a nanny to look after Tracy while she’s at work. Despite herself, Clare starts to think this Jeff guy isn’t so bad …

Especially after her next date with Hal, when he says he’s arranged the adoption for Tracy that Care had not even agreed to, that he’s taken a job in the Midwest and Clare can come too, get a job, and undergo psychoanalysis—and when she’s cured of her “neurotic attachment to her little niece,” they can be married. Clare rightly calls Hal “a smug, self-centered, swollen-headed creep”—but it that the end of the engagement? Heck, no! It’s not even the end of the date! She lets Hal drive her home, but “there were not let’s-kiss-and-make-up embraces,” which teaches Hal to be a better person.

Or maybe not, because before long, we are questioning Hal’s sanity—and you knew we would. “He ranted and raved; he paced the floor and pounded his fists on the semi-circular metal desk. His face thinned; his cheeks turned a purplish hue.” And we’re only on page 72. There’s still a lot of plot to get through, such as Larry’s very alarming pass at his sister Clare, his decision to take Tracy back and make a lot of money off her impending TV career, Hal’s idea to kidnap Tracy with Jeff’s help, Clare and Tracy’s several appearances on Jeff’s show, including one in which Jeff proposes to Clare on air. In the end, there’s a big showdown in which Tracy is shot “just a fraction above her heart,” and though the injury is described as “just a flesh wound,” but she really whacked her head when she fell down and has been in a coma and on the critical list for a week, and “almost didn’t make it.” Nevermind about gunshot wounds; it’s those bumps on the head that will really kill you.

So many elements of this story are the usual tricks from author Florence Stonebraker’s repertoire: the psycho (Nurse Under Fire, The Nurse from Alaska, and of course Psychiatric Nurse), the unwanted yet fiercely fought-over child (The Nurse from Alaska, Runaway Nurse), the adopted daughter (Ozark Nurse). There is none of the gorgeous writing that she can be capable of (run, do not walk, to find City Doctor and Doctor by Day), and here she’s developed an annoying habit of dropping the quotation marks halfway through a quote and paraphrasing the remainder of the remarks. The characters are not particularly likeable, as Clare is a pathetic pushover who on one hand claims, “I can take care of myself,” but on the other can’t figure out that Hal is a horrible person. Even Jeff, the supposed love interest, is far too arrogant and pushy, telling Clare within minutes of their first meeting that he looked into the crystal ball and “this girl appeared in the crystal, plain as anything. And she had big, beautiful, golden eyes, exactly like yours. Now what do you make of that, sweetheart?” His on-air proposal to Clare screams of an overly controlling stalker, and his attentions to Tracy are too much to be anything but disturbing. This is actually the worst-rated Stonebraker novel of the 16 of her books I’ve read. If you’ve got others on your shelf, don’t bother pick up this one—not even the cover is worth looking at.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Palm Thatched Hospital

By Juliet Shore, ©1963

Doctor Christina Roberts was on her way to Lake Kampili in Kenya, where she was to join her fiancé. But her careful plans went astray when tropical rains left her stranded on the far side of the Umbulu River—in the company of the devastatingly attractive Doctor Dominic Mount.


“I am at my least successful when in the company of members of the opposite sex. Perhaps during our enforced exile together you can teach me how to be a wow with the ladies.”

“You can’t embark on a career in medicine unless you’re tougher than the rest.”

“Being ‘good friends’ can prove an interesting relationship with no holds barred. You should try it sometime, with somebody.”

Dr. Christina Roberts has a common problem: She’s engaged to an ass. Melvyn is medical director of a nursing home at Lake Kampili in Kenya, “where you deal with the fads and diets of large and lazy women addicted to hypochondria,” so that’s not a good start—but more than that, he has a “tidy, uncluttered, analytical mind” that thinks not at all about anyone but himself. He’s arranged for Christina to spend a year working in pediatrics—to prepare herself for the job of being his wife and mother of his children, no doubt—and then they are to be married, “which would automatically sever her from her brief, so far undistinguished, medical career,” and never mind the money and years of study that went into the making of it. Fortunately for her, however, she missed a boat and was delayed in her voyage from England to Mombasa Island. This led to her getting caught in the winter monsoon, which had arrived two weeks ahead of schedule, the inconsiderate thing, and washed away the Umbulu bridge, so there is no way for her to reach Lake Kampili until the rains stop and the bridge is rebuilt—in several months. Fortunately, on the road where it meets the Umbulu River is a small palm-thatched hospital. Dr. Dominic Mount and his spinster sister Cicely live and work at this hospital, and Dominic offers Christina a job and a home for the months she is stranded, which she gladly accepts. You do not need me to tell you how this story is going to play out. You can probably even predict that a former girlfriend of Dominic’s, Dr. Delia Courtnay, also manages to get herself stuck at the hospital, a clever plan on her part to try to win Dominic back after she’d left him at the altar to chase after another man.

A few surprises do land in our lap, like the fact that Christina clues in early—and dumps early—her loser fiancé. Also a bit unusual is that the star-crossed lovers actually marry halfway through the book, but this is complicated by the fact that Christine contracts malaria on her wedding day and is packed off to Nairobi to recover with Dr. Delia, who pulls in Melvyn to assist in her plan to break up the marriage by making Christina believe that she was too delirious with fever to render her vows anything but null and void.

The stock characters include the bitter spinster made bright by a pep talk from Christina and a boyfriend, the evil vixen who attempts to steal the man but who is eventually thwarted, the domineering (and properly named) doctor Dom, the mousy little woman afraid to speak her mind, and the shiny Fifth Avenuetype MD who caters to rich anxious, bored women. The surprising thing is that this book is nonetheless fairly enjoyable to read—except that it makes little of its location beyond the heat and humidity, the rain, the flowers, and slight hints of the wonderful way Africans have of personifying objects, such as when Christina’s Kenyan guide George points out, “Bridge—bridge, him gone.” We get an odd take on racism here, where individuals such as George and other Kenyan hospital staff are hard-working and intelligent. Indeed, Dominic is praised as “a man who recognized character and achievement in anyone and everyone”—while simultaneously dismissing entire groups of people as “children,” so I’m sending off another check of atonement to the UNCF as my penance for reading racist books. If the plot winds up predictably and the last page with a whimper, you could still do worse than to spend time in the palm-thatched hospital, even if they’ve neglected to include the hyphen in the title.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Susan Latimer, Clinic Nurse

By Maud McCurdy Welch, ©1957

Can a girl really forget the man she has once loved? That was the question Nurse Susan Latimer had to find an answer to. It had been two years since debonair Chris Graham had deserted her for another woman, yet the memory still hurt. Now he was back, acting as if nothing had happened. Could she bring herself to forgive him? Did she still love him? She didn’t know. Then there was handsome Dr. Delevan, constantly underfoot and eager to be friendly, but she couldn’t say a civil word to him. Why? There had to be a reason and Susan had to find the answer soon if she was ever to learn the truth about herself.


“It’s different with a girl, Gramp. A man’s life is broader. He can go places, do all sorts of things, where a girl’s is limited.”

Susan Latimer is a nurse at an odd sort of clinic where they appear to do gallbladder surgery in the office. The doctor she works for is on the verge of collapse from overwork, and indeed at one point is forced to take a couple weeks off to recover from a heart attack. A convenient potential replacement, though, in the form of Dr. John W. Delevan, has been hanging around the house for unspecified reasons. A former pupil of Gramp’s, who’d been a GP, Johnny is in town on what appears to be a permanent vacation from his life in Chicago, where he is being raised by his wealthy socialite aunt to become a wealthy socialite doctor with a wealthy socialite wife. Angela is auditioning for that last role, and shows up on Susan’s porch to sob entreaties that Susan convince Johnny to return home to Chicago and go through with their wedding. Susan, meanwhile, has disliked Johnny from the minute she accidentally drenched him with her garden hose, tee hee! “A strange young man, Johnny Delevan. She didn’t believe she could ever really like him, or understand him.” It seems a bit of a leap when she’s barely spoken to the man, but Susan, who otherwise befriends every stray cat, fiancée, and homeless drug-seeking waif, continues her unrelenting prejudice, claiming that they are “from different worlds. We have nothing in common.” But they do hang around together from time to time, usually with Susan being decidedly and unreasonably frosty. There’s just no possible way Susan and Johnny could ever be friends, much less anything more!

The plot is made up of a series of minor incidents, including the neighbor who turns out to be an heiress so distraught by her parents’ divorce that she dumps her fiancé and runs away: “Well, how could I believe in love anymore? I tried to believe, but I couldn’t.” Problem solved when she learns her parents have reconciled, and five minutes later she’s booked a reception hall and a plane back to her fiancé, God help the poor man. Then there’s Johnny’s friend Bill, who’s come to town to meet his fiancée, a sheltered innocent disobeying her mother to elope—but Elaine doesn’t arrive on the train, and there’s a tense couple of weeks with Bill moping around looking increasingly thin and distraught while Johnny and Susan argue whether Elaine is ever going to get there—yes she is—no she isn’t—until Susan just happens to run into her aimlessly wandering the streets. “I—I just got scared, I guess,” Elaine explains, all is forgiven, and Susan plans and executes a wedding in just 90 minutes.

And that’s just 20 pages of the book. To fill out the rest of it, on several occasions Susan and Johnny drive around looking for a house he used to live in, but they never find it. Susan loses control running down a mountain and nearly trips and falls, but Johnny catches her. Susan chews out Johnny for leaving Angela. Johnny hints on many occasions that he’s been played for a fool by women and will never fall for one again, thought any story that explains his hints never arrives. The man Susan had been engaged to but who had dumped her two years ago turns up and insists that she marry him next week. “You know you’re going to marry me,” he tells her. “You still love me.” Sure she does; how could she resist such a persuasive manner? Johnny tells Susan that he had been engaged to Angela but she had broken it off, then later changed her mind, but he did not want her back. And then Johnny goes back to Chicago, unable to refuse his aunt.

The conclusion is completely obvious and even nonsensical, as Susan goes from telling Johnny they can’t ever be friends, because, well, “I—it’s just a feeling I have,” she tells him firmly, to “Susan’s soft brown eyes were shining as she looked up at him” on the last page, because they’d “been fighting our love for each other long enough,” the excuse being that she thought he loved Angela and he thought she loved her ex-boyfriend, even if their animosity predated knowledge of either potential rival. Every hiccup in the story is wrapped up in a neat, sappy bow except, curiously, Johnny never finds his old house, which I’d have bet $1,000 he was going to buy for his new bride. Maybe author Maud McCurdy Welch lost track of that one of the many plot threads she’d scattered throughout the story. I felt as though I had read this book before; it has the atmosphere of a 1950s-era neighborhood, replete with many hours spent on the front porch with Gramp and Susan’s various young men. If not overtly bad, the mini stories aren’t that compelling, I didn’t enjoy any of the characters, and there’s a smidge too much nonsense and treacle here to make this an enjoyable book.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Nurse Camden’s Cavalier

By Louise Ellis, ©1967

“Perhaps I’d like to work in the maternity ward because it’s about the one place in the hospital where I won’t run into the new S.S.R.” Camilla Camden confided to her partner at the hospital Fancy Dress Ball. It was just as well Camilla didn’t realize just who she was talking to!


“She had too arresting a face for a nurse.”

“She could deal with the medical students when they insisted on proposing. They were young, they fell in and out of love without getting hurt and they seemed rather relieved when they were turned down.”

“Women always seemed to make more fuss and more work for the nurses than the men did.”

“Nurses are always hungry.”

I have to say that I feel reluctant to pick up a Harlequin VNRN, mostly because their look is unmistakable and I’m reluctant to have everyone on the train know I’m reading a romance novel. As a result I’d built up a large backlog of Harlequin novels, so this year I’ve been working hard to overcome my prejudice—who cares what other people think, anyway?—and push through them. And I have to say that overall they are a high-quality product, which an especial relief since they run half again as long as the usual VNRN (180 pages to other publishing houses’ 120). If the job titles are a little confusing (S.S.R., home sister, sister tutor, almoner), the heroines tend to be a spunky lot, the British slang is fun, and the men never obey the Casey Theory.

Here in Nurse Camden’s Cavalier, I feel like I have the product of several other Harlequin novels: the feisty outspoken nurse with an undeserved loose reputation from the most excellent Paper Halo, the heroine’s confusion about who she has feelings for with as in Wrong Doctor John, someone is not whom they appear to be like in The Two Faces of Nurse Roberts. Here we have Camilla Camden, who “never did anything by halves, bless her!” She “just happily blundered on, shooting out her thoughts as she went.” At the hospital costume ball, she is dressed as a Stuart lady, and is quickly swept up by a masked man dressed as a Stuart cavalier, which means they are wearing matching costumes for that particular period. Though she knows nothing about him, including what he looks like under that mask, her chemistry runs away with her the minute he clasps her by the waist: “She felt totally unable to speak. She was choked with excitement and a curious kind of upset feeling that she didn’t understand.” They spend the evening together, but when she finally arrives back at the nurse’s dorm all out of breath, she realizes she has not learned his name or much at all about him, really, except that he likes sailing. She, on the other hand, has given up all sorts of information, including her opinion of the incoming S.S.R., who everyone says is a stuffy martinet and is likely to ruin everything good about the hospital. Her date takes it all in stride, though, laughing loudly and insisting they will be seeing more of each other. Soon, of course, she learns that he is the S.S.R.! Darn the luck!

In the hospital, Dr. Sebastian Winters is a reserved, hard-working surgeon who insists on discipline and engages in a completely proper, formal, professional relationship with Camilla. Outside, however, it’s another story! He’s an outgoing joker who kisses her “special and private,” who’s “done something awful to her heart, so that it behaved in the oddest way and made her feel sick and ill when even his name was mentioned,” which curiously is not the same name he uses in the hospital, but instead is George. He buys a ring from an antique dealer who is a friend of Camilla’s, but unfortunately this turns up on the finger of April Sherwood, who is hospitalized for appendicitis. Camilla, shocked, wants to stop seeing George, who laughs off her objections: “Do you have to let people know who  you’re spending your free time with? Let’s keep it a deep dark secret,” he says, suggesting that the engagement with April is not real and though he will not break off the engagement because that would be rude, she will soon fall for someone else and dump him. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, everyone is starting to admire Dr. Winters, strict as he may be, because he is honorable, tough but fair, and an outstanding surgeon, but not at all the kind of man who would go to a fancy dress ball. “He is a different man, off hospital premises,” Camilla agrees, and at her first real encounter with Dr. Winters at the hospital, when she tells him she is not going to see him again despite the arguments he’d made on their last date, he tells her he has no memory of this conversation. The penny is starting to drop for the reader, but even when her antique dealer friend Maurice tells her, “Indeed, if I believed in doubles, I would have been inclined to say that it wasn’t the same person,” Camilla is not picking up what the author is putting down. George insists she go out with him one more time so he can try to convince her that even though he is dating other women she should still go out with him, but while they are arguing in a pub, in walks George’s identical twin, Sebastian. You’d think as a human being, much less as a nurse, she would have heard of twins, but the concept appears a complete shock to poor Camilla, made worse as she relives every embarrassing encounter with George as the doctor and the doctor as George. And that’s the end of her relationship of George, even if she continues to squirm with the memory of his emotion-twisting kisses.

Soon Sebastian is asking her out to try to explain the situation and put her a little more at ease over the whole affair. “She didn’t feel that shot of excitement as she did when George took her arm, and quite without reason she felt relieved. Sebastian was a person to lean on, but one with whom one could be comfortable, not worry about the pace of one’s pulse or the way one’s heart behaved.” On the other hand, “not for the first time she saw how kind that mouth of his was, and that kindness was the one thing that was missing from George’s mouth.”

You know where this is going, and it gets there with a literal bang; a gas explosion destroys the antique shop when Camilla is rooting around its attic. This book is a pleasant trip, and even a little thought-provoking, as we consider the intense physical attraction you might have for an ass, and the deeper emotional connection you might have with a truly good person, although it’s curious that we never see Camilla physically attracted to Sebastian and are given the idea that that’s OK. The characters are well drawn, and I believed them all. I even believed the transfer of Camilla’s feelings from George to Sebastian, though the ending does give us a somewhat easy cop out in that regard. Overall, though, Harlequin again delivers a pleasant story that deserves the time and a half.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Jubilee Hospital

By Jan Tempest (pseud. Irene Mossop Swatridge), ©1958

Verna’s career was going very well. At twenty-three she was the youngest Sister the Jubilee Hospital had ever had. But at home, too, she was the youngest sister, continually overshadowed by the brilliant, charming Daphne, and that fact brought a good many unwelcome complications into Verna’s life.


“Verna wondered if it was a sign of weakness in her that she did rather thrill to a man like Moray Morton-Alleyne. To be taken in hand by him, to be loved and cherished and possessed by such a forceful personality would be a marvelously exciting experience.”

“The yearning for power is very strong in most women.”

“Men don’t choose wives for their suitability.”

“The police are really most inconsiderate these days.”

“Very few patients have any sense.”

“I’ll try not to drive you to drink or drugs.”

Verna Ellesworth is the youngest of a trio of sisters that includes middle daughter Ellice and Daphne, the eldest. Verna is a wallflower at home, dubbed, unfortunately, “Baby,” though at work she is hard-working and smart enough to be made the head nurse of the pediatrics ward at age 23. Her sister Ellice has it a lot worse in the nickname department, though, as she’s called “Elephant” by their oh-so-charming sister Daphne. Daphne is a glamorous, beautiful, charismatic young woman who had enthralled or been engaged to half the men in town, moved on to Edinburg where she’d become engaged to a Scottish doctor she calls “MM,” then ditched him at the last minute and eloped with a wealthy Californian 20 years her senior, which is considered a terrible letdown by Daphne’s family. Now that she’s gone, Ellice and Verna are forging lives—love and otherwise—of their own. Ellice is in love with bounder Clay Derrilles, one of “Daphne’s Discards” and son of the town’s rich man. Clay, however, is never going to notice the “brainy” Ellice, an unsentimental, “uncompromisingly squarish,” “much less fun” straight shooter who is “too broad for feminine standards.” If Ellice is not always kind in her speaking, she is always honest, and her actions are extraordinarily caring. She’s decided that since Clay won’t have her, she’s going to pick up another Discard, Francis French, a journalist who is funny, smart, and steady, and as fate would have it, he likes her too. “Let’s face it!” Ellice snaps at Verna when she is reluctant to approve the match. “One can’t always have what one wants, if one doesn’t happen to be a Daphne, isn’t it as well to settle for what one can have, before it’s too late? Francis and I understood each other. We’re neither of us wildly romantic, but we like being together. We shall make a good team.” And they do, as we have ample opportunity to witness.

For her part, Verna feels she is doomed to be a forgotten waif. She is “nice and conscientious and endearing, but not in the least outstanding. It wasn’t often that Verna distinguished herself in any way.” But right out of the gate, she encounters Dr. Morton-Alleyne, and instantly “she felt as if she had just received a violent electric shock,” and suddenly she had “known with a wild, unshakable conviction that he was the fulfilment of her vague and childish dreams.” “She knew that this particular man was for her and she for him. It was equivalent to pairing gloves. There could be no uncertainty. A pair was a pair.” I know that sounds nauseating, but the portrait we are given of Verna as a very young innocent makes it somehow seem reasonable that she should feel this way. She’s so naïve, in fact, that she fails to figure out until very late in the book what the reader realized on about page 20: That Dr. Moray Morton-Allyne, who hails from – wait for it – Edinburg, is actually the Discard who had been engaged to and relieved from marrying Daphne when she ran off with the Californian.

Anyway, the plot—and there is one—involves the Habbitt family: mom Dora gives birth to quintuplets who are nursed into life and health by Dr. Morton and Verna. Husband Bill, driving recklessly to his wife’s side in Clay’s car (Bill works for Clay’s dad), gets into a wreck that gravely injures an old man, Clay included, and flees unseen from the scene, leaving Clay in the hospital holding the bag for a possible manslaughter rap should the pedestrian die. Peculiarly, Clay decides not to rat out Bill but instead pleads amnesia to such a degree that not only is he unable to remember the accident, he also thinks Verna is Daphne come home to marry him, and he insists she wear Daphne’s old engagement ring. Now we have one of those VNRN tropes, the one where the ill, usually paralyzed man must be allowed to think that he’s engaged to our heroine, who does not love him. Clay even has a slipped disc in his back, but his ability to ambulate is mercifully barely questioned. Furthermore, everyone thinks Clay is faking it, and he is soon forced to acknowledge the fact, but everyone is still pressing Verna to marry Clay, including Clay himself.

The wrench in the works for Clay is that eventually Moray takes Verna into his arms and tells her that he loves her. “She raised her lips to his in glad, frank surrender.” OK, that’s unfortunate, but again it is entirely within Verna’s character. Unfortunately, Daphne turns up shortly thereafter, having been divorced after a year of marriage to her Californian, with the intention of reclaiming M.M. Verna, who has idolized Daphne as a near goddess, instantly throws in the towel and breaks off her engagement with Moray, telling him he should have let her know he had been engaged to her sister (which he should have) and that she knows he’s still in love with Daphne.

Back in her own back yard, Daphne turns out to be quite horrid. She’s a self-centered, mean, overdressed (who wears diamonds and sapphires to the Nurse’s Ball?), shallow divorcée, and Verna and Ellice instantly recognize this. She drapes herself around Moray, who clearly is not enjoying it but astonishingly loses what until now has been an overly sturdy spine and is unable to tell her straight up that he has no interest in her. For her part, Verna is pathetically blind to Moray’s discomfort as well as his attempts to tell her that he loves only her. On the evening of Ellice’s engagement party, which Daphne plans to make as much about her as possible, the steadfast Ellice pulls off a stunt that plays on Daphne’s shallow character and causes her to publicly relinquish Moray and instead cast herself into Clay’s arms—the former cad now found new strength and character from his brush with death or incarceration and likely to be able to bring Daphne to heel. So Moray, having done nothing on his own to cast Daphne aside, is now free for Verna to accept again.

The hokiness of some of the plot threads made me want to not like this book, but it just couldn’t be helped. It’s an enjoyable story that sucks you into its characters, infuriating as they can be—how can Mr. Ellesworth be so enthralled with his most disagreeable daughter?—while giving you some really lovely people who make you look up with eagerness when they enter a room, Ellice and Francis in particular. Even Daphne, horrid is as she is, is still interesting to watch, catlike, as you wait for her inevitable downfall. Characters believably grow, and if Verna and Daphne are not any of those, the surrounding cast and the brisk plotting make this a very pleasant story. Only after I had finished it did I realize that the author also gave us Nurse Willow’s Ward, another absorbing story of a family of sisters with snappy dialogue (snappier than this book, it must be confessed). Author Irene Swatridge apparently wrote huge numbers of romance novels, so I look forward to meeting the nurses among them.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Marilyn Morgan, Cruise Nurse

Book 3 of 4
By Rubie Saunders, ©1971
Cover illustration by Robert Abbett

How many very overworked young nurses get to spend three beautiful weeks on a Caribbean luxury liner—with pay, no less! Marilyn Morgan knew she was lucky, but she also knew she’d miss New York, the hospital, her friends, and especially a certain young doctor named Matt … But what promised to be a restful cruise to the Islands turned out to be a whirlwind voyage to excitement and romance—complete with a dashing ship’s officer who made New York and the hospital and Matt seem dangerously far away …


“Pretty, talented girls are supposed to be lousy cooks.”

“My, you certainly are a beautiful broad!”

“I was thinking how much fun it would be to give you mouth to mouth resuscitation.”

“This old-fashioned music has one great asset; a guy gets to hold his girl in his arms!”

“Harmless! What a terrible thing to say!”

“I think she’s even more intelligent than any of us thought. What a pity!”

“You can learn a lot from detective novels, like how to murder your wife.”

“I’m getting the big rush simply because I’m the only broad on board who doesn’t have acne or gray hair.”

“If there’s anything I don’t appreciate, it’s a girl with strength of character.”

Note: This VNRN series is not being reviewed in order; the first book in the series, Marilyn Morgan, R.N., is the only other one Ive read so far.

As this book opens we hear a lot about how nurse Marilyn Morgan is soooo overworked. “This is the third time straight this month you’ve worked 16 hours straight!” gasps her roommate Marcia Goldstein. “At the rate you’re going, you’ll wind up being a patient at City Hospital instead of being one of its best nurses.” As a PA who works a 24-hour shift every week, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy, and I do wonder how the nurses square poor Marilyn’s work schedule with those of the residents who work more than 80 hours a week. But since Marilyn is losing weight and is always tired, her many friends team up to throw her a party and find her a three-week job on a cruise line.

Marilyn has a pretty great life in her New York apartment, throwing lots of parties, smooching with Bill and Matt, and drinking a shocking amount of vodka and tonics. She’s pretty hot for Matt, who kisses her until her knees are weak and she has to throw him out of the apartment or risk her virtue, but she’s not sure she’s in love with him. In any event, “she was sure she wasn’t ready to be tied down to anyone yet.” On the other hand, she also seems to enjoy her young men: As she sets off for another hot date, she thinks, “This was one evening she didn’t want to end with a handshake!”

But off she goes on her cruise, which mainly involves hanging out with the purser, Barney Davis, a native of Jamaica (he has to tell her where he’s from; she doesn’t place his accent). Being nurse on a cruise ship means passing out a lot of pills for seasickness and telling a young girl that she has menstrual cramps “because you think you’re supposed to have them,” which reminds us to be grateful we don’t live back in the days when women’s pain was dismissed as psychosomatic. So Marilyn has a lot of time for socializing, spending days and nights ashore when the boat is docked, even when there’s a patient in sick bay. She even spends two days in Jamaica with Barney, meeting his family, and drinking too much and getting kissed by numerous strangers at a Mardi Gras party. In her drunken stupor, she kisses Barney a lot and he obliquely proposes, but she fends him off.

Back on board, the ship passes through the “most disastrous hurricane in years,” but the 36-hour storm is over in four paragraphs, and never mind that Marilyn secretly drugs the complaining Mrs. Haynes by slipping a sedative into her coffee, because even if “it may have been unethical, but it probably saved Mrs. Haynes from being tossed overboard by Captain Barker or some other member of the crew.” As she’s heading back to her cabin, she thinks about how grateful she is that she’s been too busy to see Barney, because “things between them were getting too hot for comfort.” Naturally her next thought is “she’d look him up now.” But she’s suddenly overcome with fatigue and goes to her cabin to sleep. When she wakes up, the ship is docking in New York, so she’s saved from his passionate clutches again. As she emerges on deck, she runs into Barney and he asks her if he was just a fling. “I’d like to see you again, so please call me,” she tells him, and they kiss until she is “weak-kneed and breathless.” And then she’s thinking about Bill and Matt, and heads back to her cabin to pack, and that’s the end of the book.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is race: Marilyn is black, as are all her main boyfriends, but on occasion white men will also make suggestive remarks to her, such as when the Swedish first mate tells her, “I shall become sick just for the pleasure of having you nurse me back to health.” It is refreshing to find in a VNRN black characters who speak with perfect grammar, who are strong, smart people with successful careers. Author Rubie Saunders writes with a wonderful sense of humor, much better than most; Diane Frazer (pseudonym of Dorothy Fletcher) is the only author who readily leaps to my mind as a rival to Saunders. If this book isn’t exactly a true VNRN, since it leaves the heroine unengaged at the end and no fewer than three contenders, in a way that’s more honest than other VNRN series that have the heroine engaged to five men in as many books just to keep it going (I’m looking at you, Dr. Jane, Nurse Jill Nolan, and the disturbing Jane Arden, whom you can thank heaven you haven’t met yet, but all I can say is Look out!). I can’t exactly say that this book is worth $82.50 (what it’s (not) selling for on Abebooks), but I found my copy for $12.50 after diligent weekly web searches, and it is definitely worth that. We have two more volumes to spend with Marilyn, and this is the first series that I am actually hopeful will give us a character who can be stretched out that long without becoming way too thin.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Second-Chance Nurse

By Jane Converse (pseud. Adele Kay Maritano), ©1961

Crisis! The young doctor’s face was etched with bitter hope and desperate strength. Karen Reese looked form him to the small form stretched on the hospital bed and knew that Dr. Mark Corman needed her at last; needed her skill, her devotion, even her silent, unspoken love. For only love’s valiant faith could win this struggle. Death was groping for the child with cold fingers, but they would not, could not, let him die … A dedicated doctor and nurse are united in a heart-gripping battle for the life of a child, while a fierce love grows between them as they thwart death with all the courage of their calling.


“It seems the eight-hour, twenty-dollars-a-day angels of mercy can pick and choose their cases.”

“You’d better move the wedding date up a little, Jo. This smootching into the wee small hours is murder.”

“Happy, sentimental tears were as ruinous to the appearance as the heartbroken variety.”

One of my least-favorite tropes in the VNRN genre is the beautiful, intelligent, hard-working nurse who’s in love with a jerk. Meet Karen Reese, who works at Los Angeles’ Valleycrest Hospital. Karen is not without flaw, although hers is actually completely trivial, as is the standard in VNRNs. As “an exhausted probationer,” one night, trapped in the hospital during a blizzard that kept the relief staff from coming in but had not kept the victims of a terrible fire from arriving in the ED, Karen in a sleep-deprived haze carried a unit of Type A blood to a Type O victim. The horror!! Of course, the nurse on duty had actually checked the label, realized it was the wrong type and had not given it. “Do you know what your carelessness nearly did to that patient? To the reputation of this hospital?” shrieks the nursing supervisor, telling her that when the storm calms down she’s going to recommend that Karen be barred from the nursing profession. And then, 20 minutes after Karen has left her office, drops dead of a heart attack, and that’s the end of the matter. The guilt of this unforgiveable sin is a heavy weight she carries with her still!

Karen has met Dr. Corman at the hospital, but after she fell hard for the man who paid her scant attention, she left to become a private nurse. Their paths cross again when Dr. Corman calls to ask her to special a child who was lucky enough to live in the days before vaccines were routine and is now sick with tetanus and likely to die. When she shows up for the interview, he is immediately nasty, asking if she’s brought her mystery novel and saying, “I expect you assumed there’d be plenty of time to read. With the kind of cases you usually handle, there might even be time to do your nails. Did you bring nail polish?” Apparently this job requires that she stand next to the patient for her entire 3:00 to 11:00 shift in a darkened room “where the slightest sound might precipitate a fatal spasm,” where there’s a “critical danger involved in a rattle teacup or a dropped teaspoon.” Throw in the opportunity to work with a mean doctor and Karen can’t sign up fast enough! The job itself actually does seem pretty dull—the boy, Ronnie, is under heavy sedation and tied to the bed, and as far as I can tell Karen’s job is to take vital signs, inject meds,  and watch him seize. But the stress is exhausting, and when Dr. Corman stops by, “her awareness of him tensed every nerve in her body”—seems like tetanus is catching. Even as the days drag on and Karen proves her worth, he continues to be a cold brute. “What made the man so vicious … so uncompromisingly cruel?” she wonders. “Dr. Corman was a detestable boor. No woman in possession of her right senses could think herself in love with a detestable boor.” Good thing for Dr. Corman that Karen is clearly out of her mind. Case in point: She decides that “the caustic remarks, the bitterness … perhaps these symptoms of a soul’s sickness, too, could be healed by the touch of gentle hands.” Ugh.

Weeks pass. Ronnie’s father, Thomas, spends a lot of time visiting his boy, and by extension hanging out with Karen. Thomas is divorced from his Ronnie’s mother, Lorena, because while he was working 100 hours a week as a famous TV director, she was spending time with “some sweet-talking young crumb—a would-be actor,” and when Thomas found out, he had Lorena declared an unfit mother and she lost custody (which seems incredibly hard to believe). But Lorena spends a lot of time at the hospital, too, apparently clued in by Dr. Corman when Thomas has left the building, and Karen tries to fend off Thomas’ increasing regard for her while pushing Lorena to fight for custody of her child.

Meanwhile, in a side plot, Karen’s roommate Patty Tanner seems to get pulled into one heartbreaking case after another. Patty is currently caring for a man with terminal cancer who has not been told of his diagnosis—talk about unethical!—and keeps telling her about all the things he’s going to do when he gets home. There’s a stark contrast between Karen, who is tough enough to shoulder all the stress and emotional torment of her job without even a slump in her posture, and Patty, who spends the evenings sobbing in her bedroom and shrieking, “I’m not a parasite like you. I’m a nurse! I’m a nurse! I’m a nurse!” Psych consult, stat! When Karen finds some little pills in Karen’s bag, she takes one to a friend in the lab who tests it and learns that it’s benzadrine. Karen’s concerned that Patty has stolen the meds from the hospital and is using them while on the job, so she tells Dr. Corman about it, who has Patty hauled in for a grilling. It turns out Patty only took a few pills, which had belonged to her deceased patient, after her patient’s death and then threw the rest out. But as Patty is fleeing the hospital after being fired, she is run over by an ambulance and admitted with broken ribs and a head injury. During that time she gets to know Dr. Tony Eberhart, the intern she’s sworn never to get involved with because he’s a doctor and she hates doctors so much …

Needless to say, everything gets wrapped up nicely in the end. Patty, as she’s about to be discharged from the hospital, is offered a job by Dr. Corman as his office nurse. Ronnie gets better, of course, and Thomas asks Karen to come home with him, if not as his wife then as Ronnie’s nurse. Lorena arrives at the Sills’ ranch one afternoon, and the family reunion involves “laughin’ an’ cryin’ an’ carryin’ on,” the housekeeper tells Karen. Dr. Corman drops by for a house call, full of his usual piss and vinegar, and Karen tells him off, but he reveals that he had initially treated Ronnie’s cut in the ED and had missed the tetanus diagnosis, and the delay in treatment likely made the illness that much worse. That’s why he’s been so horrid, but now that Ronnie is well, he can be nice again. Phew!

Jane Converse has brought us some wonderful books, but she has also written some duds. So I open every book of hers for the first time with real hope—which in this case quickly died. Her writing here is decent, but we’ve met all these characters before in other stories of hers, and didn’t care for them then, either. I guess the  best thing I can say for this book is that it’s not as bad as a case of tetanus, and it’s certainly a strong reminder to keep your booster up to date.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Doctor down under

By Anne Vinton, ©1964

When Nurse Kate Norwich arrived in Australia to marry her fiancé Trevor, she found him suffering from amnesia, and the wedding temporarily off, so she took a job as assistant to Doctor Rick Howleigh of the Flying Doctor Service to tide her over. But always she was conscious of Trevor, hundreds of miles away, keeping her to a promise she now wondered if she should ever have given.


“Jan was so plain and homely of countenance that she was resigned to never being a bride herself.”

“Apparently she had never heard of the word ‘love’ except as something which appeared in pop songs and rhymed with above.”

“I thought she was terribly courageous; that red hair and a red hat. It takes some doing.”

“I would have thought it pretty expensive to risk turning a pretty little filly like you loose and unlabeled among the herd.”

“Children are always getting infections and babies are insistent about coming into the world. You won’t lack employment.”

“To regret events is to regret life.”

“Nurses were so desirable as wives; their training had not only developed in them a deep and practical sympathy for afflicted souls but made them into warm personalities pre-destined to be good friends and sweet lovers.”

Nurse Kate Norwich has fallen in love with former patient Trevor Gallyard, but he’s gone off to Australia to start a new life with the plan for Kate to come join him there after he’s gotten established. Right out of the gate there’s trouble in River City, as Kate’s best friend does not like Kate’s beloved, thinking him “a bit wishy-washy”—and Kate herself, after being separated from him for a while, is forgetting his finer points. “Of course when they met again it would be wonderful once more.” Famous last words!

On the day that her ship sails for Australia, she gets a letter from Trevor saying that he doesn’t have the money to support her yet and she should postpone her voyage, “but nowadays the rules were not so rigid and couples managed to be happy sharing both the bread-winning and the running of a home.” (Of course, even today, both spouses might work, but it’s still the woman who’s doing most of the running of the home.) And Kate’s a feisty lass, to boot, so off she sails. The trouble is that she immediately meets Dr. Rick Howleigh, and they are naturally attracted to each other—but after she tells him about Trevor, his friendship cools, much to her disappointment: She finds herself “craving for Rick to look at her again as he used to do, his deep brown eyes speaking compliments which thrilled the woman in her. Now his gaze was cool, polite and impersonal. She could scarcely bear it.” She asks him why he’s changed, and he points out that she can’t eat her Rick and have her Trevor too, but then subverts his own argument by kissing her until she’s so weak-kneed she has to beg off dancing. “‘It was only animal attraction,’ she told herself somewhat desperately, ‘sex rearing its ugly head. Only—’ she turned uneasily in the bunk—‘it wasn’t at all ugly. Why didn’t I struggle, I wonder? I could have—should have struggled, at least.’”

Arriving in Australia, there’s another wrench in the works when she’s met by Trevor’s manipulative but rich aunt, who tells Kate that Trevor’s been in an accident and developed amnesia, and doesn’t remember her at all! Rather than take the next boat home, she decides to accept a job working with Rick in the outback, and stupidly agrees to honor the engagement for six months to give Trevor’s memory time to return. So off she and the good doctor go, driving and camping for days in the heart of Australia to join a crew of eight in the flying health service, delivering medical care by airplane to the European settlers in the far-flung regions.

Before 23 pages have passed, though, Kate realizes “I’m in love with Rick,” and then their plane develops engine trouble and they crash in a remote valley, stranded for days. “There are certain basic desires which, though kept decently sublimated in society, roar with a sense of urgency when man-made rules are even slightly relaxed,” Rick tells her. “If we stay here, like this, in three days it will have happened … we must move heaven and earth, if necessary, to get out of here.” Interestingly, Kate’s not in complete agreement: “The supreme capitulation, the giving and the taking, the act of love between a man and a woman. Was she supposed to be terrified? He would probably find her more than willing three days from now.” However each of them thinks of it, they are rescued with Kate’s virtue intact, and Trevor turns up to act the part of the relieved fiancé, kissing her passionately in front of Rick—and now she’s the cold one who’s forgotten the other. “Trembling with shock and mortification,” Kate “turned to look at this stranger who had dared make that show over her in public.” She decides, however, that “it would be cruel at this stage” to tell Trevor she does not love him—no, better to wait for his memory to be restored or for him to fall for her again before doing the obvious—and right—thing.

She and Rick work on side by side for a while, until Rick decides he’s had enough and resigns his contract. But then Trevor gets his memory back and Kate also leaves to fulfill her promise to marry Trevor, but fortunately Trevor with memory is not as dumb as Trevor without, and he quickly realizes that Kate does not love him, and that Rick really is her man. They end the charade on friendly terms, and Kate decides to stay on in Brisbane to work in the hospital there rather than return to England—but tell Rick she’s free? “What is a nice girl to do? No matter how much she loves somebody she has to wait to be asked.” Fortunately, Rick immediately turns up and in a disappointingly treacly paragraph they close up the book, but at least that part is done quickly.

Overall this is a pleasant story with interesting characters, only slightly weighed down by those contrived, lazy “obstacles” that force the star-crossed lovers apart (an engagement that cannot be broken, an inability to convey the news of its termination). This is one of the more frank VNRNs I’ve read on the topic of sex, which here is portrayed as something that normal, nice girls want to do, even if they shouldn’t—a unique point of view. Early on the book has a sense of humor, which sadly fades as the it progresses, and if not the most sparkling, the writing is good, and no one loves a plot line involving amnesia more than I do (a predilection that comes from years devoted to TV soap operas when I was a teen). This enjoyable book is worth an easy afternoon of armchair travel.   

Monday, October 21, 2019

Nurse’s Journey

By Helene Chambers Schellenberg, ©1967

Pert, red-haired Carole Henderson, R.N., was thrilled with the opportunity of visiting the most exciting cities in Europe. Each spot seemed to offer new surprises, as well as another young man eager to assist her and her eight-year-old patient on their journey. But Carole could not ignore the deep sadness that enveloped her whenever she thought of the eye operation that awaited little Diana on their return. Nor could she ignore her growing attraction for Diana’s recently widowed father, James Wheatley. Suddenly her logical nurse’s mind had become muddled with doubts. Was she merely confusing compassion with love? And if not, was she foolishly giving her heart to a man still in love with the memory of another woman?


“Poor Cathy! She would spend months in that body cast.”

“Dinner on the Tiber River! Just wait until I tell the girls back at the hospital about that.”

“Now take one of these little pills and stop crying.”
“You certainly have a way with children.”

If anyone ever described me as “pert,” as poor nurse Carole Henderson is here, I’d sock them in the jaw. Carole doesn’t even really deserve the epithet, as she is mostly just anxious and dull. She’s been hired to care for eight-year-old Diana Wheatley, whose corneas were somehow damaged in the car crash that killed her mother. Despite being in a  coma and nearly dying in the hospital—and saved by quick mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by our heroine, though I’m not sure how this could have brought on a return of spontaneous circulation—little Diana seems to have no other lasting repercussions apart from grief. But this is a major barrier to her undergoing a cornea transplant: “We can’t possibly think of operating on her eyes until she’s made the proper psychological adjustment to her loss,” the doc says. In an attempt to heal the child, Diana is packed off to London with Carole to visit Diana’s maternal grandmother, Henrietta Archibald. It’s curious that everyone thinks sending a nearly blind child to a foreign country with a strange woman to visit her dead mother’s family, whom she’d never met before, is going to be helpful—especially since it appears that “any jar to the head could result in irreparable injury to the already scarred corneas of Diana’s eyes.” Then again, if they’re already going to be replaced, what difference does further damage do? Perhaps you are already sensing that this booked is packed full of maddening little illogicalities like this.

In London, Henrietta, reveals that a very dear friend of hers is Dr. Otto Hans, one of the world’s leading eye specialists, who resides in Heidelberg. Though Carole feels it is “most unethical” to take the case away from the San Francisco surgeon who is currently managing Diana’s care, the child’s father is convinced that a consult with the Herr Doctor would be a good idea, so off the three females go. They start out on a ferry to Calais, during which short journey Carole picks up a Texan named Joe Spencer who squires the trio around Calais and takes Carole dancing. There, Carole, rents a car and drives them to Heidelberg to meet Dr. Hans and his hot nephew Fredrich, and now there are two young men mad for Carole, but Fredrich is a faster worker and takes her to visit the Heidelberg Castle, where he proposes. And did I mention that Carole has a fiancé at home, Jeff of no last name, of the usual mold of fiancés who are domineering and inconsiderate? When the suave Fredrich puts the moves on, “she should go immediately. Still she lingered—as though Fredrich had put a spell on her.” Is it love she’s feeling? “Carole’s heart was beating hard. How sure he was of himself—as though all he had to do was to appear to have girls fall at his feet. Men, she thought. They are all alike. Time, nationality made no difference. There was Jeff practically ordering her home. And the boy from Texas had been so sure they would meet in Paris. And now here was Fredrich telling her she would stay in Heidelberg.” Despite her disdain for the gender, she’s simultaneously musing, “Could they be happy together after all? Could she be happy as his wife?” while snapping, “I’m dedicated to my career!” He laughs, as he should, at her hypocrisy—in two pages she’s making a date to spend Christmas with Joe Spencer and wondering, as they set off to meet Diana’s father James in Rome, “Who would she meet? Perhaps some tall, handsome Italian sportsman who would drive her through the city is his very expensive sports car.” Meanwhile she pouts that “there had been dead silence” from Jeff after she dumped him, and sulks when Fredrich spends time chatting with a French woman at a party.

En route to Rome there’s a very bizarre episode in which the trio befriend a pair of American women travelling by motorcycle—and promptly witness the pair nearly get killed in a crash in the Alps. Carole, needless to say, saves another life, but in one sentence they’re following the ambulance to the hospital and in the next they’re pulling into Rome. Every relationship Carole has is fleeting and inconsequential.

After meeting Diana’s father James at the airport, Carole is now free to become a limp noodle. Her navigating a  car from Calais to Rome via Germany is viewed as a miracle—“even the rent-a-car representative was impressed. You should have seen his face when I told him a woman had done all the driving. He actually turned pale!” James laughs. Ha ha. “It made such a difference to have a man along,” Carole thinks, “someone to take over the struggle of trying to make oneself understood in a foreign land. How nice it was to enter the hotel dining room with such a good-looking escort; a man who knew how to order with finesse.” She can drive 1200 miles and save lives left and right, but can’t order her own dinner in Italy. How do you say ravioli?

Finally we’re back in San Francisco, Diana’s corneas having suffered no further damage despite her world tour, and now we learn that Carole “had cut herself free from one unwise romantic entanglement only to become involved in an even unwiser one.” Who could the feller be? Not any of the men she’s strung along up til now, but it’s James she’s suddenly in love with. “The important thing is to end it,” she tells herself, so she moves in with the Wheatleys and nurses Diana through her first cornea transplant, with another to follow in a few months. “I’ll leave at the first opportunity,” she firmly decides. Months pass. Then the book ends perfunctorily, and about par for Carole, she insists to James, “I’m not ready to give up my career,” and two paragraphs later decides, “Whatever he wanted her to be, she would be.”

I don’t mind a book being nonsensical, but you really need to get the impression that the author intends it to be a farce. Here you feel that Ms. Schellenberg is either incredibly sloppy or can’t be bothered to get the details right, such as when James says he learned Italian from being forced to learn Latin in law school. For all the armchair travel we do here, the book is more focused on Carole’s string of lame infatuations, and anyway the author doesn’t have the skill to make even a visit to the Vatican inspirational (we get quotes from a tour book, watch Carole kneeling in a chapel to “offer up her own humble prayer—to rededicate herself to her career,” and wait in vain for the lightning to strike her down). Carole is not a likable heroine, so I feel unfortunate that I had to spend so much time with her. You, however, are forewarned, and so can avoid spending 1200 miles in a car on this dull journey.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Nurse Caril’s New Post

By Caroline Trench, ©1959

Doctor Justin Garthorpe was reputedly a tyrant, and while Penelope worked for him, sparks were bound to fly. And she had to cope with family worries as well as an exacting job. Here’s the story of how she succeeded.


“Nursing was the most worthwhile life in the world and she loved it all, from the work that could sometimes be so satisfying and sometimes so hard, to the friendly companionship of the other nurses.”

“Justin never thinks of the decorative value of nurses when he engages them, although I’ve told him it would make all the difference to the patients. Not to mention the doctors!”

“How encouragingly human you look! The starch and stiffness have all evaporated into thin air!”

“He thinks of me as someone who helps him in his work, not as a woman.”

“You’ve made me absolutely agog with curiosity. How do you look agog, by the way? But I clamp my lips together and nobly forebear to ask more.”

Penelope Caril is a London-based nurse who suddenly learns that older sister Alison and her husband Bill have been killed in a car crash, leaving her guardian of nephew Sandy, age 7, and niece Grace, age 17. This means she can no longer work the alternating shifts of her hospital because she’ll need a steady schedule for the children, so she relocates to the coast to take a position in a small children’s hospital founded by Dr. Justin Garthorpe. He’s got a reputation as a strict martinet but a genius with children and their illnesses, and during Penny’s interview with him, she finds him “infuriating,” three separate times but nonetheless thinks “she didn’t know whether Justin Garthorpe infuriated her or interested her. But, whatever her feelings were, she knew she wanted to work for him.”

Not that you will be surprised to hear this, but soon she is in love with him. They seem to have a close friendship, and he involves her in his toughest cases, but he is also at the same time somewhat aloof—“what had brought the brusqueness to his voice, the lines between his eyes and the streak of gray to his hair? What was the mystery of his life—and would she ever know it?” Of course she will, and it’s revealed by a shrew who calls herself mother of one of their patients: Justin’s own daughter had come down with appendicitis and the diagnosis had come too late, he had operated and she had died, and his wife had died shortly thereafter of suicide. The scandal!

But Justin’s friend Simon has a slightly different take, and explains that Justin had been working through an epidemic at the time on four hours’ sleep a night, living at the hospital, and that little Barbie had been seen by another doctor who’d blown the diagnosis. By the time Justin had finally gotten home, Barbie was too ill to be saved. And the wife had left Justin and died of an overdose of sleeping pills. Justin, of course, doesn’t see it that way, and is so haunted by Barbie’s death that he can never love again.

So Penny sets out to find the whole truth, and drags Justin off to meet an old friend of his wife’s, who tells the real story—that Adele had been on the brink of coming back to Justin to try to start over, but had been troubled by severe anxiety which necessitated the fatal sleeping pills, and her death was an accident!

Exonerated by the truth, Justin is free to tell Penny that he’ll never marry again, but that he expects she’ll be happy with any of the several beaux floating around Honeysuckle Cottage, where she lives with the children …

It’s a slight, pleasant enough story, with a few interesting characters (Penny and Justin, unfortunately, not being among them), but no surprises of plot to make it particularly unusual—apart from the nurse’s dorm fire that Justin extinguishes with his hands, blistering them so badly he nearly faints from the pain, but strangely the next day he is driving around the countryside and gripping Penny’s wrist, “the hardness of his grasp almost bruising her flesh,” but apparently with no discomfort whatsoever. Rather, the story seems to be a goodly number of the usual conventions strung together—surly misunderstood teen made right by love, crabby doctor made right by love, perennial bachelor and ugly nurse and crippled fiancé made right by love. Still, if there isn’t much to it, what there is is enjoyable, and you certainly could do a lot worse.