Saturday, January 26, 2019

Marilyn Morgan, R.N.

Book 1 of 4
By Rubie Saunders, ©1969

Marilynn Morgan was thrilled with her job at City Hospital. Despite her parents’ objections, nursing was the career she wanted—and she had absolutely no intention of rushing headlong for the label of “wife.” But there was Sam, dependable and eager to tie her down … and Henri, wealthy and offering luxury she had never dreamed of … and Bill, full of fun and family plans for the future … and Matt—Matt, especially Matt … Suddenly Marilyn was forced to face the most important question of her life. Would she ever find a man who understood the proud longings of her heart? Or was sacrificing her career to be the going price for love?


“That boy is the greatest reason for birth control in the world!”

“He doesn’t mind spending money on a girl, but he expects a reward, so watch out for yourself in the clinches!”

“Linda is our local beauty queen all right. But we like her even if she does make the rest of us look downright plain.”

“I am in great demand to bring a little romance into the drab lives of the nurses who toil in this hospital You are lucky, Miss Morgan, I will be able to take you to dinner on Saturday night.”

This novel is a first for me, in the almost 350 VNRNs I’ve read—it’s the first one that ever mentioned birth control. Well, OK, it’s also the first one in which the heroine is black (and only the third black nurse or doctor as a main character; see also The New Nurses and Homecoming Nurse). And where the staff is a virtual UN—Marilyn’s roommate is Jewish, there are multiple black doctors, a Filipina nurse—who knew every healthcare professional in the 1960s wasn’t white? The issue of race, then, is not completely ignored: “she was glad to see other Negro nurses and doctors going about their duties. ‘At least being a Negro isn’t going to be a problem,’ she muttered to herself.” But for the most part it is not discussed.

Marilyn, born and raised in Harlem, lives with her parents, who feel that “nursing isn’t a fit job for a lady,” and that since they helped pay for college, they had the choose her career for her, which she stubbornly resisted. “Why couldn’t you be a teacher like we wanted?” shouts her father. “No, Miss High-and-Mighty had to have her own way and be a nurse washing naked men and all!” Needless to say, she’s chafing at the constant criticism from her father, as well as her mother’s alarm that Marilyn is not living the life of a nun. The fact is that she’s kind of a swinger, dating four different men fairly regularly. There’s Sam, the guy from home, who insists they go out only for Chinese food, and he “wasn’t thrilled about her career. … He seemed to feel that a woman’s place was in the home, or maybe he felt she didn’t have the brains or the guts to be a nurse.” Marilyn’s mom is assiduously working to marry the pair, but Marilyn is really sick of Chinese and Sam’s rigid attitudes, so she is trying hard to keep him at arm’s length—while dating (and kissing) him regularly. She’s also got a Haitian doctor who wants to marry her and stash her away in his Port-au-Prince estate, but he is also going nowhere fast except back to Haiti, alone. Then there are two black doctors from the hospital, Bill and Matt, to round out the quartet. It’s a wonder Marilyn gets any sleep at all!

Eventually the parental hovering becomes too much for Marilyn, so she moves in with the wise-cracking Marcia Goldstein, and their apartment soon becomes a wild bachelorette pad, with numerous docs dropping by for drinks, dancing, and dates with the gals. And so we spend most of our time following the nurses at work, enjoying their frequent joking, tagging along on their dates. Marilyn is an enjoyable  young lady who knows what she wants and stands up for what she wants—“If Marilyn wasn’t a lady she would have belted him in the mouth,” we are told at one point, which won her a permanent spot in my heart. Her only character flaw is that she continues to date men she even actively dislikes—“I’d do anything to get out of the house!” she explains when questioned by the rightfully dubious Marcia. At work, Marilyn is in high demand to care for the more obstreperous patients because she refuses to be cowed. “I’m the boss here and you’d better do what I say. Now keep quiet,” she tells the business tycoon recovering from a heart attack. She insists throughout the book that she’s not ready to get married, and cools it off with a couple of her beaux when she starts to feel she’s becoming too fond of them. She and Marcia throw lots of house parties, and go home for the winter holidays—and really that’s about all there is to this book. She doesn’t even wind up with a serious boyfriend, much less a fiancé. But there’s more than enough here to make for a really good book. The humor persists throughout, not so much as one-liners, but built up, and Marilyn is an admirable and feisty gal to pal around with for 120 pages.

There are four more books in the Marilyn Morgan series that I’m aware of, but they are hard to come by—my copy of this book was sent to me by a blog reader, but the other books in the series are running upwards of $80 on the internet, if you can find them at all. It’s my usual practice to post reviews of all the books in a series at once, but since it may be a while before I can track down the remaining books in this series, I’m breaking tradition and posting this one solo. But I will most certainly keep looking for them—the consistent humor, Marilyn’s enviable lifestyle and unusual fortitude for a VNRN heroine are rare and enjoyable qualities. It’s a pleasure to meet a nurse like Marilyn Morgan.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Nurse Hilary’s Holiday Task

By Jan Haye, ©1964
Cover illustration by JH (Jack Harman?)

Nurse Hilary Hope, just recovered from an attack of pneumonia, took the job of accompanying Lady Vesper to Auvergne, in France, as her nurse. There she met her ladyship’s doctor, Raoul de la Rue, to whom she was attracted despite herself, for theirs was by no means an amicable relationship.


“She wasn’t in love with any of the doctors or students at the hospital, as many of her fellows were, and none of the boys in her home village interested her more than as friends and occasional companions She sometimes wondered if she was abnormal in this respect; perhaps she was undersexed.”

“I’ve had better kisses from my Labrador.”

“That red-headed nurse on Maternity was suspended on being caught in the linen-cupboard with a doctor, who shall remain nameless. Remember, kiddo, it’s the woman who always pays in our profession. Never look at a doctor unless he’s proposed to you in front of witnesses. They’re a dangerous breed, and so darned attractive.”

“No young woman cares to be fully understood by a member of the opposite sex. Like an iceberg she shows only an eighth of herself above the surface.”

“‘I thought being in love would be a wonderful experience,’ she half groaned. ‘It’s going to be awful.’”

“I knew there was something sadly wrong with her, and as she’s had all her injections it could only  be love.”

The title of this book confused me—if she’s on holiday, why does she have a task?—so if you are also in need of clarification, let me explain: Nurse Hilary Hope, having just gotten over pneumonia and being told that if she goes back to work in the hospital she will likely get it a second time and become so debilitated that she will never be able to work again, has taken an easy private-duty gig that passes as a vacation. So her “holiday task” is really a reference to her less-than-demanding job that brings her to the French countryside, sort of a working vacation.

Lady Caroline Vesper likes to surround herself with people with alliterative names, such as her son, Verian Vesper, and her doctor, the gloriously named Raoul de la Rue. So our steadfast heroine, Hilary Hope, is a clear choice to accompany her to her manor in Auvergne, where Lady V will recover after a heart attack caused by overdoing it in the setting of unspecified congenital heart defect. Lady Vesper is a catty snob, and makes it a practice to “annihilate nurses as some people annihilate bugs.” Well, we’ll see about that! Because Hilary may not be in perfect health herself, but she is completely sound of mind and spine, and very admirably acquits herself as one who will not be pushed around. She forcefully but gently gets the upper hand on Lady Vesper—talcum-powder massages go a long way toward that end—and indeed on everyone in the household.

Lady Vesper has decided to push Hilary on her son Verian, who has fallen in love with an unsuitable village girl, in the hope that such an affair will make Verian forget this wench, just as she understands that Hilary’s lowly station in life will keep Verian from marrying Hilary. They’re snobs, remember? Indeed, Verian tells Hilary, “Don’t misunderstand me, I like girls of your class. I really do. They’re intelligent and useful.” So her early crush on the man is instantly, well, crushed. However she is big enough that she continues to be friends with him, unfortunately in that weird VNRN way in which women who have no interest in a man allow him to kiss her from time to time—usually just as Raoul de la Rue is walking in the door.

Raoul is handsome, of course, patrician and, unfortunately, 12 years her senior. When they first work together to deliver a local baby, she spars smartly with him, calling him out on his sexist assumption that the baby will be a boy, using the pronoun “she” at every reference to the baby. It turns out to be a boy after all, but she doesn’t give in: “It’s a lovely baby,” she says, “and that’s really all any mother wants. Sex is unimportant except to certain mediaeval-minded males.” Raoul appreciates her repartee, and tells her, “When I feel like a fight I will send for you again, eh?”

And so the book meanders down the wide country lane that you know it will, as Hilary finds that she’s in love with Raoul, initially thinking him indifferent to her—but on the night of Verian’s 21st birthday party they have their rapprochement, and The Kiss, which just for laughs I will report dutifully for you: “He bent and took her lips, softly as thistledown and as firm as steel, and as they kissed and merged and drew apart and sighed there were bells and heavenly strings sighing in a celestial symphony that drowned all the normal sounds of the night and the artificial music that mere men created for less blessed beings’ cavortings.” What an odd coincidence—this is exactly what happens when I greet my husband after a long day at work!

Anyway, we’re still 40 pages from the end of the book so there’s a little misunderstanding in which Hilary is accused of stealing Lady Vesper’s jewels—I am pleased to tell you that at least some of the characters who have known Hilary best devoutly insist that she is innocent—but as suspect number one she is not allowed to leave the house, make phone calls, or tell Raoul what is going on, as Lady Vesper has sworn everyone to secrecy so as to avoid bad publicity. This means that when Raoul makes his visit to the house she must be formally professional in front of her patient and cannot walk him to his car, which makes him think she’s changed her mind …

Not to worry, duckies, it all comes to rights in the end, just as you knew it would. So despite this little blip and a profoundly hideous cover illustration (with all the money Harlequin made, why were they so cheap not to shell out for better cover artists? Instead of assembling a collection of what is hands-down the worst covers ever? Well, second-worst, after Valentine—ugh!), this turns out to be a quietly delightful book. The writing is sturdy and clean, frequently giving us comic exchanges that made me laugh out loud—particularly when the author introduces a pair of young American men and teases them mercilessly, giving them dialogue such as, “Hiya, honey!” and “You betcha!” There are lovely descriptions of the house, countryside, food, and wardrobe (I am not too proud to enjoy a yellow linen sleeveless dress with white box pleats). The characters are well-drawn, including the glorious sassy nursing school roommate, who appears seldom but makes a splash when she does. Hilary is an ideal heroine, intelligent and mostly sensible, not afraid to tell people off when they have it coming, someone who makes mistakes but learns from them. In short, while not a glamorous vamp, this book is an easy, soothing story, a cool, mint-sprigged gin and tonic on a sunny afternoon.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Nurse Made Headlines

Adelaide Humphries, ©1962
Cover illustration by Tom Miller

For lovely Cheryl Lanier, nursing wealthy, elderly Trevor Rutledge at his magnificent estate seemed a routine assignment. But that was before Rutledge’s nephew, Victor Lawson, arrived. Perhaps Cheryl should have known  better than to fall in love with the handsome playboy. Certainly there were those—especially the young lawyer, Carl Drew—who warned her about Victor. But Victor’s promises drowned out all warnings—until, amid sudden tragedy and scandal, she heard a different voice: that of agonizing doubt. Had she made the greatest mistake of her young life? Had she given her trust to the wrong mad? And how could she know for sure before it was too late?


It is incredibly frustrating to read a book that is thoroughly annoying, yet has glimmers of what could have been a good story. Even more frustrating than that is the knowledge that the author—in this unhappy case, Adelaide Humphries, who brought us the delightful The Nurse Knows Best, Nurse Landon’s Challenge, and Office Nurse (as well as, it must be confessed, a few duds)—is capable of pulling off that better book. And so here we contend with the disappointment of The Nurse Made Headlines.

Cheryl Lanier is a beautiful, smart, steady, dedicated nurse who has been hired to care for Trevor Rutledge, a wealthy man in his 70s recovering from a heart attack. He is childless, so his huge estate will pass presumably to his nephew Victor Lawson. Vic has been lovin’ ’em and leavin’ ’em for many years, but hearing about Dear Uncle Trevor’s brush with death, he hurries home to suck up to the old man in the event that the recovery does not go well.

He immediately targets Cheryl as a potential plaything—and also the red-haired barmaid Jackie Barnes—but Cheryl has the advantage of having a lot of influence on Trevor, and a lot of information about Trevor’s health and plans. So he cultivates her by taking her out for high-speed drives that muss her hair and her nerves, and visits to the gazebo that muss her lipstick. And he pumps her for details. Initially Cheryl manages to resist Victor’s interrogation tactics, reminding herself on several occasions of the importance of not discussing what would today be called confidential patient health information. But Victor is so beautiful! “Quite the handsomest she had ever seen”! And when she is under the spell of his hypnotic dark eyes laughing down into hers, her cheeks flush, her heart pounds against her ribs. And gathered in his arms, she whispers passionately, “I believe your uncle wants to make some changes in his will.”

And so Victor learns that Trevor is going to turn his estate into a rest home for poor elderly folks. Lawyer Carl Drew is going to come over to have Trevor sign the new will, the day after he takes Cheryl out to show her how to use the tiny automatic Colt that once belonged to Trevor’s deceased wife, not to mention take her to dinner, fall in love with her, and give her a much more reasonable love interest. Except that “Cheryl did not find him exactly exciting. The touch of his hand, a look from his eyes, did not start her pulses to pounding,” unlike Victor—“Darn it, why did her pulses race whenever her eyes met his?” Oh, but there’s also David Earling from back home, who makes an unexpected and essentially parenthetical appearance on page 75 as yet another man who wants to marry Cheryl, but “he had failed to strike the necessary spark.” Unlike the forest fire that is Victor Lawson. Run, Bambi, run!

On return to the  mansion after her dinner with Carl, Cheryl discovers—you will never believe this—Trevor’s lifeless body in his study. Turns out he’s been shot through the heart, but before she can start screaming, Cheryl is knocked unconscious, and when she comes to, she has that infernal tiny automatic Colt in her hand and the housekeeper standing over her. Victor promptly throws her under the police van, and she is hauled to the station as Suspect Number One. But Carl Drew, bless his wholesome but not nearly so handsome heart, steps in to get her out on bail, and a few days later everyone gathers for the reading of the will—when we learn that Trevor actually had managed to sign his new will a day ahead of schedule, disinheriting Victor. This shocking turn of events causes Victor to completely and inexplicably lose his head, whip out the actual murder weapon and reveal himself as the killer, but since the room has at least three cops in it, he goes down without a fight. As he’s hauled away, Carl decides that he will give Cheryl time to get over her trauma—she’s coming back in a few months to run Trevor’s nursing home anyway—and Cheryl decides she’s going to call her mother and let her know what’s new with her, and to ask mom to pass on her regards to the barely mentioned David Earling.

At the end of this book we are left with no clear love interest for Cheryl—a rarity in VNRNs—and indeed a big huh? over one of her potential options. Exonerated with the police, with the reader Cheryl is easily convicted of being an annoying patsy who abandons everything she stands for to tumble for an obviously manipulative con man, whom even Cheryl can see through. hihHhhOf course good women have been known to fall for bad men, but we are not given any sort of reasonable explanation why Cheryl would be such a dope, just descriptions of her weak-kneed compliance with Victor’s every selfish request. If Ms. Humphries had put in the effort to write a character study that explained Cheryl’s wildly self-contradictory behavior, this could have been an interesting book—and at a crawling 180 pages she certainly had room to pull off something—anything!—more complex and interesting than the plate of indigestion we are actually served. As it is, The Nurse Made Headlines is an exasperating, overly drawn-out story that wraps up in three rapid-fire pages and isn’t worth the time it takes to read, well, a headline.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Lesley Bowen M.D.

By Marjorie Norrell, ©1965

Lesley was blessed with exceptional beauty. But was it such a blessing, when it meant that although she only wanted to become a good doctor, few people would take her seriously—while the woman-hating Doctor Mark Crossman seemed actively to resent her?


“‘Me?’ she ejaculated, startled and without any regard to grammar.”

“He sounds to be treating me like a fever.”

“Leave the doctoring and suchlike to the men. You’ll have to deal with sights and situations no young woman should have to face, things from which it should be the duty of her husband to shield her.”

“In real life you have to make your own happy ending.”

Gosh, being beautiful sure is rough! Poor Lesley Bowen M.D. knows all about it, the sad thing, and she is not at all abashed to whine about it for many, many pages at the start of her eponymous story. “I take my problem with me,” she explains. “I’m not being vain … it’s just my face. It causes trouble for me wherever I go.” Indeed, right there in Chapter One, it’s getting out of hand, causing her best friend’s fiancé to grab her in the doctors’ sitting room to profess his undying love. But Lesley knows better: “It’s not me he’s interested in, it’s just my face.” So, coming to the end of her residency at the hospital, she interviews to become a partner in the three-doctor GP office in northern England.

She only meets one of the partners, Frank Elland, because the other one, Mark Crossman, is away putting his father’s estate to rights. She has a lot of anxiety on her part about whether Mark will approve of her hire—he has a tragic past in which his beautiful doctor fiancée dumped him for a rich man, so he’s sworn never to have anything to do with women ever again! But she and Frank hit it off so well that she accepts the post.

She and Mark hit it off too, only in a more literal way, when she inadvertently backs into his car at a rest stop on her move to the new job. They don’t introduce themselves during their chilly encounter, so she’s not aware he’s her new partner. But then, he is so rude and unforgiving, she naturally “felt strangely drawn to this man …. He was a real man, a man’s man, the kind you could depend on in any sort of a crisis.” Lesley spends a lot of time thinking about this stranger: “If I’d met him any place else I’d have liked him a lot,” she decides. That’s quite a big leap to make after only two pages of frosty, clipped exchanges, but VNRN heroines are not known for their discriminating choices in men.

You will be shocked to find out that when they do finally meet, it does not go well. And it certainly doesn’t help that she looks just like his ex-fiancée! Mark is so “infuriating” in his behavior that Lesley almost feels sorry for him: “It was so painfully obvious that he did not know how to make his point without being unbearably rude.” Fortunately, Lesley’s previous infatuation with the man when he was a stranger drops completely, and we have about 70 pages of quiet routine, with Lesley going about her day-to-day, living a peaceful life in her rose-covered cottage with a fond elderly housekeeper who sets out cookies and hot malted milk for her at the end of a long day. Can I sign up for that?

Lesley tends to her patients and has dinner a lot with the local young lord, Damian Neerman, who is a race car driver and engineer who swears that Lesley is going to marry him right after these two big races he’s got coming up with a prototype car he’s working on. She’s not interested in him romantically, but spends enough time with him that Mark, even as he slowly warms to Lesley’s intelligent, hard-working competency—in spite of her wretched face—mistakes their friendship for something more. Damian, of course, isn’t satisfied with a platonic relationship, and attacks her in his car on a drive home from dinner, and after that incident, Lesley avoids being alone with him and won’t get in a car with him at all, feeling “safer” that way. Some friend.

Everything wraps up fairly predictably, complete with car crash and house fire, but the rapprochement at the end is remarkable in that in Mark’s (you knew it would be him) embrace, “there was no violence, no force behind it, just a gentle, compelling pressure.” A sad statement that an overt lack of pain in a pass is a novelty. We are treated to The Kiss, and manage to avoid a discussion of Lesley quitting her job—again, Mark proves his worth when he paints a picture of her continuing to work alongside him in clinic. He even tells her that she’s “sufficient unto yourself,” though he admits, “I’m not … I need you most of all.” 

If Lesley has an irritating tendency to go on about her face and Mark after the accident, these annoyances stop altogether after the first third of the book, and on the whole it is a lovely, relaxed stroll with an intelligent, dedicated young woman leading a charming life as she makes the rounds of her rural patients. All it lacks is a female friend to trade quips with, but even without her, Lesley Bowen makes for a gentle afternoon, especially if you can’t be in a country cottage with hot malted milk and cookies yourself.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Mary Adams, Student Nurse

By Alice Brennan, ©1964
Cover illustration by Robert Maguire

Every time Mary Adams, student nurse, entered the hospital she felt exhilarated and excited. Her blue eyes shone with the pride of wearing her white cap. But the cap was only the beginning. She still had to earn the right to wear the white uniform of the graduate  nurse. Her days were very full. She carried a full schedule of classes: biology, anatomy, physiology. And there was her “on duty” time. Each day Mary saw the drama of a big-city hospital. Birth, death and disease were part of her life now. And she loved every minute of it … until the day she found that heartbreak was also part of a nurse’s life and she had to learn to accept the responsibility of growing up.


“Blondes usually turn out to be cold and egotistical.”

“I don’t know why everyone has to think I’m a louse just because I’m prettier than the rest of you.”

“Interns don’t bite. We can’t afford to.”

I just finished this book last week, and now I’m damned if I can remember a single thing about it. Part of the problem may be the fact, advertised nowhere on the outside of the book, is that this is a “Juvenile Nurse Novel,” apparently a genre of its own in the day, much like the Young Adult Supernatural Romance section I saw in Barnes and Noble recently. Maybe there’s not much going on because it’s geared toward kids. So this book is really about the hijinks of Mary Adams and her best two nursing school friends. They have an arch-nemesis in Hope, who is mean to everyone, but it turns out Hope’s dad is a raging alcoholic who abandoned his child with distant relatives, so she’s had an unhappy, bitter life and trusts no one. Now that Hope is in nursing school, he’s turned up, apparently just to tell her he’s proud of her, but she won’t have anything to do with him, even when he becomes desperately ill with cirrhosis and needs a porto-caval shunt, and she’s the only person who can sign consent.

On the lighter side, there are boys to go out with, cafeteria meals to grouch about (“Cold spinach and stew again! With lumpy gravy yet!”), exams to study for, patients to care too much about (little Timmy with the bad heart, for starters).  The dorm does not catch on fire, surprisingly (see A Nurse Is Born, Night-Duty Nurse, When Doctors Marry, Nurse Landon’s Challenge), and I would say it’s even more surprising, if this weren’t a book for teens, that Mary does not end up engaged at the end. Instead, on the last page, the boy she seems to like most tells her, “I could get very serious about you,” and she answers, “It’s nice the way it is, Bob. Let’s not—not rush anything.” If Mary Adams is so sanctimonious that she’s the only person who can see everyone’s point of view and therefore can’t dislike even the relentlessly nasty Hope, it’s still a pleasant enough book. You won’t remember it a day later, but maybe its vapid sweetness will linger like the faint smell of cookies that came out of the oven an hour ago.