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.