Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Challenge to Nurse Honor

By Pauline Ash, ©1965

A lot of people though Jeziah Selby had been unfair to his four daughters when he left them his fortune only on condition that they first worked for two years in the hospital that had meant  so much to him. Only the eldest girl, Honor, was happy to do as he wished—but were the others necessarily selfish to rebel?


“She scuttled away, remembered she wasn’t supposed to run unless it was fire or haemorrhage, and waited till she got round a corner before she smartened her pace.”

This Harlequin romance about four sisters named, I am reluctant to tell you, Faith, Hope, Charity and Honor Selby, seemed similar to other Harlequin books I’ve read, including Nurse Willow’s Ward, also about four sisters, and Reluctant Nurse, about a woman who is forced into nursing by a domineering father. Here we follow Honor, who is the one daughter who actually wanted to be a nurse, and her three sisters, who with far less enthusiasm do office work around the hospital. The other three all had budding careers as a musician, model and actress, but had been forced to put them aside when dear old dad died and stipulated that if any of his children were to inherit, all of them had to work for two years in the hospital. If any one of them should cut and run, no one will inherit. You may not be shocked to hear that the non-nurse sisters are not very happy about this. “I just can’t begin to understand what possessed Daddy to make that horrible will,” Charity moans to Honor. Bizarrely, Honor is the only one of the set who does not seem to feel that her father has done anything horrible. “You know very well what Daddy wanted—a son, to carry on the family tradition,” she answers Charity, as if this is going to either excuse Dad’s behavior or make Charity feel that Dad actually did care about her. “He thought the theater was a useless way to spend your life,” she adds, twisting the knife while she has the chance. She should have been a surgeon instead of a nurse.

She persists in torturing her other sisters as well; when Faith says that when the two years are up she is going to resume her music training in Vienna or Milan, Honor tells her, “Daddy didn’t want that sort of life for you.” Again and again we witness Honor’s cruel inability to empathize with her sisters or acknowledge that her father had not treated her sisters well. “He was being very wise,” she decides. “My sisters knew very well how he felt about their chosen careers. He was only enforcing by death what he hadn’t had time to enforce in life. Daddy was fair, he never asked too much of anybody.”

When she’s not acting “all stiff and starchy like the older staff,” Honor is fighting with her boyfriend Lucien Lorimer, a rich cad with whom she has little in common, but who proposes nonetheless. It won’t take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce that Lucien actually had a thing with Honor’s sister Faith at one point, and the pair are still fond of each other, but Honor is as dumb about them as she is about her father. For her part, she is nursing a crush on surgeon Elliott “Jake” Falkland, who clearly is fond of her, too. Honor, naturally, is unable to see his affection for her; even after Jake tells her that he’s not interested in other nurses’ troubles, only hers, she decides that he “had given no great indication that he wanted to be specially friendly with her.” So the pair stumbles through much of the book with stupid misunderstandings because neither can see the obvious, much less speak it. The problem with this device is that it becomes increasingly maddening as the book goes on. “The fact that he had taken her in his arms and kissed her didn’t really mean that he loved her,” we hear two-thirds of the way through, and we’re ready to take a number behind all of Honor’s sisters and give her a good smack.

Eventually the tragedy that Charity foretold—“No good will come of keeping any of us here. One day something awful will happen, because we’re honestly no good at the job, and then you’ll be sorry, Honor!”—comes to pass. Faith and Lucien, out for a boat ride with a few drinks on board, crash, and Faith hits her head and lapses into the inevitable coma. The accident brings almost everyone’s feelings out into the open—Lucien and Faith’s, and Hope and the passenger Alan Froy, who happens to be a music talent scout and whom Hope had met a year earlier. It also cracks the ice encasing Honor’s heart, at least as far as her sisters are concerned, and she goes to the attorneys to see if there is a way out of the will—but the attorney hints that dad had yet another trick up his sleeve. But before she can get the whole story from the attorney, she witnesses a man being stabbed in an alley, is conked on the head by the perps, and lapses into a coma of her own. Waking from it, she’s back to her old ways, needling Hope when Hope reveals that she’s leaving the hospital to go to Italy to nurse Alan back to health and, incidentally, marry him. “It will keep, won’t it?” Honor says, suggesting her sister postpone her wedding. “There’s only another twelve months to carry out Daddy’s wishes, and you did say you’d stay the course.” Honor really, truly, has no right to her name.

While she lies listlessly in the hospital thinking that her relationship with Jake is over while all her sisters have chucked the traces at long last and run off with their various beaux, the attorney shows up and tells her that if the sisters can’t last two years, then they get half their share of the inheritance instead of none, but Honor, who has stuck to it, can keep her full share. Not likely to promote sisterly affection, but half an inheritance is better than none. She rouses with this news to read a letter from Jake saying that he thinks she does not love him so he will leave the hospital, and so she manages to stagger out of her hospital room and scream his name before passing out again at the top of the stairs, but the doctor is nearby and hears her, and she hadn’t actually plummeted down the stairs after all, and everything is quickly put to rights between her and Jake.

Overall this story is fairly sweet and well written, but the problem is that Honor as a heroine is just awful. She is selfish, cold, and unfeeling toward her sisters, blind and stupid about the men in her life, and in the end exhibits little character growth except that she’s finally able to make a (ridiculous) attempt to keep Jake from leaving; surely a phone call would have sufficed? It’s very hard to spend so much time with someone you cannot bring yourself to like, so the challenge here is not for Nurse Honor but for us, the reader, to manage to stand her long enough to finish the book.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Nurse Nicole’s Decision

By Arlene Hale, ©1965
Also published as Private Duty for Nurse Scott

When Stella Bennett had a stroke, Nicole Scott, R.N., rushed to nurse her old friend back to health. So absorbed did Nicole become in her patient, that she began to forget her problems with Mark, her fiancĂ©. But other complications arose in the person of two new men—the handsome nephew of her patient and the mysterious ranch manager, Lee Whitney. Suddenly all these various matters came to a head—and Nicole was forced to make the most important—and what turned out to be the most endearing—decision of her life.


“Nurses get sassier every day. Used to be they all but bowed down when a doctor came into the room. Ah, those good old days!”

“I take temperatures much better than I cook.”

Nurse Nicole Scott, like many VNRN heroines, is engaged. You will not be shocked, therefore, when you deduce on the second page that this arrangement is not likely to come off as planned. Mark Foster runs a hardware store, “but right now every penny was going to pay off the mortgage he had taken in order to remodel and restock. Because of this, he didn’t feel marriage was in order. ‘My wife will not work,’ Mark said emphatically.” So when author Arlene Hale tells us two pages later, “All was not as rosy as it should have been,” we were already online with Bed, Bath and Beyond to cancel that wedding gift. Page after page of their incompatibilities—he loves baseball, she does not; he is shy, she is outgoing; he’s lazy, she likes activity—are trotted out to hammer home the obvious point. Nicole continues with the charade, however, because “if you’re not careful, you’ll end up like Lorena,” her helpful mother says, holding up Nicole’s quiet, baseball-loving homebody sister Lorena, who has reached the shocking age of 25 “and no beaus,” mom says, that ignorant silly, since everyone knows the plural of beau is beaux.

But fate intervenes when Stella Bennett has a stroke and requires round-the-clock nursing care in her home. Stella’s nephew Corbin Bennett III, an old school chum of Nicole’s, comes home to help care for his aunt. A profligate, drifting young man, he nonetheless is one of the few such young men who deeply cares for his rich dowager aunt, and spends hours each day talking to her, helping with her physical therapy, and making her laugh. And a fair amount of time trying to woo Nicole, who is unimpressed with Corbin’s flighty ways. Mark, too, is not happy to see Corbin again, but to such a degree that it’s clear there’s some dark history between the two, and Mark is remaining secretive on the subject. “Let’s just say I can’t stand him and let it go at that,” he snarls, and Corbin for once has nothing to add.

While Nicole is busy caring for Stella 24/7, she asks Lorena to keep Mark company, and then when she has a day off, she heads down the road to the ranch that’s owned by Stella but managed by hunky cowboy Lee Whitney, who also drops by daily to have pleasant chats with the invalid. And maybe the nurse, too. Before long, he’s gently kissing Nicole, and she’s returning the favor, having dinner with him at his house. “How comfortable she had been there. It was as if she need be no one but her true self. She had relaxed as she hadn’t relaxed in a long time. With Mark it was sometimes like walking a tightrope. What a pleasant change Lee had been!” Yet she’s still talking about her impending marriage to Mark. That young man is not helping; after talking on the phone with Nicole’s sister and realizing that “somehow with Lorena, he could be more himself than with anyone else,” he immediately decides to rush over and propose to Nicole. Along with his declaration of love—oh, wait, rather his declaration that “I decided I’ve had enough. I don’t see why we should wait. Let’s get married,” burbles the impetuous fool—he insists that if she wants the ring, she must quit working. “I will not have you working. I want you home. Where a wife should be. You should be willing to give this up for me!” Uh, okay, she stutters, and though she does bring up his own very long hours at the hardware store, before she can get to the point he literally shuts her down—“We won’t say anything more, okay?”—and that’s the end of that. (Lee, on the other hand, is outraged when Nicole tells him of Mark’s demand: “Nursing isn’t just a job,” Lee says. “It’s a profession, a necessity, something so essential—” because we didn’t have enough hints about who the right man really was.)

Before her engagement party, Nicole finds a book of poetry on Lorena’s desk, all full of sappy odes to Mark, and now she knows that Lorena is in love with Mark, which for some reason bothers her more than the fact that she’s kissing Lee behind every closed door. Because no one can have an honest conversation with anyone, it takes a fall down the stairs that puts Lorena in the hospital with the usual coma to bring everything out: Days later, when Lorena finally wakes to see Mark sitting beside her, she says, “Hello, Mark, darling. I love you,” and goes back to sleep. In their joy that Lorena is getting better, Nicole tells Mark that Lorena is in love with him, and that he is in love with Lorena. Well, gosh, now that you mention it, he says, and Nicole runs off to find Lee. 

There’s not much to this story, just a straightforward telling of how when you throw a bunch of charged particles into a jar and shake it around a bit, eventually all the like molecules will find each other. But it’s not badly told, and gently glides along. Lee Whitney is definitely the most charismatic person in the book, a sexy, kind man who never grabs the woman and bruises her lips in an assault presented to us gullible maiden readers as a pass. Some parts of the story are maddening, like all the glaring highway signs screaming that Nicole is on the wrong road, which we realize on the second page, yet have to watch Nicole flounder for a hundred more pages until she starts to clue in. One odd side plot revolves around a woman named Elaine, whom Mark had been madly in love with before he knew Nicole, and whom Corbin had taken away from him. The two men even come to blows over it—Corbin knocks loser Mark down in two minutes flat—but neither man will discuss the reason for the fight with Nicole. Elaine’s name keeps coming up as both Mark and Nicole wonder if Mark will ever tell Nicole the story, but the last we hear of Elaine is Nicole’s resolution not to ask Mark any questions: “She would wait until Mark told her,” she decides. He never does. Interestingly, Lorena knows all about it, since, as the librarian, she knows all the town gossip, but she’s not going to enlighten Nicole, either. Is this supposed to be some metaphor for the deep understanding between Mark and Lorena’s souls that is missing in the relationship between Mark and Nicole? Because it only comes across as a major drama made out of a high school crush, and Mark’s persistent refusal to tell Nicole shows him up as an immature egocentric. It seems that poor Lorena is getting the worse end of the stick when she ends up with Mark, but at the dried-up age of 25, beggars can’t be choosers.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Nurse Kay

By Virginia Roberts
(pseud. Nell Marr Dean), ©1962

For Kay Fleming, nursing was a second career choice: she always wanted to be a doctor. And perhaps because it was second choice she was determined to be good at it. So when the man she loved, rugged young college football coach Duke Malone, was offered a job out of state and asked Kay to come with him, marry him, she refused. It would have meant giving up a chance to help organize the hospital’s new disaster unit. It would have meant going back on her “duty” … But was she being a dedicated nurse when she sent Duke away—or was she only being selfish? It was a question Kay couldn’t answer until a headline tragedy showed her the truth about herself …


“I hike all the roads around here, and haven’t been kidnapped even once.”

“There’s just nothing that gives a woman that feminine, fragile air like a soufflĂ©-light mohair sweater.”

“I’m glad you didn’t go through with your lofty ideas. Women doctors are awfully stuffy sometimes.”

“A vacation for me means I’ll have to build a whole new wardrobe.”

“Certainly, intelligent, educated women like you need to have careers. But they also need to make wifehood the main objective in their lives. Nothing can be more treasured than to be chosen by a man because he thinks you’re the most important woman in the world.”


Kay Fleming is a nursing student, but she had really wanted to be a doctor. A lot is made of this early in the book, but I’m not sure why; it doesn’t really add anything to the story except show Kay up as a self-sacrificing martyr, since the reason she didn’t go to medical school is because (1) she never bothered to tell her parents that’s what she wanted to do and (2) she never bothered to find a way to finance medical school with or without her parents’ help. It does, however, give her a lot of reason to be angrily jealous of her sister, who did go to a fancy private university and throws a fancy wedding for 500 guests that costs $1,000 (tee hee!) and, by Kay’s constant reckoning, siphoned up all the money that could have been used for her own education had she only asked for it. (In the end, though, when Kay snarkily tells her parents of her thwarted dreams, they sell their drug store possibly to help finance a medical degree, and selfish Kay decides she’d rather stay in nursing school after all. So much for that plot thread.)

We follow Kay through her final year of school, during which she starts dating football coach Duke Malone. He is super hot and hunky, and the year flies by! At the end of it, Dr. James Martin offers Kay a job helping him set up a disaster unit. “Jim says every hospital should have a disaster unit—a field hospital—in case of a big disaster, or an enemy attack,” because “with all the big missile installations around here, it makes us a hot target for enemy bombings.” The problem comes when Duke is offered a job coaching for the big football team in Colorado, and he asks Kay to marry him and come with him. Kay, who is looking forward to her big project with Dr. Martin, does not leap into Duke’s arms and say yes, and he is not exactly understanding. “What does that hospital have to offer you that I don’t?” Um, a challenging and rewarding career and a salary, for starters, but Duke is not impressed. “I guess anything as important as that would put a stop to such an inconsequential thing as marriage, wouldn’t it!” Because it’s now or never with Duke; he must have learned about selfishness from his beloved.

Kay hopes that a day or two will help Duke come to a compromise: “Why couldn’t he be understanding and let her have just a little fling at her career before they seriously planned their marriage?” But Duke never bothers to contact Kay after that initial conversation, so when she tracks him down at the stadium, he starts in again. “You’re putting your career ahead of mine—ahead of me,” he says. “You think staying here, doing what any other nurse could do in your place, is more important.” Um, thanks, honey. She wants to tell him off, but instead decides, “One of them must act maturely,” so she asks him to give her a few months to finish her project, but he refuses to compromise. “Why compromise? You’re getting what you want,” he snarls, and off he goes to Colorado. Good riddance! thinks Kay. Or not, and instead pines for him constantly.

Unfortunately, shortly after Duke’s departure, the hospital administration decides to pull funding from the disaster center and give it instead to that cute pediatrician, so Kay is left without her big project or a man. But she continues to work at the hospital during the day and cry during the night, until finally Duke’s Colorado team comes to play the local university. Kay tries to see him again, but it’s no use—Duke persists in being a dick. As fate would have it, just as the big game is kicking off, there’s a landslide at the dam, and lots of workers are trapped and injured! Though the disaster unit is not functional, Dr. Martin has their plans at the ready, and he and Kay MacGyver supplies, personnel, and procedures to set up a triage hospital at the tragedy site, and Kay comes up with the brilliant idea to get the football teams to come help move all the dirt and rocks that can’t be moved by machinery without risking of injuring the workers buried in the rubble. Duke and the teams show up pronto, and soon the injured are being pulled from the mess and expertly treated at the field hospital.

The next day, Duke drops by her apartment. “It’s sad it took a disaster to bring us back together,” he says, and they go off to church because it’s Sunday, and their reunification “became even more treasured with the thought that people in love should share the rich privilege of worshiping together.” Over waffles after the service, they read in the paper that a rich philanthropist is funding the disaster unit after all, but without any discussion of how incredibly selfish and nasty Duke has been, or even whether they can reunite, Kay says, “they can get another nurse to help run the show,” and tells Duke she will marry him. That doesn’t mean, however, that she’s going to give up nursing altogether, because they have hospitals in Colorado, too, maybe. “Goodness, Duke, you don’t think you’re marrying one of those delicate little clinging-vine-type females! Heaven forbid! I’m not one of those homemakers who wants to do nothing but dust a tiny three-room apartment and die of boredom.” No, she’s just a clinging-vine-type who lets her man kick her around without a peep of protest. Now that she’s agreed to give up almost everything, he condescends to admit, “When I saw you working your heart out at that accident I knew how much your career meant to you. How important it was—how many lives you helped save. I felt selfish in ever suggesting that you give it up.” That’s the closest he gets to an apology, and he certainly doesn’t suggest that Kay stay in Arizona and finish the disaster unit before joining him in Colorado; no, that would be too much. So the book ends as Kay gaily decides to have a wedding just as huge and expensive as her sister’s, the wedding she was so contorted with rage and envy about early in the book. But Duke needn’t worry, she’s only quarterbacking “the first play, darling—our wedding. Then you’re the coach forever after.” And I’m off and running for the Pepto Bismol.

The problem here is that Kay is depicted as a strong, independent woman, but when it comes to the man, she always has to be a bigger person than he is, always give in first, always stifle her anger, always give up almost everything that’s important to her, while he acts like a spoiled brat and gets everything he wants. But after we’ve watched her squawk about not having gone to medical school, and her sister spending all her parents’ money, and then make an abrupt, completely oblivious about face, we know that this is not her first hypocrisy. The book is not badly written and is even humorous at times, but Kay’s fickleness is hard to overcome, souring what could have been a better book.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Nurse April

By Katherine McComb, ©1967

Maybe her kid brother was right, maybe April Bonner was a jinx. From her first day on the hospital staff as a full-fledged nurse, things began to happen. A mob rioted outside. A knife-waving fanatic invaded Emergency and seized April as a hostage. A baby was kidnaped from the nursery. Nurses’ training hadn’t prepared the tall, attractive redhead for anything quite like this. It also hadn’t prepared her for handsome young Dr. Ned Sparks, who didn’t mind if April became emotionally involved with him, though he seemed to be serious about someone else, but who warned her about becoming emotionally involved with any of her patients—a warning that came very close to being a tragic prophecy …


“An R.N. in the family! A female who gives baths and bedpans to strange men—ugh!”

“What pretty girl doesn’t enjoy being stared at—or whistled at, for that matter?”

“You’re as pretty as a new stethoscope.”

“She knew he would be furious if he learned that Mrs. Norman had tried to shoot her, and later tried to wreck the car and kill them all.”

I tell you, if you ever find out that April Bonner is a nurse at your hospital, pack your bags and run!! This “tall, lithe figure modeling a white nylon uniform, a small white cap perched smartly on her red-gold hair,” is a magnet for bad news, even for the ER, where she is sent her first day on the job. She gets a kid with an open tib-fib fracture after being hit by a car, a worker with chemical burns, and a gunshot victim whose treatment consists of stitching the bullet wounds closed. On her second day, there’s a mob rioting for never-specified concerns, and “mangled bodies” arrive in a constant stream. One of the rioters, looking for the leader of the gang, grabs April and holds a knife to her throat as Dr. Ned Sparks gives him a tour of every patient in the ED until he finds the leader’s corpse in the morgue. The man cries a bit, then pulls April out into the crowded street, where the mob is tear-gassed, but April is pulled to safety by Dr. Ned. Then, on her day off, Ned takes her to the beach, where he saves her from a rip tide that somehow manages to pull her out to sea when she tries to pick up a conch shell on the shore. And they almost get into a car crash on the way home. All this in just four days’ time.

One major source of excitement comes when a newborn is kidnapped after April puts him down for a nap, although April seems more upset about being blamed for the kidnapping than she is sympathetic for the frantic parents; she has “the tussle of her life” with the baby’s mother, who attempts to get out of bed to search the hospital for her missing son. But rest assured, April saves the day when she identifies the kidnapper after the police round up the usual suspects from their “list of women with mother complexes.” And we haven’t even scratched the surface of April’s fantastic exploits, either. There’s also a rollercoaster accident in which two teens fall from the car in front of April and both are killed (April pronounces one on scene and the other dies en route to the hospital); a car crash in which always-on-the-scene April pronounces three people dead and saves one from bleeding out by demanding a “clean white towel” (no other color will do, apparently) from one of the passengers and wrapping the patient’s head in it; a patient, driven crazy by an anonymous letter-writing campaign to make her think that April is trying to steal her husband, threatens April at gunpoint; and yet another car crash, this time with April actually in the car with the psychotic driver, after which April “hovered near death” from “a slight skull fracture and a few crushed ribs.” “Seems like you’re one of those people who always happen to be around wherever there’s trouble,” her brother Bob says, and he doesn’t know the half of it.

She’s also a magnet for the boys, and she is shocked that on her first day the interns are giving her “bold stares and wolf calls in the corridors,” and when she complains to Dr. Ned, he says, “I simply could not reprimand those interns for staring. I would probably have done the same thing myself.” It’s a horrible world the women in this book live in, where they are constantly judged on their appearance; one nurse is fired from her job because she “had a face as long as a donkey’s head, and ears as big,” and the nursing supervisor “went on with a chuckle, ‘the nurse would never take a beauty prize.’” Even April, speaking of her best friend Rita, says, “Rita arrived at April’s apartment in a tan pleated cotton dress that did nothing for her sallow complexion and only accentuated her large hips.” April saves another life when she takes charge and insists that Rita start “rolling on the floor to reduce your hips, and doing stooping exercises to flatten your tummy—and cutting out sweets. Then we’ll go shopping for some clothes with plain skirts, instead of those pleated things,” and she also dyes Rita’s hair and gives her weekly hairdos. And in no time flat Dr. Les Brown is proposing!

April is, unfortunately, a hypocrite. On the opening pages we hear about how April had, at the time of her own appendectomy, “caught a vision. She knew immediately, not what she wanted to be, but what she must be—a nurse. For three years she had dreamed of this moment, had worked toward it with all the strength of her young body and dedicated mind.” Yet once she’s clapped eyes on Dr. Ned, she’s ready to chuck it all: “She wanted only one thing—the love of one man. But she was slipping further and further away from that goal, as if the riptides of life were pulling her, dragging her under.” That may be true, but only because April is stupidly outraged when she tells Ned early on that he can’t be kissing her because he’s engaged to Eunice Frye, and he answers, “I’ve kissed a few pretty girls in my time, but I’ll swear on my Hippocratic oath that I’ve never asked one of them to marry me.” She immediately decides this means that he has decided he will never ask anyone to marry him, and again and again we’re reminded of her stupidity as she fumes along the lines of, “She had heard of men who could not tie themselves down to one woman, and he had practically admitted that he was one of them.” So if her constant snippy behavior to Dr. Ned leaves him disinterested, she only has herself to blame.

The writing here is choppy and comically bizarre, such as the description of one of April’s first ER patients: “It was a restaurant cook with three badly mangled fingers which had been caught in an electric meat grinder. Luckily, none had to be amputated.” As April’s adventures continue to pile up, the story seems increasingly outrageous; by the time the psycho patient pulled the revolver, I was giggling madly on the subway. April’s terrible dilemma over how to win Dr. Ned is solved by April herself after she comes out of her coma, when despite her broken ribs she flings her arms around his neck, pulls him close, and whispers, “I love you.” Her other terrible dilemma about having to quit her job after marriage—early on he’s monologuing, “I’m going to be head of my family, as well as breadwinner. That’s another trouble with these modern mothers. They bear a child, then turn it over to somebody—anybody—to bring it up while they take a job to make more money to buy more clothes, more automobiles, more household gadgets—things less important than the training of their child”—is solved when Ned decides to open a private office and magnanimously agrees to staff it with “Mrs. Ned Sparks.” Awww. Well, until Mrs. Ned Sparks becomes a mother. So overall, if you like the so-bad-it’s-good category, you should definitely add this strange volume to your library.