Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Fifth Day of Christmas

By Betty Neels,  ©1971

It hadn’t taken Julia long to fall in love with Ivo van den Werff—but she had better fall out of love equally quickly, she decided, when she met Marcia Jason and realized just how much stronger a claim the other girl had on Ivo’s affection.


“That’s what you’re for—to see that I don’t die in a coma.”

“I, being a man of leisure, am the obvious one to sacrifice on the altar of frostbite and exposure.”

This is the first book I have read written by romance queen Betty Neels, who published more than 130 romance novels starting in 1969 when she was 60 and chugged along into her 90s (you go, girl!). Ms. Neels worked as a nurse most of her life and served in France during World War II, writing quite a few nurse novels on the way. The problem with her oeuvre is that it largely lies beyond the scope of my “vintage” lens, which I feel limits me to about 1975—certainly not outside the 1970s (and my regular readers well know how painful I have found the quality of books in that decade, which makes me reconsider the wisdom of including the 1970s in my circle for reasons other than timing). So though I was very pleased with this introduction to the prolific Ms. Neels, I also have mixed feelings about whether I should regret or not the fact that I will not be reading many of her books—we’ll let the caliber of her work that we encounter in the future help tip the balance of my regret or relief.

And with that editorial over with, let’s move on to a discussion of this really sweet and delightful book. Julia Pennyfeather is a 22-year-old nurse accompanying a brat of a patient to her home in England just before Christmas, arriving at that remote manor house in the gales of a severe snowstorm that strands her there with only a few members of the staff—and Dr. Ivo van den Werff, who is blown to the door entirely by chance shortly after her own arrival, as he is seeking shelter from the blizzard. She flings open the door to him in the middle of the night, and he chides her for letting in a stranger—but helps care for her patient who has come down with pneumonia. They spend a few days walking in the snow and cooking bread and soup out of the scraps in the cupboards until the roads are cleared, and then Ivo invites her to Holland to care for Marcia Jason, who is living at his fancy family home while that young lady recovers from polio.

Marcia has been “recovering” for about nine months, and Julia—who dislikes the condescending and self-absorbed woman at first site—suspects that the woman is actually much better than she pretends, that her inability to walk is a pretense to allow her to stay on at the house and trap Ivo into a pity-based marriage. So Julia forcefully hauls the young woman up and down stairs—noting that how much help Marcia requires depends on who is watching—and endures comments about how “robust” and “sturdy” she is (Marcia sees her emaciated frame as the height of sophistication). Julia also puts up with a lot of intellectual snobbery, as Marcia is always reading dense tomes by authors we likely have not read (Bacon) much less heard of (Vondel, anyone?) and making snotty comments about what she is convinced is a plebian sensibility, remarking, “You are, I imagine, an impetuous young woman, lacking intellectual powers.” In fact, Julia fabulously turns out to be a quiet brain, and only when she is on a tour of a museum with Ivo, completely flustered by his nearness, does she deliver “quite a dissertation on Rembrandt, rivalling her patient in both length and dullness.” She also often offers thoughtful solutions to actual problems in daily life and in medicine that cause Ivo and me to look at her admiringly. I was also impressed by her limitless ability to bite her tongue when Marcia makes yet another rude remark, instead offering with “a politeness which was quite awe-inspiring” enthusiastic exhortations for Marcia to continue working on her exercises or have another go at the staircase for practice that they both know she doesn’t need: “Why not come into the garden with me tomorrow morning? We needn’t go far and the worst that can happen is for you to fall over, when I shall pick you up again.”

Julia has a young man back at home “who was waiting with the smug certainty of a man with no imagination for her to say Yes.” She’s not going to marry him because he’s an ass, which puts her way ahead of a sadly large number of VNRN heroines, but that gives Ivo something to tease her about from time to time. But since Julia is convinced that Ivo is promised to Marcia—if not definitely, then doomed to be so because of his guilt about her illness—she can only drink him in when he is near and cry in secret.

The humor in this book is constant and reliable, such as when Julia hears a hoarse croak coming from the room of her patient. “She was out of bed, thrusting her feet into slippers as the list of postoperative complications liable to follow an appendicectomy on a diabetic patient unfolded itself in her still tired mind. Carbuncles, gangrene, bronchopneumonia … the croak came again which effectively ruled out the first two.” The characters in the book are delightfully drawn, including Ivo’s lovely father, and the villain Marcia is terrifically awful. Even the love interest, frequently a dull individual with no inspiring qualities in many nurse novels, here has humor, steadiness and appreciation for the gem that Julia is. The book’s only real drawback is that once the party arrives in Holland about halfway through the book, there’s not much to do except watch varieties of the same scenes play out again and again—Ivo and Julia on a pleasant outing, Marcia being nasty, Julia pining for Ivo and planning her departure for England as soon as she can reasonably get away from what she is stubbornly convinced is her impending heartbreak; even if the scenes are well-written and enjoyable, they still become a bit repetitious as the plot spins its wheels for another 80 pages. But even the fact that Ms. Neels can crank out multiple versions of the same scene, all laden with emotion and wit, demonstrates her powers. I look forward to more of her works—it just remains to be seen how far into the 1970s I’m willing to be drawn into, even with as prodigious a talent as Ms. Neels’.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Nurse Atholl Returns

By Jane Arbor, ©1952 

When Lyn Atholl’s fiancé abruptly broke their engagement only a month before the day fixed for their wedding, she felt that the shock had disrupted her whole life. She could not bear the thought of resuming her dearly loved profession of nursing—still less going back to Broadfields Hospital, which she had so recently left in happy expectancy among the good wishes of all her friends. A chance meeting with the famous surgeon, Mr. Warner Belmont, convinced her that she was wrong, and she decided to return to Broadfields. But—would she be able to go through with it?


“Lyn thought wryly that to dance with a battleship could not give a girl more confidence than to dance with Tom in a crowd, where it was always the other couples who got out of his way.” 

Lyn Atholl is leaving her beloved job to get married to a man she hasn’t seen in over a year. And that works out about as well as you expect it will. Turns out her beloved, Capt. Perry Garston, found himself a wife when he was stationed in Austria—and told her as much about Lyn as he told Lyn about Gerda, so you see what a narrow escape Lyn has had. She’s horribly embarrassed about her turn of fortune—much more than anyone in the current age would be, so it’s a little difficult to follow why she’s ready to chuck nursing altogether, not only the hospital she has just left—but soon imperious surgeon Dr. Warner Belmont is wagging a finger in her face, asking her, “Do you mean that your efficiency in your work depends solely upon the smooth running of your personal affairs? Isn’t that taking the importance of the individual and of self-pity too far?” 

Ultimately she decides that he’s right and goes back to Broadfields, but soon she’s “wondering about him as a man—the books he read, the games he played, the people he liked,” but of course that last question is easy: He doesn’t like anyone. Well, except Eve Adler, a petulant, beautiful, very talented singer whom he squires about town. We are frequently reminded that “he needs neither advice nor help, nor companionship nor anything at all from any other human being,” and that “he gets on splendidly with other men and he’s a kind of hero to boys. Yet when it comes to women—to you nurses particularly—he treats you as if he had only to put a penny in the slot to make you tick over like machines. No wonder you resent it.” But Lyn, inexplicably, does not resent it at all, and soon decides “her feeling for the man at her side transcended anything she had ever known before. And she had thought that, after Perry, she would never love again!” Now we only have to wade through 130 more pages of misunderstandings, scenes of Werner being cold and snippy and Lyn being dignified and admirable. Ultimately there’s a train crash and a flu epidemic, and suddenly he’s declaring his undying love for her.

It's not a dull book, though not outstanding, and the plot device of having the heroine fall for an ass who remains one until the final three pages is particularly maddening. Some of the characters are fun to watch—the rotten women especially, it must be confessed—and Lyn is a quiet, competent type, even if she is ready at the drop of a ring to walk away from her profession, though she admits that “all she had learnt in nursing would be wasted” after she marries. Overall you might do worse than to see Nurse Atholl return—even if she’s just going away again at the end.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Alex Rayner, Dental Nurse

By Marjorie Lewty, ©1965 

When Alex first started working for Dr. Gerard Trent she wasn’t at all sure that she approved of him; then, as she got to know him better, she began to like him very much indeed. But what was the use of that, when he was so firmly engaged to the glamorous Marilyn Lattimer?


“Jobs can be important to girls, too, you know. We’re not all just hanging about waiting until some man comes along to marry us.” 

“She wouldn’t again be so ready to rely on masculine promises made in the moonlight. They would be more convincing, she thought, if made in the broad light of day—preferably when the girl concerned was drying her hair in curlers or had a bad cold in her head.”

“It’s always better to admit you don’t know than to make a mess of it.”

“I remember reading somewhere once that everybody has some special lesson to learn in life and that it’s presented over and over again, in different circumstances, until we learn it or are beaten by it.”

“For the first time she felt she understood one of the basic differences in outlook between men and women: women could bring babies into the world. They had that fulfillment that a man could never have. Was that why men so badly needed ambition, a self-justification that they were important and successful?”

I have to declare at the outset that this book does not really qualify as a nurse novel. Heroine Alex Rayner works in a dentist’s office—not that there’s anything wrong with that; the other two Marjorie Lewty books I’ve read had similar settings—but Alex has not had any formal training, so I can’t by any stretch call her a nurse. But she is a smart, charming and enterprising woman of 22 who has been working for six months in Birmingham, England, chiefly alongside dentist Douglas Crenshaw, a decent but nervous sort; her best friend Jean’s husband Brian Ferguson is another of the office dentists. As we open Chapter 1, we find that the senior dentist, Mr. Trent (we are never given his first name), has had a heart attack, and his son Gerald has come back from Toronto to step in while Mr. Trent is recovering. “Dr. Gerard was the most brilliant dental surgeon ever released from the Eastman Hospital to a grateful world,” according the office battle-axe spinster, Clarice, who has always worked with Dr. Trent, and now hopes to butter up the younger man at the expense of her colleagues.

When Gerard shows up, though, he feels the office is not operating at its most efficient. He immediately moves Clarice to the position of front-desk secretary, which he attempts to sell as a linchpin-type position to preserve her starched dignity—though he actually feels she is not capable of more taxing work in oral surgery—and moves Alex out of Douglas’s office to work alongside him. This makes her a target for Clarice’s venom, though she tries her best to be civil, as difficult as that might be at times, and she is known to imagine “how wonderfully satisfying it would be to push Clarice over backwards.” Even at her worst, Alex is not all that mean. 

From the beginning Alex is a bit swoony over the confident, handsome young man: “For a second everything rocked and then steadied and took on the clarity and vividness of a dream” when she meets him for the first time. He is tough on the outside but easy to work with, not expecting much of Alex but challenging her to watch what he does, ask lots of questions and try to learn what he would need next for a certain procedure and offer the appropriate instrument before she is asked for it.

Of course, there is office drama: Douglas is falling for Alex and asking her out on dates that she enjoys, but then worries that she’s getting herself into a sticky situation with an office romance. Brian now has a foxy new assistant, since the staff has been shifted around, and is now spending late nights out while his wife and young daughter wait at home for him. Alex, who is best friends with Brian’s wife, is put into the awkward position of covering for Brian’s absence with a lie he has included her in. This lands her in more hot water, as she has told Gerard another story about her whereabouts for the night in question, so he is aware that she is lying and suspects that it is she who is seeing Brian on the side. How is she going to win him now??

In her efforts to straighten out all the misunderstandings and eventually set the various male characters on the right paths, Alex demonstrates intelligence, strength and honesty—and it’s that last  characteristic combined with a spot of luck that in the end sets her straight with Mr. Right. In the interim we have the pleasure of watching Alex maneuver through her various difficulties with sense and humor; when she hears while she is down with a cold that Gerard is engaged to another woman, she wonders “if perhaps if she had pneumonia after all and would have a reasonable chance of dying quietly.” If this book doesn’t carry the same heft as Lewty’s legitimate nurse novels (Dental Nurse at Denley’s and Town Country—Country Nurse) or even as much witty humor, Lewty’s “worst” of the trio is still substantially better than most. So even if it’s not an actual nurse novel, you have my permission to make room on your reading list for this easy beauty.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Nurse at Shadow Manor

By Sharon Heath
(pseud. Norah Mary Bradley), ©1966

To forget the pain of a tragic romance, Nurse Frances Kimpton journeyed to Shadow Manor to act as companion to its elderly mistress. In that quiet countryside she would try to achieve peace of mind. But the peace she sought turned out to be a will-o’-the-wisp as Frances found when she learned the secret of the manor’s other woman—the young and willful niece of her employer. That secret meant danger and trouble. Frances turned to the attractive Dr. Ralph Grant for help. It was well that she did so. For, together, they were able to thwart a plot that could have ended in murder.


“I was expecting a she-dragon in a starched uniform who would glare at me. But this one’s well disguised, apparently!” 

To have a bad heart fifty years ago seems to have meant to be confined to a virtual prison. Poor Miss Caroline Eldridge, wealthy and only in her 70s, isn’t allowed to do much for herself and spends most of the day knitting, and everyone sneaks their life around behind her back, because “any sudden shock—mental, not physical—could be fatal.” Unfortunately, there’s a very elaborate network of lies and scheming occurring all around her, and it’s up to Nurse Frances Kimpton to protect the poor woman, even as she participates in and even furthers the intrigue.

The story starts implausibly enough when Frances is dragged in off the street to witness a wedding between a pretty, spoiled-looking woman and a weaselly looking man with a thin moustache. She’s en route to her job at an isolated mansion called Shadow Manor to look after Miss Eldridge, a sweet lady who has taken in an ungrateful niece, Eve Garner. You will not be at all surprised to learn that the mystery bride turns out to be none other than Eve, who has left her honeymoon and groom to return to Miss Eldridge’s mansion with nary a word of her recent nuptials. Eve is mean to everyone and seldom home, never saying where she’s going or when she’ll be back, but Miss Eldridge obtains sweet revenge when she decides to rewrite her will, saying that Eve will not get any inheritance until she turns 30 if she marries a man of whom Miss Eldridge does not approve. Fireworks ensue when Eve hears the news!

For her part, Frances, recovering from a heart broken after her fiancé was killed, is clearly over that lad and now has her wily eye on Miss Eldridge’s doctor, Ralph Grant, who is casually friendly. Then Frances happens to be on hand when Eve meets up with her new husband, Leon Josephs, in a whispered but brief sidewalk conversation—super secret! That night, when Frances offers to set out in the dark rainy night to search for the cat, she stumbles and scrapes her hands. She takes the opportunity of her minor mishap to invite herself to Ralph’s cozy cottage to tell him of her suspicions: that she had tripped over a wire slung across the walk put there intentionally to frighten her, and bless his heart, Ralph takes this statement entirely seriously. And now “the memory of this intimate, tranquil time was something she knew she would always treasure,” the little vixen. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if Frances turned out to be a psychotic manufacturing drama to lure in a man she has a yen for? When “no trace of string or wire had been found on or near the drive,” my hopes leapt!

I hate to disappoint you, dear reader, but alas, it was not the case, as author Sharon Heath has chucked that delicious opportunity for something much more implausible: that Leon for some insane reason is out to murder Frances by the most bizarre methods that turn out to be remarkably deadly. For Leon’s next act, he walks brazenly into the house, identifying himself to Miss Eldridge as a window cleaner, and cuts almost through the cord on the sash of a window in Frances’ bedroom. The very next day, Frances opens the window and decides to stick her arm out of it just as the cord breaks and the window comes slamming down! “Which might have been fatal, she thought, had she been leaning out the window!” Leon must be psychic as well as homicidal!

Next Mike Dering, an old boyfriend of Eve’s who had been too poor at the time to propose, turns up, now gainfully employed, and after spending an hour with the young man, Miss Eldrige invites him to stay at the house and tells Frances she hopes Eve will marry him. Ooops! Even if Eve were single she might not have the chance, because the brakes on her car fail and she drives straight into the river, saved by Mike, who happens to be loitering at the bottom of the hill (is Mike psychic too?). Suddenly Eve is a new person, confessing that she’s been changed all along, that she’d “got really fond” of Miss Eldridge, though she’d never bothered to show her anything of the sort. Furthermore, with just one word from Mike, “headstrong, self-willed Eve subsided at once.” Oy.

Frances, seeing another opportunity to flirt with Ralph, tells him he must come to the house that night but that Miss Eldridge must not know it, and Ralph again proves to be either the greatest sport ever or completely daft. After he sneaks into the house; frantic antics unfold! “I just told Miss Eldrige it was a friend of Mike’s who wanted to see him urgently. Miss Eldridge suggested you should have your talk in the morning room, but, if I leave you there and go to fetch Mike, she may take it into her head to come and have a look at this ‘friend.’ Perhaps you’d better come out with me, instead. Only I hope she won’t look out of the drawing room window just as we pass!” How complicated can these shenanigans get!

While they are tiptoeing through the shrubbery, Ralph tells Frances that he is going to hire a private detective to look into Leon’s past. A week later the detective turns up a game-changing fact, but when Frances races to tell Ralph, who is arriving at the manor, he chastens her: “‘I came here to see my patient,’ he reminded her, and she had to admit he was right.” It turns out that Leon was already married, and his wife is as psychic as she is, having determined Leon’s plans for Eve, found him in England, learned he was blackmailing Eve (though nobody knew except Eve), and gotten a job at the garage where Eve was dropping her car for repairs. She’s also an excellent (if nefarious) mechanic! And the pair is lucky too—ultimately Ralph and Frances decide that if they go to the police with this amazing story, the shock (of finding out her healthcare team is bonkers?) would kill Miss Eldridge.

Author Sharon Heath has given us several other gentle, sweet if not stellar books with A Vacation for Nurse Dean and The Sunshine Nurse, but this book is more of an unwitting and dopey comedy. The characters and their motivations are inexplicable: Ralph is not especially attractive, Frances comes across as a loopy dingbat, and why would Leon want to injure, of all people, the nurse? Wouldn’t it be better to off the wealthy matriarch first, and then his second wife to win the fortune, since murdering Eve first would put him out of the running permanently? But it doesn’t pay to examine stupidity closely, so all I can suggest is that you leave Nurse at Shadow Manor on the shelf and move onto something—anything—else.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Love Gift

By Frances J.S. Eden (pseud. Frances Chimenti), ©1970 

So young to be widowed, pretty Andrea Courbet sought refuge and solace as the nurse to Peter Moffatt’s motherless children. But in that strained home, the shadow of Peter’s lost wife seemed always present, so that after a while even Andrea came to question her own identity. Thus when Dr. Matt Anderson entered the scene as family pediatrician and contested her hand against Peter’s romantic pleas, he offered her a new out. But was his love gift just a trap into exactly the sort of romantic dilemma she had hoped to avoid?


“They come home from bossin’ and think they have t’keep on bossin’!” 

“Men should be marinated like meat: to make them tender!”

“The only way I can get you to hold hands is to have you take my pulse.”

Nurse Andrea Courbet is a “baby nurse,” accompanying new mothers home for a few weeks or months until they settle into the routine. But this time, the mother of the new baby has died in childbirth, and Andrea’s coming home with father Peter Moffett to care for baby Donel as well as the three older children, Lanier, Geordie, and Joyce. She and the children take to each other immediately, they soon calling her “Courbie” and she becoming a major rock in the house, giving helpful advice to Peter about how to be a better father. She is worried about staying too long, though, because she doesn’t want everyone to become too emotionally involved, making her inevitable departure unbearable. 

The Moffett family pediatrician, Dr. Matt Anderson, has always been a frequent guest at the house, and now that Andrea is there he sees no reason to stop, though she is not impressed with his overly informal ways; he patronizes her during the baby’s first appointment with him and telling her, “Didey on, Nursie,” and asking her to come sit next to him. “I’m dideying the baby, Dockie,” she quips in response, and when he admires her hair, she says, “I came to have Donny examined, not me.” But as usual, the initially irritating doctor grows on the nurse, and soon they’re dating. The rub is that two years ago her husband—she was married at age 20—was killed in a car crash and the baby she was carrying was stillborn. So she’s just not ready to love again.

Except the children, whom she does whole-heartedly—and when Peter suggests that they get married because they “are fond of each other and we certainly are equally concerned for the children. It would settle all this anxiety about your having to leave. It would be the best thing for the children if you stayed on as my wife.” The incurable romantic! Andrea, not sure she can ever love again—which is the same way Peter feels after his wife’s death—agrees, and tries to find affection in their mostly platonic relationship.

Matt, of course, is heartbroken, and takes no pains to hide it, “his tone was always light and friendly with Peter and Andrea, but his eyes were bleak with unhappiness.” Then Andrea overhears Peter confirming to his sister that his wife “can never be replaced in my heart,” and she finally realizes that though the attraction of remaining with the children is enormous, she asks herself, “was she willing to settle for less to have all these things?” She tells Peter, “I want more—I need more than you can give me,” and declines his ring. But now Matt is devoting himself to Peter’s sister …

The worst thing about this book is the title, which makes it embarrassing when a man you don’t know well asks what you are reading. Nothing impressive, that’s for damn sure! And though the plot of this book is obvious and without bumps, I have to say that the family in this book is incredibly warm and appealing. I really understood the draw for Andrea to want to remain a part of a world that included these children and their grandmother—I wouldn’t mind it myself. This is the first book I have read by author Frances Eden, but if her other books are as gentle and sweet—even if they are not stellar—honestly, you could do a lot worse.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Hope Farrell Crusading Nurse

By Suzanne Roberts, ©1968 

Two nurses had quit the job at Doc Brady’s Appalachian clinic the year before, quit in what Hope’s supervisor back at Community Hospital described as “anger, disgust, and plain sorrow.” Hope didn’t understand … then. She was beginning to understand now. There was so much to be done … and so much that could be done … a new clinic, a library, a school … to fight the misery on the mountain. And Hope was ready to lead that fight, but she was blocked first by the mountain people who seemed to have no desire to change anything; then by Doc Brady who long ago gave up trying to make them change; and finally by his sone, young Dr. Steve, whom she loved but who gave her a cruel choice: stay on the mountain and break her heart trying to help those who wouldn’t help themselves, or give up and come away with him …


“How can he tell me how pretty my eyes are in one breath and then start talking about thrombophlebitis?” 

“A lot of clear thoughts can come to a man while he’s eating squirrel stew.”

Nurse Hope Farrell has just graduated from nursing school, and look out, world! “She came from a family of crusaders, and all that remained was to choose a geographical area where a nurse was needed, and where changes and progress could be made through hard work and dedication.”  She’s really looking forward to making her mark on the simple folk of rural Kentucky, but in the usual trend, when she is waiting in the tiny town café with a kindly proprietor who has bad teeth, a man shows up late and treats Hope with rudeness and scorn, not even helping her with her bags! He drives dangerously, and he needs a shave. “What if he’s feeble-minded or dangerous?” Hope worries, but guess who he turns out to be? Her new boss, Dr. Dan Brady, who has no interest in being welcoming or even kind to his idealistic, unrealistic nurse. “What’d you expect, some white-coated M.D. with Hero written all over him?” Well, he’s certainly not that: He exhorts Hope not to waste her time trying to improve everyone, telling her, “you can’t get that big, beautiful dream of something better by giving them free vitamins.” 

Well, Hope doesn’t agree, and on her first day, assisting at the birth of a woman’s 11th baby in one of the mountain shacks, she tells the gathered crowd that the mother and baby should be in a hospital, not in their home, because “the baby could still get sick in there in that cabin. If we had a new hospital, when our women had babies things would be 50 percent safer!” She doesn’t understand why everyone gives her the cold shoulder after that. No doubt it’s because they are skeptical about how she arrived at her statistics.

Nonetheless, “Each morning she was filled with lovely ideas about how to stimulate people into wanting to do something about a new clinic, a library, more jobs, better food, better living conditions—” but that mean old Dr. Brady is “the biggest stumbling block” to her dreams. She won’t give up, though! When the illiteracy rate indeed turns out to be quite high, she decides to build a library, and once she’s done with that, she’s going to build a new clinic—though it’s not clear what’s wrong with the old one, apart from the fact that Hope decries its peeling paint and old curtains.  

Dan’s son Steve, a doctor on summer break from a fancy Boston hospital, shows up, and Hope is immediately convinced that Dr. Steve is going to “spark them to get going and change their whole way of living and thinking!” But he’s a chip off the old block, telling Hope, “Don’t try to sit in some ivory tower and dream up foolish dreams about a beautiful new clinic and a library and all these people suddenly wanting polio shots for their kids and lots of good books to read, because it isn’t going to work out that way.” Steve grumbles that “nobody wants to learn; nobody gives a darn about what’s happening in the outside world. They don’t even bother to take a newspaper so they can find out!” If they can’t afford food and can’t read, why should they buy a newspaper? Though she fights endlessly with Drs. Dan and Steve, getting exactly nowhere, she suddenly decides “she had fallen hopelessly in love with this angry, arrogant young man,” as you knew she would.

Then she enlists the help of some local teens to start building a library—though how a room full of books is going to improve the illiteracy rate remains unclear; wouldn’t a local teacher be more helpful?—and the kids show up at her house with scavenged bricks and lumber, and spend hours discussing the plan. But then the ringleader of the kids, Darrell, tells Hope that the kids aren’t going to help her anymore because their parents think it’s weird that they’re hanging out at the house of this single woman who goes driving alone. “No girl ever goes out by herself on this mountain,” he tells her—and that’s not all. “You’re tellin’ them that everything they’ve done for over a hundred years is all wrong. It’s like—well, like folks have lived and died and raised families and got by all right, and then somebody like you—a young girl from somewhere else, comes up here and stays a few weeks and tells them they’re nothin’.” He has a point.

Hope, finally giving up, decides to quit her job—but on her way out of town, the alarm goes out that a young girl has gotten trapped in the old abandoned mine and that Dr. Dan has gone in after her—and Steve follows after both of them, because doctors are super expendable, and all these out-of-work miners couldn’t possibly be of assistance. Standing outside and nibbling her nails, Hope decides that “even if this mountain and its people were going to give her a hard time, try to force her out, try to ridicule and hurt her, still—she belonged there and she was staying.” It’s not hard to figure out that Dr. Dan is not coming out, and Hope decides he went into the mine because “he felt so guilty at not having changed things.” She decrees, “Doctor Brady had died in a desperate attempt to make up to these people for what he had stopped trying to give them, hope and courage and a kind of inner strength to forge ahead and make their lives better and more meaningful. He had known he had failed them, and in that last moment he had wanted to do something good for them. That was why he had crawled into the mine to save little Candy.” Furthermore, she suddenly decides that “she’d come to love” and “given all of herself to Appalachia and its people.” Hope has seriously lost all touch with reality.

And now, suddenly, the people are forcing milk on their children and buying ice for the ice box even if it’s expensive and they don’t have any money and half of the ice has melted by the time they get it home and most of them don’t have cars to get to town to buy it. But “that’s what Doc Brady always wanted us to do,” And now they’ve decided to do everything he wanted! Hooray!

This book is simplistic and stupid, basically declaring that no one need be poor if they don’t want to be, “if we only had the gumption.” Where the jobs and money—much less the teachers—are going to come from is breezily ignored. None of the characters are admirable; the two doctors’ angry relentless pessimism is no more believable than Hope’s angry relentless optimism. The worst stubborn ignorance in the book is Hope’s, and it’s difficult to watch her win in the end when she does not deserve it; she has not grown or adapted or attempted to understand or even befriend anyone on the mountain. The Crusades were religious wars in which Christians invaded and conquered other countries that didn’t agree with their beliefs, and Hope has the same take-no-prisoners attitude in her own crusade. It wasn’t pretty then, and it’s not pretty now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

New Yorker Nurse

By Dorothy Fletcher, ©1969 

When a pretty, single girl is taken to a bachelor’s luxurious, isolated seashore house, wined and dined by the charming young man she believes is the “Mr. Right” she’s been waiting for, what does she do when he becomes amorous? If the girl is Dinah Mason, a tawny-eyed nurse, vivacious and sophisticated at 25, and if her Mr. Right is Dick Claiborne, a serious lawyer by day and a jet-setter by night … there’s bound to be some swinging surprises in the age-old art of loving.




“He eyed her long and shapely legs and winced when he came to the stout, serviceable nurse’s shoes. A girl with legs like that shouldn’t have to wear those clumpy shoes, damn it. When were they going to do something about the shoes? Pucci was dolling up the airline hostesses. Why didn’t some designer give the nurses a break?”


“You look like a strawberry. Good enough to eat.”


“It seems to me that people are getting more and more inarticulate with each succeeding generation.”


“On a day like this it was difficult to believe that the air was poisoned with monoxides.”


“Home is really someone you love more than anything else in the world.”


“Nurses always have thick ankles and things like that. They have severe expressions. And almost invariably, a suggestion of moustache on their upper lips.”



Dinah Mason is our eponymous New York City-based visiting nurse who is between jobs when the book opens, and is spending an afternoon visiting her former patient Victoria Blanding, a charming and tough old gal whom Dinah had nursed through a broken hip. Victoria remarks to Dinah that had she come later she could have met her lovely nephew, who is engaged to be married to “a quite dreary girl. Jet-set type of young woman, the kind I can’t stand. Pity you couldn’t have met him first.” It is a pity, because she’s going to be 26, which means she’s about doomed to a long, lonely, spinster existence, since she just can’t bring herself to marry her longtime beau, Mike Corby. “The hoped-for spark was missing; she didn’t tingle, not the way she should,” she thinks.


After leaving Miss Blanding’s Park Avenue apartment, she heads to 57th Street, then to York, winding up in a park off Sutton Place near the Queensboro Bridge. There she meets a shabby older gentleman reading Baudelaire in the original French. Down on his luck, she assumes from his ratty clothes, and so chats him up to lift his spirits for a bit; “People like that make my heart ache. Isn’t it terrible what happens to some people?” Then she’s off for a date with Mike, during which she again says no to his proposals for marriage and sex; this book is one of the most open about the possibility of the heroine having sex with her boyfriends. She doesn’t, though, of course: “It was always a good way to work up a head of steam, pondering the role of the single girl in society. If she heard a man say just once more, What’s the matter with you … you frigid or something? she would scream. Didn’t they ever wonder if there was something wrong with their own appeal? The male ego, she told herself, was stupendous.”


Dinah’s next job is caring for Margaret Paley, a lonely 51-year-old widow who attempts suicide with a bottle of sleeping pills. “I have no shame about what I did, Dinah. Only despair that it was abortive. A person has a right to do with her own life what she wants to,” Mrs. Paley says—a vastly different attitude about suicide than what the typical VNRN offers, which is deep shame for the patient and a hasty sweep under the rug of the offensive action. Once Mrs. Paley is out of the hospital, Dinah accompanies her to her apartment on 56th Street, coincidentally at York Street and Sutton Place. She sees the old man in the park and dashes in to say hello to him before dashing off again—but leaves Mrs. Paley’s suitcase behind. Fortunately, the old man’s son, Dick Claiborne, is also loitering in the park nearby, and has been scoping out the lovely nurse, and he rushes after her with the case, and then offers to drive her to collect Mrs. Paley and chauffer her home.


Dinah, attempting to jolly Mrs. Paley out of her deep depression, drags her out on walks in the city, finally taking her to the Sutton Place park. Sadly, the park only reminds Mrs. Paley of her deceased husband, which makes Dinah sigh, “You can’t win. Everything in the world must remind you of the person you had loved and lost.” Then she spots the older gentleman and brings Mrs. Paley over to share the bench and a little conversation. Soon he is describing the boats and canals of Venice—and then Mrs. Paley suddenly chimes in with her own rhapsody for that beautiful city, as well as Paris, Provence and the travels each of them had done with their now-departed spouses. After the ladies have headed for home, Mrs. Paley enlightens Dinah that the gentleman is wearing fine tailored clothes, even if they are well-worn, and is clearly quite wealthy. “Rich people never look rich,” she says. “Rich people have holes in the soles of their shoes. It’s because they don’t care. They don’t have to care.” Feeling better now, Mrs. Paley dismisses Dinah, who next moves in with the Wallace family, the mother of which is recovering from knee surgery, at 920 Park Avenue—nothing but the finest addresses for our Dinah! There we enjoy the younger Wallaces, Joanie (age 8) and Wendy (age 4), who track gooey finger paint all over the apartment.


Dick, meanwhile, after dropping off Dinah and Mrs. Paley, has been unable to get Dinah out of his mind, so he phones all over town to track her down, finally reaching the Wallace’s house on his fifth try but being subjected to a long conversation with the four-year-old before Dinah intervenes. Dick asks her out, and Dinah eagerly accepts. “I’ve always wanted something like this to happen to me, Dinah thought. Someone coming unexpectedly into my life … remembering me. Not forgetting. Calling me up …” Their date takes them throughout New York, and Dinah is completely won over: “She was brimming with contentment, happier than she ever remembered being, so much at peace that she would almost have settled for this perfect day being the last one of her life.”


For her part, Mrs. Paley wanders back to the Sutton Place park and runs into the older gentleman—now we learn he is Gordon Claiborne—who is reading a book that he offers her along with an invitation to dinner in a painful, tender and truly touching scene in which they discuss loneliness before deciding to dine together at a bistro on 51st Street on scallops and trout with French pastries and vintage brandy afterward. “I don’t remember ever having been so hungry,” Mrs. Paley thinks. “It was simply the incontestable fact of a woman on the arm of a distinguished man that made all the difference. It was a social thing, a human thing.” They make another date as they say goodnight, and she falls asleep without effort, for the first time since her husband died.


There are the inevitable hurdles for the younger lovers to overcome, such as Mike Corby, and Dick’s fiancée, and a beautiful day sailing that ends disastrously when Dinah realizes that Dick is trying to seduce her: “I refuse to be someone’s prey,” she fumes and is about to walk home when he offers to drive her, but asks her to stop for coffee on the way to clear the air. “If he was just going to take her home and ditch her, write her off as a bad try and a poor guess, why would he suggest stopping off for coffee?” She thinks hopefully, realizing he wanted her because he loves her, not just to use her. Over coffee he invites her to meet his aunt, and a series of startling coincidences unfolds, ultimately leading to what would be a truly fabulous ending, except for the last sentence.


This book is as much an homage to the city of New York as it is a double romance—not surprising, given the title. We traipse all over the city on various dates, take in the view on Wall Street and Trinity Church, commune with the animals at the Central Park Zoo, dine out on Bank and MacDougal Streets in Greenwich Village, and sip cocktails at the Drake Hotel. I also especially appreciated the double romance that included an older couple, which was so unexpected and sweet that it actually left me weeping in a public lobby.


As usual, Fletcher tucks in many cultured references such as Elsa and Siegfried, Balenciaga, Fleurs de Rocaille perfume, Emma Bovary, Steiff toys, Schubert, Genêt, Jane and Paul Bowles, tempus fugit, and the Perls art gallery, among others. The humor is sprinkled liberally throughout, with lines like “‘Did it cost an arm and a leg?’ ‘Just an arm,’ Dinah said.” and “It was sentimentality, born of the gratuitous effects of a sleeping pill, but it was nice to hear.” The only thing I didn’t love about Dinah is that she is willing to chuck her career when she gets married, which she thinks won’t be a problem if she’s “crazy in love.” “Now her nursing days were almost over. Was she sorry about it? Yes, a little. When you married, you gave up your own life. Women did, at any rate. Would she ever regret it?” But in general, this is a top-notch book, Fletcher—who continues as one of my very favorite authors—in fine form.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

Flight Nurse

By Adeline McElfresh, ©1971 

When beautiful young Pat Romain became a U.S. Air Force nurse, she was fleeing the memory of a disastrous love. But soon her personal hurt was forgotten amid the larger pain of the wounded soldiers she tended. Intense, breath-catching drama was part of Pat’s daily routine on the Med Evac plane shuttling between embattled jungle airfields and hospitals in the Philippines and Hawaii. Another kind of drama raged within her heart as two men—a brilliant doctor and a gallant pilot—competed for her affections. It took a searing confrontation with tragedy, and a desperate crisis aboard a crippled plane, for Pat to discover her full worth as a nurse, and her wisdom as a woman in love.


“Well, at least, fellows, we’re plane-wrecked with the prettiest nurse in the whole Air Force!”

Pat Romain is an Air Force lieutenant and nurse who has enlisted in an 18-month tour shuttling wounded soldiers back from southeast Asia to safer hospitals, and recovered soldiers back into battle, a stint she has chosen in part because of, yes, a broken heart, after her beau “rushed her almost to the altar before he had eloped with the daughter of the physician who headed the Physical Medicine Department. To escape seeing him every day, another woman’s happy husband, she enlisted in the Air Force.” But right away she is being rushed again, this time by Kev Moriarty, medical school dropout and pilot, who is described in glowing terms such as “blithe, brash, irreverent” and “rakish,” all properties any woman would hope for in a serious boyfriend. But two pages after meeting the shallow, wolfish cad, Pat “was falling precipitately in love with him,” for some inexplicable reason, because he is not a likable fellow, we discover, as Pat goes on a date in San Francisco with him and her new roommate and he spouts lines like, “You’ll  miss me when I’m gone.” Actually, no, we won’t.

Not to worry, though, because even though “her heart lurched crazily” when she thinks of him, she proves herself to be as fickle as Kev is, instantly falling for a talented, alarmingly dedicated and possibly unhinged frontline surgeon, Dr. Paul Anders, the stuff of most of the flight nurses’ dreams but who inexplicably takes Pat in his arms and tells her he loves her at the end of a flight in which they both had been extremely busy tending to the wounded soldiers in their care. Now she’s planning her wedding to Paul barely six months into her Air Force service while Kev, whom she runs into now and then, gives her sad-dog eyes. She really doesn’t spend much more time with Paul than she did on their initial flight, because he’s on the front lines and she’s on planes all the time, setting down for literally only 20 minutes at a time in Vietnam before taking off again. They’re all set to tie the knot when the inevitable happens, and Pat is alone again—but she has her good friend Kev to help shore her up. What will happen next?

One of a few nurse novels I’ve read that are set amidst the Vietnam War (see Vietnam Nurse and Vietnam Nurse), Flight Nurse literally only briefly touches down on that conflict, and honestly the book has little to say about the war except fairly regular remarks about wounded soldiers who have vacant looks in their eyes or who “were resigned to never being men again,” whatever thats supposed to mean. One interesting point about this book is that it never takes back Pat’s first two boyfriends, pretending after the fact that she never loved them. The other is that her roommate, Miriam, is a Black woman, a rarity in VNRNs, though this is really not discussed except when Miriam notes that their new roommate is awfully rude to Miriam: “To her, Patricia, I’m black before I am either a flight nurse or a human being, I’m not sure in which order. I feel sorry for her.” Pat replies she does too, though she’s angry as well—and that’s the end of the subject. 

The book has little in the way of plot or medical interest (except for the time Dr. Anders recommends a rectal tube as a means of decompressing a soldier who is inexplicably eviscerating), and though its admiration for the Air Force is clear, as a civilian I found it occasionally difficult to navigate the military abbreviations and jargon, not to mention literally navigate where Pat was or where she was headed, as she might be visiting several countries in a single day, and I wasn’t immediately aware of where all the bases she lands at are located. So unless you are an especially devoted fan of Vietnam War literature or the Air Force, you’d be better off missing this flight.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Volunteer Nurse

By Arlene Fitzgerald, ©1967
Cover illustration by Mort Rosenfeld 

Why had she really come to Silver Creek? She knew she wanted to help people in distress. Was being a nurse the best way? Was it the way to escape Ron? Now she would have to find the answers for two other people: the man who had stolen her heart and the one who had claimed it.


This book was not bad, but reading a decent novel has seldom left me more disappointed. Author Arlene Fitzgerald has delivered the awesomely dreadful Harbor Nurse, so I had high hopes that I would encounter more fabulously bizarre plot twists like the nurse ziplining out to a fishing boat during a hurricane to help amputate the leg of a fisherman who was attacked by a shark. Alas, no such excitement befalls Nurse Glee Barlow, who has volunteered to spend a few weeks at the JCAHO-certified Silver Creek Clinic in Arizona in a town with a population of 525. Like many VNRN heroines, she has a fiancé she doesn’t think much of, yet cannot bring herself to decide she shouldn
t marry. Ron Snider is a “terribly spoiled” mama’s boy, the apron strings strengthened by the fact that mother is very rich. “Ron had been proposing regularly, and he felt that she would be willing to settle down to a husband and babies.” She, on the other hand, worked hard to become a nurse, and “wanted to be free to do as she pleased as a full-fledged R.N. and as a woman at least, for a while.”

En route to her clinic, Glee’s car is nearly hit by a horse-drawn carriage caroming out of a dude ranch. Slamming on the brakes and not wearing a seatbelt, she takes a blow to her sternum—or rather, “the steering wheel crushed the soft roundness of her breasts,” in typical Fitzgerald fondness for inserting sexual references into irrelevant descriptions. The carriage driver immediately pulls her from her car and starts fumbling with the buttons of her dress, insisting, “I’m not being fresh. I’m a qualified M.D.” Phew! Her relief is enhanced by the fact that Dr. Kirk Tesdal is one of those homely men who is nevertheless “unnervingly handsome,” and she drives off thinking she would like to see him again.

And she does! Because it turns out that he’s in town to interview for a job at the clinic, and though he’s superlatively qualified (his ineptness at unbuttoning blouses notwithstanding), he’s turned down for the job because he’s not married. Hmmm. When Glee arrives at the clinic, she finds that it’s holding a few cases of anthrax. You’ll be intrigued to know that Glee has a photographic memory, and recalls several pages of her medical textbook verbatim, even obligingly turning pages now and then for us, so we can appreciate the intricacies of the disease, which is treated with a lot of scrubbing up and incinerating clothes and bed linens, and injecting Dr. Tesdal with penicillin “into the firmness of his buttocks,” which Glee accomplishes while admiring his tan line and lean waist. 

The medical staff manages several crises including another horse-drawn carriage crash that results in one victim requiring a splenectomy, a car crash in which the driver’s arm is nearly severed and handily sewn back on, and a heart attack. We are treated to some of Fitzgerald’s usual tricks, such as her fondness for “slashing” with a “firm mental scalpel” at any inconvenient thought, and her reliance on “firm nurse’s discipline” to get through difficult tasks like crossing a raging creek (of which there are many in the Arizona desert) on a fallen log. But overall the authors idiosyncrasies, which have driven me practically insane in some books (see Young Nurse Rayburn), are infrequent here, and the worst sin she commits is the idiotic but unfortunately common trope of giving the heroine an unlikable fiancé yet rendering her completely shocked to discover in the final pages that she doesn’t really love the jerk after all. But there are some plusses as well, such as the fact that the medicine and surgery described in the book is detailed, interesting, and fairly accurate. Arlene Fitzgerald has given us one other B-grade book in Daredevil Nurse, so this completely readable and even entertaining book is not a total anomaly for her. But, paradoxically, I might have enjoyed a worse book more.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Nurse Lucie

By Georgia Craig (pseud. Peggy Gaddis), ©1964
Also published as Nurse at Guale Farms

Nurse Lucie Hatcher walked headlong into another world when she arrived at the small Georgia clinic at Guale Farms, eager to work with the skilled Dr. Wesley Warren. Lucie didn’t plan to get involved with the handsome young doctor, nor with the rich owner of the experimental farms, Perry Latham. But she did … with both. Then suddenly, women from Wesley’s and Perry’s lives appeared and disrupted Lucie’s paradise. Could she give Wesley up to the mysterious woman from his past? Could she fight the powerful and jealous Latham family for Perry’s love? Lucie’s paradise soon turned into a nightmare …


“You’re much too pretty to be working at a grim job like this.” 

“A job? My dear girl! That’s a nasty word. Go immediately and wash your mouth out with soap and water.”

“The one end and aim of every woman is marriage and a home of her own.”

“She’s really a looker, isn’t she, now that we’ve got her dried out and all?”

Lucie Hatcher has left Atlanta to come work in a small rural town, and a good number of the local folks are bewildered as to why she—or he—is willing to “bury herself in a place like Lathamtown. It’s just about the most lonesome place anybody ever heard tell of.” But it’s well paying, and she’s always wanted to experience life in the country, as she’s been a city gal her whole life, and now that she’s arrived in her “silly scrap of a yellow pillbox hat” she’s here to stay, dammit! 

She’s offered a ride from the bus station to the clinic by the pathologically angry schoolteacher Jane Berner, who warns Lucie that she’s to keep her mitts off Gareth Latham, who has just returned home after getting kicked out of college yet again. He’s the stepbrother of Perry Latham, who runs a large experimental farm in nearby Lathamtown and “doesn’t want anything that would bring tourists this way. He doesn’t want Graysville to install drive-in movie theatres, or taverns, or beer-and-wine package stores, or pin-ball machines; anything that might lure the young of Lathamtown astray. He’s not going to allow such devices within easy reach of his people.” Lucie lets this description of an oppressive local dictator pass with little comment or musing about how one person could possibly prevent the development of a whole town, and when she actually meets the tall, very good-looking man with a lean, sun-bronzed face, any further reference to this alarming aspect of Perry’s character drops away and is never mentioned again. As long as he’s cute, who cares if he’s fascist? It’s not long, of course, before he’s kissing her goodnight.

Perry has a stepmother, Belle, and she and Gareth “will never let Perry marry any woman.” When Lucie rightly expresses her incredulity that a grown man, especially a fascist, will be led around by his stepmother, she is told that Belle will “go after the girl. Once Belle gets the idea that Perry is seriously interested in any girl, she’ll sharpen up her knives until they’ll make every scalpel in the clinic seem dull.” Lucie also starts to question, when Jane puts the idea in her head, why “a doctor as young as Dr. Warren is and as skilled would be working in a small rural clinic instead of setting up a fine city practice somewhere or specializing in doing research.” But Dr. Warren is described as a local authority to whom other area doctors regularly consult, so his practice does not seem unsatisfying, if one is interested in primary care for an underserved community—and it’s curious that such a practice, today considered noble, would be scorned.

But Dr. Warren’s practice takes a considerable hit when Leonore Arnold, his fiancée, shows up in a rainstorm. It turns out the woman has gone insane after seeing her mother murdered by home invaders and has been committed to an institution—but has improved enough from her previously catatonic state to learn where Dr. Warren is, escape and find her way 20 miles to his door. Dr. Warren immediately tries to resign because when the town hears that “there’s a mental case here, the story will be built up that she’s a lunatic and her presence here makes everybody unsafe.” Perry insists that he stay, and that Leonore is sure to get well, even if she must never, ever remember that horrible incident again, because “her love will restore her to complete sanity.” Sure it will! Also, remember that since only the clinic personnel know she’s there, the secret won’t get out, “because nurses aren’t allowed to discuss their patients with outsiders.” Lucie, however, immediately lets drop in a packed waiting room that the doctor in charge of the sanitorium has arrived in the clinic to see a patient, and tells Belle that the patient “is no maniac,” just “a girl who is mildly ill mentally.” (And, it must be pointed out, she repeatedly tells anyone who asks about numerous other patients under her care.) So much for keeping a secret. 

Soon patients stop coming to clinic or calling for Dr. Warren’s services, and everyone, including Lucie, is perplexed as to how word got out, interestingly enough. Unfortunately, Leonore herself is one of those classic Peggy Gaddis characters, a beautiful, “bright-eyed, inquisitive child” who has no personality or brain whatsoever, and flings herself at poor Dr. Warren whenever he’s near, pleading, “Please, please, darling, let me stay here with you! I’ll die if I have to be taken away from you!” Not surprisingly, Dr. Warren at one point admits to Lucie that he no longer loves Leonore, but since the nutty shrinking violet is utterly helpless, he is soon declaring his love to her face and insisting they be married immediately. Another thorny issue raised and then perplexingly dropped completely.

Then Belle pops in to threaten Lucie, as promised, that she must not marry Perry, though she has absolutely no weapon to use against Lucie. Perplexingly, Lucie—who is now in love with Perry—tells Belle that she has no interest in Perry but plans to marry Gareth, which sets Belle back on her heels a bit, but then Lucie reverses course and says, “I wouldn’t marry either of the Latham men, even if they were the last men in the world!” Guess who has just come in the door behind her? The only possible way the pair could be reconciled is if Leonore, whose mental illness has mysteriously rendered her unable to walk, takes off into the swamp in her wheelchair and the rest of the gang is somehow unable to find her, and the overwhelming stress of the situation sends Lucie straight into Perry’s arms. The good news is that Leonore is found in a coma suffering from concussion, and the prognosis of her mental illness improves enormously because “a mild concussion might be helpful in restoring her mind. Perhaps when the concussion heals, she may be able to recall the past.” A couple of x-rays—a highly sensitive test for diagnosing mild brain injury (not)—“had been most satisfactory,” whatever that means, and a week later Leonore wakes from her coma!

The overwhelmingly bad medicine in this book is actually comical if you have any actual medical training or ever watched a few episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and it’s hard to understand why Peggy Gaddis, who wrote what feels like thousands of nurse novels, never bothered to learn anything about the subject. Her penchant for raising difficult problems—like a man whose leg is amputated after he is attacked by an alligator and whose wife leaves him because he’s “a cripple,” though Lucie indignantly protests that the young woman is only in shock and will come to her senses and return (she doesn’t)—and then utterly abandoning them unresolved is also infuriating. But overall this is far from the worst Peggy Gaddis novel I’ve met (that would be Dr. Merry’s Husband, which rated a D-), ranking in the top third of the 34 novels of hers I’ve reviewed to date (God help me, I’ve at least that many more to read before I can rid myself of Peggy Gaddis forever). So if you enjoy the occasional novel that you can chuckle at (not with) without suffering overmuch from aggravating writing and characters, this may be a good bet for you.

We can always count on Valentine
for a hideous cover illustration.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Second Year Nurse

By Margaret McCulloch, ©1957
Cover illustration by Ethel Gold 

From the window by her patient’s bed, Jan looked down on the entrance to the nurses’ home. As she watched, a familiar green car swung around the drive. A moment later Dorinda came briskly down the front steps and took her place beside the driver. “Dr. Bartholomew, the young surgeon, wasn’t it?” the patient asked. “I didn’t recognize the nurse.” So this was what the other nurses had been trying to tell her. Dorinda—her own roommate—was dating Hank Bartholomew too!


“I guess it’s all a part of growing up. Learning to like what you’re doing—instead of always doing what you like.” 

“‘Washington’s Birthday is such fun,’ she told Jan when she invited her. ‘All the cute little hatchets and cherries and things.’”

I’ve been thinking about the difference between VNRNs that are written for a teenage audience compared to those intended for adults. This is the third that I can recall having reviewed (see also Candy Stripers and Mary Adams Student Nurse), and they do generally seem more superficial, unsophisticated, and condescending than the grown-up variety, and the heroine never actually ends up with a fiancé, much less a serious boyfriend. And so I waded through Second Year Nurse, which needed its 222 pages to introduce us to at least 75 different characters (I lost count), many of them patients with stories only casually touched on before moving on to the next paragraph. Even patients who we are told affect our eponymous nursing student Jan Russell deeply, such as a young woman with an infant son and husband who dies inexplicably before her thyroidectomy, we receive in just a couple paragraphs, turning the page on them with no real experience of Jan’s feelings or any lingering effects of the tragedy.

Though most of the book is about the many, many other students and patients Jan encounters, she also has a few boyfriends. Her high school steady, Randy, dumps her early on when she leaves for nursing school: After she insists, “I’m crazy about my nursing and I’m going right on with it,” he snarls, “Go on back to your bellhopping and bedmaking! You might even catch yourself a medic. That’s all nurses go in training for.” So between hospital shifts and classes, she accepts a few dates with Dr. Hank Bartholomew. Though “it was still hard for Jan to call him Hank,” she decides that “recently there’d been an increasing depth in their relationship. Not that there’d been any mention of marriage,” we are told, because that’s usually what happens after the third date. Well, I could be wrong on that point because soon Dr. Bartholomew is dating her roommate Dorinda, the daughter of a wealthy woman who serves on the hospital board of trustees—not that that has anything to do with it—and eight pages after what is apparently Dorinda’s first date with the doctor, she is sporting an engagement ring, so maybe there is something to it after all.

Jan also has about three dates with Bruce Baird, who works in the lab and also as a janitor to earn money to put himself through medical school—and he’s hoping to become a general practitioner like Jan’s father had been. But he is usually pretty busy, so she doesn’t see him much. Then, toward the end of the book, Randy’s mother is seriously ill and Jan assists in caring for her, so now Randy decides maybe nursing isn’t so bad, after all. “I think it’s a marvelous thing for a girl to do,” he admits. “I was awfully dumb.” Which man will Jan end up with? Well, like I mentioned at the start, these teen books don’t really give you much of a love story to close the book on, so on the last page all we see is Jan is running down the stairs happily for her next date.

I’m not really sure what the focus of this story is, because it doesn’t offer many details about actual nursing, nor does it give you a romance. Essentially stopping in the middle, the book gives us no resolution to Jan’s plans for her career or her love life, and 222 pages is a lot to spend on a story that goes nowhere. I can only conclude from my admittedly small sample that teen readers weren’t taken very seriously in the 1950s and 1960s—I understand that attitude is what in part what inspired the Woodstock era—so I can’t recommend that an intelligent adult such as yourself spend your time with a book that doesn’t respect its readers.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Nurse in Rome

By Jane Converse
(pseud. Adele Maritano), ©1967

For Ginny, Rome would mean Ilario—forever. Eleanor came to Rome for Ben—and was found by Ricardo. “He’s just a gigolo,” they said. But to Eleanor he offered thrills, glamour, and himself. He also offered escape from the memory of Dr. Beniamino Rossi, the man she had loved too well … and too late. Ginny Newhart and Eleanor Hill held the winning ticket to an adventure in Rome and took a trip that challenged their careers—and changed their lives.


Eleanor Hill has the best roommate ever—which means Ginny Newhart is smart, sassy, funny as hell, and homely. And, in this case, in possession of a winning lottery ticket that entitles the bearer to a three-week luxury vacation for two in Rome. So off the pair go! In a complete coincidence, Eleanor had been dating Dr. Ben Rossi, a native Roman, when he was in the U.S. for his fellowship year. “Love was as serious a matter with him as his profession. He had wanted to marry Eleanor,” but she was a farm girl loose in the big city for the first time and not ready to settle down. So she refused to commit and dated around because “he scared me, talking about marriage and a home and a family. I didn’t know how much he meant to me until it was too late,” and Ben went back to Italy to practice medicine alone. 

Arriving in Rome, the gals spend a few days touring the hot spots while Eleanor works up the nerve to call Ben. When she does call, it doesn’t go well. He’s put off by the fact that she took three days to phone, and lets her know he’s too busy to take her sightseeing. Brokenhearted, she plans to have dinner alone in the restaurant when she is approached by a suave gentleman named Ricardo Lienzo, who claims to be a rich member of a motor oil family overcome by her beauty. He wines and dines her—then discovers he’s left his wallet in the glove box, so could she pay for this ridiculously expensive meal he ordered? Sure she can! Gulping, she pays “a bill that would probably curl the hair of the Junior Auxiliary’s bookkeeper,” which comes to about $55. The dinner included a bottle of wine and one of champagne, so when she is staggering out of the restaurant on Ricardo’s arm at 3 a.m., Ben, who is lurking in the lobby in an attempt to apologize for his rudeness, decides not to bother and stomps off.

Meanwhile, Ginny has found herself an architecture student named Ilario and fallen hopelessly in love. Unfortunately, Ilario’s English is quite poor, and we are forced to endure a horrific accent: “Whatta you say we stop-a make-a da secrets, an’ we go, eh?” is just the first sentence that drops from his lips, and it gets worse from there (he cannot get the genders correcthe calls men “she” and women “heand cannot learn the difference, curious for a speaker of a language in which every noun has a gender). We also meet an Italian film director, Michael Orsini, who unfortunately monologues a lot in an equally terrible accent. It turns out Michael knows Ricardo, but as Eleanor continues to go around with the shallow, selfish, obviously phony cad, she keeps forgetting to ask Michael for a character reference.

In the meantime, Ilario introduces the ladies to a very poor family, neighbors of his, whose young daughter has been essentially catatonic since witnessing the death of her young brother. This is the excuse Eleanor has for reaching out to Ben again, who reluctantly agrees to treat young Anita. Eventually it is revealed that Anita’s illness is—surprise!—psychological, but Ben locates some top-notch psychotherapy for the girl, and on Anita’s road to recovery Eleanor and Ben manage to thaw out a bit; Eleanor even grovels a fair amount, pleading for his understanding and telling him that she is in love with him, just didn’t realize it until after he had left. When he tells her he has seen her with Ricardo and that he believes “you hadn’t changed a bit,” she retorts with a stinging tirade, calling him a self-righteous martyr who enjoys wallowing in self-pity. Still, she cant get over Ben; later that night, when Ricardo kisses her and asks her to marry him, “she felt wooden in Ricardo’s embrace.” But she remembers that Ginny has suggested that Eleanor is “the naïve victim of a slick gigolo” who is trying to marry his way to American citizenship, and this ironically somehow convinces Eleanor to accept the cad’s proposal.

Ginny, meanwhile, has accepted a proposal herself and is planning to marry Ilario and move to Italy until he completes his studies. Their engagement party is to be a picnic in the woods, with Ricardo as Eleanor’s date and Anita’s young brothers also in attendance. A simple countryside meal is not Ricardo’s best foil, and neither are the boisterous boys, and during the hours Eleanor suddenly realizes the obvious: that Ricardo is “a conceited phoney, a bore.” Then Dr. Ben drops by to say hello, and a disaster strikes … and another character stages a surprise …

There’s not much armchair travel in this book, but it is entertaining. Fortunately, apart from bad grammar, the Italians in the book are intelligent, hard-working people, and this may be the first VNRN I’ve read in which a female character actually marries a non-American man. I appreciated that Eleanor made no effort to hide her feelings from Ben, no matter how painful it was for her to be honest, as too many VNRN heroines simply wait around with poker faces, hoping the man will put the moves on; here she is truly the agent who brings on her own success. Overall this book is reasonably pleasant—again, if you can tolerate the truly awful accents. It was a tough slog for me, I have to confess, so depending on how tough your stomach is, you may wish to skip it. But if you can soffer through thee ogly diaologo withouta meesery, you mighta lika thees book.