Sunday, February 25, 2024

Navy Nurse

By Virginia McCall, ©1968 

Lieut. Tracy Moore is shocked to discover that on her first sea assignment she is the only nurse aboard a naval transport sailing to the Far East. Trouble starts happening in sick bay immediately. Several emergencies—including an operation for appendicitis during a typhoon—test Tracy’s skill to its fullest. Tested too is Tracy’s love for Dick Simpson, the biologist she left behind. For on shipboard she meets and is attracted to handsome Lieut. Wade Cochran, who makes no secret of the fact that he is falling in love with her. With her superior officers watching her professional performance carefully, and Dick waiting for her answer back in port, Tracy knows that this voyage will determine her future as a Navy nurse—and as a woman.


“Sukiyaki and kimonos—and no Dick, she thought, with a sudden foretaste of loneliness. She would be leaving Dick behind.” 

Tracy Moore is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, and a nurse stationed in the Oakland hills, when she gets orders that she is going to be shipping out soon. Tracy has been seeing Dick Simpson, who appears to be a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley studying migratory birds, but their relationship seems to be foundering. When they’re together, Dick can only talk about birds, and he certainly never talks about getting married! He even makes Tracy late for an important Navy appointment—and spatters her beautiful dress uniform with unsightly gunk!—when he abruptly pulls over on the Bay Bridge and wades into the muck of the bay to rescue a loon encased in oil. “Not that she was willing to admit that she was falling in love with Dick!” Well, she certainly doesn’t act like it. But her young man’s name does make for amused chuckles, such as when reading the line, “In the back of her mind she was constantly thinking of Dick.” So juvenile, but there it is.

She’s attached to a transport vessel, which seems mostly like a sort of Navy-sponsored Carnival cruise line in which hundreds of women and children are shuttled from one side of the Pacific Ocean to the other; there’s even an officer in charge of scheduling movies and activities and entertainments for the passengers. Tracy’s job is mostly to keep their tummies soothed when the waves get choppy, plus manage anything else that might come in. And a few emergencies do; there’s a bleeding ulcer that receives more than a dozen units of blood (pumped from the blood bank of sailors also being ferried on the ship) and one cute 19-year-old who gets an appendectomy during a typhoon, but apart from “tying everything down” (not sure how one ties down sterile instruments), even that back-cover-worthy event passes without much ado.

Onboard ship she is attracted to the only single male officer, Wade Cameron, who is a smooth and unfathomably handsome man who pays her some passing attention but doesn’t seem especially interested—at least until the end of the cruise, when he starts hanging around in her group more frequently. And so with little plot or interest we arrive at the end of the voyage, when Wade is telling her that he has something important to discuss with her. But when Tracy calls home to talk with Dick and he is out with her roommate, that is all that she needs after months apart to come to her senses! “I’m in love with Dick,” she realizes, after having given him little or no thought except exasperation at his letters, which blather on about ducks and other waterfowl. Now all she needs to do is head Wade off at the pass, but he wasn’t really interested in her anyway, because he only wanted to ask her if “a confirmed bachelor has any right to allow himself serious attentions when he’s off to Vietnam. You’ve relieved my mind,” he tells her when she mentions her boyfriend, so I guess he wasn’t that smitten after all. Back in port, she has only to sort out her future with Dick in four days before she hits the sea again, but it doesn’t even take that long, as he presents her with a “modest” diamond ring.

The best thing that can be said about this, the fourth book titled Navy Nurse I have read (see also Navy Nurse, Navy Nurse and Navy Nurse), is that the Navy jargon is not so thick that you can’t understand what the heck they are talking about. The plot is ho-hum, Tracy as a main character is kind of paradoxical—flying into rages and shouting at people out of the blue while displaying little gumption or backbone apart from creating a first aid kit that the U.S. Navy should have come up with on their own decades ago, and demonstrating little to no interest in her boyfriend until she thinks she may be about to lose him. One of the best parts of the book is the descriptions of the drive from Berkeley to San Francisco along the mud flats of the bay—one I have made many times and which felt very nostalgic to me. The descriptions of the Asian ports did not veer into stupid racism the way may of VNRNs do, though they do take a very American view of those countries—sukiyaki and kimonos is all she can picture when she imagines Japan—so the armchair travel is limited here. In short, it’s not all bad, but it’s fairly blah. The C-grade book, I have said before, is the worst kind—neither cold nor hot—and so I suggest that unless you have a burning interest in the 1960s Navy, you should leave this one on the shelf—and the cover illustration should make that choice easier.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Navy Nurse

By Adelaide Humphries, ©1954

Ensign Dorothy Phillips was beautiful; life was beautiful; her work was wonderful; and everything was right with her world—until the day, her arms laden with bundles for the Chief Nurse’s surprise birthday party, she was almost run down by a carload of brash young Air Corps officers. An impudent apology, yelled by a handsome lieutenant, was the crowning insult. Then the lieutenant appeared unannounced at the party—revealing himself as Lieutenant Keith Cameron Townsend, and the dour Chief Nurse’s nephew, no less! The fact that Dorothy was engaged didn’t mean a thing to Keith. The more she snubbed him, the more persistent he became. It takes a battle at sea—and all the suffering connected with it—for the ensign to realize that love and hate are often akin.


“Oh, you know a kiss or so doesn’t mean anything. At least most people don’t think it does in this progressive age.” 

Author Adelaide Humphries, who has previously given us two A-grade novels (Nurse Landon’s Challenge and The Nurse Knows Best), here has achieved a truly remarkable feat: She has written a novel in which not a single one of the five leading characters is a likable individual. One might wonder why you might want to write a book about spoiled, selfish, inconsiderate people—and a skilled writer might even craft a thought-provoking, Pulitzer Prize–winning epic from such a cast—but alas, here we are just left to grit our teeth and endure through to the end—or just toss the stupid book aside and move on to something better. I advise the latter. 

Let’s start with leading lady Ensign Dorothy Phillips. She is the most gorgeous woman in the entire world, somehow made even more dazzling by her uniform: “Ensign Phillips had features and skin a poster-girl could never have surpassed,” so “when a beautiful girl like Ensign Phillips donned her Navy nurse’s uniform, wolf whistles were the order of the day.” Oh, boy! When the book opens, she is on the sidewalk, carrying purchases for an upcoming party, when a car overflowing with Air Corpsmen whizzes around the corner. She’s pulled back from stepping into the street, knocking her packages askew and somehow keeping her from getting run over though she was never actually in the street, and one of the men in the car leans his whole torso out the window, shouts something unintelligible and waves his arms above his head—it actually seems as if his life was more at risk in this incident than Dorothy’s. These brief seconds leave her “with an impression of laughing black eyes, a flash of white teeth in a tanned, handsome face—and a burning sensation around her heart.” Yes, she’s in love already, and this is why she is overwhelmed with a relentless, obsessive hatred for the young man.

The fellow who had kept her from stepping into the street, Charles Henry Hale, who unfortunately chooses to be called Skid, is the closest we have to a decent human. As a first-class gunner’s mate, he is outranked by Dorothy, a fact that is made much of, and Dorothy’s condescension to even speak to such a lowly creature is treated with great admiration. Don’t worry, though, she is ultimately extraordinarily cruel to the respectful young man, who kindly and humbly helps Dorothy with her packages and carries them back to the launch for her (she is stationed in a hospital ship off the coast of San Diego). He hopefully suggests they have coffee, though noting the invitation is “entirely too brassy,” but Dorothy condescends to accept, after first having berated him for causing her to drop her packages.

During coffee, Dorothy decides that Skid is a “darned nice boy,” and he, of course, falls immediately in love with her and asks to see her again. “Dorothy despised anything that hinted of snobbery,” we are told, so she immediately wades into it, thinking, “An enlisted man couldn’t get seriously involved with a Navy officer. It would lead to all kinds of gossip, and no telling what it might lead to.” The only reason she decides to agree to see him again is that she spots that darned guy who almost fell out of the car that didn’t hit her, and becomes furious that he seems to be laughing at her, so she “deliberately turned her back on him” and gives Skid an overly enthusiastic wave and shouts that she’ll see the poor dope next week!

The party she is helping to plan is a surprise birthday party for Chief Nurse Capt. Nettie Leonard, the quintessential gray-haired spinster martinet, and who should turn up at it but that darned guy again, who is revealed as Capt. Leonard’s nephew, Lt. Keith Cameron Townsend (the two male leads both absurdly have middle names)! Darn the luck, her entire day is ruined! At the party Dorothy’s flirtatious and backstabbing roommate, Micky, flings herself at Keith, scorching her own boyfriend in the process, but Keith manages to grab Dorothy and tell her that he will win her, “no matter what or how long it takes,” because all women find stalkers irresistible! And when Keith crashes her next date with Skid, Dorothy takes her revenge on Keith by telling him that the pair have known each other since childhood and that they are engaged. “She felt good. She was glad she had told that big fib. She would whiten it by explaining later on to Skid, although she didn’t know just what her explanation would be.” This is the same woman who, “besides believing that the best policy was to stick to the truth,  believed that when a person gave his word to someone else he should do his level best to live up to it.” Lets see how honest Dorothy is going to play this out.

So having gotten herself into one bad situation, she now plans to make it worse: “It looked more and more as though there was nothing she could do except try to make this trumped-up betrothal authentic,” because the honorable thing to do is to marry a man you’ve just met to spite someone else. Dorothy also promises Micky’s boyfriend, Dr. Tommy Simms, that she will keep Keith away from Micky, though this goes completely contrary to her life’s purpose of never speaking to that horrid man again. It doesn’t exactly work, as Keith presses her and Skid into double dating with him and Micky on a regular basis—though, out one evening celebrating their engagement, Dorothy dances with Keith and discovers “one dance had made all the difference in the world,” because Keith kisses her and tells her that he is in love with her—and that “you’ve got a lot to learn, Dorothy. But you will.” So the next scene finds Dorothy admitting to Skid that she does not love him, but that she’ll agree to get married if he wants to. Ugh!!

When word gets out that Dorothy is engaged to Skid, however, the chief nurse becomes unprofessionally hostile and assigns Dorothy to night duty out of spite, and then calls a staff meeting in which “everyone present agreed that it was a mistake for an ensign in the Navy to become engaged to, or even go with, an enlisted man.” Now nothing can possibly save Dorothy from this horrible situation—except a really big sea battle! So off her ship chugs, following the battleships into war—I’m not exactly certain which war we’re supposed to be fighting—and on the eve of the big battle, Skid sends Dorothy a “beautiful” letter in which he tells her that he loves her because “she was so sincere, the kind of girl a fellow would be proud to take home to show off to the home folks.” Clearly this man barely knows herand her true character is again revealed by her reaction, which is not remorse or shame, but rather “fatality”—and then she hopes that she’ll get a letter from Keith. But when she hears Keith has survived the battle, she’s remembering “his pride, that masculine ego of which he had more than the average share. His pride would demand that he, an officer, must never give up trying to win a girl away from an ordinary enlisted man.” That jerk!

Soon Skid turns up on the medical ship, one of the worst burn cases in a coma for days, his chances of survival a hundred to one, and “it will take plastic surgery to restore that burned face.” Dorothy tells him with tears and kisses to get well, that they’ll be married as soon as he’s better, but “Skid knows Dottie doesn’t love him. He probably knows she feels sorry for him and so is willing to make the best of a bad bargain.” And so he does the decent thing, committing suicide by willpower and dying in his sleep, because “if a fellow wants to die—well, nothing any doctor, or anyone else, can do will help him,” declares Dr. Tommy Simms. “He had the courage to die—because he wanted you to be happy,” adds Micky. Dorothy replies, “It makes me feel almost as though, instead of helping him, I had caused Skid’s death.” Probably her first honest thought—and her last, as without another thought to her likely role in manslaughter, she steps off the ship to “where she belonged—in a certain handsome young lieutenant’s arms.”

There is not one admirable quality in Dorothy, her manic roommate Micky, or the egotistical and domineering Keith, and not much better in the vindictive chief nurse, or even Skid, who is self-sacrificial to the ultimate degree. Dorothy’s stint in the Navy makes it look like a casual weekend gig, and her commitment is definitely wanting; early on she confesses that she’s not sure why she joined the Navy since she has a deep-seated phobia of water, gets seasick easily, can’t remember all the darned rules and regulations, and after six months she still cannot get the hang of military time! But she gets excellent training in the Navy, and she doesn’t have to work very hard—“a navy Nurse’s duties are much lighter nowadays; they’re mostly supervisory.” Interestingly, it is suggested that if she were to marry, she would just resign her post. I’m not sure how that could ever have been a thing, because my impression of the military is that it’s not an optional sort of arrangement. This book, however, is optional for you, and so I recommend that you forego it, and instead try the much more interesting Navy Nurse penned by one of my favorite authors, Rosie M. Banks—it’ll be much smoother sailing.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Nurse March

By William Neubauer, ©1957

Dawn March had her future all planned—she would marry handsome Dr. Ken Jones and they would settle in the little seacoast community that she loved and build a happy and beautiful life together. But Dawn hadn’t figured on a couple of interferences that became substantial obstacles to the realization of her dream. The first was Ken himself. There was a side of his nature that Dawn was slow to recognize, that shocked her when she did. Ken fancied himself a big-time success, and his impatient ambition was such that it left little room for the kind of life that Dawn had hoped they would share. Another was the entrance of Mrs. Clara Royce, a divorcee of great wealth, considerable beauty and no scruples whatsoever. Clara Royce offered Ken the fulfillment of his dreams—and a short-cut to the success he craved. Dawn began to realize that even the best-made plans of bright young nurses can sometimes get pretty well upset!


“Oh, I know you young girls. You simply refuse to eat proper meals and sleep proper hours. Dash here, dash there, hurt this young man, hurt that young man, call the district attorney a liar, call the newspapers liars, and go careering on your way straight to a nervous breakdown.” 

“What you ought to do is marry me while you still have something to offer.”

“I ought to break a leg. That would interest you, wouldn’t it?”

“A girl so lovely, so obviously decent and well-intentioned, ought to have been married long before this. What had happened? What was her problem?”

“Lovely women aren’t often interested in business.”

“I’m told a woman never quite forgets her first husband.”

Faithful readers will know that I am a big fan of Bill Neubauer, a truly interesting individual (check out his biography) and the author of about 20 nurse novels (this is the 11th book of his I have read). With Nurse March, he again proves he is capable of a meatier book than most authors, imbuing his story with multiple plot threads that, even if they don’t all easily weave together to create a cohesive whole, nonetheless make for a more interesting read than the usual VNRN. 

Nurse Dawn March is a 24-year-old visiting nurse who provides free care to the residents of Port West, a seacoast California town. She has a “sense of duty that had always kept her moving along and had earned her the reputation, at least in certain quarters, of being a girl dedicated wholeheartedly to her career.” As part of her duties, she is sent to the shack of Dan Colby, an artist who lives at the town dump, who is diagnosed with a fractured patella. He is receiving a monthly stipend from a local business magnate who fancies himself a patron of the arts, which allows him to concentrate on his painting without needing to waste all that time earning a living or even selling the paintings he produces.

Dawn does not  agree with this arrangement and has it out with Dan who, for his part, explains that he doesn’t like to sell his work because “the subjects mean a great deal to me. Or perhaps because expression of any kind is too personal a thing to sell.” She argues with him about it, and he tells her he’s not interested in compromise, which would force him “to paint pretty birds that aren’t birds at all, to paint the sea as it never is, but the way some editor thinks it ought to be.” Ultimately he decides, “She had the same sort of mind that his father had. Bend to the storm! Sell your heart’s blood, if necessary, to provide material comforts for the rest of your body! And live, therefore, without dignity, without meaning!”

Unfortunately, when Dawn finds out that Dan has turned down several offers of work—selling his art to a gallery, accepting commissions from magazines to create artwork for a magazine—she feels it’s her job to make him change his ways. She starts by telling him he’s a bum in a rut, but he responds, “It sems to me that I have a pleasant existence, one with considerable point. I paint. I work very hard to learn what I need to know. I grow. Now what precisely is wrong with all that? Perhaps in another society there would be room for people who like to paint.” Its not a bad point.

Appallingly, she takes it upon herself to meet with Dan’s benefactor, Mr. Patton, and convince him that he’s ruining Dan’s life by supporting him. Though several art critics have stated that Dan has a lot of talent, she declares that Dan is not gifted or even working on improving his art. She tells Mr. Patton that Dan works “only as it suits him to, and when it suits him to. And he does not learn, and he therefore does not progress, because the only work he does is the work he chooses to do in the way he chooses to do it. That isn’t the way to develop.” Which is ironic, because we have witnessed Dan fielding criticism that the feathers of a painting of a seagull were overdone, and he appraises his work and finds that the evaluation was true, and decides to alter his technique.

It seems Dawn’s biggest complaint is that Dan is receiving the charity of the city through her nursing visits while not contributing to society by earning a living. She misses the point that Dan is in fact being paid to paint, whether he offers a canvas in exchange for the money or not, and its not her call as to whether the exchange is worthwhile. “I simply think he must learn the same things we all learn—that is, to earn our living while we’re also preparing ourselves to do the sort of work we want to do. He owes it to himself and to the community to accept the commissions he’s offered. He’s had free medical care and nursing care. To that degree he’s certainly obligated to the county and to the community.” When Mr. Patton offers to pay for Dan’s medical care, she turns it down, telling Mr. Patton that his patronage is turning Dan “into a bum.” Unfortunately, she prevails, and Mr. Patton cuts Dan off. She smugly decides, “She’d at last managed to do Dan some real good.” God forbid anyone else she decides to “help”!

In her personal life, Dawn is also on the wrong tack. She’s hopelessly smitten with dentist Ken Jones, who is essentially just a pretty face. He’s been dating Dawn but doesn’t bother to remember the anniversary of their first date; it’s his kind and generous sister Hattie who invites Dawn to dinner at her and Ken’s house to mark the occasion. Curiously, though, when Ken expresses a desire to open a chain of dentistry offices throughout Southern California and in so doing reap large profits, with the investment of Clara Royce to back him, Dawn is outraged. “I think you should work as my father works, for something other than purely personal gain.” She’s convinced that Clara’s attentions have given him too much ambition: “Much of this big talk hadn’t been hatched in the mind of Ken Jones. Just a month ago, he’d been happily talking about the pleasure he found in living and working in Port West. Then, quite suddenly, here he was talking in grandiose terms and dreaming grandiose dreams.” So she dislikes one mans lack of ambition but also decries what she feels is too much in another. Apparently Ken is not impressed with meddling women either; ultimately he nakedly says to Clara Royce in front of Dawn, “You stop leading me on, and I’ll stop leading her on.” Ouch!

The man who actually loves Dawn, Wes Overton, is a real estate agent with some interesting ideas, and who seems to fall into Dawns sweet spot as far as ambition goes. “I think a fellow owes it to himself and to society to do a good hard day’s work every work day of the year. But I don’t think life should be twisted into a mean grubbing for money. I think a life so twisted is a life without dignity.” He believes, he tells Dawn, that “a person has an obligation to himself to do whatever will make himself and his loved ones happy.” But never-happy Dawn sneers at his attitude, telling him, “There you are just plodding along as you’ve done all your life.” 

Toward the end of the book, the now endowmentless Dan is forced to hire an agent and accept commissions to paint particular subjects for wealthy movie moguls. Dawn is elated, but I was not. Dawn’s father hints that “of late you haven’t been yourself, but it’s not clear what he’s referring to. Her meddling with Dan’s life? Her moping over her ill-fated romance with Ken?

The book has a truly interesting and complex idea at its heart, that everyone must earn a living even if that means doing something they don’t enjoy on their path toward getting to what they really want. But if the person can find support by some other path, even if that means accepting a sponsorship or charity, is that wrong? Is Dawn forcing Dan to be in some respects a whore to do work he does not value? Should an artist be supported by the community on their path toward developing their technique in a way that a doctor or nurse, for example, is not, and may be forced to work, say, as a nurse’s aide or EMT to pay for their training toward a more complex career? The problem with how this issue is handled in Neubauer’s story is that Dawn is a hypocrite, chastising both Ken for his ambition and Dan for his lack of it and ignorning Wes’s happy medium; she believes Ken should be doing more for free and settling for less, while Wes should be working harder to expand his business. And why is it her job to wreck the good life Dan is enjoying for himself, and even Mr. Patton’s enjoyment in helping Dan achieve that?

The end of the book holds some real surprise twists, and Dawn ends up with a man who deserves better. I had hoped that the self-righteous and shallow Dawn, meddling in affairs that didn’t concern her and chasing a pretty boy with no character, would face some sort of come-uppance that would cause her to realize the error of her ways, but she did not, and I can’t feel that Dawn is a better person at the end of the book. But the story did give me a lot to think about, and talk over with other people who hadn’t read the books, so in that respect it was successful. As usual, Neubauer gives us delightful characters and charming writing, so if the heroine was not all I wish she had been, this book still has a lot to offer, and my high opinion of Bill Neubauer remains unchanged, and even fleshes out my ideas of what his character was that he produced a book with this message.  

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Dedication Jones

By Kate Norway
(pseud. Olive Norton), ©1969

Staff Nurse Didi Jones was torn between enthusiasm for her interesting new job and the feeling that she ought to be “settling down” as her fiancĂ© wanted. But would there have been any problem, if she had really cared about him?


“I don’t know how you dare to argue with that woman. She terrifies me. I go all hemiplegic at the sight of her.” 

“The way to a man’s heart isn’t through his stomach anymore. It’s through his twin carburetors or his new putter, old dear. You’re not with it.”

“Depression in a young woman of under twenty-five is either a psychosis or it’s reactive to the boy-friend situation.”

“In competent people are always terribly bossy, just to try to prove that they can control things.”

“Gossip can be psychotherapy. So can cigarettes, love affairs, fast driving, a good boo-hoo or a nice cup of tea.”

“You’ve had too much vitamin B. You’re getting aggressive.”

As we meet “dedicated” nurse Delia Jones (she also goes by Didi, unfortunately), she is working at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in England and has fallen victim to the classic romance trope in which her fiancĂ© is not an especially charming individual who is always pestering her to quit her job and get married even though she really loves her work. “Geoff didn’t approve of wives who worked. He didn’t understand, I told myself. Teddy’s wasn’t like a shop, or an office. It was a life.” So you know there’s going to be a lot of tedious back-and-forth about that, when the answer is obvious. Her best friend, Rose—a delightful, flirtatious, sassy type—tells her, “If you marry him, dear girl, you’ll just be a—a chattel.” And worst of all, for you literary folks, “Geoff didn’t approve of Muriel Spark. He had found Miss Brodie unsavoury.” Just leave the bum! 

In the meantime Didi has started working in the Isolation Ward, which for some reason includes a lot of psychiatry cases. This means she is seeing a lot of a certain Dr. Dwyryd Ffestin-Jones (he’s Welsh). He’s kind, firm, but a little distant—in short, the quintessential British nurse novel love interest.

Next comes trope #3, in which Didi has mailed her engagement ring back to Geoff, but he’s been injured and may never walk again, so it’s not clear if she feels free to keep walking out the door. Then suddenly Dr. F-J is not speaking to Didi, and she’s not sure what has happened—so naturally she comes down with flu and is in a coma for a week, but fails to recover because she’s so upset about Dr. F-J’s behavior that she is shipped home to recover for a month or two. Only a chat with a psychiatrist—just not that psychiatrist—helps her get caught up with hospital gossip and figure out what the problem is. She promptly takes action and saves her own day …

Overall the book is very formulaic, but it has pleasant characters—again, per usual, the best are the strong, independent heroine and her feisty roommate, as well as a few other nurses who come across well, while the men are mostly limpid and uninteresting, including Dr. F-J, I’m sorry to report. There is a subtle humor throughout, such as when Didi tells a friend, “If I don’t spill to some neutral observer, I shall burst,” and he replies, “And I’m no surgeon, so we can’t have that. Spill away.” Once again Olive Norton, here writing as Kate Norway, lives up to her solid reputation as a gem of an author, and I can again recommend the tenth book I have read by this excellent writer, and hope that she’s written a lot more nurse romance novels that I can look forward to.