review published on November 3, 2013. Reviewed by Georgina Donlea
The girls are back, thank goodness. Nursing students Helen, Millie, and Dora are entering into another year of training at the highly respected Florence Nightingale Teaching Hospital in London’s East End. It is the mid 1930s, when anti-Semitic tension is rising, and King Edward VIII is engaged in a scandalous affair with an American divorcee. Perfect student Helen is nearing the end of her training, but is considering giving it all up in a bid to stand up to her overbearing mother. A fortune-telling gypsy makes a dark prediction about Millie’s fiancé, who is caught up as a journalist in the Spanish Civil War. Dora looks on helplessly as the man she loves marries her best friend, but she soon discovers a secret that could threaten their happily-ever-after.
Anyone who has read my review of The Nightingale Sisters, the previous book in this series, will know that I have been anxiously awaiting the next instalment. I have never really found the concept of a series to be appealing before, but everything about these Nightingale books is completely addictive. My recommendation is to avoid reading any of them as a stand-alone novel. Start at the beginning with The Nightingale Girls and work your way through. Trust me.
Donna Douglas has done a lot of research into the history of nursing and its training. Readers are therefore treated to titbits such as the symptoms of scarlet fever, the uses of carbolic acid, and witnessing a vintage Caesarean section. Reading this book truly transported me into the hospital wards of the ‘30s. The starched uniforms, stringent rules, and dreaded fear of the Sisters are just as I had imagined, but the scenes are played out in such an enticing, entertaining manner. (These scenes would also work excellently in a television series in my personal opinion.)
The additional characters make for great reading too. Helen is still madly in love with Charlie, her former patient, who is the loving, cheeky, kind-hearted, supportive man that every girl wants to meet. From the first book I had a soft spot for bad girl Amy Hollins. She is the catty student who has always seemed more interested in her pretty looks and rich men than in becoming a dedicated nurse. I was therefore pleased when Amy’s storyline was developed in The Nightingale Nurses, which unravels to help the reader learn more about one of the most arduous characters of the series. The staple of other supporting characters still includes, amongst others, fellow students Katie and Lucy, policeman Joe who has set his sights on Dora, and the hospital’s formidable Sisters and dashing doctors.
There is nothing I enjoy more than a gory description of a surgical procedure, or the conversations that take place on the ward behind the privacy screens. Having said that, however, a beautiful wedding takes place during The Nightingale Nurses that had me reaching for the tissue box, and a tragic farewell is said to a beloved character.
The further into the series I get, the more I start to believe that the students are my friends and colleagues. Yes, clearly deluded book reviewer, party of one, right here. I love being deluded though, as it transports me into a life, place, and time that I like to think would have suited me rather well. I am waiting in eager anticipation for the next offering in the series. Please, Ms Douglas, don’t make me wait long!
An extract from Jennifer Johnston’s A Sixpenny Song
Undiscovered Gyrl, by Allison Burnett
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