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The Nightingale Sisters, by Donna Douglas

review published on July 2, 2013. Reviewed by Georgina Donlea

The second book in an exciting series from Donna Douglas, The Nightingale Sisters continues to follow the lives of nursing staff in east London’s Florence Nightingale Teaching Hospital during the 1930s. Many of the characters from The Nightingale Girls are revisited, and an intriguing addition in the form of mysterious new Night Sister, Violet Tanner, throws a spanner into the works. Student nurse Millie continues to make dire but entertaining mistakes, while her heart is torn between her faithful and reliable fiancé, Seb, and dashing young Dr Tremayne. Millie’s roommate, Dora, struggles to help her East End family survive after her step-father mysteriously vanishes, and at the same time she is also coming to terms with the reality that the only man she has ever loved is courting her best friend. Other familiar characters in the form of Matron, the Sisters, nursing students, doctors, family, and friends, return in this volume. While this can be read as a stand alone book, I would 100% recommend reading The Nightingale Girls first, not just for background on the characters and storylines, but because this series is just too good to be missed.

I was drawn to the Nightingale books not just because I of my love affair with this era of history, but because I have always liked the idea of being a nurse in the good old days of starched uniforms and strict discipline. This series does not disappoint in that respect, though at times during The Nightingale Sisters I did find myself yearning for a little more of the blood-and-guts work on the wards, and a little less in the form of personal dramas. That said, this is a series about life and love, and the process of getting to know the characters so well and being witness to the unravelling of secrets, is what makes the tension so strong, and the rewards so great.

Each character is strongly defined, and personalities leap out from the pages. When not in the hospital, the most vivid location is the East End home of the Doyle family and their neighbours. Although Dora Doyle lives onsite with the other student nursing staff, the regular visits she makes to her family home nearby help to describe the local atmosphere beyond the foreboding iron gates of the Nightingale. Millie and Violet take the reader to other contrasting locations, but it is the rugged East End that I personally like the best.

Donna Douglas has previously had several romantic novels published under the name of Donna Hay. Her interest in delving into the love lives of her characters is clear, but The Nightingale Sisters, like its predecessor, is about much more than just exploring romance. Although the notions of giving love a chance and painfully having to let it go, are significant, this book is also packed with other themes that surely any of us would be able to relate to in our own way; coping with grief, the solidarity of friendship, the strain of keeping secrets, the matter of regret. All are packed in by the bucket-load, making this book appealing to those interested in nursing and its history, vintage lovers, and romance-readers alike.

The best thing about The Nightingale Sisters is that it is the second in a planned series of five. Many loose ends have been tied up following the first book, but there are also plenty of story threads left unfinished. I am already eagerly awaiting the next instalment from Donna Douglas.

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