The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas

In brief: The story of three girls studying to be nurses at the Nightingale Hospital, London in the 1930s – there’s scrapes, heartbreak and drama aplenty…

The good: Lovely story where there’s always plenty happening.

The not-so-good: It’s not Call the Midwife, but a jolly good nursing story.

Why I chose it: Looked fun, thanks to Random House and Net Galley for the eBook.

Year: 2012

Pages: 512

Publisher: Random House

Setting: Predominantly London, UK

My rating: 8 out of 10

I’m certain readers of my reviews are heartily sick of the fact that I love the book and television show, Call the Midwife. I love historical nursing fiction – I’m not sure why, as it’s not the most glamorous of jobs but there’s something cosy and inviting about reading about nurses that never gets boring. The Nightingale Girls is the first book in the Nightingale Nurses series (there’s currently four books and an eBook Christmas story), set in the fictional Nightingale Hospital in London. It has elements of Call the Midwife (the camaraderie, the London East End), but this is hospital based – think doctors, strict Sisters and night duty. It’s a wonderfully heart-warming read where there is always something happening.

There are three main characters in this book – there’s Dora, a girl from the East End with a secret to cause her to leave her family; Millie, a failed probationer and lady of society and Helen, a more senior student nurse with an overbearing mother. It’s an interesting combination as generally Helen is off working on the wards while Millie and Dora are in class. The only thing the three have in common is that they share a cold attic room. Gradually, we begin to realise that there’s more in common between the trio than at first glance – they’re all running from something and they need each other’s help. But don’t be put off thinking that the book is all serious issues – there’s a lot of humour and a lot of love.

Interestingly, we get an insight into some of the more minor characters’ heads. We learn that the new Matron isn’t all that popular and that her deputy has a few tricks up her sleeve – but not all of them achieve the result she wants. We also see that Dora’s nemesis, Lucy, has her own issues that might explain why she’s so catty. I liked this aspect – usually we don’t understand the motives of the secondary characters, but by doing so, I felt more sympathy for some of the characters. I’m hoping to see more of them in the next book or three.

Even though the book is the first in a series, the ending is still satisfying. (There were still enough cliff-hangers to make me look up the synopsis for the next book though). The medicine mentioned was accurate (as far as I know – it’s enough to keep up with current advancements, let alone historical treatments!) but there wasn’t quite enough for my liking. The plot made up for it though – it moves at a speedy pace, introducing new threads while adding to the current plot. There are a lot of issues covered in many different forms, such as love and loss. You will keep turning the pages at a rapid rate!

I’m looking forward to revisiting the Nightingale Girls soon and seeing what another year of training has in store for them.

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