The Nightingale Nurses by Donna Douglas

In brief: The third book in the Nightingale series returns to focus on Helen, Dora and Millie in 1930s London as the Blackshirts are gathering momentum. But there’s still love, patients and exams…

The good: Such a heart-warming book, it gives you a glow as the characters overcome adversity.

The not-so-good: One part is incredibly heart wrenching (not for reading in public).

Why I chose it: Enjoying the series and I love historical fiction with a medical focus. Thank you to Random House UK for the eARC.

Year: 2013

Pages: 448 (eBook)

Publisher: Arrow (Random House)

Setting: England

My rating: 9 out of 10

The Nightingale series by Donna Douglas is one of my comfort reads. I know I can always rely on her to give me a great story with plenty of action in a historical setting that feels realistic and without unnecessary details that scream, ‘Hello! You need to learn about history while you’re reading!’. The Nightingale Nurses is such compulsive reading, that if my credit card hadn’t of been hacked, I would have bought the next book in the series straight away. (As it happens, none of my local bookstores or libraries have book 4, so I’m in Nightingale purgatory at the moment –what happens next?!).

This series is set in a London training hospital (The Nightingale) in the 1930s and follows three young women doing their nursing training. We’ve met them all in the previous two books, but there is a brief recap if you’re new to the books. Helen is six months away from sitting her final exams to become a qualified nurse. She’s not under her mother’s domineering thumb quite as much, thanks to the positive influence of her boyfriend Charlie (who has mother hates with a passion). Dora is still in love with Nick, who is now married to Ruby. Dora’s new boyfriend is rather possessive and won’t take no for an answer. Nick’s got his own problems, with new wife Ruby enthralled with hire-purchase and keeping a few other secrets from Nick. Millie is somewhat of a lesser character in this book – not a great deal happens except a fear that she will lose her fiancé as he reports on the war in Spain. In the midst of this, there are patients to be looked after and the biggest tear-jerker moment I’ve read so far in the series. It’s full of anguish and pain and wow, it took the author some guts to do this to one of her main characters! (I’m not going to spoil this one for you, just don’t start reading this book late in the day).

There’s also some history in this book (but it’s not being rammed down your throat). The Blackshirts make several appearances and are responsible for several of the subplots. There’s brief mention of war overseas, but what really interested me was how the emergency department of the hospital was run in the 1930s! There’s some semblance of triage (‘the sicker, the quicker’ – i.e. the sicker you are, the faster you’re seen) with a nurse lording over the waiting room but there are only two doctors working in the department! This would be unheard of in a capital city hospital these days, especially in one that appears to as big as the Nightingale. As this was pre-NHS, I wonder how payment (if any) would have seen sought…but I think that’s a topic for another book.

The story is character driven and fast paced, making The Nightingale Nurses a wonderful comfort read about overcoming adversity and having fun at the same time. Highly recommended to those who read the Sue Barton nurse books growing up and fans of Call the Midwife.



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