The Nightingale Girls: Nightingale Nurses #1 by Donna Douglas

Blending pre-war history, personal history and the early 20th century East End of London, Donna Douglas brings us the story of three unconventional friends as they make a commitment to a career.   It is difficult NOT to make comparisons to the BBC drama Call The Midwife, where we follow a group of young women some 20 years later as they learn and practice in the impoverished area, and those who enjoy that series will most certainly find the Nightingale Nurses Series to their liking.

George V has just died – and the country is mourning, while the politicos are worried for their new king’s commitment, or lack thereof.  Dora, Helen and Millie are taking advantage of the reasonably new freedoms afforded women of all stations and have signed on as student nurses at a teaching hospital in the East End.

Douglas manages to weave the personal stories and histories of these young women – all chose their new profession to break out of their routines and change their lives in ways that are acceptable in society’s eyes.

Dora is, at this point, my favorite – overcoming an impoverished upbringing with an abusive stepfather: her choice to enroll is clearly to improve her own lot in life.  But she has to struggle for every gain: textbooks, time with new friends, the lot.

Helen comes from a solidly upper middle class background with a mother and brother involved in the hospital.  Helen’s mother is controlling and not particularly likable, and this has resulted in Helen’s retreat from life and friends.  She’s a loner, quietly pursuing her own interests out of her mother’s sphere of interference. But, the choice to nurse is one where she feels her mother can’t bother her, or make a mess of things.

Lastly there is Millie – Lady Amelia an aristocratic young woman with a passion for fun and a flair for flaunting the rules.  While she looks on most of life as a great adventure, can her two new friends help her to stay the course and not run back to her life of leisure, parties and wealth?

The interactions between the girls, the secondary characters and the insets of instruction are beautiful counterparts to the underlying story of the struggle to grow up and gather control of lives in ways that were unheard of at the turn of the century.   You get invested in the characters and are charmed by their personalities, even as you watch them struggle with the changes and chores.  This is a series opener that sets a wonderful tone, rich with history and the feel of the time, with just enough emotional pull to keep you rooting for the girls and wanting to know what comes next.

The Nightingale Girls: Nightingale Nurses #1 by Donna Douglas

Title: The Nightingale Girls
Author: Donna Douglas
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance
Published by: Arrow / Cornerstone
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 512
Audio Length: 15 Hours: 34 minutes
Rated: five-stars
Heat: One FlameOne Flame

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Three very different girls sign up as student nurses in January 1936, while England is still mourning the death of George V. Dora is a tough East Ender, driven by ambition, but also desperate to escape her squalid, overcrowded home and her abusive stepfather. Helen is the quiet one, a mystery to her fellow nurses, avoiding fun, gossip and the limelight. In fact she is in the formidable shadow of her overbearing mother, who dominates every aspect of her life. Can a nursing career free Helen at last? The third of our heroines is naughty, rebellious Millie -- aka Lady Camilla -- an aristocrat on the run from her conventional upper class life. She is doomed to clash over and over again with terrifying Sister Hyde and to get into scrape after scrape especially where men are concerned. This utterly delightful novel brings a London pre-war hospital vividly to life.

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About Donna Douglas

I’ve always loved telling stories. Even before I could hold a pen, I would sit on top of the coal bunker in our south London back yard, making up tales in my head. My greatest joy was when my grandmother bought me an exercise book, which I could fill with stories (a shiny new notebook still gives me a thrill now – oh, the endless possibilities of those empty pages!).

When I was 40, I published my first novel, Waiting in the Wings, under the name of Donna Hay. The novel won the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Award. Seven contemporary romantic comedies followed. But although I loved writing romance (and still do!), I always wanted to try something a bit grittier. So when my publisher suggested I might like to write some stories set in an East End hospital, I jumped at the chance.

I researched endlessly, talking to former nurses, reading books and journals and raiding archives. And the more I read, the more fascinated I became. I decided to start at the beginning of the story, with three students taking their first steps into nursing. I also decided to give them very different backgrounds, to see how they coped. And so The Nightingale Girls was born.

There are so many more stories to be told, and the more I research, the more I find. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them!

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