Three nurses, a ghost and a computer genius

The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas / For One More Tomorrow by Elizabeth Bailey / Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Happy New Year! With a backlog of books read near the end of 2012 still to write about, I am starting 2013 with reviews of not just one book but three. Apologies in advance for the length of this post…I thought these were going to be mini-reviews but they turned out to be longer than I expected!

The Nightingale Girls The Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas

The Nightingale Girls is set in the 1930s and follows the stories of three student nurses at one of London’s top teaching hospitals, the Nightingale.

Life is not easy for Dora Doyle, who comes from a poor, working class family from the East End of London. Dora sometimes feels out of place among the other, richer girls at the Nightingale and is struggling to find money to buy the books she needs, but she is determined to succeed, partly because she’s passionate about nursing but also because she’s desperate to get away from her abusive stepfather. The aristocratic Lady Amelia Benedict, known as Millie, is from a very different social background to Dora, with whom she shares a room. Millie wants to build a life for herself away from her luxurious home and glamorous friends, but as she is constantly finding herself in trouble and has already failed her preliminary training exams once, it’s going to be difficult to prove that she’s serious about her nursing. The third girl we meet is Helen Tremayne, a second year student. Her domineering mother is on the hospital’s board of trustees and her brother is a doctor, so expectations are high. Helen works hard, but has trouble making friends, especially as the other girls don’t trust her because of her mother.

At first it seems that Dora, Helen and Millie have nothing in common but as they get to know each other during their long, hard days at the Nightingale, a bond begins to form between the three of them. I didn’t feel I got to know Helen as well as the other two but I loved both Dora and Millie. Dora was completely inspirational and a perfect example of someone managing to fulfil her dreams through sheer determination and hard work. And the rebellious but warm-hearted Millie was so endearing. Through her story we see that money and possessions are not everything and that true happiness can come through doing something that we love. There are some great secondary characters too, including the spiteful and snobby but bitterly unhappy Lucy Lane, and the Doyles’ neighbour, Nick, who is desperately trying to make enough money to take his little brother to America. Dora’s grandmother, Nanna Winnie, was another favourite.

It was so interesting to see what was involved in being a trainee nurse in the 1930s. The book shows us the hardships of nursing, but there are also lots of moments of fun and humour, including one hilarious scene involving false teeth. As a historical novel, the setting of 1930s London is wonderful, whether we’re reading about the streets in the East End where the Doyle family live or an afternoon eating cakes and drinking tea at Lyons’ Corner House! The Nightingale Girls is the first in a series of novels about the Nightingale Hospital and I will look forward to reading the others.

Thanks to Random House for sending me a review copy of The Nightingale Girls

For One More Tomorrow For One More Tomorrow by Elizabeth Bailey

For One More Tomorrow, currently available as an ebook, tells the story of Sadie Grey, who is directing a production of Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. Growing frustrated and disillusioned with some of the actors in the play and their inability to inject real passion into their roles, Sadie is stunned when she meets the ghost of Macbeth himself. Soon Mac, as Sadie calls him, seems to be invading her thoughts and taking over her life, and as her relationship with the ghost develops there are some surprises in store for both Sadie and the reader!

At first Sadie wonders whether Macbeth’s ghost has been produced from her own imagination – he looks and sounds exactly as she had pictured him in her mind, even wearing tartan like the characters in Sadie’s play despite the fact that she knows the real Macbeth would not have done so. And yet it seems that Mac does have an existence of his own outside of her imagination, and some sections of the story are seen from his point of view, as he roams the streets alone or watches rehearsals from the shadows at the side of the stage. Through his own thoughts and his conversations with Sadie, we see that he is not very pleased at the way the story of his life has been distorted by Shakespeare; he’s angry and hurt that his reputation has been damaged and history has been altered in the name of entertainment.

I haven’t read all of Shakespeare’s plays but I have read Macbeth more than once and it’s probably the play I’m most familiar with. I could sympathise with Sadie, who clearly has a real understanding and love of the play; she knows how she wants the actors and actresses to play their roles and it annoys her when they do not portray their characters as she wants to see them portrayed…especially Curtis, the man who is playing Macbeth. I did enjoy the parts of the book that deal with the rehearsals for the play and the problems Sadie encounters as director, but my favourite scenes were those in which Sadie is interacting with the ghost. For One More Tomorrow was an unusual and imaginative story and I’m sure the next time I read Macbeth I’ll remember Mac and how he felt about Shakespeare’s words.

Thanks to the author for sending me a review copy of this book

Goodbye for Now Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Sam Elling is a computer software engineer who works for an online dating company based in Seattle. Sam has created a new computer algorithm to help people find their perfect partner, but it proves to be too successful as people are meeting their soulmates too quickly and don’t need to use the dating agency anymore. As a result he loses his job but it’s not long before he comes up with another invention.

When Sam’s girlfriend Meredith loses her beloved grandmother, Livvie, she tells him she wishes she could speak to Livvie one more time. Wanting to help in any way he can, Sam creates a computer program based on the online presence Livvie has left behind, including emails, texts and videos. Meredith is shocked but overjoyed to discover that she can now continue to chat to Livvie and exchange emails just as she used to when her grandmother was alive. Soon Sam and Meredith decide to give other bereaved people the same opportunity to communicate with loved ones who are no longer with them, but they are not prepared for the number of moral issues they will have to face.

Different people have different ways of dealing with grief and what works for one person will not necessarily work for everyone. I can’t imagine ever wanting to use this type of technology myself and I tend to agree with the characters in the story who found the whole idea creepy and disturbing. However, I still thought it was fascinating to read about. There’s nothing paranormal involved and the software Sam invents sounds completely believable from a scientific point of view.

With death and grief forming such a big part of this book I had expected something very sad and emotional, but the story was actually not as moving as I had thought it might be. That could be because the main characters – Sam, Meredith, her cousin Dashiell and their clients – are all so ‘nice’ that I had difficulty believing in them as real people and didn’t manage to fully connect with them. What I did love about this novel was the number of thought-provoking questions it raises by showing us how the world reacts to Sam’s controversial new technology and telling the stories of the people who decide to use it.

Is chatting to a computer generated image of a friend or relative who has died really a good idea or is it better to let the grieving process take its natural course? Can social media actually be isolating rather than social? Are there things that our loved ones may have said or done online that we would be better off not knowing about? What about privacy? Nobody seemed to have any problems with allowing Sam to access their family member’s emails, blog, internet browsing history or Facebook and Twitter accounts, but I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. Goodbye for Now may not have been a perfect novel but has left me musing on all of these questions and more.

Thanks to Headline for the review copy of Goodbye for Now

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21 thoughts on “Three nurses, a ghost and a computer genius”

          1. Helen,

            Thanks for the link. I was unable to find the US version, so I appreciate your sending this to me. Now it’s on my list. (Perhaps I’ll be the first US reviewer.)

  1. I like the sound of The Nightingale Girls, my sort of book. Will look out for this. I still have one more book of 2012 to review, and get it posted sometime in January.

    1. Yes, I think The Nightingale Girls might be your type of book, Jo! I have a few more 2012 books to review, but I’ll spread them out over the next few weeks.

  2. Happy New Year, Helen.
    I love books about the ’30’s so the The Nightingale Girls appeals and the Macbeth story also sounds interesting.

    1. I love the 1930s too, but I don’t seem to read many books set in that period. I thought The Nightingale Girls captured the feel of the 30s perfectly.

  3. My mother was a nurse, and when I was young I planned to go to nursing school too – and I read (a bit obsessively) different young adult novels about nursing schools. I was particulary fond of the Sue Barton books. I defintely want to read The Nightingale Girls!

    When you finish Dunnett’s House of Niccolo books, will you be reading her novel of Macbeth (Thorfinn), King Hereafter?

    1. Yes, I definitely want to read King Hereafter! I already have a copy waiting on my shelf, though when I finish Gemini I’ll probably take a break to catch up on some of the other books from my TBR first.

  4. From the cover I wouldn’t have expected the story you’ve described for The Nightingale Girls – the cover looks so much more focused on hospitals than characters. Goodbye For Now, yes to weird and creepy!

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