Tuesday Reviews-Day: The Nightingale Girls Series

Tuesday Revews-Day

In addition to the usual Nancy Drew and Little Women books (yes, there is more than one of the latter in the series) that Mom had on her bookshelf when I was growing up, she also had a handful of the Cherry Ames books–a series that followed the training and career of a a nurse and amateur sleuth. The books never made me want to be a nurse (both the sight of blood and needles gets me a bit shaky) but I loved the series nonetheless.

So when I heard about the Nightingale Girls series, set in the 1930s at the famed Nightingale hospital, that was just recently released in the US, I jumped at the chance to review the first three books in the series.


Book 1, the The Nightingale Girls, follows the Dora, Millie, and Helen. Dora is applying to the prestigious nursing academy to escape a harsh home situation, Millie is trying to pass her preliminary testing, putting her a set behind, and Helen is the school’s social outcast owing to her overbearing mother’s position on the Board of Trustees.


In Book 2, The Nightingale Sisters, we keep up with Dora and Millie but also meet the new Night Sister, Violet, who has a history that could oust her from the nursing world if she trusts the wrong person with it. Neither Helen nor any of the other nurses we met in Book 1 have been forgotten, but each book seems to focus on no more than three strong personalities.


Then, in Book 3, The Nightingale Nurses, we focus again on Helen, in her last year as a student nurse and facing exams and a dark-horse bid for independence. Dora and Millie, constants so far in the series, are nursing patients as well as broken hearts and they each deal with troubles in the romance department.

Aside from the fact that I just enjoy series–the ability to follow along with characters for multiple stories is a treat, like catching up with old friends–I appreciate the fact that the author, Donna Douglas doesn’t keep the character’s home lives peachy keen, even-keel and reserve the mysteries and challenges only for the hospital floors. Douglas may have gone a little too far in the real life problems for my taste, in the case of Dora’s abusive father, but she handled it well to keep it from being salacious. And it’s not just the girls from the East End that have their troubles, Millie is trying to do prove her worth before settling down and producing an heir so the family’s home and title don’t pass on to some distant relation–very Downton Abbey whereas Womans Own magazine likes the series more to Call the Midwife.

Of course, once I’d devoured the three books I’d been supplied for the review, I had to see if there were more available. So far they’ve only been released digitally in the US, but there is a fourth book, Nightingales on Call, as well as a short story, A Child is Born: A Nightingale Christmas Story, that seems to take place between ‘Nurses’ and ‘On Call.’ Both were excellent (even if the short was a bit predictable, it was still a fun read) and I’m so glad I didn’t stop at ‘Nurses’ because Nightingales on Call brings us to the end of Mille & Dora’s journey as students, while introducing some new characters as well as shedding some light on one of the less-likable characters from the first three books.

The next book in the series, A Nightingale Christmas Wish, is due out in early November and focuses on Helen and two other nurses–including the Matron of the Hospital, Kathleen Fox. I know I’m looking forward to the next book and would definitely recommend the Nightingale series to anyone who enjoys Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, or similar entertainments.


Tuesday Reviews-Day: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney

Tuesday Revews-Day

When Hell’s Kitchen first aired in 2005 I remember my mom complaining about Gordon Ramsay’s combative tone and frequent swearing. All I could respond with was, yeah, that sounds about right. I was about 5 years out of Culinary School and no longer working in hospitality at all, but what I saw on the episodes I’d seen reminded me a lot of Gil, the executive chef when I started at the Plantation, who had a favorite phrase of resigned disappointment (F— me sideways with a brick) and a hatred of being called Sir (which, in the South, takes a lot of effort to break that habit).


A professional kitchen is not just a bigger, busier version of dinnertime at home, it’s a well-oiled machine that relies on a handful of people juggling a lot of roles in too little space with too little time. It’s carefully orchestrated chaos. And Michael Gibney does an excellent job of describing 24 hours of that chaos, and the life and reasons behind it, in Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line.

Using second-person narrative (a la a Choose Your Own Adventure book), Gibney begins your day in his shoes, arriving at the NYC restaurant. Reading about the stillness of the kitchen in the morning reminded me of days I’d get to work around 10 am–the kitchen would be finished with breakfast service, the Chef would normally be in his office, if already there at all, and I’d have the space to myself to start my prep list for the day. Other days–big events or holidays–I’d walk in and there’d already be steam and bustle and you just had to jump right into it.

As Gibney gears up for service–in this case not an occupation but the time when the restaurant is actively serving guests–the tension of all those years ago came back to me. Honestly, I hated service. I was a pastry specialists for many reasons, but one of them is that I don’t like the constant frenetic pace of being on the line. The author does an amazing job of putting you there in the middle of the action, getting you into his head as he goes from working the pass (checking and grouping items for the Executive Chef to plate and send to the front of the house) to working the fist station because his cook goes down sick in the middle of a 300-cover night.

But it’s not a best or worst case scenario of a night in a restaurant kitchen–any of the instances recounted in Gibney’s 24 hours (which includes prep and service as well as getting off work in the wee hours, going to a bar with coworkers, and then getting up the next morning to work Brunch, hungover) could and do happen in countless restaurants on any given day. I’d witnessed scenarios like these and many more (and much worse) in my brief kitchen career (the fact that Gibney includes the pastry chef and baker as almost a footnote, with said professionals coming in only twice a week, is a good hint at why I made the choice of a desk job to be able to pay my bills all those years ago).

If you’ve ever wondered what a day in the life of a chef is like, this is one of the better records I’ve come across. There’s no grandstanding, there’s also no sugar-coating. The cadence of the kitchen pulls you through each page of this relatively quick read. There’s even a little philosophizing that goes on–the benefit of a Friday night/Saturday morning reflection, not to mention the perogative of the reporting writer–that really sums up what working in food is all about (or needs to be, in my opinion, in order to survive it).

…every guest is a VIP. They all deserve to be looked after, cared for. We are here to cook for people. Alimentation: the provision of nourishment–this is what we do. And we continue doing it long into the night, not because we favor adversity, but because we know that in doing so we get the chance to create with our hands something that sustains people and brings them joy. …

The self isn’t even part of the equation. Cooking is altruism. It’s not about you. It never will be. It’s only about what you do for others. And that’s what hits me where I live. There is honor in it.

Reading Sous Chef was a trip down memory lane, but not one that made me miss kitchen work in the least. It’s a hard life to choose “Ten years in this industry is like two dozen in another,” he writes, and looking at many of the chefs I knew I can see the ravages of that accelerated time. Yet there’s also the part that never leaves us: “No matter how much time you spend away from the kitchen…cooking will always keep calling you back.” I still love to cook for others, to see the enjoyment on their faces, but I’m very clear that I consider myself a former chef, no longer a practicing hospitality professional, but chef still at heart.

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line was published by Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine on March 25. I was provided a digital copy for purpose of review.