The best historical fiction with rockstar nurses

Connie Hertzberg Mayo Author Of The Sharp Edge of Mercy
By Connie Hertzberg Mayo

Who am I?

My mother went back to school for her PhD in Anatomy when I was a pre-teen. During the summers of my high school years I worked with her in her lab, and let me tell you, you see your mother in a new light when you see her dissect a rat. Though I didn’t go into medicine, anyone raised in our household learned an impressive amount of biology just sitting around the dinner table. Consequently, I’ve always loved fiction with a medical bent. My mother was also the one to introduce me to historical fiction, so perhaps I was fated to write a historical novel with a nurse protagonist.


I wrote...

The Sharp Edge of Mercy

By Connie Hertzberg Mayo,

Book cover of The Sharp Edge of Mercy

What is my book about?

Lillian Dolan is optimistic about her new job at the New York Cancer Hospital after dreaming for years of becoming a nurse. But she struggles to fit in, so when the confident surgeon Dr. Bauer takes a shine to Lillian, she is thrilled to be noticed.

Lillian has been warned not to get too close to the patients, but Mrs. Sokolova draws her in. When Mrs. Sokolova’s situation becomes dire, however, she puts Lillian in an impossible situation – all while the young nurse slowly loses control of her relationship with Dr. Bauer. Her decision to help her patient throws her life into chaos, and she must make a terrible choice: capitulate to Dr. Bauer’s demands or face possible arrest.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

A Fall of Marigolds

By Susan Meissner,

Book cover of A Fall of Marigolds

Why did I love this book?

In this two-timeline story set in New York City, a nurse at the quarantine station on Ellis Island in 1911 is connected to the wife of a 9/11 Twin Towers victim through a beautiful scarf that survives through the decades. The Triangle Shirtwaist factory disaster also figures into this story, so there is so much to learn here – including the need for nurses to scrub the scales off the skin of patients recovering from scarlet fever! Yikes.

By Susan Meissner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Fall of Marigolds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A beautiful scarf connects two women touched by tragedy in this compelling, emotional novel from the author of As Bright as Heaven and The Last Year of the War.

September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name embroidered onto the scarf he carries...and finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions…


Sisters of the Great War

By Suzanne Feldman,

Book cover of Sisters of the Great War

Why did I love this book?

Two sisters from Baltimore volunteer for WWI, one as a nurse, one as an ambulance driver. Though this isn’t a romance, each find love amid the gruesome reality of war – one with a doctor, one with another (female) ambulance driver. The sheer number of amputations will leave your head spinning.

By Suzanne Feldman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sisters of the Great War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by real women, this powerful novel tells the story of two unconventional American sisters who volunteer at the front during World War I

August 1914. While Europe enters a brutal conflict unlike any waged before, the Duncan household in Baltimore, Maryland, is the setting for a different struggle. Ruth and Elise Duncan long to escape the roles that society, and their controlling father, demand they play. Together, the sisters volunteer for the war effort—Ruth as a nurse, Elise as a driver.

Stationed at a makeshift hospital in Ypres, Belgium, Ruth soon confronts war’s harshest lesson: not everyone can be…


The Pull of the Stars

By Emma Donoghue,

Book cover of The Pull of the Stars

Why did I love this book?

In a 1918 Irish hospital, a nurse for mothers-to-be is in quarantine for three days due to a contagious flu.  Nurse Power, together with a rebellious doctor and a young volunteer, struggle to make it through, birthing babies while trying to keep all their patients alive without knowing what virus they are battling. Donoghue is always a treat to read, and the story is a solemn reminder that the 21st century didn’t invent pandemics.

By Emma Donoghue,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Pull of the Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Dublin, 1918, a maternity ward at the height of the Great Flu is a small world of work, risk, death, and unlooked-for love, in "Donoghue's best novel since Room" (Kirkus Reviews).

In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders—Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police, and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney.

In the darkness and intensity of this…


The Light of Luna Park

By Addison Armstrong,

Book cover of The Light of Luna Park

Why did I love this book?

A dual-time story written by a Vanderbilt undergraduate (!), this is the story of a nurse at the Coney Island incubator “exhibit” where premature babies were brought because hospitals did not want to invest in this new technology (yes, this really happened). In 1926, Nurse Anderson takes a failing baby there with intentions of returning it to the parents, and a special education teacher in the 1950s has a connection to that fateful decision. Another fascinating piece of history that is not well known.

By Addison Armstrong,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Light of Luna Park as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the spirit of The Orphan Train and Before We Were Yours, a historical debut about a nurse who chooses to save a baby's life, and risks her own in the process, exploring the ties of motherhood and the little-known history of Coney Island and America's first incubators.

A nurse's choice. A daughter's search for answers.

New York City, 1926. Nurse Althea Anderson's heart is near breaking when she witnesses another premature baby die at Bellevue Hospital. So when she reads an article detailing the amazing survival rates of babies treated in incubators in an exhibit at Luna Park, Coney…


The War Nurse

By Tracey Enerson Wood,

Book cover of The War Nurse

Why did I love this book?

Based on a real-life WWI nurse, this novel is about Julia Stimson who supervised dozens of British nurses in Rouen, France. Horrific battle injuries and a deadly influenza that infiltrates their camp put Julia to the test, all while she tries to advocate for her nursing staff and navigate the egos of some of the male doctors. But when one doctor falls for her, she must decide how this relationship squares with her career aspirations. This book is a wonderful way to learn about this amazing woman who wants to put her career first.

By Tracey Enerson Wood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The War Nurse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Any readers who enjoyed the mix of romance, intrigue, and medical accuracy of Call the Midwife will love The War Nurse."-New York Journal of Books
"[An] impeccably researched, well-drawn, based-on-a-true-story tale, written by a former RN...The War Nurse shines an important light on a woman whose story was, until now, lost to time."-Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names
Based on a true story, The War Nurse is a sweeping historical novel by USA Today bestselling author Tracey Enerson Wood that takes readers on an unforgettable journey through WWI France.
She asked dozens of…


You might also like...

The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

Book cover of The Rosewood Penny

J.S. Fields

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction. 

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band, they rob the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is, maybe more than Marani herself.

The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

What is this book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction.

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band they rob from the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is,…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in nurses, the Spanish flu, and nursing?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about nurses, the Spanish flu, and nursing.

Nurses Explore 26 books about nurses
The Spanish Flu Explore 21 books about the Spanish flu
Nursing Explore 23 books about nursing