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.

The books I picked & why

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A Fall of Marigolds

By Susan Meissner,

Book cover of A Fall of Marigolds

Why 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.


Sisters of the Great War

By Suzanne Feldman,

Book cover of Sisters of the Great War

Why 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.


The Pull of the Stars

By Emma Donoghue,

Book cover of The Pull of the Stars

Why 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.


The Light of Luna Park

By Addison Armstrong,

Book cover of The Light of Luna Park

Why 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.


The War Nurse

By Tracey Enerson Wood,

Book cover of The War Nurse

Why 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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