Monday, June 29, 2009

Review: The Devlin Diary

Summary: From the acclaimed author of The Rossetti Letter comes a dazzling novel of intrigue, passion, and royal secrets that shifts tantalizingly between Restoration-era London and present-day Cambridge.

London, 1672. The past twelve years have brought momentous changes: the restoration of the monarchy, a devastating plague and fire. Yet the city remains a teeming, thriving metropolis, energized by the lusty decadence of Charles II's court and burgeoning scientific inquiry. Although women enjoy greater freedom, they are not allowed to practice medicine, a restriction that physician Hannah Devlin evades by treating patients that most other doctors shun: the city's poor.

But Hannah has a special knowledge that Secretary of State Lord Arlington desperately needs. At the king's Machiavellian court, Hannah attracts the attention of two men, charming courtier Ralph Montagu and anatomist Dr. Edward Strathern, as well as the attention of the powerful College of Physicians, which views her work as criminal. When two influential courtiers are found brutally murdered, their bodies inscribed with arcane symbols, Hannah is drawn into a dangerous investigation by Dr. Strathern, who believes the murders conceal a far-reaching conspiracy that may include Hannah's late father and the king himself.

Cambridge, 2008. Teaching history at Trinity College is Claire Donovan's dream come true -- until one of her colleagues is found dead on the banks of the River Cam. The only key to the professor's unsolved murder is a seventeenth century diary kept by his last research subject, Hannah Devlin, physician to the king's mistress. With help from the eclectic collections of Cambridge's renowned libraries, Claire and historian Andrew Kent follow the clues Devlin left behind, uncovering secrets of London's dark past and Cambridge's equally murky present, and discovering that events of three hundred years ago may still have consequences today....

A suspenseful and richly satisfying tale brimming with sharply observed historical detail,
The Devlin Diary brings past and present to vivid life. With wit and grace, Christi Phillips holds readers spellbound with an extraordinary novel of secrets, obsession, and the haunting power of the past. -- Pocket Books

I was very excited to read THE DEVLIN DIARY by Christi Phillips because it just sounded like a book that I would really enjoy. Historical fiction has got to be one of my very favorite genres, and it seems like the books that go back and forth between the past and present day are especially appealing to me. I was not disappointed in the slightest! I loved THE DEVLIN DIARY and I hated to even put it down.

Before I go into my review, I have to tell you about my one regret. I really wish that I had read Ms. Phillips prior book THE ROSSETTI LETTER first. It wasn't necessary to read this book to have an understanding the characters -- THE DEVLIN DIARY definitely can stand alone and be enjoyed; however, I just loved this book so much that I felt as if I were missing out by not reading the books in order! Needless to say, I will be reading THE ROSETTI LETTER in the near future.

As you can see, I am so excited about this book that I barely know where to start! While I was reading THE DEVLIN DIARY, I kept telling everyone that it was just so good. I think my husband was getting a little annoyed with me. I guess the storyline is the first thing that really struck me as being special. Often times when I read a book that takes place in the past and the present, I find myself only interested in one of the story lines. That wasn't the case in the novel. I enjoyed both the stories and characters equally (whether they took place in current day or the 1670 London.) I also thought the historical parts of this story were extremely interesting, and it's very clear that Ms. Phillips did a great job with her research. I loved the way she incorporated the factual information with the fictional elements of this book. I also really appreciated the mystery aspects of the novel, and I loved how the story and the mystery eventually unfolded.

Besides the plot of THE DEVLIN DIARY, I also found myself liking the characters and how the author chose to develop them. It was very easy for me to like Claire and I enjoyed "being along" for her research. I also enjoyed seeing her interactions with Andrew (that's one of the reasons I want to read the first book), and I couldn't help but root for them to realize their feelings for each other. I also really liked Hannah, and I thought her character was developed so well. Hannah was a very complex character; and she was also a feminist and way ahead of her time. I really enjoyed reading about her (and her actions), and I found her so interesting because she was such a flawed character.

I hope I'm not building up expectations too much for this novel, but I was also really impressed with Ms. Phillips and her writing. I've already mentioned that I couldn't put this book down, and that was the case from the first few pages -- I was drawn into the story right away. I loved how the author was able to go back and forth between the time periods without missing a beat; and I was very impressed with how she tied the two different story lines together. I also thought her attention to detail, especially pertaining to the historical parts, was terrific. You can learn more about Ms. Phillips by reading this interview and this special feature called Christi Phillips Revealed.

I highly recommend reading THE DEVLIN DIARY as a future book club pick. The storyline is intriguing, the characters are interesting, and I'm pretty sure that everyone will enjoy reading the book. I was very excited to see that there is a reading guide available for this novel, and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the questions. There is a great deal to discuss in this novel including the characters' actions, the different time periods, and the themes of honesty and feminism. I also liked that the reading guide included some ideas for enhancing your meeting including menu ideas and links to the historical information in the book.

Check out these other tour stops:

S. Krishna’s Books

All About {n}
Jenn’s Bookshelf
Beth Fish Reads
The Literate Housewife Review
Book Soulmates
Chick With Books
Gimme More Books
We Be Reading
Book Bird Dog
Bookin’ with “BINGO”
My Friend Amy
Books and Needlepoint
A Working Title
Must Read Faster
Shhh I’m Reading
Debbie’s World of Books
The Tome Traveller’s Weblog
Write for a Reader
A Sea of Books
I Heart Monster
Pick of the Literate
Kingdom Books Blog
Drey’s Library
The Jaydit Reader
A Book Bloggers Diary

Thanks to Sarah from Pocket Books for allowing me to participate in THE DEVLIN DIARY blog tour.


bermudaonion said...

That book sounds like a perfect match for you! I'd like to give it a try one day. Great review.

Lezlie said...

If you enjoyed this, you'll love The Rossetti Letter! I hope you have a chance to read it soon!


Kim said...

Historical novels are my fav, too. I am really big on the covers of books as well to attract my interest. This one is beautiful. I'll check into it. Thanks.

The Tome Traveller said...

I loved this book! When I agreed to review it for the tour I didn't realize that it was a sequel. Like you, I much, much prefer to read series books in order. But in this case I was already committed. Can't wait to read The Rossetti Letter, I'm sure I'll love it, too!

Heather said...

Loved, loved, loved this book. I just finished it yesterday and I too wish I had read the Rosetti Letter.
Great website, just came across it tonight. Thanks!

Liz said...

I've not heard of this one and when I saw the "1672" part wasn't interested -- UNTIL I saw the link to 2008. That sounds interesting. I'll take your advice on reading the earlier book first, I think.

I have a book that I think is perfect for book clubs, "The Replacement Child," by July Mandel. It's a memoir of how she was literally "born of fire," as the replacement for her sister who is killed (and her other sister burned) when a plane crashes into their house. (Can you even imagine?) This has got so many good themes for book clubs, including loss, coping with loss, the effects of horrific incidents on a family, and even the recovery after losing a child. She interweaves the story of that day with the story of her own life. It's gut-wrenching -- and uplifting and hopeful, too.

Liz said...

I also wanted to add -- so many of you loved "Devlin Diary" that I'm going to have to put it on hold. All those positives have to mean something!