Saturday, October 3, 2009

book reviews: the rossetti letter and the devlin diary by christi phillips

I read lots of great reviews of The Devlin Diary when it came out this spring, and I eagerly requested it from the library, and was in love with it until I realized about fifty pages in that it was not the first book in the series. At this point, I was too invested in the story and characters to stop and read The Rossetti Letter first, so I kept going. I still loved both books, but I strongly encourage other readers to start with The Rossetti Letter. I'm usually so good at doublechecking to see if novels appear in a series. In this case, it certainly wasn't the end of the world.

The Rossetti Letter:

Synopsis (adapted from publisher): Claire Donovan has always dreamed of visiting Venice, and she's finishing her Ph.D. thesis on Alessandra Rossetti, a mysterious courtesan who wrote a secret letter to the Venetian Council warning of a Spanish plot to overthrow the Venetian Republic in 1618. Claire views Alessandra as a heroine and harbors a secret hope that her findings will elevate Alessandra to a more prominent place in history. But an arrogant Cambridge professor is set to present a paper at a prestigious Venetian university denouncing Alessandra as a co-conspirator -- a move that could destroy Claire's paper and career. As Claire races to locate the documents that will reveal the courtesan's true motives, Alessandra's story comes to life with all the sensuality, political treachery, and violence of seventeenth-century Venice. Claire also falls under the city's spell.

Review: I already knew and loved Claire, but it was refreshing to get some more background on her life. Perhaps because I'm in graduate school, I easily identified with her as she sought to finish her dissertation and find a job. The story alternates between Alessandra's life in 1618 and Claire's modern day life. The stories worked well together, and I found myself equally interested in both. Venice is always a divine book setting, and the city was almost a character in this novel. I will say I initially had a hard time remembering some of the characters from the 1600's, but the list of characters at the front of the book was quite helpful and jogged my memory. My one complaint about the book is trivial: I wanted a map. Venice is such a huge part of the story, and I'm reasonably familiar with the city (I've visited twice), but I still pulled out maps to see where the action was. There was a sense that the relative geography had more importance than it actually did. I always appreciate maps at the beginning of books, and this one would have been an especially good candidate.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) - loved it

The Devlin Diary

Synopsis (adapted from publisher): 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. Cambridge, 2008. Teaching history at Trinity College is Claire Donovan's dream come true -- until someone is found dead on the banks of the River Cam. The only key to the 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.

Review: The Devlin Diary is told in the same manner as The Rossetti Letter: it alternates between Claire's modern life and Hannah Devlin's life in the 1600's. I loved both stories, although I was slightly more interested in the modern tale than the ancient one. Looking at the research through Claire's eyes provided more insight into a time I know very little about. Hannah Devlin is an extraordinary character, but I can't imagine befriending her even if we lived at the same time. Still, her story is remarkable, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Once again, with so many characters, I frequently used the handy list of historic characters.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5) - loved it

After enjoying two smart historical mysteries, Christi Phillips is going on my Read Every Word author list.


  1. Fabulous review! I haven't yet read either of these, but am so glad for your heads-up so I can read them in proper order!

  2. Both of these books are on my shelf waiting to be read. Your review (as someone that has read both books) has definitely pushed these books to the front of the line, as my next books to read.

    Kristine R. in NH

    1. Kristine, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!


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