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The Doctor and the Diva: A Novel Hardcover – July 22, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her book-club friendly debut, McDonnell weaves the intriguing tale of an early 20th-century opera singer torn between her career and motherhood. Erika von Kessler, a mezzo-soprano of some regard, and her husband, Peter Myrick, have been trying without success to conceive a child for all six years of their marriage. They seek out the expertise of Dr. Ravell, a Boston obstetrician renowned for his fertility successes. Ravell, mesmerized by Erika's beauty and talent, vows to do anything to help the couple realize their dream of children, even if it means deceiving them, which, of course, it does. Meanwhile, Erika isn't so sure about her desire for motherhood and secretly makes plans to leave her husband and pursue fame in Italy. McDonnell bases the story on her family history and expertly incorporates surprising facts about the history of fertility research into a twisting tale of miscommunication, love, and unrealized dreams. (July)
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From Booklist

Erika von Kessler, the talented and beautiful daughter in a family of doctors, has a powerful and unique singing voice, a possessive husband who desperately wants a child, and the drive to triumph as an operatic singer. Erika's childlessness is the focal point of the first part of this story—set in America, Italy, and Trinidad before World War I—since it brings her into contact with attractive and technically advanced obstetrician Dr. Ravell, ultimately the love of her life and father of her children. Structurally complex, each of the book's six sections details a different aspect of Erika's relationship to husband Peter and Dr. Ravell (who, oddly enough is the only person in the book without a first name) and the development of her singing career in Florence. The omniscient narrator permits the author to use a variety of techniques and produces both depth of character development and a strong sense of place. In this conventional novel about unconventional people, the strong characterization and lushly descriptive writing will please fans of historical romances. --Ellen Loughran

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books; First Edition edition (July 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670021881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670021888
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,059,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By J. P. VINE VOICE on July 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA is Adrienne McDonnell's debut novel and in this reader's opinion, it is a very successful one. The book centers around an extremely talented woman, Erika Myrick, her wealthy and business-minded husband, Peter, and a successful obstetrician, Dr. Ravell. Erika and Peter have been trying to get pregnant for many years, but without any success. By the time they consult Dr. Ravell, Erika has given up any desire she may have had to become a mother and has resolved to finally go to Italy and pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer. Peter is almost desperate that his wife become pregnant, due to both his longing for a child and his need to bind Erika to him in what he assumes will be an irrevocable manner. Ravell is caught in the middle, torn between wanting to give the Myricks the child they've been hoping for, see Erika fulfill her dream, and do what he can to keep her near him. A spontaneous decision by one of these characters acts as a catalyst for all that follows, as their competing desires inexorably push them down a path of unintended consequences. This book explores the strange dynamic that emerges between a married couple and their doctor and how each of their choices and actions impact their own lives, as well as one another's.

McDonnell used her husband's family history as inspiration for this book: his great-grandmother left her husband and young son to pursue a singing career in Italy. The author says she felt conflicted about the idea of a woman abandoning her family for the sake of her art: "Did I admire her and want to applaud her courage? Or was it heartbreaking that she'd deserted her little boy?" (from the author's website).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Colleen T. on October 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
I wrote the following review for the website Reader Unboxed.

The Doctor and the Diva is quite unlike any novel I have read before. We not only learn the history of modern fertility research and treatments but are introduced to wholly original characters that make decidedly human choices with often unseen consequences. Adrienne McDonnell has a descriptive style that has you tasting the salty sweat and tears right along with her characters. Each personage is fully developed enough for you to sympathize with them even when you see the disaster that inevitably lies ahead.

Erika, by far my favorite character, is truly a woman before, or outside of, her time. Her ambition and passion is for music and singing and, while she does love her husband at the onset of the novel, is tired of living a life she no longer wants. By the time Dr. Ravell enters her life she has already decided she is not meant to have a child with her husband, Peter, and is ready to leave for Italy and the life she does in fact wish to have. Ravell's quick obsession and friendship with both Erika and Peter leads him to make a drastic, very unethical choice that will keep them in his life and, he thinks, make them both happy as well. His actions start them on a path that leads to a unique love triangle and new passions for each of them.

One of my favorite storylines was Erika's unwavering determination to travel to Italy and do everything in her power to become the opera diva her God-given talent required her to be. She lets nothing - not a husband, not society, not even a child - stop her from reaching her goals. While I didn't agree with all the choices she made, I had to admire her for doing what she felt she needed to do.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dorothyanne VINE VOICE on October 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There are many elements in this novel that ring of truth. The story is believable and well-paced, right down to a climax that led me to almost shout aloud, "No! It can't happen like this!" The descriptions of what it feels like to release the music inside--to sing well--are so true that the author has to have felt that herself, but how did she find the right words? The overriding truth of this novel, though, is that all of us make choices that, no matter what the motivation, force us to face consequences we may not have anticipated.

I think this novel would be a great book club selection and is for anyone who loves music and/or travel to a tropical paradise or Italy at the turn of the 20th century.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tiffany A. Harkleroad VINE VOICE on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Erika von Kessler is an up and coming singer on the Boston Opera scene in the early 1900s. She longs to move to Italy, to launch an international career; her husband, however, longs to start a family. After several years without pregnancy, they begin to see specialists, until they are referred to the beloved Dr. Ravell, notorious for success among couples struggling to conceive. When Ravell secretly discovers the husbands sterility, he takes drastic measures to insure the couple conceives, only to see the baby be stillborn. Following this tragedy, scandal chases him from Boston, and the couple later follow him to Trinidad to have him once again help them conceive. The results of that trip will forever alter the lives of so many people, including several innocent children.

What a lush, gorgeous novel this was. A read can tell when a book is written out of love and passion, as this one so obviously was. The jacket notes indicate that aspects of the story were based on some family letters and history, and I think McDonnell truly made the story come alive. While the book was quite long, spanning several years and various locations, each time and place setting was described in perfect detail, so that it truly came alive in my mind.

I loved the characters of Erika and Ravell, and seeing how this situation impacted their lives, each without the others knowledge. It was interesting to see how infertility was handled in this time period, and to know that some doctors were truly using cutting edge technology, even then. I found the topics quite interesting and unusual.

The language is rich and decadent at times, but I loved every minute of it. For once, I found myself really trying to draw a book out, because I knew when it was over, I would feel a sense of loss. I savored each tiny morsel of the text, and allowed my heart to break a little at the conclusion of each successive part. A wonderful historical drama, with a nice romantic substory.
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