I have to admit that I tend to pick up books because they have eye-catching covers. I know, as a librarian I should never judge a book by it's cover, but people put a lot of effort into designing covers to do exactly that. This is one of those books that delights both the eyes and the mind. Gabriella is headstrong and determined to find the father whom she treasured and who subsequently vanished into his travels 10 years prior. An intelligent woman in Venice, a doctor no less, and constant source of disappointment to her mother, Gabriella sets out to follow the path of her father's letters learning to love again and to accept the truth she refused to acknowledge.
While I really enjoyed this story and the characters that Regina O'Melveny was able to create, I found the interactions somewhat unbelievable. Setting out in the late 1500s from Venice to: Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Scotland, and finally Northern Africa (Tangiers) would have been a terribly hard journey for a man, let alone a woman with two servants. Gabriella seems to have an inexhaustible source of money although we know her father has been gone for ten years and the doctor's guild has revoked her permission to practice medicine. In addition, Gabriella mentions her German and English being only passable, yet after a few halting phrases she is able to converse perfectly with anyone in these places. I also found the attitude to her somewhat lenient. Yes, a female would have had somewhat difficult interactions with men because of her gender in the time period in question, but the men Gabriella encounters outside of Venice mostly seem to encourage and admire her intelligence and her medicinal skills when that would probably not have been the case in real life.
My problems with the book out of the way, I really really loved the little entrances in the Book of Diseases that pepper the book. The little tales are folk stories and folk remedies most likely made up by the author, but this book is a celebration of folk tales and the best folk stories are somewhat made up or altered by the teller. I really felt like I was following Gabriella, Olmina and Lorenzo throughout Europe. The writing style was expressive and very detailed and certainly draws the reader into the story. I can be a sucker for romances, and I think that the love interests in this story are set up to be very sweet, the ending definitely makes you say "aw" even though several of the encounters end up bittersweet.
I would only gaive this book 4 stars even though I really loved it. I think the little issues I had with the details of the story prevent me from saying that it was amazing, but I certainly would recommend this book without hesitation.