Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Juliet by Anne Fortier

A library patron recommended Juliet, and initially I wasn't so sure about it. Publisher's Weekly called it "The Da Vinci Code for the smart modern women," which made me gag. I hated The DaVinci Code, and I generally shy away from bestsellers and romances. But I was pleasantly surprised by Juliet. Sure, it's cheesy, but it turns Shakespeare's classic love story around and makes it feel new. The last book I read, The Weird Sisters, was bad because the Shakespearean quotes were random and seemed like a pretentious afterthought rather than an integral part of the story. Juliet was the opposite; the story couldn't exist without the Bard's play.

Here's a synopsis: Julie Jacobs and her twin sister Janice were orphaned at a young age and raised by their Aunt Rose. When Rose passes away, she leaves Julie the key to Julie's mother's safe deposit box in Italy. Julie travels to Siena, Italy and unravels her mother's oblique clues to discover that she may be descended from Giulietta Tolomei, the "real" Juliet whose story inspired Shakespeare.

In 1340, Giulietta and Romeo Marescotti fell in love, but a powerful and sadistic man named Salimbeni came between them. More than 600 years later, the Tolomei, Marescotti, and Salimbeni families are still at odds. Julie has unknown enemies, and as long as she stays in Italy, she is in danger. But if she can stay alive and locate Romeo and Giulietta's hidden tomb, she will find a priceless treasure. Meanwhile, Julie is falling for a man who belongs to an enemy family... Oh, those Tolomei girls!

It's improbable, melodramatic, and over-the-top. But it's also a fun bit of escapism, with a surprising amount of tension. I can't help but like it, because it belongs to my favorite mini-genre: Woman travels to Europe and goes to the library to solve a family mystery. There are so many of these stories (really!), and I love them all.

Of course, the book isn't perfect. Like The Da Vinci Code, this story has flat characters. Julie is a blank slate with no life. She has no friends, home, job, or ambition, and I cared more about the mysterious bad guys than about her. Julie's romance is the weakest part of the story. Who cares that she's falling in love? She's boring! Also, some of the dialogue is inexcusably awkward, and Janice's lines make me want to barf. Just TRY to read "riding the love bus into cherry town" without cringing. Who talks like that?! Still, I recommend it because the narrative tension makes it hard to put down. I was even reading it while I got dressed for work in the morning. And if I can't bring myself to stop reading, I know it's a well-told story.

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