July 29, 2012

Classic Romance/Modern Twist

Anne Fortier
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell
16 discs, 20 hours

This book hit the wrong nerve with me from the very beginning. I kept reading because I had an audiobook copy (so no effort, basically), and I got it in order to write a review. In the end, I'm glad I finished it, but I didn't necessarily like it. There are a few spoilers in this review, so if you feel you'd like to read the book and judge for yourself, please skip to the last paragraph where I give my recommendations. 

The story is about a modern awkward twenty something girl, Julie, with a twin sister, Janice (who is nothing but a cheesy cliche), whose parents had died when they were quite young, living in Italy. Since that time, and as far back as they can clearly remember, they'd lived in the States with their great aunt, Rose and a 'handy man' Umberto (can't find the spelling anywhere, so forgive me if it's incorrect). After the death of their aunt, Julie is given the task to go back to Siena, Italy to find/protect the family treasure. 

Obviously, from the title, you can discern that there is a connection between this book and Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. The play (in the story) is based on actual historic families and two forbidden lovers. The story is split in two for most of the book, one side being Julie's quest in the present, and the other is the story that unfolds in the documents her mother left for her, recounting the 'true' story of Romeo Marescotti and Giulietta Tolomei from 1340 AD (If you like books with parallel stories, try The Bone Garden by Tess Gerrison. LOVED that one.). I did like the split in this story, but only because the story taking place in 1340 was infinitely more interesting than the modern plot. 

I think most of my problem was with the narration of the story. Cassandra Campbell reads the book, and though the two modern twins grew up in Virginia, she only very rarely drops into a southern twang, and then it's usually on one or two words, and then it disappears again. Also, every time she read an Italian word or name, she'd launch straight into an Italian accent, no matter who was speaking it. Irk. Personal pet peeve perhaps. 

This problem seemed to be a theme, however, as the writing and characters all experienced this inconsistency. I think the dialogue between Julie and Janice is the best example. Janice's character is the worst, because although Julie explains in detail how evil/selfish/greedy Janice is by nature, she is constantly flip-flopping between snarky bitch and 'genuinely' concerned with her sister's choices. Actually she flip flops between every emotion she is allowed to portray in this book and snarky bitch. It's as if Anne Fortier kept forgetting who Janice was supposed to be, and added smart ass remarks in editing or something. It felt very disconnected. And by the end of the book Julie and Janice are BFFs. Really? That conclusion doesn't seem reasonable from what was laid out for us in the first few chapters.

The relationship between Julie (modern descendant of Juliet) and Alessandro (modern descendant of Romeo) is absolutely schizophrenic. One night they hate each other, the next they're flirting, the next she is suspicious of him again, running away terrified, then they're back to falling in love before she finds out something more and is suspicious again and runs away. Over and over and over. Most of the time Julie had a surge of enamored emotions toward Alessandro, it wasn't when he was next to her, it was when she found out something about him from somewhere else. It didn't feel real. It didn't feel like these two modern people were meant for each other. It didn't feel like anything special was happening between them at all. 

Above all, the most annoying thing about the two girls, Julie and Janice, though it isn't mentioned TOO often, is that they are after a fortune. They both assume, once their Aunt Rose died, that they would each inherit quite a large sum of money to pay off their debts. Julie goes to Italy expecting to find a fortune their mother left for her, and is completely unappreciative of the historical documents she found, even though she had apparently been obsessed with the play Romeo and Juliet for as long as she could remember. It seems to me someone like that would consider a journal recounting the true story of Romeo and Juliet to be a priceless treasure, not a means to an end. 

Now, I don't have much of a background with Shakespeare (which I regret, and hope to remedy), and I've only read pieces of Romeo and Juliet in lit classes, but I do know the gist of the tragedy. This is why, I think, I enjoyed the 1340 version of events. I'd be interested to find out if or how much research Fortier did on the pre-Shakespeare story, to see how much she molded to fit her own means. (One more complaint, then I'm done! How is it that all of the objects that play a part in the 1340 chain of events survive to be found by the characters in the modern plot? I find that highly unlikely). 

While there were some things that just seemed a little too convenient, and most of the plot 'ah-ha's were simply misunderstandings, the story was, at least, interesting. I liked the scenes with the modern artist character Maestro *something, I totally forgot his name*. I imagined his workshop as dark, dusty, and warm. A place you could sit down and have a cup of tea surrounded by beauty, history, and mystery. He may be my favorite character (I know, how could I have forgotten his name then?). 
Also, I enjoyed learning about the details of their mother's journey, which you don't begin to learn about until the very end of the book. And of course, the bit of romance there was between modern Romeo and Juliet, just before going to the weird party of Alessandro's god-mother's. (Huge Spoiler! Though seriously, if she's a 25 year old virgin, she is not going to just sleep with this guy she's known a week and isn't even sure she can trust!). 

Overall, I think this book is a little bit of a shame, I think it could have been a whole lot better with just a little more time, and some intense editing, because the story itself is very good, and a great concept. I would recommend this book to women who like historic-ish fiction and don't mind whiny, at times unreasonable characters, which so many modern lit (especially romance) stories contain. The plot does eventually all tie together, it is just the middle that is a little messy. It is a light, semi-fast paced, and eventually endearing story. If you aren't easily annoyed by cheesy dialogue, then I think you could enjoy it. Also, I recommend a printed version. The audiobook really just didn't do it for me. 

Until Next Time!

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