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Posts Tagged ‘Juliet’

Messenger of Truth, Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie Dobbs’ fourth adventure takes her into the world of fine art – when a popular artist falls to his death from the gallery scaffolding as he puts up a new exhibit. Maisie delves into his past (as an artist and a propagandist during the war), the intricacies of his family life, and the nuances of art dealing. Well-written and fascinating, as always. (I grow more “mad for Maisie” with every book.)

An Incomplete Revenge, Jacqueline Winspear
It’s hop-picking time in Kent, and Maisie investigates a village plagued by mysterious fires, while befriending a band of gypsies and letting go of her beloved Simon, whose health is declining (he’s been in a near-catatonic state since 1916). Maisie’s gypsy heritage comes to the fore here, and I’m amazed at her skill and compassion in divining the secrets of a village long haunted by its own shame. Stunningly well done.

Juliet, Anne Fortier
A fun, intricate, richly detailed re-imagining of the story of Romeo and Juliet – with a modern twist. Julie Jacobs is shocked to find out she’s descended from the real Juliet – and even more shocked to discover that “a plague on both your houses” might still be an active curse. She travels to Italy to find out the truth, and in the process finds out more about her family – and herself – than she ever knew. (Her story alternates with historical flashbacks.) An enjoyable, engrossing read.

A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg
I’ve read a few cookbook-cum-memoirs in my day, and I think this one is my favorite. Molly’s tone is engaging and funny, her family is endearingly quirky and her love affairs – with Paris, food, and Brandon, who is now her husband – are sweet. And her recipes are delicious – my favorites include the pesto and the Scottish scones. (I also love Molly’s blog. Deliciously entertaining.)

The Heretic’s Daughter, Kathleen Kent
Another story of the Salem witch trials, this time from the perspective of a child also imprisoned, whose mother is condemned to die. I actually didn’t like this one much; I didn’t find any of the characters very sympathetic. The history is fascinating, but perhaps I’ve read too many Puritan narratives since arriving here. And in the long grey of February, I wanted something brighter.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth Hoffman
I loved this story. Splashed with color from huge flower gardens and lush with the scent of magnolia blossoms and cinnamon rolls, this was a real Southern treat in the middle of a cold northern winter. I loved watching CeeCee, transplanted from Ohio to Savannah when her mother dies, slowly find her way in this new, “perfumed world that seemed to be run entirely by women.” She eventually makes her peace with her tough childhood and begins to embrace her new friends – wise, kind, quirky women one and all. I cried several times, but I think I laughed more.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, ed. Joan Reardon
What a literary treat these letters are. Highly political, sharp, hilarious, foodish and written “in haste” amid their busy lives, this collection provides fascinating glimpses into – well, all sorts of things. Life in France, Germany, Norway and the U.S. during the 1950s and early 1960s; the evolution of a friendship; French cooking and the making of Julia’s cooking career; life in the U.S. Foreign Service; McCarthyism; the role of smart, independent women. After Julie and Julia (the film and the book) and My Life in France, these letters are the perfect dessert.

Devotion, Dani Shapiro
I’d been hearing about this book for months, and I love Dani’s lyrical blog. I enjoyed her honest, thoughtful reflections on what it means to be a person of faith, and to be a part of a family chain of faith. She doesn’t shy away from the tough questions. I was a little disappointed in the ending – it seemed a bit abrupt, and her strategy of cherry-picking bits of various faiths is quite different from my own. Still, I appreciate her courage in facing these big questions.

Rococo, Adriana Trigiani
I love Trigiani’s work – she draws perfect portraits of crazy, big, loud, loving Italian-American families. And she has such an eye for color and detail, expressed here in the main character’s love of interior design. The cast of characters in this small New Jersey town are all searching for transformation of some kind – and it goes hand in hand with the renovation of their beloved church. Hilarious, entertaining and satisfying.

Among the Mad, Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie’s sixth adventure unnerved me – stories of mental illness give me the creeps, and this one was no different. Still, Maisie and her colleagues at Scotland Yard do some brilliant work in tracing an unbalanced ex-soldier who issues a series of death threats. Winspear is probing deeper and deeper into the scars left on England and its people by the Great War.

The Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani
This was the only Trigiani novel I hadn’t yet read – so I grabbed it at the library one night. And flew through it, of course – her books are so fun, and compulsively readable. The only thing I don’t like about them is that they’re over too soon. But this tale of an Italian-American family in a mill town in Pennsylvania was funny, heartwarming and satisfying, like her others.

Julie, Catherine Marshall
I needed something to read on the T, so grabbed this old favorite. And I found the story just as compelling as ever. Julie Wallace and her father – indeed their entire family – struggle with faith, tight finances, fitting into a new town and standing up for what’s right in Depression-era Pennsylvania. Julie is one of my literary heroines, who scribbles as compulsively as I do, and I admire her sense of justice and her father’s quiet integrity. I love this book.

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In college, like any good English major, I took a Shakespeare course – and fortunately, I adored my professor, a witty, wise man with a self-deprecating sense of humor. He took neither himself nor Shakespeare too seriously, which I appreciated. However, I was surprised to hear him declare, during our first class, that he hated Romeo and Juliet.

He claimed it was one of Shakespeare’s worst-written plays, and refused to include it in our class curriculum because (a) he thought the story was lame and (b) most of us had already read it. I hadn’t liked Romeo and Juliet when I read it in high school, so skipping it was fine with me. (Do high school English teachers think reading a doomed love story will somehow calm and caution our raging adolescent hormones?) I was amazed, though, to hear a professor dismiss what’s supposed to be the greatest tragic love story of all time.

Recently I’ve revisited Romeo and Juliet through three adaptations: a movie, a book and a song. And while all three of them recast the story in different ways, making it smarter, funnier and more interesting, one major change is the same: this time, the star-crossed lovers get a happy ending.

Somehow I missed seeing the movie Letters to Juliet when it came out, so I recently watched it on my laptop, standing in the kitchen peeling butternut squash to make soup. I loved the smart, kind circle of women who serve as Juliet’s secretaries, and the spunky main character, Sophie, who insists on helping an elderly English lady find the Italian love she had lost fifty years before. I loved watching the sweet, if predictable, romance between the older folks unfold, and though I thought the ending was cheesy (did he really have to climb the balcony and then fall?), I was glad it ended happily for Sophie, too.

Embedded in the film, near the end, was a song I already loved: “Love Story,” by Taylor Swift. I love the dreamy music video and the wildly happy twist on the story’s ending (“I love you and that’s all I really know”). It’s the way we all wanted Romeo and Juliet to end, right?

A few weeks later I picked up Juliet by Anne Fortier, remembering my friend Amanda’s favorable review. I enjoyed the richly layered story of Julie Jacobs/Giulietta Tolomei, who discovers she’s descended from the real Juliet, and travels to Italy to uncover her history and search for a treasure. As you can probably guess, in the end she finds her own Romeo – and it ends much more happily for them than it did for Shakespeare’s two star-crossed teenagers. (Interspersed with fascinating historical flashbacks, unfortunately minus the happy ending.)

I know some women sigh over a love that made Romeo and Juliet kill themselves rather than live without each other. (At least, supposedly they do – I don’t know any woman who holds this love story up as a model for her own.) But I much prefer these adaptations, with their happy endings – no less hard won, but so much more satisfying.

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