Juliet, Anne Fortier

JulietAfter the death of her Aunt Rose, Julie Jacobs is given an intriguing bequest—a key to a safety deposit box in a bank in Siena, Italy. As keys do, this key unlocks the door to a future Julie could never have imagined as she discovers her connection to the star-crossed lovers who inspired William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet is a fast-paced thriller that fans of William Shakespeare’s play will enjoy. Fortier weaves in references to Romeo and Juliet both obvious and subtle. The ending probably won’t surprise readers much, but the ride is a great deal of fun. Fortier’s research is meticulous. She brings Siena alive, both in the medieval past and present. She introduces the Tolomeis and Salimbenis, two prominent Siena families who really did have a feud. Reading this book made me want to teach Romeo and Juliet again this year, and here I thought I was a little tired of it.

I was puzzled by Fortier’s choice of Siena, when it is in fair Verona that Shakespeare lays his scene, but after doing some digging, I found the earliest references to a story involving Romeo and Juliet set the story in Siena, and Siena makes a great deal of sense with its history of feuding families and its ancient traditions, including the Palio, a horse race that originated in the Middle Ages. A sense of the connection we all have to history pervades this book. My interest in family history and in medieval history made this an enjoyable read. You’ll read reviews that compare this novel to The Da Vinci Code, which I suppose is inevitable because of the unraveling of clues bound to reveal surprising information that will upend long-held beliefs against the backdrop of a European city, but don’t let the comparisons fool you. This novel is much smarter than The Da Vinci Code, and the characters are much more fully realized. I did feel Julie’s sister Janice could be a bit of a caricature, and Eva Maria was a little over the top, but I enjoyed the other characters, especially the characters in the medieval portions of the story—Giulietta Tolomei, Romeo Marescotti, Friar Lorenzo, and the feuding Tolomeis and Salimbenis.

Anyone who enjoys Shakespeare-related fiction should enjoy this novel, but even folks who aren’t Shakespeare fans can enjoy this read.

[rating:4.5/5]

I Will Raise Her Statue in Pure Gold…

Juliet's StatueThat whiles Verona by that name is known, / There shall be no figure at such rate be set / As that of true and faithful Juliet.—Montague, Romeo and Juliet Act V, Scene iii.

I’m still reading Anne Fortier’s Juliet, and I have to say the action is really picking up. I don’t review books until I finish them, but here’s a preview: go ahead and read this one, especially if you are a fan of Romeo and Juliet. You know, I asked not to teach ninth grade this year because I thought I was tired of this play, but I’m not, and now I kind of wish I were teaching it. I am, however, having an excellent time with Macbeth. Anyway, Juliet has been a great read so far, and I’m over halfway through it with no idea how it will resolve. Plus, I really want to go to Italy.

On the other hand, I am not enjoying Jamaica Inn as much. I can’t get into it. I think I need to give it a little longer, especially given how much I enjoyed Rebecca, but so far, I’m not too interested in the characters. I’m hoping to have a little more time to read over the holidays. I’m still five books short of my goal of 40 books, which seemed completely obtainable a couple of months ago.

Is anyone else going to do the Shakespeare Challenge? And have you signed up for my challenge yet?

photo credit: Tomato Geezer

Reading Update: November 28, 2010

A Love Story

I have been doing a lot of writing for NaNoWriMo this month. Unfortunately, I fell so far behind when I went to the NCTE Conference that I have no hope of catching up. I think I have a good book idea, and I’m not giving up on it, but I also don’t feel so pressed now to work on it every day. I might take the day off today, unless I feel inspired to write. As a result of participating in NaNoWriMo, I haven’t had as much time to read, but I am going to try to make up for it during December.

I am currently reading Anne Fortier’s novel Juliet. So far, interesting. I know Romeo and Juliet very well, and Fortier has thrown in some cool Easter eggs (references to lines in the text) in dialogue. Fun stuff. One conclusion: I need to read more books set in Italy. No wonder Shakespeare was fascinated with the place.

Check out this gorgeous photo taken in Tuscany:

alba a settembre
photo credit: francesco sgroi

By the way, I have been reading a great blog by Robin Bates called Better Living Through Beowulf. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. It’s like listening to a mini-lecture on literature from your favorite English professor. Speaking of which, if you missed out on a great English professor, maybe you have some gaps in your reading? Why not try out my reading challenge?

photo credit: Andrew Stawarz

Reading Update: October 24, 2010

flareAll the maple trees around here are beautiful shades of red and orange. Fall is my favorite season.

I think I am pretty much done with the R.I.P. Challenge. I gave up on Wuthering Bites, and I don’t see how I’ll finish Jamaica Inn when I haven’t even started it. However, I did read four books, which is two more than I thought I could, so I still met the challenge of Peril the First—for the first time ever!

I am still reading How the Irish Saved Civilization. If I have one complaint, it’s that I like books divided up into more chapters. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish a chapter, and the chapters in this book (at least some of them) are looooonng, which makes me feel less like I’m getting anywhere.

I am also going to begin Anne Fortier’s novel Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is fun to teach, and this will be the first year I have taught high school that I haven’t taught the play because it’s the first year I haven’t taught ninth grade. I love the play, but I needed a break. Instead, I will be starting Macbeth pretty soon. That one is great fun to teach.

I am looking for some good steampunk book suggestions that I can read for the Steampunk Challenge. I already plan to read The Dream of Perpetual Motion, and a friend in the know recommended Leviathan. If you have read any good ones, please share.

What are you reading?

photo credit: Aunt Owwee

Reading Update: August 29, 2010

Reading a book at the beachI set aside Syrie James’s The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, which I am reading as part of the Everything Austen Challenge, because everyone I know is reading Suzanne Collins’s Mockingjay, and I hadn’t even read The Hunger Games. Well, I’m about 200 pages in now, after borrowing it from a friend, and I have to say it’s real page-turner. I have been trying to talk my daughter into reading it because Collins’s writing style actually reminds me of Sarah’s. I think Sarah would like it. I might finish it today (after all, I read more than the amount of pages I have left yesterday). If so, I’ll post a review later.

I do have a couple of theories that I can’t wait to discover whether or not I’m correct about. District 13, believed to be destroyed by the Capitol, reminds me of the group of readers in Fahrenheit 451, and I am wondering if they’re not really destroyed but secretly carrying on some form of resistance. Don’t tell me! I want to find out. Also, it’s obvious to me that the Romeo and Juliet move that Peeta pulled is no act, whatever Katniss has decided to believe. But I guess I’ll find that out.

I am still reading David Copperfield on DailyLit. The infamous Miss Havisham has just been mentioned for the first time. I picked up Jane Mendelsohn’s American Music at Audible after hearing Mendelsohn interviewed by Valerie Jackson on Between the Lines. The book sounded interesting. After listening for a short time, I think I would have put the second chapter of the book first. It seems a little disjointed. But I haven’t been listening long, so we’ll see. It is short for an audio book. Of course, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables is still on my Kindle, though I haven’t even finished chapter 2 yet. I bought The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent and Juliet by Anne Fortier on the Kindle with my Amazon Associates gift card. Also subscribed to The New Yorker on Kindle. I’ll let you know how it is. It’s my first Kindle magazine subscription.

What are you reading?

photo credit: Simon Cocks

The Gutenberg Bible Turns 554

Gutenberg BibleDid you know that it was today in 1456 that the printing of the Gutenberg Bible was completed? It was the first major book printed using the movable type printing press. Twenty-one complete copies survive, but other incomplete copies remain. Font nerds might be interested to know that Gutenberg used typefaces called Textualis and Schwabacher. Textualis is sometimes just called Gothic now. The columns were also justified, which you can see from the photograph. Of course, justified columns are still used today in books and newspapers. It was an instant bestseller, selling out of its initial print run of 180 copies. Interestingly, many buyers purchased the Bibles in order to donate them to religious institutions. I’m sure they thought that would be a check in the “nice” column for when they met St. Peter at the pearly gates. One of my own ancestors, David Kennedy, appears to have donated a Bible (not a Gutenberg, of course) to his church with a similar motivation. Germany possesses the most remaining copies at 12, but you can find 11 copies in the United States and 8 in the United Kingdom. The Library of Congress, Pierpont Morgan Library, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Texas at Austin have complete copies. I might have guessed Harvard and Yale would have the kind of endowments necessary to own a complete Gutenberg Bible, but I was surprised at UT Austin. They apparently acquired their Gutenberg in 1978 from the Carl H. Pforzheimer Foundation. The first volume has been illuminated by a former owner about which we know nothing. It also bears annotations that indicate it has been owned and loved. I adore the fact that some annotations are corrections. I correct errors in books sometimes, too.

The Hunger GamesIn completely unrelated news, I am putting The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen on hold to read The Hunger Games. Not one person I know has had anything less than absolute and unequivocal praise for Suzanne Collins’s trilogy. I need to see what the fuss is all about.

JulietAlso, Amazon sent me an email today suggesting I might be interested in Juliet by Anne Fortier, and I am. Check out the Publisher’s Weekly blurb:

Fortier bobs and weaves between Shakespearean tragedy and popular romance for a high-flying debut in which American Julie Jacobs travels to Siena in search of her Italian heritage—and possibly an inheritance—only to discover she is descended from 14th-century Giulietta Tomei, whose love for Romeo defied their feuding families and inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Julie’s hunt leads her to the families’ descendants, still living in Siena, still feuding, and still struggling under the curse of the friar who wished a plague on both their houses. Julie’s unraveling of the past is assisted by a Felliniesque contessa and the contessa’s handsome nephew, and complicated by mobsters, police, and a mysterious motorcyclist. To understand what happened centuries ago, in the previous generation, and all around her, Julie relies on relics: a painting, a journal, a dagger, a ring. Readers enjoy the additional benefit of antique texts alternating with contemporary narratives, written in the language of modern romance and enlivened by brisk storytelling. Fortier navigates around false clues and twists, resulting in a dense, heavily plotted love story that reads like a Da Vinci Code for the smart modern woman.

So who took liberties? Shakespeare or Fortier? It was no friar who wished a plague on both house (it was Mercutio). How did Juliet have descendants? And why Siena instead of fair Verona? Still, I am intrigued. And it was probably Shakespeare.

Photo credit Kevin Eng.