Tuesday, June 1

Julie and Romeo - Jeanne Ray

For her entire life Julie Roseman has known that the only other florists in town are trouble - the Cacciamanis and the Rosemans have been feuding for three generations, and though nobody remembers what started it, the enmity is deep and bitter. When her daughter Sandy, then in high school, started seeing Tony Cacciamani, the fledgeling relationship was scandalous, forbidden and cut short by parental outrage on both sides.
Now sixty and divorced from the father of her children, Julie's finding running her her family-owned florist shop alone harder than she imagined when Mort took care of the bills. In desperation she attends a small business seminar, and runs into her hated nemesis, Romeo Cacciamani. And she discovers something she never expected - the hated business rival, embodiment of everything wrong with the world, who she's hated since she was five and first saw her father spit at the name Cacciamani, is actual funny, cute, interesting. And interested in her.
And so starts a relationship that in no way subtly reprises Romeo and Juliet for the contemporary older person. Told in first person, Juliet and Romeo traces Julie's past while she and Romeo work out their future. Enmity, distrust and, in the case of Sandy, uniquely personal outrage, are less strong than their connection to each other. And, as in the original, they must find ways to communicate and to see each other while keeping it secret from their increasingly hostile families - there's even a priest who acts as a conduit.
It's not until Romeo's pragmatic and adored only daughter Plummy, the only family member on either side in favour of the union, begins asking about the origins of the feud that anyone involved thinks about the situation with any dispassion. And, ironically, in the process discover that relations between the families have been passionate since the beginning.
Julie and Romeo is an above-average, very well written romance. The characters are vibrant and rounded, the dialogue is crisp and realistic, and the plot is engaging. It would have been easy for the Shakespearean homage to be slavish, or to lack originality, but Ray has combined a familiar framework with freshness. The book is driven by the characters, who act appropriately within their personalities, so there are no moments of incongruity. And the feud itself is portrayed in a believable way, from its origins (which are only revealed pages from the end) and contemporary enactment to its resolution. I also liked that the epilogue was, though not wholly unexpected, not predictable. Julie and Romeo would be an excellent holiday or mini-break read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I smiled when revisiting it for review, and that was after a gap of around six weeks between reading and writing about it - Alex

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