Romeo and Julia
Grade : B

Romeo & Julia is the antithesis of the “sweet savage romance,” which is why I enjoyed it as much as I did. There’s not a lot of ugly, melodramatic conflict. There’s no overwhelming “I hate you, but I lust after you anyway” passion. Instead, there’s a hero who’s quite a bit younger than the heroine, a small town, lots of animal lovers, and lots of animals.

Liz Hadley — cat lover, devotee of PBS programming and Julia Child’s biggest fan — is a straitlaced librarian in the town of Hartley, Ohio. After her last cat, Skillet, died, she is resigned to a quiet, catless, middle-aged life. Then one winter’s day, the young and extremely hunky school bus driver finds a stray cat in the library parking lot. Alex Hogan, nicknamed Romeo by the young, nubile (and horny) library clerks, is an animal lover who is more than willing to give the kitty a good home. He finally relinquishes the cat to Liz, although he does vow to keep tabs on the cat.

So begins a warm friendship that quickly forms into an extremely warm romance. Alex reintroduces Liz to the joy of sledding and teaches her the art of constructing snowpeople. She shows him the joy and sensuality of cooking and eating. Liz, however, is unwilling to do anything about the attraction between the two of them because of their ten-year age difference. She is also unable to have children, whereas Alex, consummate beta hero that he is, is eager to have masses of children and start his own large family. In the meanwhile, the newly christened Julia (after the Grande Dame of TV cook shows, of course), Alex’s Newfoundland, Burl, Liz’s friends, and Alex’s nosy but amazingly dysfunction-free family keep an interesting backdrop.

Romeo & Julia is a good example of what I call a buddy romance — probably my favorite type of love story. Liz and Alex learn to be friends with each other first, in spite of the attraction they feel for each other. Senseless lust is exciting and it does have its place in romance, I suppose, but in my opinion nothing is sexier than repressed passion and covert flirting, both of which are nicely abundant in this book. Kimberlin has a wonderful touch with character interaction, and you truly get a sense that Liz and Alex not only lust after each other, they respect one another and enjoy the other person’s company as well. Liz’s insecurities about her age and her suitability for Alex lend a touching and very believable edge of uncertainty to the story.

The dialouge was especially clever – funny and witty without being precious. The pointed exchanges the library employees have about the tyrannical library director, nicknamed “Attila” by disgruntled staff, are particularly well-done. The discussions between Liz and her friends about Alex’s über-hunkiness will have the reader grinning and occasionally chuckling out loud.

I only have a few minor quibbles with this book, the first being Alex. I liked him a lot. This guy is an animal lover, a true gentleman, a carpenter, a school bus driver, and he loves children, so it’s impossible not to. But Alex is a little too nice. His impossible perfection coupled with his impossibly perfect family made him rather difficult to believe. Kimberlin even has one of the characters remark on how too good to be true Alex and his family are, and I couldn’t help but agree. Granted, Alex does act more human towards the end of the book, but it was a case of too little, too late.

My only other complaint was Kimberlin’s occasional use of several short sentences in row, which disrupted the flow of the book and was more reminiscent of those old Dick and Jane books than a grown-up story. Luckily, however, those occasions were not often and, overall, Kimberlin’s simple and crisp prose was a joy to read.

Kimberlin’s romance is fun and entertaining for anyone who loves cats and dogs — and maybe even for those who don’t. I knew it was good when I wanted to skip lunch at work just so I could finish it. In keeping with the culinary thread that runs throughout the book, I’d say Romeo & Julia is a delicious piece of modern Americana.

Reviewed by Candy Tan

Grade: B

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : November 20, 1999

Publication Date: 1999

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