Reviews: The Italians and Small Blessings

The Italians by John Hooper

Viking Adult, 2015.  Hardcover, 336 pages.Cover The Italians

When I first received notification I won an ARC copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads, I was exited.  I have Italian ancestry and hoped to learn more about my heritage.  This book did not fulfill that goal.  It serves as a commentary on the current Italian society.  Historical tidbits were worked in only when it helped explain something current.

The author is not Italian, but lives in Italy as a foreign reporter.  His love for Italy shines through and much of his commentary is based on his experiences; little is research-based.  While his stories added color, I could not help wondering if he focused in on what he knew and left out things that should have been included.  I also felt that his experiences were highly geography-based (in and around Rome) and he may not have shed a full light on Italy’s other regions.

Overall, an interesting read, however ill-researched and biased.  On the writing, the text flowed but better division of subtopics would have been nice.  Perhaps that will be fixed in the publication copy.

Reader’s advisory: To learn more about Italian history try reading works by Christopher Duggan, Denis Mack Smith, and Lucy Riall. Works by all three authors were invaluable when I wrote my senior honors thesis in college on the Italian unification process.

While The Italians was only released last week and my review appears here on 2/2/15, it was posted on Goodreads back in November and has already generated a lot of buzz there.

Small Blessings by Martha Woodruff

St. Martin’s Press, 2014.  Hardcover, 310 pages.Cover Small Blessings

This novel is the story of group of college employees and two family members of one of those employees. Tom Putnam is an English professor at a small women’s college, recent widower, and all-around good guy. Rose Callahan is the bookstore’s latest employee with boundless energy. Russell Jacobs and Iris Benson are two of Tom’s colleagues with problems of their own. Agnes Tattle is Tom’s live-in mother-in-law and a lawyer. Everyone’s lives are turned upside down with the arrival of Henry Putnam, a six-year old son Tom did not even know he had. For me to explain why would be to spoil the plot.

While the cast of characters were memorable, the writing was lackluster. The novel started slowly, taking about half-way to feel like it flowed. Additionally, the entire book was peppered with words even well-read readers will need a dictionary to define and references to classic literature and oldies songs. I also think the writer put grammatical structure ahead of plot.

Again, this was another Goodreads First Reads win.

Thoughts and Questions:

How would you handle reviewing a book that you were not thrilled with?  Or even one that was down right disappointing?  I just want to know how others might handle it.  Also, if you have read either of the above titles and have a different opinion, feel free to share and debate.

Next week, a new Researcher’s Corner post (finally!).  I’ve had it ready to go, but did not want to release it at the end of the fall semester.  So far, I hadn’t a chance this semester and earlier is better than later.  Then another review to follow the week after.

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