I won a copy of this in a Firstreads giveaway. This review may contain spoilers. It took me about 5 hours and 15 minutes to read over a period of a few weeks.
The Italians At Cleat's Corner Store by Jo Riccioni is a historical fiction about a family of Italians who move to a village in England. Connie, the main character, is a young girl who is under the employee of Mrs Cleat, owner of the Corner Store. She takes an interest in these newcomers, becomming the aquaintence of the two sons, Vittorio and Lucio Onorati. Meanwhile, in flashbacks to their home town, we're informed of the Onorati family's history and (eventually) how they came to be in the village of Leyton.
The book is basically what one would call a "coming of age" story. It goes into the details of Vittorio and Lucio Onorati growing up in Italy as well as Connie growing up in England. I felt that Lucio's storyline was more interesting in the sense that it has much more of an emotional impact. There are a lot of fears and worries he has, not to mention the choices he has to make to help his family survive during this time. Overall, it's a pretty interesting book. I liked finding out about the history of both England and Italy during and after the war. The author has clearly put in a lot of effort in research and has laid out the story well. The characters are interesting, though I wish some were explained in more detail, as well as the relationships between them. My favourite characters would have to be Letia Onorati and Mrs Repton. I kind of wanted to know more about them both. I felt that it was kind of hard to read. That's just my opinion, though. The text was kind of dense; the author's explanations very long and dragged on in many areas. I didn't particularly like the ending, but there were some very memorable moments during the story and overall, I did enjoy it.
I was disappointed with the ending for a number of reasons. Firstly, I didn't think Agnes and Vittorio belonged together at all, despite Connie believing so. It just felt weird because Connie was going to break up with him and then she comes to his home, finding him and Agnes together. It felt like the author was just trying to make Vittorio look like the bad person. I was kind of disappointed at that choice and didn't really think it was a particularly interesting end to that plot line.
I just felt that it just didn't really feel completed, either. There was a lot going on in the novel and some just didn't really feel concluded. Like Connie's mother's disappearance, for example. It was mentioned a number of times and that particular plot line felt useless. To me, it didn't really create much interest. It just seemed like it was just another storyline to confuse the overall novel. If that weren't included, I think it would have been a big improvement. During the scenes about the Aunt and uncle, I didn't really feel it necessary that they were her aunt and uncle. The characters could legitimately be her mother and father and the story wouldn't change much in that respect. I think it was sweet how Mrs Cleat took Connie in. Up until that point, I'd been considering that the Cleat’s Corner Store didn't really fit much into it, despite it being part of the title and Connie working there. It just seemed like such a minor portion of the story, the Corner Store. I felt like the store could have been a more important part of the story and would have enjoyed learning more about the history around Mrs Cleat and her shop. It just seemed like an unfinished portion. Another unfinished portion that comes to mind is Letia Onorati's (suggested) affair with Otto, the German Translator. Their relationship wasn't properly introduced and it came as kind of a surprise when she turned out to be pregnant, assumingly with his child. I wish the author had gone into more detail about it. Not in an innappropriate manner, but in a way that would introduce us to the pair courting and becoming lovers without it being a surprise when she turns out to be pregnant.
In the beginning, when it switched over to the portions in Italy, it wasn't completely obvious to me that the young boys were the same as the ones mentioned in prior to that. Going on with that point, I know the characters in these portions are Italians in Italy, but there were a lot of Italian words (references and other such things) thrown in that I don't understand and weren't completely obvious, either. Overall, I think the plot of the boys growing up in their Italian home town was interesting, but kind of miserable in some areas. In fact, the ending of the novel was kind of depressing as well. I know that I was meant to feel happy that Connie had made some huge life choices for herself, but the overall writing just kind of made it seem like she was miserable with her new life. Other choices were sad as well, like her choice to spread her Uncle's ashes. I just felt that was more than rude of her to do without her Aunt's permission. Her Aunt had specific ideas for the ashes and Connie's solution for her grieving shouldn't make others miserable. It wasn't her choice and I'm disappointed in Connie for it. Actually, the character of Connie was kind of bland, especially in comparison to the others within the book. I know that, at this point, she had not travelled or lived life much, but that doesn't mean that she has to be a dull person. The minor feud between Connie and Agnes was kind of useless, being that the only point it concluded in was to have Agnes end up with Vittorio at the end. It just seemed like the author was having a feud just for Connie to have some sort of enemy, and Connie disliking Agnes had no real point for the story.
It was a pretty reasonable book and I'm trying to decide what to rate it. I think it deserves four stars because I did enjoy it and there were a lot of memorable moments.