Anyone who’s been to Italy knows it’s pure magic. And sometimes authors capture that magic in the pages of a novel. One Italian Summer by Rebbeca Serle is the latest novel to do just that! From start to finish this one was absolute magic for me, even though it’s not your typical travel story. Sure, there’s a summer romance and a main character on a mission to find herself, but there’s SO much more to this story than meets the eye.
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Katy Silver is suffering. Her life’s foundation is fractured after the recent loss of her beloved mother. To Katy, her mother was perfect, and their relationship was the one thing that kept Katy moored. She relied on her mother for everything, and now she’s lost without her. She’s left her job, left her husband, and left her life in Los Angeles far behind to go on the Italian adventure she’d been planning with her mother, Carol. For as long as Katy could remember, Carol had dreamed of returning to Positano, the coastal Italian town where she’d spent a summer before meeting Katy’s father. She and Katy were going to go together, but cancer robbed them of the opportunity.
Now Katy’s alone in one of the most beautiful, most romantic places on the planet. She leans into the Italian way of life: slower pace, good food, ample wine, and scenic vistas. Soon after arriving, she meets a handsome American, Adam, to who she’s almost instantly attracted. But he’s not the only stranger who’ll play a role in her Italian adventure. A vibrant mystery woman will soon capture Katy’s attention, making it hard for her to see the truth that’s been right in front of her all along.
In the end, Katy must face the fact the woman she knew as her mother is gone. In her place, a complex, multifaceted woman emerges from the ashes like a phoenix, born on the shores of Positano. This trip will forever change her, just like it changed her mother all those years ago.
I’m a huge fan of In Five Years, another wonderful novel by Rebecca Serle. It’s a beautiful work about grief, friendships, and internal struggle wrapped in a pretty package of lovely words and a magical setting. Luckily, One Italian Summer is just as good. This book has a little something for everyone. It’s contemporary and fresh with lots of fun references to Los Angeles and modern life. This novel’s also full of complex family dynamics and deep female relationships, just like its predecessor. There’s also romance with a sprinkle of steam for the romance fans out there. And, to top it all off, there’s a fantasy element that is reminiscent of The Time Traveler’s Wife, another one of my favorites.
When we first meet Katy, the shock of her mother’s death is fresh and new. She’s too raw to even grieve. Anger, bewilderment, and blame surge through her, especially when she’s near her husband. She once thought he was her great love, but now she knows that title was always reserved for her mother. I agree with some other reviewers who criticize Katy’s narrow view of her mother in the first part of the book, seeing her only as a mother and wife rather than a more dynamic woman. But I think that’s a big part of the story; eventually, Katy gains a new appreciation for her mother’s experiences as a woman, a mother, and a wife. We wouldn’t be able to measure Katy’s growth without first knowing how one-dimensional her thinking was.
The idea of one’s mother being a great love of their life is not new to me; I’ve felt that way about both my parents for decades. My parents took an unorthodox approach to parenting like many other baby boomers. I was raised to believe they were my friends as well as my parents. They disciplined through lectures about disappointment rather than other more punitive punishments, something which was very effective for an emotional child like me. I learned to trust that I could come to them with problems without being judged or punished; as a result, they became the first people to know when anything happened in my life, good or bad. Katy’s relationship with her mother felt very relatable to me.
One of the things that I love most about this book is the fact that Katy decided to travel solo. Sure, she was supposed to travel with her mother, but she could have very easily have taken her husband or simply chosen not to go at all. Her decision to travel abroad by herself is ultimately very empowering for her. Travel has been a huge part of my life pre-COVID, so I completely related to her experience. Being alone in a new city is the freest I’ve ever felt. You get to choose who you are, even if it’s only for the day, the weekend, or the week. Travel gives you the ability to reinvent yourself, which is exactly what happened in this case. She walked away with a new appreciation for her mother and herself. I know from experience that One Italian Summer can have that effect on a girl!
What hit home the most for me was the love story that unfolds for the reader. We watch as Katy, who already loves her mother deeply, discovers deeper wells of emotion. We ride the waves of grief as we watch Katy unravel the bond she shared with her mother, freeing herself to move forward without her while maintaining her loyalty to all that she was. Serle’s written a powerful story about what it means to lose your bearings, regain your footing, and learn to walk on new legs.
The only thing that bothered me about the story had to do with infidelity, which is one of the topics I my triggers in books (along with older man/teen girl relationships and child abuse). Serle creates a fantasy that helps make the infidelity slightly more palatable, but it still left me feeling a little icky. Even with a triggering topic, this book still won my heart and a permanent place on my shelf.
One Italian Summer is an instant buy recommendation for anyone who enjoys heartfelt stories about what it means to be human. This is my second Rebecca Serle novel, both of which were emotional journeys I would take over and over again. She’s instantly become an auto-buy author for me. If you’re a fan of emotional reads or picturesque settings, this is the book for you!