Young Adult Reviews

Review – One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton




They’re wrong about Luke though. There’s no way I’m going to waste my time in Rome chasing after him. Not that I would chase after him. But I’m not going to waste my time wondering whether he likes me. Or whether he’s with some other girl. Or whether he’d be interested in me if he’s not. And I’m absolutely not going to think about what happened after Dad’s funeral. 

(One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton. P22.) 



Italy won’t be the same without Dad. Milly has put her ambitions to sing on hold, to look after her family. Her mother is working overtime, big sister Elyse would like to move out … anywhere, with anybody who will take her, and little sister Leonie has secrets nobody has noticed. It will be hard to go to Italy – they cannot recreate the special things they did with Dad, but they have not figured out who they are without him. They’ve got to go. Aunt Alice is finally marrying Stefano, and Luke will be there. Luke, who Milly has not been in touch with since that incident after Dad’s funeral ….



The main themes are grief and self-discovery. Everybody in Milly’s family has suffered the same loss, but their relationship with Dad was different, the place they are at in their lives is different, so they experience grief in a different way. I loved how each person’s experience is gradually uncovered. This is a character-led plot. Italy represents a breathing space from life where they can work through their issues. It also represents a place of family support, and a place for those first adventures of young-adulthood …


When I wrote my first impression, I thought Leonie’s issues might shadow Milly’s. In the first chapters, Leonie comes across as someone with hidden vulnerabilities. In fact, Leonie’s grief affects her in a less complicated way than the other characters. Certainly, she misses Dad, but she has worked out where she wants to be in life and who she is in the moment. Milly is determined to protect her family, and would put her life on hold to protect them. Elyse and Mum have similar issues to each other: both are trying to walk away from the home which their old family was centred on.


Confession: I do not read romance. Since reading Wing Jones, I have a target of reading one novel with a contemporary setting every month. When One Italian Summer came up on Readers First, it seemed a good way to meet my target. I was, however, concerned it might turn into a kissathon. How wrong could I be??! As with Wing Jones, I finished the book feeling I have a whole section of fiction to explore. Milly likes Luke, she wants to date him, to kiss him … but in terms of plot, the issue is what Milly needs to come to terms with if she and Luke are to date. The focus is on family, and how individuals overcome grief.


Stainton is good at finding those quirky things about modern life we all relate to. Having a celebrity cookbook but turning to old favourite recipies. Downing our water before airport security. The novel is readable but well written. Two or three clever images hold the main ideas together. When Milly and Luke see a ruined building behind the façade of a completed one, Milly says she is like the ruin behind. Luke tells her she is repairing, that it is alright to take time to mend. I loved this as an image for the front we feel obliged to present to the rest of the world. The girls carry separate pots of Dad’s ashes, which represents their individual experiences of grief and letting go. 


Strong characters, clever imagery and the perfect setting for the story. Once again, a novel with a contemporary setting has kept me turning the pages and reminded me to ignore preconceptions. Summer reading with a heart, and not a slushy one.


Hot Key Books

Page Count: 241

Official Publication Date: 04.05.2017

NB. I won my copy of One Italian Summer in a Readers First draw. This in no way affects the honesty of my review. Thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy.


First Impressions Friday

First Impressions Friday – One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton

summer.jpgSynopsis so far –

Italy will be different this year. The place may be the same, but since Dad’s death Milly, her two sisters and their mother have all changed. Milly has put her aspirations to sing on hold. Leonie’s eating habits have changed, and Mum is putting work before family. Maybe she is avoiding her emotions, but her daughters are adamant she is joining them for Aunt Alice’s wedding. It is not Milly and her family who have changed. Whatever happened between Milly and Luke last summer, Milly expected his attention. When she arrives, Luke’s eyes are on another girl … and his arms, and lips …


  • Characters: The character I am most interested in is Milly’s younger sister Leonie. She is the most assertive of the siblings, and appears insensitive in relation to other people’s feelings. Milly takes interest in how much Leonie eats, which makes me think Leonie has some issues of her own. I think Leonie is trying to hide her own vulnerabilities, and am interested to see how her character arc develops. Protagonist Milly claims to be ‘fine’ – I wonder what it will take for her to feel something other than ‘fine’?


  • Writing Style: My favourite thing so far is how observant Stainton is about contemporary life, from the Jamie Oliver cookbook ignored in favour of the good old standbys, to the way we gulp down our water ahead of airport security, Stainton notices the quirks of modern life and uses them to flesh out her world.


  • Plot: The main question is how family dynamics will change following the death of Milly’s father. I get the impression this will be character driven, that each characters arc will be important. There is also a sideline of romance – will Luke rediscover Milly? Will Elysie find somebody she is really interested in? Family seems to come before romance – in terms of plot and in terms of Milly’s priorities.

I’m going to keep reading to see how the different characters develop in the wake of Dad’s death, and whether Milly’s ambitions remain the same by the end of the book. Full review in the coming week – please follow for updates.


What are you reading this weekend? What are your first impressions?

I obtained my copy of One Italian Summer in a Readers First prize draw. Thanks to Readers First for their generosity. This does not affect my views.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Sailsbury

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Two harvests have past since I executed my best friend. Twenty-four Tellings. Twenty-four times I’ve had to walk into the room where Tyrek was dragged from and take the poison that made it possible for my touch to kill him. I’ve killed thirteen traitors, including the men today and Tyrek, in those twenty-four moons. For Lormere. For my people. For my Gods.

For I am Daunen Embodied, the reborn daughter of the Gods …

(The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Melinda Sailsbury, P14.)


Twylla believed she would become the Sin Eater. It would have been her job to decide whether to grant absolution to the dead, by tasting their sins in a mysterious ceremony.  Instead she became the living embodiment of Daunen, daughter of the Goddess Naeht and her husband Daeg – Night and Day, dark and light.

As Daunen Embodied, Twylla lives in the castle. Born a peasant, she is now a Goddess. This comes at a price. Once a month, Twylla drinks poison to prove to the population that the Gods can be merciful. Her skin becomes poisonous – she lives her life under guard, not for her own protection, but for the protection of others. After she drinks poison, she executes the Queen’s enemies. As the Gods give life, so they take it. The people of Lormere live in obedient hope and fear.

People are afraid to come near Twylla, afraid one touch will kill them. This is a metaphor for the state of the court – people tiptoe around the Queen, afraid they will upset her and be sentenced to death.  The book is full of clever imagery – the Queen’s Grandmother, for example, reintroduced execution by hunting dogs. After her death, the dogs turned on her and savaged her body. Like Twylla, the dogs were weapons with minds of their own. Another interesting example is how Twylla would rather embroider wildflowers than the sun and moon of religious imagery.

Royals in Lormere usually marry their siblings, a fact complicated by the death of the Queen’s daughter. Twylla has been engaged to Prince Marek since she took on the role of Daunen Embodied, but now she is more interested in Lief, the guard who sees past her role to the girl she might otherwise be. Marek is an interesting character – used to having what he wants, he wants to marry Twylla regardless of her feelings. He is also interested in the science and politics of Tregellian – the country where Lief was born, whose alchemic secrets the Queen would like to know …

Most people who have reviewed the book love Twylla, and pity her for the role she must perform. I thought she was brilliantly constructed, and like her as a character. Her thoughts about every aspect of the story develop and change, and her backstory is worked in so the reader understands how she came to be in this situation and why she makes certain choices. As a person, however, I found her self-centred and frustrating. At one point, she realises how her behaviour impacts on other people, then says she deserves to marry the person she likes less, as if her self-pity is still her only consideration. I am interested to see how she develops across the series, and whether my feelings towards her change.

There are some fascinating themes, including what happens when religion is used for political gain, and the importance of making our own choices. I also like the echoes of folklore throughout the narrative. The significance of trees is one example. If a soul is not granted absolution, it is said to drift to the West Woods. Trees are commonly seen in folk tales as gateways to other worlds. There is also a strange tale from Tregellian, about a Prince who has slept for five hundred years, who can only be woken in specific circumstances. The narrative is rooted in tradition, but brought up to date with themes relevant to the current climate. This is what I like best about it, and I look forward to seeing how the series develops.