4 1/2 stars
WOMEN’S FICTION: Johanna Coco has returned to Bitterly, Connecticut to attend her grandmother’s funeral but misses it. Charlie McCallan finds her in the cemetery and brings her home. For Johanna, Charlie is everything in her past that she has tried to forget. For Charlie, Johanna is everything he wants in his future.
One would have thought that this was a straight love story, but the underlying sub-plot of finding Johanna’s mother, plus the mental illness that affects Johanna and her sister’s life choices, makes the story multifaceted and interesting. It is a love story revolving around the Coco daughters and their missing mother and the secret that their grandmother kept. To juggle more than one subplot to bring the love story, between a man and a woman, and among the women of the Coco family, forward is a feat in itself which Ms. Defino does very well. She has also allowed one to see the internal conflict of each of the characters in varying degrees (including that of the secondary characters) leading to a rich tapestry of the lives and loves of the people in Bitterly, Connecticut.
While the characterization was rich, the setting was limited only to the places where the characters went. Sometimes it came across like sets inside a studio. Nevertheless, the poetry that precedes every chapter more than makes up for this. Ms. Defino is one author to watch out for because of the beautiful stories she writes.
WOMEN’S FICTION: Benedetta “Benny” Grady is a widow who continues to pine for her dead husband. She religiously visits the cemetery and plants flowers around his grave, speaking to him and also to Mrs. Fargus and to August, each of whom died centuries ago. Benny has a secret, something that she only tells her dead husband and ghostly friends and would like to hide from one person she has fallen in love with – her husband’s best friend, Dan Greene. Dan has fallen for Benny and plans to woo her but she keeps on avoiding him until she finally gives in. But then Dan unearths her secret and it’s now his turn to move away.
Ms. DeFino is a remarkable storyteller. Her writing style is as beautiful as it is original. One wishes that they lived in Bitterly, Connecticut in order to know Benny and Dan, as well as a host of other secondary characters that give meat to the story. These characters have their own stories to tell and are not just included in the story as props. Readers will come to love August and Mrs. Fargus and get a glimpse of what life after death must be like. Their dialogue about the great beyond is as humorous as it is bittersweet. Ms. DeFino is definitely an author to watch!