Library Journal Review

This is part of the lead in that makes an author’s heart pound! In a good way. Thankfully! Library Journal reviewed Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story.

DeFino, Terri-Lynne.

Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story.

Morrow. Feb. 2023. 416p. ISBN 9780063228436. $27.99. F

It’s been a few years since DeFino’s The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses), but it was worth the wait for this story of a big, boisterous Italian family that offers a lesson in New Jersey–inflected Italian. The family includes a couple of sons, their wives, exes, and kids; Donatella’s best friend, a gay man abandoned by his Italian family and taken in by hers; and “Vicky,” the haunted record-playing Victrola. The family matriarch, Sylvia, is approaching her 93rd birthday and is worried about her widowed daughter, Varina. Together with her favorite grandchild, Donatella, the two cook up a scheme to attract single grandfathers looking for love as possible matches for Varina. Meanwhile, Varina books herself a secret cruise and finds a new best friend, her daughter gets a diagnosis that surprises no one, and a new baby is on the way. VERDICT There are a lot of laughs despite the mayhem and drama, and of course, many family dinners (with recipes!), but it is love that permeates and elevates this terrific Italian family saga. Adriana Trigiani fans will feel right at home here; a slightly more food-centric read-alike is Angelina’s Bachelors by Brian O’Reilly.

—Stacy Alesi


Filed under Varina Palladino

It’s been too long

Wow. I’ve really let the dust collect on this thing. With Varina Paladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story releasing on Valentine’s Day, it’s probably time to at least say hi to this poor, neglected blog, so…”Hi!”

Frankie D and I just got back from an amazing (and short) trip up to Cooperstown, NY, where I was invited to visit with two book clubs that read The Bar Harbor Retirement Home For Famous Writers (And Their Muses). It was magical. I love chatting with readers, hearing their insights and ideas and all the bits and pieces they fill into the story. One of the gentlemen admitted (after his wife outed him) he cried at the end. It’s nice to bask in their appreciation of my work. It’s also pretty awesome to revisit this story I love so much. Four years! Four years since being published. Wow. Very cool.

Fun news, I’ve been officially invited to attend The Tuscon Festival of Books this March, as an author. I’ll have two panels, and two signings to do, but other than that–BOOKS! I’m very excited. I haven’t done a panel since the fantasy-writing days! I didn’t realize how much I missed doing this sort of thing. Since Frankie D and I have never been to Arizona, and because a dear friend now lives down that-aways, we’re going out early and spending a few days before the Festival.

On a more serious note: This blog started as a writing/book thing. Then it became the place I dumped so much of my sorrow, grief, anger, and love after Chris died. I won’t be deleting the past, but I do believe it’s time for this to be a writing/book blog again. The wheel turns, and with it, so do I. For a while, I needed my grief SEEN, exhibitionist (or sadist) that it was. Now, not so much. It’s actually gotten pretty exhausting to keep doing. Too exhausting.

Ok! That’s that. I’ll be here, posting fun stuff up as it comes along. There’s already been a lot! But there’s more to come. See you soon!


Filed under Uncategorized

The Day He Fell

My son, Christofer ran down the hall.

My son, Christofer had a great fall,

All the skilled surgeons,

Fine women and men,

Couldn’t put Chris back together again.

I woke with Humpty-dumpty running over and over in my head. Annoying. Strange. Then I got to my daily journal and saw the date–the day he fell. He was fifteen. We thought it was a simple “pop it back in” dislocation. No one had any clue it was the beginning of the final countdown. But it was. Five years of pain, loneliness, fear, and frustration that segued into five years of drugs, chaos, anxiety, more loneliness, and death.

There were good times. He wasn’t always sad, but I do think he was always lonely. He lived way too much inside his head.

I’m not going down this rabbit hole. Not now. Not today. My silly Humpty-dumpty verse wouldn’t stop turning over and around in my head, so I’m leaving it here.

Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.


Filed under Uncategorized

Blowing off the dust…again

On January 24, 2020, my youngest daughter texted me this pic. It’s a real flyer, done up by a real person somewhere in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve cut the email address from the pic, as well as the $10,000 “reward” for the perfect match to “protect the innocent.”

I thought it was fabulous, so I posted it up on Facebook. Rachel Kahan, my editor at WilliamMorrow for The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) said, “Someone needs to write me this book.” So I did, only the Jersey Italian version.

At the time, I’d been working on another book–a fantasy–so this story got put on hold. It nevertheless percolated in the back of my brain, as stories so stubbornly will. I wrote notes periodically. It always started with Vicky, the haunted, antique Victrola. Sylvia, Varina, Donatella formed and reformed. Davide, Dante, Paulie. Them too. The whole, huge, smothering, loving family emerged, one by one by one, until I had something that looked like Moonstruck and My Big Fat Greek Wedding had an illicit affair and produced the Palladino family.

I’ve written three other books in the four years since selling Bar Harbor…etc. So far, none of them were right for that all-important second book. I persevered. I kept writing. Books I love! I was given all kinds of advice about what I should do, but I knew what I wanted. The career I wanted. I was fully prepared for it to never happen! But it has, and now I am taking the next steps on that path.

Is Your Grandfather Single and Looking for Love? will be published by WilliamMorrow (HarperCollins) sometime in the winter/spring of 2023.

I’m excited to work with Rachel again, and with the whole WilliamMorrow team. The experience of publishing Bar Harbor…etc. with them has been the stuff of magic and dreams, and continues to be, three years after initial release.

It’s going to be a fabulous, fast year and a half-ish until the book releases. All the fun, behind the scenes stuff is to come. The anticipation is almost as good as the afterglow. Almost. I know this is a tough business, but–damn, I love it.


Filed under Writing is Life

Tissue Paper

Sometimes it slams into me before

I can brace, and so I can only

lean into it, let it

take me

tumble me

leave me breathless, heart pounding, out

of sorts, searching for words that

will bring breath

back to my lungs, shock my heart

back to rhythm, mend my soul of the

momentary tatters healed over again

and again.


A bone broken heals

harder. Stronger. A shredded soul isn’t as

durable, but it knows how to layer each tatter,

one over the other, creating a

tapestry bound by sorrow, and the

promise of joy.


Filed under poetry

Blowing off the dust…

It’s been a while, so long that the whole format in here is changed. I’d blame the election or the pandemic or both, but the truth is, I’ve had nothing much to say, at least, in this space. Today, I do.

Thanksgiving was strange for everyone, this year. If you stayed within the guidelines of the CDC, you were probably as alone as Frankie D and I were. If you didn’t, if you gathered with family despite this plague, it was still different, because there were those guideline followers missing. In the back of your brain, you worried or you scoffed. Either way, it was different.

For me, Thanksgiving was kind of awesome. I love the huge, family gathering at my brother’s house, my parents, all the nieces and nephews, my sibs, my kids, all the spouses. It’s always chaotic but absolutely wonderful. And it makes me sad.

These family gatherings always put a huge spotlight on the fact that one is missing, and always will be. I see my kids gathered and, yup, one missing. I see my nieces and nephews goofing around and, yup, one missing. There are absences every year–who can’t make it, for whatever reason. But they’ll be there next gathering, next holiday. Next. The potential is there, even if they never show up. Except for the one.

This Thanksgiving, it was just me and Frankie D sitting at our table, eating our feast. No karaoke. No games. No noise. Just us, eating, watching dumb Christmas movies, playing Mexican Train. And not once did I look up from whatever we were doing and get slammed in the gut with, “One is missing.” Everyone was missing this year. My heart stayed in one piece, on a day that typically, silently shatters it. It feels strange to say, but it was nice, for a change.


Filed under Family

A Fun/ny Thing About Being An Author…

…is when a reader takes the time to leave a direct message, letting you know what a disappointment your book was. The one star review left on the book page was not, apparently, enough. That this reader felt it necessary, even helpful, perhaps, to let me know in a message just went above and beyond the call of duty.
Do you detect sarcasm? Good.
I’m not sad or upset. Those who didn’t like Bar Harbor disliked it for the same reasons, and their tastes are their tastes. I have no issue with that. Ever. My healthy ego is still healthy, gentle friends, and because I have the utmost confidence in my skills as a writer and storyteller, I don’t wither because of a bad review, or even a personal message. That’s not what this is about, so please don’t feel the need to reassure me. Honest.
What fascinates me is the mind that felt it necessary to make sure I knew my work was a disappointment. Who is this? Is this person unkind, or simply tactless? What are they hoping to achieve by contacting me? A defense of my work? An argument wherein whatever drove them to that extra step could be further stated? Or maybe, this reader wanted an actual conversation to happen, one in which they could express their disappointment and have reasons why my choices were made. (I’ve done a lot of book clubs. I get lots of those sorts of questions.)
See? Fascinating. At least, it is to me. I spend my days creating people with backstories and motives and internal workings, putting them in environments that enrich or thwart their human experiences. My memory may be shit, but story brain is like dessert belly–it magically provides the necessary room for more. Everything, everyone, every experience becomes fodder, kept in reserve for some later date, to be cannibalized appropriately and, I hope, effectively.
I find the worth in every and all criticism, even this vague disappointment. It made me consider a thought process and character outside my ken. It created something I might not otherwise have considered. It’ll be stored away and used, when needed, because not everyone is a hero/ine, and most things are never what they seem.
What I’d love, honestly, would be a conversation with this person, not to see why they didn’t like my story, but to know why a one star review of regretful purchase/reading wasn’t enough; that a personal message was also so necessary to them. I can guess, conjecture, but I can’t know exactly, and I suppose that’s just tough luck. I’ll have to use my imagination. Poor me. (There’s that sarcasm again…)


Filed under Writing is Life


You were always on the cusp of things; between

Aquarius and Pisces; between

families blended; between

lightest light, and darkest dark; between

feeling too much, and too little. A shield,

perhaps, to guard one from the other.

Or maybe you were the extremes, not

the between; the edges of you far

from the cusps of your duality. I suppose it depends

upon the when of things. The cusp you were born upon pushed,

and pushed, until it had no choice but

to push back, springing with such force you landed

back at the cusp

where you died

on the cusp of spring and summer

on the same waxing crescent of the moon.



Filed under poetry

Learning to Swim

At first, it’s a dog-paddle, all

kicking and flailing and taking on

too much water. Slow. Slogging. It becomes the breast stroke,

less effort. Sustainable. Getting nowhere fast, so you move into

freestyling the long stroke,

poorly. It’s all about rotating your arms and

paddling your legs in time with

breathing. Learning to coordinate all three. Exhausting.

Gratifying, and you backstroke for a time,

catching your breath. Watching the clouds, the water always tugging,

tugging you back. Tugging you down. Making you swim and swim and swim because

there is no end to the water. No land. No shore. No raft or boat or log to cling to,

just the water’s lazy promise, “I will drown you if I can. I promise. Oh, I vow.”

And so you learn to tread water, for

those times you cannot swim. It’s that or succumb

to the water always whispering, always whispering, always





Filed under poetry

Another Beach

We were on the beach again

you and I

I saw you, but only out of the corner

of my eye. When I tried to look you

weren’t there. Not gone, just

not there.


It’s not only on Mother’s Day, it’s when I see mothers

with their kids, brothers

with brothers, sisters

with brothers; my own kids, together. My nieces and nephews.

Thanksgiving and beach vacations and picnics and Tuesdays. It’s

a commercial and it’s

a song. It’s a show you would have liked.

It’s a sceintific article and a law passed and a pandemic you’d

have found fascinating. It’s being too often quiet

with my own thoughts. It’s this time of year.


The beach was empty, but for we two,

the blue sky noisy with gulls and the sea rushing, and you

vanishing somewhere between.

Peekaboo. I see you. Like when you

were little, your naughty grin full of snips and snails and

puppy-dog tails; your blue eyes more like violets

than the sky.



Filed under Uncategorized