In this warm, enchanting debut novel, Rosanna Chiofalo evokes the extraordinary beauty of Venice, the charm of a close-knit New York neighborhood, and the joys of friendship, family, and surprising second chances…
Valentina DeLuca has made hundreds of brides’ dreams come true. At Sposa Rosa, the Astoria, New York, boutique where she, her sisters, and their mother design and sew couture knock-off gowns, she can find the perfect style for even the most demanding customer. Now, it’s her turn. Valentina has loved Michael Carello ever since he rescued her from a cranky shopkeeper when she was ten years old. He’s handsome, chivalrous, and loyal. And in a few weeks, she’s going to marry him—in Venice.
But just when she thinks everything is falling into place, Valentina is forced to re-examine her life to see what truly makes her happy. And as she soon learns, in a place as magical as Venice, what seems like misfortune can turn out to be anything but, although who knows what may be waiting around the next corner? The chance to enjoy a moonlit gondola ride, to sip Prosecco in St. Mark’s Square, to eat mouthwatering gelato, to put aside “sensible” for once and see where the warm Italian breezes guide her as she visits all the sights she’s dreamed of: The Doge’s Palace, Il Rialto, the little islands of Murano and Burano. And maybe, along the way, to discover that bella fortuna—good luck—isn’t what you’re given, but what you make.
Advance praise for Bella Fortuna
“Like a gondolier navigating the canals of Venice, Rosanna Chiofalo takes you on a magical ride filled with family and friends, love and loss, heartbreak and happiness. Bella Fortuna is a warm glimpse into Italian-American life.” --Holly Chamberlin, author of Last Summer
“Reading Rosanna Chiofalo’s depiction of a modern Italian-American family is like digging into a fresh bowl of pasta—warm, welcome, and satisfying. A deeply felt debut that affirms the importance of friends and family—Italian-style.” --Lisa Verge Higgins, author of The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship
“From the streets of New York to the canals of Venice, Rosanna Chiofalo creates a warm and lively story the reader won't want to see end. Valentina DeLuca is a heroine with intelligence, heart, and courage, the kind of person every woman wants for a dear friend. Time spent with her is a sheer joy.” --Mary Carter, author of The Pub Across The Pond
“Go to Venice. Ride a gondola. See St. Mark's square. Chase the pigeons. Then go back to your hotel room overlooking a canal, take out Bella Fortuna, and read. It will make your whole day perfetto.” --Cathy Lamb, author of A Different Kind of Normal
"Sometimes tough, sometimes tender, always heartfelt and honest, Bella Fortuna is a lively, finely-stitched tale of life and love, family and friendship, and a zest for cose Italiane!" --Peter Pezzelli, author of Home to Italy
"Wonderful! Chiofalo is clearly the heir to the Adriana Trigiani throne! Made me want to run to Venice...I loved this book and finished it in two sittings. A great summer read!"--GreatThoughts.com
“An inspiring read about second chances with love after tremendous heartbreak...the novel has a pleasant narrative, and the details of relationships and descriptions of Venice are thorough and well written.”–RT Book Reviews
"Brings the Italian immigrant community and neighborhoods richly to life…the tale is charming.”–Publishers Weekly
I’ve never considered myself very lucky. Maybe it has something
to do with my being born on Friday the 13th and one day shy of
Valentine’s Day. For a long time, I’ve been convinced that my birth
date is the reason why I’ve been so cursed in love. And my being
named after the patron saint of love, St. Valentine, when I’ve had
nothing but agita in romance just makes it more painfully ironic.
Agita is what Italians call grief of the worst kind. To top it off, my
mother is very superstitious and believes in the dreaded malocchio,
or evil eye, even though it’s 2010. Malocchio is when someone puts
a curse on you. And many Italians are fervent believers in the
mighty power of the malocchio. But none of that matters anymore
since I’ve finally met “the one.”
Thinking about this and how my luck has changed, on this cold
Sunday morning, I walk out of church. January in New York City is
definitely not one of my favorite months. But as every New Yorker
knows, the frigid temps don’t stop you. The streets are the quietest
on Sunday mornings, my favorite time to be walking through Astoria,
the Queens neighborhood where I grew up and still live.
The attendance at the eight a.m. Mass at Immaculate Conception
is usually low—too early for most people to get up on the
weekend. Even though it’s a drag to get myself out of bed, I still go
through this weekly ritual. It’s meditative for me. It’s not often one
can go somewhere in New York City without running into a crowd
so you have to grab your quiet moments when you can. Sunday
mornings are when I can hear myself think best. Even though it’s
just slightly above the freezing mark, I take my time walking home.
The shops that do open on Sundays are slowly coming to life.
Several joggers pass me on their way to Astoria Park. Dogs are trotting
along, immune to the nip in the air.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love to people-watch,
and New York City is a great place to do it. Probably nowhere else
in the world will you encounter as many people from different ethnic,
socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds—well, except for at
The aroma of fresh baked bread from the Italian bakeries
reaches my nose. Through the windows, I spy a few old men already
sitting at the bakeries’ tables, sipping their cappuccinos and
reading La Corriere della Sera newspaper. As I step through the
doors of Antoniella’s Bakery, I spot Paulie Parlatone’s S-shaped receding
hairline behind his newspaper.
Paulie is known as “the Mayor of 35th Street” or “Il Sindaco” for
his meddling in everyone’s affairs on my block. He has no idea he’d
been christened with this nickname, just as he has no idea that he
talks too much. The irony isn’t lost on everyone that his last name,
“Parlatone,” means “big talker” in Italian. Paulie will stop you in
the street and grill you to the point where you finally surrender and
tell him your personal business just so you can end the conversation
The worst is when he shows up at your house unannounced. He
often comes to my home right after dinner, asks my mother for a
toothpick, and makes himself just as comfortable as if he’s sitting in
his own house. While he talks to us, he picks his teeth with the
toothpick. And no matter how well you hide your dirty laundry,
nothing gets past Paulie.
I quickly walk by Paulie’s table at Antoniella’s, praying not to be
I keep walking, pretending I can’t hear amid the din in the
crowded bakery. Already there’s a line of customers, waiting to get
their Sunday Danish, croissants, and biscotti. I try to hide behind
the Shaquille O’Neal dead ringer who stands in front of me on line.
But not even the man’s tall figure disguises me. A finger taps me on
“Valentina! Didn’t you hear me?”
“Ohhh, Paulie. I’m sorry. I’m a bit preoccupied, and with the
noise in here, I guess I didn’t hear you.” I give him a faint smile.
“Always thinking! That’s been you since you were a little girl.
Remember the time you almost hit me while you were riding your
bike? You were staring right up at the clouds. I had to whistle to
get your attention.”
Of course I remember that day. It’s true, I did like to daydream
a lot as a kid. Sometimes, I wish I had hit him—nothing too serious—
just enough to shut him up for even a second.
“Well, enjoy your day, Paulie.” I return my attention to the pastry
display case, pretending I still haven’t made up my mind as to
what I’m ordering.
Paulie doesn’t seem to notice or care.
“So where are you off to?”
“I’m going to the shop.”
“You’re open today? Sposa Rosa’s never been open on a Sunday.
Are you losing money?”
I picture myself on my childhood bike, hitting him head on—
again and again.
“No, business has actually never been better, especially after the
feature Brides magazine did on us a few months ago. I have to finish
my wedding dress, and with the store being as busy as it is, the
only time I get to work on it is late at night or on Sundays.”
“Of course! Of course!” Paulie slaps his forehead. “How could
I forget? Our little Valentina is finally getting married. You know I
was beginning to get a little worried for you.”
Oh, how I wish I were on that bike right now—no, make that a
“Paulie!” I laugh through gritted teeth. “I’m not the only
woman in New York to have waited to get engaged until she was in
“I know. I know. But I just couldn’t understand why no one had
snagged you sooner. You’re such a pretty girl with a good head on
Apparently, Paulie’s definition of shoulders is different from
mine since his eyes rest on my breasts. I forgot to mention that
Paulie is also a perv. He rarely misses a chance to ogle a woman’s
“I was just picky. There aren’t enough good men out there.”
“May I take your order, miss?”
The salesgirl saves me.
“It was nice talking to you, Paulie. ’Bye!”
I place my order for Palline di Limone biscotti and even throw in
a few assorted mini Danish so I can talk to her longer, hoping
Paulie will leave me alone.
It works! Paulie walks away.
“Hey, Valentina!” He stops, returning to my side.
“Have I told you I can’t wait to spin you around the dance floor
at your wedding? Oh, wait! You’re getting married in Venice.
That’s too far. I won’t be there.”
Thank you, God, Mary, and all the blessed saints in heaven! I
nod sadly, belying my true thoughts of elation. Then I look down
into my purse as I search for my wallet. I know I’m being rude, but
I don’t care. Paulie has been rude toward my family countless
times. He finally leaves the bakery, picking up one of the complimentary
toothpicks on the counter.
I breathe a sigh of relief. Choosing to get married in Venice was
the best decision I ever made. I put Paulie as far away from my
thoughts as possible, and focus on returning to the meditative,
blissful state I was in before I ran into him.
After leaving the bakery, I pass Anthony’s Salumeria. My mouth
waters as I spot Anthony slicing prosciutto—my favorite Italian
cold cut. Unable to resist, I walk into the deli and order half a
pound of the salty meat along with a block of sharp provolone.
“Good morning, Valentina!”
“Hi, Anthony! How are you?”
“Can’t complain. I’ll be out of here by noon. The Giants are
playing so I’ve got that to look forward to.”
Anthony always gives me the first slice of meat to sample even
though I know he carries nothing but the freshest products.
“Hmmm! Still the best!”
Anthony smiles. Sometimes, I think he goes through this ritual
more for his own sake than mine. He just can’t resist hearing his
cold cuts praised.
Although I am used to the sights and sounds of the neighborhood
that has been my home since I was a child, they seem more vibrant
today. The bread at Antoniella’s Bakery smells particularly
heavenly. The froth threatening to spill over from the patrons’ cappuccinos
looks thicker, and the prosciutto at Anthony’s is the sweetest
ever. Even my three-carat emerald-cut diamond engagement
ring sparkles brighter today.
Yes, it’s the start of a new year, and finally I feel like this is going
to be my year. After designing and sewing wedding dresses for
other lucky brides-to-be for so long, it will now be my turn to shine
in the spotlight. In just five months, on June 14th to be precise, I’ll
be marrying Michael Carello in my favorite city in the world—
I had secretly admired Michael since I was ten years old.
Michael was thirteen, but even though he was three years older
than me, he always said hi and tried to make me laugh. Popular at
school and in our neighborhood, Michael and his family lived
around the block from me, so I often saw him playing football or
hockey with his friends on my street.
He has blond hair and blue eyes, defying the dark southern Italian
stereotype. He takes after his mother. Iva Carello is beautiful
even now that she’s in her late fifties and is often told she resembles
the deceased Princess Grace of Monaco in her twilight years. His
father, Joseph Carello, also poses a striking figure, with intense
black eyes and a full head of hair at sixty. He always wears a suit,
and on his days off from work, he still wears trousers with a button-
down shirt, minus the tie and jacket.
Michael has definitely inherited his parents’ sense of style. Even
as a kid when he wore jeans or got dirty playing sports, he always
looked good. It’s hard not to notice Michael. But what really
branded my devotion to him was when he had come to my defense
at Li’s Grocery Store when I was a kid.
I passed Li’s Grocery Store every day on my way to school. My
mother sometimes bought a few groceries there. It wasn’t a real
supermarket in the sense that you could get your week’s worth of
shopping. Mr. Li, a Taiwanese immigrant, owned the store and
never had a smile for his patrons. Maybe that, along with its limited
stock, was why hardly anyone frequented the store. But Li’s did
have an aisle full of cool school supplies like pretty binders with
flower or fairy patterns, spiral notebooks with sparkly glitter covers,
Hello Kitty pencil cases, and my favorite—Strawberry Shortcake
erasers that smelled like strawberries, of course.
Every afternoon when I walked home from school for lunch, I
would stop by Mr. Li’s to eye the stationery I couldn’t afford. I always
politely greeted Mr. Li, who acknowledged me even if it was
just a stern “Hello.” So I was shocked when one day he yelled at me
as I was leaving the store.
“You! Yes, I talk to you. What you have in pocket?”
I froze as if he had a gun cocked right at my head.
“I say what in pocket? Take hand out.”
I took my hands out of my powder-blue, faux-fur-trimmed coat,
holding my palms up to show him they were empty as I whispered,
“You come every day. No buy anyteeng. Why?”
“I was just looking.”
My heart was beating as fast as my cat Gigi’s after my mother
had thrown her heavy clog at him for stealing food off our table
when we weren’t looking.
“Hey! Leave her alone! She didn’t take anything!”
I hadn’t even seen Michael and his best friend, Sal, standing at
the register. Utter humiliation washed over me as my face flushed,
resembling the color of the half-rotten pomegranates that lay in the
boxes at the front of the store.
“She here every day. Hide in back. Teenk I no see. I no idi-uht.
She never buy anyteeng. She steal.”
“I know her. She would never steal a penny. It’s a free country.
She can come in here and look without buying anything. Just because
she doesn’t buy your crummy stuff doesn’t mean she’s stealing.”
Mr. Li frowned and glanced at me again. I lowered my eyes to
“It’s okay, Valentina. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Michael placed his arm around my shoulders, leading me out. I
could feel Mr. Li’s gaze burning a hole through the back of my head
as if he was trying to read my mind, still questioning if I’d somehow
stolen something and had cleverly hidden it.
Once outside, Michael turned to Sal. “Give us a minute. I’ll
catch up with you in a second.” Sal nodded his head and walked
Michael removed his arm from my shoulder and bent his head
lower so his eyes met mine. I stared at the ground, wishing I could
shrink to the size of the ants that were crawling around the broken
pieces of bread that someone had thrown to the pigeons.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded my head. “Thanks,” I managed to mutter in a tiny
Michael patted my arm. “Don’t feel bad. You hear me? You
didn’t do anything wrong. You’re a good girl, Valentina. Mr. Li’s a
stingy jerk. He once wouldn’t let an old lady who was short a quarter
walk out of there with a loaf of bread. I gave him the quarter.
What a creep.”
I just nodded my head again and continued to look down at the
cracks in the sidewalk.
“Well, I gotta get back to school. My lunch break is almost over.
But if you want, I’ll walk you home.”
I shook my head. “No. That’s okay. Thank you.”
“Don’t sweat it!”
I turned and began walking home.
I stopped and looked over my shoulder, still not meeting
Michael’s worried gaze.
“If anyone ever treats you like that again, just tell me. I’ll take
care of them for you.”
I finally managed to smile at him. He winked at me and then
turned around, running to catch up with Sal.
That wink was all it took to make me fall completely in love with
Michael. After that day, every time I saw Michael he always winked
at me after he said hello. It was as if he knew its power. For with
that one wink, I felt myself soar high above the sky, dancing in
midair with the birds. Now my childhood fantasies of wedding my
prince someday were replaced with dreams of marrying Michael.
And that was how my crush on Michael began. But I had to
watch helplessly over the years as he dated one girl after another.
When I turned fourteen and puberty finally decided to pay me a
visit, filling in my flat chest and narrow hips, Michael still seemed to
look at me as if I were that ten-year-old kid whom he’d rescued. I’d
noticed his friends staring at me a few times when they thought I
wasn’t looking, but not Michael. Unlike his friends, his gaze always
met mine rather than my boobs, which were already a C-cup at that
point. But something had changed in how he treated me. He no
longer winked at me after he said hello. In fact, he didn’t even try to
make me laugh, as he’d loved to do when I was younger. I didn’t
So I started dating, having one miserable relationship after another
or not having a boyfriend when important occasions arose
like a friend’s Sweet Sixteen party or my sophomore-year dance.
My best friend, Aldo, had gone with me to the dance. I could always
count on Aldo when I needed a date. So I’d put on my best
poker face and pretended I was having a blast with him when all I
could think about was, Why can’t I have a boyfriend for longer than
two months? Why can’t I have a boyfriend here with me instead of
my best friend?
Of course, Michael still wound his way into my thoughts, but
not as much since he’d left for Cornell University. I only saw him
when he came home for breaks. I was beginning to accept the fact
that he’d never have any interest in me as anything more than a
childhood friend. I was the little sister he never had, nothing more.
Yet from time to time, my mind still wandered to him, wondering
what he was doing.
“Swaying room as the music starts . . . strangers making the most
of the dark.”
Madonna’s “Crazy for You” was playing. I loved this song. I felt
a hand on my shoulder and turned around.
“Hey! What are you doing here?”
“I heard the music from outside. I couldn’t resist coming in and
catching up with some old friends and teachers.”
“They let you in?”
“Of course! Why not?” He winked at me.
Oh my God! He hadn’t winked at me in years. It still had the
same bone-melting effect on me.
“Come on. Let’s dance.” Michael took my hand, leading me to
the dance floor. My heart was racing so fast, I was convinced he
could see it. He pulled me close to him as we slowly danced to the
music. He rested his chin on my shoulder. I swallowed hard. I
should probably make some conversation. But all I wanted to do
was close my eyes and listen to the words of Madonna’s “Crazy for
“Isn’t this such a great song?” Michael pulled his head back and
looked into my eyes, smiling.
“You like this song, too?” I asked incredulously.
“Yeah, it’s one of my all-time eighties favorites, right up there
with The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven.’ ”
“Oh my God! I love that song!”
We laughed together. He put his chin back on my shoulder.
Again, my insecurities were telling me I should make more of an
attempt at conversation. Why couldn’t I just relax and enjoy this
moment? It would probably never happen again.
“So how’s Cornell?” I managed to get out.
“Stuffy and dull!”
“Oh, come on! I can’t believe it’s all that dull! I can only imagine
all the fun you must be having at those parties and all those interesting
classes. I can’t wait to go away to college.”
“What’s so surprising about that? You think I want to stay in
Astoria and commute to school? Get real!”
“I don’t know. I just thought you’d be like the other Italian girls
in the neighborhood and stick close to home. Besides, will your
parents let you go away for college?”
“Probably not, but I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway!”
Michael laughed. “You’ve got spunk! I like that. You are different
from a lot of the girls around the neighborhood. Promise me
you’ll stay that way.” Michael pulled his face away and stared into
my eyes again, waiting for my promise.
I shrugged my shoulders.
His face came closer to mine. My heart started pounding again.
“Okay.” I blushed and looked away. He was staring at me in the
most peculiar way.
“Good!” He winked at me again and pulled me close to him. I
could smell his cologne. Drakkar Noir. Every guy wore Drakkar
Noir back then. It just occurred to me that Michael wasn’t dressed
for a dance. After all, he wasn’t planning on coming. I didn’t care.
He was the sexiest guy here tonight. His dark-wash denim jeans
and black V-neck sweater made him look like one of those male
models I’d seen on the covers of Maxim magazine or GQ.
“So you like The Cure, huh?”
“Yeah, they’re one of my favorite eighties bands.”
“I might be able to score some tickets to one of their concerts at
the Meadowlands this summer. Would you be interested?”
I looked up into Michael’s eyes.
“You know. For you and a friend.”
“Oh. Sure. That would be nice.” Just as soon as my hopes had
soared, they immediately took a nosedive.
The song was over. We looked at each other a bit uncertainly.
“Thanks for the dance,” I said.
“Hey! No sweat. I’ll let you know about the tickets when I’m
back in town for the summer. They’re supposed to go on sale next
Monday, but there’s someone at school who scalps them. He said
he’d hook me up.”
“Okay. Sounds good. Thanks.”
“I’ll catch you later. I want to say hi to Mr. C.”
“Sure. Go ahead.” Boy, I sounded lame! Like he needed my
permission to leave.
Michael smiled and looked at me as if he wanted to say something
else. Then he walked away.
I made my way to the refreshments table and asked for a Coke.
My mouth felt so dry, and my hands still felt shaky. Part of me was
elated that Michael had asked me to dance, but another part was
disappointed, too. For a second, I thought he was going to ask me
to go to The Cure concert with him.
“Hey, Vee! You guys looked amazing! Give me all the juicy details!”
“There are no details to give, Aldo.”
I crossed my arms and searched the room for Michael. Mr. C.,
the American History teacher at St. John’s Prep, was talking to Ms.
Vicelli, my English Literature teacher. It looked like Mr. C. was
flirting with her, touching her shoulder regularly as he talked animatedly
with his hands. He must be bragging about something. Mr.
C. often told the most outlandish stories from his days when he was
young, as he liked to put it. I couldn’t help feeling he had chosen
the wrong career path. He loved attention and should’ve gone into
politics or acting. Ms. Vicelli was pretty with light golden brown
hair and highlights that framed just her front bangs. It seemed like
every male teacher at St. John’s Prep was in love with her. She was
one of the nicest teachers at school.
Michael approached them and shook Mr. C.’s hand. Ms. Vicelli
gave him a hug. Suddenly, I felt jealous. I knew it was crazy to be
jealous of Ms. Vicelli. She was, what? A dozen years older than
Michael? But still. I wanted it to be me hugging him, not her.
Aldo broke in on my thoughts.
1. Do you feel that Valentina has truly been “cursed in love” as she proclaims in the opening chapter of Bella Fortuna? Do you feel that she’s been unlucky in general in life?
2. How is Valentina different from her mother in her beliefs of the mighty malocchio or evil eye? How are they alike in their beliefs of good versus bad luck?
3. How does Michael fit the knight-in-shining-armor stereotype where Valentina is concerned? Do you think that is a large reason why Valentina falls in love with him?
4. Do you agree with Aldo’s assessment that Valentina has put Michael on such a high pedestal and that no one can live up to such high expectations? Does that make it easier to forgive Michael’s transgressions later? Do you feel that Valentina’s expectations of Michael are unrealistic?
5. Discuss the concept of “forgive and forget” and the pros and cons of either forgiving and forgetting or not forgiving and holding on to a grudge. Do you feel that Valentina is justified in her refusal to forgive Tracy when she sees her at her shop? Do you feel that Valentina was harsh? How might Valentina have handled the situation with Tracy in her shop differently?
6. Valentina is close to her family. But we also see she has a special relationship with her neighbors and the people in her neighborhood. Which is your favorite neighbor and why? Which is your least favorite neighbor and why? Do you feel that the neighbors are an extended family for Valentina?
7. What are Valentina’s views on friendship with women? Do you feel that her views were shaped by Tracy’s betrayal when they were in high school?
8. Valentina and Aldo share a very close friendship and bond. How are they alike and/or different?
9. For most women, weddings are a milestone, and they want their big day to be perfect. Do you feel that Valentina has placed too much importance on having the perfect wedding with Michael? Do you think Valentina is guilty of falling more in love with the notion of getting married than falling in love with Michael?
10. What does Valentina’s wedding dress symbolize for her? What does the dress symbolize for her mother? Do you agree with Michael after he has walked in on her gown fitting that she should drop the shorter front hem of her dress? What do you think are his real motives in wanting a more traditional dress for Valentina?
11. Do you believe that Sonia, the teenage fortune-teller Olivia goes to see, truly has “the power”?
12. Do you think it was wise for Valentina to go to Venice after her engagement to Michael is broken? How does the trip hinder her initially from moving on with her life? How does it help her come to terms with what she’s lost?
13. How is Stefano different from Michael? Why do you think Valentina falls for him?
14. After Valentina returns to New York and visits Tracy’s mother, she learns that Tracy seems to have changed her ways. Did you feel compassion for Tracy? Was it easier to understand her actions toward Valentina when they were in high school?
15. What did you think of Valentina’s enormous gesture of giving Tracy’s mother her wedding dress? Do you feel that her action has truly brought her peace?
16. Valentina regrets not having forgiven Tracy. Do you think she should have been more understanding toward Michael when he reveals the secret he’d been keeping from her? Why do you think she is not ready to forgive him? Do you think she ever will? Do you think they can ever be friends?
17. How are Valentina’s wedding plans to Stefano different from her plans for her first wedding? Do you feel that she’s grown?
18. What did you think of her choice in wedding gown for her wedding to Stefano? Did you like it more than the dress she was supposed to wear to her wedding with Michael? Which gown do you feel represented accurately who she was?
19. How do Valentina’s relationships with Michael and Stefano mirror her mother’s relationships with her first love, Salvatore, and her husband, Nicola? How much did fate play a role in whom they fell in love with?
20. Olivia shares with Salvatore what Connie has told her about the Cherokee Indians’ belief that each stage of our lives—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age—is a different life, almost like a reincarnation. Do you agree with this Cherokee belief? How has Olivia reinvented herself in every stage of her life? How has Valentina?
21. How have Olivia’s views on bad luck changed toward the end of the novel? How have Valentina’s changed?