Adriana Trigiani, . . Random, $24.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50617-8

Trigiani returns to the rural Virginia of her bestselling debut, Big Stone Gap, with a big-hearted novel that alternates dollops of comfort with moments of folksy charm and stark poignancy. Eight years have passed since self-styled town spinster Ave Mari and miner Jack MacChesney wed. During that time, they've had one daughter, Etta, and lost a son, Joe, to leukemia. Ave's handling of Joe's death strains the marriage. When Jack loses his job and starts a construction company, complete with an attractive supplier named Karen who sets her cap for him, things became shakier. Then Ave visits her family in Italy and faces her own temptation, in the form of hunky Pete Rutledge. Suddenly the serenity of the solid MacChesney marriage is threatened on all sides. Will love keep the pair together? And if love isn't enough, what is? Readers may find the answer to this, the novel's central question, to be anticlimactic. Still, Ave is a spunky and likable narrator; the novel is populated with many of the same characters readers found endearing the first time around; and the story of a mother grappling with grief over the loss of a child is genuinely moving. Big Stone Gap took place in the '80s; now we're up to the '90s. Can "Ave in the Millennium" be far behind? Readers have faced worse fates. Agent, Suzanne Gluck for ICM. (May 22)

Forecast:Few sequels deliver as reliably as this one does, and readers will likely respond accordingly, following the 12-city author tour.