Small Towns with Quirky Characters

In The Patron Saint of Second Chances, Speranza, the de facto mayor, rallies the 212 residents of Prometto, Italy, with a fake film production and the promise that superstar actor Dante Rinaldi will, eventually, show up to star in the movie. This tiny mountain town is full of big personalities, all of whom want to play their own part, leading to hijinks and hilarious disasters. These read-alikes feature small towns around the world populated with quirky characters in funny, sentimental stories.

Britt-Marie Was HereBy Fredrik Backman. 2016. Washington Square, $17 (9781501142543).

Humorless Britt-Marie takes a position as a caretaker at a nearly defunct recreation center in the nearly defunct Swedish village of Borg, where she finds herself coaching a ragtag team of teenage footballers. As she earns the love and respect of this scattershot community of losers and loners, she figures out how to be a person in her own right. 

The Last Chance LibraryBy Freya Sampson. 2021. Berkley, $16 (9780593201381).

June Jones lives a quiet life as a library assistant in small-town England, until the council threatens to close the library, inducing June to mobilize her library misfits. Antics and a full roster of quirky characters—including a cleverly diverted stripper and a handsome schoolmate—populate Sampson’s lively debut. 

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendBy Katarina Bivald. Tr. by Alice Menzies. 2016. Sourcebooks/Landmark, $16.99 (9781492623441).

Sara Lindqvist abandons her ho-hum life in Sweden to meet her pen pal, Amy, only to arrive in Broken Wheel, Iowa, on the day of Amy’s funeral. So Sara turns an abandoned storefront into a shop to sell Amy’s treasure trove of books, ultimately connecting the town’s eccentric residents with just the right read at just the right time. 

Rise & Shine, Benedict StoneBy Phaedra Patrick. 2017. Park Row, $18.99 (9780778331292).

Jeweler Benedict Stone’s wife leaves him as his American teenage niece, Gemma, arrives in his village in the Yorkshire moors. Gemma has Benedict’s parents’ collection of gemstones, and as she encourages Benedict to take more artistic risks, she connects with the villagers, helping them realize their dreams. 

The Second-Worst Restaurant in FranceBy Alexander McCall Smith. 2019. Pantheon, $16 (9780525566427).

Down-on-his-luck cookbook writer Paul Stuart is invited to finish his latest book at his third cousin Chloe’s home in the French countryside. Chloe, with a slew of ex-husbands and ex-lovers in her wake, keeps breaking into Paul’s narrative to tell her own wacky stories. 

South Pole StationBy Ashley Shelby. 2017. Picador, $27 (9781250112811). 

Artist Cooper Gosling has passed the rigorous tests required to spend a year in Antarctica, where she finds herself in a community that includes scientists, artists, builders, and support staff with wildly different personalities. Shelby’s debut eschews easy choices and treats interpersonal relations, grief, vocations, and political controversy with deft humor. 

The Wedding PartyBy Xinwu Liu. Tr. by Jeremy Tiang. 2021. Amazon Crossing, $14.95 (9781542044790).

In this entertaining novel, a plethora of characters, including a resentful auntie, a self-sufficient chef, a frustrated opera singer, and a lovestruck neighbor, prepare for a neighborhood wedding in 1982. Prominent Chinese writer Liu portrays these eccentric and hilarious individuals while depicting the lingering impacts of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and exploring a world of uncertainty.