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Author Picks: 5 Books Set in Charming Small Towns

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Christine Simon grew up in a very large and very loud Italian family and now lives with her husband and four children. The Patron Saint of Second Chances is her first novel.

 

When I wrote my debut novel, The Patron Saint of Second Chances, it was the early days of the pandemic. I hadn’t left the house in weeks, my kids were on Zoom school, and it felt eerily as if we might be trapped . . . forever. For me, one of the saving graces of that time was escaping into my novel, which is set in a tiny—and mercifully pandemic-free—Italian village. While I was physically stuck in the house, I gloried in roaming the fictional streets of Prometto, which I based on my grandparents’ real-life village—a microscopic, ramshackle place perched on a mountain and overlooking the Ionian Sea. I’ve since realized that the books to which I’ve always been most drawn have something vital in common with my own: they all take place in charming small towns. Here are five of my favorite. 

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson

Helen Simonson is a British expat living in the States, and I suspect she was missing home when she wrote her wonderful first novel about retired Major Pettigrew, a man who’s lived a very expected life until the unexpected death of his brother. The descriptions of Edgecombe St. Mary, a tiny English village brimming with flowers and footpaths, are so loving and so detailed that you’ll feel as if you’ve been there yourself. The story is delightful, too, with our stodgy Major stepping outside his normal routine to develop a friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper—a friendship that rocks their respective families and changes both their lives forever.

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Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Helen Simonson

13 Books to Read After A MAN CALLED OVE

So you’ve finished reading A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman and fallen in love with the (secretly wonderful) Swedish curmudgeon known as Ove. And now you’re bereft. We understand. What do you read after falling under the spell of such an unexpected, surprising, charming book?

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Circle of Friends
by Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy is famous for her sprawling stories about life in Ireland, many of which take place in modern-day Dublin. CIRCLE OF FRIENDS, however, is special, being set in the 1950s, and dividing its action between Dublin and the tiny, charming town of Knockglen. Binchy lavishes all her vast talents on Knockglen’s main street, with Flood’s butchery, Birdie Mac’s sweets shop, Hogan’s Gentleman’s Outfitters, and the wicked Mrs. Healy’s hotel. Even though the novel’s lovable heroine, Benny—whose parents’ dreams for her are smaller than the dreams she has for herself—longs to escape Knockglen, readers will want to grab a packet of crisps from Mario’s cafe and stay and stay.

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Circle of Friends
Maeve Binchy

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In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
by Alexander McCall Smith

I love Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series so much, I tried looking up the real location of the main character’s house on Google Maps—and guess what? It looks exactly like I’d thought it would! In this particular installment, the indomitable Mma Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective, as well as unerring purveyor of kindness and wisdom, must solve the case of a break-in at her own house on Zebra Drive—a matter complicated by the mysterious appearance of an unsolicited pumpkin on her porch. You’ll fall in love with the characters, and in the meantime, receive a guided tour of Gaborone, with its empty sky; acacia, syringa, and paw-paw trees; and the distant, dry air of the Kalahari.  

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In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Alexander McCall Smith

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Britt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

At first glance, the setting of Fredrik Backman’s second novel isn’t charming at all. Borg, Sweden, is a falling-down place, filled with ennui and despair, and—not to put too fine a point on it—one of the first things the heroine does when she arrives there is to fall down in the parking lot. However, sometimes all a place needs is a little love and a little enthusiasm, because when it comes down to it, a place is really the people who live there. Britt-Marie finds herself in the unlikely position of coaching a failing youth soccer team, and once that happens, the whole place seems to brighten. It’s the people of Borg who come together to make their town into a place anyone might like to visit.

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Britt-Marie Was Here
Fredrik Backman

The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry “returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after a personal crisis…fans of Backman will find another winner in these pages” (Publishers Weekly).

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.

When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?

Funny and moving, sweet and inspiring, Britt-Marie Was Here celebrates the importance of community and connection in a world that can feel isolating.

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Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery

Ah, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, the novel of my youth. L. M. Montgomery borrowed her real-life hometown of Cavendish, located on Prince Edward Island, Canada, when she conjured the town of Avonlea, and she infused the fictional creation with all the deep and abiding love she had for the real thing. Avonlea is a place out of time—take, for instance, the little general store, the one-room schoolhouse, the puffed-sleeve dresses—but the characters—eager and sensitive Anne, long-suffering Marilla, and domineering Mrs. Lynde, to name a few—make it absolutely timeless. And, if you really love it, you can visit—the real Green Gables house receives over a hundred thousand visitors a year.

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Anne of Green Gables
L. M. Montgomery

A Time Best YA Book of All Time (2021)

Anne Shirley is unforgettable, and this beautifully packaged edition of L.M. Montgomery’s classic novel is as memorable as its heroine.

When Anne Shirley arrives at Green Gables, she surprises everyone: first of all, she’s a girl, even though Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew specifically asked for an orphan boy to help around the farm. And second of all, she’s not just any girl: she has bright red hair, a wild imagination, and can talk a mile a minute.

But she also has a sweet disposition and quick wit, and Anne (with an “e” of course—it’s so much more distinguished!) soon finds her place in Avonlea, making a friend in her neighbor Diana Barry and attending the local school, where she spurns the advances of the popular and handsome Gilbert Blythe when he commits the ultimate sin of making fun of her hair.

Anne has a temper as fiery as her hair and a knack for finding trouble, and she also has a big heart and a positive attitude that affects everyone she meets. This classic and beloved story makes a wonderful gift and keepsake.

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MENTIONED IN:

Author Picks: 5 Books Set in Charming Small Towns

By Christine Simon | February 23, 2022

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The Patron Saint of Second Chances
by Christine Simon

The Patron Saint of Second Chances comes out on April 12, 2022!

Vacuum repairman and self-appointed mayor of Prometto, Italy (population 212) Signor Speranza has a problem: unless he can come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s pipes, the water commission will shut off the water to the village and all its residents will be forced to disperse. So in a bid to boost tourism—and revenue—he spreads a harmless rumor that movie star Dante Rinaldi will be filming his next project nearby. Unfortunately, the plan works a little too well, and soon everyone in town wants to be a part of the fictional film—the village butcher will throw in some money if Speranza can find roles for his fifteen enormous sons, Speranza’s wistfully adrift daughter reveals an unexpected interest in stage makeup, and his hapless assistant Smilzo volunteers a screenplay that’s not so secretly based on his undying love for the film’s leading lady. To his surprise—and considerable consternation, Speranza realizes that the only way to keep up the ruse is to make the movie for real.

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The Patron Saint of Second Chances
Christine Simon

The self-appointed mayor of a tiny Italian village is determined to save his hometown no matter the cost in this charming, hilarious, and heartwarming debut novel.

Vacuum repairman and self-appointed mayor of Prometto, Italy (population 212) Signor Speranza has a problem: unless he can come up with 70,000 euros to fix the town’s pipes, the water commission will shut off the water to the village and all its residents will be forced to disperse. So in a bid to boost tourism—and revenue—he spreads a harmless rumor that movie star Dante Rinaldi will be filming his next project nearby.

Unfortunately, the plan works a little too well, and soon everyone in town wants to be a part of the fictional film—the village butcher will throw in some money if Speranza can find roles for his fifteen enormous sons, Speranza’s wistfully adrift daughter reveals an unexpected interest in stage makeup, and his hapless assistant Smilzo volunteers a screenplay that’s not so secretly based on his undying love for the film’s leading lady. To his surprise—and considerable consternation, Speranza realizes that the only way to keep up the ruse is to make the movie for real.

As the entire town becomes involved (even the village priest invests!) Signor Speranza starts to think he might be able to pull this off. But what happens when Dante Rinaldi doesn’t show up? Or worse, what if he does?

A “hilariously funny and beautifully written” (Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of Better Luck Next Time) novel about the power of community, The Patron Saint of Second Chances is perfect for fans of Fredrik Backman and Maria Semple.

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Photo credit: iStock / TomasSereda

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