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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
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Whatever would lead a European to vacation in Broken Wheel, Iowa, that “complete waste of brick, asphalt and concrete”? For Sara Lindqvist, the answer is books. Over the last two years she’s built up a friendship with Amy Harris of Broken Wheel through pen pal letters and exchanges of books. Now that the bookshop where she worked in Sweden has closed down, she has a bit of time and money to devote to a trip to America. “Reading books isn’t a bad way to live your life, but lately Sara had begun to wonder what kind of life it was, exactly.” She’s looking for a wider community, and certainly finds it in small-town USA. Although circumstances aren’t exactly as expected when she arrives in Iowa, she makes the best of it by opening Oak Tree Bookstore (as a labor of love, mind you; she can’t work on her visa). The whole town comes together to plan a wedding so Sara can earn residency, but will the ceremony convince the authorities – or is the emotion behind it such a sham after all?

Given that she’d never visited the States at the time she wrote this novel (published in her native Sweden in 2013), Bivald has painted a remarkably accurate picture of a tiny Midwestern town peopled with fundamentalists, gays, rednecks and a gun-toting diner owner. She’s especially sensitive to the post-recession situation. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Broken Wheel is locked in a rivalry with the neighboring town of Hope, and Sara makes it a personal mission to get Iowans reading. The kind of small-town charm you’d find in a Darien Gee or Jan Karon book is here in spades. I also appreciated how Sara helps people step outside their reading comfort zone: George, a middle-aged former alcoholic, delves into Bridget Jones and Shopaholic, while Caroline, a Christian busybody, tries a work of gay erotica. In all honesty, I was not too interested in Caroline’s romantic exploits or George’s family issues, but Bivald has done a decent job fleshing out all her secondary characters.

Like The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, this is definitely chick lit, with a predictable Pride and Prejudice-esque romance at its heart, but I much prefer Bivald’s take. It’s warm-hearted and sweet, whereas Fikry was pure treacle. Maybe it’s the combination of bibliophilia and Scandinavian quirk that does it for me (and a dash of the epistolary never hurts). Sara has refreshingly Catholic taste: she treasures chick lit and thrillers – the good ones, anyway – alongside Austen and Candide. Although she still isn’t sure whether she prefers books or people, she believes she can find just the right book for anyone. My favorite incident is probably when the town watches in awe through the bookshop window as Sara spends a record 5 hours 37 minutes reading – she eats a sandwich with one hand and switches between books when she finishes one, but barely looks up.

A cute read for book lovers, provided you can stomach a bit of chick lit / romance.

Notable passages:

“For as long as she could remember, she had thought that autumn air went well with books, that the two somehow belonged with blankets, comfortable armchairs and big cups of coffee or tea.”

“Sara couldn’t help but think that she had somehow missed the moment when life was meant to begin. For a long time she had simply been drifting through it, reading, and while everyone around her had been teenaged, unhappy and foolish, this hadn’t been a problem. But then suddenly everyone had grown up around her and she, she had done nothing but read.”

I was delighted to win a free advanced copy through Goodreads First Reads.


I enjoyed this interview with the author.
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Reading Progress

March 27, 2015 – Shelved
March 27, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
April 4, 2015 – Shelved as: giveaways-winner
April 4, 2015 – Shelved as: bibliophiles-delight
April 4, 2015 – Shelved as: lit-in-translation
April 23, 2015 – Started Reading
April 23, 2015 – Shelved as: scandinavian
April 24, 2015 –
page 129
34.31% "At first I thought this would just be a rehashing of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry -- and it does have a lot in common with that one, including a small-town American bookstore setting and a fairly predictable romance. For some reason, though, I find this a lot more charming. Maybe it's the Scandinavian quirk?"
April 29, 2015 – Finished Reading
May 1, 2015 – Shelved as: epistolary

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