Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Review & Giveaway - - Big in Sweden

Big in Sweden
by Sally Franson
Publisher: Mariner Books
Release Date: July 2, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

Paulie Johansson has never put much stock in the idea of family: she has her long-term boyfriend Declan and beloved best friend Jemma, and that’s more than enough for her. Yet one night on a lark, she lets Jemma convince her to audition for Sverige och Mig, a show on Swedish television where Swedish-Americans compete to win the ultimate prize: a reunion with their Swedish relatives. Much to her shock, her drunken submission video wins her a spot on the show, and against Declan’s advice Paulie decides to go for it.

Armed with her Polaroid camera, a beat-up copy of Pippi Longstocking, and an unquenchable sense of possibility, Paulie hops on a plane to Sweden and launches into the contest with seven other Americans, all under the watchful eye of a camera crew. At first, Paulie is certain that she and her competitors have nothing in common besides their passports and views their bloodthirsty ambitions with suspicion. Yet amid the increasingly absurd challenges—rowing from Denmark to Sweden in the freezing rain, battling through obstacle courses, competing in a pickled herring eating contest—Paulie finds herself rethinking her snap judgments about her fellow countrymen, while her growing attachment to her Swedish roots increases her resolve to win the competition herself.

Grappling with long-held notions of family, friendship, and love—not to mention her feelings for the distractingly handsome Swedish cameraman who’s been assigned to follow her around—Paulie starts to reconsider her past and rethink what she wants for the future. A fish-out-of-water tale filled with warmth, optimism, and wit, Big in Sweden is at its heart a love story: love for family, friends, country, and—most importantly—oneself. 

PJ's Thoughts:

This was an interesting book. From the cover, I was expecting a rom-com but this is more of a women's fiction, coming-of-age story, though with a heroine in her thirties. That's not to say there isn't humor; there is plenty to generate laughter and some great one-liners but also a fair amount of soul searching and emotional depth. It was meatier than I expected it to be.
There's a fairly large cast of characters and at times I did get confused about who was who and which back story applied to which contestant on the show. I had to go back and forth a few times to figure it out. Paulie's character is pretty well fleshed out over the course of the book with a significant amount of self-growth after a rocky journey. She's a fish out of water so some ups and down are to be expected but she's also at loose ends in life. I enjoyed not only watching her evolve but also realizing my feelings about her had evolved as well. I didn't like her all that much at the beginning but that slowly began to change as she changed. And I also enjoyed her interactions with the other contestants. I was surprised by the relationships that formed - and with whom - as well as the challenges other characters faced. And I love the found family. That part of the book made my heart so happy. 
My favorite part of the book is the travel around Sweden during the filming of the reality show. The author does a great job of creating a sense of place as well as capturing the personality of Swedes in general. Many of the locales depicted in the book are places I've visited and it was fun to revisit them through her words and characters. For those readers who have not visited Sweden, this book just may make you book that trip. 

*Note: I feel I should warn readers that Paulie's character is very blunt and outspoken about her negative feelings relating to politics and social issues in the U.S. so if that's not your cup of tea, you may want to give this book a pass or just take a pass on those pages.

Have you ever visited Sweden?
Do you watch any reality shows on TV? Which ones?
Would you ever audition to be on one?
One randomly chosen person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, July 4 will receive a print advance reader copy of Big in Sweden.
*U.S. Only
*Must be 18


  1. I do not watch reality shows. I have never been to Sweden, but have some friends whose family originates there. It is as likely that I would be on a reality show as that I may become taller in the near future. Thanks for the review. As always you provide me with information about new to me authors and books.

    1. This was a new-to-me author too. I love how many new authors I've been discovering this year.

  2. I haven't visited Sweden. This book sounds unique and entertaining. I don't watch reality shows nor would I audition for one. I probably would be rejected anyway.

    1. This author really captures the essence of the Sweden I came to know during my three weeks visiting my niece there.

  3. I have not visited Sweden, but would love to! My great grandmother left Sweden for America with her family when she was a child, so I would qualify for this reality show although I'd never apply. I can't think of any reason I'd be willing to be on a reality show though. The reality shows that I watch are cooking competitions -- I'm not sure they really qualify as reality shows.

    1. I hope that someday you'll be able to visit your great grandmother's home country. It really is lovely.

  4. The synopsis sounds good, but I like to be neutral with politics. But, since I have a little bit of Swedish blood in me and mostly Danish, it sounds like an intriguing read. So, I would pick this book up.
    I've not been to Sweden; however, my mother has been there and has visited her great-grandmother's resting place. I've been to Denmark and spent six weeks there, staying with relatives the entire time. I would love to go back.
    Thank you for the review, PJ.

    1. You really could just skip over the political parts and enjoy the rest of the book, I think.

  5. Sadly, I have never been able to visit Sweden. I have heard good things about it from those who have visited.
    I really do not watch many reality shows. We follow The Amazing Race for several years. It was nice being able to travel vicariously for a bit. Actually we do watch Dr. Pol and several other veterinarian shows, so I guess that would be considered reality TV.
    When The Amazing Race first came on, I tried to convince the family to audition without much luck. We had the perfect skills for a family team with everyone doing well in different areas. Our son's comment was he didn't want the family to look as dysfunctional as so many teams did. Now, with our health issues, my husband and I would be the first to be eliminated.

  6. No I haven't visited Sweden

    Rose Ward


  7. Have never visited Sweden, but I hear it is gorgeous! I grew up in a Swedish town In Illinois. I love women fiction though. A new author for me.

  8. Would luv to visit Sweden! Luv Swedish meatballs from Ikea and ABBA of course!! Thanks PJ for your helpful reviews! This is Naomi nbomotano@yahoo.com