The book cover is already gorgeous, but then Angie snapped this picture of it, and, dang!

A Town Called Solace

Guest Reviewer Alert! I lead an online book club that, this year, had a reading prompt of A Buddy Read. But wait… let’s start with a little background. Our guest reviewer is my dear friend Angie, who I met in college when we worked as Resident Advisors in one of the dorms. We graduated, and went our separate ways and then like 15 years later, a thing called Facebook started and we reconnected, as almost all Gen Xers did through that platform that we love and hate and love to hate. 

I knew I liked Angie in college, and imagine my delight when we reconnected when I learned she loved to read books too! So, here we are, having been reconnected for the last 12 years, meeting up in a Starbucks in North Phoenix while she and her hubs are in town for a few hours. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Books bring people together. I think they keep them together too. Let’s dive into our Buddy Read, A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson.

Lara: Welcome to Snotty Literati, Angie! Thanks for agreeing to read with me. I know we had great intentions of reading this book and reviewing it in the first half of 2022. It seems like our college habits of waiting until the last minute crept in and here we are in the 11th hour getting our “assignment” done. Wait, I just assumed you were a procrastinator… that wasn’t fair. I know I was.

Angie: Lara, thanks for having me! How exciting to be a guest with Snotty Literati! Yes, you remember correctly. I lean into procrastinating way too much! 

Lara: Oh, good! I always had this picture of you being super on-time… and maybe even ahead of things. Okay – let’s give our readers what they came here for: BOOK TALK. 

Angie: Yes! The book! Thank you for giving me A Town Called Solace for Christmas last year. Such a cool way to invite me into this Buddy Read!  How did you come across it? What got you interested in reading it?

Lara: I am pretty certain I heard about it on Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? Podcast. And the set up had me instantly interested: Small town, teenager gone missing (Rose), young sister (Clara) sitting vigil at the living room window every moment she was able. Add to that, Clara’s senior neighbor (Elizabeth) has gone to the hospital leaving her cat in Clara’s care when all of a sudden, a young man seems to have moved into Elizabeth’s house and Clara’s parents aren’t doing anything about it. In other words… DRAMA. I was ready for it. 

So, what were your initial thoughts? Did the multiple storylines work for you?

Angie: Yes! I loved getting to know Clara, Elizabeth, and Liam through their own voices. The book did a great job of transporting me to the sleepy town in northern Canada. If anything, I wanted to get to know these characters better. I felt Lawson could have taken us deeper into their characters. How about you, did you feel like you wanted to KNOW them better?

Lara: That’s a super good point. I think when you start the book, you think it’s Clara’s story. But I actually think it’s Elizabeth’s, Clara’s neighbor. Of all the characters, we learn the most about her, her life, her challenges growing her family, and how Liam and she are connected–and have been for a long time. Elizabeth’s character was absolutely fascinating to me. On the surface, easily judged. With more time, understanding, and empathy, a wholly human and flawed person. I think the other characters were ancillary to Elizabeth’s story, but interesting, nonetheless.

Lawson’s characters cover different ages/life stages. Do you think she got their voices and perspectives right?

Angie: I do! The genuine innocence of 7-year-old Clara, the inner conflicts of 35-year-old Liam, and the end-of-life reflections of Elizabeth; Lawson got these varied voices so right. I just wanted to know them all better and I found myself getting antsy to know what brought the three of them together! I consumed this book by eye and ear (I couldn’t miss this deadline with you by not finishing the book so I had to multi-task by listening while driving). I will say the performance of Clara especially was dumbed way down and I found that really disappointing. Little Clara was far more capable and connected than she was portrayed in the audio. You make such a great point — that the story is really that of Elizabeth! Tell me more about your fascination with Elizabeth?   

Lara: True confession. I read and listened too. This was my in-person’s book club pick for September and I was at risk of not finishing. I agree that the audiobook narrator’s voicing of Clara was a major let down. Enough that I would say this is a story to be consumed via book or e-reader. 

Okay, back to Elizabeth. She’s so complex. She was married, and seemed to have a loving and supportive husband (he’s since passed away), and they struggled to have children. She’s experienced a lot of loss in her life… loss that I think influences her thinking and perspectives and fosters her making decisions that most of us would not make. And yet, the way Lawson writes about her, peeling away the layers of her story, as a reader, I only had empathy for her. 

I also thought she nailed Clara’s innocence and feeling of protection for her older sister, the dynamic of Clara’s parents, and the isolated loner, Liam. I didn’t need to know more about them – I liked the underlying focus on Elizabeth. 

What did you think of Lawson’s writing? Does this book make you want to read more by her?

Angie: Oh gosh! There are so many books out there that are calling for me. I probably won’t quickly circle back to Lawson’s work. But, as we discussed over coffee, we both have watched authors grow and improve. So, never say never, right? I have loved digging into this story with you. What about you? Will you seek more by Lawson? What are you reading right now by eye and/or by ear?

Lara: It makes me want to read her book Crow Lake but, like you, so many books so little time. I will add it to my ever-growing TBR list. 

As for right now, I always have a few things going on. I just reread Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years for my in-person book club. I am ear-reading Celeste Ng’s latest, Our Missing Hearts for our local indie bookstore’s November discussion. Via kindle I am reading Diane Wilson’s The Seed Keeper for a planner community book club I am in. And I am about to start Tiago Forte’s Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential for a work book club. I know, it’s too much. 

What about you? What are you reading?

Angie: I love that you surround yourself with books and communities of book lovers! I am circling back to some reads I put on hold to meet our deadline for this great meet-up, Beneath the Scarlet Sky and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (a Scottish book I started on a recent vacation to Scotland). By ear, I am reading The Power by Naomi Alderman — a book you recommended to me. It’s captivating! 

Lara, I love that we have reconnected over books after all these years. Thank you for this buddy read, for our friendship, and for having me as a guest on Snotty Literati! What a treat this whole morning has been. Love you, Friend!

Lara: Oh, I love that you are loving The Power! It’s so good! I can’t wait to hear what you think once you have finished it. Angie, this was such a treat and you did a fantastic job on this review! Love you back!

Next Up!

Jennifer and I will be back before the end of 2022 with our Best and Worst lists for the year. See you soon!