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The Lace Reader: A Novel
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Product Description

Every gift has a price . . .

Every piece of lace has a secret . . .

My name is Towner Whitney. No, that's not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time. . . .

Towner Whitney, the self-confessed unreliable narrator of The Lace Reader, hails from a family of Salem women who can read the future in the patterns in lace, and who have guarded a history of secrets going back generations, but the disappearance of two women brings Towner home to Salem and the truth about the death of her twin sister to light.

The Lace Reader is a mesmerizing tale that spirals into a world of secrets, confused identities, lies, and half-truths in which the reader quickly finds it's nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction, but as Towner Whitney points out early on in the novel, "There are no accidents."



Amazon Best of the Month, August 2008: Brunonia Barry dreamt she saw a prophecy in a piece of lace, a vision so potent she spun it into a novel. The Lace Reader retains the strange magic of a vivid dream, though Barry's portrayal of modern-day Salem, Massachusetts--with its fascinating cast of eccentrics--is reportedly spot-on. Some of its stranger residents include generations of Whitney women, with a gift for seeing the future in the lace they make. Towner Whitney, back to Salem from self-imposed exile on the West Coast, has plans for recuperation that evaporate with her great-aunt Eva's mysterious drowning. Fighting fear from a traumatic adolescence she can barely remember, Towner digs in for answers. But questions compound with the disappearance of a young woman under the thrall of a local fire-and-brimstone preacher, whose history of violence against Whitney women makes the situation personal for Towner. Her role in cop John Rafferty's investigation sparks a tentative romance. And as they scramble to avert disaster, the past that had slipped through the gaps in Towner's memory explodes into the present with a violence that capsizes her concept of truth. Readers will look back at the story in a new light, picking out the clues in this complex, lovely piece of work. --Mari Malcolm

Customer Reviews:

  • A long slog--with patches of promise
    I wanted to like this book. I read most of it (skipping a little in the middle). But the theme kept eluding me. Was it a diary of an eccentric New Englander? History of domestic violence and child abuse? A love story with confusing flip flops of desire? A updated treatise on Salem witchcraft? A metaphysical puzzle using lace-making as a symbol -- of something?

    Too much work to make sense of it all. I like concrete stories. Unlike others who have posted reviews, I did like the twist at the end. You really have to be into female bonding to get along in this book....more info
  • A fascinating story!
    THE LACE READER (Novel/Susp-Towner Whitney-Mass-Cont) - VG
    Barry, Brunonia - 1st book
    Wm. Morrow, 2008, ARC - ISBN: 9780061688584

    First Sentence: My name is Towner Whitney.

    Towner Whitney grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, a town known for the witch trials in the 1600s and where, in the present, witches have become a major economic asset; except to Cal and his group of "Calvinist" religious fanatics. Tower descends from a family of women who read the future using lace as the medium.

    Having lived in California for the past 10-years and recovering from surgery, she returns to Salem after being notified that her Aunt Eva, who principally raised her, is missing. Coming back to Salem is memories and relationships, including Cal, whom she believes is responsible for Eva's disappearance.

    The story begins with our being told that everything Towner tells us is a lie and everything told by the narrator is true. It is important to keep that distinction in mind. But rather than it being a lie, it's about memory and a distorted perception of what is true. This changes as the story unfolds.

    There is a theme of circles throughout the story; the circle of women whether they be the lace makers, the witches or the Red Hat Ladies, and the circle of past and present. For Towner, it's her life, memories and the relationships with those around her.

    Towner is a fascinating protagonist and certainly unusual. She is a seer and a lace reader, but you never quite know where things stand with her. When young, she and her sister broke into a house and cleaned it. "The kind of thing only a girl would do."

    It's not the easiest book to follow But it is a compelling story with a wonderful sense of place, wry humor, a paranormal element that I very much enjoyed, and some very good suspense that kept me turning the pages wanting to know how it would end.

    It's not a perfect book. There were some threads begun and left hanging. But I was reading the ARC and can hope those were corrected in the final version. I may just be curious enough to buy the final to find out.

    ...more info
  • Good Book
    I was surprised by this book. It had interesting characters, great imagery, and an ever twisting plot that kept me on my toes. This book was so great, I had a hard time putting it down each night. If you're looking for a fast read, this is it!...more info
  • Lace Reader: A well-crafted story
    I was lucky enough to receive The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry, from a friend's mother as a gift. I'm almost half way into the book, and have found many personally meaningful threads running through the story. For one, the antique lace around which the story is centered brings me back to a textile boutique in the Westminster Arcade I used to frequent in my twenties. I had a penchant for antiques at the time, and collected quite a few hand-made pieces. I remember the owner of the store eschewing the machined lace in favor of the fine handiwork and intricacies of the older lace she offered. It was beyond my understanding how anyone could create such a delicate, decorative piece by hand. Similarly, I've found that Brunonia Barry subtly works fine details into The Lace Reader with seemingly as little effort. I am fascinated by her clever technique of weaving depth into the characters and story line with each turn of the page. I've yet to finish reading the book, but am certain it is well-crafted from beginning to end.

    Jackie Gately
    Marketing, Technical, and Editorial Communications
    jackiegately.wordpress.com...more info
  • Disappointing
    Things I liked: Barry has a powerful ability to evoke "place." Her descriptions of the locations were masterful. I especially enjoyed the subtle way that she drew us into the more fantastic or fantasy aspects of the story. I found the premises and settings and characters all quite believable. Towner and her Aunt Evie were especially well done.

    I also enjoyed the way the story flowed along. Its pace was quite well done; I felt neither rushed nor mired down as the story progressed and the elements began to weave themselves together.

    What didn't I like? (and how to review them without spoilers?) By the time the stories began to draw to a conclusion, I was confused, but Barry had drawn her characters so well that I cared what happened to them. Then, unfortunately, the plot twists overwhelmed both the pace of the novel - more or less just ended with a "revelation." I closed the book thinking - truth! - "OK, what was the point of that?"

    The book is worth reading if you enjoy immersion in place and character. If plot is important, the book will even satisfy to a degree... so long as you don't demand that it end - um - logically.

    I suspect this review may not be very helpful, but it may give you a sense of how befuddled you might be when the book ends....more info
  • A long slog--with patches of promise
    I wanted to like this book. I read most of it (skipping a little in the middle). But the theme kept eluding me. Was it a diary of an eccentric New Englander? History of domestic violence and child abuse? A love story with confusing flip flops of desire? A updated treatise on Salem witchcraft? A metaphysical puzzle using lace-making as a symbol -- of something?

    Too much work to make sense of it all. I like concrete stories. Unlike others who have posted reviews, I did like the twist at the end. You really have to be into female bonding to get along in this book....more info
  • Good, but not great
    I agree with some of the reviewers on here who enjoyed THE HERETIC'S DAUGHTER more than THE LACE READER. In many ways I found this book overhyped, and I'd be very surprised if any of her future books ever do half as well. While the subject matter was interesting, the writing was just average, and the plot was a bit muddled. ...more info
  • The Lace Reader
    The Lace Reader: A Novel

    It took awhile to get into this book. And not until the end did I realize that the main character did not actually have a living twin. Much of the subject matter was cloudy and dark. The witches and red hat ladies did lighten it up a bit. ...more info
  • Tolerable reading
    The hype by critics on the back cover of this book do it a great disservice. The writing is good, character development solid, and the pacing okay. However, to read the back cover one would imagine the contents to be more exciting, more intense, and more hair-raising than they actually turn out to be. If you like to read slow-paced, character driven fiction and/or enjoy the "chick-flick" genre then you will like this book. However, you will not find an "astonishing end," or "a wild, dark place," or anything "creepy or fascinating" about the book (all things promised on the dust jacket). What you will find is a mix of death, psychic visions/readings, and abused women all combined in a seacoast town known for the eccentricities of its people. ...more info
  • What ??!!
    From the cover of this book, to the initial description and title, it seemed like it would be a unique and good read. By page 87 I found myself wondering why I ever thought that in the first place. The person who designed the cover is a marketing genious, yes - covers sell books. I finally finished the book and can't be quite as complimentary to the editor. I think there could have been a good story there, but it really needed to be edited down. Why does the reader need 100+ pages of useless drivel? Really annoying.
    ...more info
  • Different, not fabulous
    I was interested in reading this book because it was recommended to me, but mostly because I had spent a little time last summer in the Salem area. While all the places didn't quite gibe with my memory, it is always great to have a feel for setting as you read. The story promised more than it delivered. I had the "twists" figured out long before they happened; I love dogs in stories, but these were never developed as integral to the plot; the lace reading aspect was fascinating, but never seemed to go anywhere either. The main surprise in the story reminded me so much of Chris Bohjalian's Double Bind (also read last summer) that is wasn't a surprise at all.

    An ok book and I'm not sorry I read it, but I won't keep it either....more info
  • A Tatting Review
    This story has a little bit of everything from romance to mystery. It delves into personal tragedy with a "sixth sense" climax. I loved it and would recommend to many....more info
  • Impressive and interesting!
    I was impressed with this book. I enjoyed reading it and it kept my interest. The ending is great - well written and surprising. I recommend this to anyone who wants a read that is not ordinary and has a great element of surprise. ...more info
  • Poor delivery time
    This product was ordered 4/09/09 and not delivered until May 1. This is totally unacceptable....more info
  • Not too impressed with this one
    I can't imagine why it gets all the rave reviews that it does.

    The story starts off with one person's storyline (Towner/Sophya), switches to another (Rafferty) and yet another (Angela) and never really finishes any of them. Bounces back and forth between perspectives (which this device sometimes works if used right, but does not in this one). Leaves lots of loose ends hanging at the end and only left me with more questions. A lot of things were hinted at, but never explained. It was as if I was watching a movie based off of a book and they had to cut parts out of it for time purposes, but took out key elements to make everything make sense.

    The characters were kind of one-dimensional. I didn't really care about any of them and didn't feel like I could relate to any of them either.

    Was tough to get through the first third of the book- I wasn't sure I was going to finish it at first and that's rare for me not to finish a book. Check it out from the library if you plan to read it. I'm glad I did....more info
  • Great read!
    A great read that I've recommended to many! I live in Salem MA and grew up in an adjacent town...so I was already interested by the location of the story. But I was very impressed with the writing and pace of the story. It's a sure winner for me!...more info
  • Weaving a good story
    I was instantly pulled into the story of this book. Even though the story weaves from here to there, you find yourself compelled to find out what happens to Towner. A well layered novel, that gives complex understanding into the characters. A great book....more info
  • An awesome Halloween read
    I don't know how to review this without laying out a long list of spoilers, which would ruin it for you. I'd never heard of this author and wasn't expecting anything moving. This book was an awesome surprise. It's the tale of a flawed heroine and the town of Salem. The premise could have taken place yesterday or three hundred years ago. It does have a touch of Hawthorne to it, and that's all I'll say on that. It's engaging - I read the whole thing in a two day marathon session that was as rewarding as it was exhausting. The book is written in several styles - first person, first person omniscient, and third person which keeps the pace flowing for all 400 pages. Most of all, I enjoyed being back in Salem. Ms. Barry captures the spirit of a quirky society that thrives off tourism and history. There are so many cultures that converge in Salem. Somehow she has touched on all of them without resorting to stereotype or judgment. Her characters are refreshingly multi-dimensional.

    If you plan on visiting Salem, or want to know more about it through a wonderful piece of moving fiction - do get this book. This is also a wonderful testament to the strengths and flaws of non-conformity. I look forward to more from Brunonia Barry. She's guaranteed to end up a favorite....more info
  • Outstanding
    Loved this book. The comparison to The Sixth Sense is perfect. Left me stunned and having to go back to re-read many passages. Highly recommended! ...more info
  • The Lace Reader
    It was easy reading and held my attention; however, when I finished it, I realized I still didn't understand the plot....more info
  • A novel that will be hard to forget
    Reviewed by Sandie Kirkland for RebeccasReads (12/08)


    Salem, Massachusetts is the home of the Whitney family. Whitney women are known for their strength, their eccentricity and their ability to read the future in lace. There is Eva, the matriarch, who lives in Salem, reads lace and runs a tearoom. May, her stepdaughter, is an agrophobic who lives on an island in the harbour, where she has devoted her life to helping battered women, many of whom live there while putting their lives back together. Emma, Eva's daughter, also lives on the island, blinded and brain-damaged after a beating by her husband, Cal. May's daughters were twin girls, Towner and Lyndley. Lyndley committed suicide when she was seventeen and Towner left town, seeking a new life.

    As the story opens, Eva has gone missing and Towner returns home, drawn by this family crisis. Towner seems to be the catalyst that causes old relationships and secrets to reemerge. Cal Boynton is back in town where he has reinvented himself as a religious leader of a cult-like following. A young girl, Angela Rickey, who is pregnant with Cal's child, also disappears. Towner's old love, Jack, is still in town and anxious to resume their relationship. In addition, a town policeman, Rafferty, also falls in love with Towner. Towner starts to untangle the mysteries that have haunted her life. Why did her twin commit suicide in front of her and Jack? What is the fixation that Cal has with the Whitney women? Towner slowly reveals the truth, sometimes reading lace to find patterns. The book rises to a page-turning climax where the truth that has formed this family is finally revealed.

    The Lace Reader is a compelling and satisfying read. It explores the issues of sexual and physical abuse. The mindset of those who enter cults is investigated. Suicide and mental illness are other themes, along with lost love and the yearning to hide in the past. While it covers depressing material, the book is not a depressing one overall. Rather, it leaves the reader with a message of hope and the realization that the truth must be faced in order to lose its power to skew lives. Not easily forgotten, this book is recommended for all fiction readers.

    ...more info
  • Unreliable narrator amped up
    I was only going to give this book 3 stars, but the ending was really good, if a bit melodramatic. I agree with another reviewer who said it was slow going in parts but filled in the gaps well in the end. The ending really did it for me. It was powerful and really highlighted the authors skill of bringing together all the little bits and pieces that were left out there for us to wonder about. There is a bit much of the water imagery throughout the book though....more info
  • i loved this book so much!
    This was a fabulous read!! I was sad when it was over. It kept me hanging on until the last page..and even after I was doen I was still hanging on....more info
  • An Amazing Talent
    The imagination of Brunonia Barry seems limitless--from it she creates a whole history and methodology of divination (lace reading is her brainchild), then weaves it through a complex family tale full of surprises. This book is extremely difficult to put down once you dive into it--the cast of characters could keep a bookclub busy through many pots of coffee. Especially the late in the game major plot twist and what it means for all of the characters. It's set in modern Salem, with all of it's newagey, witchcraft-as-tourism quirkyness. In fact, Barry originally self published this book for limited distribution in that area. It's not surprising that it caught the eye of both Hollywood and the publishing industry. It isn't often that a debut novel hits this hard, but word of mouth alone is going to put this one on the bestseller lists for a long time, let alone the ambitious marketing the publisher is doing in print and online. ...more info
  • What ??!!
    From the cover of this book, to the initial description and title, it seemed like it would be a unique and good read. By page 87 I found myself wondering why I ever thought that in the first place. The person who designed the cover is a marketing genious, yes - covers sell books. I finally finished the book and can't be quite as complimentary to the editor. I think there could have been a good story there, but it really needed to be edited down. Why does the reader need 100+ pages of useless drivel? Really annoying.
    ...more info
  • Lots of holes in the plot
    I grew up in Salem, and I was very excited when I heard about this book. Sadly, the best thing I can say about it is that it mentioned lots of familiar places. I found the story to be disjointed and garbled. The story is written from the points of view of two of the characters. One of them is written in the first person and the other in the third person which I found odd. Also, there were a lot of questions left unanswered when I finished the book. On the whole, I found this book more frustrating than entertaining....more info
  • Not a good read...at all.
    I read this book because my mother-in-law said it had been on the NYT bestseller list. I haven't checked this, but that really surprised me once I read the book.

    First, the author spends an inordinate amount of time discussing Salem, which gets to be very old after awhile. We get that the author's living in Salem. There is no point in describing every single street corner. The geography and her (bad) descriptions of the setting dominate the novel.

    Then, the main character is horribly drawn up. All of the characters and their relationships are confusing, and how they are related makes no sense, even when you get to the end of the novel. There is a random "witch hunt" thrown in the middle, evidently to keep the plot moving, but it just serves to make the book more unbelievable. This book could benefit from a heavy editor. One of the worst parts of the novel absolutely had to be when the author was talking about visiting the grave of her sister, and she noted that they had spelled her sister Lyndley's name wrong. The editing was just beyond awkward.

    Very disappointing as a first novel. Confusing, disjointed, unfulfilling, and ultimately just a bad story from a novelist possibly obsessed with the area she is from. I'll give her two stars because I feel bad for her that this is her first novel. I hope she gets better. I wish I could get back the time it took me to read. I will never have those hours back. ...more info
  • Tough at the start, but worth it in the end
    I'd really like to give this 3 1/2 *'s. Four is too much though, so I'm sticking with 3. After reading some of the reviews here, I felt that I needed to add my own two cents...

    I was born and raised in Salem, MA, so I was looking forward to reading this book. At first, I had a very difficult time getting into it. It gets a lot better once you get a chance to read some of Towner's journal. By that time, the narrative is moving along at a good clip and I found myself pretty absorbed in it all.

    Sometimes I felt that the author included some unnecessary details because they are unique to Salem, such as the passing references she makes to both Gallows Hill and the Witchcraft Heights school, both of which are real places in Salem. Still, she does a pretty good job describing certain areas of Salem, particularly the Willows.

    As for the ending, I've read some reviews that stated that there weren't enough clues to make the ending seem real. I had a hunch about the ending by the middle of the book, so to my mind there has to have been something in there that tipped me off. This is not the best-written novel that I've ever read, but it holds its own and is particularly interesting if you like fiction that deals with psychological issues and family dynamics. ...more info
  • The Bookschlepper Recommends
    This novel was self-published and sold so well a commercial publisher picked it up; went to the best-seller list. Offers a pragmatic look at Salem tourism. Well-written, tightly plotted, the novel is half-fantasy [intriguing concept of lace reading ties it all together.] and half psychology, dealing with the effects of abuse within the family and the community. Kept me up late reading to the very end. ...more info
  • falls apart at the end
    At first a compelling narrative with a carefully wrought sense of place, "The Lace Reader" degenerates into irredeemable melodrama in its final chapters....more info
  • I did not want this book to end.
    This novel is an Excellent debut. This is a well-written and engaging page-turner. The women were strong and unique Yankees connected by lace and separated by water in the bewitched historical fishing village of Salem Massachusetts. The story intertwined history, mystery, witchery, social issues, cults, religion, and relationships to tell the story of Sophya Whitney's turbulent childhood.
    I loved Brunonia Barry's use of imagery, symbolism and her cleaver ironic twists.
    I wanted another book of hers to read!
    Sue Seery-...more info
  • skip this one...don't waste your precious time
    Normally before I read a book that is on the bestseller lists I read the one and two star reviews on Amazon.com. I really wish I had done this before I read this book. Thank goodness I didn't waste money on it..got it out of the library..but I am deeply upset that I wasted my precious time on this junk. It was poorly written and extremely boring. I am sorry I pushed through until the end and had no satisfaction when it finally ended. The characters are boring and poorly executed. Other reviews express this much better so be sure to read the one and two star reviews. I am shocked she was paid so much for this trash. SKIP IT!!!...more info