The Lace Reader: A Novel


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The town's most sporting avowed witch, a direct descendant of a married couple executed in , seems to be acting out a one-woman family protest. And while the town still has militant Calvinists, they are now followers of a cult leader named Cal Boynton. In the midst of this admirably mischievous depiction of Salem, Barry introduces her mentally unstable heroine.

Her last name is Whitney, and her first is either Towner or Sophya the latter misspelled, but borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife. Towner admits in the first paragraph of her story that she can be something of a liar. So the reader is left, as in an M. Night Shyamalan movie, to guess what her great big secret whopper happens to be. Here are some things Towner says about herself: That she was brought up in a blue-blooded but highly confusing family. That her biological mother, May, had twins but gave up one of them, possibly because she had a spare.

That Towner's great-aunt Eva is the place's most eccentric citizen, which is Salem's equivalent of an Olympic gold medal. And that Eva could see the future by reading the Ipswich lace that is painstakingly handmade in this region. Eva, perhaps while imprisoned in a fortune cookie factory, has written a text called "The Lace Reader's Guide," and lines from it are cited at the start of each chapter.

Sample saying: "Every Reader of lace must learn to exist within the empty spaces that form the question.


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Despite its title, "The Lace Reader" does not feature much actual lace reading. But it does convey the particulars of making lace with bobbins made of bone, navigating the islands near Salem with a fisherman's ease and, last but hardly least, recuperating from a mental breakdown. Towner has, for reasons that Barry will keep up her sleeve, undergone a long hospitalization and electroshock therapy. Her memory has been left highly unreliable. Was Towner's sister really supernaturally "possessing her" during times she wanted to seem more rambunctious?

Or was her sister an imaginary coping mechanism for abuse? What really happened to Towner Normally I love this kind of open-ended book, but the strange familial relationships wait Her sister was given away at birth? Is that really her brother then? A brilliant concept of a novel, especially with the idea of lace-reading and the setting of Salem, but executed a bit less masterfully than I would have preferred.

View all 8 comments. Reading this book is like falling asleep in a moderately interesting class. A moment flutters by that briefly captures your imagination, but mainly things are just droning along. Droning, that is, until the last moment when the teacher starts ranting and throwing things. I'm awake, I'm awake--what's happening? This book has one of those crazy twist endings that just doesn't make sense, and you suspect that you missed something since you were, after all, practically asleep.

Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry | Books | The Guardian

But you didn't. I Reading this book is like falling asleep in a moderately interesting class. It's just a bad ending to a relatively dull book. I don't need authors to connect all the dots for me or make endings into neatly wrapped packages, but this was too messy.

It's not that there are unanswered questions, it's that I'm not even sure what questions to ask. I suspect that the opening line of this book, where the main character warns us that she is a liar, was added after it was finished as an excuse for the flimsy and unconvincing ending. View all 4 comments. Jul 01, Stacey rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Anyone. Shelves: fiction.

Ever found yourself finishing a book out of obligation, to the book itself?

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That vague but relentless guilt that settles in when you have figured out exactly where this story is going and where it will wind up, but you started the book, so you really ought to finish it? First, to give props where props are due, I apologize, Ms Barry. I thought I had it all figured out. I loved Towner, finding a woman I would l Ever found yourself finishing a book out of obligation, to the book itself? I loved Towner, finding a woman I would love to walk with, talk with, correspond with.

Book Club Girl: Brunonia Barry on The Lace Reader

I loved her voice, wry and unflinching. I respected her self-knowledge and her willingness to do what she knew was right for her, no matter what her family might have thought. It was the only thing that kept me reading past Chapter [the funeral]. Readers will find themselves, their loved ones, their not-so-loved ones, and a host of new friends in this novel. I want to know more about them.

Perhaps more importantly, I want to spend more time with them. In the end, Ms Barry managed to overturn my expectations, take me by surprise, and yet leave me with the feeling that if I had just read a tiny bit closer, perhaps. If you are tired of knowing the end from the beginning, if you are ready to meet some people and perhaps change your point of view, you must delve into The Lace Reader.

View 1 comment. That makes me a little sad because there were several elements to this book that seemed like they would be wildly interesting when they were all mixed together in the same book and I was hoping to really love it. A quick rundown of the things that happened include the mysterious death of Eva Whitney, suicide, the disappearance of a young woman, mental illness, sexual abuse, rape, witchcraft, fortune-telling, eccentric women and a Christian cult, all set in the backdrop of modern day Salem, MA. The story is not told in a linear fashion and the unusual events from the past are fleshed out through a series of flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations.

I really liked that technique. Towner Whitney is the main character and the primary narrator of the story. And so differentiating between her hallucinations, her invented history and the true facts that are slowly learned through the actions of other characters make for a very wild ride. She never felt like a real person to me and I was never able to see her.

The same for Detective Rafferty, who is investigating the death of Eva, the disappearance of Angela and trying to build a strong enough case to drive the Christian cult out of town, once and for all. Um, okay, I guess. I love cult members! They're so freaky! Sep 25, Elaine rated it it was amazing Shelves: february , favorites , Once she is back in Salem Towner soon finds out that she will need to confront the ghosts of her past in order to move on into her future.

Through a series of flashbacks and memories the reader finds out that the Whitney family is not quite what they seem. The story is filled with a cast of eccentric characters from Towner's mother May who refuses to step a foot off the isla Towner Whitney is forced to return to Salem MA, after an absence of almost 15 years, when her Great-Aunt Eva goes missing. The story is filled with a cast of eccentric characters from Towner's mother May who refuses to step a foot off the island she lives on, to her uncle Calvin who has been saved and has started his own religious cult at a local campground, to a collection of witches who seem to have gravitated to Salem because of it's historical past.

The writing in this story is excellent and there were many features that made this book appeal to me. However, these little excerpts do more than just introduce the tone of each chapter, They end up providing important foreshadowing of what is to come later in the book. Meanwhile, the true story of Towner's family is revealed to the reader slowly, memory by painful memory, as Towner actually draws her past back to her consciousness out from the mental "lock-box" where she has stored all her Salem memories away.

Then, one final twist at the very end of the story makes the reader to want to go back and start the story all over again, re-reading it with the new eyes. This is a great book that will keep you guessing throughout. Mar 25, Joan rated it it was ok. I liked this book at first because of the visual setting of Salem and Marblehead, the unusual dysfunctional family, and the mystery of the aunt's death. As the story progresses it just gets tangled in its own web or lace as it were, a story in search of a flashy ending which is provided but somehow unsatisfying.

View all 3 comments. Jun 18, Evelina AvalinahsBooks rated it it was ok Shelves: biblioteka. Just found this while rummaging through my Goodreads shelves and realized I have to change the rating. Many books later, I now realize this can't possibly be more than two stars. The most cliche-ridden and sad little book ever.

Whiny and ditzy main character. Eye rolling romance. Almost no "lace reading magic". As soon as I read the back of the book and the narrator pretty much told us she was an unreliable narrator, I was hooked! I loved everything about this story, from the setting to the plot to the characters and everything in between.

Especially the whole concept of Lace Readers, I fell instantly in love with it! Jun 26, Annalisa rated it liked it Recommended to Annalisa by: Melanie. Shelves: chick-lit , psychology , contemporary , mystery-thriller , unreliable-narrator. There were things I definitely liked about this book, the psychology for one and the visual of Salem, MA for another, but the organization of the book bothered me.

It was a little jarring ironically, those sixty pages were my favorite There were things I definitely liked about this book, the psychology for one and the visual of Salem, MA for another, but the organization of the book bothered me. It was a little jarring ironically, those sixty pages were my favorite part of the book. I think if I believed more that Towner didn't get that ending that I would have been surprised right along with her, but I think, looking back, that sometimes she understood the truth, at least part of it, and didn't explain it to the reader.

And yes, yes, yes, and yes, but not in the way you'd think. All of them become introspective aspects of Towner's story. If I had understood that the book was about her and what was going in her life and her head and not the external forces battling for screen time around her, I would have gotten into the story earlier. It took me ten days to find time to read the first pages and a day to read the last Once I got into the story, I liked it.

I loved that Towner was an unreliable narrator. I loved that I could "see" this story, that the setting and characters were all vivid and fleshed out and flawed. And I liked that even though I got that Towner's history was off and I thought I'd figured her out, I was still surprised by the revelation at the end. I liked what it changed about the characters I thought I already understood, particularly May, and how much it made me empathize with Towner and her family. The book is lengthier than it needs to be and has some stylistic issues, but it was still a good read.

Jul 12, Carmaletta Hilton rated it liked it. My biggest issue with this book was the switching of points of view. I don't feel that it added all that much to the story, except to leave us all the more confused by the end. This story would have best been told completely in 3rd person, saving us the momentary pull out of the story when we get to a new chapter and realize that this isn't Towner's point of view. In the end, it feels as though the only reason for the chapters in Towner's pov were solely to give us the effect of confusion at the My biggest issue with this book was the switching of points of view.

In the end, it feels as though the only reason for the chapters in Towner's pov were solely to give us the effect of confusion at the end, which I assume is supposed to force us to go back and read the book all over again, with this new information now in mind. A good trick, if it works. I have gone back and reread a book or rewatched a movie to see what I missed that would have hinted at the "twist. I also would have preferred to have just small sections as excerpts from the Lace Reader's Guide instead of them starting each chapter.

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I found myself wanting to read more of the guide, and being disappointed when the snippet ended and I was back in, because of the jumping points of view, often felt like a mixture of journal entries and short stories as opposed to one large novel. I give it three stars for effort and for creativity, really.


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There were a lot of really interesting characters, and honestly, this makes me want to hop a plane and visit Salem, take in the history and the atmosphere. The idea of this book and Towner's voice are what first compelled me to read the entire thing after going through the first couple of chapters. Maybe, then, losing Towner's voice, and the addition that she's just crazy, are what left me merely compelled in the last hundred pages or so just to finish the book. Mystery, cool psychic powers which involve reading fortune through a piece of lace, New England setting Salem, MA even … despite all of this, this novel was a chore.

The audio version barely kept me entertained on my way to work. Is this a story of a woman come home to face personal, family and childhood demons?


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A family saga? Modern day witches vs. Family drama, New England setting, paranormal vs. Fifteen perhaps? Maybe more. Towards the end, in a fairly intense and climactic action scene Towner Sophya has a thought which leads to a recollection and the reader is forced to endure a break in the action while travelling down memory lane with Towner Sophya for quite a few minutes.

Hell yes. In addition to the rambling plot and the rambling rambles, the book suddenly shifts POV midway through from Towner Sophya to the lurve interest then back to Towner Sophya. Organizationally, the whole thing is a mess. IMO it would have done so much better had it been edited and organized to a shorter, neater novel. Or stretched out to a two or three part series. As it is? A waste of time. Had this been done a little differently it could have been enjoyable.

Nov 17, Heather rated it it was amazing Shelves: creepy-mansions-eerie-seascapes , j-adore-favorites. Boy, was I wrong! Be careful which reviews you read! I loved, loved, loved this story. If you like just a hint of a ghost story but not a cheesy full-on haunting, this book is also for you.

The Lace Reader

My favorite stories are those in which the main characters dig up long-buried family secrets, secrets which threaten to rewrite the history they thought they knew. Jan 22, Shelly rated it it was amazing Shelves: high-fives , suspense , regional-usa-new-england. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time. Set in Salem, Massachusetts, the novel interlaces historic references with modern allusions that waver between somber and glib, creating an evocative, unpredictable atmosphere.

Witches, Puritans, Ipswitch lace, and the dark waters of Salem harbor all play a part in creating a unique setting for the story. The writing pulsates with secrecy—laced with hints, half-truths, and haunting details.

The Lace Reader

There is a whopping wrap up at the end that leaves the reader leafing back through the book searching for missed clues. This one is a great book club selection, as it is ripe for an animated discussion among friends. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication.

If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added. Reader Reviews Write your own review. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages.

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After college, she worked in public relations for several theatrical productions in Chicago, including A tale of courage in the face of arrogance that remains eerily relevant on U. Reader Reviews. Illuminating and deeply human, Today We Go Home shines a light on the brave military women of the past and present.

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The Lace Reader: A Novel The Lace Reader: A Novel
The Lace Reader: A Novel The Lace Reader: A Novel
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