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The Lace Reader: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 29, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 581 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Barry's captivating debut, Towner Whitney, a dazed young woman descended from a long line of mind readers and fortune tellers, has survived numerous traumas and returned to her hometown of Salem, Mass., to recover. Any tranquility in her life is short-lived when her beloved great-aunt Eva drowns under circumstances suggesting foul play. Towner's suspicions are taken with a grain of salt given her history of hallucinatory visions and self-harm. The mystery enmeshes local cop John Rafferty, who had left the pressures of big city police work for a quieter life in Salem and now finds himself falling for the enigmatic Towner as he mourns Eva and delves into the history of the eccentric Whitney clan. Barry excels at capturing the feel of smalltown life, and balances action with close looks at the characters' inner worlds. Her pacing and use of different perspectives show tremendous skill and will keep readers captivated all the way through.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (July 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061624764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061624766
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (581 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,168,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A. Grace VINE VOICE on July 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
... because what to say about this brilliant book without surrendering its secrets? Other readers compare it to The Sixth Sense, and I can't disagree. This is a novel that, once finished, compels you to go back and start again. And once the end has stripped you of your original assumptions, the truth behind Towner's slant on earlier scenes springs out so that you wonder how you missed it. However, while the end is the most obvious conversation point of the book, it has merit beyond its final twist.

At first, Towner seems slightly flat and slow to develop, but by the end, a look back to understand the "whole" Towner reveals her depth. She and Rafferty are memorable and sympathetic (I did wish for more of Rafferty), but even secondary characters like Eva, May, Ann, and Jack are given the breath of realism. The setting is almost a character in itself, a living patchwork of place and time.

Those who call this book a "page-turner" seem to be labeling it from the perspective of having finished it. The swelling tension of the last hundred pages is difficult to put down, but the first hundred certainly do not skim past (they might more so the second time around as one scours for clues to the truth). This book creeps at first, wraps tendrils around its readers to pull us in and under, slowly builds our trust in Towner as narrator, even though she's told us from page one, "I lie all the time." By mid-book, we see the world through Towner's eyes and forget that she's warned us not to.

Brunonia Barry astutely writes Rafferty's voice more straightforward and less poetic than Towner's. The two chapters toward the end, which come from two secondary characters, jarred me a bit, but their perspectives are necessary to a full understanding of events.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My mother, who is now 75, told me of reading a suggestion last year; specifically, how to decide whether to continue reading a book to the end. On the assumption that as one gets older, one has less time to waste, the suggestion was to subtract one's age from 100 and give that many pages for a book to "hook" you, the reader. Thus, by age 99, authors are given little margin for error. This one "hooked" me sufficiently to be read at age 82. And continued to hook me for the next 340-some-odd pages. As though taking blocks out of a bucket and carefully laying them together for a complex and exotic construction, Barry lays out clues and tidbits that tantalize the reader. After such careful construction building a masterful story, Barry simply upends the bucket and dumps the remaining blocks on the reader in an ending reminiscent of "The Sixth Sense". This plot twist comes too harshly, is too disjointed and confusing, and is ultimately disappointing.
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Format: Paperback
The Whitney women can all read lace, but Towner Whitney doesn't want any part of it, and has left Salem Massachusetts and Yellow Dog Island to get away from all the bad memories of her childhood home and the lace readings. Living in L.A. she has no intention of returning.

The book starts when she receives a call from her brother telling her that her 80-something-year-old Great Aunt Eva is missing and she must return home. Towner is recovering from a surgical procedure and had been thinking of the gift that her Great Aunt Eva had recently sent to her. It was a lace-making pillow, used for making Ipswich lace. The lace making and the reading of lace had been a tradition of the Whitney women, and Towner was no exception. Although she wants no part of it anymore, she loves her aunt and feels she has to face her bad memories and go home. Salem and Yellow Dog Island are places filled with fearful bad memories.

Towner returns after being away for over 15 years and is immediately entrenched in all the troubles of the past. It is interesting to follow the writing of author Barry as she writes through the eyes of Towner, who sometimes lives in her dreams of the past. The story is kept fresh with trying to determine if what Towner is thinking is real, or the memories from childhood twisted over time.

Of course there is the love interest in Rafferty, the detective who is assigned to the case, as well as all the other quirky characters. Salem women who are Witches and selling their wares in the small shops on the square, and the women of Yellow Dog Island and their lace, making kept this book moving along nicely.

The Lace Reader is quite an interesting book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Far from the lace doilies that sit on the furniture and collect dust, this story lives like the lace wrapped around ones shoulders, collecting the secrets women whisper in each other's ears. Brunonia Barry is an artful weaver of woman's tales and their relationships with each other. While she speaks of magic in the lace and crafts of the spinners and witches in her story, the real magic lies in the power of woman supporting woman in the pivotal moments of their lives.

The point of view passes between Towner, the main character, and the narrator. Towner is a self described liar, and the narrator always tells the truth, you must pay careful attention to the words if you want to understand when and even if Towner knows she is lying. Set in Salem Massachusetts, Towner returns home for her Aunt Eve's funeral, and must learn to allow the lace to tell its story so she can finally see the truth of who she is and what she and the women in her family have survived by having each other. The lace reveals the future and unveils the past.

If you enjoyed `The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood', `The Lovely Bones', or `The Bluest Eyes', this novel is for you.
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