The Lace Reader: A Novel

The Lace Reader: A Novel

by Brunonia Barry


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In the tradition of The Thirteenth Tale, Brunonia Barry’s bewitching gothic novel, The Lace Reader, is a phenomenon. Called “[a] richly imagined saga of passion, suspense, and magic” by Time Magazine, it is a haunting and remarkable tale told by an unforgettable, if strangely unreliable narrator—a woman from an enigmatic Salem family who can foretell the future in patterns of lace. The Lace Reader was a runaway New York Times bestseller—hitting the top lists in major cities across the country, from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles—and has immediately established debut author Brunonia Barry as a major force in contemporary American fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061624773
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/18/2009
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 193,323
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 8.06(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Brunonia Barry lives in Salem with her husband and their beloved golden retriever, Byzantium.

What People are Saying About This

Marisa de los Santos

“With THE LACE READER, Brunonia Barry plunges us through the looking glass and beyond to a creepy and fascinating world. Prepare to meet strange, brave, bruised, electrically alive women there. Prepare to be riveted by their story and to live under its spell long after you’ve reached its astonishing end.”

Kristin Hannah

“Lovely and captivating...The Lace Reader showcases Barry’s understanding of human nature. A splendid debut novel.”

Joshilyn Jackson

“Evocative, layered, smart, and astonishing, THE LACE READER is a fever dream of a novel that will haunt me for a long time to come. The Salem, Massachusetts that the Whitney women inhabit is a wild, dark place, and I loved every moment that I spent there.”

Diane Stern

“The Lace Reader challenges the very notion of reality. A compelling, fast-action page turner. A terrific read!”

Tom Jenks

“Barry’s novel is that rare thing—a literary page-turner worthy for it’s story and for its art.”

Katherine Turman

“Past and present mysteries merge in a fast-moving narrative that builds through a numerous small dramas to a theatrical conclusion.”

Roxanne Price

“Barry weaves a suspenseful tale of witchcraft and dark mystery…Barry’s depictions of time and place are marvelously descriptive.”

Customer Reviews

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The Lace Reader 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 317 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Based upon the summary and other reviews I was looking forward to reading the book. The idea of reading lace was intriguing and the setting sounded mysterious. I was all set for a weekend of escapist reading but was disappointed and ended up annoyed. The book started out interesting, the plot went nowhere. The concept of lace reading was original but other than that it was filled with stereotypical characters (can anyone say recovering alcoholic Irish cop?, among others) Although the descriptions of people and places were well written, the plot was not. It was cluttered with non-essentials. By the end of the book, I really didn't care what happened to any of the characters. There are several reasons why I can't recommend the book, but it would spoil it for someone else who might not share my opinions. I was glad I checked it out of the library rather than purchasing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author set the stage perfectly in this amazing book, ¿My name is Towner Whitney. No, that¿s not exactly true. My real name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time.¿ Towner Whitney had a rough life, at seventeen her twin sister died leaving Towner hospitalized to undergo shock therapy. Soon afterward, Towner leaves Salem and moves cross-country to California. When she receives news of the death of her Great Aunt Eva, Towner makes the dreaded trip back home after a fifteen-year absence. Her return sparks lots of emotions and gossip and the story begins to unfold. The telling of a family history of the women in the Whitney family, who live life quite differently from everyone else and have a unique magical ability to read lace. Interwoven into the story is the background of Towner and her twin sister. Adding to the story is the random disappearance of a young woman tied to the family by strings unknown. The author manages to captivate the audience with her potent descriptions of Salem and its history. Layering and adding multiple stories, giving select information and perceptions to the reader, and throwing twists and turns around every corner, the final chapters explode into perfection. The Lace Reader is quirky and unique in its own way, but the style the author uses makes it a must read for anyone looking for something just off center. High praises for The Lace Reader and Brunonia Barry. Valerie Jones
regina77004 More than 1 year ago
I had a difficult time connecting to the characters in the beginning. I had a fellow book reader tell me to "forget about the witchcraft it was just dressing. The book is about abuse." I took that advice and was able to settle into the story. Townser opens the book warning that she is a habitual liar. This sets the stage: there is more to the story than meets the eye. Set in Salem and drawing on the history of the region (witchcraft and Underground Railroad) Barry does an excellent job of weaving a complicated tale that reveals the impact of severe physical and sexual abuse while also showing the resilency of the human spirit and the healing powers of love and forgiveness.
Baileys_Mom More than 1 year ago
When I was young I assumed reality was just that - real, and therefore the same for everyone. Life experiences have proven that everyone's reality is really based on life experiences and your own filters. This book is a wonderful example of someone living with those around them and having a completly unique reality. The caracters are well drawn but not drawn out. The "city" of Salem is as much a caracter as the people. A great book! I look forward to Ms. Barry's new book "The Map of True Places".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This will suck you in and hold you so far into the plot until the very end! Once there, you'll have to read it again just to make your brain feel better about missing it the first time! I loved the main character and even after I put the book down felt as though she were a good friend that just went a little wayward.
JoeyMN More than 1 year ago
If you like a book with lots of local descriptions where plot and action are secondary, than this is for you. This book just never captured my attention, possibly because I do not subscribe to phrenology, mind reading, or lace reading as did many characters in the book. Way too fanciful for me.
Chocolattez More than 1 year ago
I too read the reviews and thought this would be a quirky but interesting and good read - it wasn't. I read it on tape - and contrary to what others have said - I did not think it was very good. The book is a muddy mess. It was relatively easy to figure out - you could tell where the author was heading = but it didn't make sense. Don't waste your time. Too many books, too little time... leave this one behind.
joanie830 More than 1 year ago
This book was a little hard to get into, but when I did, I couldn't put it down. The book was compelling and always kept me wondering what was going to happen. We read the book for my book club and I can't wait to discuss it next week to see what everyone else's thoughts were when they finished. It would be worth a second read!
The_Mighty_Bonners More than 1 year ago
Being from the area where this story takes place, I was very excited to read this book. I had recently read the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and loved it! Unfortunately this book did not live up to my expectations. The author has an interesting story to tell, and is clearly familiar with the Salem, Massachusetts area, but there were way too many local references. After a while I began to wonder if she was being paid by the mention of local restaurants and attractions. I also found the characters for the most part unlikeable with exception of one or two. The fundamental religious component was also weird and disturbing. My book club (aside from me) enjoyed this book, so you don't have to take my word for it. I personally couldn't wait for it to be over and done.
Lannie More than 1 year ago
This is a one-of-a-kind! I thoroughly enjoyed it! Lies or misinterpretaion? Magic? Lace reading? Witches? MYTERIOUS and SURPRISING!! EXCITING READ! ENJOY! A few more books I'm crazy about are, THE HELP, by K. Stocket, EXPLOSION IN PARIS, by L. Pirrung, and SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME......MASTERIECES!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As someone who lives in Salem, was born and raised here, I really enjoyed this book. I think the author could have gotten into the lace reading a little bit more (but I think that's being saved for a second book) but I LOVED this book. It left me wanting more and I was very impressed on how she expressed the character of this town. Salemites can be a tough nut to crack, but I think she really captured the spirit (pun intended) of this town. I think she catpured the pull the town has between those who view wicca as a religion and those who wish all the witchiness would just go away so we could be known for our rich maritime history instead. This book does the difficult task of honoring BOTH at the same time. The story was good and I surprisingly learnt about a City I thought I knew EVERYTHING about. Highly encourage reading this book.
ArdentReader More than 1 year ago
This book is a quick read and it's hard to put down. It has a surprise ending that will make you think.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Given the spirit of Halloween, cold, raw and rainy days, and in the mood to take a virtual trip back to my home state of Massachusetts, I recently picked up Brunonia Barry's the LACE READER. As I titled this review, it is a book to be read delicately, as there is such an abundance of detail, twists and turns throughout that you just may miss something if you breeze through even a paragraph. Barry easily made this fictional story come to life in the way she carefully describes the main setting of Salem, Massachusetts - so much so that the reader at times forgets what is fiction and what is fact. Some may have a hard time following the story as the narration switches perspectives, but my attention was held throughout, and I would definitely recommend it to others. Well done, Ms. Barry! I look forward to reading more of your work! J.R. Reardon author, CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATIONS
BookwormTN More than 1 year ago
I felt I had wasted my time and had really looked forward to the book. One must remember that one of the first paragraphs did state "I have always been a liar."
RoseJai More than 1 year ago
I can usually guess how a story will end or what will happen in a later chapter but I'm happy to admit I did not see this ending coming! It made the book much more interesting for me because of this and I recommend other know it all readers to give it a try. You wont be disappointed!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book several months ago, after reading a great review. It sounded like a good story, and a good vacation read. Maybe it's just me, but reading all 300+ pages was torture and the only reason I finished the book was the fact I bought it. It is definitely not the kind of book you can't wait to read the next chapter. It is slow, depressing and you have the "surprise ending" figured out about 1/3 of the way through. I definitely do not recommend.
cewilch More than 1 year ago
What a mysterious, soul grabbing book! This is the kind of story that when you get to the ending, it makes you wish you remembered every little detail all the way from the beginning of the story, to better help you grasp the ending. . . . . there was no way I saw that coming! I love these kind of stories and appreciate being suprised rather than thinking I have it all figured out. Thank you Brunonia Barry - what a great first offering from a promising, gifted writer! I look forward to your next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a fantastic book! The perfect amount of description with a great unsuspected twist at the end. Kept me reading all night long!
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the town of Salem, Massachusetts, innocent women needing to be controlled were once accused of witchcraft. Now Salem plays host to a group of women who openly parade around as witches and a whole tourist industry reenacts the past in broad daylight. A new religious group calling themselves the Calvinists goes about admonishing and threatening witches and unusual or strong women. Towner's great aunt is a lace reader, a woman who can read the future in lace. Her home and the lace reader group become a sanctuary for women escaping their abusive husbands. Together this circle of women find support and strength.// Towner comes back to town after her aunt Eva goes missing, embarking on a journey that puts her past and present life into perspective. She meets Rafferty, the detective intent on solving the case. Together, their perspectives create an aura of mystery to the events of both the past and present. Towner narrates the history of Salem, Salem's current life, her own personal history and her present in a unique pattern as finely interwoven as lace. Each chapter is prefaced by a quote from the Lace Reader's Guide written by Eva describing the art, history and technique of lace reading and the Ipswich lace makers. Towner's life is like the lace with fine threads all interwoven yet converging. The reader follows all the strands in her life, not as a straight direct kind of plot, but as different memories, some reliable and others imagined, all forming the uniqueness of a piece of art---the life of human being. Brunonia Barry's narrative presents a portrait of Towner not as an isolated separate individual but a person with whom other lives converge. Yellow Dog Island's circle of women reinforces this theme on the interconnectedness of individuals.// This novel was incredible. Brunonia Berry does deal with some hard issues like spousal abuse so if you are looking for a light, happy easy read, this is not a good choice. That warning being said, this novel was awesome! THE LACE READER inspires readers to follow with the imagination and go it where it leads. By the end, all the narrative threads and images add up to something spectacular and rich as past and present and landscape, history and the personal all combine. THE LACE READER is a novel built in layers and nuances like a person's life or like the memories in the mind or like the depths of psychology. THE LACE READER has some surprising and poetic twists towards the end. There is no guaranteed happy easily resolved ending --- but the ending has it's own kind of satisfying richness that combines deep emotion, sadness, even trauma into a new beginning and a new sense of freedom. Beautifully poetic!
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Salem, Massachusetts - much ado about witches and the magic arts, touristy. But the psychics, readers, fortune-tellers and witches are the good guys in this story. The Calvinists are the bad guys - Calvinists, the followers of local guy, Calvin, not Calvinists, the Protestants. Still. The author¿s sense of place was spectacular; the town, the water and islands, the rugged coast. The history and tidbits about lace-making were interesting. And so were parts of the story line, a mystery with the main character a woman with a mental illness. But still.I just didn¿t like it.
chrystal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this was one of the worst books I ever read. I was so looking forward to it but was extremely disappointed. I had trouble following both the plot and the characters and could not wait until it was over!
whidbeysue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. I was able to get into the characters and loved the twist at the end.
lmteske on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was frustrated by this book. I was swept in to the locale, but I wasn't sure I liked the characters or understood their motivations. I felt as though Barry was trying hard to mimic Anne Rice. Even though the narrator says at the beginning that she is a liar, the ending was ruinous - I had spent hours reading a story only to find that major chunks of the tale were not "true". It got me to thinking about fiction - none of the events or people are "real" but in the context of the novel, they are real. When the author ends the novel by telling you that huge portions of the narrative were the imaginings of one character, you are left to puzzle over what really happened. Why did I spend hours learning about what happens to these characters only to read at the end that some or most of it may not have happened? I liked the Thirteenth Tale - the twist at the end was fun and tied up loose ends. In the Lace Reader, the twist does the opposite - it frustrates the reader and opens up questions with no chance for resolution.
samantha.1020 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Each Reader must choose a piece of lace. It is hers for life. It might be a pattern handed down through generations or a piece cosen by the reader for its beauty or familiarity. Many Readers prefer the handmade laces, particularly the laces of old Ispwich or the new circular pieces made by the women of Yellow Dog Island. - The Lace Reader's Guide" p. 6 of The Lace ReaderI'm not even sure where to begin with this review other than to say that I found this book to be an amazing read. The Lace Reader begins with the reader meeting Towner, the main character, who admits freely that she lies and that her name is really Sophya. Towner is going back to her hometown as her Great Aunt Eva is missing. While there she will be forced to confront her demons from the past and work through the issues that are still haunting her today. The women in Towner's family are all lace readers and can read the future in the lace. But something has caused Towner to vow never to read lace again...Oh my I enjoyed this book! From the very beginning, I was swept up in the story that the author had written and the atmosphere that she had created. I didn't quite know what to make of Towner, I mean she admits right from the beginning that she is crazy and that she lies. So I wasn't sure at any point in the book if she was telling the truth which made for an interesting read. I ended up just letting the author take me for a ride and what a ride it was! The story was told from different viewpoints at time but it didn't detract from the story whatsoever. In fact, it made me feel even closer to the main characters. I ended up caring about Towner even though I couldn't entirely trust the story that she was telling me. And the ending of this book...blew me away. Seriously, I might have seen pieces of it coming but really in the end when I closed the book I was stunned. I think that this would be a great book to read with a book group and have a discussion over. I myself would love to hear what other readers thought of the ending of this book.All in all, I found this to be an amazing read and will probably go on to my top reads of 2009. I'm pretty sure I've gushed enough over this go pick it up and give it a try. I doubt that you'll be disappointed. Highly recommended.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Towner Whitney comes from a long line of women who can "read" lace - that is, see and interpret visions when looking through a lace panel. When her great-aunt dies, Towner returns from California to her childhood home in Salem, Massachusetts, to deal with her family and the mass of secrets and memories that her great-aunt Eva has left behind. But things aren't as easy for Towner as simply selling the house and moving on; no one in town believes that Eva died in an accident, and most people are pointing their fingers at a local group of religious fanatics, lead by a man who is convinced that the women in Towner's family are witches. However, when one of the women from their church disappears as well, the waters are muddied even further. Towner not only has to deal with the tangled web of the present, but also with her own fractured past of mental illness and psychiatric treatment following the death of her twin sister when they were teens.Review: While I really enjoyed this book, an unfortunate vagary of timing kept me from really loving it. See, I started this book soon after finishing Her Fearful Symmetry. Both novels feature storylines involving Huge Unspeakably Bad Secrets from the Past, and both star at least one set of twins. Because my brain was already primed for sniffing out Unspeakably Bad Secrets, and because I knew going in that Towner was an unreliable narrator (that's not a spoiler, she tells us as much within the first paragraph of the book), I was double- and triple-guessing everything that happened instead of just letting the story carry me along, and as a result, I figured out what was going on *way* earlier than I would have otherwise.The good news is that figuring out the book's twists didn't stop me from enjoying it. The pieces of backstory and the layers of deception are applied - and removed - so carefully and so masterfully that the whole thing hangs together perfectly. Barry's also very good at describing her setting; you can practically feel the salt air blowing off the pages. (Or out of your headphones, in my case.) Towner was an excellently crafted character, feeling full and real and just slightly broken, with minute cracks below the surface that start to widen and show as the novel progresses. Barry's secondary characters are just as wonderful, particularly Rafferty, the detective, and Ann Chase, the leader of the local coven of witches.The only real thing I had a problem with - other than figuring out the twists too early, which was my fault, not the book's - was the pacing. Or, not exactly the pacing, since things move along at a good clip and I never really noticed any dragging. It's more that I found the frequent narrative tone shifts - from Taylor's first-person narration, to third-person from the point of view of the detective, to Towner again, but reading a story about her past, etc. - a little bit unexpected and wrong-footing. Nevertheless, I tore through this book much faster than average, and only barely stopped myself from immediately starting it again to hunt for the clues I'd missed the first time. 4 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Just because it is set in Salem and involves fortune-telling women does not mean that it is historical fiction about witchcraft. I think it would probably appeal most to fans of psychological mysteries and unreliable narrators, or anyone who likes an intricate and very involving story.