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Brunonia Barry – The Lace Reader

November 27, 2009

139. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (2008)

Read By: Alyssa Bresnahan
Length: 11h 40m (400 pages)

Genre: Somewhere between Literary Fiction and Mystery.

Started: 13 November 2009
Finished: 17 November 2009

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? The Lace Reader was one of the books that I remember getting major blog buzz not long after I started blogging myself, and it’s been on my radar ever since.

Death in the family
reveals secrets that Towner
didn’t know were there.

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.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Brunonia Barry’s blog

Other Reviews: Adventures in Reading, Book Chatter and Other Stuff, The Book Lady’s Blog, Bookopolis, Books and Movies, Boston Bibliophile, Caribousmom, Devourer of Books, Fizzy Thoughts, Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?, In the Shadow of Mt. TBR, The Life and Times of a New New Yorker, The Literate Housewife Review, Outlandish Dreaming, Peeking Between the Pages, S. Krishna’s Books, She is Too Fond of Books, Shh I’m Reading…, Trish’s Reading Nook, The Written World
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: 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.

Cover Thoughts: I love the combination of the lace pattern with the rocky island cliff. The half-transparent girl is just icing.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2009 4:02 am

    Great review! I have had this one on my TBR pile for too long, and after reading some negative reviews I decided to wait a little before reading it. Your review really makes me want to finally pick it up, especially now that I’m curious about that Unspeakably Bad Secret. Plus, I always enjoy unreliable narrators. Thanks!

    • November 27, 2009 12:43 pm

      kay – I can see how some of the elements of this book wouldn’t work for everybody, but if you like unreliable narrators and Unspeakably Bad Secrets (UBSs?), then I think you’ll probably be okay. If you get a chance to pick it up, let me know what you think!

  2. November 27, 2009 6:30 am

    I do love unreliable narrators, even though they frustrate me at times. I’m looking forward to reading this book.

    • November 27, 2009 12:44 pm

      bermudaonion – The beauty of this book is that Towner seems so normal you start to wonder if she actually is all that unreliable, or if she was lying about lying all the time. :)

  3. November 27, 2009 8:40 am

    Interesting review! I read The Graveyard Book after Her Fearful Symmetry, and kept noticing the similarities, and then discovered that at the end of The Graveyard Book, Gaiman acknowledges input from Audrey Niffenegger!

    • November 27, 2009 12:45 pm

      rhapsody – I hadn’t put that together (probably because I read them a year apart), but now that you’ve mentioned it, I can totally see the similarities between the two.

  4. November 27, 2009 10:02 am

    Yes, I read this last year when the book was getting so much buzz. I was not as astute as you were and did not guess the big bad secret, and I did find myself a bit confused over the muddled ending, but I did enjoy the book and read it in one day. My revew at the time is here:

    • November 27, 2009 12:47 pm

      Julie – I’ve added your link; thanks! Normally I am completely dense about plot twists and don’t see them coming unless there’s a big blinking neon light that says “Obvious Plot Twist Ahead!” and sirens blaring. That’s why it was so weird to me that I actually figured this one out despite it not being particularly obvious at all.

  5. November 27, 2009 12:18 pm

    Isn’t that a great first line?!

    I’ll admit that I don’t try to figure out mysteries, so many times (like when I read THE LACE READER), I was carried along nearly until the end.

    Isn’t it interesting how the timing of when you read this (after HFS) affected the way you enjoyed it. I find my mood really impacts the way a book grabs me (or not)

    • November 27, 2009 12:49 pm

      Dawn – I always wonder about the timing – there have definitely been books that I should have like but just didn’t, and I always wonder if I should give them a second chance when I’m in a different mood… but on the other hand, there are so many unread books out there that I might love, so I feel guilty spending my time re-reading something that has already let me down once.

  6. November 27, 2009 5:50 pm

    Oh yeah. Add one to my TBR pile just as I’m becoming unemployed (or actually working 2 jobs) so I’ll have neither money nor time to read it. Drat you! Must. Stop. Reading your blog.

    • November 28, 2009 6:43 pm

      Cara – Hee hee hee! I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not really. Y’all have done enough damage to my wishlist that I’m only too happy to return the favor. :)

      In any case, I hope you can pick up a copy, find time to read it, and enjoy the heck out of it.

  7. November 29, 2009 7:51 pm

    I really enjoyed this when I read it a couple years ago. Glad you did, too!

    • December 1, 2009 1:57 pm

      Kailana – Ah, I think you may have been part of the buzz that convinced me to pick it up in the first place. So, thanks! :)

  8. November 29, 2009 11:45 pm

    This mystery sound good.


  1. The Literary Horizon: The Lace Reader | The Literary Omnivore
  2. Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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