The Lace Reader – Book Review

lacereader.jpg The Lace Reader must stare at the piece of lace until the pattern blurs and the face of the Seeker disappears completely behind the veil. When the eyes begin to fill with tears and the patience is long exhausted, there will appear a glimpse of something not quite seen. In this moment an image will begin to form…in the space between what is real and what is only imagined. -From The Lace Reader, page 1-

Brunonia Barry’s debut novel, The Lace Reader, is an unusual story which (like the lace which her Great Aunt Eva ‘reads’) is difficult to understand until the final pages. Part mystery with a literary twist exploring women’s issues (incest, mental illness, and family dynamics), the novel evolves slowly, developing from multiple story threads which all come back to the central character – Towner Whitney. The novel opens in Towner’s point of view, and the reader is warned: ‘Never believe me. I lie all the time.

Towner Whitney lives in California, but is motivated to return to her birthplace in Salem, Massachusetts when her brother calls to report Towner’s great aunt missing. Once back in New England, Towner must unravel the mystery of Eva’s disappearance while coming to terms with her own shattered past. Salem is recognized historically for the famous witch trials of 1692 and is an apt setting for a book which spins around precognition and the idea of intuition. As the story unfolds, it becomes difficult to ascertain what is real and what is only imagined. Barry alternates point of view from chapter to chapter – something which adds depth to her story and helps to fill in the missing pieces of Towner’s childhood.

Barry’s writing is strong, creating a gothic feel to the book. She steers away from cliche characters, instead giving us complex individuals. Despite these strengths, the book is not without its weaknesses.

At times the plot felt thin to me – and although the ending has a surprise twist, many times I was able to predict an event before it unfolded. I also wondered about the accuracy of police procedure when one character ‘disappears’ and a full-blown search is immediately begun. In most adult missing person cases searches do not occur for at least 48 hours as often it is assumed the person chose to disappear. I also thought it unlikely that a police department would assist an abusive man in finding an adult woman who had disappeared. Additionally, I picked up one geographical flaw which made me question the author’s reliability in other areas. A person residing in Sonoma County, California would not drive ‘up the coast to see it.‘ Rather they must follow a non-coastal route south to San Francisco. This seemed like a pretty obvious fact to get wrong.

The Lace Reader has an aggressive marketing campaign with a release date of July 29, 2008. Early reviews of the book have been mostly positive. I found it a quick and engaging read despite its flaws.

Rated: stars3h.gif

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    • dewey on April 20, 2008 at 16:38

    Hmm, I’m drawn to the premise, but lately predictability in novels is getting on my nerves.

    • Wendy on April 20, 2008 at 16:58

    Dew: I wouldn’t exactly call it “predictable” as it has an unexpected twist at the end that surprised me…but, other parts of the book seemed a bit unsurprising. I’m one of the few readers that is not gushing over this book – I’ve read several 5 and 4.5 star reviews of it – so you might enjoy it.

  1. Thanks for sending me the review links! 🙂 I look forward to reading it.

  2. I appreciated your review of this work. Honesty is, at times, lacking in literary reviews. Lately I’ve read far too many reviews of sub-standard fiction that tout an author as the next great American novelist…Predictability in a novel doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t worth reading, and that’s what I get from your post. Thanks! I’ll read the book.

    • Lynn on April 22, 2008 at 09:52

    I really enjoyed this novel too. I loved the lace making and the characters. Towner’s story stayed with me. I was surprised that I didn’t notice the mistakes (but then again I was surprised by the ending), so I went back to see if I had misread the novel. Here’s what I came up with:

    1. Police procedure—The Salem News article at the start of chapter 3 reports that Eva has been missing 10 days. The detective (who was a friend of the missing woman and this may explain why he was concerned earlier) finds her after 10 days.

    2. Police helping an abusive man find a woman–They don’t help him, they help the woman, but are hindered when she changes her story. The abusive man is a suspect (chapter 16).

    3. Up the coast—Towner lives in LA so I assumed Towner meant they drove up the coast from LA to see the Golden Gate Bridge (and they stayed at the family home of the boyfriend in Sonoma).

    • Wendy on April 22, 2008 at 18:16

    JB & JKaye: Thanks for stopping in 🙂 JB, I try to be fair when reviewing…and honest. I did enjoy the book, but I thought parts of it were flawed.

    Lynn: Thanks for your comments. I don’t want to give away spoilers here…but I wasn’t talking about Eva’s disappearance – I was talking about Angela. She is missing less than a day and the police are already involved…even though she has gone missing on purpose in the past (which would, in most police departments make them LESS apt to being searching for her, not more). I was referring to Angela’s first disappearance when I talk about them helping an abusive man find her – they actually entertain him searching Eva’s house (and allow that) and this would not happen – she is an adult and chose to walk away from his group; the cops would not consider her a missing person under those circumstances. As far as the geographical stuff – I tried to find the passage, but there is a place near the end where Towner talks about being in Sonoma and driving up the coast to see the GG Bridge. It stuck out to me like a sore thumb because I used to live in Marin County and loved visiting Sonoma…I actually flagged it for my review; but have since pulled out the flag so I’m having trouble finding the passage again!

    Anyway, despite those things I still liked the book!

    • Teddy on April 26, 2008 at 17:24

    Your review keep getting better and better Wendy. I recently read another review for this book too. It sounds worthwhile so I added it to my TBR.

    • Wendy on April 26, 2008 at 20:01

    You’re very generous, Teddy – thank you! Hope you like this when you get around to reading it…I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts.

    • Tara on May 26, 2008 at 17:19

    Thanks for your honest review. This one caught my eye when it showed up on LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer list.

    • Wendy on May 26, 2008 at 18:37

    You’re welcome, Tara 🙂

    • norm kantor on August 9, 2008 at 14:55

    I admit to being lost and confused? Is Cal really Towner’s father? Is Towner Lyndley? Does she have a split personality? Has Cal abused Towner rather than Lyndley? Is Lyndley’s presence all in Towner’s imagination? Who does Jack think Towner is? Towner or Lyndley? I liked the book, however found Towner’s long journal too long and lost interest, my interest perked up again and liked the ending however swift it came, yet the questions above I don’t find answered clearly. Perhaps they are not meant to be. I’d appreciate if someone can clear things up for me.

    • Wendy on August 10, 2008 at 17:27

    Norm: You have a lot of questions! I hesitate to answer them all because I don’t want to reveal spoilers to readers who might be reading these comments. You might want to email the author or suggest this book for a reading group discussion to get input from other readers. I *do* think some of the story is meant to be mysterious and not every question is answered outright.

    • on August 10, 2008 at 17:40

    I understand why you don’t want to spoil it for readers who have not read the book. If you can answer some of my questions please email me directly at I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks much. Norm PS. Do you know how I would email the author? I don’t see that information on the Lace Reader website.

    • shirley orlando on August 18, 2008 at 12:03

    norm kantor: in answer to your questions:
    Cal is towner’s dad. Lindley is towner’s twin who died at birth. Everything towner is telling you is from her imagination. Cal abused towner but she is disassociated from it and puts her dead twin in her place when this happens. Jack knows about lindley’s death, as does everyone, but towner has a mental problem when it comes to dealing with lindley’s death

    • Janet on September 3, 2008 at 19:24

    I just finished this book, and I have to say that I was really underwhelmed after all the hype. I thought parts of it (first 3rd, especially) were well written, the section from her journal FAR too long, and not really in the right place as far as good story telling goes, and I thought the twist ending was a bit too gothic. I typically like a story with an unreliable narrator, but this was… well, really just too too far out for me. Yeah, Towner has a mental problem, but one sentence: “I couldn’t have loved you more if you were my own” and suddenly everything falls into place? Hmmm. You think people would have have mentioned sometime in the last 25 years of her life!! It just strained credibility far, far too much for me.

    • Wendy on September 5, 2008 at 21:13

    Janet: I know there were readers who felt as you did…I like gothic novels and thought this one was a pretty good read. That’s what makes the world go ’round!

    • Mel on December 31, 2008 at 11:34

    Okay, so I JUST finished the book… and i closed it and was so confused, so I pulled up to look at reviews and found this site. I had the same questions as “norm kanter.” I was super lost. Many thanks to “shirley orlando” who cleared all that up. I think a novel should all come together and the reader should be able to understand everything at the end… not sit there in a confused manner. I like the novel now that “shirley orlando” has cleared it up. Thanks!!

    • Wendy on January 4, 2009 at 09:57

    Mel: I don’t think you were alone in your confusion…although I didn’t find it that confusing (maybe that says more about the way my mind works than how the books is written!). Glad you were able to get some of your questions answered.

    • Bea Civitello on January 29, 2009 at 11:01

    I finished The Lace Reader during the wee hours and totally forgot Towner’s early statement that she is a liar. Had I remembered, I would have realized that the entire book is an elusion that the authhor presented to the reader thru Towner.
    I can’t wait to meet with the members of my book club next month. The story became a web of lace for me and if so, I applaud the web of imagination.

    • Wendy on February 1, 2009 at 09:40

    Bea: Glad you enjoyed the book – that first statement by Towner was definitely one to take note of (whenever a character tells me they aren’t to be believed, I sit up and take notice!). This would make a good discussion group read…hope you’ll have fun talking about it with your book group.

    • Lauren on October 2, 2009 at 10:54

    A suggestion for the “up the coast” error sentence – In New England its always UP even if you’re going South – except if you’re going to Maine then its always going “down Maine”. Maybe it was a cultural slip.

    • Wendy on October 4, 2009 at 08:18

    Lauren: *nods* I’m from New England originally and I’ve heard people use “up” when they are going south…maybe I was a little tough on the author when it came to this…but it stood out for me, and I thought it should have been corrected in editing.

    • Andi on October 7, 2009 at 14:11

    If you like Gothic horror read the Spirit of Antoinette, by Michael Ramseur.

    They’ll make a movie out of the Lace Reader, that’s my prediction. A great read. Three cheers for Brunonia, she my neighbor….

    • Wendy on October 11, 2009 at 07:18

    Andi: Thank you for the book recommendation! I’ll have to check it out 🙂 I agree, they will probably make a movie out of The Lace Reader – it has all the elements for the big screen.

    • Josie on December 12, 2009 at 10:11

    No one seemed to pay much attention to Eva’s book on lace reading. In retrospect, I’m ashamed to admit, they are very revealing. I’m discussion leader for this book and will begin with either the idea of “still point” or a quote from Eva. (p.28 and 152)
    There are some holes (lacuna?) in the story. How does Towner learn of the existence of her twin?
    Kids are blunt and open. Why didn’t anyone, including Beezer, say something to her about their being no Lindley. How long can a family tolerate such strange behavior without getting her help sooner? I guess all lives and stories are more interesting because of the holes in them.

    • Wendy on December 28, 2009 at 08:48

    Josie: You ask some great questions! I can see why they chose you to lead the discussion! Hope it was a stimulating one 🙂

    • Miller on March 19, 2010 at 10:47

    I liked and feel like I understood this book; however, I wanted to know if anyone felt as bad for Jack as I did. This woman utterly devastated him.

    • Wendy on March 24, 2010 at 13:44

    Miller: He was definitely victimized, wasn’t he?

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