Drawn by family. Driven by fear. Haunted by fate.
Would knowing the future be a gift or a burden? Or even a curse…?
The Whitney women of Salem, Massachusetts are renowned for reading the future in the patterns of lace. But the future doesn’t always bring good news – as Towner Whitney knows all too well. When she was just fifteen her gift sent her whole world crashing to pieces. She predicted – and then witnessed – something so horrific that she vowed never to read lace again, and fled her home and family for good. Salem is a place of ghosts for Towner, and she swore she would never return.
Yet family is a powerful tie and fifteen years later, Towner finds herself back in Salem. Her beloved great-aunt Eva has suddenly disappeared – and when you’ve lived a life like Eva’s, that could mean real trouble. But Salem is wreathed in sickly shadows and whispered half-memories. It’s fast becoming clear that the ghosts of Towner’s fractured past have not been brought fully into the light. And with them comes the threat of terrifying new disaster.
A literary page-turner with depth, narrative power and a story that novels like ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ can only dream of, ‘The Lace Reader’ is a bewitching and tightly plotted read.
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'An unusual and beguiling literary thriller about a fascinating family of women. The setting of the tight-knit Salem community, still haunted by a heritage of witchcraft and persecution, is marvellously evoked. Enchanting, whimsical and menacing by turns and with a brightly drawn oddball cast it's an exhilarating and ultimately uplifting read.' Rachel Hore, 'The Memory Garden'
'A gorgeously written literary novel that's also a doozy of a thriller, capped with a jaw-dropping denouement that will leave even the most careful reader gasping … a major feat' Chicago Tribune
'Gripping … a marvellously bizarre cast of characters (living and dead) in a uniquely colorful town' Washington Post
'[A] richly imagined saga of passion, suspense and magic' Time
'Blithe and creepy in equal measure. [Barry] captures [Salem] evocatively and often wittily. What is real in "The Lace Reader"? What is not? … There are clues planted everywhere …' New York Times
'A spine-tingler … "The Lace Reader" is tailor-made for a boisterous night at the book club' People
‘“The Lace Reader” is a terrific paranormal police procedural. The story line is fast-paced and Brunonia Barry provides an enjoyable mystery in which relativity is not an exact science. “The Lace Reader” is a winner.’ Harriet Klausner, The Mystery Gazette
‘“The Lace Reader” is that rare thing – a literary page-turner, worthy for its story and for its art.’ Tom Jenks, Narrative Magazine
‘A captivating debut. Barry excels at capturing the feel of small town 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.’ Publishers Weekly Starred Review – A book of outstanding quality.From the Publisher:
Q & A with Brunonia Barry, the author of The Lace Reader
Your name—Brunonia—is very unusual. What’s the history behind it?
Brunonia is actually my middle name. I was named after my family’s summer house in New Hampshire which is called Brunonia Cottage. The cottage has been in our family for several generations. My grandfather attended Brown, and, evidently, wrote some kind of song for them. He was great with music and lyrics. At some point, he named the cottage after his alma mater. Brunonia is the latin word for Brown.
How did your work making brain teaser puzzles for a toy company influence the story?
It takes a very different kind of thought process to create a puzzle as opposed to solving one. The book is a actually a brain teaser of sorts. The whole thing is a kind of logic puzzle where you have to figure out what’s really going on with the limited, and often flawed, information you’ve been given.
What was it like to go from local self-published author to having publishers around the world clamoring to acquire the rights to The Lace Reader? Did it feel like everything happened overnight?
Obviously, this is a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to be a novelist. No matter what I did for work, that dream was always with me. And, literally, everything did happen overnight, or over the period of a few nights. My life has changed completely. I am thrilled.
Where did you get your inspiration for The Lace Reader?
I have a piece of lace that my grandmother once gave me, that I have carried from place to place. It is a beautiful delicate piece made by nuns during the Great Depression. One night, when we were renovating the old Victorian house that we lived in at the time, I had a dream that I was looking through the piece of lace and saw a field of horses where a wall had once been. For most people, that would have been a beautiful dream, but I am very allergic to horses, so the dream caused me some anxiety. Plus, it was an interior wall, so the dream didn’t make much sense. The next day when the contractor arrived to take down the wall to enlarge our kitchen, he remarked that he hated these old horsehair plaster walls, that the dust got into the air and was almost impossible to clear. Obviously, we never knocked down the wall. But a book idea was born.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
There was quite a bit of research involved. First of all, there was the history of Ipswich lace, which was a fascinating industry run entirely by women which flourished for a short period, then vanished completely. I did a great deal of research about the psychological aspects of the book, about bereavement in twins, about abuse victims. And there was research about Salem: from the witch trials and the shipping trade to modern pagan religions. I had some great help along the way and many experts to check my accuracy.
Have you ever tried to make lace yourself?
I have tried, and failed miserably.
Some people have compared The Lace Reader to Rebecca, who are your favorite authors and what are some recent books you’ve read for pleasure?
I like Daphne Du Maurier, and read quite a bit of her work in college, as well as Graham Greene’s. I lived in Dublin for a year studying James Joyce’s Ulysses. I love Proust, and dream of reading his untranslated works one day, but my French language skills will have to be much improved before I begin. For a while, I was fixated on the Japanese writer Kobo Abe, particularly Woman in the Dunes and The Box Man. I don’t read too much while I’m writing because I find that it confuses me. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books. Recently I have been reading some of Franz Wright’s poetry, and Junot Diaz’s Drown. And I just finished Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart Onan, which I loved.
You worked as a tour guide at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, The House of the Seven Gables, Salem has a rich history—how did growing up in a town with such a colorful past inform your imagination and your writing?
I live in Salem now, but I actually grew up in Marblehead, which is the next town over, but was once part of Salem. Our house was on the Salem Harbor side of town, and I was always taking the boat over to Salem, or riding my bike. History is just part of life when you live in such a place. I didn’t realize how unusual it was until I lived elsewhere. I think it’s important to understand our history, if only to keep from repeating it.
You’ve worked in Hollywood—-is there a difference between writing screen plays and writing a novel?
There’s a big difference, I think. In a novel, you might spend fifty pages describing something that can be shown with a few camera shots in a screenplay. And the screenwriting process has an element of collaboration that a novel doesn’t have, though I think there is a definite collaboration between the novel and the reader, but that happens much later in the process.
One early reviewer said The Lace Reader was nearly as shocking as the movie The Sixth Sense, do you have a favourite movie and does cinema influence your writing?
My favorite movie to watch repeatedly is Wonder Boys. I love the old screwball comedies of the 30’s an 40’s. John Cassavetes’ Tempest is a favorite, as is Nobody’s Fool. I like the Matrix movies. Girl Interrupted, White Oleander, The Verdict, The Hudsucker Proxy, Gone Baby Gone. And any old Fred Astaire movies. My husband and I are addicted to old 1950’s sci-fi. And lately, I’ve been repeatedly watching a Canadian television series called Slings and Arrows which is one of the best things I’ve seen in quite a while.
What is Difficult Tea and how did you create the recipe?
I love teas of all kinds. I was looking for a winter tea with a little spice, and I came up with a blend of assam with cinnamon and just a touch of cayenne pepper to give it a bit of a kick. And because I was missing Los Angeles that year, I added a bit of cilantro on top, sort of as a joke. It’s a strange blend, and I am one of the few people who actually likes it.
You are renovating a historic home just off the famous Chestnut Street in Salem, the homes in The Lace Reader hold many secrets—have you found any surprises during your renovation?
We have found some interesting things, old newspapers, children’s treasures hidden in secret alcoves. The oddest thing to me was that I found my last name carved into a door in the basement. I’m sure there is a logical explanation, but it was kind of surprising, since no one by that name has ever lived in this house.
The Red Hat Society plays a crucial role in your novel—how did you learn about this society?
I was quite far along in the book, writing about Eva’s tea room when a friend asked if I knew about the Red Hats. I looked into them, and I thought they would be just the kind of customers that Eva would also count as friends. They are daring women who aren’t afraid to speak out. They’re also a lot of fun, which Eva definitely was. One of the book clubs compared the Red Hats in my book to a Greek chorus, which I thought was great.
You have a dog and dogs are saviours for the main character in your novel—do you feel that dogs really do have a special relationship with people?
Definitely. Our golden retriever seems to have a sixth sense about many things. When my husband is out doing errands and heading back to the house, I know he’s on the way home when Byzy goes to the window and starts looking for him. It’s very odd, but it happens almost every time. Also, dogs are very tied to us emotionally. And they are always so happy to be with you. You can’t be in a bad mood when you’re with a dog. At least I can’t.
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Book Description Harper, 2009. Hard Cover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Brand new copy. Bookseller Inventory # 031035