If you choose just one novel to read in these waning days of summer, it should be the lovely and terrifically paced The Lace Reader. Part historical novel, part romance, part mystery - with a stunning twist that will have you hurriedly flipping back through the pages wondering how you missed the clues - this is a perfectly satisfying read. How can you not read a novel with this opening 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." And it only gets better from there. Towner has returned to her hometown of Salem after her beloved Aunt Eva drowns in the harbor while out on her daily swim. It's a suspicious death: a volatile local evangelist had lately been accusing Eva, who ran a local tea room and could tell people's fortunes by reading images in lace, of witchcraft.

Towner's homecoming is a reluctant one. She's spent years in Los Angeles to avoid Salem, where her twin sister committed suicide and her eccentric mother remains on an isolated island, operating a modern-day Underground Railroad for abused wives. Coming home brings Towner face to face with painful secrets that still haunt the Whitney family.

After working in theater in Chicago and writing screenplays in Los Angeles, Brunonia Barry returned to her home state of Massachusetts, where she wrote word puzzles and contributed to the Beacon Street Girls series of novels for tweens. The Lace Reader is her first solo novel. Raised near Salem, growing up near a town so steeped in history taught her a lesson: "I think it's important to understand our history, if only to keep from repeating it." Barry has created a wholly original story in The Lace Reader, a surreal and feverish book with the smell of Massachusetts sea air practically wafting off every page.

Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.

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