Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri — 304 pgs

Book Cover Kate Robinson has left America behind after the death of her mother and a break-up with her boyfriend. She is traveling alone in Ireland when she comes upon the small town of Glenmara and is invited to stay with a widow named Bernie. Bernie is dealing with her own heartache and is one of a group of women who meet together to make handmade lace. Soon the women begin to teach Kate both the ways of the town and the ways of the lace. Because the town is economically unstable, the women decide to adopt Kate's idea of creating lace lingerie out of their creations and soon they begin to design beautiful and luxurious pieces for themselves. As each woman becomes the subject for design, her past and present are revealed. Bernie is longing for the husband who passed away and the children that the couple never had. Aileen is losing her teenage daughter to influences beyond her control. Moira is caught in an abusive marriage. Oona is living with a body ravaged by breast cancer and Colleen is forever wishing that her husband would come home from sea. When the women's project catches the eye of the stringent local priest, sparks begin to fly around the community. Now the women must not only come to terms with what is ailing each privately but also to defend their creations publicly. Both enchanting and heartfelt, The Lacemakers of Glenmara paints a beautiful portrait of the struggles of women and the friendships that aid them in their heartache.

When this book first hit the blogosphere, I was really excited about getting the chance to read it. Though it's not my usual fare, I thought that it would be interesting to read about lace makers in Ireland and the ways that their lives intersected. I read so many wonderful reviews of the book all over the place that I was eager to try it for myself and see what I thought of it. While I ultimately found the book to be a very pleasant and interesting diversion, there were some moments where I scratched my head in perplexity.

First off, I really liked Kate and thought that she was an eclectic and interesting character. Though she was running from heartbreak, she didn't pity herself and get caught up in moroseness and apathy. I thought it was pretty brave of her to venture into a country where she knew no one and nothing, and though I knew that at times her motive for travel was escape, she came across as a really adventurous woman. I also liked that she had talent as a clothing designer and used that skill to fit into her new surroundings. In her desire to help the women of the town, Kate uses the craft she knows well to draw inspiration from the women around her. I did have a bit of confusion as to why these lace undergarments were such a hit with the little town though. On the one hand, they may have never seen lace decorated panties and bras, but on the other, I considered it a tad unlikely. Ultimately, I was forced to see that the making of the lace into undergarments was just a bit of symbolism to describe the cathartic changes that took over the women after Kate's arrival.

I was also a little underwhelmed by the romance between Kate and one of the men of the town. There was very little setup and courtship between the two and I had a hard time understanding their mutual attraction. Sure, the gentleman in question was very easy on the eyes but I felt that Kate was such a rich character that maybe she would require a bit more out of a man she considered her paramour. When the relationship began to move forward, things became a bit more believable and plausible. The two lovers' pasts kept interfering in their budding relationship and it was up to them to share the secrets that were holding them apart. Though the relationship got off to a rocky start, as things progressed, I found myself more able to buy into the love between the two.

The relationship between the women in this book was the true wonder of this story. Their unity and love for one another outlasted the petty dramas and rivalries that they succumbed to from time to time. Most of the drama and recrimination came from Aileen's corner, for she could be very jealous and possessive at times. Aileen provided a lot of combustion between the lace makers and Kate and she did it with an outrageous sense of entitlement. The other women were more mild mannered, but as they moved into the spotlight, I began to see that they were all beset by personal difficulties and heartache. Though the foundation of the women's friendships had been cemented long ago, there was a constant push and pull between all of them and the newcomer Kate. I liked the steadfastness of their relationships and felt this gave the book a solidity and resonance beyond the threads that held the story together.

One of the things that I was most puzzled about in this book was the reactions of the priest to the ladies and their new creations. For the life of me, I just didn't understand why lace panties made him fear for the sanctity of his community! He was a really interesting character but I felt that his story sort of petered out in the end and I would have liked to see more come of his outrage. I guess I was hampered by the fact that I had never really lived in a small town, so I had a hard time understanding the social dynamics of the Church in relation to its supplicants in one. I would have loved to see a bit more done with this aspect of the story or maybe to have learned a little more about the priest's background. As it was, this was the part of the book that tripped me up a bit.

For the most part, I did enjoy this book and its look at a small community of women in Ireland but there were times when I felt that the story was a little underdeveloped. I think Barbieri accomplished a lot with this tale and it was a beautiful testament to women and the friendships that grace their lives. As I mentioned before, some of the aspects of the story were a bit puzzling to me, and in the case of this book, I wish it had been a bit longer in order to fully explore some of the things that I felt were a little raw. I think that readers who enjoy women's fiction would get a lot out of this book, as well as those who are armchair travelers. I can imagine that this would make a great summer read for a lot of folks. Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

About Heather Barbieri

Heather Barbieri is half-Irish. Her paternal ancestors left counties Donegal and Tipperary after The Great Famine and worked in the coal mines of Eastern Pennsylvania before settling in Butte, Montana. Her impeccably dressed maternal grandmother was a descendant of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria and instilled an avid interest in fashion in her granddaughters. Barbieri’s first novel, Snow in July (Soho Press), was selected as a Book Sense Pick, a Glamour magazine “Riveting Read” and a Library Journal Notable First Novel. Before turning to writing fiction full-time, she was a magazine editor, journalist and film critic. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and three children and is currently working on her third novel.

Connect with Heather:

TLC Book Tours I want to give a warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review! Please continue to follow the tour stops to see what other readers have to say about this book!

Tuesday, June 22nd: Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker
Thursday, June 24th: Books and Movies
Monday, June 28th: Bookalico.us
Tuesday, June 29th: Drey's Library
Friday, July 2nd: Redlady's Reading Room
Tuesday, July 6th: The Tome Traveler
Wednesday, July 7th: Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, July 8th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Monday, July 12th: Bloggin' `Bout Books
Tuesday, July 13th: Chefdruk Musings
Wednesday, July 14th: My Two Blessings
Thursday, July 15th: Diary of an Eccentric

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


bermudaonion said...

I don't like those romances where people fall instantly in love either. The bit about the lace on the underwear causing such scandals made me chuckle.

Aarti said...

Have you seen the movie Calendar Girls? This review made me think about it, though I can't immediately think why. It's a really cute movie, though, and I highly recommend it!

As for this book- I don't know if I would like it. Do you think I would? I think the romance part would kind of annoy me. Why must there be romance in EVERY book?

Jenny said...

I really haven't seen a whole lot about this book, but it doesn't really sound like something I'd like that much. All this time I was thinking it was by the same author of The Lace Reader, lol!! (I think that's what that's called). I get frustrated, too, with books where I don't really understand why something is the way it is, like the example you gave about why the lacey undergarments were such a big deal.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Most of the reviews I have read of this have been gushy, so it's always welcome to get a different perspective! It sounds like if they had made lace tablecloths, it would have been a whole different story! :--)

Meghan said...

I was sort of "eh" on this book myself when I read it. I liked the relationships between the women, but I wasn't so fond of the main romance. It was okay but not something I'd really want to read regularly.

Jenny said...

I've been back and forth on this book, but I eventually decided it wasn't one I was dying to read. Maybe if I were more interested in crafts...but I am terrible at them, and whenever I read books about people who can do them properly, I feel a little bad about myself. :p So a book with crafts in has to sound very, very appealing for me to try it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I never read this one but I remember when it was first released. I'm not sure I would like this one, but I enjoyed your review Heather.

Darlene said...

Really great review Heather. I really enjoyed this book but I did read it with my book club and many of the aspects you brought up were ones they did as well such as undeveloped characters, the romance, etc.

I think for me when I read something I'm bad for just not analyzing. I just read so many of these things I didn't pick up on until after the discussion got started.

I do agree on the underdeveloped characters. I would have loved to have seen a lot more on each of the women - more of their past, more of their feelings now.

As for the romance part I really didn't like it. It was just kind of slam, bam, thank you mam. It needed much more fleshed out for me.

Either way I really did enjoy the book. I think this was a book that would have done better being longer. It needed more.

Ana S. said...

Sometimes I think authors overestimate how ignorant/disconnected from the rest of the world small town communities are. Maybe I'm naive, but having grown up in one myself, I find this hard to believe. I had the same problem with a book I read recently - it was about a girl with synaesthesia, and nobody in her small town, including her high school science teacher mother, her GP or the psychotherapist she consults, had any clue that this condition even existed.

Serena said...

I really enjoyed this book, but it isn't one of my favorites of the year. I have to say that I can see how a priest in a small backward village would think that lace panties would be scandalous.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I was wondering how this one would be. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous said...

I think I understand the priest's concerns (at least as much as I can without reading the book) since I have a bit of experience with small town life ... :) I'm glad that you were able to enjoy the book in spite of the problems you found in it. Thanks for being a part of the tour.

Booklogged said...

I have this book on my shelves but haven't read it yet. I lent it to my mom and she seemed to enjoy it.

You asked for a recommendation on a Lisa Scottoline stand alone. One of my favorites by her is Devil's Corner.

Amy said...

I've seen a lot of good things about this book, and might just have to give it a try at some point. Sounds fishy though how they fall instantly in love so easily!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jenny...while the setting appeals to me, the lace making doesn't, so I'll be passing on this one.

Literary Feline said...

I have been on the fence about reading this one for some time now. It sounds like it has something to offer even despite it's flaws. I guess I'll think on it some more. :-)

Melissa said...

I've got this one (somewhere) on my shelf and am excited to read it. I'm pretty much only an armchair traveler and think this one will be a good fit for me.

Vasilly said...

I haven't read this but I've seen many positive reviews about it. Glad to read about what you've loved and kind of didn't.

Lisa said...

I've been reading nothing but praise for this one. I really appreciate your in-depth review--the flaws that you've pointed out seem to be the kind of things that would really put me off a book no matter how much the rest of the book appeals.

Jeane said...

It does seem funny that lace underthings would suddenly become all the rave. Maybe it was a very sheltered community? maybe part of the intrigue was that they made the items themselves, instead of buying from a store...? (well I don't know since I haven't read the book but you got me wondering)

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