The House of Velvet and Glass: Book summary and reviews of The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe

The House of Velvet and Glass

A Novel

By Katherine Howe

The House of Velvet and Glass
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2012,
    432 pages.

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Book Summary

Katherine Howe, author of the "magical" debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, returns with the mesmerizing The House of Velvet and Glass. The year is 1915 and Sybil is living a quiet life of desperation with her father and wastrel brother in an elegant townhouse by the river in Boston, but they are still reeling from the deaths of Sibyl's mother and sister on the Titanic. Sibyl has reluctantly settled into the role of the head of household after her mother's death, but feels as if much of the world is passing her by.

Sybil is drawn into visits to a table-turning medium, where she tries to make contact with her lost relatives in the afterworld. She then encounters Ben, an old family friend who lost his first wife to illness, and to whom Sybil was attracted years ago. As Ben and Sibyl must work together to solve a harrowing mystery, the long-simmering spark reignites, and they realize that there may be something more magical between them than a crystal ball on a medium's table.

From the opium dens of Boston's Chinatown to the upscale salons of high society to the decks of the Titanic, The House of Velvet and Glass combines meticulously executed period detail, a compelling romance, and a shocking twist at the end in a fantastic novel that will thrill the readers who discovered Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"An engaging story of love, destiny, and sacrifice in the growing shadow of WWI, with the unexpected touch of fantasy." - Publishers Weekly

"Reading more as historical fiction with bits of mysticism thrown in, this release should satisfy undiscriminating historical fiction readers, specifically those interested in the early 20th century. Recommended for fans of Tracy Chevalier and Diana Gabaldon." - Library Journal

"The slightly sordid melodrama and para-psychological philosophizing lean uncomfortably against a sappy romance." - Kirkus Reviews

"The House of Velvet and Glass is an intricate and intimate family drama, artfully spanning the seamy underworld of colonialist Shanghai, the wreck of the opulent but tragically fated Titanic, and the veiled world of upper-crust Boston delvers into divination and mysticism in the uneasy days preceding the Great War. With subtle threads interwoven throughout the lives of Sibyl Allston and her loved ones, Howe unveils a dark mystery that challenges her protagonist's perceptions of love and bravery, science and augury, death and honor, choice and Fate. Altogether a beautifully crafted saga exploring the curse of the seer and the courage that freedom ultimately requires." - Lyndsay Faye, author of Dust and Shadow

"Katherine Howe follows up her amazing debut with The House of Velvet and Glass, a thoughtful journey into the realms of the supernatural that inhabits its source material with effortless ease and charm. A totally absorbing read peopled with characters who will haunt readers' minds." - David Liss, author of The Twelfth Enchantment

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Alan K. (Westport, MA)
House of Velvet and Glass
A totally enjoyable read with a mixture of fact and fiction, jumping forth and back in time. There is good character development with excellent description of life of the upper classes of pre-war Bostonians. The book covers the issues of addiction, mysticism and loss. Definitely recommend.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Carole A. (Denver, CO)
So Sad
So Sad because I really wanted to love this book as much as the "Physick Book of Deliverance Dane" and I couldn't. It was slow getting into; however, because of my love of the previous book I slugged thru. Unfortunately I kept waiting for the AH-HA for a big bang or for my love of the book to set in. While the various stories were interesting and well written and were linked I felt the diversion left them all a little lacking. I am wondering if there had been three short stories if I would have viewed the collection differently. All that being said I think it is worth taking to the lake or the beach this summer as it will prove a diversion and certainly better than some of the other books I read on my recent stay at the beach. Howe is an author to keep following - she is not, I am sure, going to be a one book author. I look forward to her next endeavor.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Emily G. (Clear Lake, MN)
Visit 1915
Howe does a good job of creating the atmosphere of 1915 and exploring issues that remain relevant today--wealth vs poverty, war, tragedy, pain, family. The characters are complex and interesting and the spiritualism aspect is explored and challenged in many ways. However, if you're looking for a Titanic book, this isn't it. The ship's story plays a role but mostly as a point from which to develop the rest of the story. I suggest this novel for readers who want to be swept into another time and think it would be a good selection for book clubs--it's a good read!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Jeff S. (Murfreesboro, TN)
Old Boston, Opium, Psychics and the Titanic
Over the course of the 1st 150 pages or so of this novel I was not sure that I was going to like it. The book seemed slow and I couldn't really figure out what was the point. The characters themselves were interesting from the beginning and the descriptions of the settings were also intriguing, yet I had no idea what the main plot of the book would be. It turns out I am very glad that i stuck with it. The book turned out to be a fascinating look at old Boston, the world of opium dens, Psychics and the beginning of one the most fascinating times in American history. I would highly recommend this book, but would also be sure to point out that you need to stick with it and give it time to build. It would definitely be a good book for any book club as there are plenty of discussion points throughout the entire book. I don't know that it was as good as her first book, but it was definitely a great trip in time.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Marta T. (Lafayette, CA)
A period piece with an evocative atmosphere rich in sorrow
After the death of her mother and younger sister on the Titanic, Sybil turns to her mother's medium for solace. The medium gives her a scrying ball, through which Sybil glimpses ever more detailed visions of an endangered ship. Are they the imaginings of a susceptible mind, dreams induced by a painkiller, or something supernatural? The author weaves together several timelines and locales, bringing the reader to opium dens, seance parlors, wealthy Boston society houses, the Cambridge campus, and of course, places promising death. The pace may be a bit slow for readers interested in action, but others will be rewarded with a rich sense of visiting the past along with insight into how visions may be viewed as a curse.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Elinor S. (Loudonville, NY)
The House of Velvet and Glass
Wonderful! I really loved this book. Well written and informative. I think this would be a wonderful read for a book club. It was so heartfelt with the feelings of loss of the sister and mother. The popularity of the seances and the availability of the opiates was information that I had not thought of before. Love, academia, upper class privilege and exotic travel were all included to make this a really good read

...16 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Katherine Howe Author Biography

Katherine Howe is the New York Times bestselling author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, The House of Velvet and Glass, and Conversion. She has hosted "Salem: Unmasking the Devil" for the National Geographic Channel, and her fiction has been translated into over twenty-five languages. A native Texan, she lives in New England and upstate New York, where she teaches at Cornell and is at work on her next novel.

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