Katherine Howe, author of the phenomenal New York Times best seller The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, returns with an entrancing historical novel set in Boston in 1915, where a young woman stands on the cusp of a new century, torn between loss and love, driven to seek answers in the depths of a crystal ball.
Still reeling from the deaths of her mother and sister on the Titanic, Sibyl Allston is living a life of quiet desperation with her taciturn father and scandal-plagued brother in an elegant town house in Boston's Back Bay. Trapped in a world over which she has no control, Sibyl flees for solace to the parlor of a table-turning medium.
But when her brother is suddenly kicked out of Harvard under mysterious circumstances and falls under the sway of a strange young woman, Sibyl turns for help to psychology professor Benton Derby, despite the unspoken tensions of their shared past. As Benton and Sibyl work together to solve a harrowing mystery, their long-simmering spark flares to life, and they realize that there may be something even more magical between them than a medium's crying glass.
From the opium dens of Boston's Chinatown to the opulent salons of high society, from the back alleys of colonial Shanghai to the decks of the Titanic, The House of Velvet and Glass weaves together meticulous period detail, intoxicating romance, and a final shocking twist that will leave readers breathless.
©2012 Katherine Howe (P)2012 Hyperion (packaging elements only)
“Richly atmospheric, The House of Velvet and Glass transported me to the turn of the 20th century and a world changing as rapidly and irrevocably as our own. A gifted historian and storyteller, Katherine Howe has created a vividly imagined world that made me want to suspend time, lingering just a bit longer with the characters who live there, before the whole thing vanished in the clouded glass.” (Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places)
“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 and A Conspiracy of Paper)
“The House of Velvet and Glass is an intricate and intimate family portrait, painted against a backdrop of beautifully rendered tales of colonialist Shanghai, the wreck of the Titanic, and upper-crust Boston dabblers in the spirit world in the uneasy days preceding the Great War. I’d ask Katherine Howe for more than this, but it seems churlish to request that she turn the pages for me.” (Lyndsay Faye, author of The Gods of Gotham and Dust and Shadow)
trying to see the world with my ears
I am not a Titantic fan, but if you are considering this download because you are, know those sections are a small part of the novel, though that tragedy colours the entire narrative.
I downloaded this mainly because of the blurbs promising an "atmospheric" read/listen - Maybe it's better read; The narrator seems the wrong choice to create period atmosphere.
I???m not sure which novel unleashed the stream of recent historical fiction with storylines exploring the beginnings of psychiatry, but it takes a very skillful novelist to do that well ??? this is a near miss on that count, too.
The author recreates the external world well, but could have learned from Edith Wharton???s tone and characterization style to weave a more convincing story. There are also small continuity errors ??? not due to the interlude flashbacks (which were well-done) but more like editing glitches between drafts. I wouldn???t have noticed these in a better paced narrative. I enjoy a tale told slowly and gently, but that pace didn't suit here. Unless I was really tired when listening, I played long sections on double speed and felt that I missed nothing. There are some very good parts to the novel, but it was an unsatisfying whole, as assembled. This author is better than this -- I look forward to her next book.
The bones of this story seemed so good: An exploration of how love may redeem grief, woven around a plot that include the Titanic disaster, spiritualism, and the social upheavals of the early 20th century. What could go wrong?
Well, for one thing, there isn't a single character who is not annoying in the extreme -- particularly the protagonist, Sybil, who has lost her mother and sister to drowning, and her almost-fiance to marriage. Sybil flutters and fidgets, whines and worries, and the author traps us with her in a paralytic mess of trivialities. Her mother and sister, drawn in flashbacks of their Titanic experience, are so shallow and screechy that you can't wait for the waters to close over their heads. And there is no apparent reason for anyone to loooove Benton, the object of Sybil's affections, who spends most of his time grabbing hunks of his thick dark hair and scowling and muttering.
But the annoyances of the characters are dwarfed by the irritation I felt with the narrator. In a voice that sounds like it belongs to a 13-year-old girl who is trying to suppress a bad case of the giggles, she coos and simpers and puts on a verbal frowny face when something bad happens. She growls the voices of the male characters and make the Irish maid sound like a leprechaun while Benton, for some reason, seems to have time-travelled back from Soviet Russia. Granted, she has some painfully stilted dialogue and a fussbudget of a plot to work with, but did she really have to deliver the entire novel as though it were a hellishly long version of Goodnight Moon?
Not that I listened to the entire novel. I tried, God how I tried. I got about a third of the way through and had to stop when I realized that the voice yelling "Shut up, you whiner!" at the speakers was mine. I not only stopped listening, I returned the selection so that I wouldn't have to see it on my devices and get annoyed all over again. I would recommend this book only as a passive-aggresive gesture toward my shallowest frienemy. Save your time and credits for a real story with at least one character you might like, narrated by a grownup.
The snail's pace of this work made me skip whole chapters. It was well-written but morose and dull. Good writing doesn't make up for a missing plot. Such a pity because the author has a good handle on description and mood (that is if it were meant to be so confusing and sad). I picked it up because I am fascinated with the only period in time in which things were changing as fast as they are right now, but I was awfully disappointed. I couldn't even figure out what the book was really about--the brother, the love interest who had previously jilted the main character, the salty, crusty old father, the medium? Ms Howe's prose was lovely, but it just couldn't make up for all that was missing. (Or for my inability to listen properly to description after description.)
teacher & book lover
The twist in this book makes the story worth reading. Really sad...but still a satisfying ending.
The author's first book was better, but this one is still good.
I really loved Katherine Howe's last book, but this one was a real yawner! The character development was poor and the "mystery" was not intriguing...just boring. I really wanted to like this but I was starting to dread my listening time so I gave up about 3/4 of the way in and I almost never do that. I cannot recommend this book to anyone.
Not awful, but the narration was cloying and the historical elements to the story seemed really forced. The dialogue also seemed pretty inaccurate for the time period. I guess I'm not much of a fan of historical fiction, it always seems a bit goofy to me. I don't know why I bothered with this one.
Probably not from Katherine Howe
This was just an odd story. There were hints that there was some big family secret or revelation. When this "secret" was revealed it was kind of a non-event. By the very end, everything was predictable. I was waiting for some be revelation about what happened on the ship with Helen and Eula but that also was anti-climactic.
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