The House of Velvet and Glass

The House of Velvet and Glass

by Katherine Howe


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Katherine Howe, author of the phenomenal New York Times bestseller 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 scrying 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.

Praise for The House of Velvet and Glass

“Richly atmospheric, The House of Velvet and Glass transported me to the turn of the twentieth 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

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

“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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781401340919
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 04/10/2012
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 6.64(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.23(d)
Age Range: 18 - 12 Years

About the Author

Katherine Howe is the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She lives in Massachusetts and upstate New York with her husband.


Marblehead, MA

Place of Birth:

Houston, TX


B.A., Columbia University, 1999; M.A., Boston University, 2006

What People are Saying About This

Lyndsay Faye

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)

Brunonia Barry

Richly atmospheric, The House of Velvet and Glass transported me to the turn of the twentieth 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)

David Liss

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)

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The House of Velvet and Glass 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 113 reviews.
bookholiday More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this story. There was so much to like. very good book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this based on my friends recommendations, it is usually not MY type of book. But, I was pleasantly surprised, I actually enjoyed it. Didn't find it boring as I thought i would. I am a older Christian lady, and like light romance and suspense...but this really was good it was so far out of the realm of what I normally read and yet I found it rascinating and intensely interesting. The characters were three dimensional and likeable, and the dialogue realistic. Good job. I really enjoyed it, glad I bought it. I'd recommend it to others too
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this book is akin to time travel. A page turner. If history class used books like this, I would have done so much better. Inciteful. Masterfully written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved her first book -- currently devouring this new work -- can't wait for whatever comes next!
JerseyAngel More than 1 year ago
l was fortunate to read an advanced copy of Katherine Howe's debut novel in the First Look book club here on B&N. So I was anxiously awaiting her follow up. I'll be honest, I wasn't sure about the Titanic theme. Now that I have finished it, I can tell you that she exceeded my expectations. Based after the Titanic sunk, this novel follows one particular family who lost loved ones on the Titanic. Flash backs take you to the Titanic but Katherine does a wonderful job of making it the magical experience it was without getting too in depth on the horror that happened. This actually is what makes the ending so amazing. As you grow to know these people, you know what is coming, and your heart breaks for them & the people they leave behind. Katherine really captures the emotional wreckage that is often left behind after a tragedy. In that tragedy, there is hope, love & lives that keep moving on. Katherine does a magnificent job of capturing the time and even uses real people that were passengers on the ship. She truly does her research & it shows. I couldn't put this down & the next day, I felt myself wanting to pick it up again and felt a twinge of grief knowing I had finished. This is always an indicator of a great novel for me. I am so glad she shared these wonderful characters with us & her talent continues to blossom. I can't wait for her next novel already!
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
What’s left of the Allston family of Boston’s Back Bay is still reeling from the loss of Matriarch Helen and youngest child Eulah who had the misfortune of being on the Titanic. Each remaining member is dealing with the loss and going about life in their own way. Sybil, the oldest has taken over running the house and furthering her spinster lifestyle, but it’s in the séance parlor of Miss Dee where she finds the most solace and closest to her lost family as she deals with the guilt she can’t seem to shed and knows that speaking of it to her stoic father Captain Lan Allston does no good. In the midst of all this it seems her younger brother Harlan has gotten himself kicked out of school, returned home only to get into deeper trouble. The troubles with Harlan also brings back an old family friend of the Allston’s, Benton Derby who was once much more to Sybil than just a friend and who is now in the position as a professor to help Harlan back in the classroom and out of trouble, but the complications continue as Harlan’s paramour Dovie arrives on the scene. Sybil joins forces with Ben to help her wayward brother but also turns to her faith in the occult for succor which has she and Ben butting heads. And as they seek answers journeying through the mystical psychic world they find only more questions and deeper puzzles, and some of those puzzles are leading back to a deep dark family secret. Katherine Howe burst on the literary scene with her debut novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and now brings us another blockbuster in The House of Velvet and Glass. She took me on board the Titanic, through the streets of Shanghai and the elegant and eclectic Boston of early 20th century America and as she did so I could see in my mind’s eye the scenes, the people and the happenings around them. As she spun her tale of misfortune and of catastrophe she showed me also the lengths that we will go to find comfort, she showed me the strength it takes to go on in the light of loss and she once again went into the preternatural world and did it with aplomb. She introduced me to some amazing characters that will stay with me for a long time with Sybil, Ben and the Captain leading the cast but not foreshadowing her co-stars, Harlan and Dovie and finally her cameo appearances by Helen and Eulah and we can’t forget Baiji. Her narrative is all reminiscent of the era she’s portraying and done beautifully and vividly expressive with such attention to detail that her research is obvious not only in the industrial miracles of the times but also the costume and attitudes brought out in her characters. And finally this is a love story, of familial love and romantic love, it’s a story of the right thing to do in the face of opposition and the love of oneself. If you’re a fan of historical literature, family drama, or just a great story this is a novel you should read. If you like just a little woo-woo with your big dose of reality you’ll also find what you’re looking for between the pages of this novel. Ms. Howe thank you for another wonderful all expenses paid trip with your wonderful storytelling and imagination and I can’t wait for the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed in this. The action is frustratingly slow and the plot all over the place. I wasn't even sure what her main theme was until at least halfway in. Wouldnt recommend it.
AW_OC More than 1 year ago
This book is more of a character study than a story. It is well written but not much seems to happen. You get a good picture of the era but the story is glimpsed in pieces as if through the "scrying glass" the main character uses. I enjoyed it but found myself deliberately picking it up rather than drawn to it. I liked her first book better.
TaraNJ More than 1 year ago
I love this author. Just the right amount of magical realism to keep it plausible.
MollyLeFey More than 1 year ago
Having read this suthor's previous book - the Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - I sort of knew what to expect, and I was not disabppointed. She moves well through each of the timelines in play, and gives each it's own distinctive flavor, but weaves them together well too. The characters are well-conceived. The subject matter - seances, fortune telling - may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like books with a tiny bit of a twist, I would recommend this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Based on the majority of reviews I was lead to believe this was a book of some substance. I was very disappointed. The author's attempt at mystery and suspense was just a lot of hopping around time and locale. Perhaps this confusion as to relevancy was supposed to draw the reader in to wonder what would happen next? In any regards this book can be tolerable if you get it for free, but it would be a waste of your time and money to pay more than a buck for it. The author gave mixed messages. I couldn't root for anyone nor could I invest in the characters' fates. This is no classic in the making.
malee More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written and historically accurate but I missed the connection with a contemporary first person narrator.Terrific twist! Looking for more from Ms Howe.
BookLoverDK More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the twists and turns of this book. There is a perfect mix of reality and fantasy. The main characters are well-developed and likeable. Katherine Howe spins a good yarn. I would definitely read more books written by her.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately this book just never came together for me. I am not a very patient reader and I need to connect with a book way before a hundred pages and in this book I did not. Liked the history, the flashbacks to the Titanic, the spiritualist movement, end of the Gilded Age, actually this book contained many things I should have liked. Didn't ever get a real feel for the characters, the plot meandered back and forth, and the pacing was to slow. The parts I liked, such as Sybil's very real psychic ability was not explored enough. So for me it was just okay.
justabookreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sibyl Allston spends her days mourning the loss of her younger sister and mother whose lives ended tragically when the Titanic sank in April of 1914. The two were returning home from a grand European tour and their loss devastates the family. As the oldest daughter and most responsible of the Allston children, Sibyl takes over as the woman of the house but doesn¿t have the backbone to garner any respect --- not from the house staff or family acquaintances. Accepting of the fact that she will most likely remain single, she does what she can to make her life, and her father¿s, as normal and comforting as she can considering their loss.When Sibyl¿s brother Harley is kicked out of Harvard under circumstances that he won¿t discuss --- everyone assumes it has something to do with a young woman --- her already heartbreaking and complicated life gets one more added layer of sadness. Her father and brother can¿t be in the same room together without fighting, and after a particularly stressful time, Harley leaves. Later, a young woman shows up at the house covered in blood with news that Harley has been severely injured. While waiting at the hospital for news on Harley, Benton Derby, Sibyl¿s former love --- a man she still has great feelings for --- shows up wanting to help throwing not only Sibyl, but the whole family, into a tail spin.Sibyl, a devotee of fortune telling, begins to find solace in the art hoping that a medium used by her mother will help her find comfort in the memories of the past and answers about the future. What she doesn¿t understand yet is her own gift in the art and the affect it will have on her life and her family members. What Katherine Howe does very well is capture a moment in time. Boston of 1915 is a rich setting and she doesn¿t let any of the details slip. The book moves around in time thanks to the fortune telling aspect, but the characters pull the story back reminding you where the story is taking place. Sibyl is a particularly poignant character looking for comfort and acceptance from her father but also from a deceased mother that lost hope in her and placed all her dreams of a good marriage match on her younger sister. Sibyl¿s a sad person but so wrapped up in handling the necessities of her day that she hides most of her feelings hoping others won¿t see her hurting. Her need for comfort, acceptance, and assurance land her in a dangerous place.While I did enjoy certain aspects of the fortune telling in this story --- it was a popular pastime at this point in history --- it did make parts of the story feel slightly disjointed. It¿s a nice touch but is also a bit heavy handed making the story feel like it is coming and going at the same time.This is Howe¿s second book following The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She¿s a writer more than willing to immerse her readers in history and if you enjoy historical fiction, Howe is a writer to look to.
arielfl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book much more than Howe's previous book The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. I had such high hopes for Deliverance Dane and felt a little let down. Conversely I went into this book with much lower expectations and found myself pleasantly surprised.The story jumps around between events on the night the Titanic sunk, Shanghai 1868, and Massachusetts 1915. Matriarch Helen and her youngest daughter Eulah are on Titanic when it sinks. Helen's other daughter Sybil thinks she may be able to contact them through her psychic abilities in Massachusetts. Sybil's brother Harlan seems to be taking the death of his mother and sister very hard and drops out of school. He takes up with the socially unsuitable Dovie who is befriended by Sybil. Sybil renews an acquaintance with her old flame Benton who tries to assist the family with Harlan's problems and Sybils burgeoning psychic abilities. Patriarch Harlan's youth as a sailor in Shanghai is told in flashback throughout the novel. All of this may seem quite confusing to keep track of but each chapter is clearly headed as to where it takes place so the narrative is actually quite easy to follow. As I neared the end of the book it was a solid 3 star for me. At times I had the feeling that the plot was lacking and I couldn't see the tie that bound everything together. As major revelations were made toward the end of the novel I began to enjoy it more and I thought the ending brought everything together in a satisfying way. I loved the time period that the book was set in and I am partial to stories involving the Gilded Age and the Titanic.Katherine Howe's after word which gave further insight into her story was an interesting way to end the book. If you have patience there is a lot to enjoy in this story and it would be a great book to read the mark the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
thewanderingjew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story begins in 1912, and then proceeds, in detail, for a period of about five years. Several times, it employs the use of interludes to move back in time, almost five decades, to 1868, to introduce the reader to Harlan Allston¿s 17 year old incarnation, and foreshadows the things to come. The book improves as you read on, so don¿t give up if it seems a bit slow in the beginning with the tedium of Boston propriety.The Alston¿s, a well to do family, live on Beacon Street, at a time when social standing is de rigeur, and the marriage of a daughter was of prime concern. Spinsterhood was often mocked by people of the upper class. Presenting one¿s child to the world, to find an appropriate mate, was a major undertaking. Harlan Allston, made his fortune in the shipping industry. His wife, Helen, a good deal younger than he, had given up hopes for her elder daughter¿s marriage. Sybil, a very proper young woman, had refused one marriage proposal and did not receive a second, from Benton Derby, the one she longed for, as he married someone else and moved to Italy. Helen decides to take her younger, more outspoken daughter, Eulah, on a trip to Europe to prepare her to enter society and find a suitable marriage mate. The whirlwind tour is a success and they are very happy when they make their return trip home, unaware of the tragedy to come, on the magnificent ill-fated ship, The Titanic.The story is a romantic piece of historic fiction, and it covers many of the major events and issues of the time, including many real people that did exist, as well as characters made up from the author¿s imagination. The sinking of the Titanic, illicit use of opiates and its addiction, the horrors of World War I, the cultural and political climate of the time, are all accurately portrayed. The lifestyle of the gentry is well described, illustrating their carriage and their demeanor, their attention to manners and proper decorum, coupled with the snobbism and prejudices of the day. The early belief in spiritualism and clairvoyance add to the storyline. We witness behavior patterns that go to the depths of depravity, and alternatively reach the heights of heroism. There is an interesting parrot Baiji, that is introduced at the beginning of the tale, in Shanghai, and makes additional appearances until the end, in Boston. It seems to symbolize change and progress, as the narrative moves forward. There is an Asian theme concerning opiates, threaded throughout the book, as well.Ships and water are major themes, as is addiction and clairvoyance or second sight. The sinking of both The Titanic and The Lusitania are catalysts that move the story forward and mark momentous changes in the lives of the characters, moving the story toward its conclusion. Katherine Howe writes with an easy to read prose, often injecting subtle humor and eloquently describes the grief and tragedy the character¿s experience. Her characters feel as if they belong in the time of the book and you will easily recognize them and get to know them well. The introduction of ideas that are somewhat supernatural flows well and does not feel awkward. At the end, you will learn of the author¿s connection to that time period. It would be helpful if the reader enjoyed delving into the supernatural a bit, especially with extra-sensory projection and/or psychic phenomenon, since they are major ideas presented in the book.In my reading, I discovered that in the Chinese culture, the parrot symbolizes freedom and life. It is the bearer of good news, signifies change and wisdom and represents our hopes and ultimate goals. How we live our lives, long or short, is a very major theme of the book. Were we able to leave a permanent, positive mark on society, did we live the best life we could? Dovie, the unconventional girlfriend of Sybil¿s brother Harlan, brings the circle of life full circle and explains how the character¿s have each made their own indelible mark on life.
JBD1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Katherine Howe's second novel, The House of Velvet and Glass (Voice, 2012) is, like her first (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane), a work of historical fiction set in New England, with flashback scenes aplenty and a few supernatural elements in the mix. This time, though, the main story takes place in the spring of 1915, as war rages in Europe and the memory of the loss of Titanic is still very fresh.The Allston family of Beacon Street lost its matriarch, Helen, and youngest daughter, Eulah, when that ship went down (we meet the two of them in occasional interludes, as Eulah strikes up a shipboard friendship with Harry Widener). Carrying on at home are eldest daugther Sibyl, her father Lan (a shipping magnate) and her brother Harlan, whose days at Harvard seem to be numbered.Howe limns the Boston of 1915 quite nicely, capturing the tensions between the traditional way of life for Brahmin families in the Hub with the technological and societal changes being ushered in during the early years of the 20th century. Sibyl's attraction to séances and spiritualism in the aftermath of the deaths of her mother and sister plays a key role in the plot of the book, and the fierce debates about those fields are represented (briefly, of course).While there were some parts of the novel that moved a bit slowly, and some loose ends that I thought didn't quite come together, overall I liked it ... and the few twists at the end were nicely done.
Twink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The House of Velvet and Glass is Katherine Howe's latest release, following her hugely successful first book, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Sybil Allston is keeping house for her father in 1915 Boston. Her mother and sister perished on the Titanic three years earlier. She's never really accepted or gotten over their deaths and has been seeking answers and solace from mediums and the spirit world. Sybil is not the only one in her family struggling with life. Her father has escaped into running his business, her brother has dropped out of Harvard and taken up with an actress. It is the actress, Dovie, who shakes up and wakes up the remaining members of the Allston family. She introduces Sybil to the pleasures of opium.....and Sybil is sure she can see the final hours of her mother and sister in a scrying glass when she is in the arms of the opium pipe... Howe has delivered another rich period piece, filled with many details that bring the Boston Brahmins, social life and mores of the times to life. Interspersed with Sybil's story are 'interludes' that give us a window into Eulah and her mother's final hours on the Titanic. I have to say, it is Eulah and the interludes I enjoyed the most. Eulah as a character drew me to her more that Sybil. Eulah is full of life and brashness and spirit. She embraces life, as short as hers will be. Sybil is equally well drawn, but life has taken on a different mien with her loss. I did come to appreciate her more as the book progressed. I chose to listen to this book. The reader was Heather Corrigan. At first, I thought her voice was too young and sweet to tell this story, but quickly realized that that is exactly the tone to tell Sybil's story. Corrigan has a light voice, enunciates well and is easy to listen to. The House of Velvet and Glass is not a fast read,rather it is a slow, measured building towards an unexpected revelation.The last third of the book moves along quite quickly, including another setting and more from one character that I been had expecting. Howe has crafted another unique offering that will appeal to historical fiction fans. I enjoyed the book, but personally prefer something that moves along a little faster.
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BookEscapeWorld More than 1 year ago
I ruly enjoyed reading this book! It was very well researched with some fun additions. I really felt like I was living in the decade of 1910-20. I was surprised to learn there has been little written about his period. It was a fun escape!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago