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The House of Velvet and Glass

The House of Velvet and Glass

3.6 108
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


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, Sybil 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 Jones, 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 in a breathtaking novel that will thrill readers.

Bonus features in the eBook: Katherine Howe's essay on scrying; Boston Daily Globe article on the Titanic from April 15, 1912; and a Reading Group Guide and Q&A with the author, Katherine Howe.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The sinking of the Titanic ripples through the lives of a socially prominent Boston family in an impressive historical tale from Howe (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane). Three years after the disaster claimed her mother and sister, Sibyl Allston finds solace in the séances of the medium Mrs. Dee while her brother, Harley, is expelled from Harvard and returns home in the company of the less-than-respectable Dovie Whistler, an actress. Re-entering the family’s life is Benton Derby, a young Harvard professor whose aborted courtship of Sibyl years before has left her doomed to the life of a spinster and family caretaker. Moving through time from 1915 back to Sibyl’s father’s past as a young sailor in Shanghai half a century before and to the last hours of the Titanic itself, Howe’s story of the growing attraction between Sibyl and Benton in the shadow of grief and loss merges gracefully into a compelling exploration of spiritualism and free will. An engaging story of love, destiny, and sacrifice in the growing shadow of WWI, with the unexpected touch of fantasy. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME Entertainment. (May)
Library Journal
Following her wildly successful best-selling debut (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane), Howe takes a new direction with her sophomore effort. In 1915 Boston, Sybil Allston still struggles to cope with the loss of her mother and sister on the Titanic three years earlier and reaches out to a spiritualist in hopes of reconnecting with her deceased relatives. When an acquaintance from her past appears, Sybil is driven to embark on a mysterious journey to investigate the depths of her family's secrets. Romance, elements of the supernatural, and an intricate family drama contribute to this atmospheric character-driven story set against a richly detailed turn-of-the-century backdrop. VERDICT Where Howe successfully mingled the occult world of Salem's past with the present day in Deliverance Dane, the new novel may disappoint readers who found the first book spellbinding. 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.—Carolann Curry, Mercer Medical Lib., Macon, GA
Kirkus Reviews
Howe (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, 2009) sets her second novel among early-20th-century Bostonians fascinated by the power of both spiritualism and the new science of psychology. Twenty-seven-year-old spinster Sibyl Allston lives a quiet life with her father Lan, a successful businessman who talks little about his youth as a sailor in the Far East. In 1915 both are still mourning the deaths of Sibyl's mother Helen and younger sister Eulah, who drowned on the Titanic three years before. Except for her regular visits to the medium, Mrs. Dee, in hopes of making contact with her mother and sister, Sibyl is a retiring, conventional young woman. Then her younger brother Harlan is thrown out of Harvard, ends up in the hospital after a fight he will not discuss and moves back into the family home along with a young woman named Dovie, whose background remains as murky as her relationship to Harlan. Dovie introduces Sibyl to a potentially dangerous habit in Boston's Chinatown, but at the same time Sibyl's former beau re-enters her life. Benton is now a psychology professor at Harvard who tries to help Sibyl by exposing Mrs. Dee as a fraud. But as the country drifts toward World War I, Sibyl begins to realize she may possess an unexpected gift as a seer, one that she unknowingly inherited from her father along with a taste for opium. Is knowing the future a gift or a curse, or does it depend on the angle through which it is viewed? Ultimately Sibyl learns that even within a world ruled by fate, choices can be made. The slightly sordid melodrama and para-psychological philosophizing lean uncomfortably against a sappy romance.

Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 8.78(h) x 0.98(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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)

Meet the Author

Katherine Howe got her Ph.D. in American and New England Studies at Boston University. She is author of one previous novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She lives in Ithaca, NY, with her husband.

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The House of Velvet and Glass 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 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.
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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!
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Jesster00420 More than 1 year ago
Another tough read. 
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