4 reviews

The House of Velvet and Glass
by Katherine Howe

Published: 2013-01-29
Paperback : 432 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 4 of 4 members
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 ...
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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, 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 Review

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Read a Sample Here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/84855497/The-House-of-Velvet-and-Glass-by-Katherine-Howe
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Discussion Questions

1. What did you know about the sinking of the Titanic before you read this book? What were the sources of this information?

2. The story weaves between three different times and places: Boston in 1915, the Titanic in 1912, and Shanghai in 1868. What is the overall effect of Howe's narrative shifts?

3. Think about Sibyl’s experience with Ms. Dee and her scrying glass. Is there value in the con if it helps Sibyl feel better?

4. Consider the central image of Lan’s marine chronometer. What are the implications and connotations of this precious possession?

5. Where in the novel do you recall the images of clocks and watches? There are many. Compare and contrast their descriptions. Do they all seem to suggest a similar idea or does their meaning change with context?

6. If you could, would you want to possess the ability to see into the future of the people you love? Explain why this would be a blessing, a curse, or both.

7. What do you think about the representation and use of opiates in the story? Dangerous and unhealthy? Helpful for specific problems? A creative indulgence?

8. What is the same or different about our contemporary use of opiates in modern medicine? Consider the differences between Sibyl’s use and that of her father.

9. At the beginning of Chapter 6 (86), Benton Derby tells Sibyl that he believes “the human mind is like a machine, assembled by circumstances in childhood, which can be tweaked with attention and care. We can change ourselves.” In what ways do you think the human mind is or is not like a machine?

10. In Chapter 17, Edwin Friend, a colleague of Benton Derby’s in Harvard’s Psychology Department, speaks of clairvoyance, “the ability of gifted individuals in a mesmeric state to see beyond the normal realm of perception” (245). To what extent do you think this is possible? Do you know of any real-world examples?

11. How does the idea that our own memories allow us to transcend present time to reach the past and the people we once knew fit into your thoughts about clairvoyance?

12. What is the significance of Baiji the macaw (43, 417, 429)?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Cathy H. (see profile) 01/12/16

  "Titantic, the onset of war & how one family copes with both"by Jodie B. (see profile) 06/14/13

A beautifully written tale of a family coping with the aftermath of Titanic, the onset of war and the myriad daily trials that come along with both of them.
Howe's prose is superb and the s
... (read more)

  "The House of Velvet and Glass"by Beth L. (see profile) 05/13/12

  "an upper class look at the early 20th century"by Becky H. (see profile) 03/05/12

I really enjoyed this book. After a slow start and getting used to the jumps in place and time, I found House of Velvet and Glass to be a compelling look at the early 20th century. A book group would find... (read more)

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