Sunday, October 7, 2012

The House of Velvet and Glass

by Katherine Howe
July 31-September 23, 2012

Could it actually be possible that I am still suffering from a book hangover that began back in March (I love you, Harry!)?! I don't know how else to explain the fact that it took me two (very long) months to read this book. I really wanted to get into it, and I kept trying, but I felt like I was just powering through. I didn't want to give up, but nothing was pushing me to want to read any faster. I don't get it. I adored Howe's first novel, The Physick Book..., and I love the basis of The House of Velvet and Glass.

Set in 1915 Boston and weaving between the last night the Titanic saw life and colonial Shanghai, House is rich in history and Howe is a master at setting the perfect scene. Sibyl is trying to deal with the loss of her mother and sister on the Titanic, all the while learning how to run a household with her father. She often sneaks off to a medium to try to contact her lost family, and after a few meetings with Miss Dee, the fortune teller gives Sibyl a scrying glass informing her that Sibyl may have the "gift" as well. When Sibyl's brother is kicked out of Harvard, he brings home a mysterious girlfriend who slowly befriends Sibyl and introduces her to an opium den in Chinatown. Sibyl takes her scrying glass to the den and finds the connection she has been missing. With the help of the opium, she believes she is "seeing" the Titanic just before sinking through her crystal ball. As Sibyl learns more about the art of scrying, she begins to realize that maybe the future is better left unknown.

"a life spent only looking back, at the past, or ahead, after death, is a life that has no meaning."

Sounds great, right? That is why I don't understand why I couldn't get into it. Do I continue to blame Harry Potter? Not sure. Or maybe I'm forcing myself to like something that just wasn't doing it for me. In honesty, I think I enjoyed the bonus features at the end of the eBook more than the story. Katherine Howe included an essay on scrying, plus a Boston Globe article on the Titanic's sinking; both pieces that I really enjoyed. And I wonder if I would have read those first if I would have appreciated the book more? I believe I knew all along that I was reading historical fiction, but for some reason it wasn't until reading these features that I had an "a-ha moment."

"He kissed her like he was sipping cool water, like it was the most natural and perfect thing in the world."

Either way, I hope to speed up my reading again now that the weather has turned. If only I had more time to sit down with a great book...

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