The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession
2013 – Adult Fiction – Realistic/Historical Fiction
The Story:Antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly is coping with the recent loss of his wife Amanda. So when he steps into an English bookshop and finds a hundred-year-old portrait of Amanda tucked between the pages of a rare book, he isn’t sure how to proceed. He begins by taking the watercolor to experts of Victorian paintings, but soon finds out there is a mystery to be solved beneath the surface. Stretching back centuries, Peter is wrapped up in a puzzle the encompasses Shakespeare, forgery, and what could be the Holy Grail of the book world.
The Opening Line: Wales could be cold in February.
What I Loved: For a while, I was super into books about rare books. I read whole series that focused on buying and selling rare books and the length that collectors would go to obtain these books for their collections. I even briefly considered going into the rare books trade or specializing in rare books for my library science degree. Apparently, it still has an appeal for me. I loved reading about the Shakespeare authorship question (did he really write the plays attributed to him?), and I love learning about things like binding, provenance, and book values. Amanda and Peter’s love story was sweet, and the mystery was pretty good.
What I Didn’t Love:It was hard to follow the story sometimes because it would jump from Shakespeare in 1592 to Peter and Amanda in 1985 to Phillip in 1878 to Peter and Liz in 1995. Also, sometimes the world of rare books and bookselling goes over my head a little, so that was a bit hard as well.
Final Thoughts:A great love story, a mystery, historical fiction involving Shakespeare and forgery, rare books. This is a great combination for me, and the merits really overcame the negatives. This seems like it could be a niche thing – if you are passionate about rare books, great! If not, maybe it’s not for you.
The House of Velvet and Glass
2012 – Adult Fiction – Historical Fiction
The Story: 3 years after the sinking of the Titanic, in which she lost her mother and sister, Sibyl hasn’t yet come to terms with the tragedy. She participates in yearly seances, hoping to receive comfort and reassurances from the spirits of her family, while her brother becomes a loose cannon and her father withdraws deeper into himself.
The Opening Line: Somewhere below the hubbub of the dinner house, under the omnipresent vibrating of the ship’s engines, a clock could be heard beginning to chime.
What I Loved: How the story came together in the end. And I liked seeing the snippets of backstory that helped me get a feel for some of the other characters. The premise of the plot was interesting, and there were a couple twists that kept me reading.
What I Didn’t Love: It took so long for me to even get into the story. Inevitably I found something more interesting to do than pick up the book to dive back in. A hundred or so pages in, it got a lot easier to follow. The jumping around between times and perspectives was often jarring and it was hard to adjust. And Howe uses so much description that it felt overdone.
Final Thoughts: I loved The Physik Book of Deliverance Dane and I can’t wait for Howe’s newest book Conversion. But this one fell flat for me. I never really invested in the story or characters, there wasn’t a draw that made me want to read without putting it down, and I just overall felt meh about the whole book. I’m giving it a solid 3 because the story picked up enough in the end to merit interest, but overall, I would recommend her other books over this one.