Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review and Guest Post: Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

Title: Under the Jeweled Sky
Author: Alison McQueen
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: January 21, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however,  this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You're a romantic.
  • You love armchair traveling.
What's the Story?:

From "London 1957. In a bid to erase her past and build the family she yearns for, Sophie Schofield accepts a wedding proposal from ambitious British diplomat, Lucien Grainger. When he is posted to New Delhi, into the glittering circle of ex-pat high society, old wounds begin to break open as she is confronted with the memory of her first, forbidden love and its devastating consequences.

The suffocating conformity of diplomatic life soon closes in on her. This is not the India she fell in love with ten years before when her father was a maharaja’s physician, the India of tigers and scorpions and palaces afloat on shimmering lakes; the India that ripped out her heart as Partition tore the country in two, separating her from her one true love. The past haunts her still, the guilt of her actions, the destruction it wreaked upon her fragile parents, and the boy with the tourmaline eyes.

Sophie had never meant to come back, yet the moment she stepped onto India’s burning soil as a newlywed wife, she realised her return was inevitable. And so begins the unravelling of an ill-fated marriage, setting in motion a devastating chain of events that will bring her face to face with a past she tried so desperately to forget, and a future she must fight for.

A story of love, loss of innocence, and the aftermath of a terrible decision no one knew how to avoid."

My Two Cents:

"Under the Jewelled Sky" is the story of Sophie, an English diplomat's wife, who returns to India, a place that holds a special place in her heart. She has so many memories of India, both good and bad, and she is not sure whether she ever wanted to come back to India in the first place. This story has star-crossed lovers and a fantastic setting to boot set against a fascinating historical background.

I really enjoyed this story. It started out a little bit slowly for me but ended up being really good. I loved the story and loved how it unfolded. Because the book takes place in different times, the transitions did get a little confusing for me and I had to keep going back to figure out what happened when. Definitely stick with it though and you get a really lovely story.

The love story was one of the very best parts of this book. Sophie is a headstrong English girl who falls hard for Jag, an Indian boy. Their worlds are too different and they know that their families would not accept their love. Their love ends up ending but there is a piece that will go on and will prevent closure.

The setting of this book was awesome! I love reading about India. It seems like such an amazing place. This book takes place during a very changing time in India. I loved all of the history that was tied into this book. We get to see India's independence and the split between India and Pakistan. It definitely whetted my appetite to read more about India's history.

Overall, this is a great story that will be a treat for historical fiction fans that want a little romance with their reading!

Guest Post:

I am very excited to welcome Alison McQueen here to A Bookish Affair today.

Thank you for having me on A Bookish Affair today to talk about researching the historical novel. Right now I am half way down the rabbit hole once more, researching the novel I am working on. During this process, one thing invariably leads to another and before I know it I have lost track of what it was I was looking for in the first place.

My writing room is currently awash with papers, some of which I have pointlessly organized into files, as though that will give me a sense of achievement. There are piles of articles, documents and handwritten scraps on every available surface, many of which will make no sense at all when they eventually surface.

The research for Under The Jewelled Sky took months. At the British National Archives, I unearthed declassified documents from the 1957 Macmillan government, rubber-stamped Top Secret, which would have caused a great deal of diplomatic embarrassment should they have been leaked at the time.
The story was inspired by memories of my mother’s friends; the women I would eavesdrop on, the hushed voices and grave expressions passed over teacups. Many of them had grown up in India in the days before such things were openly spoken of, but it was all there: domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies, addiction, ruin, and occasional salvation.

Bad marriages were commonplace, but divorce was unthinkable, and the brittle veneers of fake harmony were part of the everyday landscape. Morals and ethics were knotted up with religious doctrine and stiff upper lip. Respectable people did not wash their laundry in public, nor did they question what went on behind the closed doors of their neighbours’ houses.

Part of the novel is set in a maharaja’s palace. Although the fictional palace and its location are anonymous, I did have an inside track into life inside an Indian palace. In her twenties, my mother (born in 1928), was hired as the private nurse to the Maharaja of Indore’s mother-in-law. She arrived there from Bombay and was shown to her quarters, an enormous suite in a grand building set across the grounds from the main palace.
A car was sent for her every morning, but she said that she preferred to walk. So off she would go, strolling through the grounds while the car followed along a few yards behind, driving at snail’s pace in case she should change her mind. Her breakfast would be served to her on a solid silver service, with a footman standing by should she want for anything.
From what she has told me, I am not sure that she handled it particularly well. She said that she didn’t want any fuss, which was quite the wrong way to go about things in a palace. There was also an incident when she was caught preparing her own boiled egg, which didn’t go down at all well. The cook was quite overcome with grief, and my mother never ventured to lift a finger again.

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