Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Hey, Hey, it's Blog Tour Day! - The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey


Y'all, welcome to today's stop on the blog tour for The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey! I'm thrilled to share my experience (and I choose that word intentionally) reading this book, as well as to share the author's words.

The Glittering Hour is told via two timelines and characters. First, there is Selina in 1925. Selina lives a life of privilege, however life changes when she meets and falls quickly in love with Lawrence Weston, a talented, but as it often goes, struggling artist. Then, there is Alice in 1936. Alice is Selina's young daughter. As the story begins, she's staying with her grandparents and her family's maid Polly. Alice's story revolves around the letters her mother sends while on a trip to Burma. She uses the letters to begin telling Alice about her past via a treasure hunt she has built as well as continuing to remind her daughter how deeply she loves her.

Very early in the story, it is revealed that Lawrence is not who Selina ended up with, and instead, she married a "safe" choice as Selina's dad is not Lawrence. Much of Selina's story is then explaining why and how she found great love, but also what pushed her to make different choices. It was an interesting experience to read a story knowing the happily ever after ending you see isn't going to be. However, there was such emotional power in going on the journey to understand why Selina did what she did. Her story is one full of pain, as well as one of resilience. As her story is told, the reader (as well as her daughter) see her mother's authenticity, vulnerability and strength.

In addition to being about Selina, this is about Alice. For the first time, she learns who her mother was before. She and her mother have an amazing connection, however there is a side of her she has never seen. This is a journey that really makes you think. How many of us don't really know who/what our parents were before we existed? What are the choices that got our parents to each of us, and what could they have done differently? I appreciate a story that makes me think about my own life through the story on the pages, and this absolutely did that.

Not only is it about the before, but this is truly a deep emotional dive into what Selina did in the moment. There is tragedy in Selina's story. She encounters significant grief and loss, and she has to move forward. It isn't easy, and she does what she feels she must to be okay and move forward. The connection to her past told through Alice's discoveries then do a brilliant job of showing her whys, as well as even giving her a chance to revisit her story.

This is a book with an ending that is still heavy on my heart weeks after I read this book. It's one I'm still thinking about, and even as I type I find myself getting a bit teary thinking about how the story of these two women ended. It was one of those reveals when you find out all is not what it seemed that makes you gasp (literally), then clutch your heart (literally) as you've become so immersed into this world. 

Y'all, this book was just beautiful, and I cannot say that enough. The story was emotional with such depth. If you're looking to be captivated and get all up in your feels (seriously, have some tissues handy), this is where you need to be.

Finally, I'm delighted I have the opportunity to not just tell you what I thought about the book, but to share this excerpt. The selection I specifically requested to share is the second chapter. This sets up beautifully the story that follows, as well as shows you want a masterful storyteller Iona Grey is:

"Alice knew that it would be a long time before a reply came to her letter. In her head she tried to keep track of the letter’s progress, from the village post office to the sorting office in Salisbury and then to a Royal Mail Steamer at Southampton, but there her experience reached its limit. As her letter made its journey across the fathomless miles of ocean, the closeness she’d felt to Mama as she’d written it receded again. 
A heaviness lay over the days, caused in part by the death of the old king at the end of January. Blackwood felt a long way away from London, but the news made everyone sombre and the world seemed altered in some significant way: less safe, in the careless hands of the dandy prince. If death could claim the King himself surely it could come for anyone, at any time? 
The bitter cold continued, but still it didn’t snow. The ground over which Alice trailed after Miss Lovelock each afternoon was frozen to flinty hardness, the grass brittle with frost. The hours between dawn and dusk were short and the sun barely managed to raise itself above the bare, black branches of the trees around the lake before the shadows on the nursery walls stretched and it slid downwards again, along with Alice’s spirits. The days themselves might be short, but the empty hours dragged like weeks. Instead of her homesickness easing, it settled more solidly inside her, as if her heart was gradually freezing like the lake’s murky waters. 
But writing the letter had helped. There was the anticipation of a reply and, more importantly, the secret knowledge that she could write again which gave some small purpose to her days. She made it her business to look out for things to tell Mama; small details from her walks with Miss Lovelock, like the heron that they sometimes saw in the reeds by the lake, or the perfect pink sunset that, for a little while, had turned the hard, white world into a sugared confection of Turkish delight. Even the ordeal of Sunday lunch with The Grands (as Mama called them, though never to their faces) was made more bearable by knowing she could share it with Mama. She told her about the time Grandfather had caught her looking at one of the huge portraits on the dining room walls, and asked her if she recognized the young woman in the white dress. Alice had stared up at the painted peaches- and-cream complexion and piled-up, pale gold hair and felt her own face growing crimson with embarrassment as no answer presented itself. Grandmama’s voice had been icy as she’d informed Alice that the girl in the painting was she, in the year of her Coming Out. 
Did Grandmama really look like that, she wrote to Mama that night, before she was cross all the time?
In fact, Mama’s reply came sooner than Alice had really dared hope. It wasn’t quite two weeks after Polly had posted the letter, when Alice imagined it might still be making its epic journey, that Polly came into the day nursery with Alice’s lunch tray and an air of suppressed excitement.
With a rustle of paper she slipped the letter out of her pocket and set it down on the table. There was only one word on the envelope, in Mama’s familiar handwriting and trademark turquoise ink. Alice. She and Polly had agreed it was safer if Mama wrote to Polly, enclosing a letter for Alice, in case Grandmama decided to check her letters too.
‘Well, aren’t you going to open it? It feels lovely and thick.’ 
Alice’s fingers  itched  to  tear  the  letter  open  and  let Mama’s jewelled words come spilling out, but instead she picked up her fork. After waiting all this time she wanted to savour the anticipation a bit longer. 
‘I am, but later. After lunch.’ 
The oxtail and stewed prunes were rather less worth savouring than the anticipation, but she made herself eat slowly, sipping at her glass of water. When she had finished she stacked her plates onto the tray and took the letter to the window seat, settling an old, flattened needlepoint cushion with a pair of Noah’s elephants on it behind her back and half-drawing the curtain to cloak herself in privacy. 

Finally, carefully, she slid her finger beneath the flap of the envelope. 
S.S. Eastern Star  | 
The Suez Canal 
28th January 1936 
Darling, darling Alice,
I got your letter just now, and I didn’t want to waste amoment before replying. It is the middle of the afternoon and fiercely hot, and we have just left Port Said where your letter was waiting for us. Papa has been terribly kind and said that he will try to get this letter sent back to England by airmail, which is as quick as the blink of an eye. Isn’t that smart? 
Sweetheart, I am so desperately sorry that you are feeling sad and lonely. I know how confusing all this must seem to you, and how sudden. Papa tries to shield us from all his business concerns but this trouble at the mine is something that he can’t sort out from London and it will help tremendously to have a wife there to do the kind of social smoothing over that wives do, when the men have finished squabbling over their sheets of figures and legal small print. I would have simply adored to bring you with us, my darling – oh, the heaven of having your wonderful company – but it would have been extremely selfish. The heat is draining (hard for you to imagine, I know; how well I remember that Blackwood feels like the coldest corner of Christendom in the winter) and, once we arrive in Burma the mine business is sure to take up every waking hour, which means you would have to be left alone anyway, and without darling Polly to look after you. There’s no one in whose care I would rather leave you, sweetheart. Polly has kept many of my secrets over the years – I trust her with my life, and yours too, which is infinitely more precious. I know you will be safe with her, but I do so hope that we can sort things out quickly here and come home soon. Oh darling, I hope that with all my heart. 
But for the moment we must both try to be brave and cheerful, because if we feel brave and cheerful the time will go much more quickly than if we are gloomy and despondent. So, I shall tell you about where I am sitting right now, because that will make me pay proper attention to how beautiful it all is rather than dwelling on how far away from you. I am on the little private deck of our cabin, sitting in the shade of a green and white striped awning and our dear steward Ahmed has just brought me some peppermint tea in a silver teapot, served in the daintiest little pink glass etched with gold. It’s wonderful to be sailing again. In the harbour at Port Said the air was sweltering but out at sea the breeze is quite delicious. It carries the scent of spices out from the shore, which is just a dark blue line between the lighter blues of sea and sky. I swear I haven’t seen a single cloud since we left Marseilles, though that was where we heard of the dear old King’s death, so the blue skies felt all wrong. (Poor Grandmama – she danced with him in her youth, when he was the Duke of York and she a dazzling debutante. I expect she will be very saddened by the news.) 
Papa managed to get us a rather lovely suite, which was jolly clever of him when the passage was booked at such short notice. My room is small, but very comfortable and modern, with lovely walnut panelling and the most sumptuous carpet and gold satin bedcover. There’s a dear little lamp above the bed for reading, though for two entire days I could barely open my eyes or lift my head from the pillow because of the dreaded seasickness. I’m much better now. Papa, being so much more used to sailing than I am,has been perfectly well. His cabin is on the other side of our little sitting room, and is decorated all in green. (I’m glad I didn’t have that one. I felt quite green enough.) The ship is terribly plush; there’s a swimming pool and a gymnasium I believe (though I have no intention of seeking it out myself!) and a library – so you see, my darling, I have no excuse to be bored and gloomy. 
How I wish you had all the lovely distractions that I do, but since you only have Blackwood Park, and The Grands and Miss Lovelock (who sounds terrifying – I must ask Papa where he found her) I’ve been trying to think how we might make things more fun for you. You have Polly too, of course – and she is the best accomplice for any adventure – and don’t we always say that one can find treasure in the most unlikely places, if one looks carefully enough? 
Blackwood Park might seem an unlikely place to find anything exciting. My darling, I know better than anyone that it can seem as still and silent as the sleeping castle in a fairy tale, and how time there seems to drag more slowly than anywhere else. But all old houses hold stories and Blackwood is no exception. It may be silent and empty, but it has its store of treasures to be discovered and secrets waiting to be revealed . . . 
Please know, my dearest darling, how much I miss you – every moment – and how I’m longing to be back with you soon. Have courage, brave girl. In a world that is small enough for the same moon to hang over us both, we can’t ever be too far apart. 
With love from my heart to yours, and a lipstick kiss 
Mama xxxxx 

A lipstick kiss. There it was at the bottom of the page – the scarlet stamp of her mother’s lips, just like she used to leave on the back of Alice’s hand before school in the morn- ing, or in the evening when she was going out with Papa. She lifted the paper to her face and breathed in a faint trace of Mama’s scent, noticing as she did so that there was more writing on the other side of the paper. 
She turned it over. 
Where the sun’s first rays  
Turn lilies to gold, 
There’s a box in a drawer through a door. 
Open it up 
And the paper unfold 
And see if you want to know more. 
‘Well, was it a nice letter?’ 
Polly’s  voice  behind  her  was  soft  and  cautious.  Alice turned and handed her the letter, curiosity quickening inside her. ‘It’s a poem, or a riddle. What do you think it means?’
Polly’s eyes skimmed the paper. She was smiling as she handed it back. ‘I’d say there’s only one way of answering that. You’ll just have to find this box, won’t you?’"


******

About the Author:
IONA GREY is the author of the award winning Letters to the Lost. She has a degree in English Literature and Language from Manchester University, an obsession with history and an enduring fascination with the lives of women in the twentieth century. She lives in rural Cheshire with her husband and three daughters.

About the Book:
An unforgettable historical about true love found and lost and the secrets we keep from one another from an award-winning author

Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing. Her life is a whirl of parties and drinking, pursued by the press and staying on just the right side of scandal, all while running from the life her parents would choose for her.

Lawrence Weston is a penniless painter who stumbles into Selina's orbit one night and can never let her go even while knowing someone of her stature could never end up with someone of his. Except Selina falls hard for Lawrence, envisioning a life of true happiness. But when tragedy strikes, Selina finds herself choosing what's safe over what's right.

Spanning two decades and a seismic shift in British history as World War II approaches, Iona Grey's The Glittering Hour is an epic novel of passion, heartache and loss.

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