Friday, 10 September 2021

Book Review: The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens

The Last of the Apple Blossom
by
Mary-Lou Stephens 
 
Deep in the Huon Valley - two orchards, two women and the secret that binds them.
 
 
 
Imprint: HQ Fiction
 
Publication date: 28th July 2021
 
Genre: Historical Fiction
 
Pages: 464
 
Format read: Uncorrected Paperback 

Source: Courtesy of the publisher
 
About the book
 
February, 1967. Walls of flame reduce much of Tasmania to ash.
 
Young schoolteacher Catherine Turner rushes to the Huon Valley to find her family's apple orchard destroyed, her childhood home in ruins  and her brother dead. Despite her father's declaration that a woman will never run the orchard, Catherine resolves to rebuild the family business.
 
After five sons, Catherine's friend and neighbour, Annie Pearson, is overjoyed by the birth of a much longed-for daughter. As Annie and her husband Dave work to repair the damage to their orchard, Dave's friend Mark pitches in, despite the fact that Annie wants him gone. Mark has moved his family to the valley to escape his life in Melbourne, but his wife has disappeared leaving chaos in her wake and their young son Charlie in Mark's care.
 
Catherine becomes fond of Charlie, whose strange upbringing has left him shy and withdrawn. However, the growing friendship between Mark and Catherine not only scanadlises the small community but threatens a secret Annie is desperate to keep hidden.
 
My review
 
The Last of the Apple Blossom opens with the devastating fires of 1967 in Tasmania's Houn Valley.
Mary-Lou Stephens immediately plunges her reader into the fear, heat and danger that surrounds a bush fire.
 
Catherine returns home to find the family apple orchard burnt to the ground and her brother dead. Catherine is a girl before her time. She has no interest in marriage and children, her big dream has always been to run the family orchard. But the sixties were still a time of subjugation for women and there was no way her father was going to let her run the orchard. Women worked in the packing shed.
I loved Catherine's  passion for the orchard and I could see that it caused a great rift between her and her father and bitter words were flung around. Catherine showed a real maturity and mostly let the hurtful comments bounce off her.
 
Catherine's neighbours Annie and Dave are busy with their six young children and their orchard. Dave has good friend Mark helping out on the orchard. Mark is enjoying the quite country atmosphere in contrast to his usual busy life.
 
I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the apple orchards and the day to day lives of the owners. The hustle and bustle of the children and the hectic picking and packing season was well portrayed. It came across as grueling work but you could also see how satisfying it was to finish a good crop. A successful apple season is totally reliant on so many outside influences such as fire, drought, farmyard accidents, transportation and waterside strikes. The story spans a large time period and over time we see the need to diversify and evolve to keep up with changing markets
 
There are a couple of love interests introduced for Catherine. The fun loving Tim and the dark and broody Mark add a light romance element to the story.
 
The Last of the Apple Blossom is a story of passion for the land, heartbreak, perseverance, secrets, lies, family, love and longing. The characters travel a rocky road to forgiveness and healing. 
 
My rating  5 / 5   ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

 
 
 
About the author
 
Photo credit: Goodreads
Mary-Lou Stephens was born in Tasmania, studied acting at The Victorian College of the Arts and played in bands in Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney. Eventually she got a proper job - in radio, where she was a presenter and music director, first with commercial radio and then with the ABC.
She received rave reviews for her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation (2013), the true story of how meditation changed her life, saved her job and helped her find a husband.
Mary-Lou has worked and played all over Australia and now lives on the Sunshine Coast with her husband and a hive of native bees.   Author website
 
 
Challenges Entered: Australian Women Writers Challenge AWW2021
 
                                   Aussie Author Challenge #Aussieauthor21
                                  
                                   Historical Fiction Challenge 
 
 

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