Book Review - 'The Last of the Apple Blossom' by Mary-Lou Stephens
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the author of this book on my podcast (The Write Words Podcast), and the episode will air on the 8th of September. If you are looking for a wonderful and masterfully written book about love, friendship, secrets, family, tragedy, and hope, then look no further. A great Aussie read.
We meet school teacher Catherine Turner. She is teaching her students in Hobart, Tasmania on Tuesday, February 7th, 1967. This day was one of the darkest days in Tasmania’s history and was named ‘Black Tuesday’. Devastating bushfires raged in the ‘Apple Isle’, threatening everything in their path.
Catherine ensures her students get to safety as thick black smoke and ash surround them. She and Tim, a work colleague, head for the Huon Valley where Catherine’s childhood home stands. The family apple orchard. They make their way through road closures and have a very close call with a wall of flames. They get through, but it’s too late. The family homestead has been destroyed, and the fire has taken the life of her younger brother, Peter.
Catherine’s mother completely shuts down, locking herself in her room, unable to cope with the loss of her only son. Her father realises he now has no son to hand the orchid over to. Catherine has always wanted to run the orchid with her dad, but he believes that it is no job for a lady and thinks she is better off sticking with teaching.
Catherine’s close friend Annie and her husband Dave, own the neighbouring orchid to that of her parents. Their orchid was spared. Annie and Dave have four boisterous young boys and recently had a much longed for baby girl.
Dave’s best mate Mark, is staying with them, much to Annie’s disgust. Mark was having a break away from his home in Melbourne after his wife disappeared, leaving Mark to raise their young son, Charlie, on his own.
Catherine loves children and becomes very fond of little Charlie. She is able to bring the quiet, shy child out of his shell. She and Mark become close friends, inciting lots of gossip. What is a married man doing getting close to a single lady?
Catherine feels betrayed when she discovers two people she trusted, have been hiding a secret. As hard-working families try to rebuild their livelihoods after the fires, family and friends try to rebuild relationships following the fallout, after long kept secrets are revealed.
In the book’s acknowledgements we get a look at all the research that went into writing this book. I learnt a lot about the apple industry in Tasmania and the hardships the orchardists endured. Although the main plot and the characters are fictional, the fires were a very real and distressing part of Australian History. They had a devastating effect on the Tasmanian apple industry.
Mary-Lou has written the book in a way that is respectful toward all the hard working apple orchid families who endured these tough times. I highly recommend this book and give it ***** stars.