Title: The Last of the Apple Blossom
Author: Mary-Lou Stephens
Published: July 27th 2021
Publisher: HQ Fiction – AU
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
The fire took everything – except two women’s fighting spirits. A sweeping, big-hearted Australian family saga for readers of Judy Nunn and Victoria Purman.
7 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Catherine becomes fond of Charlie, whose strange upbringing has left him shy and withdrawn.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 scandalises the small community but threatens a secret Annie is desperate to keep hidden.
Through natural disasters, personal calamities and the devastating collapse of the apple industry, Catherine, Annie and those they love battle to save their livelihoods, their families and their secrets.
The trials and tribulations of the hardworking families of Tasmania’s apple industry are the focal point of the debut novel from Australian author Mary-Lou Stephens. A story that immediately immerses the reader in the tragedy following the destruction caused by a deadly fire, The Last of the Apple Blossom is a heartrending saga from an exciting new literary voice.
The Last of the Apple Blossom begins its journey in the year 1967, as a summer fire rages across the state of Tasmania, inflicting a great deal of carnage on the landscape of the Apple Isle. One figure caught up in the fires is a schoolteacher named Catherine Turner. Catherine makes a quick dash home from Hobart to her family’s orchard in the picturesque Huon Valley. But Catherine arrives too late and all she finds is utter destruction to her family’s livelihood. With their apple orchards destroyed and her brother dead, Catherine vows to help resurrect her family’s once thriving business. Catherine’s neighbour, a mother of six named Annie also faces an uphill battle in her efforts to restore her family’s orchard. When helps comes Annie way in the form of a friend of Annie’s husband Dave, things look up a little for this struggling family. But Mark’s presence causes unnecessary gossip and scandal, threatening to expose a secret that Annie has tried hard to keep under wraps. Will Annie and Catherine be able to conquer their setbacks and help the save the apple industry in Tasmania from total collapse?
It was a rainy day when the story concept for The Last of the Apple Blossom came to author Mary-Lou Stephens. Initially, Stephens found the central idea for her first novel to be quite terrifying. Despite the subject matter of this novel being quite daunting and sad, Stephens decided that she must overcome her fear and write The Last of the Apple Blossom. I’m glad Stephens found the strength to pen this very important and absorbing novel. I’m very appreciative of this heartfelt story, it moved me very much.
Mary-Lou Stephens now resides on the Sunshine Coast, but she lived in the suburbs of Hobart and visited many fire devastated regions in Tasmania as a young girl. These first-hand experiences have clearly impacted Stephens. These memories also served as a form of inspiration for The Last of the Apple Blossom. I was taken aback by the very personal and informed approach of this debut novel. There is an implicit first-hand understanding to this novel and genuine feel to the experiences relayed by the author. I appreciated this aspect of the tale very much.
A glimpse over the acknowledgements section of The Last of the Apple Blossom reveals that a great deal of research has gone into the making of this novel. With a range of primary sources, documentaries, photographs and interviews utilised by the author, The Last of the Apple Blossom consolidates clear facts within a highly engaging narrative fold. I was fascinated by the experiences of the Black Tuesday bushfires and the resulting aftermath. I was immediately hooked by the devastating opening to this novel, as we are immediately plunged into the hopeless situation of a raging fire damaging the beautiful state of Tasmania.
I really relished the opportunity to learn a great deal about the apple industry thanks to The Last of the Apple Blossom. The focus on the techniques, roles and responsibilities on these demanding orchard farms captured my full attention. Stephens has done this aspect of her book proud, injecting plenty of authenticity and interest to the tale at hand. Likewise, the setting base is fleshed out just beautifully. I loved the descriptions of the Tasmanian landscape, it took my breath away, despite the devastation.
The Last of the Apple Blossom goes beyond the fire element, as we are also offered a vital glimpse into gender relations at this time of our county’s recent past. Stephens expertly captures a range of key figures, cultural and historical moments that defined the 1967 to present day time span covered in the novel. I really loved this element of the book. With plenty of engaging themes around family, secrets, relationships, expectations, morals, rules, society, community, betrayal, loss, recovery, secrets, revelations, faith and survival, Mary-Lou Stephens has produced a grand scale saga. I recommend The Last of the Apple Blossom with no hesitation at all, it is a fundamental read for those who love Australian fiction.
The Last of the Apple Blossom by Mary-Lou Stephens was published on 27th July 2020 by HQ Fiction – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Last of the Apple Blossom, Mary-Lou Stephens, visit here.
The Last of the Apple Blossoms is book #74 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge