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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

The Last Lifeboat

Narrator: Billie Fulford-Brown

Penguin Audio

ISBN: 978-0593440315

Publisher: Berkley

Publication Date: 06/13/2023

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)

Inspired by a remarkable true story, a young teacher evacuates children to safety across perilous waters, in a moving and triumphant new novel from New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor.

1940, Kent: Alice King is not brave or daring—she’s happiest finding adventure through the safe pages of books. But times of war demand courage, and as the threat of German invasion looms, a plane crash near her home awakens a strength in Alice she’d long forgotten. Determined to do her part, she finds a role perfectly suited to her experience as a schoolteacher—to help evacuate Britain’s children overseas.

1940, London: Lily Nichols once dreamed of using her mathematical talents for more than tabulating the cost of groceries, but life, and love, charted her a different course. With two lively children and a loving husband, Lily’s humble home is her world, until war tears everything asunder. With her husband gone and bombs raining down, Lily is faced with an impossible choice: keep her son and daughter close, knowing she may not be able to protect them, or enroll them in a risky evacuation scheme, where safety awaits so very far away.

When a Nazi U-boat torpedoes the S. S. Carlisle carrying a ship of children to Canada, a single lifeboat is left adrift in the storm-tossed Atlantic. Alice and Lily, strangers to each other—one on land, the other at sea—will quickly become one another’s very best hope as their lives are fatefully entwined.

My Review

A massive long-time fan of Author Hazel Gaynor, all her novels are captivating, and her latest wartime historical novel, THE LAST LIFEBOAT is awe-inspiring and a work of art.

Inspired by a true story, a young teacher evacuates children to safety across perilous waters in a moving, emotional tale that lingers long after the book ends.

1940, Kent: Alice King is a teacher, and she finds safety through the pages of books. But she wants to do her part and volunteers to help evacuate Britain's children overseas. She has no clue what courage she must possess to save herself and the children as they fight for survival.

1940, London: Lily Nichols once dreamed of using her mathematical talents; however, she is happy being a wife and mother of two.

However, when war makes its way through London and her husband is torn away, she must make the toughest decision of her life. Should she keep her son and daughter with her and try to protect them or enroll them in the evacuation program, which they say will be safe, and send them far away on a boat with strangers? The worst nightmare comes true when she learns the boat is unsafe, and they are hit. She feels helpless and distraught.

When Nazis torpedo the S. S. Carlisle carrying a ship of children to Canada, a single lifeboat is left adrift in the storm-tossed Atlantic. Alice and Lily, are strangers to each other—one another's only hope as the two storylines are entwined.

As many of you have read other stories and retellings regarding the FIRST WAVE of mass evacuation from Britain to the countryside for safety during the outbreak of the war during the 1939 Operation Pied Piper (war with Germany) with recent books such as Patti Callahan Henry's The Secret Book of Flora Lea and Julia Kelly's The Lost English Girl. (I highly recommend both-5 stars).

However, very little has been written about the SECOND WAVE of mass evacuation and the "seavacuees": who not only left their families and homes but left Britain when it was believed Hitler would invade and the nightly terror of the Blitz bombing.

Meticulously researched, emotional and suspenseful, this is where Gaynor sets her story with Lily and Alice —historical fiction based on a true story from the torpedoing of The City of Benares in September 1940.

Gaynor's characters were inspired by the accounts of those aboard the City of Benares and are fictional. Included in the author's notes, Alice was inspired by Mary Cornish, a music teacher who was the only woman in Lifeboat 12 and took responsibility for the six children's welfare. She received awards for her courage. She also tells of the other characters' inspiration.

She mentions Lily is drawn from her imagination. She explores eloquently the impact of a tragedy not from only the POV of those on board the ship and those in the lost lifeboat but of those back home in England from a mother's perspective and the horrors faced by parents during the war.

The SS Carlisle no sooner loses its convoy when torpedoed and sinks. Alice, six children, and a few men enter a lifeboat. Alice has to work hard to keep them distracted from the hours they have been adrift in horrible weather conditions. Everything is strange to them, and they have no parents to comfort them. When will they be rescued?

The supplies are nearly gone, and they are unsure they will be rescued. Meanwhile, Lily has been told her son did not survive, and she demands answers. She feels helpless.

Character-driven, I enjoyed Elsie and Peter's diary entries and the letters. I loved the Epilogue, which provides hope over tragedy. THE LAST LIFEBOAT is a must-read and one of the top historical fiction books of 2023! An idea book club pick for further discussions. Historical notes, Discussion questions, and Book Recommendations are included.

This is my eighth book by Gaynor, and each one is utterly spellbinding! Highly recommend all her books. I do not read many historical novels; however, Hazel Gaynor is one of my favorites.

Thanks to #BerkleyPub for an ARC via @NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Also, an auto-pre-order audiobook narrated by Billie Fulford-Brown.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

Pub Date: June 13, 2023

My Rating: 5 Stars

June 2023 Must-Read Books

Top Historical Books of 2023


Three thousand one hundred children were sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa under the Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) scheme between July and Sept 1940.

SS City of Benares, carrying 90 CORB children, was stuck by a torpedo fired from a German submarine in the Atlantic Ocean just after 10 pm on Sep 17, 1940. They thought they would be safe—known as the limit of convoy escort. The third torpedo fired at the City of Benares struck the fatal blow. The ship sank within 30 minutes.

Only seven CORB children were initially rescued by HMS Hurricane. It reached the survivors sixteen hours after their ordeal began. Many who had survived the torpedo strike making it to a lifeboat perished in the horrendous weather conditions. A torpedo struck a second vessel, and one of the lifeboats was mistaken for another, thinking all had been accounted for. Eight days later was found, and six more CORB children survived. The special rescue ships had saved over 4K lives by the war's end.


A Most Anticipated Book by Real Simple ∙ SheReads ∙ BookBub ∙ and more!

“Hazel Gaynor’s latest novel, inspired by a shocking wartime tragedy, captivated me from the very first page. Though propelled by a slew of twists and turns, at its core, The Last Lifeboat is a moving tale of love, hope, and fortitude in the darkest of times. A haunting, memorable read.”

—Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of Sold on a Monday and The Ways We Hide

“Hazel Gaynor's novels have a way of gripping a reader's heartstrings, and her latest, The Last Lifeboat, is no exception. Inspired by the 1940 sinking of the SS City of Benares, The Last Lifeboat imagines what might have happened in a lifeboat lost at sea and the child evacuees onboard. Gaynor's latest is a glimpse into the anguish amid the families impacted by mass evacuations during WWII, but more than this, it is a story of bravery and surrendering to hope—especially for two women facing the most unimaginable of circumstances. A poignant, stirring tale. I'll be thinking about this one for a long time to come.”

—Sarah Penner, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Apothecary

"A searing, emotional, based-on-a-true-story tale of impossible survival and incredible hope aboard a single lifeboat adrift in a greedy, perilous sea. … Gaynor’s story is powerful not just in its closely researched adherence to astonishing historical truth, but also in the way she so richly imagines the emotions of both those aboard the doomed ship and those on land who made the wrenching decision to part with their children. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you root for a mother who’s lost nearly everything, a courageous children’s guardian finding her inner strength, and a ragtag group of survivors alone in the storm-tossed Atlantic.”

—Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names

“In The Last Lifeboat, beloved historical fiction author Hazel Gaynor illuminates a little known incident from the Second World War: the sinking by German U-boat of a ship carrying children who were being evacuated from Britain. The book tells the harrowing story from the alternating perspectives of Lily, a mother in England faced with the excruciating dilemma of whether to send her children away, and Alice, who escorts the evacuee children and finds herself charged with helping a small group of them survive in a lifeboat for eight days after the ship sinks. With her trademark combination of meticulous research and gifted storytelling, Gaynor weaves a tale that is captivating, heartbreaking and unforgettable.

—Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of Code Name Sapphire

"A thrilling and atmospheric novel told with Gaynor’s signature compelling storytelling. During WWII’s British child evacuation, two families' destinies collide in an absorbing story about breathtaking survival, extraordinary perseverance, and the resilience of love. I felt every splash of the storm-ridden sea in the lifeboat, every unsinkable hope for a child’s return, and every shattering loss. With Gaynor’s wise insights into the human heart, prepare to lose yourself in this book.”

—Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Book of Flora Lea

“Emotionally riveting and beautifully told. The Last Lifeboat is an unforgettable story of survival, resolve, and the shimmering stubbornness of hope. You can count on Hazel Gaynor’s gorgeous writing to carry you away and safely bring you back.

—Susan Meissner, USA Today bestselling author of The Nature of Fragile Things

"A harrowing tale of one woman’s survival in the Mid-Atlantic and another’s refusal to accept the unacceptable news of her children. Hazel Gaynor brings us two courageous heroines in a gripping, historical pager turner, beautifully told with great heart and such vivid detail, you can practically taste the sea salt in the air. And the children—the children will stay with you forever as will this marvel of a novel."

—Renee Rosen, USA Today bestselling author of Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl

"Everything you could want in a historical novel, and so much more: suspenseful, emotional, spellbinding. I read with my heart in my throat as Hazel Gaynor expertly swept me away into a mother's angst, a survivor's desperation, a child's innocence caught in the middle of a war. A triumphant, remarkable story from an author at the top of her game."

—Jessica Strawser, author of A Million Reasons Why

"The Last Lifeboat is simply unputdownable. Not only does this riveting survival story explore the resiliency of the human spirit, but it’s about finding hope and connection during the toughest of times. After you finish this beautifully written and inspiring book, you’ll hug everyone you love more tightly."

—Elise Hooper, author of Angels of the Pacific

"Immersive and moving, this is a heartfelt tale of endurance, spirit and a discovery of what means the most to us—of what a human spirit can do. The warmth and heartfulness of the characters draws you straight into the story, while the supporting cast helps to create a full back picture of the events, cleverly enlisted to provide the full historical perspective."

—Jennifer Ryan, bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

“Hazel Gaynor has taken real events during World War II and retold them in a way that is compelling and inspiring, adding fictional aspects and characters to create a tale that is simultaneously uplifting and sorrowful....It’s impossible to stop turning the pages.”

—Historical Novels Review

About the Author

Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning, New York Times, USA Today, Irish Times, and international bestselling author. Her most recent historical novel, set in China during WWII—published in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand as The Bird in the Bamboo Cage and in the USA and Canada as When We Were Young & Brave—was an Irish Times bestseller, a national bestseller in the USA, and was short-listed for the 2020 Irish Book Awards. WEBSITE







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