Authors Showcase features a war novel by John Hanley and fantasy by Stephen Holland.

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The Book: The Last Boat

The Author: John Hanley

The Story: This is the sequel to Against The Tide.  

The Last Boat begins with a close-up account of the greatest maritime disaster in British history when the British Expeditionary Force lost more troops in ten minutes than it had in the previous nine months.

The news was so shocking that Churchill suppressed it and the report on the event is sealed until the year 2040.

But this is not an investigation into this tragic event but the beginning of a journey for a group of young people who have gone to help but find themselves trapped and fleeing the Nazi blitzkrieg as it rampages through France.

At the same time that the Luftwaffe is strafing the survivors of their bombing another shipment, so important that it could have changed the outcome of the war, is trying to escape from France.

The tragedy was the sinking of HMT Lancastria

The shipment was world’s entire supply of D2O or ‘heavy water’ without which research into splitting the atom would have been impossible.

Prising apart the floorboards of history, The Last Boat links these two events as Jack Renouf and his friends try to escape the Germans and help this cargo to safety.

But safety is an illusion and the story culminates in the bombing of Jersey on 28th June and leaves Jack in desperate need of another Last Boat to escape.

The narrative voice is Jack Renouf’s, whom readers might have met in Against The Tide. He is a year older but only a little wiser.

Through the immediacy of his first person perspective you are compelled to witness events which cannot leave you unmoved.  Muscular authenticity  was the verdict of one reviewer while others have described Jack’s account as  intense, exciting, absorbing and frightening.

Review by diebusThe Last Boat by John F. Hanley is the eagerly awaited sequel to Against the Tide, which ended with the outbreak of WWII.

The second book takes us to the evacuation of Dunkirk and Allied troops from Northern France. I was amazed at the amount of detail the book was able to supply. So much happened in such a short time span at the beginning of the war that few of us can imagine the multitude of factors that came into play for the people of the Channel Islands and Northern France: Where to escape to, how to escape and how far exactly the Germans had progressed, to name a few. The book gives a rich and realistic impression of the invasion and its progress.

Most of the cast from the previous book return and so several personal dramas and issues between the main characters are still to be resolved and these add splendidly to the illustration of the uncertainty of the time.

Written in excellent prose and rich in plot the book was hard to put aside, with new turns, dramas and events in nearly every chapter.

Civilian and military considerations, espionage, some precious cargo and personal tragedies mingle with some historical events, such as the eventual sizing of the Channel Islands and the famous sinking of battle ships.

The book is an amazing compilation of data and facts and with its great characters and plot historical fiction at its best. It gets to show how much there was to events that in most history books only get a sentence or two, and how much there is to say and feel about them.

This is a gripping and compelling read as much as it is informative.

Highly recommended.

The Book: Solace and Distress

The Author: Stephen Holland

book cover stephenThe Story: Solace and Distress is set in an imaginary world, in the vassal state of Codencia Minor.

Part 1 of the tale tells of the birth of a girl by the name of Celeste in a small village and the strange tasks her father set her in the naming ceremony at the winter solstice.

Part 2 charts her life as an infant and her blossoming relationship with her father and friendship with a local boy Bracen. Her relationships with her father and friend are abruptly ended through the relocation of the family to the coast when a nearby volcano erupts. Her father returns to the village along with the other men folk in a clearing up operation. In the midst of the clear up the village elder is summoned to the capital of Codencia Minor for an emergency meeting of the Elders. Whilst there and the country itself is in a state of weakness it is invaded by wild men from the north, many are killed but Celeste’s father is taken prisoner and Codencia minor permanently occupied by the Northmen. Her mother, trying to protect her tells her daughter her father has in fact been killed and they are forced to live a quiet life at the coast.

In Part 3 Celeste is a tall and strong teenager but with little or no social skills having been brought up in isolation by her mother. Her one companion is a young Falcon, rescued and reared from a chick and who is her constant companion. Some three years later Celeste’s mother receives a letter from an old friend in the village where Celeste had been born. She still had the original property there but needed to go back to claim the deeds as the property had been vacant for nearly ten years. Now eighteen Celeste is told by her mother of the truth surrounding her father’s disappearance.

In Part 4 Celeste with her long lost friend Bracen set out on a quest to the north to find her father. On leaving the land Celeste kills two border guards and is injured herself. The couple (acting as newlywed’s) find shelter in a variety of small villages as they make their way north but knowing they are fugitives. Eventually they are betrayed and captured and are to be sent for trial. Celeste and Bracen escape imprisonment and make it over the border into another country where they hide in a cave by the river. They are found by another man Malic, also on his own quest to find the murderer of his own father, who joins them on their eventual journey north.

Part 5 tells of their time with Malic, now revealed as a reluctant Lord of an inherited estate and Bracen’s eventual marriage to a local girl. Celeste and Malic are forced closer together as they spend winter in the castle to the south of the supposedly impassable Cynric Mountains.

The final part is the tale of how Celeste and Malic manage the impossible and trek over the mountain range to find a cold but wide land in the north. How they eventually both achieve their quests and the awful decision presented to Celeste at the end of the tale.

Review by Andy Dopllinger: I’ve read Solace and Distress during the last weekend. Stephen Holland has created a world that you can easily find yourself part of.

The characters are human and well built. Celeste’s quest is a journey you’ll love to take and imagine.

Can’t wait for more books from Mr. Holland.

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