The Last Lifeboat (Paperback)
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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.
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.
“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
“Gaynor’s latest historical (after When We Were Young & Brave) is a well-written novel about taking chances and facing loss and fear during a time of uncertainty.…Gaynor’s immersive novel pairs well with Jessica Mann’s nonfiction book Out of Harm’s Way: The Wartime Evacuation of Children from Britain….”