Aussie Book Review: The Secret Years by Barbara Hannay

“Some family secrets are best set free.

When Lucy Hunter stumbles upon her grandfather Harry's World War II memorabilia, she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as 'George' and a series of heartfelt letters. They are clues about the secret years, a period of Lucy's family history that has been kept a mystery . . . until now.

How did a cattleman from north Queensland find forbidden love with the Honourable Georgina Lenton of London and persuade her to move to his isolated outback property? And why are the effects of this encounter still reverberating in the lives of Lucy and her mother, Rose, now?

As the passions of the past trickle down the years, three generations of one family pull together. Each must learn in their own way how true love can conquer the greatest challenges of all.

From the wild beauty of the Australian bush to England's rugged south coast, this is a deeply moving story of heartbreak, heroism and homecoming by a beloved, multi-award-winning author.”

In the current day timeline we meet Lucy. Recently returned from Afghanistan she finds that things are not quite the same at home – her beloved grandfather has been ill, her mother Ro has moved in with a new man and then she has a fall-out with her boyfriend. Having taken leave from the army, she suddenly finds herself at a crossroads, trying to decipher exactly what it is that keeps her grandfather so tight-lipped about his time in the army and her mother so reluctant to speak about the past. When she discovers an old biscuit tin with a photograph of a young woman known only as “George”, hinting of her grandfather’s past and the war, her curiosity gets the better of her and results in her taking a trip to Cornwall to see what she can learn.

In the timeline which takes us to the past, we are introduced to the lovable “George” and Harry, Lucy’s grandparents, giving us a vivid glimpse into their history, the war through their eyes and the reasons behind Harry’s reticence to dredge up the past.

When I picked up this latest by Barbara Hannay, it had been some time since I had read a dual timeline novel, so it was an absolute delight to read the blurb and discover that The Secret Years was going to give me what I love – secrets, old photographs and family history. I always find these kinds of stories fascinating because, as a reader, I get to see how past events and actions can cause ripple effects down the generations, thereby unknowingly altering another person’s life but at the same time seeing how these lives are affected and how the afflicted generation deals with them. 

The dual timeline is balanced extremely well and Barbara ensures that all her scenes move the plot forward in interesting and important ways, so much so that I would be hard-pressed to say which one I preferred.

Skilfully capturing the differences between the gentility of London’s debutante scene with that of the Blitz when air raids were everyday occurrences; the terror experienced by those who were caught in the midst of the Japanese invasion of New Guinea during 1942 with the beauty and isolation of its jungles; the Gothic atmosphere and lush panoramas of Cornwall with the dry, dusty conditions of life on the land in Northern Queensland, Barbara offers us a moving picture of life both pre- and post-war.

Her characters and their stories are unforgettable, reaching out to the reader from the pages while she seamlessly segues her chapters one into the other, giving the story a good sense of continuity with no repetition of information that has already been imparted.

Inspired by her uncle’s World War II experiences as a Rat of Tobruk and in Kokoda, this is far more than mere romantic fiction and Barbara has given us a great emotional read about love, loss, heroism and bravery.

I wish to thank the publisher, Penguin Australia, for providing me with a hard copy for review.

About the Author

A former English teacher, Barbara Hannay is a city-bred girl with a yen for country life.

Many of her forty-plus books are set in rural and outback Australia and have been enjoyed by readers around the world.

She has won the RITA, awarded by Romance Writers of America, and has twice won the Romantic Book of the Year award in Australia.

In her own version of life imitating art, Barbara and her husband currently live on a misty hillside in beautiful Far North Queensland where they keep heritage pigs and chickens and an untidy but productive garden.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Marcia. I'm not a fan of historical fiction but do like novels featuring dual timelines!


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