Carla Acheson


Reader Reviews


Maggie Tanner’s first recollection of life within the Victorian slums of London is at the age of six years, witnessing the death of her grandmother shortly followed by the tragic birth of her mother’s stillborn twins.

Born to an impoverished family who face the daily threat of disease, starvation and the cruel work-houses, she is forced at the age of twelve to seek work and is taken into service within an upper class family. But in an effort to escape the tribulations of her class Maggie only begins to discover an even worse fate than death itself – the shocking moral ostracization by society towards bastardy and the heartbreaking hidden business of baby-farming.



Harper Collins Reader Reviews.

Visit Amazon for more customer reviews.

“Intense drama. At first I wondered if the course of events Maggie took were a tad exagerrated, then I spent a while researching some of the parts of the story, and discovered many similar horrors, including a case where there slept three families in one room in a tenement block and according to the recorded note written during the period.. ‘they dropped like flies, all dead in less than a whole day.. diseased, dejected, alone.’

I liked the fact that this book is such a contrast to modern living. How lucky young girls have it now, they just don’t realise.”

S. Lewis J Farthing

“DOWNTON fans will absolutely love this!! I love period dramas and this one is gritty and realistic as hell! Also love the ending and the final reunion. It would make a brilliant BBC history adaptation.”

Jennifer Towers – Not far from the East End but thank God not in 1866!

“Everyone should read this book, especially young girls. The horrors pregnant girls went through was abominable. I loved the writing, I really felt that i was sitting amongst those poor people in the murky , damp rooms.”

Lissa French – UK

“This is just beautifully written. I can’t add any further comments to what some others already posted, but I just loved what I did read, and shelving with pleasure.”

L. Anne Carrington, “The Cruiserweight

“Carla, I was attracted first by the beautiful cover. But your story is so dramatic and moving it’s even better. You write with historical authority it seems to me(who know little about it) which in itself is impressive. But you also know what elements of history make a good novel.”


“This is truly lovely, Carla. You write beautifully. You drag us straight into the action, setting up the situation, a sense of place and history and the characters all within the first chapter. There is loads of emotional content which always gets me hooked as a reader. I was not aware of your writing being totally absorbed by the story which is always a good sign.

“The tale is dark but I imagine great tales to come as Maggie’s story unfolds. I confess I have only read the first chapter but would love to read more if time allowed. Great opening chapter and if the rest follows suit then would say you have a good book here.”

 Shubie x

this looks beautiful with many things which have their importance and I liked it a lot. All the best.
Backed with wishes.”

S. Vinay Kumar

“The writing is immaculate; the story sombre. I am immediately transported to a place where life was much harder. Your book is one of the reasons I prefer to read historical fiction.. It is a time machine and I was happily lost in it!”


“Emotive and beautifully written.”


“This is stunning you have taken me from my summer here in Australia to the tenement slums of the East End; in the Victorian era yet!”

Suzannah Burke, Australia

“This is a fantastically good pitch, outlining a story that will appeal to all lovers of historical literary fiction. Skilled writing and a great sense of place and period. Prose that flows like a mountain stream, and dialogue that moves the story on and is in keeping with the period.

I think this is worthy of being entered for the Harry Bowling Prize.”

Sheila (Pinpoint)

“Stunning writing that deeply captures the authentic feel and troubled times of Victorian England.”

J J Bard

“Carla I love books of this calibre( I am a great Catherine Cookson fan) and enjoyed reading your story. You bring the sadness that your characters felt to life, as you set the scene so well for your readers to enter into their lives.”

Manolya- Love in No-Man’s Land

“A dramatic and and very compelling start; you bring that family drama and that era to life very well. I like your voice as a story teller and I’d love to see how this finishes. Shelved”

Michael Croucher (Bravo’s Veil)

“I’ve just been reading The Last Gift (mainly because I write stories set in the same era & I’m always interested to see how others depict it) and I have to say that the writing is absolutely outstanding. Even the opening sentence ‘sings’ – it’s beautifully-written, elegant, all the things my own work aspires to.

This is perhaps the most impressive writing I’ve read at Authonomy; it’s flawless. Very well done indeed.

I wish every success with The Last Gift, as your talent merits this…..”

Steve Jensen author of The Poison Smile

“Carla, wow, what great writing! Intense drama all the way through. I always cringe when I think of those poor women in olden times birthing babies. Historical fiction is so hard to write but you make it look easy. Good luck with this one.”
Steve Ward – Test Pilot’s Daughter: Dead Reckoning

“You opening chapter does much to reveal the victorian world, where stillborns were common place and the old tradition of stiff upper lip and carry on was still firmly the required reaction. You story is very touching and told lovingly. Whilst it is a journey through harsh times you show much affection to your protagonist and allow us to feel much empathy for her plight.”

David Bailey of the Saints.

“This is a really good read, i love books set in the past anyway and this one was a treat in every way, lovely opening, interesting and hooking, good characterisation and lovely descriptions which evoke the past so well.
Well done with this.”

Chris – Inside Out

“Wow! The “slow pulse of melancholy” seeps out from every line………….capturing the hard times of Victorian London……………….. writes like Flora Thompson, (Lark Rise) difficult to believe this wasn’t written a 100 years ago…it’s so authentic……”

David Saving Starfish.

“You have a real gift for storytelling. This is just beautiful, there’s such a richness and depth and even though there is tragedy and sadness lurking at every corner, it is never pathetic or cloying. Margaret’s sensible, child-like eyes provide the perfect view point through which to tell your story. Your pitch is also really well crafted and drew my attention immediately. I find I really care about Maggie and that makes me read on!

Shelved with pleasure.”


“This should come with a warning, ‘Only read when accompanied by tissues’.

I love the story you have woven, I felt as though I was being transported back in time.

Emotionally wrecked,”


“This drew me in from the first word.”


“Your writing is so reminiscent of the classical English novels, which most of us has grown to love for their enduring spirit. Been re-reading a few Dickensian novels the last couple of weeks, and based solely on the premise of a reader who enjoys reading about that era, I must say you ar a very skilled writer.”


“The story opened with a sad, beautiful narrative style as Maggie looked back to her grandmother’s death and the events in the past. Your narrative voice is delicate, elegant, and felt very true to the time period. It also spoke to me about Maggie herself. She has everything against her, and yet she’s an intelligent girl. I don’t think I’ve read a historical piece on the site that has chosen one of the impoverished of this era as a main character. That’s a brilliant choice, and you’ve set Maggie up well. I found her easy to empathize with and admire. I look forward to reading on.”

Lizzi (Central Park Sentinel)

“I have shelved your book with pleasure. It is beautifully written, in a style that well suits the period of history and setting you have chosen. The flow of the story is flawless, the characters interesting, the drama authentic. I am very much impressed.”


“A good and emotional opening para that grabs the reader’s attention.
What a heart rending story but unfortunately true of that time. You have set the scene excellently for what is to follow.

From poverty to submissive servant. Your description of Miss Lola and her actions are well written. You have evoked much sympathy for Margaret. Your end hook is brilliant and forces the reader to read on.

A new position and Master Jody returns.

I have read and enjoyed three full chapters. Your characters are entirely believable and the dialogue fits and supports. The tone of this is perfect for the period and the settings you have created.

I wish you well with this.”

Ron S – You Can’t Hide Forever.

“This is a story to curl up by the fire and savor.”

HJ – The Pearl Edda

“You set up the setting very well. The death of the grandmother and the baby boy, the father’s work suddenly cut to half, the fear the young daughter may be forced to become a lady of the night, leads the mother to go to the nuns for help. The girl is luckily able to get a domestic servant job and is picked up a carriage and taken to the(Stephen?) Corbett residence and she is “startled by the sheer size of the Georgian building.” I like it that yis is all told through the eyes of the girl. It makes it more immediate and draws the reader in to the story. In my opinion first person makes a story set in a earlier time period easier for a modern reader to get involved with the story. If it’s written in third-person voice, there gets too be too much background thrown in to set the stage that the reader feels overwhelmed with extraneous information dropping.

“In-between that ye’ll be attendin’ to Miss Lola, and God ‘elp yer in those respects.” Nice line to get the reader questioning. Overall, the first part sounds like the girl is able to find a position that will improve her current situation, but attending to Miss Lola sounds a little like jumping out of the frying pan . . .

It’s very interesting, though, that this poor girl is able to become educated because the little monster she has to placate wants the poor girl to do her homework for her. That’s a cool way to help educate the masses. Miss Lola was an early education reformer. But. of course, she isn’t and rather tries to kill the girl (Maggie) with scissors.

Later, she is dispatched to the Fisher’s house to take care of a three-year-old boy. I’d love to read further, but I’m pressed for time. I have a feeling things will keep going down until it begins to look up. Simply, I like this so far. It’s going in directions I did not expect. Little Lola was an insane little wretch. This has clear description that’s easy for the mind to follow and it moves well. Simply, a nice job.”


“This is a good piece of period writing. A lot of emotion comes out throughout the first chapter, very moving and sad. Very easy to read and get drawn into.”
Charlie Chuck

“You do accomplish a Victorian era feel. Couldn’t say exactly what it is, but it comes off very well. The opening does a good job of raising interest with the harsh realities of poverty in the era. Bravo!”

John Wickey Future’s End

“This is the first novel I’ve read on here set in the Victoria period, and you’ve done a splendid job. You bring the period to life with all its poverty and hardship, and you engage the emotions of the reader. The characterisation is strkingly good.”

John Kirkling

“Very well written, very moving. Engrossing and enjoyable.”

Bradley Wind

“How easily forget those who facilitate our lives of leisure and comfort. Not you. Wonderfully evocative of the misery of the working poor at the time. And an object lesson for today.”


” have just read the first chapter, i wanted to cry for poor maggie, its a lovely book and i truely intend to read the rest tonight, its the kind of story i love.

job well done.”

Alison Woodward – SRFire

“I was totally engrossed by this. I read through the end of chapter four. At first I was thinking that it was a bit depressing and not my kind of thing but I kept reading anyway. You make Maggie such an endearing character, I think, that the reader just wants to keep reading in hopes that her life gets better. You set the scenes very well which helps the reader to feel involved and a part of the story.”

J.L. Ivy Unlikely Angel

“Your writing seems classical in style, but not old fashion. I was easily drawn into the story, and had no problem staying with it. The pacing is perfect. The narrative is both uncluttered and eloquent. I’ve only read the first chapter, but if I was asked to identify a fault, I couldn’t… nothing struck me as wrong… or off. I enjoyed the story… felt compelled to read on.
I highly recommend this… it’s on my shelf.”

Rodney – The Other Mr Bax

“Riveting. Your writing reminds me of Catherine Cookson. Are you fictionalizing a family story or is this just very well researched? However, as somebody who has experienced homebirths, I wondered if a man and a small girl would be present at such a time.”

SC Dwinnell, “Nobody Liked to Say

“The writing is excellent. The ‘voice’ is written so well for the time period, it takes you there seamlessly.
Very well done!”

Tracy – The Guardians

“You have a wonderful talent for narrative and you transported me to another time with ease.

There is nothing I could offer you here, for your writing is simply lovely.”

Jo Ellis – Spoilt

“Very well written, confident. I love historical fiction and know the Victorian era well – you have created a real feel for the times, your characters seem realstic for the period, as do the problems they face and the general way they carry on. Some nice description and a story that moves along nicely. Maggie is a well-realised and very likeable character, I want to know her story. This is on my shelf and I wish you luck with it.”

Anabelle P – Matty McDuff

‘Ye’ll be attendin’ Miss Lola, and may God ‘elp yer’, that makes the ears prick up. And Lola is a bit of a handful, to put it mildly; she’s also endangering Maggie’s job. I had to laugh at her spite in insisting on Maggie sharing the hated lessons, but then all hell breaks loose. The Fisher household seems preferable … to begin with … Jody, thankfully appears to be a pleasant chap.

Clearly, Carla, you have a deep knowledge of Victorian London and the harsh realities of people’s lives, especially the poor. You also have a knack of creating fascinating characters, some positively Dickensian (Lola would be a classic). Well done for having written such an entertaining novel.”

Bob Steele

“The Last Gift is so well written and polished that I can’t fault it. I immediately empathised with Margaret; the first person narrative made me feel her fear and insecurities vividly. Your style and your focus on the seamier side of life suits the genre and will appeal to your target readers.”

G M Atwater

“What a painful story but a well told one. Your characters, setting and plot are all engaging, the reader is pulled along eager to learn more. I hope you have a happy ending though! Should find favour with followers of this genre.”

Jim Darcy, Serpent’s Blood

“Your mc Maggie is a strong character….i liked her, I liked her alot…..A pleasure for you the writer to work with, and for me the reader to get to know better……….”

Alan Marling

“Excellent writing, charming, backing with pleasure.”

Sandie The Crown of Crysaldor

“I do love a bit of Victoriana. The phrasing of your sentences sounds convincingly authentic and you have evidently been thorough in your research. (The only thing that made me pause was the girls ‘offering their sexual favours’ – I wonder if this is a bit anachronistically blunt? I think I’d be inclined to drape it in a damask euphemism). The first few paragraphs, with the spectre of the workhouse looming, brought Mrs Gaskell to mind. Lola is quite the vile brat! Poor Maggie.”


“The loss of the child, the second stillborn, is very moving, the more so because the mother has little else to make to her life happy in her very humble, Victorian, East End dwelling.
The detail is raw, from the taped up window, letting in the cold draughts, to the child with no air in its lungs, and then the poor Father’s silence, in which he cannot bring himself to break the news of the loss to his wife who has just been through a very difficult labour.
Unable to find work again as a seamstress, the problems are compounded for the impoverished yet well-natured family and, when the daughter says ‘what will we do now Father?’ the reader cannot help but feel moved by the insecurity of the child and the Father’s impotence to reassure her.

The background detail also held my attention; the period being one that fascinates me.
There is a sense that you use a language register which sometimes takes on what we would now regard as the slightly excessive formality of deference of that period but you are spot on in using this, without overdoing the formality in any elaborate Pickwickian sense.

As they move towards an ‘unpredictable future’, I want to move towards the next chapter; I want – but don’t need – to read that second chapter to know that this book, combined with the promise of the storyline as set out in your synopsis, is one I could relish reading for hours. Backed.”

Ray (A Child from the Wishing Well)


  1. Robert

    Good style and voice Carla, I remember this on HC. Shameful exposure of some nasty happenings in Victorian London, it seems they werwe a selfish pack of hounds in different ways. Today it is all about gadgets and apps, and back then they just completely decided half the population didnt exist..! Weird but true. I thoroughly recommend this read!

  2. Cherrypicker

    I have just ordered a copy and can’t wait to read it. What fabulous reviews!

  3. J Gladwell

    I have just finished reading ‘The Last Gift,’ which I downloaded to my Kindle. I love Victorian era and am familiar with the books setting as I also live in south London, so I was immediately intrigued when I read the description.

    I am very glad I purchased this book because firstly I have to say that I was impressed with the writer’s research into the time period. The voice seemed to fit perfectly from the word go, although some I think might struggle with it’s depth of expression. There was not too much description as some writers tend to go a bit crazy describing everything in sight. There was a good balance. I was then moved by the course of events which Maggie led, more especially in her painful loss of Mary, then her parents etc. It seemed quite unbelievable that anything like that could have been endured, but of course, as we look back in history we realise that it was.

    Not wishing to spoil it for other readers I think this book is confidently written with real meritable content. There is no mistaking the fact that ‘Phossy Jaw’ and ‘Baby Farming’ happened because the author cleverly adds links to their wikipedia source in references at the end. I was shocked that these events had actually occurred and that Mrs Savile had even existed at all! What a cruel woman. I hated her and wanted to reach into the book and pluck those poor little orphans out of her care! I was pleased that the author covered the issue of baby farming sensitively there too,however, as I could not stand to read the details. I would have liked to learn more aout Maggies father and found myself wondering whether the author could have brought him back in the end. But as it closed, thankfully, there was a happy ending to Maggie’s awful circumstance and sad as it is, the book is an eye-opener and something of a tribute to those lost souls who suffered and perished with neglect.

    This is one of the better books I have read this year, and I highly recommend it to other readers.

    Joan Gladwell,

  4. Gwen

    Hi Carla, I live in Yorkshire and have just finished reading your book. I thought it was such a brilliant eye-opener and the writing is amazing! I just wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed it. Even all the sad parts I cried over I have enjoyed too..!) Thank you so much.
    Now really looking forward to your next book..
    Mrs Gwen Murphy

  5. AHume

    The Last Gift is a fictional account of the 1800s most degrading period of British history for lower class Londoners.

    As a writer of the centurian and Byzantine period the ‘spillage of guts’ and unscrupulous actions of earlier humanity is somewhat acclimatizing. However, a more tender heart will read Acheson’s book and find themselves dismayed by its astonishing revelations.

    Who among us knew that the industrious match-making merchants ‘Bryant and May’ had tampered with the course of nature so mercilessly? Destroying the many lives of factory workers, women, children – all suffered by the malevolent patriarchs of greed and power.

    Acheson has worked magic in this book. Not just an ordinary tale, she has deliberately exposed societal dysfunctions, compulsions and the failed attempts of poor governmental reforms of the time. The obdurate iron-fist ruling of religious constitutions. Do as Christ did or suffer eternal damnation! Little can we compare this existence to life today.

    We learn of the fragility of newborns for lower classes, godforsaken, unguarded and used for monetary gain. History is a lesson we must not forget, the author reminds us not to relinquish or abandon its powerful message.

    With such a competent and well written exposé, we read and become distressed, stimulated, disturbed by the many ‘truths,’ it forces us to acknowledge. As they unfold, we half disbelieve, but in doubt there is denial.

    A cautious and picky reader, I rarely flatter or glorify any artificial composition, when there already exists so many pretentious historical publications which do little more than disgrace such important topics.

    Upon closing I remain thoroughly impressed. This is a work of competence by ACheson, designed not only to entertain, but to educate. It will stir and strike the heart of the most hardened reader. A highly commendable read, it will stand out above others.

    Adam L Hume.

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