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Finding Inspiration in the Location.

Posted on 11th June, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, historical novelist Tania Crosse was here talking about the inspiration behind The Harbour Master's Daughter. This week, I'm delighted to welcome her back again, this time to discuss the inspiration behind The River Girl.

 

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My debut novel, published in 2004 and now re-released by JOFFE BOOKs under the title The Harbour Master’s Daughter, was inspired by a visit to Morwellham Quay, the restored Victorian copper port on the Devon bank of the River Tamar. But through repeated research visits there from my home over two hundred miles away, I got to know and fell in love with nearby Dartmoor, which subsequently provided the inspiration for my next novel, recently reissued as The River Girl.

 

I was utterly stunned by the spectacularly savage beauty of the moor, its wild rivers and bleak, open wilderness dotted with magnificent granite crags and tors. My imagination was at once triggered, and I could picture in my head what life must have been like on a remote farmstead way in the past, when the only means of transport would have been on horseback if you were lucky enough to own such an animal, or on foot, traipsing for miles across a barren landscape. Not only would life have been harsh and unforgiving, but what secrets could be kept hidden behind the doors of such isolated, primitive dwellings? So, once again, my original inspiration came from the location itself.

 

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My head was spinning with ideas for a second, this time moorland, saga, but I was keen to link it with the previous story. Dartmoor is principally known as hill farming country, famous for its wild ponies but also for the hardy sheep and cattle that graze free on its uplands. Not every visitor will realise, though, that in the past, the moor was very industrial. One of its main industries was mining, mostly for copper but a variety of ores was extracted from the western areas. Until the arrival of the railway in 1859, the majority of all this heavy ore was taken to Tavistock in waggons and then transferred along the canal to be exported through Morwellham. So what better way to link the two books than by choosing a Dartmoor location that was both nearby and known for its mining?

 

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The choice was obvious. Not far north of Tavistock was the most important copper mine on western Dartmoor, Wheal Friendship, on the Mary Tavy side of the River Tavy. It was said to have the biggest waterwheel in the world, driven by a leat that today still drives the small hydro-electric power station there. Other mines came and went on the opposite bank, on the Peter Tavy side, but while I wanted a link with mining, I wished to concentrate on the remote life at an exposed farm. So while Mary Tavy and mining comes into the story, I decided to set the main action on the windswept slopes above the fascinating village of Peter Tavy leading up onto the heights of the moor.

 

The River Tavy itself, though, has its source way up in a lonely and desolate valley known as Tavy Cleave, ‘where only the mewing cry of the buzzard and the harsh bark of the raven could be heard above the howling wind.’ It is a place where the heroine escapes when her soul is in turmoil, thus the title of the novel, The River Girl. The background image on the cover is that very place, taken by Dartmoor guide and historian, Paul Rendell, editor of a wonderful bi-monthly magazine, The Dartmoor News. I must thank Paul once again for allowing the publisher to use his fabulous photograph.

 

 

The heroine is brought up on her uncle’s lowly tenant farm high above the valley. She yearns to train in medicine, but will have to content herself by following in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife and herbalist. Besides, her uncle has other secret plans for her. When she appears to have escaped his clutches, a vengeful obsession from another source brings the past back to haunt her. Even the man she comes to love holds a dark, terrible secret, and in a heart-stopping climax, each of them is forced to confront a personal terror.

 

When it was first published in 2006, an Amazon reader declared The River Girl to be the best book since Jane Eyre. Why not see if you agree?

 

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Blurb:

Dartmoor, 1858

Elizabeth Thornton has every reason to want to escape from home — a ramshackle farm in the middle of nowhere. Since her father’s death, she’s been trapped here, in the clutches of her lascivious uncle.

 

When a position opens up at Rosebank Hall, she jumps at the chance. She will be a domestic drudge at the beck and call of the house’s cantankerous master. It’s hardly the career of her dreams. Elizabeth wants to be a doctor, but she’ll do anything to be free of her uncle.

 

Then one night, the master’s wayward son turns up, a wounded soldier from a far-flung battlefield — damaged in every way a person can be. But as Elizabeth nurses him back to life, the pair grow closer and everything changes. But Elizabeth’s uncle isn’t ready to relinquish her yet . . .

 

Will she keep on fighting for her freedom? Even with her dark past nipping at her heels?

 

Fans of Nadine Dorries, Rosie Goodwin, Dilly Court, Freda Lightfoot and Catherine Cookson will adore this emotional coming-of-age story.

 

ALSO BY TANIA CROSSE

 

DEVONSHIRE SAGAS

Book 1: The Harbour Master's Daughter

Book 2: The River Girl

Book 3: The Gunpowder Girl

Book 4: The Quarry Girl

Book 5: The Railway Girl

Book 6: The Wheelwright Girl

Book 7: The Ambulance Girl

 

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The River Girl on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Calling All Old Ducks!

Posted on 4th June, 2021

 

Since summer has come at last, I'd love to share with you a book that makes perfect summer reading - The Old Ducks' Club by Maddie Please.

 

Maddie is an accomplished author of romcom and this is her best book yet. The heroine is Sophia, who has been badly let down in her personal life and heads off to beautiful Rhodes to lick her wounds. All she wants is peace and quiet - what she gets is the Old Ducks in the next-door apartment, three ladies in their sixties who are out to make the most of life and have lots of fun.

 

 

Through these new friendships, Sophia rediscovers herself. After years of doing what suits everyone else, now it's time for her to suit herself. Oh yes, and that might include a relationship with the gorgeous Theo...

 

The Old Ducks' Club is a warm and funny story and while it's lighthearted, that doesn't mean it's superficial. On the contrary, this is a story about society's expectations of ladies of a certain age as well as being about the way we see ourselves and what contributes to a person's sense of self-worth.

 

It's also worth mentioning the wonderful sense of place. Maddie describes the local area so beautifully that you can almost feel the sunshine on your face.

 

A heartwarming and uplifting story, with fun, sun and friendship. I guarantee you'll want to be an Old Duck as well!

 

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Blurb:

Sophia Gregory has lost her sparkle...

 

Recently single and about to turn sixty, Sophia doesn’t recognise the old woman staring back at her in the mirror. How has life passed her by? A quiet holiday in beautiful Rhodes is the perfect chance for her to find herself.
 
Until she meets the Old Ducks!
 
Juliette, Kim and Anita are three friends who are determined not to grow old gracefully! Bold and brash, they are Sophia’s worse nightmare, until they make her an honorary member of The Old Ducks’ Club! Now dancing and drinking till dawn Sophia starts to shake off her stuffy old life and start living again!
 
And when she meets her gorgeous Greek neighbour, Theo, she thinks that maybe, if she’s just a little braver, she can learn to love again too...
 
It’s never too late to teach an Old Duck new tricks!

 

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The Old Ducks' Club on Amazon

 

 

Finding Inspiraton in Dartmoor's History

Posted on 28th May, 2021

This week I am delighted to welcome historical novelist Tania Crosse back to my blog. Tania is having an exciting time at the moment, as two of her early novels are being reissued. Today she is here to introduce The Harbour Master's Daughter and in a couple of weeks, she'll be returning to tell us all about The River Girl.

 

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As an author, I’m often asked where I get my ideas from. Well, while I draw a great deal on my own experiences of life – and when writing about the Second World War, stories my parents told me of that terrible time – I would say that my greatest inspiration comes from locations. The places can be inspirational in themselves, such as the wilds of Dartmoor where so many of my books are set. But more than anything, it’s the history of the locations that inspires me, and imagining how life would have been there in the past.

 

This was never truer than with my debut novel, THE HARBOUR MASTER’S DAUGHTER. Originally published under the title, Morwellham’s Child, back in 2004, it was inspired by a visit to Morwellham Quay in Devon, once said to have been the greatest copper port in the whole of Queen Victoria’s empire, and a living history museum since the 1970s. If you recognise the name, that’s because it’s where the BBC series, The Edwardian Farm, was filmed. In fact, I was there once when they were filming and sat eating ice-cream with Peter Ginn who was as lovely in person as on screen.

 

While the farm continues to this day, the port went into decline in the last decades of the Nineteenth Century, and it is this period, the beginning of the end, that I depict in the novel. The picturesque location of Morwellham on the banks of the River Tamar that separates Devon from Cornwall, was inspirational in itself, but the turbulent years in the late 1860s to the early 1870s was what interested me most.

 

Copper had been mined in the area for years, and was transported to the river port along the Tavistock Canal. However, in 1844, the greatest deposit of high quality copper ever found in Europe was discovered in a slightly different direction at what became Devon Great Consols. Within a year, a one pound share increased its value to £800! A massive new dock was built, together with a new steam-powered railway to haul the ore over steep Morwell Down immediately behind Morwellham and down to the quay. The port expanded and was incredibly busy with many other goods as well as copper passing through it for many years.

 

However, in the late 1860s, the price of copper fell, and the easily accessible lodes at Devon Great Consols were pretty well exhausted. As the copper trade declined, so did the port, and this had a dreadful knock-on effect on the inhabitants of this small community. But where you have copper, you will often find arsenic, and Devon Great Consols, as well as Wheal Friendship on Dartmoor, survived on this for another twenty years. But it is a very different kettle of fish, extremely dangerous and requiring far fewer workers. Eventually, the arsenic industry, too, met its demise. Morwellham went into rapid decline, existing only as a rural, agricultural community, until the Morwellham Quay and Tamar Valley Trust was set up in the early 1970s to restore the port and open it to the public. The living history museum is now in private ownership.

 

So that terrible era of change is the one I depict in the novel. The harbour master and his family were, of course, in the thick of the action, and his spirited young daughter’s personal life is inextricably linked with the fortunes of the port. She finds herself fighting not only for her life but for the very forces that will govern the port’s future. I do so hope you will enjoy her story as she struggles with both economic and personal misfortunes!

 

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Blurb:

 

Prepare to be swept away by an utterly heartrending saga of one woman’s fight to find happiness.

 

Originally published as Morwellham’s Child.

 

Devon, 1867

Free-spirited Rebecca Westbrook knows her perfect match when she sees him. His name is Captain Adam Bradley.

 

She is the harbour master’s daughter.

 

He is smouldering and sophisticated — the most eligible captain ever to sail into the quay.

 

Anyone can see it’s meant to be. But Rebecca is anything but charmed. Her heart belongs to Tom Mason, a lowly cooper she’s known forever.

 

In her father’s eyes, Tom will never be worthy. But Tom has a plan to prove him wrong. And until then, passionate Rebecca refuses to wait to be with him.

 

But fate has other plans.

 

Tragedy strikes, shattering the couple’s dreams of a life together. Vulnerable and alone, how will Rebecca survive without her soulmate?

 

With the threat of destitution nipping at her heels, Rebecca can see only one way out. Is she strong enough to take it?

 

Fans of Nadine Dorries, Rosie Goodwin, Dilly Court, Freda Lightfoot and Catherine Cookson will adore this emotional coming-of-age story.

 

ALSO BY TANIA CROSSE

 

DEVONSHIRE SAGAS

Book 1: The Harbour Master's Daughter

Book 2: The River Girl

Book 3: The Gunpowder Girl

Book 4: The Quarry Girl

Book 5: The Railway Girl

Book 6: The Wheelwright Girl

Book 7: The Ambulance Girl

 

Link to Tania's books on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing by the Sea

Posted on 20th May, 2021

For me, one of the great pleasures of living by the sea is taking my work outdoors into that fabulous zingy fresh air that you only get at the seaside. This was the view as I worked on the next Surplus Girls book a day or two ago.

 

Not bad, eh? There are worse places to work!

 

I've been wondering about a title for the book. I haven't even got a working title at the moment - other than Surplus Girls 4. Not very inspiring!

 

Meanwhile, book 1, The Surplus Girls, is avaialble on Kindle Unlimited and book 2, The Surplus Girls' Orphans, is still on a time-limited Kindle Deal at 99p. And, of course, book 3, Christmas with the Surplus Girls, can be pre-ordered. That reminds me - I must write a blog to tell you about the cover illustration.

 

Cick here to visit the Amazon page for all three books.

 

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Looking ahead to future blogs, I will be welcoming Tania Crosse back not once but twice to talk about the inspiration behind her next two books. And Jane Cable will be here as well to share the cover of her forthcoming book, The Forgotten Maid, and explain why the cover illustration means so much to her.

 

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A Wealth of Warmth and Understanding

Posted on 14th May, 2021

I don't often review books on this blog, but sometimes a book comes along that just has to be celebrated - and The Halfpenny Girls by Maggie Mason (the pen name for saga author Mary Wood) is just such a book.

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This is a gripping family saga set before the war and follows the lives of three friends - Marg, Edith and Alice.

 

Touchingly, the three heroines, as well as other characters in the story, are named after late loved ones of followers of Mary Wood's thriving Facebook community.

 

What I loved about this book, and what made it, for me, a stand-out saga, was the concentration on family life. Sagas often revolve around the work-place, but this one is firmly rooted in the hardships faced by the girls because of their family circumstances. Violence, alcoholism, betrayal and dementia are all woven into the tale - alongside love, loyalty and the determination of the three young heroines to do their very best for their nearest and dearest, despite every hardship. There are no easy answers to the problems each family faces - just a wealth of warmth and understanding from an accomplished author.

 

This is a complex story with strong, cleverly interwoven plots, well-drawn, multi-layered characters, and, above all, a powerful sense of the importance of family.

 

Now I'm looking forward to the sequel, The Halfpenny Girls at Christmas, which is published on November 11th.

 

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The Halfpenny Girls on Amazon

 

The Halfpenny Girls at Christmas on Amazon

 

Recently I wrote a blog about the character studies I wrote of my Surplus Girls heroines before I started writing the books. This week, I'm going to share with you what I knew about my heroes before the writing started.

 

Gabriel in The Surplus Girls

Gabriel Linkworth lost his memory near the end of the War and has no sense of his own identity. He is brought back to England and is told about himself, but it means nothing to him. A sensitive, clever man, he is forced to live in the moment and does his best to adapt, but every day is a struggle, though he does his best not to let this show. He has all sorts of doubts about himself. Why was he the sole survivor of the attrocity that caused him to lose his memory? Will his memory ever return? Presumably not, after all this time. How can he possibly form relationships when his life is a blank?

 

Aaron in The Surplus Girls' Orphans

Aaron is a returned soldier, who has taken on the job of handyman and caretaker at the local orphanage, St Anthony’s. A man with a strong sense of loyality and common decency, his wartime experiences have left him with a need for fresh air and an uncomplicated life. His priorities are simple but deeply important to him. He doesn't necessarily realise it, but he is cut out to be a family man.

 

And introducing Zachary in Christmas with the Surplus Girls

Zachary has recently set himself up in business selling and maintaining fire extinguishers and other fire equipment. All his capital has been ploughed into the business and he doesn’t have anything to spare. He and his brother volunteered young for the army during the war and Zachary has now come through a dark time and is determined to make the best of his life. Although he is very focused on the success of the fledgling firm that could make or break him, he is a good-natured chap with a sense of humour - and also a sense of honour. 

 

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Special Kindle deals for The Surplus Girls series:

 

Book 1, The Surplus Girls, is currently on Kindle Unlimited or is 99p to buy on Kindle.

 

Book 2, The Surplus Girls' Orphans, is 99p on Kindle. (This is time-limited.)

 

Book 3, Christmas with the Surplus Girls, can be pre-ordered on Kindle for £2.37.

 

 

A Walk Round Betws

Posted on 30th April, 2021

Over the past year, I have published the occasional blog with photos of Llandudno, taken on walks during lockdown. I know from feedback I've received that these virtual walks have been appreciated during a period when it has been hard, if not impossible at times, for people to get out and about.

 

Life is starting to open up again now, but it will still take some time, so I thought another virtual walk would be a good subject for this week's blog; but instead of showing you round Llandudno again, I have dug out some pictures of a day trip to Betws-y-Coed from October 2019 - the one sunny day in a run of rainy days, as I recall!

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The pictures start with a riverside walk, ending with a look at a rope-bridge - and, yes, I did go on it - and, yes, it was scary! After that, the last couple of photos are of the waterfall in the middle of Betws. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

 

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My Most Borrowed Book

Posted on 23rd April, 2021

You may have heard of PLR - this stands for Public Lending Right. It means that each time you borrow a book - whether it's print, audio or electronic - from the public library, the author earns something. So do the readers and producers of audiobooks, as well as book illustrators. The PLR year runs from July 1st until June 30th. This meant, for example, that when my first novel, The Deserter's Daughter, came out on 22nd June 2017, it spent one week in the PLR year 2016 - 2017.

 

At the close of each year, PLR puts together every author's/narrator's/illustrator's statistics and early in the following calendar year, you receive your statement, followed in due course by your payment.

 

The latest complete year was July 2019 - June 2020, the final three months of which saw libraries being closed because of the pandemic.

 

Of my books, the one that was borrowed the most inthat year was The Sewing Room Girl, my 1890s saga about lost love, the struggle for independence and the long shadow of the past.

 

 

 

Here is the review that appeared in the Historical Novels Society magazine:

 

This story is as much about English Northern grit as it is sewing, with needles a-plenty! Victorian teen Juliet Harper is already “a competent little needlewoman” who can design and fabricate all manner of garments. She aspires to become a top seamstress running her own fashion salon, but circumstance, family and others consistently conspire to hinder her progress with malice and violence. Whatever did she do to deserve such treatment? “There was nothing wrong that darned hard graft wouldn’t get them out of.” This mindset, however, exemplifies Juliet’s steadfast resolve, which underpins a narrative that whirrs along like a well-oiled treadle sewing machine. The finished article’s eclectic cast enables us to explore child labour, male authority, women’s rights, adult responsibility and various abusive behaviours including what’s now known as ‘grooming’.

 

A strong illustrative examination of the greatest shame of all, those born out of wedlock in the late 19th century, runs throughout. Threads of love and loyalty constantly cross swords with hate and treachery. Never far from the surface, the latter are always ready to pounce when Juliet least expects. Nevertheless, she continues to search for that which every seamstress, indeed every human, requires: “good light.” Just how she stitches together the attitude, strength and bravery it will take to transport her from village slops maid to pursuing her dream is a tale told well. Noticeable, too, is an appealing and authentic nod to the natural world in almost every outdoor scene, whether country path or town garden; skies are the blue of harebells or cornflowers, the year’s turning is described through a variety of wildflowers, shrubs and trees that blossom then fade as the seasons pass. Prepare for yearnings, spite, redemption and sewing, with a nice touch.

 

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The Sewing Room Girl on Amazon 

 

Belinda, Molly... and Introducing Nancy

Posted on 16th April, 2021

Before I start writing a book, I produce a detailed synopsis of at least 6 or 7 pages. Part of this is the personal details of my heroine and her background - all the things have have made her into the person she is today, as the book opens.

 

In this blog, I'm going to share with you the character studies I wrote - ages ago now! - for Belinda Layton, the heroine of The Surplus Girls, and Molly Watson, heroine of The Surplus Girls' Orphans, and I'll also tell you a little about Nancy Pike, the heroine of book 3, Christmas with the Surplus Girls, which will be published later this year.

 

 

Belinda

BELINDA LAYTON (20, coming up 21) is from a large, impoverished family. The Laytons are pretty awful. They used to be respectable, hard-working working-class. But dad DENBY has gone from bad to worse where jobs are concerned and each job has dragged his family further down the social ladder. Mum KATHLEEN despairs of him and whenever she appears, you can smell the burning martyr. Denby is always trying to get money out of his three working children, much to Kathleen’s annoyance… but then she creeps after them and tries to wheedle money out of them herself.

 

Fortunately for Belinda – though she feels guilty for being relieved about it – she moved in with her fiancé’s widowed mother ENID SLOAN and grandmother BEATTIE SLOAN when, aged 15, she got engaged; but her fiancé, BEN SLOAN, died at the end of the War and since then Belinda has been a pretend-widow. She owes a lot to Enid and Beattie. Their cottage might be tiny but it is a big step up for Belinda, whose family is crammed into two rooms in a shabby house containing four families, all of whom share a stinking privy in the back yard. For Belinda, being invited to live with Enid and Beattie was a massive relief, but also a source of guilt, because she feels she shouldn’t be glad not to live with her family.

 

 

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Molly

MOLLY WATSON (27) comes from a loving, supportive family. DAD has a building firm and while the Watson aren't rich, they have never had to struggle. Two married sisters - CHRISTABEL and TILDA - and one brother, TOM, who is lovely. MUM, GRAN, AUNTIE FAITH, cousin DORA and more or less everyone else is eager for Molly to get married and be secure for life.

 

 

Molly is in the middle of a five-year engagement to NORRIS HUNTLEY. What a lucky girl she is to have a chap of her own when so many girls these days don’t and never will. And Norris is lovely. Honestly. He is good-natured and kind and won’t push her around. Oh, and generous. He is full of what he will buy her and all the things he will provide for their home – a vacuum cleaner, a modern cooker. All Molly’s female relatives can list her future material advantages. But for all his fine words, somehow Norris never quite spends his money in the here and now.

 

 

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And introducing Nancy

You'll understand, of course, that in these pre-publication days, I can't tell you much about Nancy. But I will say that, at just turned 19, she is the youngest of the heroines, though her circumstances - a hard-up family and a semi-invalid mother - mean she had to grow up quickly. She wasn't particularly gifted academically, so at school she concentrated on the practical lessons – needlework, cookery and housework, which doesn't exactly make her sound like the ideal candidate to enrol in the Miss Heskeths' business school, does it? All will be revealed...!

 

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Link to my Polly Heron page on Amazon

 

 

 

A Look at Kirsten's New Book

Posted on 9th April, 2021

For those of you who have been regular readers of my blog, you’ll know exactly who Kirsten Hesketh is. She is my friend and fellow author, who used to write a monthly post here in the days before she had a website and blog of her own.

 

Kirsten’s debut novel, Another Us, was published last May and at the end of April this year, her debut saga, The Post Office Girls, will be published under the pen name Poppy Cooper.

 

I have read an ARC (advance review copy) of The Post Office Girls and I’d like to share my thoughts with you. It’s a bit scary, actually, when one of your friends has a book published, because you want to like it … but what if you don’t? Well, I’ve yet to find out the answer to that question, because Kirsten’s book – or should I say Poppy’s book – is a joy.

 

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Set during the First World War, the story is told through the eyes and experiences of Beth, a young, rather innocent girl, who has to grow up quickly. She is an endearing character, who tries hard to do the right thing, and whose mistakes make her very relatable.

 

The plot is pacey and engrossing and very emotional in places, and it brims over with period detail that draws the reader right inside the story. The research that has gone into this book is truly remarkable. There are some books where the author is so determined to share what s/he has learned that there are times when the narrative borders on a lecture. I’m remembering a novel in which the heroine was going to work in a theatre that exists in real life …. and the author spent a page and a half explaining the building’s history. Grrr! But there is none of that here. Kirsten/Poppy’s research is so deftly written into the fabric of the story that it feels utterly natural, creating both depth and context.

 

All in all, this debut saga is a thoroughly enjoyable read. But be warned. You will never stick a stamp on an envelope quite so casually ever again…

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Here are links to The Post Office Girls on Amazon Kindle and in paperback. The Kindle editon is published on April 29th and the paperback comes out on May 13th.