I’ll Be a Sunbeam

Francesca reveals the inspiration behind her newsletter giveaway story, I’ll Be a Sunbeam

This month, if you sign up for my newsletter (details at the bottom of the post), there’s a special treat in the form of an exclusive story, set in the same area and era as the Valleys novels.

I wrote the story around the same time that I was writing Heartbreak in the Valleys, as a tribute to my great grandmother, Mary Jones.

Gran, my mum and me on my first birthday

Mary, the real one, was living in a mining village during the First World War (Abertysswg, the village my setting of Dorcalon is based on), as is Mary Jones in the story. Gran (as we called her) was married to Percy (or Pa, as we all called him) like Mary, but unlike my heroine, already had four children by that time, including my grandma, Charlotte, who was born in 1914. And she’d go on to have three

As those who’ve read War in the Valleys might know, I dedicated the book to Mary Jones, who also appears as a minor character in those books (she gets around!). I wonder what she would have thought of that. I do recall Gran having a book on her shelf called Mary Jones, which was a true story of a Welsh girl who wanted her own Bible. I guess it is a common name!

As the dedication reveals, times were hard for Gran, as they were for many people a hundred years ago. For a start, she lost three of her close female relations to tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was often referred to then). Her mother was only forty-two when she died of TB in 1891. Gran was two years old

In 1899, Gran lost her older sister, sixteen year old Charlotte Ann. In 1935, Gran’s oldest daughter, Clarice, also succumbed to TB, after giving birth to her second child, Maureen (who died a month later). Gran’s younger daughter, my grandma, also contracted TB in the early ‘fifties, but survived.

Walking in the woods

Child deaths were rife in the early part of the twentieth century. The 1911 census lists how many children were born to a family ‘alive’ and how many had since died. It reveals just how many didn’t make it past childhood. Mary, sadly, did not escape this fate and lost her 6th child, Davy, in 1922, when he was only two years old. My mother believed it was from pneumonia.

Then there was World War Two. The family moved to Lancing in the 1930s, in order to escape the mines and find a better life. There’s a sad irony here, as, had they remained in Abertysswg, her four surviving sons would probably have been in a reserved occupation and not conscripted. Only two of them came back. Cyril went down with HMS Fidelity in 1943, aged twenty-three. Tommy was also killed that year, in Sicily, aged thirty-four.

With Gran and Mum on a walk in the country

By the end of the war, at the age of only fifty-six, Gran had lost four of her seven children.

I came along twelve years later. Gran was only sixty-eight at that time, and, as she lived until the ripe old age of ninety-seven, I was privileged to know my great grandmother for twenty-nine years. My grandma (her daughter) emigrated to Australia in 1958, and my nonna passed away in 1960. My paternal grandfather was killed in 1915 and my maternal one died in 1945. After Pa passed in 1963, she was the only grandparent close by, so I’m grateful that she was in my life for such a long time.

As a child I’d regularly go with my parents to visit her in Lancing, eleven miles away. I loved sitting in her ‘kitchen’ (a sitting/room diner to us today). Her Victorian terraced house was set up as it would have been in the similar house she’d had in Wales. She referred to the kitchen as the ‘scullery’, even though it now had the cooker in it, which would have been a range in the ‘kitchen’ previously. The ‘front room’ was never used, and simply housed a chest of drawers and photographs. I think maybe, when they first moved, various members of the family slept there.

Gran at 94, holding her great great granddaughter!

And what of the song, ‘I’ll Be a Sunbeam’ (also known as ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam’)? Gran was a Baptist chapel regular, and had been all her life. ‘I’ll Be a Sunbeam’ was a song she taught me as a child. I suppose she must have sung it at chapel. (If you’ve never heard of it, you can listen to it here )

Whenever I hear it, I think of her with sadness and love, and remember how much of a bright spot she was in my life, despite the sadness that had dominated her

She was certainly a sunbeam for me.

To read the exclusive story, I’ll Be a Sunbeam, sign up during June for my newsletter, which will come out each month with my latest news, offers and much more.

Go to https://www.francesca-capaldi.co.uk/ and sign up at the bottom of the page.

Published by Hera Books / Canelo

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Blog post first published on https://www.francesca-capaldi.co.uk/blog

Welcoming Rachel Brimble with A Very Modern Marriage

Today author Rachel Brimble is popping in to tell us about her latest Victorian saga.

Welcome once again to Write Minds, Rachel. First of all, tell us what inspired you to write A Very Modern Marriage?

This book is the final instalment in the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy so it was inspiration for the whole series rather than this particular book. I read The Five by Hallie Rubenhold which explores the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims and (although it might sound gruesome reading) it evoked such deep empathy in me. I was completely immersed in how very different these women’s lives were and the circumstances that led to each of them ending up in Whitechapel.

I just had to write a series about three prostitutes in Victorian Bath who come together in the name of survival and, of course, give them the happy ever after they deserve!

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

As a writer of historical fiction, research is obviously hugely important. So much so, that it is often difficult to know when to stop researching and start writing! For the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy, my research mainly focused around the lives of Victorian prostitutes as well as the taverns, gentlemen’s clubs and shops of Victorian London and Bath.

I tend to concentrate on the relationships in my books more than anything else so I would say that the research is used to add colour, flavour and realism to the setting and the adventures my characters become involved in. I tend to read a LOT of fiction and non-fiction of the period as well as visiting our local history centre for pictures and letters etc from the time.

As for the time spent…I’d say probably around a month or so.

Is this book a one-off, or is it part of a series?

A Very Modern Marriage is the final book in the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy and tells Octavia’s story. The series revolves around three women, Louisa, Nancy (whose stories are told in A Widow’s Vow & Trouble For The Leading Lady) and Octavia who live and work together in a brothel in the Victorian city of Bath.

The books are a combination of drama, intrigue and romance with a whole cast of characters, both main and secondary, who interact and add to the fun of what is my favourite series to date!

What do you find the most difficult part of writing process?

Definitely plotting! I am a plotter at heart and could never write a book by ‘the seat of my pants’, BUT that does not mean it makes my writing process any easier. I agonise over characters’ goals, motivations and conflicts, worry that my initial idea won’t stretch to 90,000 words…it never ends!

I am currently writing my 30th novel, by the way…

That’s incredible, Rachel! Finally if you could tell your younger self anything what would it be?

Relax! I still tell myself that now and I’m 47, haha! I am slowly learning to not overthink things or anticipate what ‘might’ happen. I recently signed up for a self-awareness course and it has helped so much with my anxiety and tendency to jump ahead rather than living in the moment.

I already feel happier, more relaxed and enjoying each day for what it is 😊

That’s great to hear, Rachel. Thank you for taking the time to come and visit us once again, and the best of luck with A Very Modern Marriage.

A Very Modern Marriage

He needs a wife…
Manchester industrialist William Rose was a poor lad from the slums who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, but in order to achieve his greatest ambitions he must become the epitome of Victorian respectability: a family man.

She has a plan…
But the only woman who’s caught his eye is sophisticated beauty Octavia Marshall, one of the notorious ladies of Carson Street. Though she was once born to great wealth and privilege, she’s hardly respectable, but she’s determined to invest her hard-earned fortune in Mr Rose’s mills and forge a new life as an entirely proper businesswoman.

They strike a deal that promises them both what they desire the most, but William’s a fool if he thinks Octavia will be a conventional married woman, and she’s very much mistaken if she thinks the lives they once led won’t follow them wherever they go.

In the third instalment of Rachel Brimble’s exciting Victorian saga series, The Ladies of Carson Street will open the doors on a thoroughly modern marriage – and William is about to get a lot more than he bargained for…

BUY HERE

About Rachel

Rachel lives in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of over 25 published novels including the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy, the Shop Girl series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin). In January 2022, she signed a contract with the Wild Rose Press for the first book in a brand new series set in past British Royal courts.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association as well as the Historical Novel Society and has thousands of social media followers all over the world.

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Cover Reveal Day for Trouble in the Valleys

Today is cover reveal day for the latest novel in Francesca’s Wartime in the Valleys series

Today I’m delighted to present the cover and blurb for the latest in the Valleys series, Trouble in the Valleys.

Can Polly finally escape her haunting past?

Spring 1919: WW1 might be over, but the inhabitants of Dorcalon in the Welsh Valleys still feel the pain of the war that took so many of their men.

Polly Smith is trying to survive her own battle at home. Since her abusive husband, Gus, was finally jailed, Polly has been raising her two-year-old son, Herby alone.

But being a single mother isn’t easy, and Polly finds it harder still as Gus’s criminal activities leave her with a bad reputation. Lonely and struggling for money, Polly retreats as she becomes the subject of cruel gossip.

A job offer throws her a lifeline, and as she grows closer to soldier, Henry Austin, it seems that Polly might finally be changing her life – until dark secrets from her past emerge, threatening her new happiness. Can Polly clear her name? Or will the mistakes of the past ruin her future?

Trouble in the Valleys is out on 5th May and ready to pre-order now:

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‘Very Adorable Darlings’ in the First World War

Francesca’s latest Wartime in the Valleys novel, Hope in the Valleys, features Elizabeth Meredith who becomes a VAD nurse on the French war front in the Great War. But what did that entail?

Apparently one nickname for the VAD nurses, working voluntarily in hospitals during the First World War, was ‘Very Adorable Darlings’, obviously using the initials to convey how the soldiers considered them. Although it’s nice to know they were appreciated, I can’t help thinking this undervalues their contribution to the war effort.

So who were the VADs? For a start, it stands for Voluntary Aid Detachment, an organisation created in 1909 with the support of the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance Brigade, due to a fear that there would be a shortage of nurses to aid the military should there be a war. During the Great War (and Second World War) they were used in both hospitals in the UK and abroad where the soldiers were fighting. These ‘nurses’ were not trained like official nurses, but had taken first aid courses.

It wasn’t uncommon for them to be resented by the qualified nurses who thought it unfair that they should be called ‘nurses’ when they hadn’t done the same training. It didn’t help that the VADs were usually middleclass women, compared to the mainly working-class nurses. Usually they were given the dirtiest and most tedious jobs, like scrubbing, dealing with soiled dressings, emptying bedpans and cleaning up bodily fluids. And also the disposal of limbs. Some did work with nurses who valued their contribution and who trusted them with more complicated jobs.

Some of the books I’ve used to research VADs in the Great War

Those who, like Elizabeth, ended up near the war front in France, must have felt like they’d entered hell. Everything about it would have been harder than working in a hospital back home, where conditions would have been cleaner, not mud encrusted and covered with the detritus of explosions. The hospitals in Britain would largely have been dealing with soldiers who’d already been patched up in some way. It’s hard to imagine what horrors the nurses and VADs abroad encountered when men, often great numbers of them, descended upon a hospital at the front. There are reports of limbs blown off or hanging loose, gaping, festering wounds and skin and bone blown apart by gunshot. And then there were the severe mental health problems labelled at that time as ‘shell shock’, that we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

The percentage of deaths on the front would have been way higher than anything they’d have encountered at a hospital back in Blighty. Many of the men would have been very young, not even considered adults, some probably small for their age as the underfed working classes often were back then. The VADs would have been reminded of their own fighting brothers, cousins, maybe uncles and fathers and many of their own sweethearts, knowing they faced the possibility of the same fate.

And by the way, the VAD nurses were not paid. The clue is in the word ‘Voluntary’. That’s right, they did it for nothing. Yes, they were mainly middle class and could afford to, but that shouldn’t be a cause to belittle their efforts. Having read many accounts of what they experienced, I can only admire them for their sterling work and dedication under horrific conditions.

A VAD in a ward I’m guessing was back in Britain, as the hospitals on the front tended to be makeshift huts and tents.

Hope in the Valleys

It’s August 1917 and WW1 continues to take a toll. The villagers of Dorcalon, a mining village in the Rhymney Valley, try to keep hope alive; but every day brings fresh tragedy as more of their sons and fathers are killed on foreign battlefields.

Elizabeth Meredith, daughter of mine manager Herbert, enjoys a privileged position in the village, but she longs to break free of society’s expectations.

Falling in love with miner, Gwilym Owen, brings more joy to her life than she’s ever known… until she’s forced to choose between her love and her disapproving family. Seeking an escape, Elizabeth signs up as a VAD nurse and is swiftly sent to help the troops in France, even as her heart breaks at leaving Gwilym behind.

Separated by society and the Great War, can Elizabeth and Gwilym find their way back together again? Or will their love become another casualty of war?

Hope in the Valleys is published by Hera Books and is available here:

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Publication of Hope in the Valleys and News of a Competition

With the publication of Hope in the Valleys today, Francesca is celebrating with a competition in which you can win copies of the various Valleys books and other goodies.

What an exciting day, with Elizabeth’s (and Gwen’s) stories the next to be published in the third episode of the Wartime in the Valleys series.

To celebrate, there’s a chance to win signed books, ebooks and other goodies in a simple to enter competition. The first prize is signed paperbacks of all three books, plus a basket of goodies. Second prize is all three ebooks, with a box of goodies. Third prize is an ebook of Hope in the Valleys, plus a bag of goodies. The items selected are either retro or connected in some way to World War 1.

There are three great prizes to win.

Did you know that ginger nut biscuits, Garibaldi, custard creams, Nice, Bourbons and shortbread were all around a hundred a years ago? So were wine gums, aniseed balls, jelly babies, humbugs, pear drops and chocolate limes, a mixed bag of which has been included in each prize.

And a prize to do with novels set in Wales wouldn’t be complete without a pack of Welsh cakes, would it?

To enter the competition, head over to my Facebook page and either like or follow it. Then go to the post headed *Competition Time* and answer the simple question there in the comments.

Easy! Good luck / Pob lwc!

ENTER THE COMPETITION HERE: https://www.facebook.com/FrancescaCapaldiAuthor

Will Elizabeth choose love over duty?

It’s August 1917 and WW1 continues to take a toll. The villagers of Dorcalon, a mining village in the Rhymney Valley, try to keep hope alive; but every day brings fresh tragedy as more of their sons and fathers are killed on foreign battlefields.

Elizabeth Meredith, daughter of mine manager Herbert, enjoys a privileged position in the village, but she longs to break free of society’s expectations.

Falling in love with miner, Gwilym Owen, brings more joy to her life than she’s ever known… until she’s forced to choose between her love and her disapproving family. Seeking an escape, Elizabeth signs up as a VAD nurse and is swiftly sent to help the troops in France, even as her heart breaks at leaving Gwilym behind.

Separated by society and the Great War, can Elizabeth and Gwilym find their way back together again? Or will their love become another casualty of war?

Available here:

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Good Afternoon, Good Evening and Good Night!

Francesca explains the Welsh expressions used in her Wartime in the Valleys books

Someone asked me a while ago about the Welsh phrases used in the Wartime in the Valleys series. Although it’s implied that my characters are speaking Welsh much of the time, as many would have in the Valleys a hundred odd years ago, I’ve been careful to use only a few expressions, to add a flavour of the area.

I think some people have struggled with these expressions so, as the third in the Valleys series is going to be published in a week, I thought I’d write a blog post including all the phrases used and their translations. I’ve been through all four books (as there’s another, Trouble in the Valleys, due out in the spring), so hopefully have found them all.

I’m not a Welsh speaker myself, as my Welsh mother wasn’t either, only speaking a few phrases, but I’ve been endeavouring to learn some on Duo Lingo. Whether I’ll ever feel proficient enough to talk to a native seems currently unlikely. Unless it’s to say ‘Bore da,’ to my Welsh speaking friend Angela Johnson (author of another novel set in Wales, Arianwen) as we meet for a coffee. It’s been an interesting experience, learning the language of my past ‘fathers’. I think my mum would have enjoyed the opportunity to have a go at Duo Lingo too, if such a thing had been around in her time.

My favourite Welsh phrase of my mother’s? Ych y fi! You have to hear it said to appreciate how much it evokes what it means, which is Ugh! But to give you an idea, it’s something like ‘uh-ch ah vee‘, where the ch is a guttural sound at the back of the throat.

As Truman Burbank (sort of) said in The Truman Show , ‘Bore da, and in case I don’t see ya, prynhawn da, noswaith dda a nos da!’

Bore da                     Good morning
Prynhawn daGood afternoon
Noswaith ddaGood evening
Nos daGood night
Hwyl fawrGoodbye
Diolch yn fawrThank you very much
  
Nadolig LlawenMerry Christmas
Siôn CornFather Christmas
  
Bach (m) / fach (f)An endearment (literally ‘little’)
CariadAn endearment (meaning ‘love’ / ‘sweetheart’
MamguGrandma
  
Ych y fi!Ugh!
O Duw!Oh God!
Diolch i Dduw!Thank God!
  
Y NewyddionThe News
Gymanfa ganuA singing festival
EisteddfodA competition including poetry and music
  
Songs: 
‘Y Delyn Aur’‘The Golden Harp’
‘Dawel Nos’              ‘Silent Night’
‘Calon Lân’               ‘A Pure Heart’
‘Ar Hyd y Nos’          ‘All Through the Night’
‘Suo Gân’                  ‘Lullaby’

Hope in the Valleys is out on 20th January, currently available as an e-book and paperback, and can be pre-ordered from these outlets:

Link to Amazon in all countries: author.to/FrancescaCapaldiAuthor

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UK bit.ly/3uVQ8u2

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Aus https://bit.ly/3ywSQZz

NZ https://bit.ly/34b6ljJ

US https://bit.ly/3nTUjor

Apple UK: https://apple.co/3cqsH5O

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WH Smiths: https://bit.ly/34CHbxN

A Chance to Win Signed Copies of Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys

It’s the first anniversary of the publication of War in the Valleys, and Francesca explains how you can win a signed copy of it, along with Heartbreak in the Valleys.

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the publication of War in the Valleys, the second instalment of the Wartime in the Valleys saga series, set in Wales in the First World War.

To celebrate, I’m holding a competition to win signed copies of this novel, along with the first in the series, Heartbreak in the Valleys. Although all stand-alones as well as a series, this is a good opportunity to catch up with the stories before the third book, Hope in the Valleys, is released in January.

All you have to do is click on my Facebook author page and either like or follow it, then answer a simple question in the post pinned at the top of the page.

Pob lwc! / Good luck!

Announcement: A Third Book in the Valleys’ Series Coming Soon

Francesca is pleased to announce the imminent arrival of a third book in the Wartime in the Valleys series, called Hope in the Valleys, which will be published on January 20th next year.

It’s been a year since the last Valleys’ book, War in the Valleys, was published, so it’s with great excitement that I can announce the publication of Hope in the Valleys in January, by Hera Books/Canelo. There’s also a fourth book in the pipeline, Trouble in the Valleys, but more on that in the coming months.

Hope in the Valleys opens in August 1917, and this time follows the fortunes of both the mine manager’s daughter, Elizabeth Meredith, and miner’s daughter, Gwen Austin. From seemingly opposite ends of the village’s social order, both suffer from the misfortunes of the continuing war. When disaster strikes Gwen, what will her future hold? And when Elizabeth is faced with a choice, will she choose love or duty?

The hub of the action takes place, as in the previous two books, in the fictional mining village of Dorcalon (based on Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley), though the reader is also taken for a while into the action in France. And for those wondering what fate has befallen the characters from Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys, there is also a glimpse at how their lives are progressing.

Hope in the Valleys is available to pre-order now, in either paperback or as an ebook (though there’s also talk of audio and large print at some point). And if you’re a book blogger or reviewer, you can request it from NetGalley.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t caught up with what’s been going on in Dorcalon so far, Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys are available in paperback, ebook and audio. Or return tomorrow to see how you could be in with a chance of winning signed copies.

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All in a Day’s Work

Francesca has a look at all the different topics she might end up researching during one day’s writing, for her historical novels set in World War 1 Wales.

It occurred to me recently, as I was writing the fourth novel for my Valleys series, that it’s amazing what diverse topics you can find yourself researching in just one day.

For instance, if I want a character to go out on a trip outside of the village, there are a few things to find out. Although my village of Dorcalon is imaginary (albeit heavily based on Abertysswg, in the Rhymney Valley), all of the towns and villages around it that I mention, are real. My characters have visited Rhymney, Tredegar, Bargoed, Cardiff, Monmouth, Barry Island and even a couple of places in London.

‘Dorcalon’ (Abertysswg) today. The mine was in the area where the rugby post is.

Under normal circumstances, it would be easy enough to go onto Google maps and have a look around the streets to see what a town looks like, and what kind of shops it has. I could look up train journey times on Network Rail journey planner.

The times they are a-changing

But of course, none of these would give me an accurate picture of what was in the towns, or how to get to them, in, say, 1918. I’ve managed to find train line routes at this time on Wikipedia, so know, by comparing them to today’s rail maps, that many of the stations, and branch lines, no longer exist. Then it’s a case of making a rough estimation of how long the journey might have taken. Rhymney to Cardiff, for instance, had about ten fewer stations.

If I want my character to walk down Castle Street in Cardiff, there’s no point at looking at a photographic map of the street today. Luckily, with most of the towns I’ve mentioned, I’ve found lots of photographs of the time, in books and online. Cardiff, I discovered, had a tram system, and the shops had wonderful canopies, the likes of which we never see nowadays.

A bit of local colour

As for the shops themselves, not always obvious on photographs, there are the marvellous Kelly’s Directories, and also local papers of the time. I’m particularly blessed where Wales is concerned, as the Library of Wales has the most wonderful catalogue of newspapers online. In fact, the newspapers have furnished me with information on many subjects, including theatre and cinema programmes, court proceedings, café menus and jobs. There’s also the census which, apart from revealing people’s occupations, tells you what names were popular, and the size of families.

Less is More

While all the above is just touching the surface, I only ever end up using a fraction of what I learn while I’m researching. For instance, I mostly don’t need to mention how long a train journey took, but I need to know, so that I don’t have the character leaving early afternoon on what should be an hour’s journey, and arriving late evening! Much of the information used is ‘set dressing’, to give a flavour of the time and the people, not to overwhelm with it.

An example of some of the items I had to research for one scene in Cardiff:

I’ve visited the city many times (my mum was brought up there), and some things are the same, but I had to assume I knew nothing, so, among other queries, I needed to know:

What was the train route? (Direct from Rhymney, as it is today.)

Where was the station? (Queen Street station was where it is today.)

What were the major stores etc Gwen would likely visit?  (Marments, David Morgan’s, and Howell’s department stores and the arcades.)

What fabrics were available to buy in 1918? (Linens, cottons, silks, organzas, chiffons, crepes and even the new artificial rayon.)

What did the market look like back then? (A lot like it does today!)

Was there a well-known café and what did it look like inside? (I could have made one up but finding The Dutch Café on Queen Street meant I could have something authentic.)

What you would have seen walking down Queen Street and Castle Street? (Old shops on Queen Street, not the modern ones of today, the castle, the tram.)

Could you visit the castle? (No. It wasn’t open to the public then.)

Cardiff Castle in the 1960s, taken by my father.

It’s a good job I enjoy research, isn’t it? 🙂

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Heartbreak in the Valleys: Blog Tour

Francesca shares the dates for the upcoming blog tour for Heartbreak in the Valleys

Only one more sleep and it’ll be publication day for my debut saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys. Despite all the short stories and the three pocket novels I’ve had published, this marks a new chapter in my writing life.

The blog will be a mixture of interviews and reviews. Do pop in if you have time and say hello.

In the meantime, Heartbreak is available for downloads by reviewers and bloggers on:

Net Galley  

Good Reads 

 

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