Thursday, 27 January 2022

The Orphan in the Peacock Shawl by AnneMarie Brear

Chez Maximka, historical fiction

"The very thought gave her palpitations of the heart. A man such as he shouldn't look twice at her. Yet, he had. He had looked more than twice at her when she'd met him by the beck, out walking in the field and then again just now. A man of his standing had no need to concern himself with the likes of her. So, what did it mean?"

"My dreams are as varied as the flowers in our garden. There are times when I never want to leave the cottage and then there are times when I wonder what it would be like to explore the world as you did."

The Orphan in the Peacock Shawl by AnneMarie Brear is a Victorian historical romance set in Yorkshire in 1850. This engaging historical family saga, a tale of love, family secrets and loyalties, is filled with hope and resolve.

Annabelle lives in a secluded little cottage on the outskirts of the village of Hartledale near York, with Widow Wallis who adopted her as a baby. She thinks of her home as a little piece of paradise, as the cottage is bordering the wide pastures, and has a well-cultivated herb garden.

Widow Wallis and her ward grow medicinal herbs in their garden, to sell to the village shops. "Widow Wallis saved many of them [villagers] from death or aided them in sickness, delivered their babies into the world, or healed their injuries with her doctoring ways". Annabelle is slowly learning some of her ways to heal. She understand the medicinal properties of herbs and can do tonics, but she is not involved in the more challenging medical practices like her Ma.

Annabelle is twenty two, and by the standards of the young women in the village she is late to be married. A local shepherd Dickie is trying to court her. He is kind and sweet, has a secure position on the Hartley estate and would make a good husband. Ma encourages her to marry Dickie to secure her future, but Annabelle hesitates. "The thought of being married to Dickie didn't fill her with joy, and it should, for she liked him a lot. He was her best friend... but none of it was enough for her to promise herself to him".

A chance encounter with John Hartley, the wealthy estate owner who is back from his travels abroad, sets her heart aflutter. She is flattered by his attentions, but is also feeling confused. "She understood the class divide between them. She was a girl from the village and he a man born to money and privilege. He'd travelled to different countries and she'd only gone as far as York and Harrogate".

When a tragedy strikes, Annabelle has to rethink her future options. "Ma had been her rock, the rudder to steer her through life. From now on she was alone and the idea was unimaginable". While the villagers had a full respect and trust in Widow Wallis, they don't believe her young ward is able to step into her shoes. Annabelle is on the point of losing her home and livelihood, when the events of one stormy night will change her life forever.

As the storm is raging and the darkness blackens the windows, there's a bang against her front door which makes her jump. A young woman, heavy with child, is on her doorstep. Annabelle recognises the woman. It is Lady Eliza Hartley. Eliza insists on staying in the cottage to give birth, and forbids Annabelle from calling for help. She says that no one must know she is there. She has nowhere to go, and cannot confide in her family. As an unmarried woman, she will bring disgrace on her family if her secret is exposed.

Annabelle has helped Ma with a few births in the previous years, but she is not experienced and has never delivered a baby by herself. "Now, faced with the prospect of being solely accountable for the safe delivery of a Hartley baby, she felt winded. An overwhelming sense of responsibility and alarm frightened her".

The baby girl is born. Her mother leaves the cottage in the early hours, while Annabelle has nodded off in exhaustion. She also leaves her silk peacock shawl and a letter, imploring Annabelle to look after the baby, promising to pay for her care. "I beg you to keep my secret for the sake of my family's reputation and my own. My disgrace should not tarnish my family. If you have any respect for them, I implore you to never reveal my secret. The baby's fate lies in your hands".

Eliza arrives home, heavily heamorrhaging after the birth, and collapses in her room. She will not recover. 

When Annabelle hears the news that Lady Eliza Hartley is dead and her family is trying to trace her last steps, she is terrified that she will be blamed for Eliza's death. And there's a poor innocent baby who might end up in the orphanage, unloved and neglected.

"To give her to an orphanage would condemn the child to a life of servitude and questioning her parentage. She'd be simply an unwanted child in a building fill of other unwanted children. Unloved and only cared for in the most basic terms. Could she subject this tiny little thing to that terrible life? A life she would have suffered if it hadn't been for Ma taking her in".

In fear and despair, Annabelle flees the village for the filthy slums of York. She plans to find a job and raise the baby as her own. Life in the slums is hard and dangerous. Annabelle is not streetwise, and she finds it hard to adjust to living in the smelly, overcrowded, noisy and squalid environment. This is also not the right place to bring up a baby.

John Hartley is determined to find the child of his late sister, searching around for any information. It seems like an impossible task, but he is adamant. He keeps thinking about Annabelle, who has got "under his skin, into his heart and mind". Meeting Annabelle has changed him, he realises that she is totally unsuitable in every way, being not of his class, but she makes him feel alive.

If only he could find both Annabelle and the baby.

Annabelle can't hide forever from the Hartleys, but how can she give up the child she loves?

The Orphan in the Peacock Shawl is a moving and compelling story, with captivating characters and a strong sense of place. Using her extensive historical knowledge and research, the author creates a page-turning historical drama that will tug you on your heart strings.

It celebrates the courage and independence of women, even in the constricted and suffocating Victorian society, their strength and the power of sisterhood. There are wonderful female protagonists. Apart from the main character, there is a wise and caring Widow Wallis, loyal Ginny (Annabelle's friend) and her warm-hearted cousin Nellie who provides Annabelle with a place to live in York and helps with nurturing the baby.

This beautifully written saga made me think it will make a wonderful costume drama on BBC or Netflix.

The Orphan in the Peacock Shawl would appeal to fans of emotionally-charged historical family sagas.

AnneMarie Brear books tell the tales of women who find strength in the most hopeless circumstances. Check out my reviews of the other books by the author - The Tobacconist's Wife and The Promise of Tomorrow.

Purchase Link -

This post is part of the blog tour for The Orphan in the Peacock Shawl.

Many thanks to AnneMarie Brear, NetGalley and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, historical fiction

Author Bio –

AnneMarie Brear is the bestselling historical fiction writer of over twenty novels. She lives in the Southern Highlands in NSW, and has spent many years visiting and working in the UK. Her books are mainly set in Yorkshire, from where her family hails, and Australia, between the nineteenth century and WWI.

historical fiction

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Chez Maximka, historical novel

Chez Maximka, historical fiction

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Blood Games by Liz Mistry (review + #giveaway)


Chez Maximka, psychological thriller

"Time stretched out before her - an interminable flatness, a never-ending darkness, an eternity of nothingness and each day the struggle to continue became harder".

"They were everywhere, spying on everyone. Thing was, nobody knew who they reported to which made it even creepier. All he knew was that if the Eyes reported on you, you could expect some sort of punishment".

Blood Games by Liz Mistry is the fourth book in the Nikki Parekh series. If you enjoy dark police procedurals, with terrifying twists and exploration of the human psychology at its worst, then this book is for you.

I have read two previous books in the series, and believe you would benefit from knowing the backstory of the main protagonist. 

The story begins with the online post about the acid attack. The victim, a young girl, is walking through the town on her own, when her face is splashed with vinegar. That girl will never feel completely safe in her own city, or trust the crowded public spaces. The post brings on a wave of trolling, blaming the victim for going out with a boy of a different cultural background.

At the same time Bradford police are investigating the increasing number of machete attacks involving young people.

There's a report of a body found at the edge of Chellow Dene reservoir. Detective Nikki Parekh and DC Sajid Malik arrive promptly to the crime scene. This is the third murder which has happened in the few weeks. All the murders have different MOs, but all victims are teenagers.

The dead teen looks so much like Nikki's nephew that she loses her control. 

She has always been unpredictable, but recent volatile events made her behaviour irrational. It's been a difficult time for Nikki. Her mother was brutally murdered recently, and Nikki is grieving. On top of the bereavement, her criminal father who has escaped abroad, is taunting her with threatening messages on postcards. "Nobody knew better than Nikki how conniving, brutal and vindictive that man was. There was no certainty that he'd remain at a distance, leaving it at merely taunting her".

"She'd been retreating more and more inside herself for weeks", and her colleagues presumed she'd get over it on her own.

DCI Hegley is sympathetic, but he sees that Nikki is traumatised and is in no state to continue her job. "Nikki was one of the best detectives - hell, her performance was second to none, which was why Archie turned a blind eye to her sometimes less-than-by-the-book methods".

Hegley tells her to take a couple of months off, see a counsellor and try to get herself back to normal.

Nikki's depression is turning into a "venomous, self-destructive canker". Each day is a struggle. Her family is supportive, and Sajid keeps in close contact with her. The tension is palpable, as the suspense ratches up. You feel Nikki's mental anguish, and root for her to get better.

With the help provided by the quirky freelance police psychiarist, Dr Mallory, Nikki begins to pick up the pieces. Mallory is "edgy, unpredictable, and good at her job. Some of her comments were risqué, to say the least, but she got results".

While Nikki is recovering her strength, another crime is committed. A teenager is abducted, and his mother receives a terrifying package through the door. The teen's father, taxi firm owner Ali, appeals to Nikki for help. The young people live in fear of the so called Eyes, who enforce their own sick set of rules.

The pattern of the crime appears to be different yet again. Just who is playing the blood games? 

With four murders and the missing boy, there is a significant lack of progress in the police investigation. 

Will Nikki be able to find her inner strength and return to work? Will she discover the shocking truth before the killer makes another move in their blood games?

Along the police investigation, we see the glimpses of the horrific Honourable Fixer character, who's overseeing the unfolding killing spree and getting rich without getting their hands dirty. The Fixer views their actions like a massive chess game. But they are playing with human lives.

DS Nikki Parekh and her partner DC Sajid Malik are becoming one of my favourite detective teams. "Over the years, Sajid and Nikki had worked on instinct. They understood each other's strengths and weaknesses in the field". And don't even mention DCI Archie Hegley with his proverbials. He's another remarkable character that you care about.

The storyline is complex and multi-layered. Blood Games explores such relevant issues as racism, youth knife crime, fundamentalism and honour-based violence, the influence of social media and the power of the dark net, as well as mental health. 

Blood Games is a heart-stopping police procedural and psychological thriller, that will keep you up till the early hours. Like the other books in the series, it is very dark, raw, intense, and impossible to put down. 

I have read and reviewed two previous books in the series, if you want to catch up, here are the links: Broken Silence and Dark Memories.

This post is part of the blog tour for Blood Games.

Many thanks to Liz Mistry and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, psychological thriller

Purchase Links

Amazon UK -

Amazon US -

Chez Maximka, psychological thriller

Author Bio –

Born in Scotland, Made in Bradford sums up Liz Mistry’s life. Over thirty years ago she moved from a small village in West Lothian to Yorkshire to get her teaching degree. Once here, Liz fell in love with three things; curries, the rich cultural diversity of the city … and her Indian husband (not necessarily in this order). Now thirty years, three children, two cats and a huge extended family later, Liz uses her experiences of living and working in the inner city to flavour her writing. Her gritty crime fiction police procedural novels set in Bradford embrace the city she describes as ‘Warm, Rich and Fearless’ whilst exploring the darkness that lurks beneath.

Being a debut novelist in her fifties was something Liz had only dreamed of and she counts herself lucky, whilst pinching herself regularly to make sure it’s all real. One of the nicest things about being a published author is chatting with and responding to readers’ feedback and Liz regularly does events at local libraries, universities, literature festivals and open mics. She also teaches creative writing too.

In her spare time, Liz loves pub quizzes (although she admits to being rubbish at them), dancing (she does a mean jig to Proud Mary – her opinion, not ratified by her family), visiting the varied Yorkshire landscape, with Robin Hoods Bay being one of her favourite coastal destinations, listening to music, reading and blogging about all things crime fiction on her blog, The Crime Warp. 


Social Media Links –


Twitter @LizMistryAuthor


psychological thriller

If you enjoy gritty thrillers, you have a chance to win the previous book in the Nikki Parekh series, as well as a  selection of relaxation goodies.

Giveaway to Win a signed copy of Dark Memories and a relaxation bundle (Open INT)

The contents are :

A signed copy of Dark Memories (Nikki Parekh book 3)

A Weekly Planner pad

A fruit infuser water bottle

Planet Spa face mask

Avon Footworks

Pomegranate and rhubarb bath salts

A Candle Bag

Chez Maximka, book giveaway


*Terms and Conditions –

Worldwide entries welcome.  

Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  

The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. 

If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. 

Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  

Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. 

This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  

I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Please bear in mind that this giveaway is being run across several book blogs as part of the book promotion.

Chez Maximka is hosting a Rafflecopter gadget for free, and has no access to any data. I am not involved in the selection of the winner or dispatch of the prize.

Good luck!

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Chez Maximka, police procedural thriller

Monday, 24 January 2022

A Plethora of Phantoms by Penny Hampson #BlogTour


Chez Maximka, ghost story

"THUD, thud, THUD, thud...
The uneven footsteps he'd heard the night before. A sense of sadness and desolation seemed to fill the room. With the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end, Freddie slid into a sitting position and fumbled for the bedside light. The footsteps stopped and the feeling of dreadful misery departed.
"Who's there?" Freddie whispered into the darkness, He held his breath and waited.

"I must say, I've found this whole thing fascinating. You certainly seem to have a plethora of phantoms here at Lanyon Park".

A Plethora of Phantoms by Penny Hampson is a haunting tale about the everlasting power of love. It is an engaging mystery with ghostly shenanigans, and a huge dose of romance.

After several years working in the City, Freddie Lanyon, son of an earl, returns to his family home "to learn the ropes of running the estate" and help his father. On the outside, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has it all: a grand stately home of his parents, a privileged upbringing, a loving family, and don't forget his good looks too. However, he is deeply unhappy, being in denial about his sexuality.

"The truth was that, out of fear of the consequences, he'd avoided being honest with everyone, and importantly, himself for years. Why couldn't he be brave?"

He's lacking confidence and believes his parents might not be understanging. As a child, Freddie had a horrible time at school, being bullied by the nasty kids, and has learnt to hide his true feelings from everyone including himself.

Freddie has always being able to see the spirits. Living in the old manor house, he can see and sense the ghosts from the past of Lanyon Park. That's another side of his personality that he hides from his parents. When jokingly mentioning the ghosts in the house, he's met with a dismissive remark from Charles, his father, "Ghosts? What nonsense, no such thing."

Practical Charles even comments, "If there is a ghost, perhaps we can use the fact in our marketing for the open weeks. I don't believe in all that nonsense myself, but there's nothing like a bit of the supernartural to draw the punters in, and we could certainly do with the income".

An antique gentleman's dressing case is Freddie's new prized possession. What Freddie doesn't know is that the dressing case brings along an unhappy spirit attached to it. His latest acquisition triggers a disturbing poltergeist activity. Every night he's awakened by an anguished spirit.

It appears nobody else in the family is bothered by the fretful spirit of the dressing case or the in-house ghosts. It's either that, or they don't want to confess to seeing things.

Meeting an antique dealer Marcus Spender is a momentous event in Freddie's life. Finally there's someone who understands him and who has the same psychic abilities. There is an immediate spark between Freddie and Marcus. 

They decide to investigate the origins of the dressing case, and find out as much as possible about its previous owners. Their search brings them to Cornwall. The manor house where they read the old housekeeping accounts, unsettles Freddie, he finds it really oppressive. He is compelled to uncover the secret of the desolate phantom and the cause of its grief.

Marcus is a bit more sceptical about the whole mystery. He is also trying to persuade Freddie that he needs to be open with his family about his sexuality. 

The quest to find answers about the dressing case turns into a test of their growing relationship.

Will the restless spirit be laid to rest for good? And will Freddie finally come out to his family and friends, and be true to himself?

A Plethora of Phantoms is a charming and enjoyable mystery/ghost story, with a lovely main character, and a gripping and skilfully tangled plotline. There's more than one mystery to solve, and the characters that you really care about.

The story is pacy and engaging, with a supernatural chill. It has a little bit of everything - a modern romance, a doomed past love, dramatic history, unhappy ghosts, and a wonderful setting. There is plenty of tension and suspence as Freddie and Marcus follow the leads to try to untangle the mystery of the grieving phantom.

A couple of years ago I reviewed The Unquiet Spirit, and was pleased to meet some of the characters from that ghost story making their appearance in A Plethora of Phantoms.

Purchase Link  -

This post is part of the blog tour for A Plethora of Phantoms.

Many thanks to Penny Hampson and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, modern ghost story

Author Bio – Some time ago Penny Hampson decided to follow her passion for history by studying with the Open University. She graduated with honours and went on to complete a post-graduate degree.

Penny then landed her dream role, working in an environment where she was surrounded by rare books and historical manuscripts. Flash forward nineteen years, and the opportunity came along to indulge her other main passion – writing. Penny joined the New Writers’ Scheme of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and  three years later published her debut novel, A Gentleman’s Promise, a  historical mystery/romance. Other books in the same genre soon followed.

But never happy in a rut, Penny also writes contemporary suspense with paranormal and romantic elements. Her first book in this genre is The Unquiet Spirit, published by Darkstroke.

Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).

modern ghost story

For more on Penny’s writing, visit her blog:

Twitter: @penny_hampson


Chez Maximka, modern ghost story

Friday, 21 January 2022

At Death's Door (The Shires Mysteries 2) by Anna Legat #BlogTour

Chez Maximka, cosy mystery set in England


"In all honesty, I don't like martinis except for the olive on the toothpick. I probably chose it because it made me feel like James Bond on a secret assignment".

"Not another death in Bishops Well! Our little community was turning into an abattoir."

At Death's Door by Anna Legat is an entertaining and amusing cosy mystery set in the sleepy English village of Bishops Wells. This is the 2nd book in The Shires Mysteries, which reads as a standalone.

As most cosy crime stories, it's packed with amateur detectives, family secrets and skeletons in the closet, the quaint locale, and plenty of eccentric characters.

Maggie Kaye enlists Sam Dee into joining the archaeological dig at the Bishops Well. The dig is in the swamp, and they hope to find the traces of the Bronze Age settlement.

"Maggie was bristling with enthusiasm for the project. She was the driving force behind the draining of the swamp to excavate what was believed to be ancient Celtic village".

When the body is found in the swamp, at first there is a great excitement. But the enthusiasm is soon dampened. "That corpse hasn't been buried here since the Bronze Age, no way. This grave dates back to the mid-twentieth century at the most. It can't have been here much longer than fifty years." The dig becomes a crime scene.

Maggie, with her psychic abilities and flair for drama, embarks on a spot of sleuthing.

Maggie runs to her parents for any possible information, as her Dad is an ex-bobby. "Dad was a walking Filofax of all noteworthy events that had occurred in the town and surrounding villages" prior to his retirement.

She's intent on digging out the secrets of the Bishops residents, confident that some of them must know things about the body discovered in the swamp.

Maggie's sidekick Sam is a relatively recent addition to the village. He moved here after the death of his wife Alice. "He had found new passions here, new pursuits, new friends and neighbours - one of whom admittedly was slightly eccentric, though he wouldn't swap her for anyone else in the world".

As Maggie and her sidekick begin to unravel the mystery of the body in the swamp, there is a new shock in store for our quirky sleuth. A face from the past appears in the village, and it opens a Pandora's box of dramatic events.

The danger is literally at Maggie's door. Can she discover the truth before it's too late?

 At Death's Door is a cosy mystery with diverting characters and an enjoyable storyline, just right for curling up with, wrapped in a duvet, with a cup of tea on the side table.

The characters are delightfully outlandish. I'm not sure if Maggie is supposed to be endearingly eccentric, but she's awfully annoying. Imagine a person who talks non-stop, keeps interrupting you, always has to have the last word, meddles into everyone's affairs thinking it's their birth right, and on top of that, has a serious drinking problem. In real life you'd try to avoid anyone like that. 

In her 50s, she behaves like a teen drama queen. Both Maggie and the other person (who I won't name so as not to reveal the spoilers) thrive on drama and are "incorrigibly reckless" and unhinged. 

She ponders, "What sort of life did I have?... I lived in the depths of the Shires, communing with ghosts, digging up old pots, deadheading roses, eating cake and drinking copious amounts of tea, plus an occasional alcoholic beverage... On that note, I knocked down a double brandy and took myself to bed".

Sam, who appears to be a sensible soul, walks around Maggie like a sad puppy. It's not quite clear why he is besotted with the crazy neighbour. He seems to be the type who goes through life, being dominated by the others, his mother, wife (whose spirit still watches him), the neighbour.

And why is it so difficult for several characters in the book to understand what witness protection is supposed to be. You don't just blabber to the first met person what you know. That's not simply idiotic, but plain dangerous, compromising personal safety. 

I enjoyed the gentle humour of the book, it might not be a laugh-out-loud type of hilarity, but a good chuckle nevertheless. The scene of the birdwatching , for example, made me smile, even my younger son asked me why I was smiling. Poor Sam's been persuaded to go birdwatching, when it's not his cup of tea at all.

"As hard as he tried, Samuel Dee would never become a country squire. It wasn't in his genetic makeup to revel in mud, rain and draughty barns. As he squatted, squashed like a sardine next to James, he escaped fondly into the memories of his favourite pastimes: West End theatre, Covent Garden restaurants, and infrequent recreational walks in St James's Park... He [James] was talking about the great bustard. Sam prayed to God that the bastard bustard would hurry up. "Patience is the name of this game," James added. Sam smiled faintly. He didn't want to play this game". I could so relate to that.

At Death's Door is a good old-fashioned British mystery, which will appeal to the fans of M C Beaton's Agatha Raisin series, Carola Dunn's Cornish mysteries or Cornwall Mysteries series by Janie Bolitho.

This post is part of the blog tour for At Death's Door.

Many thanks to Anna Legat and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, Englishcosy mystery

Purchase Links

At Death's Door: The Shires Mysteries 2: A twisty and gripping cosy mystery eBook : Legat, Anna: Kindle Store

At Death's Door: The Shires Mysteries 2 by Anna Legat | Waterstones

At Death's Door: The Shires Mysteries 2 eBook by Anna Legat - 9781786159915 | Rakuten Kobo United Kingdom

At Death's Door: The Shires Mysteries 2 : A twisty and gripping cosy mystery: Anna Legat: 9781786159946:

cosy mystery set in England

Author Bio –

Anna Legat is a Wiltshire-based author, best known for her DI Gillian Marsh murder mystery series. Murder isn't the only thing on her mind. She dabbles in a wide variety of genres, ranging from dark humorous comedy, through magic realism to dystopian. A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She has lived in far-flung places all over the world where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. Anna writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Subscribe to Anna's News, Rumours and Scandalous Revelations at

cosy mystery set in England

Social Media Links –

To find out more:

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Chez Maximka, cosy mystery set in England

Thursday, 20 January 2022

Hope in the Valleys by Francesca Capaldi #BlogTour

Chez Maximka, novel set during WWI in Wales

"I wouldn't be so sure, Mama. I think the war might be the catalyst by which things change forever for women. From next year, some of us will be able to vote". 

Hope in the Valleys by Francesca Capaldi is a romantic saga set during the WWI.

This is the third book in the series. It does read as a standalone, however, you might have an advantage if you've followed the story from the first book. It took me a while to understand who is who, and what their relationship to each other is. There is a lot of characters, and it was a bit confusing to start with.

The story is set in a mining village of Dorcalon in the Rhymney Valley. It begins in August 1917, when WWI is taking its heavy toll. Every day brings more tragic news of sons and fathers killed on the battlefields on the continent. 

Elizabeth Meredith, daughter of mine manager Herbert, lives with her parents, and enjoys a privileged status in the village. Yet her life is not as free as she would like to. There are certain social standards and expectations she feels obliged to adhere to, there is a pressure from both the society and her parents, that she has to marry.

Elizabeth is 27, and her mother Margaret is desperate to see her married. She blames her daughter, and insists that she should make herself more attractive and interesting to catch a husband. "Don't raise your eyes like that, madam! Twenty-seven you are now. Soon no man will look twice at you."

To help with the war effort, Elizabeth is working on the village allotments, growing produce for the locals. Working outdoors gives her a chance to escape the tense atmosphere at home. Things have not been going well between her parents, and with her brother Tom at the front, her mother is constantly worried.

Margaret is not thrilled that Elizabeth is involved in the allotments' business. For her this job is below their social status. She has adopted a pseudo-English accent, enjoys being the lady of the big house and taking part in the activities of the Dorcalon Social Committee. She has dedicated her life to going up in the world and creating a perfect family.

Snobbish Margaret resents the fact that her daughter is mingling with those who she thinks are lower her in status.

Gwilym Owen is a miner, and a fellow organiser of the allotments. Growing vegetables at the cooperative for a year and a half has brought them together. Gwyilym is well-read, speaks clearly and puts his points over well, so it doesn't come  as a surpise when he's chosen to be the union rep.

The constraints of the class system are such, that he doesn't feel comfortable to be near the manager's daughter. He is not sure whether Elizabeth is a spy for her father, or whether she is one of those middle-class socialists.

There is a certain chemistry between the two, but both are afraid of breaking the norm. As Gwilym tells Elizabeth when she suggests they go to the movies together, "It's a bit of an awkward situation, me being the union representative and you the manager's daughter".

Elizabeth is not looking for romance, but she can't help falling in love with Gwilym. Their relationship is a secret from both families, yet it brings her so much joy. If only there were future for them...

When their romance is discovered, Elizabeth is forced to choose between the man she loves and her family who find this relationship unacceptable. To escape the pressure, she signs up as a VAD nurse and is soon sent to the frontline in France to help the troops. She is heartbroken, but sees no other way out. In a letter to Gwilym she confesses that the stress of leading a double life was tearing her apart. "We would both have ended up without the support of our families, and maybe you would have grown to resent me".

Elizabeth is a warm-hearted and compassionate young woman. Both her brother Tom and she are stuck between two worlds.

Separated by the perils of the Great War and the constraints of the society, is there a chance for Elizabeth and Gwilym to be reunited?

Hope in the Valleys offers a multi-layered storyline, with several minor sub-plots organically woven into the main romance plot. You are immersed into the rigid society, where the social circles do not merge, and there's social snobbery and distrust on both sides.

The mining community is re-awakening, and you get the sense of the changes the war has caused.

The war has brought many changes in the social strata of the society. While men are fighting abroad, women take on their jobs. In the village we see women going off to work at the munitions factory. 

 Parallel to Elizabeth's tale, there is Gwen's storyline. Working in the munitions factory, she gets good wages, but the work is dangerous, and her health deteriorates. The TNT turns her skin yellow, she becomes one of the so called Canary Girls. The side effects are more than purely cosmetic, but life-threatening. Yet there is a pride in what Gwen is doing, contributing to the war effort and also bringing home good wages. She is aware that the situation is likely to come to an end, once the war is over.

The inclusion of Welsh words in the text gives a cultural flavour but also presents a mild problem for readers who are not acquainted with the language. I had an e-copy, and don't know if the paperback edition is published differently, but I would have liked footnotes with the translation of the Welsh words when they first appear in the story. 

Hope in the Valleys is an engaging, moving and heart-warming story. This uplifting saga, set against an emotionally charged backdrop, is brimming over with the in-depth period detail. There is a dramatic historic background, warm main characters, and a compelling plot.

Chez Maximka, novel set during WWI in Wales

Purchase Links




This post is part of the blog tour for Hope in the Valleys.

Many thanks to Francesca Capaldi and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, book set in Wales during WWI

Author Bio – Francesca has enjoyed writing since she was a child, largely influenced by a Welsh mother who was good at improvised story telling. A history graduate and qualified teacher, she decided to turn her writing hobby into a career in 2006. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Each month she writes a competition post for the Romantic Novelists' Association blog.

book set during WWI

Monday, 17 January 2022

Photo diary: week 2, project 365

 I don't know about the Blue Monday, it was a whole Blue week. Sasha's tutor called me last Monday to inform that as they have staff shortages, his college day on Wednesday was to be cancelled, which totally messed up all our plans. 

Sash's not good at adapting to any changes in his routine. Holidays are not easy but at least we can prepare in advance, telling him that they are coming, how long they would last, when he is going back to school/college etc. When things happen so abruptly and he has had no time to absorb the information and adjust accordingly, he gets anxious.

With my husband being away that week, Sash staying at home full-time, it was as stressful as you get. I baked and did some sketches to keep me sane. 

Taking part in the #penandinkchallenges has given me another opportunity to open my numerous art books. The last week was all about great artists, where you had to pick a favourite quote by the artist and do some doodle or sketch with it.

I love Matisse's nudes, and have a beautiful edition of Leonard Cohen's Dance me to the end of love, with illustrations from Matisse's artwork. This is one of my favourite songs. I always tell my guys that I want it to be played at my funeral. It brings back all the memories of when we were young and in love.

Chez Maximka, Galina Varese art

Another of the sketches with a quote - this time from Picasso. I have opted for a neutral quote. Some of the things he said were awfully misogynistic. For example, he said, There are only two types of women: goddesses and doormats. That's just wrong on so many levels.
He was also known for treating his women appallingly.

Olga Khokhlova was the Russian ballet dancer and the first wife of Picasso. She was his early muse, and there are many beautiful drawings of Olga by Picasso. He betrayed her, living a double life, and she was later portrayed as a neurotic, depressive and jealous wife who was dragging on the great artist.
But she was a major influence, being his main model and muse through his classical period.

Chez Maximka, Galina Varese art

The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell is one of the few books I read this year. I started reading it on the new year's eve. It is a tense and unsettling murder mystery, with Gothic undertones, and supernatural elements.

Chez Maximka

Erm, that's the stash of books I bought recently. I had to take a photo to remind myself that my book-buying habits are getting out of hand. And that's only the paperbacks. I don't even dare mentioning how many Kindle books I got recently.

Chez Maximka

A very stressful day. Sash was unsettled. I decided to bake some biscuits, as he likes to watch me cooking. Rather than make something sweet, I baked savoury snacks - chunky cheese straws. They were very tasty.

I was reading Bjorn Larssen's Creation, it's a retelling of the Norse myths. Bjorn has a wicked sense of humour. We follow each other on Twitter, and I love his style, so witty and imaginative. I am also a big fan of his books.

Chez Maximka, Bjorn Larssen

A quick stroll through the garden. One of the flower pots has overgrown with moss. I really need to get rid of it, but it looks so pretty, especially with the rain drops, like an alien landscape.

Chez Maximka

The water in the bucket has frozen over, forming a round lid. When I picked it up, it broke in two. I walked around the garden, looking through my "magic glass".

Chez Maximka, nature photography

My first book subscription box from LoveMyRead has arrived. Unlike many book subscription services offers, you don't get a mystery book - which would not work for me, as I buy lots of books, and the chances are they would send me something I already have. At LoveMyRead you select a book for yourself. You also get some treats.

I'll give it a go for another month, and then decide whether to continue. To be fair, their choices for the next month are very good, it was hard to pick one book. There were at least three I would love to read.

Chez Maximka

I had five deliveries last Friday, some for reviewing, some treats that I have ordered. We love the cream tea, especially Cornish, but this time I wanted to try a cream tea from Devon Hampers Ltd. I had a discount code, and we needed a treat, it being such a tense and taxing week.

The scones are huge and rather crumbly, not easy to spread the clotted cream onto them. Strawberry jam tastes lovely, but is a bit too dense, almost like a jelly. I prefer softer jams. I have squirrelled the fudge and shortbread for laters, or my horde would demolish them in one go.

Have you tried a cream tea delivery? What would you recommend?

This Saturday we said Good bye to our Christmas tree. I kept it until the Russian old new year's eve (something to do with the difference in the Julian and Gregorian calendars). According to the old calendar, the new year starts on the 14th, and many Russians still celebrate it. 

It was a bit sad, but as Eddie said, it's now less than a year to put it up again.

How was your week?

Chez Maximka

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Tuesday, 11 January 2022

The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell

Chez Maximka, horror manor, crime mystery


"I didn't know what dread was until we moved into Blackhall Manor... the tall brick building looming ahead. It came with a history fit for any ghost story. None of my friends visited. Neither would I, given a choice. In Blackhall Manor, it was Halloween all year long".

"This had to be a nightmare. It couldn't be real. But this wasn't a nightmare I woke up from. It was a nightmare I woke up to".

"They had only just arrived but already, she felt a creeping sense of being watched. She looked beyond the cobwebs and the creaking floorboards. Shadows from the past were coming to life".

The Midnight Man by Caroline Mitchell is a tense and deeply unsettling murder mystery, with some horror, and supernatural/paranormal elements.

This was one of my Amazon Prime Reading downloads. I finished reading my last book of the year on the 31st, and fancied reading something hair-raising to while away the last hours before midnight. What better than a gripping thriller?! 

The story starts with a bang (or a series of bangs), as the mysterious killer murders the whole family in a creepy old manor house on the outskirts of a small town of Slayton. He moves from room to room, dispatching one member of the family after another. The fourteen year old daughter of the family is hidden in the wardrobe, and we're waiting with trepidation whether the killer will find her. 

Then the story jumps to the present, twenty five years later. The abandoned manor house is still standing, uninhabited and hiding its gruseome secrets.

On Halloween night five teenagers decide to play a dangerous game called The Midnight Man. They sneak out of their homes into the night and enter the darkness of the Blackhall manor. They follow the rules of the game, by inviting the dangerous Midnight Man in.

"If you open your door to the Midnight Man, hide with a candle wherever you can. Try not to scream as he draws near, because one of you won't be leaving here".

The Gothic atmosphere of the creepy house will give you shivers. You just know the game is not going to end well, and you want to scream at the silly girls, Get out of here, NOW! 

One of the girls goes missing, the remaining four are terrified out of their wits. They are scared the Mignight Man will come after them, if they confess to parents where they spent the night.

Detective Sarah Nolan, the main protagonist, has her own ties to the house. She's just back at the police department after taking a leave of absence for mental health issues. Her return to the job is not a happy one. The colleagues either openly snigger and gossip about her, or blame her for staying away and leaving them short-staffed. Her new duties are very restricted. "She was lucky to have her job. But was it a job she was strong enough to return to?"

Sarah doesn't seem to be able to stand up to the bullying. She is trying hard to get her life back on track, but she is still not entirely recovered from her nervous breakdown, and finds the pressure from her colleagues unrelenting.

While helping with the investigation, she meets her old friend Maggie and her seven-year-old son Elliott.

Young Elliott has psychic abilities, he is frequently tormented by nightmares which predict the future or describe the present. "He wished he could talk to someone about his nightmares. He wasn't just a watcher. The smells, sounds, and feelings swallowed him up and followed into his days".

Elliott is a sensitive child, who deeply cares about his mother and doesn't want to burden her, disclosing the full extent of his dreadful visions. He tries to stay awake so as not see the Midnight Man in his nightmares, but it never works.

Sarah and Maggie have grown apart, but the recent tragic events bring them together. She takes the young child's visions seriously. "Elliott, with those eyes so dark and deep they spoke more than words could ever convey".

During one of her job tasks Sarah visits a disabled lady who lives with her son. Elsie is morbidly obese and can hardly get out of bed. Her son is her carer. Elsie is another blast from the past in Sarah's life. Her old friends... "they had all grown up here and all suffered in one way or another. What was it about Slayton that drew them all together, battle-scarred misfits of life?"

Thread by thread, the past binds the old friends tighter. Sarah has to dig deeper into her own childhood and darkest memories to find the killer. The past seems to cling on, never letting you go.

Is Sarah ready to meet the Midnight Man?

The Midnight Man is a tense, fast-paced thriller, a mix of police procedural and character examination. It hooks you in the first chapter, and draws you into the intertwined lives of the characters.

The plotline has lots of twists and turns, throwing the red herrings your way.

The ending left me rather underwhelmed, as there were no prior clues of the real identity of the killer, and their motivation was hard to believe. 

The setting felt strangely American, with the gated community and references to the sheriff, yet there was a Tesco and fish and chips. I had to double-check whether the author is American or British. 

The police procedural element also left me asking how realistic the expectations of Sarah's colleagues were. Wouldn's Sarah's position being filled on a temporary basis? And would you really blame your colleague who has mental health problems for taking a leave? 

The Midnight Man is actually two mysteries in one, both creepy and spine-chilling. If you enjoy crime stories with a supernatural element, don't miss it (If you are on Amazon Prime, you can download this book for free on PrimeReading).

This is the first book in the series, and I cannot wait for the next instalment of the Slayton horrors. 

Chez Maximka, psychological thriller