Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Summer Degustabox

The summer seems to be whizzing past. It feels like only yesterday we were busy home-schooling and dreaming of holidays. Well, holidays are here, and we have been quite lucky with the weather.

Summer is the theme of the latest Degustabox.
Degustabox is a monthly food and drink subscription box. It's an excellent way of discovering new products which have only just appeared in the shops, or those which have been around for a while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.
Each time the monthly box arrives, its contents are a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.

If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet, and would like to have a go, I have a £3 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time), just use code DKRLN when placing an order.

What did we find in Summer (July) Degustabox?

Chez Maximka, food subscription box

Bebeto Party Mix Tub (£2) is a selection of mixed gummies. They are fizzy coated and chewy, and would appeal to the fans of Tangfastics.
I've only managed one gummy, as it's super tangy, but my guys enjoy the combination of super sour and sweet.
Available at Morrisons, selected Spar stores & Bestways.

Chez Maximka, sweet and sour gummies

Premier Protein Chocolate Brownie flavoured protein bar (£1.49) is a snack with a promise of a feel-good energy, to help you achieve your health and wellbeing goals.
Premier Protein bars are packed with 20g of protein and only 1.3g of sugar. Great post-workout, as an on-the-go snack.
Available in three flavours: Chocolate Brownie, White Chocolate Vanilla and Chocolate Peanut Butter.
Available at Ocado and WHSmith Travel.

Chez Maximka

Natvia Natural Sweetener (£5) is made from 100% naturally sourced GMO-free ingredients.
Created from a unique blend of stevia, Natvia tastes sweet with no aftertaste.
Crafted for baking and cooking, it is also a great companion to coffee and tea.
Visit for great recipe ideas.
Available at Tesco, Ocado, Tree of Life and Health Food Store.

Chez Maximka

Minor Figures Nitro Cold Brew (£1.95) is a dairy-free brew with no added sugar. Minor Figures source the best in-season tea and coffee. Their slow brew process captures the purity and depth of every ingredient.
When opned, nitrogen is released to create silky microfoam.
They are ready to drink but best served chilled.
You should receive 1 item in your box.
Available at Wholefoods, Planet Organic, Sourced Market, As Nature Intended, Ocado, WHSmith Travel, Holland & Barratt and nationwide independents.

We received a Minor Figures Nitro Cold Brew Mocha, an iced coffee made with oat milk, cocoa and sweetener. Oat milk has quite a distinct aftertaste, not unpleasant, just different. 

Chez Maximka

Wunda Milk Alternative (£1.99) is another dairy-free product in the latest Degustabox. This dairy-free milk alternative is high in protein and calcium, low in sugar and fat, fortified with vitamins A, D, B2 and B12. You can use it in exactly the same way you use milk.
It's log-life, vegan plant-based drink. Ingredients include pea protein, inulin, sunflower oil, etc
It's not available in the shops yet, as the product is launching in 2021.

vegan plant-based milk alternative, Chez Maximka

Nesquik All Natural Milkshake Powder (£1.89) is made with just 5 natural ingredients including natural raw cane sugar. Nesquik All Natural contains no artificial flavourings or sweeteners, but still has the chocolatey taste children love. 
The paper packaging is fully recyclable and plastic-free.
Available at Tesco and Sainsbury's.

Chez Maximka

ManiLife Peanut Butter (60p) is made from the finest high-oleic peanuts sourced from a single estate farm in Argentina, roasted by experts and blended in small batches to create an explosion of taste.
Available nationwide in Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Ocado and at
You should receive two different mini tubs.

A selection of Skinny Sauce sachets was a free gift. You should receive a surprise bag with 4 different items. Add a flavour to any meal without extra calories or sugar. These are zero sugar, low calorie syrups and virtually zero calorie sauces. There are over 70 flavours to choose from.
As you can see above, we got 3 savoury and 1 sweet flavour sachets.

I used Skinny Syrup White chocolate to make a batch of Yogurt oat cookies with saffron icing.

Chez Maximka

I was most excited about Golden Creek maple syrup (£2.49). It's a blend of pure, dark Canadian maple syrup and liquid sugar. I love maple syrup poured over porridge and pancakes.
Available at Ocado and Home Bargains.

Chez Maximka, less expensive maple syrup

Pravha Lighter Tasting Pilsner (£2) - discover Pravha, from the legendary brewers of Staropramen. Pravha has the bold, iconic flavour of a high quality Czech Pilsner, and is unexpectedly crisp, light tasting and refreshing.
Available in all major supermarket chains.
If you're not a fan of Pilsner, may I suggest adding it to the pancake batter for the best savoury pancakes.

Chez Maximka, Czech Pilsner

And finally, Plant Pops (£1.50) or Popped Lotus Seeds. This a new snack made with sustainably harvested lotus seeds, popped and roasted before being tumbled with ground peanuts for a subtle peanutty taste. 
They are sweet and salty, and give you a satisfying crunch. It's a lovely snack.
A suggestion which we haven't tried yet is to drizzle them with melted chocolate.
Available on Amazon,, TheVeganKind Supermarket, Harvey Nichols, Londis and Budgens.

Chez Maximka, vegan snacks

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Photo diary: week 31, project 366

It was such an uneventful week, and I think my mojo has deserted me altogether, I truly struggled with taking photos.
I just want to breathe some sea air, and feel the sand under my feet, not do the same things every week. Some people thrive on a routine, I find the sameness rather dispiriting.

On the plus side, I finished reading two good books - The Hopkins Conundrum by Simon Edge, which I bought a while ago, and The Surplus Girls by Polly Heron, sent to me by the author herself for reviewing.

On Sunday I baked an apple yogurt cake. And that was all the excitement for the day.

Chez Maximka, apple glut

We're going to have a glut of apples again this autumn. These apples are late-ripening, and will need to be picked by late September - early October. They keep well in the cold, the skin acquires a slightly waxy feel about them, and the taste becomes sweeter. Sometimes I still have apples left in early spring.

English garden in July, Chez Maximka

Finally the first cherry tomatoes started to ripen. I saw a discussion on Mumsnet earlier this week about the green tomatoes, and nodded in agreement. Lots of tomatoes on the vines, but nothing ripe yet. The taste of the tomato picked fresh from the vine, still warm from the summer sun, is incomparable. I also love the smell of tomatoes, and could easily wear it as a perfume, if there was a tomato perfume.

Chez Maximka, what to grow in the greenhouse

The last day of July was a scorcher. I don't do hot weather. My brain goes in the meltdown mode. I had to go into town, and nearly fainted. It was like walking through a warm milk.

And a three-photos' lot from today. We accompanied Sash and his father to the Café Nero, and I asked Eddie to stop to take some photos of the clouds, and my sarcastic child uttered: "That could take a while".
I just thought this cloud looks like a snake.

Chez Maximka, Witney

We popped in the book shop to see if we could find The Unadoptables but they didn't have a single copy. I have plenty to read, but always like to check out the books of the month at Waterstones.

Chez Maximka, Lacoste shirt for kids

Thankfully, today wasn't as hot as the day before, and I'm feeling more human.

Chez Maximka

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Friday, 31 July 2020

Summer at my Sister's by Emily Harvale

summer reads

Summer at my Sister’s

Twin sisters. One scorching summer.

A bucketful of secrets.

Diana’s life is perfect. Her twin sister, Josie’s – not so much. 

Diana has a rich and successful husband, two talented youngsters and an adorable dog. She always looks as if she’s stepped from the cover of a magazine. Her immaculate second home by the sea, for idyllic summers with her perfect family, was actually featured in one.

Josie has a messy, compact flat, dates, but not relationships, and she can’t even keep a houseplant alive. She moves from job to job, goes clubbing with her friends and often looks as if she’s fallen through a hedge.

Although Josie loves Diana deeply, each year she declines the invitation to spend the summer with her sister. Or any other family holiday. Because Josie has a secret.

But is Diana’s life so perfect? Or is she also hiding something? When secrets are revealed this summer, everything will change. Josie could finally have the life she’s always wanted … if she’s brave enough to take a chance.

Purchase Link -

summer reads, chick lit 2020

An exciting update from Emily Harvale:

"I apologise if you haven’t seen me on social media very much recently but I've been exceptionally busy working on lots of exciting stuff (technical term) 😂🤩 for my new book, my website ... and a map for my new series of standalone stories set in the tiny village of Seahorse Harbour.

The map will 'go live' on July 31st, publication day for the first in the series, which is ... yep, you guessed it, Summer at my sister's.

summer reads

Let me explain a bit more.

Summer at my sister's was originally a standalone, but then I had an idea for a Christmas book, so it became a two-book series, with Book 2 featuring a couple of new characters and most of the characters from Summer at my sister's (with me so far?) ......

Then .... I had an idea for another completely separate story set in the same village (which I'm writing at the mo.) This one has new characters.

So now, each story in this series will be a standalone with new characters ... but as each book is set in Seahorse Harbour, you'll be able to 'see' what's going on with the characters from the previous books, because you can't help but bump into people in a tiny village, can you?

I have to say, I LOVE THIS SERIES!!!!😍🤩💖🥰 I've got so many story ideas, although I've only written 2 of the books so far, Summer at my sister's and the Christmas book, which is called .....

Wait for it......(no, that's not the title)

Christmas at Aunt Elsie's

This Christmas book will be available for pre-order from early August. 💖🤩🥰😍

Did I mention that I love this series? And yes - I'm just a little bit over-excited. I can't wait to share these fabulously feel-good stories with you. I hope you're a little bit excited too. 🤩💖 xxx"

Author Bio –

Emily writes novels, novellas and short stories about friendship, family and falling in love. She loves a happy ending but knows that life doesn't always go to plan. Her stories are sure to bring a smile to your face and a warmth to your heart.

Emily loves to connect with her readers and has a readers' group in which many have become good friends. To catch up with Emily, find out about the group, or connect with her on social media, go to her website at

chick lit authors

Having lived and worked in London for several years, Emily returned to her home town of Hastings where she now writes full-time. She’s a member of the SoA, an Amazon bestseller and a Kindle All Star. When not writing, she can be found enjoying the stunning East Sussex coast and countryside, or in a wine bar with friends, discussing life, love and the latest TV shows. Chocolate cake is often eaten. She dislikes housework almost as much as she dislikes anchovies - and will do anything to avoid both. Emily has two mischievous rescue cats that like to sprawl across her keyboard, regardless of whether Emily is typing on it, or not.

Social Media Links –

This book sounds like a perfect summer read, and if you fancy to read an extract, the author has shared a little extract from Summer at my Sister's. Enjoy!

This is from Chapter One and is part of a video call that Josie Parnell is having with her twin sister, Diana Dunn. Their mum has told Josie to go and visit Diana because, “something isn’t quite right”, so Josie is calling Diana in the hope of finding out what could possibly be wrong in her sister’s perfect life.
When she sees Diana’s face and hears that Diana’s husband, Alex isn’t driving the family down to Seahorse Harbour and won’t be joining them there for a while because he’s, “too busy”, Josie realises their mum was right. Perhaps Diana’s perfect life isn’t quite so perfect at the moment.
I hope you enjoy reading this.

‘Are you okay, Di?’ I asked, peering at her face. ‘I mean, are you ill? You said you haven’t been feeling well lately. Is it something to worry about?’
‘No, no.’ She shook her head. Almost violently. ‘It’s nothing like that. Honestly. I’d tell you if it was. I think I’m just … a little out of sorts. A bit run down maybe. Nothing a sea breeze won’t cure.’
‘Cocktails always make me feel better so I’m with you on that.’
Now she did laugh. ‘I meant the sea air, not the drink. You know I don’t drink … anymore.’
‘And I don’t drink any less.’ I sniggered. I love those old jokes. ‘So it’s just you and the kids then?’
She looked anxious. ‘Me and the kids?’
‘Going to Seahorse Harbour.’ This conversation was definitely weird.
‘Oh yes. For now. And Henry of course.’
‘Ah yes. Henry. Who could forget that lovable hound?’
‘You could. Obviously.’
‘Yeah well. Dogs aren’t my thing. You know I don’t do well with living beings. With living anything, really. Which reminds me. I’m really sorry but that gorgeous plant you bought me a few weeks ago seems to have … er … decided it didn’t like living in the City.’
‘Josie, no!’ She shook her head and laughed, although it wasn’t a particularly happy sound. ‘Please don’t tell me you’ve killed it already.’
‘Okay. I won’t tell you that.’
‘But you have?’
‘I think it took its own life. I didn’t do anything, honestly.’
‘But you watered it, didn’t you?’
‘Er. I think I did. Once or twice. Possibly not. I meant to.’
She sighed and shook her head again. ‘Oh, Josie. What am I going to do with you?’
Don’t ask me why I said it. I had no intention of doing so. None whatsoever. But I did.
‘You could ask me to come and stay with you for the summer. Or at least until Alex is free to come and join you.’
She blinked a few times and stared at the screen, her perfectly arched and shaped brows raised skywards.
‘In Seahorse Harbour?’
‘No. Mars. Of course in Seahorse Harbour. That’s where you’re spending the summer, isn’t it?’
‘It’s where we spend every summer,’ she said, somewhat wistfully I thought.
I gave a little cough and she smiled wanly.
‘Do I have to ask twice?’
‘What? Are you serious? Are … are you actually asking if you can come and stay? You never come and stay with us.’
‘Well, I’d rather stay with that sexy hunk who now owns The Seahorse Inn but as I don’t know him, I’ll have to stay with you until he asks me. What did you say his name was again?’
‘Mikkel. Mikkel Meloy.’ She lowered her gaze.
‘I still think that sounds more Irish than it does Norwegian. But he does look like a Viking and he could ravage me anytime he likes.’
‘You’ve only seen him once, Josie and that was via my webcam at Easter.’
‘Okay. Don’t get snippy. You sounded just like mum.’ I laughed. ‘You only have to see a man like that once for him to make an impression. Is he still single?’
She looked away into the distance. ‘As far as I know he is.’
‘Hi, Josie!’ My niece Becca appeared in the background, waving frantically. ‘You two talking about Mikkel? He’s sooooo gorgeous. Everyone’s in love with him you know. Even though he’s old.
‘Hey you! He’s only a couple of years older than me and your mum, you cheeky minx.’
Becca giggled. ‘Yeah. Old. But not as old as Orla’s dad. He used to be the heartthrob in Seahorse Harbour until Mikkel moved there. He’s still hot, although Orla hates it when I say her dad is sexy – but he is. Not quite as hot as Mikkel though. Orla’s crushing on him too. We’ve been reading Georgette Heyer books. One of the women in Mum’s book club loves them. Most of the heroines marry guys much older, so we’re sort of getting into the whole, older men thing, even though it still seems a bit gross. They’re sexy to look at sometimes but to have actual sex with them.’ She shivered dramatically. ‘Makes me want to heave just a bit.’
‘You’re not having sex with anyone, young lady. You’re only fifteen.’ I tried to sound stern but I think I failed because I was laughing.
I tried to picture Liam’s face. That’s Orla’s dad. He’d love to know that the thought of having sex with him made someone want to heave. Personally, when I was younger, I quite liked the thought of having sex with Liam Fulbright. Mainly because he was such a nerd, especially with his huge glasses, and I wondered if, like a super hero, he had a far, far sexier alter ego. I definitely got the impression there was something bubbling just beneath his lightly tanned skin and that long, lean body. But I hadn’t seen Liam for years. The last time I saw him was when he was nineteen. He was getting married to Una Cole – the most beautiful girl in the world.


Happy publication  day, Emily Harvale!

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Yogurt oat cookies with saffron icing

Chez Maximka, easy recipe for oat cookies, what to do with saffron

The thing about home-baked cookies, it's hard to stop at one. Especially if you have a cup of tea and are enjoying a good book. I've just finished The Hopkins Conundrum by Simon Edge the other day (which I absolutely loved), and having looked at the big stash of paperbacks on my working table, decided to start The Surplus Girls by Polly Heron. A new book and freshly baked cookies is a lovely combination.
I often bake different variations on the plain oat cookies recipe. Having rummaged around the kitchen, I assembled a small pot of Greek style yogurt, a couple of sachets of oats, a small phial of saffron strands as well as the usual flour, oil, egg etc.

There were several mini-sachets from Skinny Food Co in the latest Degustabox delivery. One 10ml sachet of white chocolate syrup (flavour syrup with sweetener and zero calories) was neither here nor there, but as a flavouring for cookies it works well. As an ingredient in this recipe it is optional, you can add a little bit of grated/chopped white chocolate, or skip altogether.

Chez Maximka, what to do with saffron

Yogurt oat cookies with saffron icing (makes 15 cookies)
100g demerara sugar
50g Greek style yogurt
50ml vegetable oil
1 medium egg
60g oats (2 sachets of porridge oats)
200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of saffron
icing sugar, enough to make the icing

Cream together the sugar with yogurt and vegetable oil, beat in the egg, add the oats, sift in the flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Mix until well-combined.
Dust hands in flour, so that the dough doesn't stick. Pinch a big walnut-sized piece of cookie dough and roll into a ball, then flatten and place on a tray lined with parchment paper, foil, or on a silicone baking sheet. Place the tray in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 15 minutes until slightly golden.
If you keep cookies until browned, they will be crispy. We like cookies with a softer centre.

Take the tray out, and put the cookies on the cooling rack.

Chez Maximka, easy oat cookies

In the meantime make some saffron icing.
Take a pinch of saffron strands and add freshly boiled water. Leave to steep for a minimum of five minutes. The longer you leave the saffron in the water, the more intense the colour you will get.

Chez Maximka, what to do with saffron

In a small mixing bowl or cup, add saffron water to the icing sugar (make sure that the strands don't get in). Mix until you have a smooth icing. Spread it over the cookies and leave to set.

Chez Maximka, what to bake with saffron

Eat with tea or coffee, or with a glass of cold milk.

Saffron gives not only the colour, but a special flavour to the cookies. You can use a food colouring of your choice, if you don't have saffron. Ground turmeric mixed into the icing could also add a golden colour, but it has an acquired taste, and my guys are not big fans.

Chez Maximka, easy oat cookies

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Apple yogurt cake

Chez Maximka, easy bake with yogurt

My funny guy Sash loves watching cooking shows on YouTube, especially the cake-decorating videos. There is one particularly annoying creative lady who loves adding chocolate ganache to everything. And tons of frosting. Her cakes might look pretty, but the amount of sugar is staggering. Anyway, as long as it keeps my child happy, he  can watch any cake videos to his heart's content.
I prefer to bake easy cakes, with a minimal amount of frosting, or none at all.

Any bake with an added fruit or vegetables is a bonus for me. The last fruit and veg box had several green apples, not sure of the variety, but like small sized Granny Smith, i.e. sharp and sour. I know green apples are supposed to be better for you, as they have health benefits - more fibre, minerals, vitamins, blah blah. But my guys would only eat pink/red apples.
 A cake with apples is a perfect solution, and a crowd pleaser.

An apple yogurt cake is very easy to make, and doesn't use any fancy ingredients.

Apple Yogurt Cake
180g sugar (I used a mix of demerara and caster sugar, 90g each)
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1tsp ground cinnamon
125ml Greek style yogurt
2tbsp polenta (optional)
190g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
2 medium apples

In a medium sized mixing bowl beat in the sugar and eggs, add the vanilla, cinnamon, yogurt, polenta, sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until well combined. The cake dough is quite thick.
Spoon it into a pre-oiled spring cake tin.
Peel two apples, core and slice into crescents. Arrange the slices on top of the cake.
Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for about 50+ minutes. You might want to put a foil over the cake, so that the top doesn't brown too much.
Once baked, take out of the tin and place on a cooling rack. Add a sprinkle of sugar or icing sugar.
Serve warm or cold, with tea or coffee.

You can use either caster or demerara,or a mix of both. I've read somewhere (not sure who the celeb chef was) that adding demerara to caster sugar makes for a fudgier taste.
If you don't have polenta, it's not a must ingredient. I like to add a little bit to cakes for an extra texture, and it also helps with the soggier ingredients like apples, carrots etc.

I baked this cake in the evening, when the light wasn't the best for taking photos, and thought I'd take more pictures of the sliced cake the next day. By the time I realised I haven't taken any pics, the cake was almost all gone.

Chez Maximka, easy apple cake

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Photo diary: week 30 project 366

Last week was all about Eddie's birthday, discussion of merits of this possible gift or that, new books and Baby Yoda. It was also the first week of summer holidays. We didn't miss home-schooling one little bit.

I have mentioned before that Eddie is a very big fan of Liz Pichon's Tom Gates series of books. Last Sunday he finished reading the last book in the series, and I tweeted to Liz, saying how excited Eddie is about the new paperback's release in February. She replied, saying that the newest Tom Gates activity books would be released later in the week.

Chez Maximka, Funko Pop Marvel

We walked to Sainsbury's, hoping to buy a birthday cake. Since our local Waitrose has removed its cake counter, the choices of cakes is rather pathetic. Again, we discussed the merits of Spiderman versus Hogwarts cake, but ended up buying a chocolate cake, which Eddie enjoyed in the past. His choice entirely.
On the way back home, we spotted those huge sunflower plants.

Chez Maximka

Last week I was reading an article about recipes which are supposedly misleading about the timings. Several famous chefs and cook book writers were bashed for being careless with the timing.
One of the author's grudges was the description on how long it takes to cook the onion until translucent.
They claimed there was no way the onion would be translucent in 5 minutes. I thought I'd see for myself, whether it's true.
I put a 5-minutes timer, and set on frying a diced onion in a mix of olive oil and butter. After 5 minutes I turned down the heat and added the courgettes.
I think the onion is pretty much translucent. OK, it's not golden brown but when I write in my recipes - cook onions for about 5 minutes, I mean this stage. What do you think?

Chez Maximka

You might remember me mentioning in the previous week's photo diary the skirt and top I fancied in the window display. Well, I was paid my carer's allowance, and decided to treat myself. The top is a bit too warm for the current warm weather, so I've been wearing my new skirt with several old tops (this one, for example, is at least two years old).

Chez Maximka

Tom Gates Big Book of Fun Stuff was out, and according to my son, it was a must for his birthday.
Apparently he needed something jolly and cheerful, as he's reading a very sad book at the moment, The Boy At The Back of The Class.

Chez Maximka

Eddie's birthday was a quiet one. We went out to the Milkshake shop to get a strawberry milkshake with whipped cream, and then ventured towards the Church Green. As soon as we sat on the bench, it started raining, and we had to hide under the roof of the Butter Cross, 17th C market shelter.
My child pronounced it the saddest birthday ever. Yes, he's got a flair for dramatics.
He's got lots of gifts (books, Funko Pop Baby Yoda, Lego Star wars set etc), a cake with candles, but obviously no party with friends. I told him he'd always remember his 10th birthday as a different one.

Chez Maximka

And that's Baby Yoda with big soulful eyes. He's kind of cute but also slightly creepy. I told Eddie I wouldn't want to see him first thing in the morning, when I open my eyes. But Eddie put him on the book shelf next to his bed.

Chez Maximka

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Friday, 24 July 2020

Hannah the Spanner (book giveaway)

Many of us enjoy reading to our children at bedtime.
I have read a vast amount of books to each of my sons. I still do. Those evening hours are our special time. With my younger son, we have moved now onto Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction, but I still remember the picture books and simpler stories with great fondness.
Certain stories delight our kids even more, when they feature characters with the same name as a child you are reading to. My younger son loved stories where the characters were named Eddie. I also used to tell stories about him, which I invented (How Eddie got his name, etc).

Stuart Simmonds took his love of story-telling to the next level, and wrote a whole series of books which take their name from Stuart's eldest daughter. Hannah the Spanner series is written for parents reading to their children at bedtime.

Stuart comments, "Reading to Hannah and Lucy every night was one of my favourite parts of their childhood, it's something that both of them remember and talk about often. With a long summer break ahead of us, I hope these books give parents and children alike the opportunity to enjoy reading together. I have done my best to ensure they are entertaining for parents, as well as the kids - I know parents often have to read the same book to their children many times!"

Stuart is spot on when he talks about reading and re-reading the same stories. There are some books I can easily recite by heart, without looking at the lines, since I've read them so many times.

If you're looking for books that are ideal for reading together with your children, as part of home schooling or as a bedtime story, or just to keep youngsters aged 4-9 occupied, then we'd like to suggest the Hannah the Spanner series of illustrated children's books.

There are seven books in the series. Each book follows a different adventure for Hannah and the dreadful Aubrey:
- Hannah The Spanner and the Dancing Bear
- Hannah The Spanner and the Robot
- Hannah The Spanner and the Circus
- Hannah The Spanner and the Trip to the Moon
- Hannah The Spanner and the Diamond Robbery
- Hannah The Spanner and the Racing Car
- Hannah The Spanner and the Polar Bear.

The Hannah the Spanner paperback books are full of colourful imagery to keep little ones entertained, funny engaging stories to win the hearts of older kids, and a storyline that adults will appreciate too.
Each full colour book is illustrated by Bill Greenhead, who has previously worked on Charlie Smith Super Kid (Emma Lynch) and Animal Avengers (Malorie Blackman).

The books have proved to be such a great way to get children interested in reading, that Stuart has been inundated with bookings from schools in the UK and abroad asking him to visit to read the books and run workshops encouraging children to read.

Stuart Simmonds is an accomplished cricketer and sports coach, he now runs a property business from his home in East Grinstead, Sussex. Prior to writing the Hannah the Spanner series, he wrote an autobiography on a life in cricket, titled Watching With My Heroes, which was widely sold through all major retailers.

The Hannah the Spanner series is available from Waterstones and all good bookshops, Amazon and direct from the Hannah the Spanner website -

Social Media Links:
Twitter: @StuheadLtd
Facebook: @stuheadltd
Instagram: @studheadltd

If your children haven't discovered yet the world of Hannah the Spanner, you have a chance to win two books from the series - Hannah the Spanner and The Dancing Bear and Hannah the Spanner and The Robot (first two books in the series).

picture books for children

books to read at bedtime with children

The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.
Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.
The winner will be selected at random by Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email.
If no response is received within two weeks, then Chez Maximka reserves the right to select an alternative winner.
Open to all entrants aged 18 and over.
Any personal data given as part of the giveaway is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with 3rd parties, with the exception of the winner's information.
This will be passed to the publisher's PR and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which Chez Maximka will delete all data.
Please note, I am not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize. I'm only hosting the giveaway on the blog, for free.

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Sunday, 19 July 2020

Photo diary: week 29, project 366

All the excitement about the last week was it being the end of the strange school year. I sighed with relief that we don't have to do home lessons for several weeks. On the other hand, it will be more upsetting for Sasha, who likes his school routine. He has another couple of days at school, and then we're all officially school-free until September, and then who knows?!

I was trying to find a jar of vanilla paste in the baking section in Waitrose, when I spotted a new product - an Italian cake mix for Torta Caprese (basically, an almond cake). The cake mix inside includes roughly chopped almonds, to which you need to add butter and eggs, and a bit of milk. It was utterly uncooked by the suggested time, so I left it in the oven for longer.
It tasted better the next day. I'm glad I've tried it, but I won't rush to buy it again, unless it's on offer, and then I will add some ingredients to it, to make the texture less coarse and grainy. As a cake mix, it has potential.

Chez Maximka, Italian cake

I'm cheating with the next photo, as it's pinched from a WhatsApp's chat.
My brother and his family spent Sunday in Ust'-Kachka, by the river Kama, an hour's drive away from the city where I was born and lived until my mid-20s. This photo made me quite nostalgic, as I haven't visited those parts of the world for many-many years.

Chez Maximka

There are not that many flowers in the garden at the moment, apart from a few phloxes, hollyhocks and echinacea. Almost all the roses are gone, though you can see several white roses up high in the branches of the plum tree (the rose has climbed up the plum).

Chez Maximka, English garden in summer

The wild plum is laden with fruit which is still super sour. I'm not sure which variety of the plum that is, but it's not a sloe. I don't know whether to keep the fruit on the tree until it's ripe and then pick it up, or pick it now and let it ripen in the bowl at home, so that the squirrel thugs won't destroy it. Last year they ruined most of my plums, they just bite the fruit off and drop on the ground.

Chez Maximka, English garden

One of the last school tasks on Thursday was a story of Mary Anning. You had to watch a video about her, answer a short questionnaire and do four drawings, based on the fossils she has found, imagining what they would look like. Eddie spent two days, drawing four creatures, but of course, Friday was the last day, so nobody bothered to actually check what he has done. That's a disappointment.

Chez Maximka

I needed to pop to M&S to return a belt I bought the day earlier for Sash, as it was too short. Got the next size, and it's huge, and I need to add more holes. Not sure how I'm going to do that, worried that the knife will make ugly cuts rather than neat holes. Eddie was doing his best ninja impersonation.

Have you seen today's shit-storm on Twitter, caused by some journo from The Times, who compared the obligatory wearing of the masks to Nazism. How can she equate masks to gas chambers?!

I don't like wearing a mask, I don't think anyone does, and as a parent of a son with severe autism, I appreciate that not everyone is capable of wearing one, as it might cause a bout of stress.

Chez Maximka

Passing by one of the shops in High Street, I took a snap of the mannequin, wearing a skirt and top which I really like. I'm very tempted to buy them (minus the scarf, as I have plenty of those). They are rather plain, but I could style them with lots of other bits and pieces.

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Homeward Bound by Richard Smith #BlogTour

Chez Maximka, books with a music theme

"Well, if there's one bit of advice I can offer," George continued, "it's make the most of your talent. If you don't, no one else will. The world is too full of missed opportunities."

George, 79-year-old protagonist of Homeward Bound by Richard Smith, knows about the missed opportunities only too well. In his younger years, he played in bands and supported some of the biggest acts from the sixties until he retired. He had a great potential but never made it as a rock star.
Recently bereaved, he's been living for the last several months with his daughter Bridget and her family, including a rather nasty, bullying husband Toby and teen granddaughter Tara.

We first meet him as a reluctant visitor to the Lastdays Rest Home. The problem is, it was not his idea in the first place. He doesn't feel ready to move to a retirement home, and on top of that, what would he do with his much played and well loved piano and his vast collection of records, neither of which would be welcome at the Lastdays. Mrs Williams, the proprietor at the rest home, is talking to George as if she's addressing a class of under fives.
In a defiant mood, George offends Mrs Williams, who promptly withdraws an offer of a place.
George meets one of the "birthday boys" in the nursing home, called Bernard, who warns him, "Don't listen to them. they take everything away from you. Your possessions. Your freedom. Your life..."

Toby is fuming. He doesn't want George to stay with them any longer, "Neither your mother nor I can nursemaid him", he tells Tara.

On the spur of the moment, George offers Tara to come and share his house in London, when she starts Uni. The arrangement would be - she will look after her Grandfather, and live for free in his house.
She is going to study Modern History and Politics, the last fifty years, or as George says, "The last fifty years? That's not history. That's my life."

He comes up with an idea of doing a musical induction for Tara, a history of the last fifty years through his records. "He was excited by the idea of playing his favourite music to her, about how much music spanned the generations. The thought of it made his stomach churn. It was unmistakably a yearning, a longing to create, to be heard, to perform. He knew he wasn't so much a has-been as a never-was".

Tara is an aspiring musician as well, though her idea of music is different from her grandfather's. Their musical tastes clash.

Her boyfriend Mark is another musical prodigy, who thinks he's going to find fame with his original scores. "Mark's music was - how did Tara describe it to her parents? Individual. His uni course encouraged experimentation, and Mark had embraced the concept wholeheartedly".
Tara is unsure about her relationship with Mark, in fact, she is not sure about anything. She seems going with the flow, rather than having any particular ideas of what she wants to do.

Slowly, Tara and George begin bonding over the music, and discovering each others' dreams and aspirations.
George is living in the past. He missed his chance of becoming a famous musician, but when an opportunity is presented to him to make a proper recording in a studio, he grabs it, even if it sounds super dodgy. "His longing to be heard, to be noticed and acknowledged may have dimmed and suffocated over the years, but at least... he still had it".

George is a very likable character. He has never revealed the reason why his musical career hasn't taken off. You can't but admire his spark of defiance, loyalty to his family and love of music.

The title of the book is inspired by the title of Simon and Garfunkel's 1966 hit. There is a lovely anecdote which George tells about the inscription on the cover of the record he owns.

As George gets more frail, and his health suffers, it is obvious that Tara cannot cope with looking after her Grandfather and studying at the Uni. There are inevitable decisions to be made, and George decides to start looking for a new place for himself.

Homeward Bound is a beautiful and life-affirming story, touching and warm, interweaving loss and regrets with second chances, heart-breaking and hopeful at the same time.

The beginning of the book made me think about my late friend A, who wouldn't consider the idea of moving into a retirement home. I can see why she defiantly stayed at home until the very end. There she was surrounded by her vast collection of books, and pictures and all the mementoes, and not put into a sterile, cold environment, where carers treat you with indifference (and I've seen places like that too).

It's not surprising that I found this book emotional and endearing. It is a heart-warming story of the power of music and family bonds.

P.S. I like the book cover, with its deceptively simple design of the piano keyboard, with George leading the way, and Tara following in his footsteps.

Chez Maximka, books about music of 1960s

books with a musical theme

Purchase Links

Author Bio
Richard Smith is a writer and storyteller for sponsored films and commercials, with subjects as varied as caring for the elderly, teenage pregnancies, communities in the Niger delta, anti- drug campaigns and fighting organised crime. Their aim has been to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials he worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.

Twitter: @RichardWrites2    

Homeward Bound

This review is part of the blog tour for Homeward Bound.

Many thanks to Richard Smith, Matador and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

books ith elderly protagonists