Monday, 20 June 2022

The missing girls of Alardyce House by Heather Atkinson


historical fiction set in Scotland, Victorian fiction

The Missing Girls of Alardyce House by Heather Atkinson (Boldwood Books) is a historical Gothic novel, with the elements of horror and ghost story.

Alardyce village, just outside Edinburgh, September 1878

As Amy catches the sight of Alardyce House from the carriage bringing her to live with her relatives, a sense of foreboding settles in the pit of her stomach. "She had hoped this place would be welcoming but already she felt as though it didn't want her... She was put in mind of a prison and shuddered."

Amy is right in feeling apprehensive. She hasn't seen her uncle and aunt in ten years, since she was seven years old, but she "had the vague notion that he was boring and pompous and she haughty and cold".  Having lost her parents after their ship went down in the Atlantic, Amy has no option but to move from London to Scotland. The Alardyces are the only family she has left in the world.

Amy's aunt Lenora is a spiteful, venomous woman who detests her niece, while her uncle seems to be happy to bend to her stronger will. There are two cousins, Henry and Edward, who are like chalk and cheese.

As Amy describes her older cousin, "He is terribly handsome but that's where his charms end. I find him proud, arrogant and a little strange". A little strange is an understatement, when it comes to the whole family. Once Amy arrives, Lenora sets her mind on marrying her off as soon as possible so she would be her husband's problem, even without waiting for the decent period of mourning. She invites the eligible bachelors to the house, parading Amy in front of them. "It was a huge breach of protocol on her aunt's part but no one dared object. What Lenora wanted, Lenora got".

Amy strikes friendship with her younger cousin Edward, who seems to be happy to exchange confidences with her and complain of their lot. As the younger son, Edward's perspectives reflect his lower position in the family hierarchy. 

Henry is as conceited as his haughty and cruel mother, Amy despises and detests him with passion. As weeks of the mourning pass, Amy comes to realisation that Lenora has set her heart on getting her hands on her inheritance, having chosen the most despicable groom to be.

On top of the personal drama, something sinister is lurking behind the respectable facade of Alardyce House. The local girls are being brutally attacked in the grounds, and who is the main suspect but Amy's loathsome cousin Henry?!

Is there anyone in the house she can trust? 

The longer Amy stays at Alardyce House, the more dreadful secrets and abominable designs begin to stir. Is there an escape for Amy?

The main protagonist is not your typical Victorian orphan. She has been groomed by a man 30 years older, and became his lover when she was 15. She doesn't see anything wrong in that. As apparently, men have their needs, and as his wife is incapacitated, so that's all right then.

She openly tells this story to her cousin, whom she barely knows. And then she has sex with a servant. That servant is bad news, he is controlling and manipulative.

The sex scenes are needlessly detailed. 

From the blurb I expected it to be a horror story/dark thriller, and not 50 shades of Lady Grey, with sadistic tendencies and extreme violence. The ruthlessly chilling scenes of torture are horrible to digest.

I didn't like the main character, her disturbing family, or anyone else in the story. Amy is very vocal, and presents unusual ideas, which with her level of education would be rather unrealistic. It is a total anachronism to expect a young lady of her social standing to condemn the expansion of the Empire. Amy claims she reads the newspapers and thus has opinions of her own. Not that we see her reading any papers, but mooning for the handsome servant and plotting her escape from Alardyce House. And then she shouts at her cousin and accuses him of being ignorant. 

"You consider the British Empire ridiculous? he exclaimed. "Yes, I do. It's boastful pride and we can't possibly hold it forever. One day it will crumble and fall... If it's treasonous to consider the oppression of entire peoples in their own countries wrong, then, yes, I am treasonous".

Her base manners and speech are that of a modern dudette. For example, she slags off her cousin, "He's a pompous prig if you ask me. What that man needs is a strong drink and a cheap woman. Loosen him up a bit". That sounds coarse, even for the modern-thinking Amy.

The author is skilful at creating evocative sinister settings. You can feel the foreboding atmosphere of the Alardyce House, from the first glimpses of the house.

The two exhibitions Amy visits on different occasions, set the mood which reflects Amy's inner trumoil and feelings of bewilderment. When she lives at the Alardyce House, her aunt takes her to see the exhibition of the Preraphaelites. Later, she is looking at the paintings of the fairies by the famous artist Richard Dadd who was in an asylum for killing his own father. These little touches, add to the psychological character development.

The Missing Girls of Alardyce House is a harrowing, gut-wrenching story which weaves a dark web of dread. 

The shocking conclusion will lead to the second book in the series.

Potential triggers: extreme violence/torture, murder, rape, sexual abuse etc.

This post is part of the blog tour for The Missing Girls of Alardyce House.

My thanks to Heather Atkinson, Boldwood and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, books set in Scotland

Purchase Link -

books set in Scotland

Author Bio –

Heather Atkinson is the author of over fifty books – predominantly in the crime fiction genre.  Although Lancashire born and bred she now lives with her family, including twin teenage daughters, on the beautiful west coast of Scotland.  Her gangland series for Boldwood, set on the fictional Gallowburn estate in Glasgow begins with the title Blood Brothers.


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historical fiction set in Victorian times

Sunday, 19 June 2022

An English Library Journey: With Detours to Wales and Northern Ireland by John Bevis

Chez Maximka, non-fiction books about libraries

"Libraries are the workshops where futures are assembled, and it's not going to happen unless the conditions, the machinery and the technology are up to speed".

"It has amazed me to discover how many people, of what great diversity, use libraries for such a wide range of purposes to the good". 

Some of the best days of my life were spent doing research in the libraries, from the Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow to the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Sterling Memorial Library at Yale. I would spend days, studying and taking notes. 

Sterling Memorial Library is probably my most favourite place ever. It contains over four million volumes in the humanities, social sciences, manuscripts and archives. We lived in New Haven, CT, for two years, when my husband was a visiting professor at Yale, and this time has given me a great opportunity to enlist at the library of Yale University. The building itself is amazing. I spent days there, reading as well as doing research and just browsing. The beauty of it all was going somewhere up to the designated area, where the books on your subject matter would be, then browsing freely, discovering books and authors that you have never heard of before. 

The list of the public libraries which I have been a member of, is pretty long, but nothing to compare with the astonishing achievement of John Bevis.

An English Library Journey: With Detours to Wales and Northern Ireland by John Bevis is an amazing account of travelling through the UK and acquiring the membership of the local libraries. It started in 2010, when Bevis was driving his wife, whose job was researching and writing reports on prisons around the country. The writer would drop off his wife for work, and then look out for the nearest library to work on his own latest book.

You might call this collection an unconventional one, even eccentric. As the author himself contemplates, he started collecting libarary cards "for no very good reason".

It has taken him ten years of travelling around the country to put together an impressive collection of library cards. An admirable mission.

"What I'm going to need, so that I can join libraries wherever I happen to be, where I am not living, where I am not local, is some way of sidestepping the system. A way of making the extraordinary fortune that is the public library a nationwide, rather than municipal, resource. As I believe it should be".

Bevis is very passionate about his subject. 

The record of acquiring cards is interspersed with little stories, anecdotes and observations of people visiting/using the library. There are overheard conversations, boisterous toddlers at the play time, fighting teens, helpful, over-enthusiastic or indifferent librarians... 

Some stories resonate with you more than the others. You cannot but smile together with the author, when he narrates the episode of a learning-disabled group of seven or eight students with their teachers, who are shown the pictures of birds and animals. They work hard, delighted when they get it right. "Tiger!" And with a big "Yay!" the whole group are laughing and so pleased with themselves and proud to have got it right. And around the library people look up a little from what they are doing, and nod, or smile". 

It makes me think of my son who has special needs, and about his trips to the library with the school (and now college). 

Personal stories alternate with descriptions of the library cards, which vary in design and messages they convey. For example, a Southwark library has a distinct design, "On a green-blue background, in a loose handwriting typeface, is this bang-on quote from one of the world's most fanous librarians, novelist Jorge Luis Borges: "I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library". Amen".

Drawing on the local history research sources, the author has a vast knowledge of the architectural features of numerous libraries, as well as the historical background. The sizes and styles vary from Art Deco to Brutalism, from the converted corset factory to the Pork Pie library.

Laced with quotes from famous authors, among the chapters of the English library journey, it makes a fascinating reading. "I ransack public libraries, and find them full of sunk treasure" (Virginia Woolf).

I kept reading, hoping to see if the author has visited Witney, but alas, since we're under the umbrella of Oxfordshire libraries which includes forty four separate libraries, he didn't mention it. 

Chez Maximka, Oxfordshire libraries

Personal experience and joy of collecting cards is charted against the background of political and social changes of the last decade.

This is not just a charming and witty narrative. In the final chapters there are some somber facts about the effects of the austerity on the libraries around the UK. Since the start of the project, "773 UK libraries have closed. About one in every seven of remaining 3,583 is now community-managed. There are fewer books - less than 60 million, where there were 90 million - and half the number of book loans per person. A shocking 10,000 jobs have been lost".

I have noticed the reduction in the number of books in our local library. There used to be several decent shelves of art and art history books. Now they are shifted to a much shorter and smaller sized section. Where there used to be a respectable selection of books on art techniques, creative inspiration and how-to manuals, there is a very limited choice. 

What is the future of libraries? 

How miserable the society would be without them. They provide vital community services.

Reading is one of the greatest pleasures of life. 

How many times did libraries and books saved my sanity?! When we arrived to New Haven, CT, and my husband had to work long hours, it was the libraries that kept me steady. I couldn't work, being on the spouse's visa, and spent days in the libraries, mainly the Yale University one, but the town library was not too bad either. Then we moved to Williamstown, MA, with our five-months' old baby, where we were snowed down for almost half a year, and again, the library was my beacon of light. I would wrap up my baby in warm blankets, put him in the pushchair and walk through the snow to the library. Memories, memories...

An English Library Journey is an insightful and perceptive guide to the library world. It is  charming, endearing and very satisfying. The author captures the essence of the English library in the present age of austerity.

Many thanks to John Bewis, Eye/Lightning and Simon Edge for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, books about libraries

Sunday, 12 June 2022

The Hostage of Rome by Robert M. Kidd (review + #giveaway)

historical fiction set in Ancient Rome

"Hannibal's army is superior in every respect. Nothing can stand in the way of our conquest".

The Hostage of Rome by Robert M.Kidd is the third book in The Histories of Sphax series.
Fans of the historical fiction/war fiction set in the ancient times will love the epic story.
This book reads as a standalone, but I strongly recommend starting with book 1, as you get to understand the main protagonists, their motivations and the dynamics of their relationships better.

I love books with maps, it is so much easier to understand the perilous trip the characters take, if you have a look at the map, especially if you are not familiar with the ancient names of the places.


217BC. Rome has been savaged, beaten and is in retreat. Yet, in that winter of winters, her garrisons cling on behind the walls of Placentia and Cremona, thanks to her sea-born supplies. If he could be freed, a hostage of Rome may yet hold the key to launching a fleet of pirates that could sweep Rome from the seas. For that hostage is none other than Corinna's son Cleon, rival heir to the throne of Illyria, held in Brundisium, four hundred miles south of the Rubicon.

But Hannibal is set on a greater prize! Macedon is the great power in Greece, feared even by Rome. Its young king, Philip, is being compared with his illustrious ancestor, Alexander the Great. An alliance with Macedon would surely sound the death knell for Rome.

Given Hannibal's blessing, Sphax, Idwal and Corinna face an epic journey against impossible odds. Navigating the length of the Padus, past legionary garrisons and hostile Gauls, they must then risk the perils of the storm-torn Adria in the depth of the winter. If the gods favour them and they reach the lands of the pirate queen, only then will their real trials begin.

It's two weeks since the great battle beside the Trebia that had shattered the armies of Rome took place. Hannibal is eager to assess the extent of his victory, while giving a chance to his army to rest. The winter has exacted a heavy toll on his men and beasts.

Corinna is dreaming of rescuing her only son Cleon from the clutches of Rome. To do that, she needs help from Sphax and his team. Sphax is realistic in restraining her aspirations, he knows that they need to come with strategical and tactical necessities which will convince Hannibal that Cleon's recovery would be essential to the prosecution of his war with Rome. 

"Key to this, Corinna, is alliances," Sphax explained. "I know my uncle. What will persuade him are sound strategic reasons for sanctioning your scheme... We need to acquire allies capable of prosecuting the war by sea and river. Illyria and Macedon are the only powers capable of this..."

Corinna is determined to enter Brundisium in secret and rescue her son by stealth, not by force of arms. She will need a small reliable unit to accompany her. Hannibal agrees with the plan and gives her licence to treat with Queen Teuta and Philip of Macedon at her discretion.

And thus their epic journey begins. 

Will they be able to convince the pirate queen and her former lover Demetrius to put aside the bitterness and close the door on the past? Will Philip form an alliance with Hannibal and make himself an enemy of Rome? Will Corinna be reunited with her son?

The Hostage of Rome is an original, meticulous and absolutely gripping historical novel.

If you enjoy reading books set in the ancient Rome, this series is a must. The research which has gone into recreating the geographical, political and social background to the story, is matchless. The historical detail is thorough, from clothes to weapons, from social mores to food. You learn about the minute details of the life in the army, military tactics and strategy, the eternally dirty politics.

Kidd is a master storyteller. When he describes the storm, you feel right in the middle of it. His vivid descriptions add an emotional atmosphere to the narrative and move the plot forward.

"All at once they were enveloped in an all-encompassing darkness, relieved only by a pale crescent moon and the stars in their courses. Now they were little more than a speck of dust on a vast empty sea. Never before had he felt so abandoned and helpless in the face of nature".

"It all happened with such shattering suddenness. Now all around their fragile wooden walls, the sea foamed and seethed as white-capped waves began to boil and shower them with spray. Lashing hail turned to driving rain and soon they were shivering and soaked to the skin. What until now had been a steady breeze had become a tempest, its squalls and gusts assailing them from all points west, making steering impossible at times, and control of the sheets a challenge".

As I travelled with Sphax from the first book (see The Walls of Rome and book 2, The Winter of Winters), I grew to appreciate his development from an immature impulsive boy to a man of valour. He is a flawed but likeable character, of great courage and fortitude. 

I don't often read books of the military history genre, but this series is eye-opening, so informative and truly gripping. Highly recommended.

This post is part of the blog tour for The Hostage of Rome.

Many thanks to Robert M. Kidd and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, books set in ancient Rome

Purchase Links

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Author Bio – Robert M. Kidd

When Cato the Censor demanded that ‘Carthage must be destroyed,’ Rome did just that. In 146 BC, after a three year siege, Carthage was raised to the ground, its surviving citizens sold into slavery and the fields where this once magnificent city had stood, ploughed by oxen. Carthage was erased from history.

That’s why I’m a novelist on a mission! I want to set the historical record straight. Our entire history of Hannibal’s wars with Rome is nothing short of propaganda, written by Greeks and Romans for their Roman clients. It intrigues me that Hannibal took two Greek scholars and historians with him on campaign, yet their histories of Rome’s deadliest war have never seen the light of day.

My hero, Sphax the Numidian, tells a different story!

When I’m not waging war with my pen, I like to indulge my passion for travel and hill walking, and like my hero, I too love horses. I live in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.


historical fiction set in Rome

Giveaway to Win Book 6 in The Histories of Sphax series to be dedicated to the winner, & a signed dedicated copy too (Open INT)

*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 be 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 note that this giveaway appears on several blogs taking part in the blog tour. Chez Maximka is hosting the Rafflecopter for free for the purposes of the book promotion. I have no access to the data collected, and am not involved in the selection of the winner or dispatch of the prize.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 9 June 2022

Degustabox: BBQ & Garden Party

 BBQ & Garden Party 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 otherwise wouldn't have tried.

Each time a 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 £3off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time), just use code DKRLN when placing an order. 

What did we get in BBQ & Garden Party Degustabox box? 

Chez Maximka, food box

Free From Fellows Vegan Vanilla Mallows (£1.99) are available in three flavours: Strawberry, Vanilla and Mini Pink & White. These mallows are super soft, fluffy and squidgy. Though you cannot mistake them for the dairy marshmallows, as the aftertaste is rather powdery, they are a decent substitute.

Egg & dairy free, gluten and gelatine free, soy and GMO free, nut and tree nut free, no artificial flavourings, colours.

Suitable for everyone, including vegetarians and vegans.

Available at Sainsbury's, Ocado, H&B and Waitrose.

Chez Maximka, vegan mallows

Pea Pops Cheddar and Onion (£1.85 for 80g) are flavourful chickpea crisps, quite similar to popchips.

They are gluten free, vegetarian, high in fibre, contain 19% protein, no MSG, no artificial colour or flavouring. Because they are popped, these crisps are 60% less fat than regular fried chips, 99kcal per 23g serving, and are made with real chickpeas.

Winner of Great Taste Award. They were certainly the winner in our house.

Available at ASDA, Ocado, Amazon,

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

New York Delhi ViPnuts Hot Chilli/Classic Sea Salt/Hot Honey & Mustard (£1.50 for 63g) are the gourmet brand of peanuts. They are gluten free, high-protein and vegan.

You will receive one of three flavours. We got Hot Chilli, with quite a fiery bite to them from the spices.
Ingredients include: peanuts, rapeseed oil, hot chilli flavour seasoning (chilli, salt, spices, dried herbs, black pepper, ground ginger).

Nutritional values: 622kcal per 100g.

Eat Water Ready Meal Slim Noodles Pad Thai (£4.99) is an authentic Pad Thai curry with noodle shaped konjac. 

Gluten free, vegan, low saturated fat, low sugar, low salt, no artiticial colours, flavours & preservatives. Scientifically proven weight loss. Konjac is an ancient plant grown in Asia. Flour is made from it and used in making low calorie noodles.

208kcal per meal.

Chez Maximka, slimming products, diet food

I confess, that it doesn't look appetising when you open the sachet inside the box, with the glutinous sauce, but it tastes all right, especially if you add it to the vegetable and/chicken stir fry.

Chez Maximka, diet food

There are three other meals for weigh loss available in Eat Water range: Slim Rice Tarka Dal, Slim Noodles Panang Curry and Slim Pasta Arrabiata. You should receive one of 4 items in your box.

Available at Holland & Barrett.

SlooOW Crispy Rustic Rolls with Honey (£1.65) was one of my favourite products from the latest box.
These rolls are prepared with the best 100% natural and organic ingredients. 
The bread is given more than a day from start to finish, and that makes the bread extra tasty - crispy on the ouside and soft inside.

Available at Tesco and ASDA.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Carr's Italian Herbs Flavour Melts (£1.69) will make a welcome addition to a cheese board. Suggestions on the box are to serve these melts with burrata, sun-dried tomatoes and basil. How delicious!
These biscuits are delicate, crispy, light and crumbly, and melting in the mouth, just as the name suggests.

Nutritional information: 21kcal and 0.3g of sugar per biscuit.

Available in Tesco.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

The Sweet Botanist Mellow Mint CBD Peppermint Gum (£3.99) is a product from a range of plant-based sweets which are meant to improve your mood and well-being thanks to CBD.

You would receive one of two products (either gum or Spearmint Sweets). There is 45MG of CBD in a pack of peppermint gum. It is meant to be naturally calming. The gum base is plastic free.

The Sweet Botanist ensure they only source CBO from their trusted partner, as well as the process to remove THC from the cannabis plant compiles with novel food regulations (so it's safe).

For over 18s only. Recommended serving: 1 piece of gum up to 3 times a day.

Available on

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

LoveRaw Salted Caramel Cre&m wafer bars (£1.89) are vegan wafers. You get soft salted caramel inside crunchy wafers, coated with LoveRaw's iconic Caramel chocolate. No palm oil used.

Taste-wise, I found them rather underwhelming. I prefer LoveRaw vegan milk wafers.

Available at Holland & Barrett, Boots, Wholefoods, ASDA, Booths, Waitrose, Co-Op and Spar.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup (£2) is one of the classic condiments, which some people consider to be a must for any BBQ. It has a distinct, recognisable deep flavour. And it is naturally vegan. Add a splash of umami flavour to any dish - pies, gravy, stew, soup, ramen, pizza etc. This rich cooking ingredient was the secret of success for many Victorian cooks.

Ingredients include water, salt, spirit vinegar, hydrolysed vegetable protein, mushroom powder, barley malt extract and spices.

Nutritional values: 13kcal and 0.1g of sugar per 100ml.

Available at Tesco, Waitrose, Booths and Ocado.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Bull's Eye NY Steakhouse BBQ Sauce (£2) is a historically more contemporary product, which has acquired a status of the iconic condiment , being full of heart and ready to take on any red meat.

Ingredients include tomato puree, sugar, spirit vinegar, bell pepper, salt, mustard, dried onion, modiefied starch, spices, garlic.

Nutritional information: 181kcal and 38g of sugar per 100ml.

Available at all major retailers.

And finally, the drinks:

Gunna Turtle Juice Tropical Lemonade (£1.10) is inspired by a mango daiquiri recipe, discovered in St Lucia. It is full of tropical sunshine, but without the rum.

This combination of flavours, from sweet aromatic mango to zingy zesty limes to coconut, is very enjoyable on its own, or as a base of a cocktail.

Available on Amazon, Ocado, Holland & Barrett, Sainsbury's and many independent retailers.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Echo Falls Merlot (£2 for a small bottle) offers a smooth mix of blackberry and plum flavours, with a woody hint of oak. Echo Falls winemakers are passionate about creating modern and delicious wines.

Food pairing suggestion for Echo Falls Merlot - your favourite pizza, or a cheese board.

Available at ASDA and convenience stores.

Tuesday, 7 June 2022

The Only Exception by Claire Huston

Chez Maximka, contemporary romance

"...she's always said true love is nothing but a palliative fiction and marriage is an outdated patriarchal institution which only continues to survive thanks to a romantic mythology which furthers the cynical economic interests of various industries".

 "So, you don't believe in true love?"

"Not in any magical, mystical force that makes the world go round. No."

"But as a temporary effect of serotonin, adrenaline and..."


Lucinda Green, the main character of The Only Exception by Claire Huston, does not believe in love. Brought up by her Mum to dismiss all things romantic, she is one determined lady. Lucinda works hard, and while she is ready to take risks when it comes to her catering business, the matters of the heart are a different thing altogether. She still lives with her ex in the house, which they bought together, more out of convenience than any hope to rekindle the non-existent passion. 

Lucinda doesn't mind the stagnant impasse that much, as she doesn't believe in true love, so what then makes her so edgy and unsettled?

Alex Fraser is an actor who is also career-driven, with a lacklustre personal life. His current girlfriend Nicole is a social media-obessessed influencer, with the acting aspirations and a big ego. Different in age and quite incompatible in their lifestyle, it's hard to see what has brought them together in the first place. Nicole appears quite immature and slightly manipulative, though ultimately harmless. Their relationship has reached a lethargic stage, where it's holding back both.

You can say that both Lucinda and Alex are at the crossroads in their personal lives.

 Fate brings then together one inauspicious day, when Lucinda and Alex find themselves stuck in the lift with an elderly lady having a heart attack. It is up to them to do the CPR until the ambulance arrives. At first, Alex simply freezes, until Lucinda shakes him out of it. Under pressure she snaps and bosses him into action. Understandable, given the circumstances. But not exactly the most favourable first impressions.

They meet again, at a catering event, and Lucinda's bizarre and quite rude behaviour doesn't win her any fans. "...forgetting her was proving extremely difficult. The crushing disappointment he'd experienced when she'd dismissed him and his profession in such a callous way continued to sting. For a foolish moment he'd believed there could be a genuine spark between them but then she'd shown herself to be a rude, judgmental, dismissive cow who looked down on acting as some sort of mucking about which failed to meet her superior standards for a "proper job".

Carol, the woman whom Lucinda and Alex have saved in the lift, turns out to be a patronising busybody. When she invites them to her house for tea, supposedly to thank them for saving her life, she confesses that she has hired a detective to check out their background, as they could be thieves. As if that is absolutely normal, she then proceeds to interrogate them about their single status with a dogged determination of someone who doesn't care if they hurt anyone's feelings. An ungrateful condescending cow, if you meet one. And her granddaughter Vee is not much better. Lucinda rightfully calls the duo "the Berkshire Inquisition".

The afternoon tea party and the following search for the snappy yappy little dog of Vee in the vast grounds of the mansion turns out to be insightful and full of revelations. At loggerheads at first, Lucinda and Alex begin to appreciate each other's points of view. 

Alex happens to be smart, funny and also vulnerable. But does it matter? After all, as a rule Ludinda doesn't believe in all that "The One" nonsense. However, isn't there an exception to every rule?

Both main characters are in their late 30s-early 40s, and have an emotional baggage of their own. In their case, it springs from childhood. Lucinda has been abandoned by her father who was her hero. Her mother, hurt and embittered, has tried to instil in her children that love doesn't exist, it's just the matter of chemical elements working in your body. This hurt caused by someone who she believed loved her, stays unresolved in Lucinda's mind, and she carries this pain through her life, unable to trust anyone to become her soulmate.

In Alex's case, he watched someone very close to him die in front of him, when he was a young child. These scars stay with him.

The romantic tension is in the air from the word Go, but it will take a while for the characters to open up to the possibility of anything romantic between them.

The Only Exception is an entertaining, lighthearted, immensely enjoyable romantic comedy.

This is the second book in Love in the Comptons series. It was lovely to see one of the main characters from the previous book making her appearance, albeit very briefly. This book reads as a standalone, tied with the previous one by the setting and the theme of romance.

The book will make a fun summer read, whether lazing on a beach holiday or daydreaming in the garden. The story is easy to get into, well-paced. Claire's books are full of gentle humour, quick-witted banter and some sarcastic observations regarding the human foibles (social status, obsessive social media etc).

It's a 5/5 from me, and if I could, I'd add an extra star for the delectable food descriptions. No suprise here, as Claire's sweet bakes are legenadary. 

Pre-order Link -

Publication Date: 7th June (Congratulations, Claire!)

Author Bio:

Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. She writes uplifting modern love stories about characters who are meant for each other but sometimes need a little help to realise it.


A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them. You can find recipes for over a hundred sweet treats at This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

contemporary romance books


Social Media Links:

Many thanks to Claire Huston, Goldcrest Books and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

This post is part of the blog tour for The Only Exception.

Chez Maximka, conteporary romance

Chez Maximka, contemporary romance

Friday, 3 June 2022

The Murder List by Jackie Kabler

psychological thriller


"The diary Killer, I think, and shudder. Who the hell are you, and why are you doing this?"

"But how on earth can I be expected not to worry, when I can see that, despite their outwardly calm exteriors and reassuring words, even the police are more on edge every day?"]

Mary Ellis is in no hurry to open one of her Christmas gifts. After all, a blank diary isn't the most inspiring of presenst, unless you asked for it specifically. Intent on giving it away to the charity shop, she decides to look through the diary in case there's a personal note from the person who gifted it to her.

What she doesn't expect is the sinister entries for four days, with murder annoucements of four people.

1 January, Murder Lisa, Oxford

1 February, Murder Jane, Birmingham

1 March, Murder David, Cardiff

1 April, Murder Mary, Chelthenham

Is the fourth victim supposed to be her? Is this someone's idea of a sick joke? The alarming message might be true, as a woman named Lisa was murdered in Oxford on 1 January.

Mary is a crime journalist, who's worked hard over the past ten years and has built a reputation for getting to the heart of a story. 

Mary runs to the police with the diary. They do take her seriously, but with so little information on the possible murder victims, there is not much to be done, except wait... 

Mary is the daughter of "the famous American writer Gregor Ellis, who has died in a massive house fire in the Cotswolds, perishing along with his teenage daughter's best friend". She managed to escape, but is bearing scars on her face and arm.

"I shiver again, the memories coming back with vengeance now: the shouts in the dark, shrill with terror; my panic, my heart thumping, my lungs burning, my hair on fire..."

Mary's childhood was a rootless, lonely one. The father was never been able to settle anywhere after the death of his wife, dragging Mary around the world. He was a cold, angry man.

All this backstory is known to the police team. They trust her enough to share their investigation and provide her with information on the victims from The Murder List. It is clear that the killer sent Mary the diary for a reason, because of her job and because he wants the notoriety. But as she is on the list, she must have a proper connection with the other victims.

The police are trying to establish any possible links between the victims in order to prevent the next murder(s).

"I'm certain that there has to be a link between our victims. If we can find that, we can find the why. Why they were killed. And if we find the why, we might just find the who."

The pool of suspects is wide, Mary doesn't trust her colleagues, and even her best friend Pete with whom she shares her house, is not off the hook. Pete is supportive, but doesn't like to be questioned about his whereabouts. 

"We're the very best of friends, but it's always been a purely platonic relationship, and we're both really happy with that".

As each murder is committed, Mary is getting more anxious. Is it her turn next?

If Mary and the police team don't uncover the truth in time, the murderer might tick off the last box in their list successfully.

It's hard to relate to Mary. As for her love interest, he is certainly not a wonderful chap she portrays him to be. He has a girlfriend, and still has sex with his bestie. He cannot break up with his girlfriend because she is too fragile and vulnerable, and won't take it well. Now that's a lousy excuse, if you see one.

The premise of the story is solid, and the plotline with the twists and turns and red herrings aplenty is developing satisfactorily, until the last chapters.

The killer's identity didn't quite work for me, once it was revealed. Their reasoning to commit a series of murders is strenuous and hard to believe. 

As for the last chapter, that has thrown away any flicker of sympathy to the main character that I might have had. 

The Murder List is an engrossing and intriguing story of secrets, lies and misunderstandings, tense and twisty.

The plotting is enthralling, the villain is nasty, and the pace and suspense are handled expertly.

This post is part of the blog tour for The Murder List.

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

Chez Maximka, psychological thriller

Purchase Link

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US -

Author Bio – Jackie Kabler is an internationally bestselling author of psychological thrillers including The Perfect Couple, Am I Guilty? and The Happy Family. She worked as a newspaper reporter and then in television news for twenty years, including nearly a decade on GMTV. She later appeared on BBC and ITV news, presented a property show for Sky, hosted sports shows on Setanta Sports News and worked as a media trainer for the Armed Forces. She now combines her crime writing with her job as a presenter on shopping channel QVC. Jackie lives in Gloucestershire with her husband.

Social Media Links –

Twitter @jackiekabler

Instagram @officialjackiekabler

psychological thriller

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Why Odin Drinks by Bjørn Larssen

Chez Maximka, Norse myths

 "That was it. The Gods had appeared under the Bad Tree That Wouldn't Listen, had strolled around creating mountains, streams, berries, butterflies, and one cow. Now the Bad Sun That Wouldn't Listen would end all that. This was going to be their legacy, left to... nobody".

"I have noticed your sadness. I truly want to help -"

"Coffee," Frigg sighed. "Please invent coffee already."

Why Odin Drinks by Bjørn Larssen is a humorous retelling of the Norse creation myths. This is a compillation of novellas, including the previously published Creation. 

The book blurb:

Norse Mythology retelling for fans of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Calvin & Hobbes.

Ever woken up being a God, but not knowing how to God properly? Poor Odin must restrain his brothers, who create offensive weapons such as mosquitoes and celery; placate his future-telling wife, Frigg, who demands sweatpants with pockets; listen to Loki's Helpful Questions; hang himself from Yggdrasil for nine days with a spear through his side (as you do); teach everyone about nutritional values of kale (but NOT celery); meet a Wise Dom, Sir Dady Mimir, in order to outwit him; and most importantly, prove he is The All-Father, while his brothers are, at best, Those-Uncles-We-Don't-Talk-About.

This nearly (except in Vanaheim) universally acclaimed retelling of the Gods' first millennium answers way too many questions, including on Freyr's entendre, horse designing... and why Odin drinks.

To appreciate the witty re-imagining in full, you need to know your Norse myths. 

"In the beginning, a God opened his eyes and sat up, utterly confused... As baffling as it was, he seemed to only have just started existing". Odin, Vili and Vė are baffled and preplexed, as they are trying to figure out who they are, and what they are supposed to do. And the quarrels are inevitable in this situation.

"Stop quarrelling!" Odin boomed. "We have a lot of soil. Let's not ruin it all with... aesthetics. We can do a lot of other things with it. Use your imagination!" He didn't seem to have any, but they didn't need to know that".

Just like three brothers, we flounder in confusion at the beginning of creation. What's going on around, and is it possible to control any of it? The words "creative chaos" were invented for that situation.

The humans who should have been somewhat reverential to Gods who created them, are not impressed with Odin, and keep arguing and asking uncomfortable questions.

"Wisdom" - knowledge and understanding, both of which Odin lacked - needed to be built bit by bit, with time. He had no time. Nothing and nobody had time if he was going to destroy things in his attempts to create them".

Chez Maximka, Norse myths retelling

While Creation is centred on Odin and his brothers, Vili and Ve, their competitiveness and brotherly rivalry, in the second part - Loki Runes Everything - we follow the extraordinary events of Odin's spiritual evolution.

Loki being Loki, shape-shifts and plays tricks. And asks a lot of Helpful Questions. "Trying to stop Loki was as easy as getting truth out of him or making him follow any sort of rules..."

And Odin being not the sharpest tool in the shed, decides to educate himself in the most painful and traumatic way.

The legend of Odin's sacrifice gets a satirical makeover. For nine nights he hangs on the great Yggdrasil to acquire the knowledge of the magic runes.

Frigg has to fight her own battles. Able to see everything in the future, she is completely overwhelmed by visions of things yet to be invented and ideas yet to exist. Fashionteller recounts Frigg's sad struggle to outdo Freya in the fashion department. Intent on becoming the vanguard of haute couture, she recklessly travels further and further in the future to learn about the fashions of the days to come.

"The vision began to declutter a bit as, one by one, Frigg cleansed it of objects that did not spark joy" (the reference to Mary Kondo made me snort in a rather unladylike fashion).

When Frigg is doing her mental to-hopefully-acquire list, it keeps "expanding in a slightly deluded way, not unlike what would be called TBR piles in the future. Unfortunately, similar to all owners of TBR piles, Frigg didn't know which of her expectations were unrealistic". [I can sympathise with Frigg whole-heartedly, as the TBR enthusiast. We have so many books in the house that it would take me two lifetimes to read them all, yet does this prevent me from buying more books and adding them to my TBR list?!).

The final chapter, The Well of Wise Dom, retells the myth of Mimir and his well of wisdom. To win yet greater wisdom, Odin sacrificies his eye. And though you know how the Norse myths go, you feel like shouting at Odin, Don't do it, don't do it...

The main characters' interactions vary from joking to repartee, from drollery to wordplay. It's a fine balance of wit, satire and irony. 

Witty dialogues (and monologues) often hide the philosophical, sharp and even poignant observations.

Odin appears as a tragic figure, misunderstood and quite lonely. He is endearingly incompetent. "If someone asked, he'd simply say this was done on purpose. Divinely mysterious purpose, so mysterious that even he had no clue what it was".

Larssen's style of writing is insightful into the human (and/or Gods') foibles, and profoundly analytical.

"Perhaps creation and destruction weren't mutually exclusive; perhaps they needed each other; perhaps they were one and the same. Odin didn't know that yet, but he would find out soon. Over the drink".

Why Odin Drinks might be the retelling of the Norse myths, but don't buy it for the pre-teens. There is a lot of double entendres and openly adult jokes and references (though nothing graphic, more presumed rather than described). In a way, it makes me think of the Magnus Chase series, only for grown-ups, with risque jokes and infinite compassion.

The cover art might remind you of Tom of Finland's drawings (not the X-rated variety) which confirms the validity of the body, desire and sexuality.

retelling of Norse myths

Why Odin Drinks is a highly entertaining satire. There are pessimistic undercurrents of Swift's juvenalian satire, but unlike Swift, Larssen's writing is not harsh or unforgiving. While laughing at the timeless human flaws as well as the shallowness and phoniness of the modern day culture, his writing is showing compassion for the human frailties.

Hilarious and sad, playful and poignant at the same time, it's a unique take on the Norse myths.

Author Bio:

Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.

Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland. He owns one (1) husband and is owned by one (1) neighbourhood cat.

2022 Queer Indie Lit Award – Winner (Best Author – Speculative)
2021 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize Award – Finalist ('Storytellers')
2020 Readers' Favorite Gold Medal Winner – Historical Fiction ('Storytellers')
2020 Stabby Award Nominee ('Children')

Social Media Links:

Norse myths retelling

Chez Maximka, Norse myths

A Little Hotel in Cornwall by Laura Briggs (book extract + #giveaway)

books set in Cornwall


Those of you who know of my love of Cornwall and all things Cornish will understand that I am super excited today to share an extract from A Cornish Daisy's Kiss, one of books in A Little Hotel in Cornwall series by Laura Briggs.

Not only that. You will have a chance to win a wonderful prize (scroll all the way down to see what you might win).

A Little Hotel in Cornwall: Books 1-8

All eight novellas in the UK bestselling series A LITTLE HOTEL IN CORNWALL are now available in one collection! Follow aspiring young author Maisie Clark as she stumbles into a role as a maid in the idyllic hotel by the sea, where there’s never a dull moment, from her quest to track down a reclusive English novelist, to her brush with jewel thieves and a whirlwind trip through Paris and London to name a few. All the while, she finds herself falling for the handsome and enigmatic groundskeeper Sidney Daniels. Could the key to unlocking her dreams be right in front of her?

This collection contains A Little Hotel in Cornwall, A Spirited Girl on Cornish Shores, Sea Holly and Mistletoe Kisses, The Cornish Secret of Summer’s Promise, A Train from Penzance to Paris, A Cornish Daisy’s Kiss, A Stargazy Night Sky, and The Cornish Key to Happiness.

Purchase Link -

books set in Cornwall

Author Bio –

Laura Briggs is the author of several feel-good romance reads, including the Top 100 Amazon UK seller 'A Wedding in Cornwall'. She has a fondness for vintage style dresses (especially ones with polka dots), and reads everything from Jane Austen to modern day mysteries. When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, caring for her pets, gardening, and seeing the occasional movie or play.

Social Media Links –

Author Facebook page:

Twitter page:

books set in Cornwall

Thank you to Laura for sharing an extract from the books in her anthology A Little Hotel in Cornwall (Books 1-8). It’s a fun, feel-good romance series about wannabe writer Maisie Clark, who finds the key to her dreams while working at a cosy Cornish hotel. The extract below is from Maisie’s sixth adventure, A Cornish Daisy’s Kiss, which finds her freshly returned from a writing mentorship in Paris that didn’t go exactly the way she hoped it would. Back where she belongs, Maisie finds herself confronted with another quirky adventure—this time, in the form of a private eye who she catches snooping through the hotel’s private business in quest of a mysterious person.


"Look, I've got business cards, a photo of me with the chief inspector from Scotland Yard —" He pulled other things from pockets, including the aforementioned business cards for Frank Gilley, private investigator. I couldn't pick a chief inspector from Scotland Yard out of a police identity parade. The only thing that was making me think he might be telling the truth was his desperation.
"This is ridiculous," I said dismissively. "I don't know why I'm listening to this. Why do I care if you get fired, and whether you deserve it? I'm unemployed, I'm racking up a huge hotel bill, I have to send my book off and let a total stranger judge my work and write insulting things in its margins ... or type them in a digital copy, who cares?" I was talking to myself now. Maybe Mr. Trelawney would have pity on me if I squealed on the hotel thief and write me a nice letter of recommendation, and not think of me as an idiot for quitting Alli's offer.
"What are you talking about?" Frank stared at me like I was crazy. "Look, I have no idea what's going on in your life, but I swear on a stack of holy books that all I was doing was looking for something. Or someone, to be specific ... and I thought there was a chance that I would find a clue in that drawer as to where they were." He spoke slowly and carefully, trying to keep from raising his voice or giving me a chance to get past him to the door. "That's all. No pocketing passports, swear it." He held up one hand solemnly. "Scout's honor. Queen's honor. Whatever you want me to swear to, I'll do it."
I slumped against one of Jeanine the kitchen staff's extra sweaters, arms crossed in front of me. "So who are you looking for?" I was deeply suspicious, still. Maybe this was Anson all over again, just a different game.
"See, there's the rub," he said. "I don't know. This is all very hush hush by my client, who happens to be fairly important — at least, fairly rich," he amended. "That's the main thing."
"Am I supposed to be impressed by that?"
"Okay. Fair enough." Frank held up his hands in surrender. "Here's the story. Rich client hires multiple private detectives to look for somebody living under an assumed name. They all come back empty handed, including the last one who came to this village, sniffing around a couple of years ago. So they hire me, and I follow the same trail, but I figure out something they didn't. Namely, that the reason this person had mail sent to the hotel wasn't to cover their tracks, but because this is where the tracks lead."
"It's an employee," I surmised.
"Right. Clever girl. See, the last detective didn't think of that, but I have, and the best way to do it is to go through employee records and look for when this person was working here, past or present."
"But you don't know who you're looking for."
"Yes. True. But I can figure that part out later, after I get all the names," he answered. "I know when this person went missing, about when they turned up here ... I reckon I take some photos or some physical descriptions of the potentials, gather some information to show my client, and go on from there."
"Why is your client looking for this person?" If I was going to be curious, I might as well be curious all the way. I squared my gaze with his own. "How do you know you're not doing the wrong thing if you find them? Like tracking down a victim for the mob or something?"
"Well, you've got a point. Technically, private detective, don't care."
"But I do care, and you need me to shut up about your activities," I answered. "Mr. Trelawney would toss you out on your ear without question if he knew about this. I shudder to think what Ms. Claypool would do to you." Actually, I had no idea, but it sounded scary to suggest it this way.
Frank chewed his lip and looked discomfited. He sighed. "All right ... I can't reveal all the details per se, sworn to professional secrecy and all, but I can tell you some. There's benefits for this person if I find them, and a substantial reward for me. So, no killing, just cash. Is that better?"
He searched my face, waiting to see what effect this would have. I had to admit, it sounded far from any of the contract killers' ploys in late-night movies. Maybe some hotel employee had a major windfall coming to them — maybe they had a long-lost fortune waiting for them, or a priceless antique in their possession worth millions to some famous museum. It had to be something good if someone was tracking them down so desperately.
"Do you know why this person is hiding?" That was the last piece that made me curious. Obviously, this person didn't want to be found if they were using an assumed name, or had something to hide, unless they were like me and had a very crazy story behind it.


Giveaway to Win a PB copy of A Little Hotel in Cornwall: Books 1-8  and a scarf with cover art from the series printed on it (Open to UK and US Only)

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