Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Ribollita with a Yondu Twist

Chez Maximka, vegan meals


Have you heard of Yondu? Not the blue character from Guardians of the Galaxy who has kidnapped and raised Star-Lord... I mean the Korean seasoning sauce which unlocks natural flavours in blander foods. 

This Vegetable Umami all-purpose savoury seasoning is perfect for plant-rich cooking. It is a combination of triple-fermented soybeans and concentrated broth from 8 vegetables. Yondu is USDA certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, contains no artificial ingredients, carbs, sugar or fat.

Umami seasoning, Chez Maximka

This versatile ingredient is a healthy flavour booster.

Use Yondu as substitute for:

2tbsp Yondu = 1 bouillon cube

1tsp Yondu = 1 tsp fish sauce

1tsp Yondu = 1tsp soy sauce

2tsp Yondu + 1 cup water = 1 cup of dashi

1tsp Yondu = tsp Worcestershire

Yondu could be used as an ingredient in many international cuisines, including Italian. This month they come up with an inspired twist on a classic Italian stew/soup Ribollita. 

Ribollita is a vegan/vegetarian dish, which features seasonal produce and makes the most of traditional ingredients bringing stale sourdough back to life to with the warm cream of cannellini, and uses every part of the celery, peppers, and carrot, making it more affordable to shop organic as the seasons change.

vegan stew

Root for Vegetables with a Ribollita Stew and an Umami Twist

Plant-based seasoning brand Yondu has taking inspiration from the hills of Northern Italy with their take on a rustic Ribollitta. Just a tablespoon of Yondu’s all-purpose seasoning can add depth to flavour whilst adding an umami twist to the dish and reduce the need to simmer the veggies for hours

Lighter than a stew, but chunkier than a soup, this Mediterranean-inspired meal will be on the table in no more than thirty minutes. Using seasonal, readily available produce, the dish is a comfort that can be brought to the office for lunch or shared with family on cozy evenings in.

Take notes from Tuscany, where a culture that has been built on using leftovers and reducing food waste. Bring stale sourdough back to life to with the warm cream of the cannellini, and use every part of the celery, peppers, and carrot to make it more affordable to shop organic, this autumn.

Yondu brings out the best in the vegetables, while beans and spinach layer this dish full of texture. Freezable, this hearty meal, can be cooked in bulk and kept aside for days you haven’t had a chance to do the food shop.

Originally served to those working on the autumn harvest, the hearty meal offers sustenance and strength as the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler. This humble dish is a celebration of living better for less!

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A Ribollita stew (recipe courtesy of Yondu)

Total time: 30 min

Serves 2

Yondu effect: Replaces broth and boosts the flavor of each vegetable

Recipe benefits: Healthy and quick complete dinner


1 Tbsp. olive oil

½ onion, diced (100g)

1 carrot, sliced (80g)

1 celery stalk, sliced (50g)

¼ red pepper, diced (25g)

¼ green pepper, diced (25g)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp. flour

500ml. water

1 Tbsp. Yondu

1 can of cannellini beans, drained

A sprig of thyme

50g fresh spinach

1 slice of sourdough bread

Chez Maximka, vegan stew, vegetarian meals

  1. In a pot over medium heat, combine olive oil, onion, carrot, celery, peppers and garlic and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
  2. Add flour and stir well. Add water and Yondu and stir again.
  3. Once it starts boiling, add beans and thyme and let is simmer for 5 minutes covered with a lid.
  4. Turn off the heat and stir in fresh spinach. Stir until spinach are wilted.
  5. Rub some fresh garlic and drizzle olive oil on the slice of bread before toasting it. Serve the stew with this toast on top and freshly grounded black pepper.


You can use gluten free flour or corn starch instead of wheat flour if you want to keep it Gluten Free.

From pastas and salads, to mid-afternoon snacks, Yondu’s fun and simple recipes can found on their website (www.yondu.co.uk/recipes/) or on their Instagram @yondu.uk All choices are healthy, natural and aim to bring pleasure to cooking for friends and family.

Yondu is available to purchase via its UK website and Amazon, retailing at £6.88 for 275ml. Visit www.yondu.co.uk/recipes/ for cooking inspiration.

Notes about Yondu:

·       Yondu’s philosophy of healthy living stems from its creator company, Sempio, an established Korean food company

·       For over 70 years Sempio is committed to expanding the world's culinary horizons through the art of fermentation

·       Yondu is a 100% plant based product. It includes organic soybean, sea-salt, eight vegetable broth, and yeast extract  

·       Yondu is clean label, certified Organic, non-GMO, vegan, and gluten-free 

·       Non-GMO organic soybeans are triple-fermented over the course of 100 days, then blended with the savoury broth of onions, white radishes, leeks, cabbage, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, ginger and garlic to create Yondu’s unique flavour that enhances the taste of a variety of cuisines 

·       The Yondu Culinary Studio in New York is where Yondu develop culinary solutions and ideas. Including a team of chefs that create healthy recipes. The team is led by Jaume Biarnes who was previously the culinary director at Alicia Food & Science Lab founded by Ferran Adrià, a pioneer of molecular gastronomy 

I cooked this Ribollita with a Yondu twist yesterday. It is a delicious and healthy stew/soup, which is a great addition to our range of vegetarian meals for the family. I would ordinarily use a stock cube/pot in a similar recipe, but adding Yondu was a revelation. It is a great substitute for stock cubes.

It might sound strange to add a Koren seasoning to the well-known Italian recipe, but it works as a perfect fusion of international flavours. 

Yondu emailed me several recipes throughout this year, and I'm very keen now to try several of them, so watch this space for more Yondu recipes.

Disclosure: I received a bottle of Yondu to try the recipe. All opinions are my own.

Chez Maximka, vegetarian recipes

A Beautiful Spy by Rachel Hore #BlogTour

Chez Maximka, fiction about secret agents

"All the time it meant guarding her tongue and never relaxing or being herself. Then there was the guilt. She genuinely liked some of the comrades and they seemed to like her. How shocked they'd be if they discovered she was a spy. On some days it felt like a huge act of bravery simply to get up and go to work".

"She'd be working for her country, that's what she told herself. She was being offered the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to uncover secrets that no one else had cracked".

A Beautiful Spy by Rachel Hore tells the story of Minnie Gray, an ordinary young woman from Edgbaston who becomes one of the bravest seceret agents working for the British government.  

Minnie's background is pretty ordinary: middle-class, dyed-in-the-wool Conservative, she works as a typist. Her job at the Automobile Association is a respectable position, but she feels stuck. "Life should be opening out. Instead nothing seemed to change. Her work offered no path of progress and she couldn't afford to leave home even if she wanted".

Everyone in her social circles expects her to find a husband and start family, but she has other ideas about her future. When an opportunity arises to work for the British Intelligence, she grabs it - finally this is something important, and her new job will make a difference.

She is recruited as MI5 infiltration agent by Maxwell Knight, or M, as he is known in his circles. Minnie moves to London and becomes a member of the Friends of the Soviet Union in 1932. Due to the nature of her job, she is not allowed to tell anyone what she does. 

"No one else of her acquiantance knew she was a spy. Only he [M] understood the daily pressure she was under, appearing to live a normal existece while conducting parallel secret one. 

In the different areas of her life her friends and family, her colleagues at the charity and her comrades at the FSU all saw a different facet of her, but not one of them could know the nature of her most important work".

Her mission is to infiltrate the Communist Party and gather as much information as possible. She is considered so reliable and trustworthy, that she is offered a position of a secretary to the League Against Imperialism and the Anti-War Movement. As Minnie says excitedly, "Two Communist organizations for the price of one!"

Working inside "the Kremilin" was "a terrific mark of success for her". 

But every day brings a new danger of being discovered. "It made her heart beat in panic and the palms of her hands clammy. It was fear. Fear of the enormity of the task, fear of the pressure on her that everything could go wrong".

Leading a double life is taking its toll on Minnie. And she is terrified of being found out by the Russian comrades of the British Communist Party. They are known for the cold-blooded "liquidation" of their enemies or those suspected of betrayal.

When I was reading the novel, I realised that the story was very familiar, and then remembered that I read an article about Olga Gray a few years ago, who was an inspiration for the main protagonist of A Beautiful Spy.

Being a spy/secret agent is never an ethical job. You can see what a huge strain it would be to lead a double life for a person with a moral code. Minnie finds it hard to betray people who believe her to be one of them. "She liked some of the people she met here, if not their beliefs. Part of her wished that she hadn't been planted to spy on them".

When she looks at Glading (co-founder of the British Communist Party), she ponders, "You think I'm your friend, but I'm not, I'm your betrayer... Here I am smiling at your daughter, laughing with your wife, but I'd turn you over to the authorities tomorrow if I had to".

I liked that the author didn't make her baddies one-dimensional. I would even say, that she portrayed the members of the Communist party sympathically.

The British Communists and sympathisers were complex people, with ideas and ideals of their own, who believed they were creating a better future. While some of them passed the secrets to the foreign goverments for money, some were genuinely idealistic and believed in the Communist cause because they thought the capitalist world is rotten through and through. 

The world of MI5 is also portrayed as a Byzantine organization. Even Max, who at first appears the charm incarnate, is cold and ruthless. He puts so much pressure on Minnie, guilt-tripping her into continuing her spying activities, claiming it would be so damaging to the government if she chose to stop. They want the results, and don't care for the person who is working for them. 

You would have thought that the British government would appreciate the source of the invaluable information, but no, MI5 is a cruel machine that doesn't care for human frailty. When stress takes a huge toll on Minnie and she has a nervous breakdown, her condition is barely acknowledged. "And what did they know or care about her? Hardly anything, she imagined, beyond sending out her pay cheque".

A Beautiful Spy is a compelling, absorbing historical fiction with an irresistible main character against the real historical background.

I found this novel outstanding. The story is fascinating and quietly powerful. It's not a type of spy novel, where the main character is a sex bomb who uncovers the secrets by sleeping around. Hore's portrayal of the enduring tension between mundane reality and close danger is vivid and believable.

Purchase Links

UK - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Untitled-Rachel-Hore-Pa/dp/1471187217

US - https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Spy-Rachel-Hore-ebook/dp/B08955K1RB

fiction about spies and secret agents

Author Bio

Rachel Hore worked in London publishing for many years before moving with her family to Norwich, where she taught publishing and creative writing at the University of East Anglia until deciding to become a full-time writer. She is the Sunday Times (London) bestselling author of ten novels, including The Love Child. She is married to the writer D.J. Taylor and they have three sons. 

Visit her at RachelHore.co.uk and connect with her on Twitter @RachelHore.

books about spies

Many thanks to Rachel Hore, Simon & Schuster and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

This post is part of the blog tour.

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Monday, 20 September 2021

Photo diary: week 37, project 365

 As I was editing this post, I heard shocking news on TV about the shooting at the Perm University, my old alma mater. I am watching the videos of students escaping through the windows. Eight people are shot dead, more are wounded. My heart goes to all students and teaching staff. 

Anxious to hear about my niece who is a student at the University, I messaged my brother. My niece was off sick this morning and didn't attend her classes. He shared the image of the message on Viber which was sent to everyone at Uni.

It says, "Attention! If you're at the University at the moment, if you are in an auditorium, please try to lock the room from inside and stay there. If you're on the campus, leave it, if possible. If you're on the way to the University, turn back." Heart-breaking.

When such events happen, everything else appears banal and unimportant. I was hesitant about publishing this post altogether as all my chit-chat feels quite trite in comparison to how I feel at the moment.

Last week I read A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh. This is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, which centres on the happenings at Rosings. Mary, the overlooked middle Bennet girl with less charisma and talent than her sisters is taking a leading part in this story.

Chez Maximka, Jane Austen sequel

We had a fair in town for a couple of days. My younger son was very keen to go. I wasn't enthusiastic about them mixing in the crowds, but who ever listens to me?! Off they go, my husband and Eddie. Later they come back looking sheepish. It so happened that Eddie has pulled a muscle on his neck on one of the rides, not sure if it was technically a whiplash, but he couldn't move his head to one side.

He was still in pain for the next coupld of days. You can spot him in the photo (taken by my DH), in a black and blue top, grinning happily.

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My greenhouse tomatoes are finally beginning to ripen. I took a picture of this beauty and ate it later, it was delicious. 

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On Thursday morning I had a quick coffee and chat with my bestie in town, early in the morning, while my husband looked after Sasha. I was finally able to give her a big pack of Smugglers' Brew, tea which I always buy when we stay in Cornwall.

Cooking Cornish sardines with a wild coastal mix (sea beet, sea aster and salty fingers) for lunch. I love the flavour of the coastal mix, and it makes me think of our lovely holidays in Cornwall. I buy it at Abel and Cole.

Peeking through the curtains late at night. The street lamps are pretty bright, and our Virginia creeper is taking over the front of the house, despite me trimming it several times this year. 

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Our local Waterstones has a new window display, dedicated to one of their books of the month, The Wolf Den. Have you read it? I think I will buy it at some point, as the reviews are pretty good, and the plot sounds fascinating.

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Stay safe, wherever you are. 

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Thursday, 16 September 2021

The Warring Heart by Ros Rendle

Chez Maximka, books set during WWI


"You need to find yourself another suitor, and fast," Papa said, before taking another mouthful of food. "Mm, this is good. Yes, another fella will take you out of yourself and stop all the idle chatter of empty-headed housewives." He glanced at his own wife and decided to say no more.

Pretoria knew full well he considered women to be uncomplicated creatures who could be jollied through a crisis with a new hat... or a new suitor."

Young Pretoria Redfern, the main character of the period romance The Warring Heart by Ros Rendle, is crushed and inconsolable. The man she loves deserts her, and the gossip mill is in full swing. Simon Rashbrooke, the man who broke her heart, is already married but living apart from his wife. "It might be 1914 and the world is indeed changing, but this is disgraceful behaviour".

The local gossips are having a field day, enjoying the juicy bits of scandal. Her father's advice is to find a new suitor to stop the idle chatter. As a man of his generation, he has a very old-fashioned and patronising view on what women want and need.

Pretoria only recently turns nineteen and believes Simon to be the love of her life. She thinks her life is ruined, and to deflect gossip and save her face after such a public embarrassment, she agrees to marry the first man who proposes to her.

Nathaniel Moore, a local land-owning farmer, is much older than Pretoria. He has noticed her beauty a while ago and was watching her all summer, "hearing of her antics with the wretched Simon Rashbrooke. With hard-won patience, he had quelled his own longings. She was young and needed this experience. He would wait. He must hold back".

His proposal sounds pragmatic and lacking in romance, as he tries to hide his true feelings. If anything, it is set up as a business proposal - this will be a marriage of convenience. "I think you are an extremely beautiful girl who would fill the position charmingly." "You make it sound like a job interview," Pretoria said, athough she was partially mollified by his compliment. "There are many kinds of love," Nathaniel said."

Pretoria knows this marriage will give her a position and protection from the nasty scandal. She also senses his affection and concern. Once married, Pretoria settles into her new life and gets to know her husband better. Her emotions are in turmoil: she is attracted to Nathaniel more and more, but also has a lingering infatuation with Simon. She is unsure about his feelings as well. 

Britain is at war with Germany, and Nathaniel feels duty-bound to serve his country. He could stay on the farm as his work on the land is important to the war effort, but he feels guilty sitting in the comfort of his home. Nathaniel enlists and leaves for the front line across the Channel.

Pretoria is not in love with her husband, but she misses his company, affection and kindness. She longs for his safe return. Their correspondence is vital to both of them.

While Nathaniel is fighting in France, Pretoria's past catches up with her. She receives a request which she cannot refuse. If her secret is discovered, it would fuel the long-forgotten scandal.

Will Nathaniel survive the war? Will Pretoria be able to share her secret with him, will it put a strain on their relationship? Will she spend the rest of her life with a man who could offer her no more than friendly kindness?

The Warring Heart is what the Americans would call a clean romance. There are some amorous scenes but none too graphic, thus the book fits into this category. The book blends emotional drama with authentic period details. It has a real feel for time, morals and ideas. The author's grasp of the social mores of the time is spot on. 

The war scenes tell a tragic tale of devastation, loss and grief, but also hope.

Full of drama, romance and the true meaning of love.

Chez Maximka, fiction books set during WWI

Many thanks to Ros Rendle and Sapere Books for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, romance set during WWI

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh


Chez Maximka, Pride and Prejudice sequel

"You will ride with me to Rosings, immediately. There has been terrible mischief afoot there and I need my constable to assist me".

"We won't be safe in our beds, not with a murderer on the loose. And to think it's happened at Rosings, of all places!"

A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh is an engaging and entertaining Austenesque murder mystery. This is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, set a few years later after the wedding of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy (who are barely mentioned in this book).

This sequel is historically accurate, and is written in the Regency literature style, without any glaring period language errors.

The book begins with the old gardener at Rosings observing his domain, when he hears loud summons from his mistress, the one and only Lady Catherine. Near the coleus bed they find a shape among the plants. His black clerical garb is unmistakeable. This is Mr Collins, dead. He has a knife in his chest.

The magistarate is sent for without delay. Sir John Bright is the local magistrate, who has appointed Robert Archer to the post of the village constable. Archer is a wheelwright, he is young, but he has made a thriving business for himself, and is well respected in the village. As Sir John says, "His strength and level humour stand him in good stead when dealing with lawbreakers". 

Sir John intends to use the modern methods of investigation and questioning, meaning he is going to talk to all the household members to gather information to complete the entire picture.

The murder is quite perplexing. "It has neither rhyme nor reason. If it were not for the weapon, I should be content to conclude that Mr Collins was the unfortunate victim of some random felon, now escaped". However, Mr Collins has been killed with a paper knife which has the de Bourgh family crest upon it.

Who is the murderer? And why was Mr Collins slayed in the garden? It is clearly not because "his sermons were too long".

Mr Bennet and his daughter Mary are staying at the Collinses, while Mrs Bennet is attending the confinement of one of her daughters. 

During the investigation it becomes obvious that Mr Bennet and Mr Collins have had a few heated arguments. If you've read P&P, you know that Mr Collins was the heir to Mr Bennet's estate, which was entailed to the male line only. This has caused a rift between the two families. Now that Mr Collins is dead, Mr Bennet may find his family's future restored.

Mr Bennet's predicament is serious indeed, as he becomes the principal suspect.

Mary uncovers a scandalous secret that may well hold a big clue as to why Mr Collins was murdered.

Will she be able to solve the mystery and prove her father's innocence before he is sent to the gallows?

A Murder at Rosings is a satisfying and diverting homage to Pride and Prejudice.

This is not the first book, where Mary, the overlooked middle Bennet girl with less charisma or talent than the other sisters, takes a leading part. Just last year Mary's life was re-imagined in The Other Bennet Sister. And Charlotte Lucas's life has been re-explored by Helen Moffett in Charlotte.

"Mary had, for all her life, been compared unfavourably with her sisters. She had neither Jane's beauty, not Lizzy's clever tongue, while her younger sisters' animation made her seem dull indeed. She had accepted at an early age that she was destined to be overlooked, and any attempts to put herself forward were generally not welcomed". 

So, Mary devotes her life to studies. Greek is her passion, and she is teaching herself the ancient language. Mr Bennet, as usual, makes fun of her studies. When she is reluctant to travel to Huntsford, content with the company of books, he remarks, "I must insist you come to Huntsford this time, Greek has been with us for thousands of years so far, and I assure you it will not disappear if you leave it alone for a week or two more".

Unlike her family, she is inclined to be of a kinder opinion of Mr Collins, and appreciates his help. She considers him to be most patient and kind (it shows how neglectful her own family is, if she finds Mr Collins accommodating and good company). Her opinion of Mr Collins will change as the story develops.

The characters stay reasonably faithful to the originals, apart from maybe Lady Catherine. She is portrayed as a benevolent mistress who takes care of her servants (i.e. makes their living quarters more comfortable etc). In real life, I doubt that the likes of her would take notice of the sleeping arrangements of their bootboys. 

Mr Collins, for whom the word pompous was invented, has been derided enough, without making him even more unpleasant.

 My first thoughts were, Oh No, poor Charlotte with three little children, how is she going to cope now, with no income of her own?! Mr Collins was a pain in the neck, and one of the most unpleasant characters in all Austen's books, but he would have cared for his wife and provided her with all possible comforts, suitable for his status and position in life.

A Murder at Rosings is a novel about skeletons in the cupboard, family, loyalty and friendship.

Many thanks to Annette Purdey Pugh and NetGalley for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, sequel to Pride and Prejudice

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Photo diary: week 36, project 365

 Yesterday's 20th anniversary of 9/11 brought back lots of memories. We lived in New Haven, CT, at the time, I was pregnant with our first son. That morning my husband called me from the office and asked if I've seen the news. I switched on the TV, and watched with horror the tragic events. Just a few weeks before we strolled in New York, and went to the cinema. We used to take a train to NYC from New Haven every few weeks to visit the museums, galleries, cinema. On that day we didn't know how the world would change.

I was looking at the photos from our life in the States, and found some pics from the time when my brother and his wife stayed with us for a short visit in 2000. There is a picture of two of them, smiling happily. You turn the photo, and it says World Trade Center. 

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This week I've been reading a WWI romance The Warring Heart by Ros Rendle. The plot centres around the marriage of convenience, and the emotional journey the main character goes through. I didn't warm up to the heroine, finding her rather shallow and immature. 

There are vivid descriptions of the Great War, but none too graphic. There are some amorous scenes too, but overall this book is what the Americans describe as a clean romance.

Chez Maximka, fiction set during WWI

On Monday Sasha woke up early, very excited to go to college. My impression is that he expected to go to his old school, because he arrived back home looking disappointed. Hope as time goes, he will realise that he has to accept the fact that he won't be going back to his much-loved old school.

I had a quick coffee at Costa, and without kids it definitely felt like a treat. Their lemon muffins are to die for, so tasty, with the lemony zing.

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Another grocery delivery from Ocado, and another couple of Ritter Sport chocolate bars, this time a Buenos Dias White Mango Passion Fruit and Cashew. Both way too sweet. I had high hopes for the Cashew flavour as it promised salted cashews, but the nuts are not salty enough, while the milk chocolate tastes of nothing but sugar. Won't be buying any of these flavours again.

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While Sasha was in college for a three-hours' session, and Eddie at school, I ventured into the local book shop. I spotted this display of books, inspired by the Greek myths and legends. And while I love the Greek myths, I think this trend for re-told/re-imagined stories, with a modern, often feminist twist, is becoming a bit unimaginative.

It's as if authors cannot come up with new independent ideas of their own. When the Harry Potter series was published, so many copycats about schools for magicians have sprouted overnight.
Or Cressida Cowell's HTTYD series "inspired" zillions of books about dragons.

What other book themes/trends did you notice appearing again and again?

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I was having a chat to Sarah (Mum of 3) on Twitter, having seen her stash of books bought in Sainsbury's and told her that I was on a self-imposed ban of buying more books until I clear out at least some of my already bought paperbacks. Lo and behold, my feet took me to The Works, and I couldn't resist getting three paperbacks for a fiver, plus one of the books I ordered online has arrived. So much for the ban. 

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A very wet and rainy Friday... I grabbed a phone to snap a few webs covered with droplets in the garden. They were sparkling like gems. 

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One more of my American pictures from 2000: my sister-in-law Masha and me, enjoying a day in NYC. These were the days before we both had children. Next year we moved to Williamstown, MA, and then back to the UK in 2002. I've never been back to the States for over 19 years.

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Lethal Ties by Helen Christmas #BlogTour

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"Maisie, Joe and Sam. That's how it began.

We were three kids in a care home, too young to protect ourselves/

Three kids who were inseparable until the night Sam went missing.

And all we had ever wanted to know was what happened to him". 

"I couldn't explain it but I could sense the danger pouring in, a vortex of all-consuming evil that had no form but threatened to swallow us as we lay there. I knew we were powerless... but was I the only one who saw those spidery branches encircling us from above? Heard the whisper that sliced through the darkness?

"Silence her!"

Lethal Ties by Helen Christmas is a chilling psychological thriller. This shocking dark story is based on repressed childhood traumas.

The author's note tells that "the idea of this novel arose in 2015, when a series of stories appeared in the news concerning the historic child abuse of children by people in power, including TV celebrities and high establishment figures". Some of the allegations were never proved. The author says she has chosen to write her story from two perspectives, "one of the abused, and the long term damage they suffer, including anxiety, low self-esteem and in some cases victims feeling suicidal; but I also had to focus on the effect allegations may have on those who are falsely accused, on how lives can be ruined before they are proven innocent".

Lethal Ties is a fictional account, and the exposė of the abominable cruelty inflicted on the vulnerable children in care.

Maisie works for West Sussex County Council in the childcare and fostering department. As a child, she had been fostered herself, and knows the world of institutions and foster care from inside out.

She is undergoing psychotherapy and worries what if her employers find out about it. Would any exposure of her mental state be a real problem? "My foster mother had suggested this a month ago, through fear my panic attacks and nightmares would forever hang over me, and sure enough, something dark had been prodding at my subconscious mind lately".

Maisie could never forget her arrival at the children's home. "A day when all I wanted to do was retreat. Shut out all the cruelty in the world". But she was left at the mercy of the other inhabitants of the home, both children and grown-ups. Joe, another child in the children's home, came to her rescue.

Joe, Maisie and Sam became close friends and pledged to look out for each other, and they were loyal and constant friends until the night Sam disappeared.

Twenty years later, Maisie's nightmares become  recurring pattern. Her mind is unsettled, she sees things that are not real. Trying to understand why she is suffering flashbacks, Maisie keeps confiding to her psychotherapist.

Then one day she meets Joe again in the most stressful circumstances. Joe is now homeless, sleeping rough on the Bognor seafront. She is happy to see him and wants to help him turn his life around.

Now that Joe is by her side, Maisie is determined to find out what's happened to Sam. "Too many years have passed under the bridge to go our separate ways again. We never did discover what happened to Sam but wouldn't it be good to get to the bottom of it? I don't think I can move on until we do..."

Maisie wants to go to the police, but Joe is sceptical, "It's complicated, not to mention dangerous if it means going up against Mortimer [head of the children's home]. We can't prove nothing! I mean who's gonna believe someone like me?"

Maisie is hell-bent on finding the truth, and nothing can stop her now. Before long their past comes back to haunt them. Their investigation opens a sinister can of worms. A mysterious black car trails them, Joe is being trolled on social media, online threats make it clear that the old enemies are keeping a close eye on them.

What has really happened all those years ago at their children's home? 

Why is Maisie scared stiff of the woods? What do her flashbacks try to tell her?

Where did Sam disappear? If they can find him, he would be able to provide some answers.

Lethal Ties is not an easy read as it tackles difficult issues of child abuse in care homes. 

It is a sensitive exploration of repressed childhood trauma, and its damaging effects on the mental and emotional health of the individual later on in life, and how addressing the past ordeal could trigger severe anxiety, mental daze and emotional upheaval. Creepy, twisty and deeply unnerving.

This book review is part of the blog tour for Lethal Ties.

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

psychological thriller set in Bognor Regis

Author Bio:

I’ve had a passion for writing since childhood and wrote my first full length novel in 2011. This grew into a five-book mystery thriller series (Same Face Different Place).  I love networking with other authors and the highlight of my writing journey was in 2015 when I was selected as a winner in a short story competition Write Across Sussex,” judged by Kate Mosse and Peter Lovesey. I love where we live and with a passion for walking and photography, found the inspiration to base my novel in West Sussex

I am active on social media and have written various articles about my characters on my blog. The underlying premise of ‘Lethal Ties’ is to raise awareness of mental health problems and promote a better understanding of conditions such as Aspergers. Lethal Ties’ is my first standalone psychological thriller and set in my local town, Bognor Regis.

psychological thrillers by women

Social Media Links:

Blog https://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.helenchristmas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SFDPBeginnings
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/helenchristmas7/
Website: http://www.samefacedifferentplace.com/

If you cannot have enough of psychological thrillers, now you have a chance to win a copy of Lethal Ties (see below).

Giveaway to Win a signed paperback of Lethal Ties (Open to UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –

UK entries welcome.  

Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  

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

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

Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  

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

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

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

Please note that this giveaway is being run across several blogs. 

Chez Maximka is only hosting a Rafflecopter gadget for free for the purposes of promoting the book.

I am not responsible for the selection of the winner, or have to do anything with the prize allocation, dispatch or delivery.

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Tuesday, 7 September 2021

The Surplus Girls' Orphans by Polly Heron


Chez Maximka, books set in England after the WWI

"She's a lucky girl, especially at her age," Mum would agree. "There are plenty of girls left on't shelf these days."

Aye, there were. Surplus girls, they were called. Molly had read about them in Mum's Vera's Voice... They hadn't been woe-is-me articles, but cheerful, encouraging pieces about how surplus girls should plan for the future and get themselves trained up to do the most highly qualified work they were capable of, to give themselves a chance of a reasonable salary in a world where women earned less than men simply because they were women".

Molly Watson, the main character of The Surplus Girls' Orphans is considered to be lucky. In her late 20s, she has "a fiancѐ with a decent job and good prospects. Good-looking too..." "And when they got married, he was going to buy her a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk every Saturday." 

Molly's family and friends think Molly is a lucky girl indeed. It is 1922, and for many young women their dreams of marriage have perished in the Great War. Millions of young men died in the war, and the gender gap has increased dramatically.

Norris is a penny-pincher and a pedant, who enjoys teasing Molly, but somewhat you can see why he would be considered a catch. Theirs is a long engagement, as Norris is saving money to provide a house for her with all the modern cons. He talks about a future house with the electricity and indoor plumbing, and such a fancy gadget as a vacuum cleaner. In his own way, he loves Molly and wants the best for her. If only he were not so miserly, avoiding to pay for drinks at the pub, or dances. He can be very convincing, and Molly tries to persuade herself that "her future had been all mapped out by Norris - by Norris? With Norris. Her future was mapped out with Norris".

Her mother and grandmother are thrilled with Norris, "it's what yoy want for your daughters and your grandaughters: marriage to a good provider. It was a weight off all our minds".

If you've read the previous book in the series, The Surplus Girls, or any other historical sagas set in the 1920s, you would know how back-breaking the house tasks were in those times for women, and how many men spent all the earnings on the drink, and other "hobbies" rather than their own families. 

However, Molly has reservations about her long engagement. Yes, Norris was "safe harbour and she was lucky he wanted her. What a relief it had been to have this opportunity to build a happy and prosperous new life". After three years of watching Norris's penny-pinching and small, needless economies, and being patronised and kept in her place, she's had enough.

As time passes, Molly feels stronger in herself, and decides that she would rather be a surplus girl than marry someone she doesn't respect or love. She knows the chances of her finding someone else to marry are almost non-existent, and she will stay single and will need to support herself all her life.

After meeting a lady who works for the new Board of Health, Molly wants to get a job where she can help those less fortunate. She knows she is capable to do more than working in the sweet shop. She applies to the business school run by Miss Hesketh and Miss Patience.

"The future. That was what this was about. Choices. Opportunities. Self-sufficiency."

It was wonderful to revisit the Hesketh school, and see what progress they made since we first met the ladies in the first book of the series. "Their business school: this was how they had rescued their house - yes, their house, whatever Pa's will said - from Lawrence's grasping fingers. Using Prudence's years of office experience and Patience's social skills, they had set themselves up to train girls to be office workers; and not just any girls, but surplus girls, that blighted generation whose chances of matrimony had perished in the fields of Flanders".

The sisters make a delightful duo of supporting characters, and their own sub-story is moving, sad yet positive and productive.

As a student at the business school, Molly is offered an opportunity to do a voluntary job at St Anthony's Orphanage. There she befriends caretaker Aaron Abrams. Before the war he used to be a carpenter, and he could have returned to his old job and earned more, but it was no longer enough for him. 

"Some might see his role as caretaker of St Anthony's as a step backwards for a skilled craftsman, but he didn't view it like that. To his mind, it was a way to contribute to the well-being of the next generation, especially here, in this environment, where the children had already lost so much".

Will Aaron and Molly's friendship blossom into something more meaningful, or will jealous Norris ruin it by revealing Molly's big secret of what has happened to her during the war?

The Surplus Girls' Orphans is a delightful read, which tells a moving story with confidence and realism.

Molly is a sweet character, she is gentle, caring, thoughtful and a little bit impulsive. 

Mrs Wardle, a snobbish lady who "does charity"and  who takes great pleasure in interfering into the Board of Health' decisions makes a brilliant baddie, whom you would love to hate. 

I love the theme of the surplus girls, and the way Polly Heron recreates Manchester in the 1920s as an evocative, authentic and dynamic setting.

Chez Maximka, fiction set in Manchester

P.S. At the time of writing this paperback is available from Amazon at £4.49. I bought it at The Works (3 for £5 deal).

Chez Maximka, books set in England after WWI

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Photo diary: week 35, project 365

 We said Good bye to summer and greeted September, not without a certain degree of apprehension. The evenings are getting dark much earlier now, and the mornings have that mild crispy chill which is unmistakably autumnal.

Eddie started school, while Sash will have the first day of college tomorrow. Thankfully, his transport has been sorted out, but sadly, it is a totally new company, so everything will be new for him: college, staff, class mates and transport. It won't be easy for him to adjust. He seems eager to go, but I'm not sure how much he understands that he won't see his old school again.

Our garden is not particularly colourful at the moment. The leaves are still green, and most flowers are over, apart from a few phloxes, cyclamens and single roses. The iris seed pods add a touch of colour.

Chez Maximka, garden in September

My life has been so uneventful in the last couple of weeks, since I haven't been out. Hence my photos are quite unimaginative. I was looking at the chocolate offers on Ocado (as you do), and spotted new Ritter Sport flavours. Of course, I just had to try them. 

Marhaba Yogurt Honey Hazelnuts sounds better than it tastes, though it didn't last long here, as we're all chocoholics. 
Hula Hula Coconut Wafer is a lovely discovery, I will definitely buy it again. 
Have you tried these flavours?

Chez Maximka

Eddie and I started another Marvel marathon, watching all films from the beginning (we decided to skip Hulk, as it's not one of our favourites). Loki is as gorgeous as always. And I just love all the banter and jokes.

My DH is coming back from Italy tonight. Seeing the reports from the Heathrow, I suspect he'll be stuck there for a while on his arrival, but no sympathy from me. He's been away for two weeks, and left us in a predicament.

I asked him to take some photos of my in-laws' house for Sasha, as he loves looking at the pictures of familiar places. 

Chez Maximka

On Thursday Eddie had to go to school to have a Covid test. While in the queue, he sent me a selfie to let me know he arrived at school safely. 
They are not allowed to have a phone in school, but did ask to bring it on that day to register the app.

On Friday it was a shorter school day for him. Some photos from eight years before have popped up among the Memories on FB, taken on his first day at the nursery. Goodness, how small and cute he was. I will probably say the same in eight years' time, looking at this picture.

Yesterday I finished reading Polly Heron's The Surplus Girls' Orphans, set in Manchester in 1929. This is the second book in the series, and a very enjoyable read, immersive and moving, with a lovable main protagonist. Also very interesting social history. 

And how did your week go?

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