Friday, 15 July 2022

The Hollows by Mark Edwards


Chez Maximka, horror story, thriller set at a camp

"Now that I was alone, what David had said about being able to feel the energy of what had happened here came back to me. I could sense it. An imprint in the air, the memory of an evil act stamped upon this place".

"All three of us turned our heads towards the woods, and a sensation of dread trickled down my spine. A shadow moved in the trees. Shifting light. Wind stirring branches. But it was easy to imagine something else at work. Something alive and ancient that had lived among these trees since they were saplings.

Everett's territory?

Or the territory of something he worshipped?"

The Hollows by Mark Edwards is a dark psychological thriller, with Gothic undertones.

Tom Anderson and his daughter Frankie arrive to a cabin resort amidst the woods during the grand opening week. Their cabin is on the far side of the resort. "Nestled in the trees, the cabin - like all the cabins here - was brand new. Its windows gleamed in the sunshine. This was our home for the next ten nights".

Frankie is upset because there is no Wi-Fi here. The father is adamant, "that was the whole point of coming here. To get away from everything. No social media. No YouTube. No news. A whole week and a half without staring at a screen. Just you and me". Of course, both of them get the Wi-Fi withdrawal symptoms almost immediately.

The father plans to spend "quaity time" with his daughter, doing archery, boating on the lake, horse riding and many other outdoorsy activities. 

Tom is a Brit, who's being married to an American. Now that they are divorced, he sees his daughter once a year when he visits the States. He lives frugally, saves all year to be able to afford these holidays with Frankie. Tom is a music journalist, with a dwindling career. "I was wounded. The slow death of my career. The breakdown of my marriage. The loss of my daughter".

Their next cabin neighbours, David and Connie are super excited about the opening of the resort. Their podcast on true crime and serial killers is gaining popularity, and this trip is meant to boost the numbers of their audience.

Apparently, the Hollows has being widely advertised on The Snugg Guide, a dark tourism website, for the 20th anniversray of the Hollows Horror.

"As Connie and David took it in turns to tell me the story of what had happened here almost exactly twenty years before, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, as of someone were standing behind me, blowing cool air on to me".

Long before the resort was established, this area was popular with schools and campers.

Twenty years earlier, in July 1999, two teachers were killed. They were left naked on the flat rock, with pagan symbols painted in blood around them. The theory was that the murder was some kind of an offering, a sacrifice. A local teenager, Everett Miller, a loner with interest in crazy-ass bands, was the main suspect. He has never been caught, having disappeared without any trace, most likely gone across the border to Canada.

Murder-obsessed, ghoulish tourists flock to the resort to mark the chilling anniversary.

Despite his misgivings about the dark topics, Tom is intrigued and even motivated. "I didn't want to get ahead of myself, but if a great story had just landed in my lap - or rather, I'd landed in its lap - maybe this was my chance to start again. I had often thought about relaunching myself as a different kind of journalist. Could this be my chance to do just that?"

The first step would be to dig more information about the case, read the old files, chat to some locals, and if the story proves worthy, pitch it to some editors. "I tried to keep my excitement in check, but it was hard. Because when you've been starved of hope for so long, it's hard not to snatch it when you see it dangled before you".

David and Connie stay at the Hollows with their teen son, Ryan. 

When Ryan and Frankie venture to the nearest small town, called Penance, to access the Wi-Fi, they are not impressed with the creepy junkyards, crumbling houses and broken windows, and the air of shabbiness about the place. The locals are hostile and threatening. Frustrated, Ryan does a selfie with a homeless man asleep in the shadows by the memorial, with an offensive message, "Come to the asshole of the world! Penance, ME..." The hashtags are as offensive: #shithole #vacationfromhell

This Instagram post will come back to bite them. It appears that some of the locals don't take kindly to the disrespectful, derogatory social media posts. Ryan and Frankie get trolled with vengeance.

The strange, disturbing things start to happen in the resort. 

Tom and Frankie's dream trip is rapidly turning into a horror story. Will the time run out before they are able to uncover the truth? 

The story alternates between Tom (in first person narrative) and Frankie (third person), with some other voices contributing to the plotline.

The atmosperic creepy setting is done skilfully to build up tension and suspence. The dark ancient woods, the sound of distant, unseen chimes, a sinister town of Penance. You get references to the classic horror films, as well as Edwards' previous books (in the Acknowledgments he mentions that he has left several Easter eggs for his readers).

There are the creepy twins that would make you think of The Shining. "They were behind her, walking at the same pace as her, side by side. She caught the girl's eye and the girl's lips curled into a smile. Except it wasn't a real smile. It was the kind of expression an alien who was trying to imitate human emotion might make. The boy did the same, and now Frankie was certain they were twins. They looked like two dolls who had rolled off the same production line".

It touches upon such a crucial issue as chidren and social media. "We give kids access to these new online tools, like Instagram, but they don't always have the emotional maturity to use them". It might not be a cautionary tale for our times as such, and not does it try to be one, but it does make you think of the dangers and pressure of social media.

If you enjoy thrillers and horror stories with the nightmare holiday camp settings, The Hollows is a proper page-turner. I read it in one day. Dark, creep-inducing, suspensful horror.

The Hollows is currently available for £1 on Amazon, or free for Prime Reading/Prime Amazon subscribers.

Chez Maximka, horror story set in a camp

Monday, 11 July 2022

Twelve Nights by Penny Ingham (review + #giveaway)

Chez Maximka


"She realised she was holding her breath, for there was something magical in the air. The actors were taking their places, an everyday metamorphosis from humble players to kings and queens, courtiers and clowns. It was a kind of alchemy, and it never failed to enthral her".

"And she knew she would sweep the stage a thousand times if it meant she could remain a part of this world within a world; this kingdom peopled by infuriatingly selfish but staggeringly talented players. Becaue the 'tiring house was her home, the one place she felt she belonged. The one place where no-one saw her as a wicked, worthless whore".

Twelve Nights by Penny Ingham is a suspensful and utterly compelling historical novel by Penny Ingham, set in 1592.

You're plunged into a dramatic murder scene from the start. John Wood, the player at The Theatre, crashes on the board amidst the performance of Twelfth Night and dies.

Magdalen Bisset, the wardrobe mistress of the Theatre, is accused of John's murder, for the simple reason that she is a woman, and poison is a woman's weapon. As we'll find out later there's another reason why the local policeman is set on revenge. While the death sentence looms over her head, Magdalen begins her own investigation, trying to find the culprit and escape the hanging charges.

It's not just herself she has to worry about. Her elderly grandmother has dementia and lives in a twilight zone, not always recognising people around her. "Who would care for her grandmother if she was convicted of John's murder? She had to keep Grand-Aggie safe; she had to keep a roof over her head. And in order to do that, she had to prove her innocence, for all other roads let to the noose".

The theatre owner, Richard Burbage, and the cast seem to be rather spiritless and inadequate in their support. Burbage has his own interests at heart, as the theatre is his main preoccuption, he wouldn't do anything to jeopardise its existence.

Shakespeare and Marlow are the only people who show compassion and pledge their support, even if it's rather a weak promise. William is considerate and kindly, but quite often appears detached, and not doing much to help. Kit lives his life precariously, and is not a man to be trusted. They are more passionate about the competition between themselves. It becomes obvious that "she could rely on no-one but herself to clear her name".

Magdalen is friends with both, and can see their vanity and weaknesses. Will is more compassionate and kind than Kit, but ultimately as self-absorbed and intent on promoting his own interests as the other. 

"She had known the players half her life. She knew their foibles, their hopes and fears. In the space of one day, they could be funny, annoying, selfish, cruel and kind. In short, they were her family".

Trying desperately to discover the truth behind the death of her friend, Magdalen has to deal with the false accusations and the hostility of her landlady. Her landlord is known for sexually abusing his servants, while his wife accuses the victims of seducing her dear husband. When Magdalen is nearly raped by the obnoxious guy, the landlady is fuming at her, holding her responsible for the actions of the husband. 

On top of all this, her senile grandma Aggie stubbornly adheres to her Catholic faith, and these are very dangerous times to be following the old faith. Magdalen sympathises with Catholics, but she isn't prepared to die for them.

There is only one person, a new addition to the theatre, who offers his help, but can Magdalen trust him? What are Matthew's secrets and agenda?

With just two weeks until the dreaded inquest, Magdalen has to explore the underworld of the city, and visit some of the high-ranking nobles, looking for the true killer, or it's the gallows for her.

Being a woman in Tudor times is a dangerous business, especially when you can rely only on yourself. The realities of the day are harsh and unforgiving.

Magdalen is a complex character. She is a strong female lead, kind, fiercely loyal to the theatre and her elderly grandmother, but also enjoying her drink too much and spending her free time in the pubs in the company of actors, when she should have been looking after her senile grandma.

Magdalen is devoted to the theatre. For her "it was a shining beacon rising above the squalor of its grim surroundings. A sanctuary from the troubles of her life"

The historical background is rich and well-researched. The life of a wardrobe mistress is described in great detail. From costumes and makeup, to buying fresh pig's blood for the scenes of gore and carnage, mending a stuffed dog and repairing Richard the Third's hump-back, observing the aristocrats arriving to watch the play for the details of the latest fashions, all these details are fascinating. 

Penny Ingham is a fantastic storyteller. She brings London in the 16c into vibrant, credible life.

Twelve Nights is a gripping, twisty story, with dark malevolent undertones through and through, vivid and evocative. It's an intelligent, well-written and polished story. The quotes from works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries add a satisfying touch to the narrative.

This review is part of the blog tour for Twelve Nights.

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

fiction about Shakespeare, Chez Maximka

Purchase Links

UK – 

US  -

Author Bio –

I was born and raised in Yorkshire where my father inspired my love of history from an early age. He is a born story teller and would take us to the top of Iron Age hillforts, often as dusk was falling, and regale us with stirring tales of battles lost and won. Not surprisingly, I went on to study Classics at university, and still love spending my summers on archaeological digs. For me, there is nothing more thrilling than finding an artefact that has not seen the light of day for thousands of years. I find so much inspiration for my novels from archaeology.

I have had a variety of jobs over the years, including working for the British Forces newspaper in Germany, and at the BBC. When our family was little, the only available space for me to write was a small walk-in wardrobe. The children used to say, ‘oh, mum’s in the cupboard again’.

I have written four historical novels: The King’s Daughter explores the story of Aethelflaed, the Lady of the Mercians. The Saxon Wolves and the Saxon Plague are both set in fifth century AD, a time of enormous upheaval and uncertainty in Britain as the Romans departed and the Saxon era began. My latest is something a bit different. Twelve Nights is a crime thriller set in sixteenth century London, and features William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe.

I now live with my husband in the Hampshire countryside. Like many others during the pandemic, we decided to try growing our own fruit and vegetables – with mixed results! We can only get better!


novels about Shakespeare

Social Media Links –

Facebook:  Penny Ingham Author Page | Facebook

Instagram: Penny Ingham (@penny.ingham)

Twitter: Penny Ingham (@pennyingham) / Twitter

Website: Penny Ingham (

Giveaway to Win a PB copy of Twelve Nights (Open to UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions – 

Open to the UK residents only.

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 not that this giveaway is promoted across several blogs taking part in the blog tour, but there is only one winner.

Chez Maximka is hosting the Rafflecopter gadget for free for the purposes of the blog tour.

I have no access to data collected by Rafflecopter, don't select the winner or dispatch the prize.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Photo diary: first week of July'22, Project 365

Being a child of the land of snow, I don't adapt well to the heat, feeling sluggish, as if my brain turns to cotton wool. The old English houses are also not built for the hot weather. As much as I love our old house, it keeps the heat in everywhere apart from the ground floor. And don't even try to venture in the attic room, it's like wading through the warm soup.

The first week of July was rather uneventful. Sash finished his college term, and is now at home full-time. Eddie still has just over a week to go until school holidays.
It was all about Stranger Things, as we finished watching the final two episodes.

One of the recent books I have reviewed is The Maids of Biddenden by G.D. Harper. It's a fascinating historical novel about two sisters, Eliza and Mary Chulkhurst, the conjoined twins who were born in the early 12C Kent. They grew up to become a talented musician and a herbalist.

Chez Maximka, historical fiction set in 12C

My husband took Eddie to the hairdresser's. Of course, now everyone wants Steve Harrington's hair, but the hairdresser said Eddie's hair is not long enough for that style. Maybe by the end of summer he could get his coveted bouffant. Until then, sorry, mate.

Chez Maximka,

We even looked up online which products someone would need to maintain Steve's hairstyle, and oh my, I don't spend that much on my hair. Stranger Things makes me feel a bit nostalgic, thanks to its timeline. I am a couple years older than Eleven and the gang. Though I lived in a different country, the fashions and the hair of the 1980s ring true. That hair, that loud makeup, bomber jackets, high-wasted jeans, bold prints etc...

And it's funny to see how it's coming back, due to the huge popularity of the show.

Not that we have acquired Steve's hairstyle, but here is Eddie's haircut.

Chez Maximka

If I am not in a hurry, I walk into town, taking the longer route, via the flood fields. I was saddened to see that the local authorities decided to cut the trees along the river Windrush. What's the point? They don't bother anyone, they are not anywhere near houses. Now instead of beautiful trees we have ugly stumps.

Chez Maximka

I haven't painted much in the last week. It being Sasha's last few days at college, I have tried to do as many tasks as possible in town, including queueing for ages in the local pharmacy to get his prescription. The local pharmacies have now become an instrument of torture. You wait for ages to be seen, only to be told that only part of your prescription is ready and you'd need to come again.
We also have a shortage of pharmacists, and some of the newly hired staff don't appear very competent.

The only thing I painted was for the Chocolate week. I have seen this vintage art deco cocoa poster, and fell in love with its colour blocks, and just had to paint it.

Chez Maximka

Eddie's birthday is coming in a couple of weeks, and all this year's birthday gifts are Stranger Things related. I couldn't find proper Eggos anywhere, but you can get these Pop-tarts Eggo on Amazon. I thought we could have a taste on the morning of Eddie's birthday.

Stranger Things Attack of the Mind Flayer game is available in Game. 
I have ordered two ST birthday cards on Moonpig, and got a few things on EMP too (will show them later this month). 

Stranger Things birthda gifts, Chez Maximka

I was washing dishes in the kitchen, when I spotted this fledgling, hiding among the leaves of the creeper on the stone wall. The Zoom on my phone is not the best, but here is a snap of the little fellow. Not sure, if it's a young blackbird? Apologies to all birdwatchers, if I got it totally wrong.

Chez Maximka

More snaps from our garden. Several years ago my Mum planted some seeds of hollyhocks which she picked in the wild in town. It keeps growing each year, and is now taller than me. It's not the most gorgeous of hollyhocks, but every time I look at it, it's like my Mum saying Hi.

Chez Maximka

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Friday, 8 July 2022

Belle Nash and The Bath Soufflé (The Gay Street Chronicles) by William Keeling


Chez Maximka, fiction with gay main character

"It might seem absurd that something as inconsequential as a soufflé should rouse society's passions, let alone that a single soufflé's failure to rise could have repercussions enough to affect the course of people's lives. A soufflé, light and fluffy as a lover's promise, should not have the force to cause waves. The tiniest ripple, perhaps, but not the tidal wave now in the making".

Belle Nash and the Bath Soufflé (The Gay Street Chronicles) by William Keeling is an exuberant and boisterous tale of schemes and machinations, lure and allure, love and loyalty, set in the 1830s Bath.

When Gaia Champion decides to host a birthday dinner for her closest friend "Belle" Nash, nobody could imagine that a culinary disaster will set off a chain of events which will shake the local society.

Focused on the personality of Bellerophon Nash and his circle of friends, the first volume of The Gay Street Chronicles gives an insight in the social and moral issues of the early Victorian days.

Belle is a local councillor, a bachelor and a bon vivant, who lives with his "cousin" Gerhard Kant in an elegant townhouse on Gay Street in Bath. Belle is a witty, intelligent man, loving and loyal. 

Gerhard is quite a character. Self-obsessed with his own beauty (he has a habit of gazing at himself dreamily in the mirrors in every room), he is also predisposed "to philosophical speculation". He laughs at his own jokes, and considers himself an intellectual. 

When Belle and Gerhard attend Gaia's dinner, the culinary calamity occurs. Gaia's cook, Mme Galette, has "been whisking like crazy until her arm near dropped off but it [soufflé] won't rise". Upon the investigation, it becomes clear that one of the ingredients is at fault. The dinner company decides to take it upon themselves to look into the case further, find the culprit and save the future of the soufflé.

Gaia's friends turn amateur detectives, but they are certainly not as inconspicuous as they think. As their investigation moves forward, there is plenty of comic situations, in which our friends find themselves. Mrs Crust's Pie shop and its second-rate competitor Shirley Haytit's tearoom with its deadly crumpets turn into surveillance points.

The group of friends uncover corruption and abuse of power among the certain circles of the local authorities. Villainous Magistrate Wood is in cahoots with the swindler grocer Porter. 

And they would go to any lengths to stop Gaia, Belle & Co from exposing them.

The humour is ranging from mild human comedy to the stinging satire, especially when applied to the political institutions and social mores. The manner of narrative makes you think of Mr Pickwick's characters. The exuberance of writing is definitely inspired by the young Dickens' style.

Apart from the main protagonists, Belle and Gaia, there is a whole set of supporting characters, each with their own personality and eccentricity. There's a formidable Lady Passmore, of Tewksbury Manor, her close friend and confidante Mrs Pomeroy, a shy spinster Miss Prim who is prone to fainting at any given opportunity.

Bring in the amusing cooks, the misfit music teacher Mr Quigley who wears a tea cosy on his head, young Princess Victoria who visits Bath, the handsome young clerk Lucious Lush who is happy to go through the regression therapy under Gerhard's tutelage, and many more unconventional characters, and be entertained.

Gaia's storyline is told from a feminist angle. She believes in advocating women's rights. Her late husband Hercule has encouraged her to use her mind. But "her purpose - her work - had vanished with Hercule's death. With him at her side, she had visualised her future spreading out as a twin progress; withour him, that future had turned in on itself... They were equals in marriage and it was on that basis that their relationship was founded." Without him, Gaia realises how unjust the female role in the society is. She needs to find a new purpose in life.

Gaia's enthusiasm in exposing the unscrupulous grocer and his patron is not a trivial matter. She muses, "His real crime is to have taken advantage of the women of Bath... It is the wives and cooks and housekeepers and kitchen staff who make up Porter's clientèle. There is a lot more than the soufflé now at stake. Porter's is an assault against our entire sex and I for one am not prepared to tolerate such a state of affairs. It is time for women to rise up against injustice, to occupy the roles of authority that have for so long been betrayed by men".

Every chapter comes with informative historical notes which give a deeper insight in the social, political, and philosophical issues of the day. These footnotes are far from being boring, and give an in-depth data supporting the narrative. 

If it were a play, it would have been a 2/3 vaudeville, 1/3 drama. It is a light, like a proper souffle, entertaining read, comical, with pantomime villains, until you reach a certain point in the story, and it turns rather poignant.

Belle Nash and the Bath Soufflé is a hugely enjoyable story, deliciously witty and compelling. A cracking read!

Chez Maximka, books with gay characters

Picnic Degustabox

 Picnic, this quintessential summer pastime, 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 a Picnic Degustabox box? 

subscription food box, Chez Maximka

Urban Fruit Gently Baked Pineapple (£1) is a delicious fruity snack. It is 100% natural. No sulphites, no added sugar, it's gently baked at low temperatures to maintain nutrients and juiciness.

A 30g pack is one of your 5 a day. High in fibre, vegan friendly, gluten free, 105kcal per pack.

You should receive two items in your box.

Available in Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, and online at Ocado and Amazon.

Chez Maximka, fruit snacks

Hippeas Sriracha Chilli Chickpea Puffs (£0.99) are delicious crunchy puffs, with a little kick from punchy spices like paprika, chilli, pepper and cumin.

These low cal, gluten free snacks are high in fibre. Vegan, no MSG, palm oil free, with plant protein, 88kcal or less per serving, no artificial preservatives.

We enjoy Hippeas snacks, and this new flavour doesn't disappoint.

Available in most supermarkets.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Whitworths Protein by Nature Moroccan Grains (£2) is inspired by the flavours of North Africa. This is a tasty combination of cooked bulgur wheat and mung dal with soya protein, vegetables, dried fruit, herbs and spices.

A handy product to keep in the pantry for a quick lunch or dinner, just add some roasted vegetables, grilled halloumi or lamb shank. Great as a main for one, or as a side for two.

This vegan product contains 20g protein.

Nutritional values: 398kcal and 11g of sugar per 250g pack.

Available in Tesco, Morrisons, Co-Op and Sainsbury's.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box, vegan products

Plantastic Chocolate & Cherry Flapjacks (£2.25) are made to a vegan recipe. These chocolate and glace cherry flapjacks are plant-based, have no artifical colours or flavours, and are good source of fibre.

Ingredients include oat flakes, cherry filling, vegetable oils (rapeseed and palm), dark chocolate chips, diced glacee cherries and more.

Nutritional values: 137kcal and 11.3g of sugar per flapjack.

A handy snack to carry in your bag, to have on the go, whenever you're feeling peckish.

Available in Tesco.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

KIND Snacks Fruit and Nut/Maple Pecan Almond (£1.49) are delicious nutty bars.

Fruit & Nut is a classic flavour combination that combines whole almonds and cherries. Made with over 82% fruit and nuts.

All KIND bars contain whole nuts, they are the first ingredient and are rich in healthy fats.

You will receive one of two items in your box. We got KIND Maple Pecan Almond bar, and oh boy, it's a treat for anyone who loves nutty bars. 

High fibre, no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, gluten free.

Nutritional values: 240kcal, 6g of protein and 4.2g of sugar per 40g bar.

Available in all major retailers.

Knorr Fish Stock Pot (£1.65) is a gluten free concentrated fish stock. It is slowly simmered with onion and garlic. No added MSG, artificial colours or preservatives.

I regularly buy Knorr stock pots, mostly vegetable or mushroom stock for risotto and soup.

I tend to just pan fry fish, which has been lightly coated in flour with spices, or cook in the oven in a foil pocket with lemon and sea weed flakes, and so far haven't had a chance to try the fish stock. I think I might cook a fish curry with the stock. What would you cook with it? Paella? Seafood risotto?

Available in major supermarkets.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Napolina Drained Quinoa and Drained Cannellini Beans (£0.75) - discover the Napolina Drained and ready to serve range. Great as an ingredient for varied summer salads, or in a packed lunch.

Cannellini beans could make a lovely base for a quick and easy hummus, with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. As it's a smaller size tin, you won't get huge amounts, just enough for a few flatbreads with hummus.

 Quinoa would taste great with avocados, sweet peppers, spring onions or parsley, and feta or grilled halloumi.

You should receive two items in your box.

Available in ASDA and on Ocado.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Guinness Cooking Paste (£3) is a new secret ingredient. Stir a spoonful into your chilli, casserole or stew, or add a tablespoon, when making pulled pork sandwiches for a deep and rich, sweet and smoky flavour. 

One tablespoon is enough to jazz up your favourite dishes. So far I have used it while making a gravy for meatballs, when my son had a friend over for dinner. Spaghetti Bolognese would be another dish to add an oomph to.

Available in Tesco.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

KitKat Bites Sharing Bag (£1.59) are the bite-sized pieces of the classic treat. You'll find the same milk chocolate shells with a chocolatey filling including wheat based crispy pieces.

One serving = 7 sweets: 100kcal and 10g of sugar.

KitKat cocoa is Rainforest Alliance approved. No artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.

Pick up a Netflix movie and share a bag of KitKat bites with your family or friends.

Available in all major supermarkets.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox

Chewits Cherry Stick Pack  and Xtreme Lemon Stick Pack (£0.50) are the latest addition to the Chewits range of flavours. Sweet Cherry and Sour Lemon come in individually wrapped packs.

Suitable for vegetarians, with no artificial colours or flavours.

You should receive two items in your box.

Available in Wilko and convenience stores.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

On a hot summer day what could be more enticing than a glass of iced tea or coffee?! 

Boost Iced Coffee is a premium quality iced coffee which comes in four flavours. You should receive two items in your box: Coffee Mocha and Caffè Latte. Boost blends contain 60% robusta and 40% arabica coffee, origin from Brazil and Vietnam.

Chez Maximka, iced coffee

Boost Caffè Latte is a latte coffee drink made from semi-skimmed and skimmed milk. Best served chilled.

Nutritional values: 145kcal and 24g of sugar per 250ml can

It is way too sweet, even my husband who has a sweet tooth, mentioned it. It needed lots of ice to dilute the sweetness.

Available at local convenience stores.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

J20 Spritz Apple & Watermelon (£2.65 for a single unit, £4 for a multipack) is a refreshing light drink, sparkling and bubbly.

Watermelon and fresh apple are lovely summery flavours. Serve chilled, with ice, and pair with salty and rich dishes. It's only 55kcal per bottle.

Great for picnics, BBQs and summer parties in the garden.

The single unit is available in selected bars and restaurants. The multipack is available in all major supermarkets.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

The Elephant Girl by Henriette Gyland

Chez Maximka, romantic suspence

Today I'm delighted to welcome Henriette Gyland, the author of The Elephant Girl, to talk about her favourite genre.

The Elephant Girl

I think I saw you …

It’s been twenty years, and Helen Stephens has come home to stay. And to get revenge on the person who murdered her mother. If only she knew who it was … But nothing is ever black or white, and when she rents a room in a house full of ex-offenders, the events of that fateful day blur even further, leading her to question her resolve and her memory.

Jason Moody, who runs the half-way house, has his own shame. When he uncovers her intent, he begins to suspect that someone close to him could be involved …

A coincidence? Or is there something else going on?

Purchase Links

UK -

US -

romantic suspence novel

Author Bio –

Originally from Denmark, Henriette Gyland (who also writes as Ella Gyland) has lived in London for many years, surrounded by her family, cats, books and the Scandinavian hygge she tries to create everywhere she goes. As a linguist she loves playing with words and language, and she's addicted to story-telling. She also believes strongly in social responsibility and sustainable living.

Social Media Links –


Facebook author page:

Twitter: @henrigyland


romantic suspence



There are undoubtedly some dark themes in The Elephant Girl – death of a mother, epilepsy, child abandonment, revenge, self-discovery etc. – but it’s also written in a genre I’m particularly fond of: romantic suspense. You could say that romance was my first love and, indeed, when I started writing, I tried to write to write a straight-forward romantic novel (if there is such a thing…)

And failed.


As rejections piled up, I realised this was in particularly due to one problem: the body count. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t stop killing off my characters!

That’s not to say that a romantic novel can’t and/or doesn’t deal with heavy themes such as death, grief, loss, abandonment and similar. Romantic fiction is a broad church spanning a wide range of subgenres, and most of them do deal with these matters, sometimes with a light touch, but nevertheless leaving me feeling satisfied after I’ve finished reading the book. I feel I’ve learned something about the human condition, and this is what all writers strive to achieve, whether consciously or not.

Going back to the body count in my books, there’s one subgenre of the romantic novel where the bodies are “allowed” to pile up, so to speak :-), and under suspicious circumstances too, and that’s the romantic suspense novel. There’s also an element of danger (the thriller aspect), when the hero/heroine get close to discovering that what they thought to be the truth turned out to be a lie, perhaps perpetuated over several years. The moment when they uncover what actually did happen and how it impacts on their own lives in the present.

And, of course, in romantic suspense, which is essentially a crime novel as much as it is a romantic novel, there’s always a dastardly villain, the one who perpetrated the crime and perhaps irrevocably changed the lives of the main characters, and who has to get their come-uppance (heh-heh).

So, why epilepsy? That’s an unusual one, you might say.

Writers are like magpies, although rather than simply steal shiny things we nick our inspiration from the world around us, either from personal experiences, from a random news item, someone else’s story, snippets of conversation overheard on the bus and so on. It could be anything, and it’s not always easy to trace back to where it came from because it often enters the writer’s mind subconsciously.

At the time of writing The Elephant Girl though, I was witnessing a friend slowly deteriorate from an inoperable brain tumour and subsequently die shortly before her 40th birthday. She wasn’t one of my closest friends, and I found it hard to express my sadness and grief because it seemed as though this was the domain of her family and not for me to “highjack”. So I poured my feelings into a fictional story.

Another friend (thankfully still alive!) had, a few years previously, opened up about living with epilepsy, a condition she’d suffered from since she was in her early 20s, and which affects her life in ways which can be difficult for outsiders to comprehend.

My writer magpie brain kicked in, and I ended up combining the two. I wanted to honour my friend who had died, and I wanted to write about epilepsy, a so-called hidden disability, and to do so respectfully. It’s a condition which is often misunderstood to the extent that many sufferers choose not to talk about it for fear of being stigmatised.

I also wanted the dead bodies, the revenge, and the rest. I wanted the STORY! The Elephant Girl was born :-)

On a final note, fortunately, due to campaigns by various charities, including Epilepsy Action, there’s growing support and openness about the condition, and I hope this support will continue to grow. If in any way my novel can help tackle the stigma surrounding epilepsy, I shall be very happy.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

The Maids of Biddenden by G.D. Harper

Chez Maximka, books about conjoined twins

"Let us promise ourselves," she said, "never again to obstruct each other's wishes, never again to allow quarrels to prevent us from working in harmony. We shall speak with one voice, be of one mind, and agree the one thing we are doing next".

"We were observers of each other's world and it was wonderful these worlds were different. God ordained that our bodies were bound together, but not our minds. Our minds soared off in different ways, giving us a degree of freedom from each other". 

The Maids of Biddenden by G.D. Harper is a thought-provoking and moving historical novel set in the early 12C. The novel is inspired by the local history of Kent (some historians dismiss the story of the Maids of Biddenden as the folk myth).

Mary and Eliza Chulkhurst are sisters and conjoined twins, known as the Maids of Biddenden. They were born in 1100 into a wealthy family from a small village in Kent.

Joined at the hip, they are not expected to live long beyond babyhood. Their mother dies in labour, and the distraught father sends the babies to the care of Malling Abbey.

Mother Avicia is appointed the prioress of Malling Abbey. She is elated, and also distressed to discover the abbey's dark secret. She prays for strength before meeting the twins.

The sisters are cared for by the nuns. One of the nuns, Sister Agnes, goes beyond and above the call of duty. She is kind, compassionate and there is a special bond between her and the twins. Sister Agnes is very fond of Mary and Eliza, whose whole world is inside the four walls of their room, with a few playthings being their possessions.

Sister Agnes confides in Mother Avicia, "They are remarkable beings... When on their onw, they are in constant discussion with each other. Even Mary, who is quiet in the presence of others, has a lively tongue when alone with her sister. They debate, explain, question each other every waking moment of their day. The smallest grain of learning is seized upon and expanded by their inquisitive minds".

Mother Avicia's predicament is to decide the fate of the twins. Now that they are grown, they cannot be hidden indoors forever. The money paid by their father is not enough, and the abbey cannot provide the reliable care. Yet, if they are sent into the community, they might become victims of the ignorant people.

She tells the nuns' assembly, "The Maids are innocent of all sin, yet they spend their life with no more freedom than a caged animal. As long as they are on this Earth, they should be loved, and be allowed to flourish and grow, We need to plan for their freedom, that they might see even a little of the world outside these four walls".

The sisters have to overcome hostility, aggression and prejudice within their close family and the community. Amazingly, they will become a talented musician and song-writer and an inspirational herbalist and healer.

Set against the vividly-drawn backdrop of the political and social changes in the society, their story is heartwarming and poignant at the same time. Creative and spirited, the young women find themselves entangled in the dirty world of politics, from the local nobility in Kent all the way up to the Royal court. 

Despite the circumstances of fate and power games of the local nobles, they manage to achieve so much and leave behind a legacy which survives to this day at Biddenden.

"When we were children we had dreamt of being the same as everyone else. As we got older, we dreamt of being special. Now we simply wanted live out our days in harmony with those around us".

The main protagonists, Mary and Eliza, are individuals with their own hopes and aspirations, who are in sync with each other. They are not idealised, but complex characters. When they were little, they presumed that one day they would be "splitted".

Young Mary is a bit of a bully towards her shy sister. Growing up, the psychological pressure of doing everything together makes them resentful and even bitter towards each other. As the story unravels, you observe the development of their personalities and strengthening of their relationship, as well as the acceptance of each other's different desires and ambitions.

The author is very convincing in exploring this unique condition, the everyday life, the difficulties of being accepted, their physical differences. It is done sensitively and sypathetically.

The Maids of Biddenden is a really special book, which takes a reader on a journey back to the 12th C. It's an intriguing tale set against a fascinating period of history, with wonderful female protagonists. An evocative read which will keep you captivated, a powerful story, with a fabulous sense of place and historical period.

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This post is part of the blog tour for The Maids of Biddenden.

Many thanks to G.D. Harper, Ginger Cat and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, historical fiction

Author Bio –


I became a full-time author in 2016, publishing three novels under the pen name GD Harper. I have been both a Wishing Shelf Book Award finalist and Red Ribbon winner, been shortlisted for the Lightship Prize, longlisted for the UK Novel Writing Award and longlisted for the Page Turner Writer Award. The Maids of Biddenden was a finalist in this year’s Page Turner Book Award for unpublished manuscripts, longlisted for the Exeter Book Prize and the Flash 500 Novel Award, and shortlisted for the Impress Prize.


Social Media Links –

Facebook: @gdharperauthor

Twitter: @harper_author


fiction about conjoined twins

Friday, 1 July 2022

The Discarded by Louis van Schalkwyk

Chez Maximka, books about Canadian mafia


Chez Maximka, Canadian thriller

"With the passing of each day, he felt further away from his family and the world he knew. It was as if the plane they boarded in Toronto two weeks ago had touched down on another planet altogether. Perhaps even a different galaxy."

The Discarded is the debut crime thriller by Louis van Schalkwyk, riveting and compulsive. One chiller of a thriller.

The Blurb:

Ellis Neill wakes up next to his family one morning, just as he had done for the last ten years, unaware that it would be his last taste of freedom.

His life soon spirals out of control and he is cast into a remote prison in the Arctic wilderness where nothing is as it seems, the inmates rule and a sinister figure wants him and his family dead.

Resulting from carefully laid plans he is plunged into a fight for survival, sanity and saving those he loves.

Since returning home from the war, Ellis Neill is trying to rebuild his life and come to terms with the devastating events of the past. He loves his wife and daughter, who are the driving force of his life.

One day he arrives to work at the garage, to find himself surrounded by the police and arrested on murder charges. 

"The victims in this double homidice are Stephen Thatcher and his wife Stella. Stephen was a highly decorated Justice of the Crown and almost exclusively dealt with high-profile crimes... He was straight as an arrow and absolutely incorruptible".

Ellis knows he is innocent, but all the evidence is pointing at him. 

"Ellis Neill was found guilty on all counts and twenty minutes later judge Reiner sentenced him to life imprisonment without any possibility of parole".

In shock, Ellis is taken to the remote jail in the North. His transfer is done swiftly and in secret, mysterious circumstaces, and he doesn't have a chance to even say Good bye to his wife Cynthia and daughter. 

His family has no knowledge of what's happened to him. All the queries fail. "Somehow, all the doors had been slammed in their faces and bolted down... To Cynthia it began to feel like her husband had simply been erased off the face of the earth and in the authorities' version of events, his family was just expected to let go and get on with it".

On the flight to the destination, Ellis meets an older man, Bobby, who appears quite upbeat and friendly. Bobby describes the prison,"It's pretty much the Arctic. The jail is about thirty miles from the town. Long-timers call it the Ice Box".

The area they arrive to looks wild and inhospitable.

"Ellis surveyed the world outside - not much apart from wilderness, trees and the white blanket of snow that was getting thicker by the minute."

He has to adapt quickly to the rules of the jail in order to survive.

"There were two rampant gangs at Stone Hill and between them nothing happened inside the prison walls without their knowledge and approval".

The situation Ellis finds himself in, is full of danger at every step. 

"Deep down, contrary to all the rationalizations that his mind could come up with, Ellis knew he was going to die if he remained inside these walls, and soon too. There was only one solution - he had to get out of here. But how?... He was trapped like a rat in a cage, waiting to be discovered and disposed of."

His only way to stay alive is getting out of the confines of the prison. 

Someone is out to get his family as well. Ellis has to overcome the impossible.

"He ascertained that, as his family had been his driving force in everday life, they had now become his motivation to keep going. Solving this puzzle and all attempts at proving his innocence would be secondary endeavours because without them he would have no desire or drive to perform the latter... he knew that, up againts these nameless and faceless people, he would have to pull out all the stops to get the job done, regardless of how wrong it would seem ot how much his morals and values kicked against it".

Who is behind the murder plot? Who's framed Ellis and is after his family? Someone would go to any lengths to protect the truth.

Ellis is the victim of the flawed justice system.

If you enjoy books about the corrupt justuce system, organised crime gangs and their internal wars and conflicts, you will find this book gripping. The themes of the lure of the ultimate power, the hazards of being at the top of the game, allegiance to the family, greed and corruption make this book a compelling tale. This book will make a great Netflix series. 

The ruthless mafia boss Vito Lombardi is one of the villains of the story. He "had assumed the throne as the new boss of the Camorra clan's Toronto wing, receiving with it all the power and prestige that he had worked for his entire life". He's not the romanticised conflicted hero of The Godfather. Vito is pure evil, sadist without any redeeming qualities.

"Since Vito took over the reins following his father's demise he had tried almost everything to prove his loyalty, and that he was the only obvious choice to lead. Acts of ruthlessness in the name of justice and vengeance for the family were rife".

The story is dark, nail-biting and unsettling, with a perfectly structured sequence of actions.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the desolate scenery. The landscapes are so atmospheric, you can almost smell the snow and fill the chill. The snow covered forest on the cover of the book gives you a chilling taste of the harsh and unforgiving terrain. The escape from prison through the wilderness of the Arctic Canada is daring and dramatic.

The Discarded is a tense and action-packed thriller. Suspenseful, gritty and utterly engrossing.

Potential triggers: murders, sadistic torture, child abduction.

This post is part of the blog tour for The Discarded.

Many thanks to Louis van Schalkwyk, Kinglsey Publishers and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, Canadian thriller, Canadian mafia

Purchase Link -

Author Bio – Louis van Schalkwyk was born in South Africa and currently resides in Hong Kong. “The Discarded” is his debut novel, inspired by years honing his writing skills and drawing influence from his favorite authors. When Louis isn’t writing he enjoys reading and sampling various cuisines with his wife, Courtney.

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Canadian thriller

Chez Maximka, mafia in Canada

Chez Maximka, fiction set in prison