Monday, 20 January 2020

The Factory Made Boy by Christine Nöstlinger

best books for children, Chez Maximka

"Are you glad I'm here, Mummy?" Conrad asked.
Mrs Bartolotti looked at Conrad. Needs affection, she thought. Well, of course he does - everybody needs affection! And he's very nice too..."

It's not often you start reading a book, and fall in love with it at once.
The Factory Made Boy by Christine Nöstlinger (English translation by Anthea Bell) is a pure joy of a book. The story is wonderfully playful, whimsical and empathetic, with the most endearing characters.

It was my Mum who asked me if Eddie and I have read this book. She mentioned a book review which she had recently read and thought we might enjoy it. I haven't heard of this book, and cannot understand why this book and author have escaped my radar before.

Mrs Bertie Bartolotti is an artist who creates colourful rugs. She lives on her own, surrounded by a creative chaos and bright colours.
She has a gentleman friend, Mr Thomas, who visits her twice a week and they go to the cinema or theatre together. Bertie is content with her life. She can wear as much make-up as she wants and choose bright clothes, have a family pack of ice cream for dinner and be free from anyone's censure or judgments.
"Mrs Bartolotti never told anyone how old she was, so no one knew, and that meant she was several different ages."
She is also known for having a weakness for ordering things by post, whenever she comes across an order form in a newspaper or magazine, most of them totally random, like an animal encyclopaedia in 17 volumes, a subscription to a fish-breeders' magazine or a nudists' journal.

One day she signs for a big parcel. She is puzzled, as she doesn't recollect anything that she might have ordered in this size. Inside the parcel there is a big tin. Reluctantly she opens it.

"It was a very good thing the kitchen stool was just behind Mrs Bartolotti, because she got a considerable shock... She swayed, and collapsed on to the kitchen stool.
The creature who was crouching inside the tin can said: "Hullo, Mummy", and gave her a friendly nod".

It's a seven-year old Conrad, who comes complete with a birth certificate.

Though Bertie is horrified, she kindly accepts Conrad's presence in her life. She knows she has never ordered a child from the manufacturer, but thinks the order might have been placed a long time ago by her ex-husband.
The letter which accompanies the boy, tells that all manufactured children are "particularly easy to handle and control, and being the products of a highly developed technology, are quite free of those faults or defects which can occur in nature".

Bertie is overwhelmed by her new responsibilities. She is a free spirit, and doesn't know much about children. In a delightful spree of shopping, she tries to buy things that she thinks would please Conrad, but gets it spectacularly wrong. He expects to wear grey trousers and checked shirts, while Bertie presents him with the most colourful outfit she could find in the shops.

Conrad is a very sweet boy, who wants to be loved and gives love freely in return.
He is "made" to be a perfect child, he goes to bed early, doesn't want to leave any food on his plate and refuses sweets, he gets upset at the mere notion of rude words or slightly inappropriate songs.
Needless to say, for the freedom-loving Bertie, her whole world is reshaping fast, with the arrival of Conrad.

Her boyfriend Mr Thomas is smitten with the polite and obedient boy, and wants to be his father. Unlike Bertie who thinks children should enjoy life, do naughty things and make mistakes, he cannot find fault with anything about Conrad.
In a way, Mr Thomas and Conrad are kindred souls, they like order and quiet pastimes. They are also pretty conventional in their way of thinking.
For example, Conrad asks Bertie if it's right for a girl to protect a boy.
To which wise Bertie replies:"It doesn't make a bit of difference, Conrad... It's all nonsense about boys having to do the protecting! The important thing is for the person who needs protection to get it".
What a strong message! And how modern it sounds, considering the book was written in 1975.

Bertie Bartolotti is my hero. She comes up with a sage advice: "Now, you listen to me! Some things in this world are far more important than other things... and one thing there is no need to bother about at all is what other people say!"

Conrad goes to school and becomes friends with his neighbour Kitty (she protects him from bullies in school).

And then one day they are shocked when a letter arrives from the manufacturer: there was a mistake, and Conrad will be taken away to go to the correct parents.

Conrad's wishes are not taken into consideration by the factory, he is their property, and legally Bertie and Mr Thomas cannot do anything.

Will they submit to the merciless decision or fight for the right for their special boy to stay with them?

This quirky magical tale was the winner of Hans Christian Andersen award in 1984. It is captivating, original and full of heart.

We absolutely adored this book. My son said he wished there was another book of Conrad's adventures.

It's a truly unforgettable story, and if you come across it in a charity shop or can source or on ebay, snap it.
It was first published in English by Andersen Press in 1976. You can find other editions online - from 1999 and 2012.

My only criticism is the translation. I don't see the point of anglicising foreign names in translated books for children. It annoyed me greatly when we read Astrid Lindgren's Karlsson on the roof trilogy.
Just why do the translators think it's a good idea? Do they think that the British children are not able to read foreign names? That would be rather patronising and galling.
Frau Bartolotti's boyfriend Herr Egon is renamed into Mr Thomas. Kitti Rusika becomes Kitty Robertson.
Even the name of the name character is slightly changed from Konrad to Conrad. I would like to know the translator's reasoning behind this.

Minor irritants aside, this is one of the best books for children we're read in the last few years.

best children's literature, Chez Maximka

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Photo diary: week 3, project 366

I'd like to say something deep and profound at the beginning of my weekly post, but my brain doesn't co-operate.
Last week we were reading a wonderful story called A Factory Made Boy by Christine Nostlinger. The main character of the book, a boy called Conrad, is made at the factory and posted to his new parents in a big tin. It's so quirky but very sweet, with endearing characters. It's also amazingly feminist and modern, if you think that it was published in 1976.
While we were shopping on Sunday, Eddie pretended that he's on offer, asking me to buy him. He said he's a real bargain. And that's how we rock.

Chez Maximka

On Monday we walked through the fields, which later in the week got flooded yet again. Not surprising really, given the amount of rain we had.

Chez Maximka, winter in the UK

That evening I had a surprise delivery, with tropical foods. This is a hamper I won after Christmas on Insta. You had to say what you were grateful for. I said that on Christmas day I wasn't planning on cooking anything special, as it was just two of us, and my son doesn't eat any Christmas food. I would have been happy with cheese and crackers and fruit. But my friends brought me a big hot plate - a whole Christmas dinner, with all the trimmings. And they also brought a delicious brownie with cream. So, I said I was grateful for having kind friends who care about me.
When I told Eddie how I won, he said it was a very sad story. Now I wonder if I have joined the ranks of people who post sob stories to try to win prizes. It wasn't meant to be a sob story, it was such a lovely thing really, and rather uplifting, I thought. This kind gesture of my friends truly brightened my Christmas.

Chez Maximka

On Wednesday morning we visited one of possible respite centres for Sasha. He's turning 18 soon, and sadly the place where he stays overnight twice a month is only available for up to 18, and now we have a huge issue of finding a new place. There are hardly any choices in the county. 

We visited the local one, in town. It's smaller than a place where he goes currently which wouldn't be too bad, but there is just not enough space. The dining room and sitting room are quite small, there is no play area (for obvious reason, as it's for grown-ups), the garden is tiny and has a table and benches, and nothing else. My worry is that Sash would be bored to death there, and ultimately he needs to enjoy a place where he would stay.
There are two more places to check out, both at a distance. One would take an hour and a half to travel by bus, another one we'd need to go to Oxford, take a train, then a taxi etc.

There is so much to do and organise in the next few months: we need to apply for the power of attorney, try to find a future college placement if possible for after 19, when the current school will come to an end, explore different respite options. So many worries.

I only took photos of the respite place that day, so here is a picture from the day before, taken in UE Roasters café.

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Having helped Sash to get on the school transport early in the morning, I saw the crescent, and the bird looking in its direction, as if watching the Moon.

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Friday snap - a shadow selfie, taken in the hall by the mirror.

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I started the week with a photo of Eddie, and ending it with another one. It's not because I don't take photos of Sasha, but I feel reluctant posting his photos. Eddie gives his consent for now, who knows how he would feel about it when he is a teen.
Yesterday we walked all the way to McDonald's, which is on the outskirts of town. On the way back we stopped at the playground, which was so muddy, our boots looked awful afterwards.
Edgars Limited never ceases to amuse us, simple souls.

Chez Maximka

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Thursday, 16 January 2020

Reading goals for 2020

Providence has delivered me of every worldly passion, save this one; the desire to acquire books, new or old books of any kind, whose charms I cannot persuade myself to resist.
John Henry Newman

I'm no saint, but when it comes to books, I share Newman's evangelical fervour.  I cannot resist buying books, even knowing I have mountains of unread paperbacks waiting for me at home. It's an obsession really.
I buy books online (The Book People is a great source of temptation). I try to find older editions on ebay. I scour the local charity shops every week, looking for something exciting.

Our local Waterstones shop has a wonderful team of people who love books and read extensively. I love their window displays as well.
One of my favourite window displays of last year was for The Way of All Flesh. They even bought a skull on ebay, especially for the occasion.

Gemma and Patti organise fun events - you might have seen my photos from the Harry Potter-themed evenings, when children would arrive dressed up as their favourite characters from J.K.Rowling's books. There were quizzes, prizes, sorting hat bakes etc.

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Eddie as Newt Scamander

There is another Harry Potter event coming soon in February, and Eddie and I plan to attend.

Needless to say, I do spend quite a bit in the shop.

In the last weeks I've been reading passionate discussions online, with references to the arguments that book bloggers are not "real" readers, because apparently they are paid to read and hence they are happy to sell their souls to the Devil and praise whatever they read.

I've never been paid to write any book review. And I don't know anyone who is, unless they do it as a job, like writing for a magazine, or work as a PR promoting books.

I had a discussion with a friend recently, who saw a big stash on the window of our dining room - books I received for reviewing in the oncoming months. She asked me if I were paid for reading them, and then couldn't quite comprehend why I would agree to do it. I told her that I enjoy discovering new names, and many of the books which I received for reviewing, might have passed my attention otherwise.
For example, two books which I reviewed last year got into my top reads of 2019 list, and I haven't heard of the authors before. Storytellers by Bjorn Larssen is not just in my top 10 reads, I would say, it's no.1 (sharing with The Girl Who Speaks Bear).

A year ago I wrote a post about my reading goals, and looking at it now I see that my goals haven't changed - I still need to declutter, I would like to read more non-fiction, as well as books in Russian.

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If you have a look at the list of books I read (and finished) in 2019, out of 77 books, only two are non-fiction. I did start several more, but either stopped mid-way, or decided I might return to them at some point again. So, I failed my goal of 5 non-fiction books.

I read only one book in Russian - My Siberia (Memoirs) by Anastasia Tsvetaeva (sister of the famous Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva). That's also pretty abysmal, I really should make more of an effort.

As for the genres, I read 25 thriller/crime mysteries, 32 children's/YA fiction, 7 - romance.

I did slightly better with my goal of reading more classics with Eddie - Treasure Island, Around the World in 80 days (abridged) and Oliver Twist (so abridged that I didn't add it to the reading list).
Plus two classics of crime - The Iron Chariot and The Forest Lake Mystery - both of which are regarded as the classics of Scandi Noir.

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It would be good to expand on the classics' promise. And to definitely try harder on reading non-fiction.

Chez Maximka

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Chez Maximka, best reads of 2019
The Reading Challenge on GoodReads gives you all the stats you might want be curious about, though some of them are slightly arguable.
For example, The Ice Monster appears to be the longest book on my list. Yes, if you count the pages, but most of them have pictures, some with just a word or two, so if you do a word count, it won't come as the longest.
Apparently, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was the most popular book. We did love the book, and plan to read the next book in the series very soon.

Chez Maximka

Last year we went to several book-related events, and met three great authors - Sophie Anderson and Candy Gourlay, and Cressida Cowell.

I'm a big fan of Sophie Anderson. Her books are brilliant, and I can't wait for her third book.
She is also a very-very nice lady, and if you follow her on social media, you will know that she interacts with her readers with great kindness and enthusiasm.

Chez Maximka

Eddie was thrilled to meet Cressida Cowell, and he gave her a drawing of Toothless, which she kindly praised. She is a real trooper. The queue to have books signed was like a long serpent, we had to wait quite a bit to have a chance to talk to her.

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She signed all books and also got up from her seat to have photos taken with everyone who asked for this chance.

How to train your dragon author, Chez Maximka

I'm hoping we could attend more book signing events this year. That's a new goal for 2020.

Do you have reading goals and plans for the year?

Monday, 13 January 2020

Tofu with Teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds

Veganuary recipes, vegan recipes, Chez Maximka

I've decided to declutter several boxes of recipes torn out of weekend magazines and food supplements, including a big stash of Feast magazines. I might still keep some of Rachel Roddy's column pages on the Italian food though.
Reading last year's Feast while sipping my coffee, I nodded in agreement with Fiona Beckett who wisely says "I know it's an unfashionable view these days, but January is not a time for abstention. Moderation maybe, but no booze at all? That makes an already miserable month even more dismal."

It's not that we drink much. Certainly not on par with numerous Insta and Twitter posts, announcing it's Gin o'clock to the world. Last week when I was sorting out the recycling, I realised we only had 2 empty bottles to put in the black box - from a sweet dessert wine we opened days before Christmas, and champagne which we had for the new year's eve. Nothing like the full, overflowing black bins I've seen around in town. They must have been partying at full steam, lucky devils. 
I had a small sherry on the 7th to celebrate the Russian Christmas.

Then tomorrow, on the 14th of January, the Russians will be celebrating the so called Old New Year (the start of the new year according to the Julian calendar). It's not a formal holiday, but is traditionally observed with parties and having family get-togethers. I might raise a glass of something like a G&T to mark the occasion, though that would depend on what I'm going to cook. I usually make evening meal plans in the morning.

So, not a Dry January for me then.

I have had no plans for Veganuary either, but that doesn't mean we don't eat meals which happen to be vegan-friendly.

There was a Blue Dragon Teriyaki Street Food Skewers kit in the latest Degustabox.
Last Monday I cooked tofu, using the kit, which includes a Teriyaki sauce sachet, a Teriyaki marinade, sesame seeds and skewers. The kit has the advantage that all the necessary ingredients are present. The only thing I didn't use is the skewers.

vegan recipes, Veganuary recipes, Chez Maximka

Tofu with teriyaki sauce and sesame seeds
1 pack of Cauldron tofu
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 sweet pepper
1 kit of Blue Dragon Teriyaki Street Food Skewers
Teriyaki marinade
Teriyaki sauce
sesame seeds
rice and peas

Put cubed tofu in marinade for about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, chop a couple of carrots and a red sweet pepper. After cooking them for about 5 minutes in a big frying pan, add tofu, splash the Teriyaki sauce and finally sprinkle sesame seeds.
Cook for another 5 minutes stirring frequently.
Serve tofu with rice and peas.

My younger son loved it so much, he requested it for the next day. And while I could easily find all the other ingredients, I couldn't find Blue Dragon kit in the local Waitrose.

Rather than change the plans, I simply bought a bottle of Teriyaki marinade, a jar of Teriyaki sauce and a small bag of sesame seeds.

It's not much of a recipe, I agree, but do give it a go, if you haven't tried tofu before.
The brand I used is Cauldron (it's organic and GMO-free).

My son asked me today to cook the same dish again, so I promised to oblige him one day this week.

vegan recipes, Chez Maximka, Veganuary recipes

Are you observing Dry January or Veganuary?

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor #BlogTour (review + giveaway)

time travel romance, books set in WWI, Chez Maximka

Round and round it went in her mind as she lay in bed, listening to the first birds chirping. Had the doctors been right about her all along? Had they been able to peer into her mind and see what she couldn't - that she was delusional?
What was he? Where had he come from? Was he simply the result of a psychotic episode? A hallucination? A product of her anxious, agitated mind? Could just being an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital cause delusions?
But how could she have conjured up something so realistic and specific in every detail? A blind, mysterious, dark-haired young man who spoke so politely and painted so exquisitely.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor is a novel which combines historical fiction with a time travel romance.
Louisa Casson has just lost her grandmother, who was her only family. Her mother died when Louisa was a child, her father abandoned her for the woman who was his mistress and immigrated to the other side of the world.
Louisa is heartbroken: "So that's it then, she thought. I'm all on my own. Not a soul left in the world I can call family any more. Except for my father - but he doesn't count".
Toasting her grandmother's memory with a bottle of vintage cognac while sitting on a cliff is not her brightest idea.
After an accident on the cliff, Louisa finds herself in hospital.
Since she is found by the rescue team at a notorious suicide spot, and she has a history of depression, she is admitted as a "voluntary patient" to a psychiatric hospital.

The Coldbrook Hall hospital is a large Victorian building surrounded by forests. It is chronically understaffed, and the patients are at the mercy of indifferent personnel ruled by the sadistic nurse nicknamed Enema, who enjoys her power over the vulnerable people.

Reading exposé articles on the hospital units run by private companies, the cruelty of the staff and the lack of proper treatment and provision are sadly not a fictional exaggeration.

One day, following another patient she befriends in the hospital, Louisa ventures into the closed off, dilapidated and abandoned wing. There she hears a call for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside she finds a mysterious young man, who has lost his sight, and who claims he was wounded at the Battle of the Somme.
Since it's a psychiatric hospital, Louise humours him by agreeing with what he says.
Only the young man is not delusional. Lieutenant Robert Lovett is indeed in hospital, recuperating after the famous battle of the WWI.

What Louisa doesn't realise at first, is that she manages to enter the door to the past.

Robert is a talented artist, with a promising future. Suffering from hysterical blindness, he is in despair. The medical professionals are not sure of the mechanism of his sight loss.
"Oh God, would he ever see again - well enough even to wash or feed himself, let alone paint pictures of birds and flowers, his favourite views of the South Downs and the cliffs? Or would he be shut up forever in this crypt of shadows, wretched, a prisoner in his own body, shirking his duty while the Somme campaign went from bad to worse, neglecting his men, gradually being erased from the world bit by bit?"

Two lost souls, vulnerable and feeling hopeless, Louisa and Robert are drawn to each other, breaking the barriers of time.

Beyond the Moon has been promoted as "Outlander meets Birdsong". The comparisons with Outlander are inevitable. Both female protagonists are aspiring to become medical doctors, both accidentally travel through the time portal and fall in love with a hero who lives in a parallel world of the past. Though there is enough gore (especially on the battlefields and in the hospital), Taylor respects her characters more and avoids the unnecessary sadism and often too graphic sex scenes which Gabaldon is known for.

It is a beautiful love story, set against a historically authentic backdrop. The front lines of 2016-17 are portrayed with great insight and compassion.
The war chapters are poignant and sad. So many young lives doomed. The appalling conditions of life in the trenches and the daily horrors of the medical hospital at the front make it not an easy reading. Some of the pages are heart-chilling and linger in the mind.

Beyond the Moon is a beautifully executed novel, with a powerful sense of time and place. It is a deeply moving story of love and heartache, a time travel romance of great imaginative depth.

This review is part of the blog tour. You can check out the other reviews following the tour:

time travel romance

Author Bio:
Catherine Taylor was born and grew up on the island of Guernsey in the British Channel Islands. She is a former journalist, most recently for Dow Jones News and The Wall Street Journal in London.
Beyond the Moon is her first novel. She lives in Ealing, London, with her husband and two children.
Social media links:
Instagram - @catherine_taylor_author
Twitter @CathTaylorNovel

time travel romance, books set in WWI, Chez Maximka

If you like the sound of this book, you have a chance of winning one of 5 paperback copies of Beyond the Moon.

Worldwide entries welcome.
Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.
The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email.
If no response is received within 7 days, then Rachel's Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner.
Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.
Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners' information.
This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel's random Resources will delete the data.
I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

Please bear in mind, that this giveaway is run across several blogs.

Chez Maximka blog is only hosting the Rafflecopter gadget to promote the giveaway, and has nothing to do with any collected data or the selection of the winners.

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Saturday, 11 January 2020

Photo diary: week 2, project 366

The second week of January was thankfully rather uneventful. My boys are back to school. I like to have mornings to myself, after I take Eddie to school and come home. I make myself a cup of coffee, and either read or watch something on Netflix before tackling the endless home tasks.
This week I started watching The Witcher on Netflix. I watched about 5 episodes, and not sure if I want to continue. Geralt of Rivia, with his long hair and piercing eyes, is, of course, an eye candy, but I don't care about anyone in the series, whether they stay alive or get killed off.
All female characters are irrational, I think they are meant to be feisty and independent, but they just appear highly annoying. And don't start me on the irritating singer.
The question is Do I give up on the series, or will it get better? People seem to sing praises to it on Twitter.

As much as I like the camera in my iphone, it just doesn't do small sized objects well. I've tried to take a photo of a single white berry for several days, but no matter how far (or close) I step away, the berry is slightly out of focus.

Chez Maximka

On Monday Eddie had a dental appointment in Oxford, and afterwards his Dad took him to the West Gate centre to check out the play area and the book shop.

Chez Maximka

Reflections in the Windrush river...
It was the Russian Christmas, but we didn't do any special celebratory meal. I cooked tofu in a teriyaki sauce with sesame seeds the day before, and Eddie loved it so much, he requested it again.

Oxfordshire scenery, Chez Maximka, reflections in the water

I am an incorrigible book buyer. I was hoping to restrain myself from buying more books this month, but have managed to break all promises to myself. This is a stash of books I have acquired in the last week, from the charity shops, Waterstone's, Sainsbury's, The Works and Amazon.
Eddie asked me to get him House of Secrets, but all the rest - is for my own reading.

On Wednesday Sasha had his respite stay. Eddie and I didn't do very much. We watched Avengers Assemble for the umpteenth time.

Chez Maximka, Blood Orange, North Child

Only last week I was saying that there is no colour in the garden. This week the purple hellebore began to bloom.

Chez Maximka, winter garden

It was the Wolf Moon yesterday, the first full Moon of the decade, which also coincided with the lunar eclipse. I missed the eclipse altogether, but managed to catch the full Moon from the garden.

It's been drizzling on and off for several days, and everything outside is soggy. We did venture to the playground, but it started to rain, and we didn't linger for long.

I've been reading A house of ghosts by W.C. Ryan, and hope to finish it tonight. It's quite an entertaining mix of mystery and ghost story. Have you read it?

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Friday, 10 January 2020

Million Eyes by C. R. Berry #BlogTour

time travel books, Chez Maximka

A loud, continuous hum pinched her ears. She felt sleepy, dizzy. She blinked. Suddenly there were people and vehicles everywhere, surrounding her car, and everyone and everything was transparent - like ghosts - and blurred together like countless photos superimposed over one another...
It dawned on Jennifer what this blur of ghosts meant. Time. All of it. The past, the present, the future. All of it happening at once. All of it merged in front of her eyes...

Million Eyes by C.R. Berry (Elsewhen Press), a fascinating and unusual novel, moves at a cracking pace from the past to the present, and back in time again.

As if meeting King William II in 1100 in the first pages of the book was not exciting enough, we learn that he has acquired a book under an improbable title of The History of Computer-Aided Timetabling for Railway Systems. Now, did that catch your attention?
William orders his chief minister to hide the book with a low-born family who would understand the importance of the book and can be trusted to protect its secrets.
"We must protect it," said William... "This book is evidence of a serious threat to the kingdom and of those behind it. It is an omen. An omen foretelling the future that God is compelling me to avert."

A few days later King William meets his death in the New Forest.

In 2019, a former history teacher Gregory Farro, is not convinced that William's death was a shooting accident. He finds evidence that a cabal of time travellers might be responsible for this "accident" and a whole series of events which have moulded the British history.
"Apparently this time traveller was pretending to be Walter Tyrrell and was looking for an unnamed "book" that the king had hidden. He then shot the king, talked to someone on what Ferro interpreted as a mobile phone" and vanished into thin air.

The mysterious book, which is published in 1995, is also mentioned in a letter to Edward III in 1348, as well as in a history book written in 1977.

Ferro blogs about his historical discoveries. Jennifer Larson, a history graduate, who is earning money as an admin assistant, is still deciding what to do with her life, when she stumbles upon the conspiracy/time travel blog.
She offers her help to Ferro, and together, they try to piece the relevant information together. Unbeknown to them, they are closely watched by Million Eyes, the biggest computer company in the world.
Their research makes them the targets of the unknown assassins who are set upon the task of rewriting the history and building an alternative timeline.

It's a darkly addictive story which weaves together the threads of the Princes in the Tower, the Great Pestilence, the death of William II, the mystery of Jack the Ripper and the tragic crash that killed Princess Diana.

Million Eyes is the first book in the series. It's published as an ebook on the 10th of January, and as a paperback on the 20th of March 2020. The author is currently working on the 2nd book in the series.
Million Eyes is an amalgam of genres - science fiction, with time travel as sub-genre and conspiracy theory. We get to know characters and concepts which will be developed in the new book.

There are some sinister figures who appear to hop from one historical period to another, and they have an agenda.

The concept of time travelling and its consequences, when a minor change in the past could bring on a profound shift and reshuffling in the future events is not a new one. I believe, it is called the Butterfly effect (part of the Chaos theory). But, of course what matters, it's how the concept is delivered - in case of Million Eyes - with a great aplomb and coolness.

I have read a few time-travelling books, and the technique of moving from one period to another is usually through some sort of portal, sometimes a permanent one, sometimes a moving entity.
The way the characters travel in time in Milliom Eyes is quite an unusual one (but I won't give you any spoilers).

This complex, dark, menacing novel breathes new life into the time travel genre. Readers who delight in conspiracy theories will take a great pleasure in this cleverly plotted tale.

Author Bio:
C.R.Berry caught the writing bug at the tender age of four and has never recovered. His earliest stories were filled with witches, monsters, evil headteachers, Disney characters and the occasional Dalek. He realised pretty quickly that his favourite characters were usually the villains. He wonders if that's what led him to become a criminal lawyer. It's certainly why he's taken to writing conspiracy thrillers, where baddies are numerous and everywhere.
After a few years getting a more rounded view of human nature's darker side, he quit lawyering and turned to writing full-time. He now works as a freelance copywriter and novelist and blogs about conspiracy theories, time travel and other otherworldly weirdness.
He was shortlisted in the 2018 Grindstone Literary International Novel Competition and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Storgy, Dark Tales, Theme of Absence and Suspense Magazine. He was also shortlisted in the Aeon Award Contest, highly commended by Writers' Forum, and won second prize in the inaugural To Hull and Back Humorous Short Story Competition.
He grew up in Farnborough, Hampshire, a town he says has as much character as a broccoli. He's since moved to the "much more interesting and charming" Haslemere in Surrey.
Website and social media links:

Many thanks to C.R.Berry, Elsewhen Press and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.

This post is part of the blog tour, you may check out the other reviews along the route.

conspiracy theory and time travel genre

time travel books, Chez Maximka

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Photo diary: week 1, project 366

Yotam Ottolenghi wrote in the latest issue of Feast: "There's a fuzzy period between Christmas and New Year when no one quite remembers what the date or plan is". That in a way describes all the winter school break for me, I'm not quite following the days or dates.
It's back to school tomorrow for us.
And amen to that, it was a rather stressful long holiday period, and so many things were put on hold.
Happy new year to you all, and a happy new decade!

This post is a mix of the last few days of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. On the last Sunday of 2019 I was trying to finish my Top reads of 2019 post, and taking some images of the books I've read in the last year, like A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison.
It's a wonderful magic adventure for children, with feisty heroines.

Russian dolls, Chez Maximka, best books of 2019

In between shopping trips, I took Eddie to Greggs. All sausage rolls were finished, so he has chosen a slice of pepperoni pizza instead. To me it's not a proper pizza. I like the Italian-style crust, thin and crispy, this slab looks more like an open pie than pizza.

Chez Maximka

The 31st passed in a blur of cooking and TV. We watched Billy Elliot with Eddie. I didn't realise there was so much effing in the film. It is a good film, though the language made me wince quite a few times.
Eddie told me that Tom Holland, who is his hero, was in a Billy Elliot musical production when he was a child. I wonder if he'd like to see the musical in the theatre.

I didn't take any photos on the 31st as such, though I did try to catch the fireworks just a minute past midnight. We could see some feeble attempts at fireworks over the garden wall, but it was more noisy than spectacular.

Chez Maximka

On the 1st of January Eddie and I went to the cinema to see Spies in Disguise. It was actually quite entertaining, if you don't expect anything too clever. Eddie had to see it, because Tom Holland is voicing one of the main characters.

Chez Maximka

I asked Eddie to take a photo of me, as I wanted to do the "ten year challenge". Yep, I know, I'm jumping on the bandwagon unashamedly. Eddie wanted me to make a double photo for him as well, but I told him he wasn't born yet a decade ago, so I couldn't possibly help him.

It's only week 1, and I've already failed to take photos every day. I'm just feeling so listless and tired, and lacking in motivation.
I walked around the garden yesterday afternoon, looking for some inspiration, maybe a flower.
I know a year ago we already had hellebores in bloom in the early days of Jnauary but this year there are only leaves on view.
The only colour in the garden is the bright red of rosehips.

Chez Maximka

I am trying to grow a red hyacinth in a jar on the kitchen window sill, without soil, but with pebbles and some seashells. The roots go down and sideways in a slightly creepy way. And the bulb shifted itself, so it's now slightly lop-sided.

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Monday, 30 December 2019

My top 10 reads of 2019

It could have easily been 11 or 12, but 10 is a good round number. I have read well over 75 books this year, with a few -  which I started and never finished - not added to the final total.
Many of the books on my Reading challenge 2019 at Good Reads (if you're curious, click on the link to see what is on my list) are stories for children and YA fiction. This is mainly because I read to my younger son every evening, but there were a couple of YA books which I've read on my own, for pure pleasure.

Hence my top 10 are a mix of adult and YA fiction. Some of them are reviewed on my blog, some are still waiting to be reviewed, but each and every one of them is splendid in its own way, and each one made me marvel at the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the human nature.

For keeping me sane in the hours when I feel despondent or stressed, I thank all the authors. I know that an escapism is a "bad" word, when related to books, but for me it's a positive experience. Escaping the mundane (how about reading The Wonky Donkey or Georgina the Giraffe aloud every single evening for half a year, or the drudgery of daily washing & ironing?!), the anxiety and stress of parenting, family disagreements, health issues etc - by moving into the parallel world of books - should be prescribed as a medical solution to many a problem.

I salute you, readers and authors!

And here are my favourite reads of 2019 in no particular order...

best books of 2019, Chez Maximka

The Secret by Katharine Johnson (Crooked Cat) was my first book of the year (<--- you can read a full review which was part of the blog tour). It is an absorbing novel which has managed to capture the particular time and place with a great authority and genuineness.
This is a story of two friends, whose lives were damaged by secrets and lies. This is also a story of the country, complicated and intense.
Martina and Elena grow up in Mussolini's Italy.
Martina is a beautiful spirited girl, who marries into a wealthy family. Her in-laws look at their only surviving son's union as a mesalliance.
Irena is plain but smart, she values books and education, and wants to become a teacher.
Their friendship is tested by the political events and personal circumstances.

This novel made me think of my parents-in-law's wartime childhood in Italy, and also of my own family. My great grandma and grandma lived under the Nazi occupation in the South of Russia. Those were the scary times, when loyalties were tested, families divided, and the survival depended on many factors. Just like in Katharine Johnson's book.

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison (Simon & Schuster) is a bewitching magic story with not one but three spirited heroines.
The Widdershin sisters - Betty, Fliss and Charlie - grow up on the isle of Crowstone. The village inn, The Poacher's Pocket is the only home they knew.
On her birthday, Betty learns about the family curse. And about the gifts bestowed on each Widdershin girl. There are three items, three gifts, each of them an everyday object, and each of them holds a different kind of power. A pinch of magic, as described by their grandma.
The sisters must work as a team, if they ever hope to break the family curse which has been killing off the womenfolk in their family for many generations. Their magic adventures border on suicide, and they must be brave, bold and trusting each other while going on their journey of discovery and self-discovery.

Book 2 in the series (A Sprinkle of Sorcery) will be out in 2020, and I'm super impatient to learn of the latest Widdershins' adventure.

best book of 2019, Chez Maximka, Russian dolls

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson (Usborne) is a magical tale of self-discovery, self-identity, our uniqueness and differentness, of what family and friendship, and true love mean to us. It's a beautiful story, and a future classic.

Yanka the Bear is big and strong, she is so different from the other children in the village.
She lives with Mamochka, a lady who found her in the deep forest outside the bear cave. Yanka keeps wondering about her parents, and the bear who looked after her when she was a baby.
One day after an accident in the snow fortress, Yanka wakes up to find that her feet have turned into the bear legs. She flees her home, looking for the answers in the forest.

It is a delightful story, with lots of elements of reinvented and retold Russian folk tales.
Wonderful cover design by Kathrin Honesta deserves a special mention too.

I wish this book was written when I was a child. I know that I would have loved it.
(And I also wish I wrote this book, as I love it so much).

Chez Maximka, best books for children, best books of 2019

Malamander by Thomas Taylor (Walker Books) is another book for children, which has won my son's and my hearts. It is a fabulous seaside mystery for anyone who enjoys a mix of folklore, Gothic horror and magic.
Herbie Lemon is the Lost-and-Founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel in Eerie-on-Sea. He looks after the lost property, and lives in the hotel cubbyhole. He was found on the beach in a crate of lemons, with his memory wiped out.
One day a girl scrambles into his room through the window, she is trying to escape a scary Boathook Man. Violet is an orphan who tries to find the truth about her parents. Since Herbie is a Lost-and-Founder, Violet reckons he could help her in her search.
Thus a detective duo is born, and their adventures begin, amidst the stormy wintery atmosphere.

Malamander is the legendary sea monster, who roams the cold beach of Eerie-on-Sea in the dead of night. Meet him at your peril. It might destroy you or it might grant your wish, if you are lucky to get hold of its magical egg.

It's a wonderful story. A pure joy to read.

The 2nd book in the series should be out some time in 2020, and we cannot wait to read it.

best children's books of 2019, Chez Maximka

Sleep by C.L.Taylor (Avon) comes with the most enticing cover blurb:
Seven Guests. Seven Secrets. One Killer. Do you dare to... Sleep

Anna, an acting manager at Bay View Hotel on the remote Scottish island of Rum, is not able to sleep. Insomnia and night terrors, driven by a feeling of guilt, keep her awake.
Seven guests arrive to the small hotel, each hiding their own secrets, and all act suspiciously.
One of them is playing sadistic cruel mind games. When the first death in the hotel occurs, Anna is panic-stricken.
Cut off by the bad weather from the rest of the island, Anna and the guests have to endure each other's company, socialise and ultimately survive.
The cut-off hotel, with its remote location, and no way of getting in touch with anyone on the isle or beyond, works perfectly as a mystery vehicle to intensify the claustrophobic tension and drama.
The twist at the end will chill your bones.

best psyhoclogical thriller sof 2019, Chez Maximka

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry (Canongate) is a historical mystery with a medical twist. It is pretty gruesome (some of the scenes of childbirth are so harrowing, they stay with you for a long time), so if you're squeamish when it comes to gore in books, perhaps it is not a right book for you.
Will Raven, the main protagonist of the novel, is a medical student apprenticed to the renowned Dr Simpson.
Sarah Fisher is a housemaid in the same household. She is intelligent and shrewd, but being a female at those times, she is not expected to give her opinions on any things that truly matter.
The 19th C Edinburgh is brought to life and provides an atmospheric background to the series of spine-chilling murders. As the bodies' count grows, Will and Sarah begin to work together to find out the culprit.
Their relationship starts on a negative note, but slowly they begin to respect each other.
The medical scene of Edinburgh of 1847 is fascinating. The experiments with ether and chloroform (when women are used as guinea pigs by the medical men) are denounced by the church. Medical research takes a prime position in this historical crime.

It's a historical whodunnit at its finest.

The second book in the series, The Art of Dying, was published earlier in 2019.

historical crime fiction, best books of 2019, Chez Maximka

Storytellers by Bjørn Larssen (JosephTaylor) is set in Iceland, with its harsh unforgiving, yet breathtakingly beautiful and poetic landscape.
Gunnar is a reclusive blacksmith with a drinking problem. He lives with his dog and horse, and doesn't want to socialise. He's a loner, and likes it that way. Visitors make him panic. He wants peace of the nature around him and the company of his animals. And a steady supply of his "medication".

However, the fate brings a visitor on his doorstep.
Sigurd, a man with a broken ankle, has some mysterious plans of his own. He imposes himself on Gunnar, and pays for his silence. No-one should know about his whereabouts or even his existence.
To stop Gunnar from asking too many questions, Sigurd offers to tell him a story. A story which will include love and death, and plenty of everything.

The story unravels, as we travel back in time, and meet a young, fearless Icelander named Arnar who goes to America to seek fortune. There he meets the love of his life, a beautiful Juana. They elope and go back to Iceland.
Gunnar and Arnar's stories are interconnected. They are both stories of the human loneliness, depression and feeling entrapped.
This is a multi-layered tale, where the lives of farmers in the small closed community are elevated to the level of the sagas.

This is a beautiful narrative, with a vivid sense of place and time. A terrific read.

I believe Bjørn Larssen is working on a new book, and I'm looking forward to reading it (the hints on Twitter feed are very exciting).

best books of 2019, Chez Maximka

Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co, book 1) by Anna James is a magical adventure for true bookworms.
Tilly lives with her grandparents above their bookshop ever since her mother has disappeared without a trace. All her family are bookish. They live and breathe books, escaping into the pages of their favourite novels.
One day Tilly meets children who turn up to be just like her favourite book characters - Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland. Only they're not LIKE the characters, they ARE the characters. How is that even possible?!
Tilly discovers that she has a gift of bookwandering, i.e. crossing the borders between the real world and the world of books. She can step into books and watch the events as they would unravel in stories.
With the help of her friend Oscar, Tilly wants to explore her newly-found gift, trying to find out what has happened to her mother. Will she be able to solve the mystery?

This is a great story for anyone who believes in the power of books. The concept of bookwandering is close to my heart. I'd love to go on an adventure with Tilly.

Tilly and the lost fairytales (Pages & Co book 2) was published earlier this year. We're half way through reading it.

best children's books of 2019, Chez Maximka

The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton (Lightning Books; translation by Lucy Moffatt) was published in 1909. It has been voted the best Norwegian crime novel of all time in 2017.
On a hot summer day, a nameless narrator and his companions from a boarding house on an island are shocked to discover that one of their fellow guests has been found murdered.
The narrator was the last person to see the victim alive. On his walk on the eve before the gruesome discovery he meets a fisherman, and while talking, they both hear the sound of the rattling chains.
This is the sound of the iron chariot, a harbinger of an imminent death, according to the locals.

Detective Asbjorn Krag arrives from the capital to investigate.
Another death occurs in the neighbourhood, and again, the iron chariot is heard but not seen. The mystery intensifies, when it is revealed that the second victim was supposed to be dead for several years.
The narrator is drawn into the investigation by Detective Krag, who appears to be jolly, insensitive and rather devious.
The setting of the novel is reminiscent of the other famous sinister location in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Riverton's Gothic descriptions of nature provide an eerie background to the unravelling mystery.

Lucy Moffatt did a fantastic job, translating this novel for the English-speaking readers. My special thanks to her.

The Iron Chariot is a superb psychological mystery, which will appeal to the Scandi Noir fans.

best books published in 2019, Chez Maximka

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver (Head of Zeus) is a striking Gothic thriller. I only just finished reading it a few days ago, but after finishing it, I knew I had to rethink my original top 10 reads.
It has all the elements which appeal to me in a mystery - a secluded setting, a mix of suspense and supernatural, a strong female protagonist, a beautiful style of writing.
The novel is set in a remote manor house of Wake's End, surrounded by the fens of Suffolk at the beginning of the 20th C. The master of the house, a local landowner and historian Edmund Stearne is a scholar of the Middle Ages.
The story is mainly told by his daughter Maud, who we meet as a 69-year-old woman, and then travel with her back in time, when her father commits an atrocious murder and is confined to an asylum.
We also see the insights into the mind of a maniac from his diary entries.
Life in the fens is cruel and unforgiving. No wonder, the superstitions and local lore are abundant. Young Maud is caught between the pull of the fens and glimpses of freedom, and the expectations of what a young lady of her class and status should do. And oh my, how stifling that life is.
It seems a woman's lot is dreadful, wherever you look, from young Ivy who trades sex for the scraps of "better life" to Maud's mother whose married life is a drudgery of the "debt of matrimony", endless pregnancies and still births.
Wakenhyrst is dark, menacing and chilling.

Gothic thriller, best reads of 2019, Chez Maximka

And that's my top 10 reads of 2019. I wonder what new treasures 2020 will bring.

What were you favourite books of the year?