Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Breadsong by Kitty & Al Tait


Chez Maximka, Tandem bakealong

"It was like Jenga, pull one block out too fast, too soon, and my whole tower toppled".

Breadsong by Kitty & Al Tait is an inspirational hybrid of genres: part-memoirs, part-cook book.

This is the story of Kitty, a 14-year-old girl with a bubbly personality, who began suffering from anxiety and depression, and withdrew from the world to the confines of her home. The family has been trying everything to help her, but it felt like she was slipping further away.

Chez Maximka, memoirs about depression

If someone you love suffers with mental health issues, it might be not so easy to read the pages of Kitty's memoirs. You can feel her torment as she is descending into depression. 

Kitty's parents tried out many activities to provide her with some kind of distraction. Gardening, TV, crafts, sewing, painting... until one day Kitty watched her father mixing flour, water and salt in a bowl to make a dough.

"There was nothing planned about it. I just asked Kitty if she wanted to have a go herself. There was no hallelujah chorus or a blinding flash of light... I had no idea just how important that moment was, and I still didn't when Kitty asked to bake that bread again".

For Kitty it was pure alchemy of breadmaking that fascinated her. "Something so dull had transformed into something so brilliant. Like the girl who could spin straw into gold, I could do it too. And so I did it again and again and again".

Baking was taking over. Two weeks in, the family started sharing their loaves with the neighbours. The new routine was developing, with bread being delivered to the happy recipients in their street. The demand for the bread in their street has soared, and soon orders started to come in for more loaves.

The subscription service was born.

The recovery wasn't immediate. As Al writes, "I'm not sure initially I was any help to Kitty apart from just being there. I spent a lot of time barrelling into verbal cul-de-sacs thinking that maybe I could talk her out of the sadness she was lost in".

Delivering bread came with the interacting part. "People were genuinely excited to receive Kitty's bread. The buzz of handing over a warm loaf to a grateful customer lit a spark within her".

The next thing they needed was a name. Starting with Breadheads, they eventually chose The Orange Bakery because of Kitty's favourite orange dungarees.

The bakery has become Kitty's salvation.

"The bakery was a place that soothed my brain and made me feel safe. I knew what I was doing there, and my anxiety never roared away. It was just a really happy place".

Reading Kitty's story brought back some painful memories of referrals to CAHMS. I cannot fault the commitment of the medical staff working there, but everything takes ages. If you need help urgently, it takes forever. There is also no consistency of care. People leave, new people appear in your life, and at times it feels like you are re-starting from the beginning again and again.

I'm only saying that as to stress the point, that you might find Kitty's story too upsetting to read at the beginning. It might trigger strong emotions, though you might also find it inspiring and helpful.

Baking could be a therapeutic activity for some people, even if it is not a universal cure. 

I nod my head in agreement, reading that when a family member has mental health issues, the whole family is affected. "The needs of the rest of the family had to play second fiddle for a while", says Al. For us it's our reality. Our family life is centred around the needs of our older son. My younger one never knew anything different, and he accepts the situation with grace. 

The book also made me smile, as it brought back memories of making my own sourdough starter, and failing most of the time. I also had jars and jars of sinister grey unappetising liquid. I did manage to make a decent starter a couple of times and even used it in a few recipes, but then it died a natural death from lack of use.

Al's voice has a distinct touch of sarcasm. "Sourdough pizza, sourdough crackers, sourdough breadsticks; these are the high-class, artisan versions of their peers. The prefix sourdough somehow means that it's okay to charge twice as much". That is so true. I do love sourdough, but agree there's a whiff of the Emperor's New Clothes about it. Despite being an ancient technique, it has become so trendy, especially during the lockdown, that now almost everything is sourdough.

The second half of the book is a cook book of Kitty and Al's recipes.

You will find chapters on Bread (including miracle overnight white loaf, overnight focaccia, Challah, Biga bread, soda bread, Guinness soda bread and more), Sourdough Bread (including a step-by-step on the sourdough starter, recipes for Ultimate sourdough bread, sourdough focaccia, Ulla's rye bread, Fika buns, Next level Chelsea buns - which I hope to try baking one day), Pastries (including Cheese straws, Eccles cakes, Pasteis de Nata, croissants, pains au chocolat and many more) and finally, Cookies and Cakes (Cheddars, Stem Gingernuts, Ultimate brown butter choc chip cookies, vegan nut butter and banana cookies, blondies with a Marmite glaze etc).

Kitty's creative approach to classic recipes is original and inspiring.

For example, she adds chunks of sweet and salty miso fudge to her Ultimate brown butter choc chip cookies. I have followed the recipe quite closely, but knowing my guys, didn't risk with a miso flavour, adding standard fudge pieces to the cookie dough.

Chez Maximka, cook book on bread

Chez Maximka, how to make sourdough bread

Pasteis de Nata or Custard Tarts are our family favourite pastries. One of our local cafes sells pretty good pastel de nata, and I do often buy frozen ones from Waitrose.

However, if you buy a ready-made puff pastry, you can quickly make a batch of your own custard tarts.

Kitty's twist on the classic recipe is to add a pinch of garam masala to the custard. I added a little bit of garam masala to two of the pastries, as I wasn't sure how much we'd like it. 

The pastries are delicate and wonderfully creamy. 

Chez Maximka, books about bread

Chez Maximka, how to make custard tarts

I also tried a recipe for savoury biscuits - Cheddars, made with strong Cheddar. This is an eggless recipe. I wasn't sure how well I can roll the dough, it looked pretty crumbly, but a dash of water was all that was needed. 
Very tasty biscuits, they didn't last long.

Chez Maximka, books on breadmaking

Totally delicious with a dollop of chilli jam.

Chez Maximka

I have bookmarked a few recipes from the book, which I would love to try.

This book tells a beautiful, uplifting story of a courageous girl.
You can check out Kitty's Instagram @kittytaitbaker for delightful baked goodies and inspiration.

Many thanks to Kitty and Al Tait, Bloomsbury and Tandem Collective UK for my copy of the book! I enjoyed taking part in the Readalong and looking at everyone's bakes.

Chez Maximka, books about breadmaking

Monday, 23 May 2022

Legacy by Chris Coppel

Chez Maximka, horror story

"She simply exists. She has become pure evil. Most of the time she doesn't even take human form. She feeds on suffering and pain. If she can't find it naturally, she will create it herself."

If someone bangs on your door in the middle of the night to leave a mysterious heavy crate, from an anonymous sender, without any clue as to what might be hidden inside, you and I would most likely not accept the unexpected package or take it in the house.

Craig Edmonds, the main protagonist of Legacy by Chris Coppel, however, doesn't think twice. He has no idea what is inside this super heavy and solid crate, but brings it in. In the morning the whole family gathers around the package to open it. Inside they find an antique mirror.

 "It was quite something. It was obviously old. Very old. The mirror had yellowed with time and was pitted. It had backing missing along most of its edging and a small crack across the top right-hand corner. All in all, it wasn't in great shape... The frame was the kicker. It appeared to be hand carved from what Craig guessed was walnut... It certainly wasn't the work of an artisan yet there was something intrinsically beautiful about its artistic naivety".

Jenny, Craig's wife, insists that the mirror should go up on the wall, touching the floor, looking like a doorway or portal.

The Edmonds live in an old remote house, built by an early settler to Southern Utah in the late 1800s. They love their little house, even if it's too small for four of them. The unexpected delivery of the mirror leaves Craig slightly unsettled. Somehow it feels wrong. 

A sheriff in the high desert of Southern Utah, Craig used to be an elite Marine sniper. It took him many years to to recover from the psychological trauma of his military life, as well as his very traumatic childhood.

The demons of the past, nonetheless, pale in comparison to the horrors which arrive in their house with the mirror. It hides the dark secret.

The mirror strikes terror into the family dog, who wouldn't come close to it, as if sensing something unholy. Strange occurences follow: the attic suddenly becomes infested with all kinds of vermin, soon turning into a vile giant throat with rattlesnakes, etc, yet the baffled Edmonds don't connect the dots.

The weird and dangerous events escalate, not just in the house, but in the nearby community. Craig is at a loss. Until he meets Ahote, an old Native American, (his name means restless in Hopi) who offers his help to fight the evil. This enemy is much worse than any Craig has encountered in his life as the marine. He is fighting against time and the essence of unspeakable evil, trying to save his family.

What Craig and his family don't know is that the mirror is indeed a portal for an ancient witch Beyath who needs to venture into the world of the living every twenty five years to keep herself immortal. All the ungodly events happening in the house come just before the arrival of Beyath as she intends to transition from the fifth realm and take on her original mortal form.

"She had fed the light fourteen times starting in 1643... She had witnessed almost 400 years of change in the old realm... The days when she cared about what went on within the old realm were long gone. She now had only one focus. To follow her bloodline and feed the light".

With the assistance of Ahote, Craig must time travel twenty five years into the past to defeat the 16C English witch with a taste for immortality.

Ahote himself is a powerful adversary of all things evil, but he is not strong enough to battle Beyath alone. Craig's talents from his days as the marine would come helpful. "His actions as a sniper played a big part in causing the stress that had almost destroyed him, however, Craig recognised that it was also a part of what had made him who he was".

Will Craig and Ahote be able to stop the witch on their travel back in time before her evil destroys his family forever?

As we follow Craig's story, we also get to know his background, from tragic childhood (both his parents die in a murder/suicide) and awful realities of the orphanage, to the stark distressing truth of his years as the marine. 

Potential triggers: murder, child abuse, PTSD, witchcraft.

Legacy is a chilling, immersive and compelling Gothic story. Its genre is a combination of sci fi, horror, and fantasy with elements of time travel. The book casts a sense of slowly-rising dread from the first pages. A horror story to chill the marrow. If you're sensitive, don't read this story at bedtime.

Many thanks to Chris Coppel and Henry Roi for my e-copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, horror story about evil witch

Friday, 20 May 2022

The Witch's Tree by Elena Collins


Chez Maximka, fiction about persecution of witches

"Now two women stay beneath the same roof, sharing the same shelter. The walls keep out the cold, hold strangers beyond the door; it is a refuge where secrets and promises and love are precious treasures that have never been uttered for centuries.

Two women live in the house, embraced in its protective hold, watching, waiting. Two women, one then, one now".

"Well, it is a blackthorn tree... Do you know what it symbolises?... There are all sorts of myths surrounding the blackthorn, from way back to the time of the Celts. Death, misfortune - some people call it the witch's tree - it has a long association with witchcraft. It's about opposites too: spring and autumn, blossom and berry".

The Witch's Tree by Elena Collins is a ghost story, told in a dualtime setting.

The narrative shifts from the past to present with ease, with entrancing parallels between the lives of two protagonists.

The prologue sets the melancholic atmosphere, when we enter the old cottage, with the blacktorn tree tapping against the window and casting long shadows across the moon. There is an unhappy, despondent entity, a spirit of a woman who cannot depart the domain of the living. 

"The house hides so many memories, so many years of fingers touching the same walls, being warmed by the same fire.

She knows the house well: it is hers, she will not leave it".

The present day. Manchester.

Selena is devastated when the man she loves leaves her, once she announces her pregnancy. She knows David is married, but like all delusional women who believe in fairy tales fed to them by the married cheats (his wife is vulnerable at the moment, as soon as the moment is right, he will leave her, they haven't had sex for years, have nothing in common, etc etc), imagines her story would be different. The love affair comes to an end abruptly, and Selena is hurt.

"David had broken her heart, along with all her hopes and dreams". Of course, it's the scumbag David who's the culprit, but delusional Selena is not entirely blameless either. Once she's discovered her lover is married, she chooses to believe his promises.

Claire, Selena's flatmate and business partner (they co-own an art gallery) warns her repeatedly, "a relationship with a married man was bound to end in tears, especially one like David, often self-absorbed, uncommitted and capable of manipulation". 

Intent to move on, Selena wants to have her baby and bring her/him up alone. She believes she can manage, while Claire promises to help. Tragically, she loses the baby.

All her dreams for her future are in tatters. To recuperate and revive her artistic mojo, Selena is looking for a retreat.

Searching online, she discovers a lovely little cottage in the Somerset village of Ashcombe, named Sloe Cottage. It looks picture-perfect and offers a lot of possibilities for a determined artist. It might be just the right place for Selena if not to forget her problems, then come to terms with the loss of her baby and her dreams.

As the spring arrives, Selena is settled in her new temporary home. Weeks of her rural retreat give birth to numerous paintings. If only the strange presence in the cottage didn't manifest itself so often and so vividly. "The house seems to affect my paintings. I feel isolated and a bit edgy; sometimes it's as if someone is watching me when I paint. And my work is becoming influenced by that".

It isn't long til she becomes aware of the strange shenanigans in the house. She glimpses a shape shifting in the shadows, there is a feeling of being watched, the sound of footsteps outside her bedroom door. The secrets of the past come unravelling. Who is the unquiet spirit, stuck in the cottage?

In 1682 Ascomb, Somerset, young Grace Cotter is living with her father in a little old cottage. She is content with her lot, working on a nearby farm, milking the cows, growing medicinal herbs in her garden, looking after her ailing father and learning midwifery secrets from her grandmother Beth.

Grace dreams of having a family of her own one day. Grace's grandmother is anxious to see her married, "A young woman on her own is prey to such wicked creatures. You need a husband to take care of you". But being a dreamer, Grace would only marry for love. Her love interest is above her station though, being a son of rich farmers. 

The times are hard for innocent single women. Both men and women are easily accused of withcraft on any trumped-up accusation. The gossip spread by the ignorant villagers could become a deadly weapon. One misstep could turn fatal. 

Knowing the fate of many women of that period in history who didn't conform, it is not hard to predict how Grace's story will progress.

Three centuries between them, Selena and Grace have to deal with deception and betrayal by those who you trust. In a way, both female protagonists share the same level of naivety when it comes to men. 

There appears to be an invisible thread which connects the two women. Will Selena's distrust in men become an obstacle in finding new love? Will she heal and be able to fall in love again?

How can she help the restless spirit find peace?

The cottage and the witch's tree feature prominently in the narrative, they acquire a personality of their own, and become a contact point between the centuries.

There are other parallels in the story. Grace's grandmother is a healer who knows her herbs. Selena's new friend Joely is a herbalist who brews healing tisanes and makes a range of natural cosmetics.

Selena's love of painting gets a new stimulus. Living among the stunning countryside, she takes numerous photos to use as references for her artwork. "Cottage was an inspirational place to live: strange, yet somehow inspiring, as if she was almost connected to the people who had lived there before, who had been immersed in the harsh beauty of rural Somerset".

She is a prolific artist, and paints with an amazing speed (which in itself is almost supernatural. As someone who studied at art school, I found the speed at which she works quite extraordinary). 

Selena's character becomes more mature as the story develops. When we meet her, it's hard to relate to her. In her thirties, she appears quite immature, naive and too submissive. David is so unpleasant that it's hard to imagine what would attract Selena to him in the first place. Moving away, living in isolation and having time to re-assess her life and priorities allows her to grow from passive to active.

The rural Somerset setting is evocative and atmospheric. I enjoyed all the descriptions of the landscapes.

The Witch's Tree is a quietly eloquent novel of love and loss, betrayal and hope. 

This is not a terrifying tale with a vindictive ghost, more of a melancholic spirit story. The sense of creeping dread is well-executed.

Many thanks to Elena Collins, NetGalley and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

This post is part of the blog tour for The Witch's Tree.

fiction about persecution of witches in England

Purchase Link - https://amzn.to/3Cl2rVF

Author Bio –

Elena Collins is the pen name of Judy Leigh. Judy Leigh is the bestselling author of Five French HensA Grand Old Time and The Age of Misadventure and the doyenne of the ‘it’s never too late’ genre of women’s fiction. She has lived all over the UK from Liverpool to Cornwall, but currently resides in Somerset.

Judy Leigh


Social Media Links.

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/judyleighuk

Twitter https://twitter.com/judyleighwriter

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/judyrleigh/

Newsletter Sign Up: https://bit.ly/JudyLeighNews

Chez Maximka, books about witches

Chez Maximka, novels about witches

Monday, 16 May 2022

Don't Worry, Be Ha-PEA by Marie Saba

Chez Maximka, food puns

Did you know that May 15 is a National Pun Day?! Well, I totally missed it. 

If you're a pun fan, you might have heard of the social media sensation Marie Saba and her creative food puns which she shares at @MarieSaba on Instagram or @MariesKitchenTikTok on TikTok.

Don't Worry, Be Ha-PEA/101 Deliciously Clever Food Puns by Marie Saba is a delightful little hardback edition of food puns. 

This collection of playful food puns is divided into several sections: Deliciously Romantic, Movie Title Munchies, Nom-Nom Celebrity Names, Spicy Slang, Sweet Inspiration, Tasty Tourist Attractions and Yummy Cartoon Characters.

Chez Maximka, food puns

The photos are bright, colourful, a combination of letters and food items. "Saba creates and photographs food that is both whimsical and downright playful" (Bon Appétit). 

My younger son and I enjoyed looking at the photos and solving the puns.

Chez Maximka, food puns

Some puns are pretty straightforward, some are slightly trickier. It will test your knowledge of the popular culture, celebrity names, cartoon characters etc.

Chez Maximka, food puns

The last pun of the book stumped me for a bit, as I couldn't get beyond the watermelon (slice?). When I got it, I couldn't understand why I didn't immediately see it, as it is pretty obvious.

Chez Maximka, food puns

It's a fun entertaining coffee book, to be enjoyed by the whole family. You might even want to do a fun activity as a family together and create your own food puns.

Here are two of my attempts at food puns.

Chez Maximka

If you know the French word for pear, you'll get this food pun straight away.

Chez Maximka, food pun

This cute book will make a lovely gift for any foodie.

About the Author

Marie Saba is a former lawyer, cookbook author and freelance content creator. Her playful creations have been featured in numerous media, including Bon Appetit and Food & Wine, as well as on The Rachel Ray Show and Martha Stewart Show. Marie lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband John, and their two children, Jack and Elaine.

Marie was recently named by Country Living Magazine as one of the top creative people in the country.

Don't worry Be Ha-PEA: 101 Deliciouslly Clever Food Puns

Publisher: Familius Publishing/Distributed by Hatchet

ISBN-10: 1641704640

ISBN-13: 978-1641704649

Available from Amazon, Target.co. BN.com, Booksaillion.com and bookstores nationwide.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Summer at the French Café by Sue Moorcroft

Chez Maximka, romance fiction set in France


"Another day at the book cafe began to the usual soundtrack of a hissing coffee machine and chattering customers, the air fragranced by good things to eat, the backdrop shelves and shelves of enticing books. The sun shone, brightening red shopfronts as Kat went out to the outside tables.

She drew in a deep lungful of warm summer air. Her job was the loveliest in the world".

Kat Jenson, the main heroine of Summer at the French Café by Sue Moorcroft, enjoys her job in a book café in the middle of wonderful Parc Lemmel, with its rides and lakes, formal gardens and vast green areas. The vibrant place sounds idyllic, and Kat is happy.

Before living in France, Kat was a travel journalist. "With no close ties to the UK, she'd gone freelance, wandering Europe, writing travel features and website content. Then she'd reached Alsace and fallen in love with" it.

She has a lovely little house in the French village of Kirchhoffen, a faithful albeit high-strung dog named Angelique and a handsome boyfriend Jakey. 

A dating app had brought them together a few months earlier. "She wasn't sure that this whirlwind romance was going to come to anything, partly because half the time there was geographical distance between them."

Summer is her favourite season, and Kat is intent on enjoying every bit of it. 

That is until she discovers that her boyfriend has been stringing her along. The perfect summer suddenly becomes complicated. She has to deal with the bitter venomous troublemakers, wreaking havoc at her place of work, family heartache and close friend going through a chemo as well as a personality transformation.

Kat's younger step-brother Solly moves to France for a working holiday. He shares staff accommodation with mysterious Noah, who arrives to Park Lemmel, pursuing his own agenda.

Noah has big problems of his own, trying to re-establish contact with his young daughter. His ex has married a controlling bully of a man. "Florine dumped reasonable, reliable Noah and fell into step behind Yohan like a trained dog".

Noah's daughter Clémence is "highly emotional", and reacts to even simple triggers with floods of tears. He knows he has to be careful as not to make his daughter's life even more anxiety-susceptible and confusing. Yohan enjoys his "pathetic power plays over a little girl", while submissive Florine is "sucked in by manipulative tosser". He considers only himself, and sees his wife and step-daughter as possessions.

"People think controlling behaviour is about loud voices, outright aggression, accusations and physical violence. But it doesn't have to be. It can be about emotional manipulation, isolation, using teasing or guilt as weapons".

Both Kat and Noah have to overcome their problems. Will they be able to find love again?

The book addresses serious issues of controlling behaviour, as well as disfunctional step-families, where children are often victims of their parents' egoistic decisions. The parents find new partners, and children's wishes and needs are not taken into consideration. 

While villains appear rather one-dimensional here, on the point of a caricature, narcissitic personalities are abundant in real life, if you tend to believe the tales of many parenting forums, especially the step-parenting sub-forums.

I have slightly mixed feelings about this book. This is the fourth book by the author that I have read so far, and for me the biggest attraction of Sue Moorcroft's stories is her evocative, atmospheric settings. When you travel with her to Sweden in winter, you can feel the crispy snow. Visit the coast of Norfolk, and you can smell the salty breeze of the sea. 

The French setting is excellent, and a joy to read. The book brings the sights, sounds and culinary delights of Alsace to life. The summer holiday vibe is second to none in its evocation of the French countryside.

I didn't care much about Kat, and "fur babies" in fiction usually tend to leave me indifferent. There was just too much time spent on the dog's frolics (which is a trend in romance books nowadays, there is always either a female character with a loopy dog, or she is dating a guy with a dog). I can see why it would appeal to people who are crazy about their dogs.

A word of warning: there is a pretty graphic sex scene that might offend some readers. As I have a lot of blog readers from the States who prefer the so called clean romance, this is definitely not one. 

Potential triggers: controlling behaviour/domestic abuse, cancer, step-parenting hostility.

Summer at the French café is an emotional read, heartwarming and uplifting. It's an enjoyable story of second chances and love, family loyalties and feuds, loss and betrayal, regrets and hope.

Purchase Links 

Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Summer-French-Caf%C3%A9-feel-good-fiction-ebook/dp/B09JBL9X3L/

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/summer-at-the-french-cafe-1

Apple books https://books.apple.com/gb/book/summer-at-the-french-caf%C3%A9/id1598083256

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/Summer-French-Caf%C3%A9-feel-good-fiction-ebook/dp/B09JBL9X3L/

This post is part of the blog tour for Summer at the French Café.

Many thanks to Sue Moorcroft, NetGalley and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

If you like the sound of this book, you might want to check out my reviews of the other books by Sue Moorcroft, which I enjoyed in the past:

A Summer to Remember


Let It Snow

Author Bio – 

Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times bestselling author. She’s reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle UK and Top 100 on Kindle US. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Novel of the Year, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.

Her novels, short stories, serials, columns, writing ‘how to’ and courses have appeared around the world.

Social Media Links – 

Website [www.suemoorcroft.com]

Blog [http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com]

Facebook profile [Sue.Moorcroft.3]

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/SueMoorcroftAuthor

Twitter  [@suemoorcroft]

Instagram [https://www.instagram.com/suemoorcroftauthor/] @SueMoorcroftAuthor

LinkedIn [https://www.linkedin.com/in/suemoorcroft]

Newsletter sign-up https://www.suemoorcroft.com/page_2.php?pgenme=eric&signup=2

modern romance

Chez Maximka, books set in France

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Degustabox UK vs International

 UK vs International 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 UK vs International Degustabox box? 

Chez Maximka, food delivery box

Newman's Own French Dressing & Dip (£1.85) is a great pantry staple. This zingy dressing and dip will transform a variety of simple salads into a feast.

French dressing includes such ingredients as rapeseed oil, water, sugar, extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, salt, concentrated lemon juice, garlic puree, chives, parsley, black pepper, stabiliser and mustard extract.

It is suitable for vegeratians and vegans.

Best of all, 100% of profits go to charity, how cool is that?! Here in the UK it supports Over the Wall, a serious fun charity, who provide free and fun activity camps for children with serious health challenges. 

Available in Sainsbury's, Waitrose and on Ocado.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Bitburger Drive 0.0% Alcohol Free (£0.95) is a full-flavoured and totally alcohol-free beer. It is naturally brewed following German Beer Purity laws. Light and refreshing, it is a great accompaniment to a pizza or a cheese and cold meats platter.

Available in selected trade and gastronomy outlets and adnams.co.uk.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Bitburger Premium Pils (£1.65) is a crystal-clear and straw-coloured pilsner. This is one of the most popular German beers, with a history going back 200 years. 

Available in selected trade and gastronomy outlets and adnams.co.uk.

I am not exactly a beer connoisseur but we certainly enjoyed both beers with a takeaway pizza.

Sacla' Rooted in Nature Organic Sun-Dried Tomato Stir-in Sauce (£2.80) is made in Italy, using the best organic tomatoes. The brand enjoys three generations of family know-how.

With no added sugar or salt, this sauce is very tomatoey, flavourful and utterly delicious. Great with pasta, this is another product to add to your pantry staples' list.

Available in Waitrose, on Ocado and sacla.co.uk.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

KnorrBeef Gravy Pot (£2) contains quality ingredients and real meat juices to enhance a meat-based family meal. Think a traditional Sunday roast, or beef Stroganoff. It will enrich a simple vegetable or mushroom soup, and you can also stir it into a risotto.

The gravy pot recreates the authentic flavour of rich homemade gravy in minutes.

Contains no added MSG and free from artificial colours and preservatives.

Available in the major supermarket chains such as Tesco, ASDA and Sainsbury's.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

nucao Almond Sea Salt/Crunchy Nougat/Crisp & Crunch (£2.25) is presented as "chocolate for a nu world". This a smooth vegan organic chocolate. With no refined sugar (65% less sugar than most), natural and ethically sourced ingredients and plastic free packaging, this chocolate bar is ready to make a difference.

Nutritional values: 238kcal and 7.4g of sugar per 40g bar.

You should receive 1 of 3 items in your box.

Available in the Wellbeing aisle in Sainsbury's, Holland & Barrett and the-nu-company.co.uk.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Freedom Mallows Choc Mallow Bites (£1.49) is a lovely dairy-free treat. These are toasted vanilla and strawberry chewy bites smothered in chocolate.

They are egg-free, dairy-free, gelatine-free, peanut and soy-free and gluten-free.

The small bag didn't last very long between three of us.

Available on www.freedommallows.com.

LU Le Petit Chocolat/Le Petit Beurre (£1.50) is a delightful buttery biscuit, elegant and understated. In this UK vs International selection, it epitomises the French elegance and inspiration.

Le Petit Beurre is a delicious sweet biscuit that has a subtle hint of salt in it, while Le Petit Chocolat is a crunchy buttery biscuit with a layer of smooth and creamy milk chocolate.

You should receive 1 of 2 items in your box.

Available in all major supermarket chains.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Jaffa Cakes Lemon & Lime Flavour (£1.20) is a wonderfully zingy twist on a classic. Jaffa Cakes have been introducing a lot of new flavours recently, and this one is definitely a winner.

It has an indulgent lemon and lime centre, sandwiched between the iconic dark chocolate and light sponge layers. Very nice with a cup of tea.

Available in the major supermarket chains.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Sour Patch Kids Watermelon Flavour (£1.32) is perfect, if you enjoy a combination of sweet and (very) sour. I'm not the biggest fan of sour candy, but my sons are, and they enjoyed the pack of sours between them. 
The flavour changes from sour to sweet as you eat these candies.
This is also the first product in the Sour Patch Kids range to be certified vegan.

Available in all major supermarket chains.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

Pip Organic Sparkling Apple (£1.50) is a delicious refreshing blend of organic apple juice (not from concentrate) and sparkling water. It contains no added sugar or sweeteners.

At only 65kcal, this drink counts as one of your five a day. 

Available on Ocado, Amazon and Abel & Cole.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

KETTLE Bread Bites Sea Salt, Rosemary & Extra Virgin Olive Oil Focaccia Bites (£2.09) is a brand new KETTLE product, which brings together the classic Italian flavours of focaccia bread, infused with rosemary and olive oil.
This crunchy snack is very moreish. Triple baked with real food ingredients, these tasty bites make a perfect vessel for dips.

Available in Morrisons and Tesco.

Chez Maximka, Degustabox food box

In this battle of flavours, are you team UK or team International?

The Only Exception by Claire Huston (cover reveal)


modern romance

I'm delighted to do a cover reveal for The Only Exception by Claire Huston. I have read and reviewed two of Claire's previous books, and follow her on social media. Claire's cakes and bakes are legendary, and her books are feel-good stories, sweet, funny and entertaining.

The Only Exception (Love in the Comptons 2)

Lucinda Green knows something is missing from her life. But what? Her catering business is enjoying modest success and she loves her cosy house, even if she does have to share it with her irritating ex-fiancé. 

Whatever’s making her unsettled and edgy, Lucinda’s certain that a lack of romance isn’t the problem. How could it be when she doesn’t believe in true love?

But Lucinda’s beliefs are shaken by a series of electric encounters with Alex Fraser, a newly-notorious actor who gradually proves himself to be infuriatingly funny and smart, as well as handsome. 

Not that any of that matters. Because Lucinda doesn’t believe in all that ‘The One’ nonsense. That’s the rule.

But doesn’t every rule have an exception?

This uplifting grumpy-meets-sunshine romance is perfect for fans of Katie Fforde, Phillipa Ashley and Milly Johnson.

Now that you've read the blurb, are you ready to see the book cover?

Ta dah!

modern romance

Pre-order Link - getbook.at/TheOnlyException

Publication Date: 7th June

Author Bio:

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

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

Social Media Links: https://linktr.ee/clairehuston_author 

modern romance author

Saturday, 7 May 2022

The Secret Voices by M.J. White

psychological thriller


"She wished she could help, but all she could do was listen to the echoes of other people's pain nobody else heard. Her ability gave her a window into other lives - a gift but also a curse. She carried their voices, their stories, in her mind".

The Secret Voices by M.J. White is a compelling psychological thriller/police procedural with an unforgettable, unique protagonist who will make you wonder how astonishing the human mind can be.

It's a market day in a small Suffolk village of St Just. Eight-year-old Hannah Perry is on her way home from school on the last day of term before the Easter holidays. She tells her friend and her mother that she is meeting her own Mum at the market. Hannah is reluctant to go home, as she knows there's only her mother's boyfriend Shaun waiting for her, while her mother is working. 

She pauses to look at the window of the local estate agents, daydreaming about living in one of the nice houses, with her dreamed-up dog Amber. The market is in full swing, and Hannah glimpses yellow balloons being offered to children. Maybe she could get one for her little sisters, Lily and Ruby.

Hannah never makes it home. 

The community and the police is shaken. There are just too many similarities to the disappearance of another child seven years earlier. A young boy named Matthew Cooper went missing, never to be seen alive again.

"The monster responsible was never caught and for years St Just cowered in the shadow of the knowledge that the murderer was still out there. It had carved a deep scar on the community that never fully healed".

Acting DS Rob Minshull is leading the investigation. He is completely out of depth in this case. Substantial police and volunteer search efforts prove fruitless, and with each passing hour the fears are growing for Hannah. 

The journalist sharks are having a field day, accusing police of incompetence, "With no new developments and an embattled police investigation remaining tight-lipped, tonight the question is being asked here, as in the wider nation: Is Hannah Perry still alive?"

The investigation is full of dead ends. The kidnapper sends sinister packages to the police, which contain Hannah's belongings and cryptic messages. It is obvious, Hannah's life is endangered.

And then Dr Cora Lael is invited to help with the investigation. She is a psychologist of unique talents. She works for the neurological research project, and it was discovered that "the areas of Cora's brain linked to emotion and memory fired when she heard a voice from an object and came to the conclusion that the cognitive pathways were somehow linked together. Where a person with synaesthesia could perceive letters and numbers as colours, or experience words as taste, Cora could sense emotional echoes attached to objects, as real as if the emotions were her own".

Cora's life is not an easy one. She has to learn to live with her gift, or curse, depending on how you look at it. Most of the time she is control, convincing herself, "It's just a sound. It can't hurt me. The voices are just echoes of the past".

When Cora is shown the first of Hannah's belongings, she hears the young girl's scream.

As the leads are scarce, the police team rely on Cora's ability to find the clues to Hannah's whereabouts. At first, Minshull is unnerved and suspicious. "He'd expected a quasi-spiritual charlatan, a snake oil pedlar. Cora Lael was none of those things. There was fire in her - carefully guarded but ready to spark to her aid..."

The time is running out for Hannah. Will the police be able to find her before the tragedy strikes again?

The Secret Voices is perfect for readers who like their thrillers with an unusual twist. A true page-turner, with an intriguing premise.

The story is told from several different perspectives, including Hannah's voice, which shows a vulnerable yet spirited child.

The abductor's motivation revealed at the end didn't convince me as credible. I still think this is a promising series, and I will definitely read the next book when it's out.

This rollercoaster of twists will have you on the edge of your seat throughout. M.J. White manages the tension expertly.

It will make an excellent Netflix series, along the lines of Bordertown and The Sniffer, where the main protagonists have special talents that help them investigate crimes.

This post is part of the blog tour for The Secret Voices.

Many thanks to M.J. White and Rachel's Random Resources for my e-copy of the book!

psychological thriller

Purchase Links

AMZ: https://amzn.to/3IdYXpJ

Kobo: https://bit.ly/3fxbUia


psychological thriller

Author Bio – MJ White is the crime pen name of the internationally bestselling author Miranda Dickinson. To date she has sold over one million books worldwide and has been translated into sixteen languages. Miranda has always been a huge fan of crime fiction and The Secret Voices marks the start of a new and exciting departure for her writing.


Thursday, 5 May 2022

The Enemy Within (Tommy Wildeblood #2) by Adam Macqueen


Chez Maximka, fiction set in 1980s London

"I might have done some bad things in my life - certainly a lot of things the Bible comes down pretty hard on - but there were lines I had not, would not, ever even come close to crossing. Things I knew instinctively were wrong, and that cried out for justice even back in the day when I was at my most desperate point".

"It felt like I was trapped in quicksand or ice: the situation was dire, and it was only going to get worse, but I seemed to be incapable of moving to do anything about it".

The Enemy Within by Adam Macqueen (Eye/Lightning) is a compulsive thriller, set in 1984. This is a sequel to the acclaimed Beneath the Streets, which was longlisted for the Polari Prize.

This follow-up is powerfully evocative of the period of the British history of the 1980s. The historical background feels authentic and believable. There is  real sense of foreboding as the story unfolds.

Tommy Wildeblood, a mature student of English Lit, is attending an Anti-Nazi protest, when he meets Liam Delaney. Liam is a student at Polytechnic of North London, who works part-time for Ken Livingston's council. The student union has voted to defy the orders of the High Court that Harrington (editor of National Front Views) should be allowed to enter all the premises of the polytechnic.

There is a skirmish with the police, and Tommy, Liam and several others find themselves arrested as obstructing the police in their duties.

Tommy is immediately attracted to Liam, but he has a "new policy" of not jumping in bed with any man he fancies. At twenty nine, he is on the hunt for someone he "could have an actual relationship with, or at least try out the concept for size".

It's been eight years since Tommy was a rent boy and worked the Dilly. He is hoping to leave his scandal-hunting days behind him, but the politics is all around him. Apart from the battle against the National Front, there are miners' strikes which will be later described as "creative destruction". And there is a deadly new disease called AIDS spreading its tentacles. 

The country is split, and everyone has to pick a side. Tommy's sympathies lie with the miners. The students around him romanticise the revolutionary movements. On a pretext of attending a revolutionary summer camp (in reality wanting to spend more time with Liam), Tommy enrols both of them for a weekend at the College of Marxist Education.

The two are drawn deeper into the unsavoury side of radical politics. As their romance blossoms, Tommy has to face up to how little he knows about his new flame.

"There were certain things that would be unforgivable even in someone as handsome as Liam, and while I'm hardly in a position to lecture anyone on illegal activities, I do have some principles. Mrs Thatcher refused to negotiate with terrorists - I wasn't going to fuck them either".

As the story unfolds, you get glimpses into Tommy's background, and see his vulnerability. He accepts his dark past, but is determined to get his life on the right track. If only he could trust Liam... and he makes a big mistake of falling in love with someone who has so many secrets.

Set around the true events of the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Prime Minister and her cabinet are staying for the Conservative Party conference, you're plunged deep into the darkly engrossing chapters of the British history of the 1980s.

The book is a mix of fictional and real life characters. You meet a flamboyant Derek Jarman, young Corbyn, Maggie Thatcher herself and her cronies. The blend of fiction with real history is superbly done. 

There is such a rich cast of vividly painted characters. Some sub-plots are exceptionally moving and heartbreaking.

The Enemy Within is filled with depth, conflicting convictions and empathy. It's a moving and profound, emotionally powerful read. Gripping, unflinching and full of twists and turns.

Eye/Lightning has introduced me to so many fantastic authors. Macqueen is definitely a name that I will be looking out for.

Many thanks to Adam Macqueen and Eye/Lightning for my e-copy of the book1

Chez Maximka, thriller set in London in 1980s

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Style and the Solitary by Miriam Drori (guest post + #giveaway)


murder mystery

I'm delighted today to invite you to celebrate the first book birthday for Style and the Solitary, a murder mystery by Miriam Drori. You have a chance to win one of the author's books, and read a guest post on bursting myths about social anxiety. 

Style and the Solitary

An unexpected murder. A suspect with a reason. The power of unwavering belief.

A murder has been committed in an office in Jerusalem. That’s for sure. The rest is not as clear-cut as it might seem.

Asaf languishes in his cell, unable to tell his story even to himself. How can he tell it to someone who elicits such fear within him?

His colleague, Nathalie, has studied Beauty and the Beast. She understands its moral. Maybe that’s why she’s the only one who believes in Asaf, the suspect. But she’s new in the company – and in the country. Would anyone take her opinion seriously?

She coerces her flatmates, Yarden and Tehila, into helping her investigate. As they uncover new trails, will they be able to reverse popular opinion?

In the end, will Beauty’s belief be strong enough to waken the Beast? Or, in this case, can Style waken the Solitary?


Purchase Link - mybook.to/styleandthesolitary

murder mystery set in Jerusalem


Author Bio –

When Miriam Drori says she loves to perform, people don’t believe her. When she says she’s not shy, they think she’s delusional. The fact is, things ain’t what they seem. A witch called social anxiety took away her ability to be spontaneous, but it didn’t change her exhibitionist nature. You need to watch her dancing or speaking before an audience to understand that.


Fortunately, she has found an outlet for her thoughts in writing, a solitary activity with multiple recipients. She never doubted her ability to write, but only in recent years has she managed to gather her views and observations together into papier-mâché balls worth throwing far and wide.


If you ignore the witch, life has been good to Miriam, especially since she made the decision to move from the UK to Israel. She has a wonderful husband, three lovely children and a delightful house. She loves to read, travel, hike and dance. She has worked in computer programming and technical writing, and now enjoys the freedom and versatility of creative writing. And she believes passionately in raising awareness of social anxiety.

Social Media Links –

Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram, Wattpad and website/blog.

Amazon page: Author.to/MiriamDroriAtAmazon

murder mystery set in Israel

Please welcome Miriam Drori, today she is talking about social anxiety.

Bursting Myths About Social Anxiety

I’ll begin with the same introduction I wrote for Reading Tonic. I don’t write solely about social anxiety, but, as it happens, the three books currently available all involve social anxiety. My (unavailable) romance and historical fiction don’t mention it and neither do any of my short stories.

But in researching and talking about social anxiety, I’ve come across several misconceptions, and I’d like to share some of them.

‘Social Anxiety’ is Just a Label

Older people, in particular, hate labels. Not all older people – I should probably say not all of us – but many. They say that in the old days, we didn’t have all those labels (which is true) and therefore people were happier (which is not). They say that nowadays, people hide behind labels; that they use labels as excuses for not tackling their problems. I think it’s more that people with problems hid themselves away so well that those label haters were unaware of them.

I think labels are good, when used properly. Labels help us to find others who struggle with similar problems, to share and support each other. They help us to find professional help. Most of all, they tell us we are not alone.

Social Anxiety is a Choice

Another misconception is that people choose to have social anxiety, and therefore they can choose not to have it, just like that (she says, snapping her fingers).

They apparently don’t realise that, along with social anxiety, comes embarrassment, stress, fear and many other negative feelings. It attracts ridicule, or simply causes others to ignore the sufferer.

No, no one chooses to have social anxiety.

Social Anxiety = Extreme Shyness

This one tends to be true; most people with social anxiety are also shy. They generally believe they were always shy, and their shyness developed throughout their childhood, leading to social anxiety.

However, that’s not true universally, and I’m a case in point. I was never shy, and that’s probably what enabled me to ‘come out’ and even deliver talks about social anxiety.

Social Anxiety = Autism

People who’ve heard a little about social anxiety could be forgiven for comparing it to autism. After all, in both cases, sufferers struggle to fit into society. And, either as a consequence of that or as a cause of it, they generally don’t talk a lot.

However, there’s at least one big difference. People with autism find it hard to understand what others are feeling or thinking, while those with social anxiety understand too well.


I hope I’ve opened up a window on social anxiety. Those three books of mine open doors.

·         Social Anxiety Revealed (non-fiction): a guide to social anxiety, written by me and many fellow sufferers, who agreed for their words to be quoted on condition that they remained anonymous.

·         Cultivating a Fuji (uplit), in which the main character is completely unsuited to the task he is given, of representing his company in Japan.

·         Style and the Solitary (cosy crime), in which the character is arrested for murder and unable to defend himself.


Giveaway to Win 5 x PB copies of Cultivating a Fuji by Miriam Drori (Open INT)

book giveaway



*Terms and Conditions –

Worldwide entries welcome.  

Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  

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

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

Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  

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

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

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

Please note that this giveaway will appear through several blogs taking part in the Book Birthday Blitz.

Chez Maximka has no access to the data collected, and is not involved in the selection of the winner or dispatch of the prize.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway