Tuesday, 10 December 2019

A Portrait of Death (The Versipellis Mystery series: Book One) by Rhen Garland #BlogTour

Victorian mystery with supernatural elements, Chez Maximka, murder mystery

"As she stood in the hallway by the sitting room door, she became aware that the noise had changed slightly; before it had sounded muffled but standing here in the hall she could now hear it clearly. It sounded like the high keening of a child crying..."

The first pages of A Portrait of Death by Rhen Garland grab you immediately and draw you into an unspeakable brutal murder scene, taking place in a mansion in New York in 1889. The gore details and the eerie unsettling atmosphere are positively Gothic.

A portrait of death is the 1st book in the Versipellis Mystery series, which could be described as a Victorian murder mystery with the elements of paranormal/supernatural. The endorsement on the back cover presents it as "Jack the Ripper meets Highlander!"

After the barbaric murder in the opening chapter, we meet a mysterious dark demonic figure, with powers of transformation into their victim's persona.

Fast forward another 8 years, and we find ourselves at Marmis Hall, situated in a quiet English village Marmis Parva. Lord and Lady Marmis treat a selection of friends to a weekend house party.

"The weekend was to be a front as they say, a perfectly harmless party involving bridge, opera and feasting that would operate as a cover for the real purpose of the weekend, that of a meeting between the government and certain others to discuss the possibility of another war in South Africa. The guests were carefully chosen to create a safe environment in which the parliamentarians could mingle in safety without hindrance to their true purpose".

On the very first evening of the weekend party, two men are butchered by a bloodthirsty maniac. And a young man, the younger brother of the master of the house, comes back from the dead. He was presumed dead for the last two years. He spent two years of imprisonment in South Africa, and arrives home under the cover of the night, bringing with him proof of treason and names of three traitors.

Detective Chief Inspector Elliott Caine and his sidekick Detective Sergeant Abernathy Thorne are formally requested by a highly placed government official to go to Marmis Hall to investigate the murders. Their long-awaited holiday would have to wait.

Elliott V Caine was young for CID officer of his position. "Those who spoke in his defence argued that his abilities and successes on the job were justification enough to push his repeated and swift promotions, while those who disapproved listed his maverick behaviour, his refusal to follow the necessary protocol... and his unnerving habit of breaking even the most hardened criminal down to dust... in some cases literally".

Caine and Thorne arrive to Marmis Hall, but the savage murders continue. It seems the killer is taunting them.
The list of the traitors' names acquires a new addition - that of Versipellis - scribbled in a different ink. Caine is well aware of the identity of Versipellis.
"Versipellis, or rather a codename seems to have been around in various forms for well over three hundred years, he is an independent operative, an information gatherer who has worked for the British government and occasionally the Americans".

Time is ticking, Caine and Thorne have to catch the sadistic killer and find the traitor amongst them. The murders at Marmis Hall are connected to the murder committed a decade earlier in New York.
Caine's past comes to haunt him. Will he be able to stay clear-headed and not let his obsessions cloud his investigation?

When you're reading this book, you might want to make sure all the doors are locked. The murder scenes are not for faint-hearted. It is a gripping, atmospheric murder mystery, full of bold twists and turns which will keep you guessing 'til the final pages.

While the murder mystery is satisfactorily solved, the supernatural aspect hasn't been explained much. I presume we will find out more in the next books in the series.

A Portrait of Death is a sharp-edged, menacing gothic tale, a well-plotted page-turner.

This post is part of the blog tour, you can follow it on the following blog stops:

blog tour, Victorian murder mystery

Author Bio:
Rhen Garland lives in Somerset, England, with her folk-singing, book-illustrating husband, approximately 4000 books, and equal number of ancient movies, and a large flock of stuffed sheep.
She enjoys the countryside, peace, and Prosecco and the works of Ngaio Marsh, Glady Mitchell, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett.
"I watch far too many old school murder mystery films, TV series, and 1980s action movies for it to be considered healthy."

Social Media Links:
You can follow Rhen Garland on Twitter as @RhenWitch

Victorian murder mystery, Chez Maximka

Many thanks to Rhen Garland and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Life of Spice American Rub Collection (review + giveaway E: 2 January 2020)

seasoning blends, Chez Maximka

It's cold outside, and the countdown to Christmas is on. Are you trying to think of a gift for someone who enjoys food and cooking? Take a look below for some Christmas gifts inspiration?

Just the other day I was telling you about The Italian Collection from Life of Spice.
Today's foodie gift suggestion is an American Rub Collection.

Life of Spice has an inspiring range of products to please any foodie. They produce premium gourmet rubs and spices which are stored in attractive aluminium tins.
Produced in small batches using the freshest dried herbs and spices, their versatile range offers a variety of delicious flavours.
Excellent with steaks, fish or vegetables, all Life of Spice products are vegetarian and vegan friendly, include no artificial preservatives or E-numbers.
Their produce comes in environmentally friendly aluminium tins that are fully recyclable.

You can also keep these tins to store any dried herbs (from your own garden, or when you buy a big bunch and let them dry) or spices if you buy them in bigger packets from the world  cuisine isles. I love tins, so these tins won't go in the recycling bin, once the spice blends are finished.

Life of Spice American Rub Collection Gift Set lets you add amazing flavours and zing to just about anything. Fantastic for summer outdoors cooking, these spice blends and rubs will enhance winter comfort food as well.

foodie gifts for Christmas, Chez Maximka

Memphis Belle is an authentic Tennesse Barbecue Rub to provide a Southern taste sensation.
Ingredients: paprika, demerara sugar, sea salt, sugar, mustard, celery seeds, pepper, onion, garlic, chipotle and rice flour.

American spice blends in UK, Chez Maximka, Christmas gifts for foodies

Kansas City Rib Rub is an authentic Kansas City Barbecue Rub to provide a true taste of the Midwest.
Ingredients: paprika, sea salt, garlic, demerara sugar, mustard, pepper, onion, sugar, Ancho chilli, Cayenne pepper and rice flour.

BBQ spice blends, Chez Maximka, Christmas gifts for foodies

Much Adobo About Nothing is an authentic Adobo seasoning blend which is perfect as a rub on meats or used in chilli and fajita recipes.
Ingredients: sea salt, paprika, pepper, chipotle powder, oregano, cumin, onion, garlic, demerara sugar and rice flour.

BBQ rubs, best seasoning blends, Chez Maximka, gifts for foodies

Savannah Gold is an authentic mustard and garlic rub from the Deep South to give a taste of Georgia at its stunning best.
Ingredients: mustard, sea salt, demerara sugar, pepper, garlic, sugar, onion, turmeric and rice flour.

best seasoning blends, Chez Maximka, gifts for foodies

Sweet Home Alabama is a superb Southern spice rub that offers rich smoky heat and fragrant herbs.
Ingredients: paprika, sea salt, garlic, smoked paprika, onion, sugar, pepper, Cayenne pepper, Ancho chilli, oregano, basil, sage, mustard and rice flour.

gifts for foodies, Chez Maximka, best seasoning blends

By now, I have tried all of the above in different dishes (pescatarian + vegetarian).
Roast vegetables and fruit - like sweet peppers, onion, courgettes, tomatoes and grapes - with Sweet Home Alabama spice rub acquired that slightly smoky flavour and were delicious.

side dish to fish, Chez Maximka, vegetable side

Sweet potato and tomato soup worked well with a warm note of Memphis Belle, with it combination of paprika, demerara, and celery among other ingredients.

I cooked it last week for dinner. I had a very big sweet potato, which I cubed and cooked in salted boiling water until the sweet potato was soft. Add the spice and pour in the contents of a plain tinned tomato soup. Mash the sweet potatoes with the fork. Serve with a dash of cream and sprinkle some crunchy roasted corns and peas on top (optional).

spicy soup, winter soup, Chez Maximka, gifts for foodies

Savannah Gold was perfect for a roast sea bass.

fish dinner, gifts for foodies

Warm squash salad with wild mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, cheese, rocket and cashew nuts was another tasty dinner meal. Roast the cubed squash with Kansas City rib rub, then toss together with the other ingredients.

vegetarian meals, Chez Maximka

Kansas City Rib Rub will add a lovely zingy note to the red cabbage with apples.

As you can see from the recipe suggestions above, The American Rub Collection will work with a variety of recipes - stews, soups, roasts of all kinds, and will add a twist to many a classic recipe.

American Collection will make a lovely Christmas gift for foodies. The box looks stylish, and tins will keep the herb and salt blends fresh for longer.

If you place any order through The Life of Spice, you will receive 1 free tin with each collection ordered using the following code: LOS-NDBLG

Now if you like the sound of this gift set, you have a chance to win it.
Please check the T&Cs at the end of the widget.
Please also note that my blog is only hosting a widget, I am not responsible for selecting a winner, contacting them for address details or sending the prize.

Good luck!

 The Life of Spice Giveaway #13

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Photo diary: week 49, project 365

Is it just me, or does a festive season send you in a kind of panic? I still haven't bought any presents for my family, except one, for my mother-in-law.
I'm feeling rather overwhelmed with what's going on right now in my family, and can't feign much enthusiasm for the coming festive season.
If anything, this will be one of the saddest Christmases for me, as we won't be spending it together as a family. My husband is taking Eddie to Italy to spend holidays with his elderly parents, while Sash and I will stay behind. It was a tough decision, and we didn't take it lightly, but due to Sash's anxiety attacks, it's just not safe to travel with him.
So, for the first time in my life, I will be separated from my younger child for several days. He's my ray of sunshine, and keeps me sane on stressful days, cracking jokes and melting my heart with his grin.
I am on the point of an emotional collapse, but have to keep myself together for the sake of my boys. They both need me, strong and supportive.

And now to the weekly round-up of daily photos:
Last Sunday at Costa...

Chez Maximka, cafes in Oxfordshire

It was a frosty and sunny morning on Monday, when I walked to the Royal Mail depot to pick up a packet. It was a Funko Pop toy ordered at Zavvi at the end of August. That's probably the longest we had to wait for an order to arrive. Never again will I shop at Zavvi.

winter scene, Chez Maximka

I've treated myself to Whittards of Chelsea tea advent calendar, which was at half price. Still pricey, if you ask me, as it's 24 tea bags for £12.50, don't think I would want to pay a full price. Though I do love their teas, and buy regularly. On the 3rd day of advent it was Earl Grey tea bag, probably my most favourite tea from their range, which I buy often.

tea advent calendar, Chez Maximka

Another cold morning on the Church Green, with a view of St Mary's church in the distance.

Chez Maximka, churches of Oxfordshire

I had to go to Sasha's school again this week, to meet the paediatrician. Every time I'm on the bus in Headington, I try to capture the shark on the roof, but the bus goes too fast to take a good shot.

Chez Maximka, places of interest in Oxford

The remaining leaves of the creeper were trembling in the wind.

Chez Maximka

Today Eddie and I did our grocery shopping, and stopped at the playground on the way home. Then we spent a long time, trying to finish his Tudor project.
Eddie was writing, using several books I got for him, then I had to double check the spelling. Tomorrow he must finish it, as Monday is the deadline for submitting the work.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Friday, 6 December 2019

Now That's What I Call Christmas Music (Now 100 Hits Christmas & Now 100 Hits Sing-A-Long)

Christmas music albums, Christmas gifts, Chez Maximka

Gifts wrapped, festive menu planned, shopping done, anything else to tick off the list of things to do? What about music? When you're decorating a Christmas tree or planning a party, only Christmas music would do.
Sing your way to a very merry Christmas with Now 100 Hits Christmas and Sing-A-Long!

Now That's What I Call Christmas Music/Now 100 Hits Christmas (RRP £10.99) is the seventh best-selling album of all time in the UK with 4.5 million units sold, isn't that impressive?!
NOW's 100 Hits series is very popular, and their Christmas music selection is one great belter after another.

best Christmas album, Chez Maximka, Christmas gifts

From golden classics like Bing Crosby's It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Tony Bennett's Winter Wonderland, Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby, Frank Sinatra's Jingle Bells etc to the best modern festive songs like Justin Bieber's Mistletoe or Pentatonix's version of Mary, Did You Know? this album "will get everyone from Rudolph to Frosty to the big man Father Christmas himself in the festive spirit and counting down the days until 25th December".

This year, NOW has released a cracker of a compilation with more tracks than ever before. Whether you're enjoying a mug of hot chocolate, snuggled on the sofa, or are busy wrapping presents for your family and friends, adding more booze to your Christmas cake or getting the office ready for the big party, NOW has you covered, with 100 Christmas hits to suit all tastes.

Elves from NOW were spotted interviewing the Christmas HQ to find out what they think about this album.

According to Santa, Now 100 Hits Christmas is "cooler than Mrs C's ice lollies".
Mrs Claus said: "Aside from Christmas cheer and spirit, it's the only thing that gets Mr Claus out of bed on these cold mornings (and sherry)."
Rudolph said: "Every year I like to see if I can get some PBs dashing around the world to give the kids their presents - so NOW! Christmas is perfect for the stretching and warm up first thing, the heavy cardio when we're flying, and the warm down when we land back in the North Pole. It's essential listening for such an intense workout!"
Dasher said: "Santa's always jingling his bells to this one".
Santa's Little Helper (second in command) said: "We play this compilation in our workshop every day, there's something for every elf, some of the younger elves prefer to bop around to Justin Bieber's track Mistletoe but I'm a big fan of Nat King Cole and the crooners, it's very relaxing when we're gearing up to the big day".
Santa's Little Helper (anonymous) said: "It's packed full of more bangers than Santa's sack" (Boom-Boom, that's as far as I dare to venture with the risqué jokes).
Frosty the Snowman said: "My favourite is Peter Auty's Walking in the Air, which was actually written about my Great Grandad - The Snowman. It brings back some real memories, that one!".

Bad jokes aside, this album was a trip down the memory lane for me as well.
Boney M and their catchy tune Mary's Boy Child/Oh My Lord first blazed through our TV screens in the late 1970s. And the hearts of the Soviet people were conquered.
In those days the new year's eve TV schedule was progressing the following way: first it was all the Soviet-style singers, then in the early hours of the night there would be a long slot dedicated to the Soviet bloc performers (Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany etc), and only then when you were half-asleep, around 4-5am, they would show the "Western" music, which of course, was also heavily censored.
Boney M visited Moscow and Leningrad in 1979. This was one of a few rare occasions when the Western group was invited to the Soviet Union officially. Their music blasted at the discos across the country. Boney M became one of the symbols of the Western freedom.
I was only a child then, but I remember the first time I watched Mary's Boy Child on TV, and how much I loved that song. It's still one of my favourite festive tunes.

party music, Chez Maximka, Christmas gifts

To keep the party going, there is another 5 CD box set - Now 100 Hits Sing-A-Long.
It has tracks to please all generations and ages, from the classics of the 1970s (Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, ABBA's Mamma Mia, Blondie's Sunday Girl, etc) to 1980s and 1990s hits of my childhood and youth (Billy Joel's Uptown Girl, Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart, Karma Chameleon by Culture Club, etc) to the latest songs (Justin Timberlake's Can't Stop the feeling, Pharrell Williams' Happy and One Direction's Story of My Life).
You will sing along and dance (a good exercise after all those seasonal calories).

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by one and only Cyndi Lauper never ceases to bring a smile to my face. I've been known to sing along (rather quietly though) in the shops whenever this catchy tune is played. It brings back so many lovely memories, one of them, dancing in the deserted bus stop with a German student who was visiting England, while we were waiting for the bus and feeling quite cold. It's one of those happy memories I keep tucked in my heart and mind. I was young, carefree and enjoying myself.

Listening to Now 100 Hits Christmas and Now 100 Hits Sing-A-Long is made easier with the NOW Music app, where subscribers can access all the NOW compilations plus even more playlists and music for only £4.99 a month with no contract or adverts.
The NOW Music App is the easiest and most enjoyable way to access music on your devices.

These CDs will make a perfect Christmas stocking filler. Santa, take note!

Disclosure: We received two CDs for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Italian Collection from Life of Spice + sausage rolls two ways

vegetarian meals, Chez Maximka

Are you looking for a perfect Christmas present for your favourite foodie?
If the answer is Yes, Life of Spice has an inspiring range of products to please any gourmet.
They produce premium gourmet rubs and spices which are stored in attractive aluminium tins.
Produced in small batches using the freshest dried herbs and spices, their versatile range offers a variety of delicious flavours.
Excellent with steaks, fish or vegetables, all Life of Spice products are vegetarian and vegan friendly, include no artificial preservatives or E-numbers.
Their produce comes in environmentally friendly aluminium tins that are fully recyclable.

Last month I received two boxes from Life of Spice range - The Italian Collection and The American Rub Collection.

foodie gifts for Christmas, Chez Maximka

The Italian Collection from Life of Spice includes an Italian Herbs herb collection, Pepper Smurf rub collection and The Italian Job salt collection.

Italian Herbs is a classic selection of Italian herbs to give that authentic trattoria taste to pizza and Italian dishes.
Ingredients: Oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, marjoram and sage.

gifts for foodies, Christmas gifts, Chez Maximka

Pepper Smurf is a classic Italian peppered steak rub with a few extra herbs to get your tastebuds singing.
Ingredients: Sea salt, rosemary, basil, marjoram, lemon peel, pepper, garlic, garlic flakes, citric acid, crushed red peppers and rice flour.

The Italian Job is a sea salt infused with basil, thyme and citrus to bring a taste of the Mediterranean to your table.
Ingredients: sea salt, basil, thyme, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano and citric acid.

Life of Spice produces all rubs and spice blends right here, in the UK, from the finest quality, freshest ingredients they can source.
Life of Spice products contain no artificial ingredients, and are gluten free and dairy free.

gourmet gifts for Christmas, gifts for foodies, gifts for people who have everything

During the BBQ season the rubs and spice blends reign supreme, but you can obviously use them all year round. Meat eaters could cook a delicious steak with Pepper Smurf rub. Seafood, like prawns, goes really well with Italian herbs. A Greek salad could be prepared with either Italian Herbs, or The Italian Job sea salt.

Most of the dishes I prepared with the Italian Collection rubs, flavoured salt and herb blend are vegetarian, though sausage rolls were cooked with both meat (pork sausages) and vegetarian sausages.

These are versatile ingredients which will enhance many a dish. I love flavoured salts, and The Italian Job is an excellent product.

flavoured salt, Chez Maximka, gourmet gifts for Christmas, foodie gifts for Christmas

Add it to the roast potatoes or any other vegetables...

flavoured salt, roast potatoes for Christmas, Chez Maximka

 or season the water for boiled potatoes...

Chez Maximka, baby potatoes

A soup or stew would be enhanced by the addition of the herbs and flavoured salt. For example, cook a classic leek and potato soup with extra greens (like a courgette) and season well with Italian herbs.

comfort soup for winter, Chez Maximka

My guys love sausage rolls. As we're a family with mixed diets - vegetarian + meat eaters, I do tend to cook different versions of the same dish. With sausage rolls, it's pretty easy to bake a batch which will suit different tastes.
For meat eaters use plain pork sausages as a base of the sausage rolls. For the meat-free version you might choose Linda McCartney's vegetarian sausages.

easy sausage rolls, what to cook with Italian herbs, Chez Maximka

Sausage rolls two ways (makes 12)
You will need:
1 pack of Jus-Rol puff pastry, ready to roll, 320g
3 pork sausages
3 vegetarian sausages (or 6 of each, depending on your diet)
1 egg, yolk and white separated
1tsp Italian Herbs
sesame seeds (optional)

In two medium sized mixing bowls put sausages - skin the meat ones first. Beat an egg white and add to the vegetarian sausages. Sprinkle Italian herbs over both types of sausagemeat. Mash the sausages so that the herbs are incorporated. I added the egg white to the vegetarian sausages, as they are more solid and less pliable.

Roll out the puff pastry. Slice lengthways in half.
Shape the sausagemeat into long sausages which you place in the middle of the pastry. Beat the egg yolk and brush the edges of the pastry. Overlap the edges so that you have two long sausage rolls, which you slice into smaller pieces.
Brush each piece with the egg yolk and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top.
Place the mini rolls on the oiled foil over a baking tray. Put the tray in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed, golden and flaky.
Eat hot, with mustard or ketchup.

Both versions are tasty.

Emma Bridgewater, Chez Maximka

The Italian Collection will make a lovely Christmas gift for foodies. The box looks stylish, and tins will keep the herb and salt blends fresh for longer.

If you place and order through The Life of Spice, you will receive 1 free tin with each collection ordered using the following code: LOS-NDBLG.

Disclosure: I received Life of Spice products for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are our own.

what to cook with Italian Herbs, Chez Maximka

Monday, 2 December 2019

Moomins and the Winter Wonderland (animation)

Moomins animation

"The valley was enveloped in a kind of grey twilight. It also wasn't green any longer, it was white. Everything that had once moved had become immobile. There were no living sounds. Everything angular was now rounded.
"This is snow," Moomintroll whispered to himself. "I've heard about it from Mother, and it's called snow." (Tove Jansson, Moominland Midwinter)

I loved Moomins as a child, and they still hold a very special place in my heart. I first encountered them as a 7-year-old, and have been reading and rereading this wonderful series since then, finding new wisdom and joy.
Philip Pullman once described Moomins as "they seem to grow in wisdom and delight every time I read them".

I was excited to read that Signature Entertainment presents a new feature reworking of the 1980s animation - Moomins & The Winter Wonderland (available from 2 December on Digital HD).

Moomins animation

If you're familiar with lovable Moomins, you probably know, that in winter they are sleeping deeply. They go to hibernate in their cozy beds in November to wake up in April, as the nature awakes with them.
As snow covers the Moomin valley, the streak of moonlight wakes up Moomintroll.
He is curious to discover what awaits him outside, while his family is in deep slumber. There is nothing to eat and no one to talk to at home, so off he wanders into his first snowdrift.

Moomins animation

At first he feels like an outsider in this cold new world, but he meets creatures of the forest and makes new friends including Too-ticky who lives in their summer bathing house, Hemulen who loves outdoors, and even his own ancestor.

And when Little My, full of mischief as always, is woken up by a squirrel, she discovers that Christmas is coming. She's astonished: Presents? Guests? I'd better wake them up for Christmas.

The Moomin family is rudely awoken, to get ready for the mysterious guest, decorate the tree and cook delicious food. Not knowing who or what Christmas is, they are rather alarmed.
As they work together, decorating the Christmas tree, cooking a feast and cleaning the house, they discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Children will be enchanted by this lovely story, while grown-ups might chuckle at wise sayings like "Family is family, you don't get to choose it", or "Relatives have a tendency to stay longer than you want them to..."

The animation features the voices of Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and father-and-son duo Stellan Skarsgård (Mamma Mia) and Bill Skarsgård.

Moomins animation

The animation has a nostalgic, almost vintage feel about it. The characters are made of different fabrics and materials. Their mouths do not move, when they talk.
In some way, it reminded me of the original Snowman animation, as it has a similar old-style pace and a kind message. It's not an action film, not much is really happening.

It is a sweet, charming magical story to warm the cockles of your heart.

Moomins animation

Sunday, 1 December 2019

The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton

Norwegian crime novel, Chez Maximka, classic crime books

I seized the window to close it but stopped suddenly when I caught a sound far off in the distance, a metallic rattling borne to me on the gusts of wind, and which rose and fell along with them. The sound was coming from the plain.
It was the iron chariot again.

The Iron Chariot by Stein Riverton (translation by Lucy Moffatt; Lightning Books) was published in 1909. It has been voted the best Norwegian crime novel of all time in 2017.

The nameless narrator is enjoying a day of the languorous heat in the countryside. His companions from the boarding house and he are scattered in the high grass, listening to the summer breeze. Nobody is saying a word, they are all compelled to absolute inactivity.
Then suddenly their peaceful limbo is interrupted by a sound of swinging gates and approaching hasty footsteps of people running towards them, with a disturbing message: "We've found a murdered man up on the road".

A classic start of a classic crime novel. The use of the first-person narrative provides the readers with an internal observation and unique presentation of events.

We go back in time, to the evening before the gruesome discovery, when our main protagonist takes a walk across the plain. He plans to visit a neighbouring farm, hoping to play a game of chess, and most importantly, see the lady of the house, beautiful Hilde. He takes it for granted that he would be welcome, as the family (brother and sister) are sociable and know him well.
But instead of a warm welcome, his way is barred by the farm steward, who says that the family cannot receive him this evening.

Intrigued and offended by the refusal to see him, the narrator hides in the darkness of the garden and waits to see if he can understand what's going on. After a while, a man leaves the house. He's one of the boarding house guests, a forestry inspector called Blinde.

As the narrator walks back home, he meets a fisherman who asks him:
"Do you hear that?"
"Hush", said the man, listening.
And now the sound came again, that infinitely distant sound of loose chains rattling.
"What is it?" I asked.
"The iron chariot", the man replied gravely. "It's a long time since I last heard it."

The iron chariot, according to the locals, is a bad omen, foretelling an imminent death. "Whenever some terrible thing was about to happen at Gjærnæs Farm, or whenever somebody was about to die, people always heard the iron chariot rattling its way across the plain. But nobody had seen it and it never left any tracks upon the road."

When the next morning the forestry inspector is found murdered, a detective is summoned from the capital, Kristiania.
Detective Asbjørn Krag is a rather annoying character, who appears to be inactive, insensitive and devious yet nosey. He doesn't think twice about entering the narrator's bedroom while the latter is still asleep and watches him sleeping, then comments on that as if it's the most natural thing to do. He brings the narrator to look at the body etc.

The second victim is found on the plain. The mystery deepens, as apparently this person died a few years earlier.

The narrator is drawn into the investigation - rather unwillingly on his part - and is slowly losing his sanity. His paranoia is increasing, he's finding it difficult to sleep, while the detective seems to look at everything as a big joke. Of course, his cheerful persona is an act. He enjoys baiting our protagonist: "I am, in fact, something of a poet", he said. "A poet of fear".

The setting of the novel is reminiscent of the other famous sinister location in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Riverton's Gothic descriptions of the nature provide an eerie background to the unravelling mystery.
The landscape becomes an integral part of the narrative.
"The sky was the colour of dynamite and so still that the underwater skerries ventured above the surface. On mornings such as this fish hurl themselves upon the hook in rage and when you reel them, their eyes foam with blood; for men, it is suicide weather."

Lucy Moffatt who translated the novel, deserves a special mention. Her beautiful translation brings an opportunity to English-speaking fans of the Scandi Noir to finally read "the book that started it all".

Writer Nils Nordberg described The Iron Chariot as "something nobody had tried before: a psychological thriller disguised as a detective novel, with one foot in the horror tradition of Poe and the other in the modern world".

The Iron Chariot is a superb mystery, with stacks of atmosphere and psychology.

best Norwegian crime books, Chez Maximka

Twelve days of chocolate giveaway (ends 12 December 2019)

It's that time of the year again, my lovely blog readers! It has now become an annual event, which I run at the beginning of December for twelve days. Don't know about you, but I'm surely excited about it. I enjoy choosing different chocolate bars for each day of the giveaway, as well as buying little bits and bobs to go with them. This is a kind of prize I'd be happy to win myself.
Hope you will enjoy it as much as I do. There is 1,200kg of chocolate to win!

First of all, let me wish all my blog readers a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! (and if you don't celebrate Christmas, you're welcome too, I'm wishing you a lovely festive season!)

I love chocolate, and this giveaway is my celebration of all things chocolatey.

Every day I will offer you a chocolate bar and a little something too, edible or decorative.

For 12 days I will be revealing a part of an overall prize, and each day there will be a new question.

As stipulated in the T&Cs below, the number of winners will depend on how many questions the first randomly selected winner will answer. If they answer all 12 questions, they get the whole lot. If they choose to answer less questions, they'll get less prizes, and the remaining part of the prize will go to the next randomly selected winner.

Day 1:
Today's chocolate bar is a festive treat found in Lakeland - Christmas Pudding flavoured bar (spices, raisins, dark chocolate, crumbled biscuit and golden sparkle) + a Mini LED character - Snowman.

advent giveaway, Chez Maximka

Question 1 (1 December): Which gift are you most anticipating to give someone this year? (Or hoping to receive?)

Day 2 (2 December):
For me marzipan is associated with Christmas, and for today I'm offering a Ritter Sport Marzipan bar + Niedregger Marzipan.

chocolate giveaway

Question 2:
What kind of food did you leave for Santa when you were little (or your children/grandchildren/family members)?

A few years ago, when Eddie was little and we were spending Christmas in Italy with my in-laws, we left a glass of milk, a carrot and a pastry for Santa and Rudolph. When he fell asleep, I discretely removed the pastry and carrot, and poured milk back in a little jug. In the morning, Eddie told me in a shocked whisper that Santa took his grandma's little plate.

Day 3 (3 December):
My guys all love white chocolate, so for the 3rd day here is a white chocolate bar from Green & Black's, a mini box of Raffaello and a mouse decoration.

chocolate giveaway, advent giveaway, Chez Maximka

Question 3: 
Do you usually put a star or an angel on top of the Christmas tree?

(Typically we have a wooden angel with dangly legs, but when Eddie was in the nursery and made an elephant from a milk bottle and coloured paper, we had it on top of the tree for a few years, until someone squashed it. So, it's back to the angel now).

Day 4 (4 December):
I could never resist festive seasonal flavours, and just had to buy a Waitrose Dark Chocolate with Gingerbread flavour truffle filling. Breakfast crackers sound like a fun idea too.

chocolate giveaway, Chez Maximka

Question 4:
Do you own an ugly Christmas jumper?

I have a few, and already started wearing one, with a cat sitting on a present. Last week, when I was wearing it to school to help in the library, I got a lot of comments from children who all seemed to approve of the glitter and sparkle.

Day 5 (5 December):
Today's chocolate is Divine Dark with ginger and orange + Waitrose festive baby avocado.
When I saw the avocado chocolate, I was intrigued what's particularly festive about it. I don't know the answer, you'll just have to find it out for yourselves. But it does look cute.

chocolate giveaway, Chez Maximka

Question 5: 
Which Christmas song is your favourite (or if you don't like them at all, which song annoys you the most)?

Day 6 (6 December):
Today's part of the prize stash is a Ritter Sport Rum Raisins Hazelnuts bar + a mini box of I ♡ 80s 90s Trivia.

chocolate giveaway, Chez Maximka

Question 6:
Do you open gifts on Christmas or Christmas eve?

(It's trendy nowadays to have a Christmas eve box, but we don't do it.)

Day 7 (7 December):
Willie's Cacao Luscious Orange + Waterstones gift tags + Robin coasters (Sainsbury's Home) are today's addition to the stash.

chocolate giveaway, Chez Maximka

Question 7:
Are you good at wrapping presents?

(I confess, I'm pretty rubbish at wrapping, I'm OK with boxes, but anything out of ordinary shape defeats me.)

Day 8 (8 December):
Today's part of the chocolate stash is a Galaxy Salted Caramel bar + a set of cake pens.
These pens are easy to use, and you can eat the decorated results (the ink is edible). You can see how I used them, if you have a look at the gingerbread cookies I baked for the author Sophie Anderson, when my son and I went to the book event in Oxford.

pens to decorate cookies

Question 8:
Have you ever kissed someone under the mistletoe?

I was trying hard to remember if I ever did, and think that, alas, it never happened to me.

Day 9 (9 December):
And we're on day 9 already. Today's prize addition is Divine Smooth Dark with raspberries (one of my personal favourites) plus a Maltesers reindeer and Reese's tree.

Chez Maximka, chocolate giveaway

Question 9:
Which festive ornament has the most significance to you (or sentimental value)?

I have several Soviet ornaments - a little bird, a squirrel, a chilli pepper and a bauble from my childhood. Mum says they are from when I was a baby, so they're about 50 years old, pretty vintage. In comparison to my later years' collection of Xmas ornaments, they are rather plain but I treasure them the most.

Day 10 (10 December):
Another Divine chocolate bar, this time Divine Milk with Toffee and Sea Salt + a selection of cosmetics (Rodial Vit C face mask, Skyn firming eye gels, Formula face mask 15ml, L'Occitane almond hand cream 10ml)

chocolate giveaway, Chez Maximka

Question 10:
If you receive a present you don't like, can't use or already have exactly the same, do you regift it?

I have been known for regifting a number of scarves and gloves, mostly to my Mum.

Day 11 (11 December):
Lindt Excellence Dark Caramel with a touch of sea salt is another of my personal favourites, so I had to add it to the stash. A Frozen fizzer bar is a little homage to Frozen 2.

chocolate giveaway, advent competition

Question 11: No, it's not Do you want to build a snowman? But it's close enough - When was the last time you built a snowman?

We most likely built a snowman a couple of years ago. Though we did have snow last winter, we didn't build any snowmen.


The giveaway is open to the UK residents only.

Please leave your name or Twitter username in the comment if you login as Anon, or I will never know who has commented.

There will be one or more winners, who will receive all the goodies appearing during twelve days of the giveaway.
If the first randomly selected winner has replied to all twelve questions, they will receive the whole lot.
If the first winner answers less questions, they will receive the prizes only from the days they leave their reply.
The remaining prize(s) will be allocated to the next winner(s). Hope I don't have to send twelve different packages.

The more questions you answer, the bigger your prize will be.
Only one entry per person per day/question is allowed.

If you missed a day, you will have a chance to catch up on any other day until the end of the giveaway, as long as ti comes in a SEPARATE comment.

Please not, if you answer 12 questions in one comment, it will count as 1 entry.

Once the winner is selected randomly, I will count their replies.
I will contact the winner, who will have 7 days to reply with their address details. Due to the nature of the prize which I hope to dispatch in good time before Christmas, the time limit to get back to me si shorter than usual.

All the prizes are provided by me, and are in no way sponsored by any brand.

This is my way of saying Thank you to my blog readers.

I will post the prize at my own cost.
If the winner's away when the parcel arrives and is not able to rearrange the redelivery, and if by some chance it is returned to me, please do not expect me to cover the cost of the postage again.
If that happens, the rpize will be taken to the local food bank (foods) and charity shops (non-perishables).

I will send the parcel by Royal Mail, tracked and to be signed for.

Any personal data given (basically the winner's address details) will not be shared with any 3rd parties, and will be deleted after the prize is received by the winner.

The giveaway will end on the 12th of December at midnight.