Sunday, 23 February 2020

Photo diary: week 8, project 366

The British weather is notoriously unpredictable. This morning looked dry and relatively sunny, then as we were getting ready to go to Oxford, there was a violent burst of rain, which rapidly disappeared to be followed by a sunny spell. We were sitting on the double-decker bus, sweltering in the heat. Honestly, weather, just make up your mind!
Midterm break was rather stressful, as most holiday breaks in our household. I feel tired and generally lacking in any mojo.

Last Sunday we had a quick coffee/bite stop in between grocery shopping. Eddie was taking my photos, and that for someone reason set him off, he kept giggling.

Chez Maximka

Eddie is good at drawing Marvel characters, but I want him to move onto something else. This was a quick lesson on how to draw an owl. I used a black ink pen and a grey one.

Chez Maximka, drawings of owls

Our county is on the flood alert in many locations. With the amount of rain we had in the last few weeks, it's no surprise to see the Windrush river levels rising up. It's always a worry.

Chez Maximka, floods in Oxfordshire

We spent most of our break indoors, as the weather was pretty abysmal, only doing short forays into town for food shopping and to visit the library. Here is Eddie looking wistful at the rain.

We've been watching Agents of Shield season 1 all week, and just finished the last episode yesterday. This was our treat, as we're big fans of Marvel. It's not bad, if you are having withdrawal symptoms, waiting for the next Marvel feature film.

Yay, we thought, a spot of sunshine... but it did start raining later in the day. This was a rather strange triangular-shaped cloud.

We happened to go out quite late on Friday, and it was growing dark when we were returning home. The alley going to the Captain's Mill looked like a setting of some creepy movie.
It used to be part of the famous Witney Blanket production, a handloom weaving establishment. After the Witney Blanket brand ceased to exist, the building was converted into flats.

Chez Maximka

Yesterday I baked cookies with chocolate chips and walnuts for my guys.

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Saturday, 22 February 2020

Roses of Marrakech by Rachel Clare #BlogTour

books set in Morocco, Chez Maximka

"She no longer wanted to live a safe life stifled by the fear of what may or may not happen. Instead she would try and grasp every opportunity that came her way with both hands, relishing the joyful immediacy of it and cherishing the satisfying memory of it afterwards. She had been too cautious for too long. She must begin to take chances as they presented themselves; to truly live".

Roses of Marrakech -a debut novel by Rachel Clare - is a seductive and sensuous book, with a dual timeline, set in 1944 and 2016.

Ivy Fielding is 36 years old, and works as a primary school teacher. She loves her job, but something is lacking in her life. She suffers from a low self-esteem due to a facial birthmark.
When she was little and wanted to know if her birthmark would disappear when she grew up, her great aunt Rose said: "I realise it hurts now and it seems like you feel this way forever but I promise you will grow up to be a beautiful young lady, you'll see".

And now Rose, a wise and caring woman, who was Ivy's kindred spirit, is gone, leaving her pretty little Lavenham cottage, crammed with books, and a lovingly tended garden, to Ivy and her mother.
Ivy had big dreams of travelling to exotic places where she could converse in French and other languages, but they remained unfulfilled.

And when the summer holidays approach, on the spur of the moment Ivy decides to book a five and a half week-holiday in Marrakech, a place she always wanted to visit: "A holiday. I've wanted to come for as long I can remember... When I was a little girl, my great aunt told me stories of snake charmers, the desert and the Atlas Mountains topped with snow. It's a place that has always intrigued me".

While staying at the riad and exploring the city, Ivy also reads her great aunt's diary, going back in time to Rose's childhood and young years. The diary proves to be a poignant reading, as Ivy discovers the tragic past of Rose's family. Her two elder sisters Violet and Eleanor died of TB, and the family never fully recovers from this double  tragedy. The pages of the diary, telling the last days of both sisters, are utterly heart-breaking.
The diary tells the story of hardship, love and loss. During the war, Rose falls in love with an American GI, Ryan. Devastating circumstances force her to take decisions which will affect her and those she loves.

Ivy meets a handsome Canadian French artist Jacques, who stays in the same riad. He came to Morocco to find inspiration: "I realised that I found my spiritual nexus in Marrakech. Maybe I hadn't been running away from my previous life but in pursuit of this one all along?"

Together they wander around the city, exploring the markets, museums, looking at the architecture and sampling the local cuisine, and quickly they "become connected on a much more intimate level than just two travellers who had ended up in the same riad".

Jacques is a complex and complicated person, with deep secrets of his own. He is an emotional and passionate man. Ivy who's attuned to his inner vulnerability, senses that something in his past life has damaged him.

Since Ivy has problems of her own, does she have strength enough to help Jacques? Does their love affair have a future, or will it turn into a beautiful memory of a holiday romance?
In her final letter to Ivy, as a postscript to her diary, Rose tells Ivy to "follow her own heart and hold onto those you love and never let them go..." Will Ivy follow her great aunt's advice?

The author's enthusiasm about Morocco is palpable. Her knowledge of the country is impressive, but I often felt like I was reading a guide book. There is just too much textbook information.
Detailed descriptions at times overwhelm the story. While I enjoy reading about food and meals in novels, I don't want to read about every single morsel the characters have consumed. For example, when Ivy and her best friend Mei go out with Mei's kids, do I really want to know what everyone has ordered?
The same with the interior or clothes descriptions - there are too many details, which distract from the story.
And the main story is captivating. Ivy and Jacques' romance makes a compelling reading, while Rose's diary tells another story, full of heartbreak and desolation.

Roses of Marrakech is a beautiful story, filled with romance, secrets and regrets, second chances and redemption.
Clare captures the poetic beauty of Marrakech, with its vibrant souks, delicious food and complex people, exploring the history and cuisine with passion.

Many thanks to Rachel Clare, The Book Guild Ltd and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.

This post if part of the blog tour for Roses of Marrakech, you can follow the tour via the following blogs:

books set in Morocco
Purchase links:

Book Guild:

Amazon UK:

Amazon US:


books set in Morocco

I've never visited Morocco, but reading Roses of Marrakech made me feel like I was exploring the exotic locations with Ivy. The pages when Ivy and friends visit the women's co-op which is run by widowed and divorced women, producing argan oil, reminded me that I have read about that place - Cheryl from Madhouse Family Reviews wrote about it on her blog back in 2013. Check out her post Discovering argan oil and goat trees.
With Cheryl's permission, here is one of the photos from her trip.

argan oil production
Image credits: Cheryl Pasquier, Madhouse Family Reviews

Author Bio:
Rachel Clare gained a BA (Hons) in French/English at Liverpool Hope University and an MA in Modern Languages Research at Lancaster University before training to be a journalist. She now lives in Lancaster and teaches French in a primary school. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was a child and coming runner up in a Sunday Express story competition gave her the confidence to write her first novel, Roses of Marrakech.
"Whenever I go on holiday, I always take y notebook with me. Visiting Morocco and Lavenham a few years ago, I made notes of my impressions of the places I visited and began writing the book when I returned", comments Rachel. "In the book, Ivy's struggles with coming to terms with her birthmark are based on my own experiences with cerebral palsy, whilst the characters, Violet and Eleanor are based on my great-aunts who both died of TB in the late 1920s".

Chez Maximka, books set in Morocco, romance set during World War II

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Easter is Coming Degustabox (February 2020)

Veganuary has gone, but the Degustabox team clearly wants to keep the momentum going. The latest Degustabox has a selection of vegan products.
This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover new products which have only just appeared in the shops, or those which might 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 probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.
Each time the monthly food 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 whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time), just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in February / Easter is Coming box?

food subscription box, Chez Maximka

No prizes for guessing that the first products to be gobbled up from the box were KitKat Milk Chocolate Easter Bunnies (£0.65 for 29g chocolate). The all new KitKat Bunnies have a smooth milk chocolate shell with a rich chocolatey centre with crispy wafer pieces.
According to my testers, they were delicious.
No artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, gluten free.
You should receive two items in your box.
Available in all major supermarkets.

Easter chocolate, chocolate bunny, Chez Maximka

There were more chocolate treats in the box - including Galaxy Vegan bars (£3). You should receive one of 3 bars in the box (while bloggers get 3 flavours).
Galaxy has recently launched a vegan line of chocolate bars, available in 3 different flavours - Smooth Orange, Caramel and Sea Salt, as well as Caramelised Hazelnut.
The vegan recipe uses a hazelnut paste to create the same smooth and creamy signature characteristics.
And while I applaud the vegan initiative, I'm less enthusiastic about the end result. The chocolate has a strange grainy/powdery texture, which I have encountered in many vegan chocolate bars, not just Galaxy, and a not altogether nice aftertaste. So, we think there is still scope for improvement.

vegan chocolate, Chez Maximka

My Sweet Chickpea (£1.25) is an interesting concept of a healthier chocolate snack. Who would have thought of combining roasted chickpeas with dark chocolate? Somehow, this combination works. The first bite tasted slightly strange, but then it grew on me. Definitely worth giving it a try.
My Sweet Chickpea has a higher protein and fibre content, and less fat than chocolate or nuts. The brand's been promoting its product as "chocolate with benefits".
Nutritional information: 129kcal and 9g of sugar per 25g serving.
Available in Asda Free-From aisles and on Amazon.

Chez Maximka, vegan chocolate snacks

Livia's Salted Caramel Million Squares (£1.50) is a gooey date caramel between a layer of raw dark chocolate and an oaty base. There are 3 squares in a small pack.
Nutritional information: 212kcal and 27g of sugar per 60g pack.
All Livia's treats are vegan, gluten and dairy free.
Available at Tesco, Sainsbury's, Boots, Ocado, Waitrose, Holland & Barrett and many more.

Trek Protein Flapjack Cocoa Oat (£2.50) are a British classic, revolutionised. Made with gluten free oats, containing 9g of plant based protein, they are vegan.
Cocoa Oat is their no.1 selling flavour - golden oats topped with melted dark chocolate.
Available in all major supermarkets, either in Free From or Cereal Bar aisle.

plant based protein

Jacked Foods Jackfruit Chunks (£1.89) are snacks of dried jackfruit. They are chewy and soft, and have a naturally sweet flavour, which resembles mango.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, a 30g bag comes at only 94kcal.
It's 100% natural, high in fibre, gluten free, contains no preservatives and no refined sugar.

Ndizi Chunks are 100% natural dried ndizi banana pieces, rich in potassium and iron.

Jacked Foods is a proud partner of Trees for the Future, helping to reverse the devastating effects of deforestation in Uganda one tree at a time. With over 10,000 trees already planted, by choosing this brand, you support their mission.

dried fruit snacks

Heinz Paw Patrol & Disney Frozen No Added Sugar Pasta Shapes (£0.55) are pasta shapes in tomato sauce for children.
Nutritional information: No added sugar, no artificial colours or flavours,
with Iron and Vitamin D with sweetener,
96kcal and 3g of sugar per can.
It features children's favourite characters.
Shapes include Olaf, Anna, Elsa, Sven, Snowflake, Snowy tree and Tiara.
You should receive 2 items in your box. Available at Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose & Ocado.

children's tinned pasta

Mug Shot High Protein Roast Chicken Pasta (£1.29) is super convenient for office lunches. Just top up the pasta pot with hot boiling water, wait for several minutes, and the meal is ready.
Containing less than 2% fat, under 260kcal and 13g protein per pot, they are ready in 5 minutes.
Available at Tesco & Asda.
As with many pasta and noodle pots, some of the vegetable and protein pieces are rather rubbery in texture. If you're hungry, you'll eat it, but it is rather underwhelming taste-wise.

protein pasta

Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard (£1.50) is made in the traditional Frencg way, and has been since 1777.
A white wine base helps bring a smooth and delicious flavour.
Grey Poupon is a premium brand of French Dijon and WholeGrain Mustard.
Available at Waitrose, Tesco, Ocado, M&S and Booths.

French mustard

Very Lazy Slow Cooker Pastes (£1.99) will work perfectly well without a slow cooker. I don't have one, and used one of the pastes to cook an aubergine, okra and red kidney bean casserole, and another one to make a harissa-flavoured cauliflower cheese.
Each box has two recipes included - one for the meat eaters, another - a vegetarian recipe.
You will receive 1 of 2 items in the box.
Available at Tesco.

flavour pots

Lost Coast Fruit Spritzer + ACV (£2.49) is a refreshing revitalising drink which blends sparkling water, unique botanicals and Apple Cider Vinegar. It's an interesting concept.
Vinegar is good for the gut, and is known for health-giving properties.
Low in sugar and calories, these fruit spritzers come in 3 flavours.
You will receive 1 of 3 flavours.
Available in Ocado, Revital Health Stores, As Nature Intended and

fruit spritzer

  Finally there is a fully redeemable voucher for Shaken Udder Milkshake (£1.40). Made with real fruit or Belgian chocolate and fresh British milk, these bottles contain no artificial colours or flavours.
They are also gluten free, suitable for vegetarians and contain less than 5% added sugar.

Disclosure: we receive a monthly subscription for the purposes of testing and reviewing.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Photo diary: week 7, project 366

I'm so fed up with the incessant rain. Last weekend we had the Storm Ciara, this weekend we're being kicked by the storm Dennis. We're wondering what's the next storm going to be called? Edgar perhaps?
And the rain has hardly stopped all week. Our old house needs to be heated daily, or it will be damp and cold.

Last Sunday we were running home, and I had to stop for a second to snap this beautiful window of the lighting shop in the rain.

window in the rain, Witney, Chez Maximka

We were supposed to visit one of the possible places for Sasha's respite once he turns 18, but they cancelled on us at the last minute. Rather aggravating, as we have to re-arrange the trip. The place is in a different town, and with my husband's work commitments, we have to wait now for another couple of weeks until we could visit the place together.

The spring is definitely not far away. The snowdrops are carpeting our garden. What a glorious sight. No wonder their nickname is the flower of hope. I read that there are over 1000 different varieties of snowdrops. I think we have about four varieties that I can find in our garden, or maybe I should go down on my knees and examine them closely.

February flowers, Chez Maximka

We used to have an interior design shop in town, which was a family business for over 100 years. We have bought a few pieces of furniture and fabrics there through the years, and I was sad when the business collapsed, thanks to an incompetent new owner.
The building stood empty for over a year, but last month the shop has been re-opened under a new name - Derwent House. It is another interior design shop, with an emphasis on the local artists' work.
There are some beautiful pieces. I love this ornamental tree, though we certainly don't have room for it. I imagine that would work in a big hall of a mansion, or in some fancy spacious office.

interior design, Chez Maximka

A quick coffee at UE Roasters, with only a snap of the beautiful sticky toffee cake, as I am not keen on having a slice of cake in the morning. Their banana bread is delicious, served with a thick Greek yogurt and honey. And if you're in Witney, they also make the best coffee in town as well.

cafes in Witney, best coffee in Witney, Chez Maximka

Hurrying home from school, Eddie commented that it was sunny and rainy at the same time, and maybe we could even see a rainbow. He was spot on. I had a quick look out of our garden, and there it was, a double rainbow.

Chez Maximka, Witney

Friday was a Valentine's day. It's true we never really celebrate it. I guess we're too old for that, but a card would have been nice. Nope, according to my darling husband, it's an American import, and so we shouldn't celebrate it. Check your facts, Professor! It's not an American import.
As I was walking home, I saw these doves kissing each other, oblivious to anything around them.

Valentine's day, Chez Maximka

The rain was driving me nuts yesterday. Eddie and I often play Wizards Unite on my iPhone, when we're in town at the weekends. I couldn't get the iPhone out to play, as it was bucketing.
We went to the library, and saw Sasha and his father sitting by the window in Café Nero.

Chez Maximka

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Always Here For You by Miriam Halahmy #BlogTour

"No-one knows where I am or cares, she thought."

Always Here for You by Miriam Halahmy is a cautionary tale of modern times. Inspired by the real-life events, the author was compelled to write this book because of the heart-breaking cases of two vulnerable teens who were groomed online by the adult predators.

YA fiction

Holly is fourteen. She lives with her parents. Dad works in a busy firm and is often tied with clients into the evening. Mum works part-time, but also looks after Gran, coping with the latest crisis.
Her best fiend Amy has moved from the UK to Canada, and by the snaps she posts online, she is having the time of her life.
"Holly had lived in Brighton all her life and she and Amy loved it; the shops, the cafes, the students in term time swigging beer and running night clubs on the beach, the Mall at Churchill Square where they would hang on wet days, the pier full of kiosks and slot machines and the pebbly beaches where they sunbathed on hot days".

Holly is worried about being left on her own in the evenings. All she wants is for Gran's Crisis to be over, so "we could get back to normal".
At school things are complicated. All the girls from school are growing away from her and going out with boys. It doesn't help that the Queen bee Madison, who's the prettiest and most popular girl in school, and her Bezzies, make fun of Holly and patronise her.

Holly is still a naïve child, who thinks that everyone except her has a boyfriend.
"If I had a boyfriend I wouldn't feel so lonely when I'm home alone. We could message each other and stuff. Hang out, like the other girls do. They were always going on about how they'd stayed half the night messaging each other".

Then one day she joins in a Shoutout from one of the girls at school: "Hey, everyone, meet Jay, nice funny guy". After checking his profile, Holly adds Jay to her friends' list. They begin to chat. Jay makes Holly laugh, and writes all the right sympathetic comments, when she complains about having no-one to hang with now, since her best friend moved abroad.
Her parents become instant irritants in her life, all she wants to do is escape to her room and go on chatting to Jay. Jay appears to be this cute, funny, adorable boy, while his messages show how much he cares for her. They have so much in common.
"Jay's in my life now. I'm not alone anymore, she told herself". Holly doesn't see that slowly Jay alienates her from her friends and family, playing on her insecurities and feelings of loneliness.
She is manipulated, but doesn't understand it. She is so eager to please Jay, that she keeps their chats private from everyone else.
And when Jay asks to meet her under the Brighton pier, she agrees...

As a grown-up and a parent, you just want to grab her by the hand and stop her: No, No, don't go there, don't trust this guy.

This book made me think how lucky I was to grow up in the times without all the social media, its pressure and dangers.

When my younger son is a bit older, I will ask him to read this book. We have talked about the dangers of the Internet. Some of his class mates already have smartphones. They're entering this scary big world so young, and so naïve.

Miriam Halahmy consulted professionals in both the public and voluntary sectors for background research for this book.
It is a useful tool for younger audience to understand the possible dangers of the Internet. Written in an engaging way, it sends a clear message how to understand the use of social media in a cautious and sensible manner.

This book is aimed at a younger audience. Personally I struggled a bit with the text-speak, as it grates on my nerves, but I appreciate it is necessary for the narrative to feel authentic.

Always Here For You would be a good resource for any school library. It tells Holly's story in a sympathetic, non-patronising way. If you have a tween or young teen in your family, get this book for them.

This book review is part of the blog tour.

Many thanks to Miriam Halahmy and ZunTold for my copy of the book!

books for young teens, books about dangers of social media

Saturday, 15 February 2020

The Cottage in a Cornish Cove by Cass Grafton (Review + Giveaway)

books set in Cornwall, Chez Maximka, Cornishware

She walked over to stand in front of a painting of Polkerran hanging above the fireplace. It was a watercolour of the cove at full tide in early morning - her favourite time of day, when the light was almost ethereal... She could almost smell the saltiness in the air, hear the gulls crying and the water lapping...

Oh the joy of Cornwall! Its sights and smells are perfectly captured in The Cottage in a Cornish Cove by Cass Grafton.

One cold Saturday in November, Anna Redding opens a letter from a legal firm. Anna is devastated to find out that her Aunt Meg passed away.
"It didn't matter that Aunt Meg had been a prisoner to Alzheimer's for a good while, that she hadn't recognised Anna anymore. The thought of never seeing her again hurt".

Anna has been orphaned at an early age, being reluctantly raised by the relatives who resented the responsibility and made it clear to the child that she was a burden. It was Aunt May who brought love and stability in Anna's life.
As Anna reminisces: "Those summers in Cornwall with Aunt Meg were the happiest days of my childhood. Quite possibly the only happy times".
"Anna had always been a die-hard romantic, who'd lived on a diet of romance novels through her teens and dreamed endlessly of meeting that someone special, becoming a wife, mother, and finally having a security of her own home".
But she had given up on her dream years ago. She has a pathetic excuse of a boyfriend, and not a very fulfilling job, and she lives in a shared accommodation. She has mates, who sound fun, when you are in your early 20s perhaps.

Meeting the solicitors, Anna discovers that she is the sole beneficiary of Aunt Meg's house. It comes as a big surprise. Westerleigh Cottage, where Anna spent many happy days, now belongs to Anna. This is the only place that had ever felt like home for her.

And thus Anna finds herself relocated to Polkerran, a place filled with memories, where people remember her as a child, and where as a teen she had a crush on a local heart-throb Alex Tremayne.
Living in a small village, it is inevitable, that they cross paths again. One small encounter with her ex-flame turns her back into that quivering, besotted teenager.

Having plans to open a B&B in the cottage, Anna needs to come up with a start-up money for her future business. Luckily, there is a secretarial job available at the house of the reclusive author Oliver Seymour, who is an older version of Mr Darcy, i.e. gloomy, brusque, handsome, wealthy (but noble at heart). "He was an enigma, her boss, but every now and again, he was quite appealing".

With Alex back in her life, Anna is on cloud nine at first. She is settling into her new life, with the neighbours and friends using her home as a walk-through café and free babysitting service. She seems to be content with that.
She also doesn't see that Alex is a total weasel.

Just as Anna begins to think that all her dreams might come true, she is in for a big shock. Her dream of spending the rest of her life at Westerleigh Cottage is under threat. She has to re-think everything she planned.

Is there a solution to her conundrum? Will she be able to stay in the Cornish Cove and achieve her dreams?

The Cottage in a Cornish Cove is a heart-warming story about love, dreams, first impressions and romance.
It will make you book your next holiday in a little cottage on the Cornish seaside.

I love Cornwall, it is my favourite part of the world. Regular readers of my blog know that I'm very partial to books set in Cornwall. I have quite a collection, from historical fiction to modern romance.
As I was reading The Cottage in a Cornish Cove, I had an almost physical urge to pack my bags and travel to Cornwall and marvel at the expanse of the sea.

Anna's story is entirely engaging. To highlight her bookish aspirations and romantic notions, each short chapter has a little quote from classic authors, like Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins etc, giving it a nostalgic vintage feeling.

The subtitle of the book is A Polkerran Village Tale Book One. I'd be happy to return to Polkerran, and discover what the local gossips would predict the next time.

Cass Grafton's books, books set in Cornwall

Purchase Links

UK -

US –

Many thanks to Cass Grafton, Tabby Cow Press and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.
This review is part of the blog tour, you can check out the other reviews, following the tour.

blog tour, modern fiction set in Cornwall, romance books set in Cornwall

Cass Grafton - Bio:
An avid bookworm since childhood, Cass Grafton writes the sort of stories she loves to read - heart-warming, character driven and strong on location. Having moved around extensively and lived in there countries, she finds places inspiring and the setting of her novels often becomes as much a part of the story as her characters.

She leans heavily towards the upbeat and insists on a happy ever after. As one of her favourite authors, Jane Austen, once wrote, "let other pens dwell on guilt and misery".

Cass loves travelling, words, cats and wine but never in the same glass. She has two grown up children and currently splits her time between Switzerland, where she lives with her husband and imaginary cats, and England, where she lives with her characters.

romance authors, chick-lit authors

Social Media Links:
Twitter @CassGrafton
Instagram @cassgraftonauthor

Cass Grafton, Chez Maximka, Cornishware


If you like the sound of this book, now is your chance to win one of 3 paperback copies of The Cottage in a Cornish Cove.

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

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

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

Good luck!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Cover Reveal! Blue Skies Over Berlin by John Steinberg

Last year I reviewed Nadine by John Steinberg, a poignant love story set in the 1970s and 2012.
When an email arrived, asking if I'd like to join in in a cover reveal for a new book by John Steinberg, I was curious to see what his next story is.

Blue Skies Over Berlin by John Steinberg is a thought-provoking novel, with an unusual heroine and a captivating plotline.

books set in Berlin

Plot synopsis:
A young German woman, thinking she can escape her memories of wartime Berlin, moves to London in 1954 under new name of Charlotte Brown. The offer of a prestigious job at the National Gallery leads her to believe that she can establish a new life in a city itself emerging from the ruins of war.
With her new identity, Charlotte hopes she has left Eva Schlessinger far behind... but when her job brings her into contact with a ruthless set of art dealers with dubious wartime connections, she fears they can see behind her façade. Priceless masterpieces start appearing at auction, stolen from murdered Jewish families by the Nazi, and she herself is implicated. At this point, Charlotte makes a solemn promise - one that will take her a lifetime to fulfil.

Blue Skies Over Berlin is a novel about secrets and guilt in an uncertain time, balanced by friendship and enduring love - an ultimately the need to make amends for just standing by.

And now is the cover reveal:

books set in after war London

The cover design is reminiscent of the German abstract art, with its repeated bands of colour against the stark background. It looks like an architectural sketch, which is playing with perspective. Very apt for a book on the art market, with its dark secrets and hidden war crimes.

Purchase Links:
UK -

US -

Author Bio:

Born and raised in North London in 1952, John still lives in the city with his wife and three children. Privately educated, John left school after "A" levels and completed a business diploma in what is not the University of Westminster, before entering banking.

He started training as an accountant but did not complete the course, choosing a position in his family's furniture manufacturing business instead. John started his own mergers and acquisitions business in 1987, which he ran for almost 20 years before quitting to become a full time writer in 2007.

John has co-written and produced comedies for the stage and has created a series of books for children. "Previously, I had only been interested in comedy and finally started to write down the things I said or thought of. That led me to co-write and produce a play, In the Balance, and the W for Banker - which appeared at the New End Theatre, Hampstead. It was then I decided to quit the world of business in favour of writing full-time, and move toward more serious subjects. My first novel has taken me two years to write and is the first in a series of books I am calling the "Steinberg Stories".

Social Media Links:
Facebook -
Twitter - @SteinbergStory

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Photo diary: week 6, project 366

Browsing the local magazine, I read that February is not a month most of us look forward to. Actually, that's not true in my case. I do like February, it's short, as a child I was looking forward to it, as it's the month of my birthday, and now I love it for the first spring flowers and other signs of spring.

We enjoy looking at the window displays at the local Waterstones, they are always fun. We did buy the promoted book as well, on a different visit. Just need to finish the book we're reading now.

Chez Maximka, bookshop window display, Highland Falcon Thief

You might remember I posted a photo of a hyacinth bulb in a glass jar over two weeks ago, well, now you can see the flower beginning to bloom. It is such an intense beautiful colour.

Chez Maximka, growing bulbs in jars at home

When I was a child, a father of one of my class mates visited England, and brought back home a catalogue of those Royal Doulton figurines. To me they seemed the essence of beauty and elegance. I was thinking that when I grow up, I would travel to the UK and buy these porcelain ladies.
40+ years later, I live here but don't have a single porcelain lady from Royal Doulton in my collection, and have no plans of getting any. I saw this figurine in the charity shop window, and it brought back memories of my childhood dreams.

Chez Maximka

A pretty pink sky early in the morning... I was making a cup of tea in the kitchen, while everyone was still in beds, and the air around the garden looked pink, then I opened the door in the garden, and saw this glorious sky.
That day I finished reading Pretty Guilty Women by Gina LaManna. Four women admit they have committed the same murder and insist they acted alone. The comparison with Big Little Lies is inevitable. I enjoyed it, though wasn't very keen on the ending (not going to give any spoilers). I won this book on Twitter.

Chez Maximka, morning sky

On Thursday Sash had his respite overnight stay, and we went to the Harry Potter event at Waterstones after school. It was a Harry Potter night, and many book shops and libraries around the country had organised different events. Our Waterstones' crew always comes up with fun ideas.
This time they had a clue search, and fancy cupcakes in colours of the Hogwarts houses.
This splendid cake was on display only, alas.
My husband came back home from Brussels, he was giving a talk at the European Parliament the day before. We had a pizza, and watched the last episode of Creeped Out on Netflix (Eddie's choice, obviously).

Harry Potter, Chez Maximka, Gryffindor cake

This week Eddie had a maths test for three days in a row, and he was stressing about it. On Friday I baked a quick orange and coconut cream cake, to celebrate the end of the tests.
For the last couple of days I have been watching The Bonfire of destiny on Netflix, a historical series set in Paris. The first episode, when the fire happened at the Bazaar, was harrowing, those poor souls.
I will keep watching it next week, when my guys are at school.

As happens every Saturday, when my husband is not travelling, we accompany Sasha and his Dad to the café and help with the food order. I'm sorry, guys, it's yet another Coke bottle shot, with the Byeeee message. I promise I'll stop, or it will turn into another "Greggs sausage roll" photo shoot from the year before, when we had a photo from Greggs most weeks.

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Friday, 7 February 2020

Orange and coconut cream cake

easy bakes, Chez Maximka, what to do with coconut cream

I bake most Fridays, for no particular reason except to treat my boys at the end of the school week.
This week my younger kid was stressing about his maths test, which was taking place every day for three days in a row. We have looked at a maths book and did some exercises, but it would have helped if parents were told what kind of tasks there were to be expected.
I often wonder about the fact that they don't have any textbooks to use at home. I remember at my son's age we all had to carry a bag full of textbooks, borrowed from the school library. We also had daily homework.
For some reason the school library doesn't offer free textbooks on loan here. They just don't do it. And how helpful it would have been for kids to reinforce what they learn at school and for parents to find out exactly what they are being taught.

Anyway, to celebrate the end of the difficult tests, I wanted to bake a cake. My bakes tend to be of a simpler variety, nothing fancy in terms of decorations.
I checked what I had in the kitchen, and discovered a tin of coconut cream, and one leftover blood orange. This was not the best batch of blood oranges, which I bought last week from Ocado. Not a single one in the pack was remotedly blush, they looked and tasted exactly like the normal oranges, except the cost was higher.

quick and easy coconut cream cake, Chez Maximka

Orange and coconut cream cake
zest of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 orange
2tsp lemon juice
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
160ml coconut cream
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
4tbsp olive oil
icing sugar + orange juice to make a thin icing

Zest an orange in a medium mixing bowl, squeeze in juice of half an orange, add the sugar, lemon juice and beat in a couple of medium eggs. Stir in the coconut cream, sift in the flour and baking powder, and mix in the olive oil.
Pour the cake batter in the cake tin, which has been well oiled. Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C, and bake for about 35+ minutes. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick.
Take out of the tin, and let it cool slightly on the cooling rack.
It doesn't need much more than a thin icing made of icing sugar and orange juice. Pour over the cake, and decorate with diamond jellies, or any other sweets if you fancy.

This is a light, fluffy cake, not overly sweet and fragrant. Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, or just on its own.

Chez Maximka

Chez Maximka, quick and easy cakes