Tuesday, 31 March 2020

On Wilder Seas by Nikki Marmery #BlogTour

Chez Maximka, books with a strong female protagonist

"He puts the opal back in its silk bag, draws the ribbon and stands, crouching, one arm holding onto the timbers above him in the lowness of the deck. "There is no luck," he says, as if chiding a child. "You sail your own ship." He strides away, towards the stair, holding the gem in the silk bag closed tight in his fist.
He is wrong, of course. A man can sail his own ship. A woman must put herself in the way of one sailing in the right direction."

On Wilder Seas by Nikki Marmery is an irresistible historical fiction novel, built on the bare facts of Francis Drake's circumnavigation voyage. The author confesses that she has taken particular licence with official records of Drake's exploration of America during the summer of 1579.

The main protagonist of the book - Maria (or Macaia, as she was known in childhood) - lived aboard the Golden Hind for nine months, though her existence is mentioned fleetingly in the records of those times, and not much is known about her. Nikki Marmery gave voice to this mysterious woman. And what a voice it is!

Maria is a compelling figure, intelligent and courageous.

To begin with, Maria is a victim. She is a slave on the Spanish ship.

"Three years have I been on the Cacafuego, first with Gonzalo and now with Don Francisco, changing hands with the ship alongside the sails and the cooking-pots as if I were part of its furniture..."
We meet her first in Acapulco in March 1579, as the treasures of the East are unloaded in the harbour. She is trying to get a few extra pesos by buying and reselling in the next port. She has to be careful about it: "For it is not permitted. Everything I earn belongs by right to Don Francisco, since all that I am, my labour and my body, are his, may the Virgin spit on his sword and the Devil shit in his face".

When Cacafuego is attacked by the English, Maria seizes her chance to escape. The General agrees to take her on board in exchange for a precious opal she steals during the raid of the English.
She escapes the Spanish only to find herself an unprotected woman surrounded by vicious sailors on the Golden Hind.
To survive she has to sell her body to the General: "So here I find myself. In the General's cabin. A place of safety, away from the wolves. From most of them. One unwanted man is better than a pack".

What Maria couldn't foresee in her attempt to find freedom is that she unwittingly joins Francis Drake's circumnavigation voyage. The Golden Hind is about to set sail on a secret detour to find the fabled Anian Straits in the far north.

Being a lone woman among eighty men, Maria has to keep her wits about her. As the Admiral's interest in her dwindles fast, she is terrified of what would become of her. If not lust, how can she keep his interest? "I do believe I have it. That which I can barter for his protection instead of my sex. My soul. A great surprise to find it should prove of a purpose."

The crew and Maria will be tested to the very limits of their endurance. And Maria is hiding a secret.

Maria is taking a central stage in this gripping tale, but there are a lot of supporting characters - real and fictional - who add their voices and stories to create a convincing, authentic historical background.

Francis Drake is not portrayed as a romantic dashing hero of pirates and exploration-themed novels. He is unscrupulous, avaricious, ambitious, cruel and merciless. An anti-hero.

Maria has to find courage to cut the ties that bind her to Drake and pursue her own journey. She craves freedom for herself and her unborn baby.
"Eleven years of slavery. Four masters. Once taken, once given up, once bought, once won. Each time passed from one man to another as if I were a side of beef. Oceans crossed against my will - many times. A life at sea with lustful, violent men. Two babies in my belly by a man I loathe."

She would do anything to be free. That is why she jumped into the unknown.

Maria is a symbol of survival. Physical abuse, rape, loss of freedom, her baby taken away, loneliness and fear of the future, privations of the voyage through the storms and cold, meeting hostile natives on land, diseases - the list of hardships seems to be never-ending. But her spirit is not broken.

A young artist on board the Golden Hind who draws the landscapes, maps, as well as flora and fauna of the new lands, creates a portrait of Maria with a branch of myrtle in her hand:
"Whatever becomes of me, wherever I end, I will be in this picture always. Perhaps John is right: the Queen of England will look upon it one day. What will she think of me then? A wild-haired woman, in a place she does not belong and should not be. Carrying new life inside her, the myrtle in her hands screams it plainly. I am glad this picture exists. That she may see it. Perhaps she will show it, for all to see and know that I was there".

This gripping historical drama will keep you engrossed and flipping pages right to the very end.

Today is the last day of the blog tour for On Wilder Seas, you can find all the other reviews here:

Many thanks to Nikki Marmery and Legend Press for my copy of the book!

Monday, 30 March 2020

Photo diary: week 13, project 366

If I had to describe the last week, I would use a Twitter post by Matt Haig, which I have taken a screenshot of. There were days like today, when I could hardly force myself out of bed in the morning, thinking what's the point.
Life in the lockdown is not easy. My younger son doesn't sleep well, has nightmares, and misses school.
The other day, when my husband asked him what he'd like to do, if he could do anything in the world. He replied: "Go to school".
My older boy doesn't grasp the concept at all, and is rather subdued, showing me the photos of his favourite places in town, hoping that we'd go there.
I look at my boys, and feel so helpless. How do I protect them? A question which every parent is asking themselves, I'm sure.

The photos from this week are just a mix of what we've been doing, not in a particular order of days.

On Monday Eddie and I were taking selfies, making silly faces. If that distracts him from sad thoughts even for a few minutes, it's worth it.

Chez Maximka

This week Eddie has been playing football a lot with his Dad in the garden, thankfully the weather was clement and sunny.
I've cleaned the summer house inside, and made the small bed ready. My husband and I talked about self-isolating there, if one of us (grown-ups) gets sick. There is a radiator inside. I have never slept there myself, but my Mum did quite a few times in the past, when she visited. From what she told me about all the sounds of wild life in the night, I probably wouldn't be able to fall asleep there at all.

Chez Maximka, summer house

You might have seen the #Showyourshelves hashtag on Twitter. I enjoyed looking at everyone's bookshelves and even posted a few photos myself. These are some of my history books on the chest of drawers, together with a box of Veggie magazines.

Chez Maximka, history books

Some of the hyacinths in the garden. They have a beautiful scent.

Chez Maximka, spring flowers

It was a sunny day, and I suggested we take the boys out for a walk along the river Windrush, in the flood fields. It wasn't a successful walk. Sash was super anxious, closing his eyes with his hand, as it's something unfamiliar for him. I was worried he would have a panic attack and said we should go back home. My husband took him for a longer walk back in town, just around the block and back home.

More hyacinths and little tulips in the garden. My Mum planted the tulips last autumn. I didn't expect them to be so short. Once the flowers stop blooming, I will plant some herbs in that tub.

Chez Maximka, spring flowers

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Thursday, 26 March 2020

The Walls We Build by Jules Hayes (review + giveaway)

books set in pre-war and during WWII England, Chez Maximka

...Remember, the walls we build are not to keep people out but to keep our mind within. The greatest mistakes we make are the mistakes that eventually give meaning to others. It is only for us that the mistake is a true tragedy. Often we are our own wall...

The Walls We Build by Jules Hayes is a captivating and haunting story of love, loss, family secrets and heartbreak, set in a dual timeline.
It captures the spirit of the pre-war and war era perfectly, with the changing dynamics of the women's role in the male-dominated society.
Personal stories of the fictional and real life characters are convincingly interwoven to create an authentic, compelling tale.
The narrative moves from the past to the present with ease.

Three childhood friends - Frank, Hilda and Florence - grow around Churchill's estate. They are inseparable friends whose relationship is complex.
"Clever Hilda, who'd always protected Florence, since school, and in so doing, controlled her a little too... Florence envied Hilda's beauty and cleverness, and had always wanted to be more like her. It had never crossed her mind that Hilda might envy her".

They are both in love with Frank, who also seems to be undecided about who he wants to marry.
He feels more protective towards Hilda, who has become a recluse after having a baby out of wedlock. More out of self-imposed duty (it's not his child), Frank marries Hilda, while being attracted to vivacious Florence.

Florence and Frank love baby Anna, who's a fragile little girl, deprived of her mother's affection. Hilda is traumatised psychologically, and cannot love Anna, who's a constant reminder of her rape.
Her lack of kindness towards her only daughter will bring them both much misery and result in a tragedy.

Frank is a bricklayer with a love of books, rather unusual for a man of his environment.
"Frank has been a complicated man, a man of many layers", as his grandson Richard thinks of him many years later. He had been "working class, a staunch labour supporter, a big union man his entire life" but he also held Churchill in high esteem.
Before the war he once worked for Churchill, and despite them belonging to two opposite social classes, they found rapport and understanding, and held each other in respect.

Churchill makes several appearances through the book. We see him at Chartwell estate, building a wall, painting, being a cantankerous grumpy master of the house, but also showing his kindness and wisdom. We meet him in North Africa, where Frank serves during the war. We read his correspondence. Churchill is depicted as a charismatic and driven yet egocentric and rather flawed character.

It's Florence who has the most fulfilled life. She never stops loving Frank, but it doesn't prevent her from enjoying life to the full. "In many ways she was ahead of her time". She escapes the small-minded consciousness of her village by being recruited into the war effort.

We meet her first in 1928 as a young woman, much in love with Frank, resigned to the fact that he is going to marry her best friend. It is clear from the beginning she is not going to follow a path which is almost predetermined for a woman of her generation and standing. She's a rebel, who learns how to ride a motorbike. She also enjoys reading and follows the political news.

We later encounter her in 2002, "still bemused she'd made it to the twenty-first century". On seeing the photo of Frank's grandson Richard in the newspaper (he's a barrister), she wants to get in touch with him: "She had to tell someone about her and Frank's secrets before the end came.
Secrets and denial: if there'd been fewer of the former and more understanding of the latter, all of their destinies would have taken a different path, especially the woman whose existence had been affected the most".

Richard is a successful barrister, but he had wanted to be a pianist. "Richard had always recognised his grandad's disenchantment with life, covering him like a second skin. Richard identified with it, because despite his success in the field of law, he felt much the same. He was more like his grandad than his dad... Both wanting something different to what they had".

It's left to Richard to unravel the knots to find out the hidden secrets and truth that shaped the fates of his grandparents, Florence and the woman of whose existence he never knew.

The Walls We Build is a complex, thought-provoking and utterly absorbing story, which will linger in your mind. Hayes is a terrific storyteller.

Potential triggers: domestic violence, rape, incest, baby loss, war deaths and mental illness.

Many thanks to Jules Hayes, Jukebox Publishing and Rachel's Random Resources for an advance review copy of the book.

Purchase Links:

This post is one of the blog tour stops for The Walls We Build.

novels set in WWII England

Author Bio:
Jules Hayes lives in Berkshire with her husband, daughter and a dog. She has a degree in modern history and holds a particular interest in events and characters from the early 20th century. As a former physiotherapist and trainer - old habits die hard - when not writing Jules likes to run. She also loves to watch films, read good novels and is a voracious consumer of non-fiction, particularly biographies.
Jules is currently working on her second historical novel, another dual timeline story.
Jules also writes contemporary thriller and speculative fiction as JA Corrigan.

Social Media:
Website: https://www.jules-hayes.com
Twitter: @JulesHayes6
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JulesHayesAuthor
Instagram: @JulesHayes6
Writing as JA Corrigan, Jules can be found at
Website: http://www.jacorrigan.com
Twitter: @juliannwriter
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jacorrigan
Instagram: @corriganjulieann

women writers UK


If you like the sound of this book, here is your chance to win a signed copy of The Walls We Build (open internationally).

Worlwide 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 purposes 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 keep in mind that the giveaway is being ran across several blogs, and not exclusively at Chez Maximka. Chez Maximka is hosting the Rafflecopter gadget gratis for the purposes of promoting the book, and has nothing to do with any collected data.

Chez Maximka, London during the Blitz

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Photo diary: week 12, project 366

Last week started with Marvel and finished with Marvel. I think we're trying to escape into the world of Superheroes and the Enhanced, maybe subconsciously hoping someone will save the humans?!

Reading yesterday's Weekend, I nodded in agreement with Tim Dowling's words: "Social distancing? This comes naturally to me. I never go anywhere, and I wash my hands a lot. Social distancing is a guiding principle of my existence".
I'm not saying it as a jest, but totally ditto. I have a very limited circle of friends, and most of my communication happens online. Not for the lack of trying from my friends, it's just easier that way, with Sasha's behavioural issues and my lack of energy.

But it's tough for the boys. We have stopped sending them to school last Thursday, and they both miss it. For Sasha it's something almost impossible to comprehend, why did his routine has changed so drastically. And Eddie is a bit subdued as well, so we do things together - read, watch movies, and I also stay next to him when he does his online homework.

I wasn't feeling well today, and spent most of the morning and afternoon in bed. My blood pressure was playing up, and I felt dizzy. I was in bed, when Eddie checked on me, and I told him I wasn't feeling great. Then I see his eyes are all filled with tears, poor soul.
I forced myself out of bed, and said we could watch Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Last Sunday he was busy cutting out pictures from an old Marvel comics book which I bought for 10p. He made a collage, and wrote the title, and I think he did a great job. Don't you agree?

Chez Maximka

It was an Inset day in Sasha's school on Monday, and my husband took him out to the café for what appears to be the very last time in a foreseeable future. I took Eddie to school, then accompanied my guys to the café.

Chez Maximka

It was his birthday the next day, and I sent him to school with a chocolate cake to celebrate with his class mates. He was in a very good mood all day. His teachers and class mates made birthday cards for him.

March the 17th is always full of celebration and sadness for us - both my brother and son have their birthdays on this day, but it's also the day when we buried my Dad 20 years ago. He never met his grandchildren.

This photo was taken by our friend all those years ago, when Sasha was a newborn, and we were back at home from the hospital after a big ordeal. I was in labour for 36 hours without a progress, and needed an emergency caesarean. When we got home, I thought the worst part was over.

I look at us, so young and so full of hope. In a way, it's good you cannot foresee your future.

Wednesday happened to be the last day when both boys attended school. It was also the last day I was able to buy sliced bread.
Three of us are more adaptable, and can eat homemade flatbreads and staff, but for Sasha it's a difficult situation. His diet is very limited as it is. You might remember me saying that in the past when we travelled to Italy, I used to take half a suitcase of familiar food with us, like Warburton's bread and tuna pate, as he wouldn't eat the Italian bread.

I know many people are in a worse situation, but the lack of basics in the shops (bread, eggs, milk, potatoes, carrots etc) is fuelling my anxiety. I probably sound like a broken record, but twice in the last week I felt almost fainting when I was looking at the empty shelves.

This cover of Private Eye did make me chuckle.

Chez Maximka

My Mum is always present in my garden, as through the year, there are flowers and blooms which she has planted. I wish she could see these beautiful hyacinths, I can only send her the photos.

Chez Maximka, spring garden

With everything going on I am a bit behind with my reviews. I try to schedule book reviews the day before the day when it should be out, but last Friday I was still finishing my review before lunchtime, and took only the photos for the post. Death in the Sound by Rhen Garland is a Victorian mystery, with a supernatural twist.

Chez Maximka, Victorian mysteries

Yesterday evening they were showing Avengers Assemble on BBC. Though we have it on a DVD, and watched not that long ago, we couldn't resist watching it for about 40 minutes.
You gotta love Loki. I know he's a baddie, but he's such an eye candy. Eddie is indignant, when I say how handsome Loki is.

Chez Maximka, Avengers Assemble

Hope you're all keeping safe!

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Friday, 20 March 2020

Death in the Sound (The Versipellis Mystery Series Book Two) by Rhen Garland

Chez Maximka, time travel novels

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Magnificent Bowyers are, I'm afraid, quite counterfeit, they are in fact Detective Chief Inspector Elliott Caine, and Detective Sergeant Abernathy Thorne, the third guest is Mlle Giselle Du'Lac, they are investigators who work on behalf of the Empire, and they have absolute jurisdiction to investigate this brutal slaying."

Death in the Sound - book 2 in The Versipellis Mystery Series by Rhen Garland - is a heady blend of historical and supernatural. It's a Victorian murder mystery, with the strands of paranormal.

I enjoyed the first book in the series, called A Portrait of Death (<--- a full review appeared on this blog last year), and was looking forward to the next instalment, especially that the first book has finished on a cliff-hanger.

In these days of doom and gloom it makes a great, entertaining read and will provide you with a thrilling escapism.

I do think it would help, if you start with the first book, as it introduces the main characters and their supernatural abilities.

The villain of the series named Phoenixus has an ability to absorb the memories, thoughts and emotions of their victims, as well as acquire their appearance. This entity is dangerous and horrifying.
"The gentle smile widened and twisted slightly as the devious mind of Phoenixus sifted through their victim's memories, discarding happy thoughts and memories for the hidden depths of greed, social climbing, and sexual intrigue their victim had taken great care to hide but that were utterly exposed by their murderer's invasive perusal of their most personal inner thoughts.
Yes, this body had definite.. possibilities."

We meet Detective Chief Inspector Elliott Caine and Detective Sergeant Abernathy Thorne in A Portrait of Death, where they investigate a series of gruesome murders and hunt for their devious enemy.
Death in the Sound will bring them all together again in the most unusual of locations, aboard a luxurious paddle steamer Taniwha, where they are invited by millionaire philanthropist Octavius Damant.
Damant organises a big party for his daughter Merry's twenty first birthday. High society guests and entertainers are invited aboard Taniwha, moored in the ink-dark waters of Milford Sound.
Among them, there's Sir Wesley Eade, a society lawyer, and his mistress Lady Leonora, an extravagant dancer Dona Carla Riva, Damant's viper of a sister-in-law Carolyn Nolloth and her lover.

Elliott, his wife Giselle and Abernathy with his faithful but utterly spoilt dog Veronique travel to New Zealand to help Octavius Damant to find a writer of anonymous poisonous letters, threatening the life of his only daughter. The letters accuse him of murdering his own wife and her lover.

The trio of detectives travel under disguise, but have to reveal who they are, when the first murder is committed on board of Taniwha.

All the guests are trapped aboard the Taniwha with the killer who has damaged the engines and the radio transmitter, so that the ship is being pulled by the tides to sea, and they have no means to call for assistance.

As the body count rises, Elliott, Giselle and Abernathy have to work against the clock to piece together a devilish puzzle and find the killer on board.

Death in the Sound is a fast-paced mystery, which will appeal to anyone who enjoys Victorian mysteries with a twist. Bring on the next book in the series!

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

Purchase Links:

Kindle https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B082Q39R3H

Paperback https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1674868367

Amazon.com - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082Q39R3H

Author Bio:

Rhen Garland lives in Somerset, England, with her fold-singing, book-illustrating husband, approximately 4000 books, an equal number of ancient movies, and a large collection of passive-aggressive Tomtes.

She enjoys the countryside, peace, and Prosecco and the works of Ngaio Marsh, Gladys Mitchell, John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson, Agatha Christie, Simon R Green, 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."

"Death in the Sound" is a murder mystery thriller with paranormal touches set in late Victorian England and is the second book in the Versipellis Mysteries Series, book one "A Portrait of Death" was released in 2018.

Social Media Links:
Facebook: htttps://www.facebook.com/RhenGarlandMysteries
Instagram: @rhen_garland
Twitter: @RhenWitch

This post is part of the blog tour, you can check out the other reviews:

the Versipellis mystery series, time travel mystery

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable #BlogTour (Review + Giveaway)

books about mental health, Chez Maximka

I suppose I almost believed in the magic because I was almost in love... And later, after everything that happened, we held hands around the tree to wish, and I begged and begged the fairies to take all the obstacles away so that Robin and I could be together from that moment. Begging? The fairies? What the f... planet was I on?

When is a memory not a memory but a figment of imagination?

One summer day of 1986 a young couple stand by the Faerie tree on the banks of the river Hamble, where Robin brings Izzie. The tree is festooned with ribbons, necklaces and small toys, left by those who want their wishes granted. Children also leave coins and messages to the fairies.

"I tried to remember the first time I'd been here and to see the tree through Izzie's eyes. The oak stood on a rise above the path; not too tall or wide but graceful and straight, its trunk covered in what I can only describe as offerings...
"Why do people do this?" Izzie asked.
I winked at her. "To say thank you to the fairies."
"For what?"
"For making their wishes come true, I guess..."

Robin and Izzie are in love, and hopeful at that moment in time. A few hours later, their world will collapse. Robin will come home to find his disabled mother dead from an overdose of painkillers. Everything has changed.
He's been his Mum's carer for years, and he is ridden with guilt that he left his Mum to die.
After the funeral, realising that being in the house, full of memories, wouldn't bring him peace - "everywhere I turned were reminders of guilt" - Robin packs his rucksack, takes some camping gear and leaves his home, never to return.

Izzie is heartbroken, but eventually marries a musician and has a daughter, Claire. She pushes Robin in the back of her mind: "I couldn't bear to think he was put there, somewhere, living a life without me. Or not living one. Kind of suspended in a place of booze and darkness where I hadn't wanted to follow and even if I had, I hadn't been able to reach. It was far better to pretend that nothing had ever happened".

Twenty years after the visit to the Faerie Tree Izzie accidentally stumbles upon Robin.
Only now he is a tramp, smelly, with straggly hair.

Izzie is recently widowed and depressed. Her daughter is worried about her mother drowning her sorrows in the bottle. Claire is kind and empathetic, but also quite wilful and stubborn.

Izzie visits Robin in hospital where he is taken with a chest infection. He has nowhere to go after he leaves the hospital, and Izzie offers him to come to stay with them.

Slowly, Robin is convalescing and regaining his strength. He and Izzie have heart-to-heart conversations about what they've been doing all these years. And they reminisce about their time together all those years ago, only their memories differ. Quite dramatically.
Whose memory is right? and who is imagining things?

Robin and Izzie both struggle with their inner demons, one by running away, the other by finding escape in a bottle. They are both fragile and flawed. You sympathise with both of them, you also get exasperated with both. At times I wanted to shout at them.

When years ago our elder son was diagnosed with autism, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was really in a bad place, not trusting myself to walk over the bridges and not jumping down. I knew I needed help, and though it didn't happen overnight, I was able to have counselling, which partially helped. I remember telling the psychiatrist, that I felt ashamed that I wasn't coping. I told her my great grandma survived the revolution, two world wars, the murder of her husband during the Stalinist purging, loss of her home, she lived under the Nazi occupation, but managed to stay strong. Then why would I, having a loving family and a relatively good life, living in a safe environment, feel so low. She told me there was no shame in feeling fragile and depressed.
At the time I didn't even confide in my own family and friends, thinking I did not want to burden them with my problems, when there were so many more significant issues around.
But I also had my anchor, my child who needed me. And who ultimately brought me back to the real world.

So, I can relate to both the main protagonists of this novel. They deserve empathy and understanding, even when they appear at their most manipulative. They are "twisted and tangled beyond all recognition", in the words of Robin, they are human beings who are coping with grief in their own way and deserve second chances.

The Faerie Tree is the symbol of strength and hope, and as such is another protagonist of the book.

The folklore element, though essential as the thread bringing together the past and the present, is not taking the narrative into the supernatural world.

The Faerie Tree gives a remarkable insight into depression and mental health issues. This honest, edgy and reflective novel explores the possibility of hope even in the most dark of times.

I want to finish this review with the extract from Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive:
"Mental health problems are not:
A bandwagon.
A fad.
A celebrity trend.
A result of growing awareness of mental health problems.
Always easy to talk about.
The same as they always were".

Potential triggers: death, depression/mental health.

books about mental health
Faerie tree (author's photo)

Purchase Link


Mant thanks to Jane Cable, Matador and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book.

This review is a blog tour stop, you can check out the other reviews:

books about mental health

Author Bio:
Jane Cable writes romantic fiction with the over-riding theme that the past is never dead. She published her first two books independently (the multi-award winning The Cheesemaker's House and The Faerie Tree) and is now signed by Sapere Books. Two years ago she moved to Cornwall to concentrate on her writing full-time, but struggles a little in such a beautiful location. Luckily she's discovered the joys of the plot walk.

books about mental health

Social Media Links:
Twitter: @JaneCable
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/romanticsuspencenovels

If you like the sound of this book, you have a chance to win it in a giveaway, hosted by Rachel's Random Resources.
Giveaway to win PB copies of The Faerie Tree and The Cheesemaker's House (UK Only)
UK 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 and 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 (<--- RRR).

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

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

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Photo diary: week 11, project 366

On the outside I try to appear calm, so as not to alarm my kids, but inside I'm a total mess, reeling with panic and anxiety. I imagine all the worst case scenarios, and how my family would cope if anything happens to me. I cannot get sick, who will look after my boys? (Another thought that crosses my mind is - I've got so many books I haven't read yet).
It doesn't help that my elderly in-laws live in Italy, and that my Mum also belongs to the age group which is most affected. I chat to her on the phone every day, but I'm not there to help.

This post nearly didn't happen, as I haven't been taking photos every day but there are enough photos overall to do a weekly post.

Last Sunday my guys were playing football in a very wet garden, when Eddie rushed into the kitchen and told me to go out and look at the rainbow. The sight of the rainbow never ceases to cheer me up.

Chez Maximka, double rainbow

More of the panic-buying drama in the local supermarkets. On top of the loo rolls (an empty aisle where Eddie is reclining), it's impossible to get any long-life dairy milk, pasta is almost all but gone, you cannot find any paracetamol or analgin, and of course, all hand sanitisers are as rare as unicorns these days.

Chez Maximka

The only photo I've taken on Monday was that of a rug I wanted to buy for Sasha's room. I did buy it the next day.

On Tuesday my friend Jen took me by car to the Burford garden centre, as I needed to get a few bags of compost. We had a quick coffee in their café, and strolled around the centre, which has rooms selling antiques and modern china, and also a lovely albeit overpriced food shop.

I admired their great collection of orchids, including this delicate Cymbidium Orchid. Isn't it just gorgeous?!

rare orchids, Chez Maximka

I loved looking at the collection of antique jewellery - Celtic, Viking, Roman and medieval rings. They are all certified as authentic. You can get a piece of history, that is, if you're not worried that they are most likely a find from a grave.
I know I'm being ridiculously superstitious, but I wouldn't want some irritated ghost to haunt me, just because I decided to wear a ring which belonged to them.
They really should belong to the museum.

Burford garden centre, Chez Maximka

Walking through the flood fields on the way home...

Chez Maximka, clouds

Thursday was Sasha's very last stay at his favourite respite place. As of this week, we don't have a respite provision at all. Despite the talks taking place back in summer, before Christmas and recently again, nothing has been done.
There are no transitional places for young people over 18. It's either the children's services, or everyone from 18 to 100.
If we live to tell the tale, we won't have any respite in the near foreseen future.

We didn't go out with Eddie that evening, but ordered a pizza and watched a couple of episodes of Agents of Shield, season 3.
Sasha had a very good time at his respite place, they said their Good buys, and that was the end of an era.

spring garden flowers, Chez Maximka

Eddie can't wait for the next Marvel film, which will come to big screens in May. He and I are big fans of Black Widow. We spotted this new Funko Pop Black Widow in Game shop (but didn't buy it).

Chez Maximka, Funko Pop Marvel characters

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Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Aubergine, okra and red kidney bean casserole

Chez Maximka, vegetarian recipes, aubergine recipes

This vegetarian dish is ready in under an hour. With an addition of a spicy paste pot to the combination of aubergines, okra and kidney beans you can make it extra warming, thus  perfect for colder days... And so far March has been as fickle as Verdi's "la donna ѐ mobile", giving us sunny spells, then blowing cold winds.

Very Lazy Smoky Spanish Stew slow cooking paste pots was one of the products in February Degustabox. It's a concentrated paste with paprika, red pepper, ground cumin, ground Cayenne and garlic puree. This product is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
I decided to use it in a vegetarian casserole, or ragu, or stew, it could be called any of these.

Chez Maximka, vegetarian midweek recipes

Aubergine, okra and kidney bean casserole
3tbsp olive oil
1 shallot
1 medium carrot
1 medium aubergine
1 x 175g pack of okra
1 x 300g  tin of red kidney beans in water (drained weight 180g)
1 tomato
500g passata
1 x 25g pot of Very Lazy Smoky Spanish Stew
1/1tsp sugar
a 150ml pot of Greek yogurt
fresh coriander
basmati rice

Heat the oil in a heavy-based deep frying pan. Fry a finely chopped shallot for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a peeled and chopped carrot, and cubed aubergine. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes.
Slice okra into 3-4 pieces, and add to the vegetables. Drain and rinse red kidney beans and add to the mix. Finally add a chopped tomato and pour passata. Add a pot of Very Lazy Smoky Spanish Stew paste. Stir, lower the heat and cook for 30+ minutes. You might need to add some  water, and a bit of sugar (optional).
In the final minutes of cooking, stir in a pot of Greek yogurt. And add some chopped fresh coriander or parsley.
Serve with basmati rice.

Chez Maximka, vegetarian meals with aubergines

Verdict? The Spanish stew pot definitely packs a punch. When the stew was almost done, I tried a spoonful and gasped, it was rather hot. To make the heat mellower, I added a small pot of Greek yogurt. My husband also commented later that it was on the hot side.
I suppose, it depends on your tastebuds. If you enjoy hot food, use a whole pot, if you prefer milder flavour, perhaps use half of the pot. That's what I will do with the remaining two pots in the pack. I will use half a pot at a time.

what to do with okra, Chez Maximka

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Queen of Bones by Teresa Dovalpage #BlogTour

books set in Havana

"Speaking of secrets. Speaking of trust! No, he would never trust anybody again... Everything had just become clear, as if someone had opened the window of a dark room filled with junk, dust and cobwebs, letting the sun shine into its dirtiest corners".

The theme of dark secrets and betrayed trust runs through Queen of Bones, a Havana mystery by Teresa Dovalpage.
This is a dark tale of murder, love and loss, and macabre religious practices, with a fast-moving plot and evocative locations.

It's an enthralling read from start to finish, which captures the sights, sounds and vivacity of Havana.
Devalpage has flawlessly created the daily life of Cuba, writing about it with compassion and insider knowledge.
There are oodles of colourful characters and traditional foods.
You will walk along the streets of Havana, exploring the culture, history, religious practices and cuisine.

Juan, a Cuban construction worker, who now lives in Albuquerque, plans to visit Havana for the first time in twenty years. As a young man, he left Cuba on a raft in 1994, together with one of his best friends, Camilo. They got lost and drifted in the Caribbean for nine days without food or water. Juan was barely alive, when he was found. Camilo died on the raft.
He wants to go back to visit his father's grave, and see his elderly grandmother, who's in the hospital with dementia.
Juan's wife Sharon knows he has some unfinished business, but she believes he's also hiding some secrets from her. She insists on accompanying Juan on a trip.

Juan hopes to reconnect with his former friend Victor, who was taking care of Juan's father in his last months.
He is also eager to find out what has happened to two of his ex-girlfriends Elsa and Rosita.

Elsa and Rosita come from different backgrounds.
While Rosita came from a poor family, Elsa's father was part of the government, and because he could pull strings, she was admitted to Instituto Superior de Arte, even if she had no talent for acting. Young Juan hoped to become a classical musician, while Victor wanted to study theatre. Juan and Elsa became a couple.
Rosita was another student at ISA who had a crush on Juan.
When Juan and Camilo decided to leave Cuba, Elsa was supposed to accompany them. Only she never came to the beach with the promised supplies.

And now Juan is ready to face his demons, and find out what has happened to his friends and ex-lovers.
Back in Cuba, his sense of identity is blurred. In the States he's seen as a Cuban rather than American, but in Cuba he's often mistaken for an American. He doesn't truly belong to either country.
The country Juan left has changed in the last twenty years. Some things stay the same, some have changed drastically.

The love of his life, Elsa, is married to an elderly rich Spaniard, and splits her time between Cuba and Spain. Her son is a student in the States.

Rosita is single, and works at the cemetery. She is a devotee of Santeria religion, and as a mortician, is placed in between the worlds of the living and the dead. She follows the old traditions, and prays to the old gods.

And his mate Victor has become Victoria, and appears in a popular drag show at the local club.

Juan's arrival stirs old secrets and hidden memories. When one of these women is killed, it's up to Padrino, a Santeria priest and former detective with the Havana police force to discover the truth, digging deep into the past.
Padrino is an interesting character, who became a Santeria priest after a near-death experience in Angola.

Queen of Bones is both a dark story of family secrets and lies and an evocative portrayal of the city with the complex and fascinating history.

Many thanks to Teresa Dovalpage, Soho Crime and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!
This post is part of the blog tour, which you can follow:

books set in Havana

Purchase Links



Amazon UK


Soho Press


Author Bio:
Teresa Dovalpage was born in Havana and now lives in Hobbs, where she is a Spanish and ESL professor at New Mexico Junior College. She has published ten novels and three collections of short stories.

Her first culinary mystery Death Comes in through the Kitchen (Soho Crime, 2018) is set in Havana and features Padrino, a santero-detective. It is loaded with authentic Cuban recipes like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) and caldoza (a stew). Her second mystery, Queen of Bones, was also published by Soho Crime in November 2019 and includes elements of Santeria, and again, food - clearly, the author loves to eat! Both novels are rich in detail about life in the island, the kind only an insider can provide.

They are the first two books of Soho Crime's Havana Mystery series. Upcoming are Death of a Telenovela Star (June 2020) and Death under the Perseids.

She also wrote A Girl like Che Guevara (Soho Press, 2004) and Habanera, a Portrait of a Cuban Family (Floricanto Press, 2010).

In her native Spanish she has authored six novels, among them Muerte de un muricano en La Habana (Death of a Murcian in Havana, Anagrama, 2006, a runner-up for the Herralde Award in Spain) and El difunto Fidel (The Late Fidel, Renacimiento, 2011, which won the Rincon de la Victoria Award in Spain in 2009).

Once in a while she delves into theatre. Her plays La Hija de La Llorona and Hasta que el mortgage nos separe (published in Teatro Latino, 2019) has been staged by Aquijón Theater in Chicago.

Cuban American authors

Social Media Links:
Blog: https://teredovalpage.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dovalpage
Twitter: @dovalpage


I've always wanted to visit Cuba, ever since I was a young girl, and my parents' friends used to tell us stories of Cuba. He was a geologist, and they stayed in Cuba for several years. The lady brought me as a gift a pair of turquoise blue trousers, the likes of which I haven't seen before or after.
They were two-layered, the underlayer was a kind of harem pants, on top of which there were wider trousers with big windows and pockets.
Needless to say, I felt like a super model.

I still haven't had a chance to visit this country but in the meantime I want to show you a selection of photos by Anne Marie Wallace, also known as @anniecoconuts on Instagram (follow her for bright, colourful and cheerful photos). This lucky lady visited Cuba, and with her kind permission I am posting some photos of beautiful Havana (and cars, the photographer clearly loves cars!).Many thanks, Anne Marie!
Just look at all those colours!

Cuba streets

old Havana, old cars

vintage cars, old Havana

old Havana, vintage cars

old Havana, streets of Havana, old cars

old Havana, vintage cars

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Photo diary: weeks 9 & 10, project 366

I would like to wish you a Happy International Women's Day! Even if the times are very worrying at the moment, what, with the coronavirus on our doorstep (the first case officially acknowledged at the Oxford University), panic-buying and total uncertainty on what to do.

We had a very poor Internet connection the week before, and I haven't done any blogging. Every time I managed to get online, it would freeze, and get disconnected. And while my iphone is with a different provider, I cannot use it for blogging, and all blogs usually reject any comments I try to post, using it.
Hence today, it's a two-weeks-of-photos' batch.

On the last day of the midterm break we went to Oxford to our favourite Asmolean museum.
As has become our custom, we stop by this ancient Roman bust of a young boy, who looks like Eddie's long-lost twin.

Chez Maximka, Ancient Roman sculpture

On Monday we rehearsed the pancake flipping, and also took a mini-video of Eddie flipping the pancake for the Insta comp run by Fry Light. Sadly, we didn't win.

Chez Maximka

On Tuesday we went to Banbury to check out one of the possible respite places for Sasha. The house itself is more spacious than the local one, but as it's a place for people aged 18+, they don't have the same facilities as the children's homes. And though our son turns 18 this month, it's not that by some magic he suddenly became grown-up and mature. We might visit one more place, in a different town, but as of the next month, we don't have any respite provision, and who knows when it's going to be sorted out.
This is the famous Banbury cross, which I snapped from a car.

Chez Maximka

The day before my birthday Sasha was away for his respite night, and we booked a table at The Fleece for dinner. It was already getting dark, when we were leaving home, and saw the Moon crescent above the rooftops.

Chez Maximka, the Moon crescent

My friend Jen gave me a gorgeous present for my birthday, a 19C teacup and saucer, which belonged to her late Auntie. It's hand-painted and so pretty. I love antique and vintage china, and this lovely set is a great addition to my mismatched collection.

Chez Maximka, 19C china

Eddie is a big fan of Funko Pop toys. We admired this mini-figure of Maximus from Gladiator, but it's too pricey for what it is (ultimately, a plastic tat toy).

We greeted March with apprehension. This month Sasha turns 18, and he will now be with the adult services, both medical and social, and so far it's being frustrating.
He will miss his current respite home, which he loves. I honestly don't know how I'm going to explain to him that he won't be visiting it any longer from April.
And there is so much paperwork to fill in too, it's totally disheartening.

My guys bought me a bottle of Gucci Flora for birthday. Eddie insisted his father and he sniff at all the perfume bottles at Boots until they find the one they like. They did get it right, but I did wince when I saw how much it costs online.

Chez Maximka, floral perfume for women

On the way to school I glanced up only to find this funny-shaped cloud, which looked like a profile of a man with a long nose, who was blowing steam from his lips.

Chez Maximka, West End Witney

A couple of days before the World Book Day I was busy, creating a Percy Jackson's costume for Eddie. I painted a trident on the back with fabric pens, and also wrote "Camp Half-Blood" at the front, with a picture of Pegasus.

Chez Maximka, costume ideas for World Book day, Tulip Slick paints

I have mentioned our local Waterstones many times. Their window displays are always creative, and at times utterly creepy. The window display for The Doll Factory is assembled with a glass bell containing an eyeless doll's head, that is so macabre. You'd inevitably end up in the shop.

The doll factory, Chez Maximka, Waterstones Witney

On the World Book Day they ran a couple of events. We missed the morning session, as it was a school day, but after school there was a meeting with Nicki Thornton, author of The Last Chance hotel. We bought a book and asked the author to sign it for Eddie.

Chez Maximka, Oxfordshire authors

Every spring I admire this Japanese quince in town. The flowers are so beautiful. It's a true sign of spring.

Chez Maximka, spring blossom

Yesterday's shopping at Waitrose showed the darker side of the panic-buying. The aisles of toilet paper are empty, the medicines like nurofen and paracetamol are not available any longer, and don't even start me on the hand sanitisers or any antibacterial wipes.
Just why do the supermarkets not monitor this greedy panic-buying? What will disappear next?

Chez Maximka

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