Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Art & Soul by Claire Huston #BlogTour

Chez Maximka, romance books about artists, uplifting romance

In these days of surreal unknown, do you opt for a heavy dose of dystopian literature, a chilling shiver of a horror story or a sweet slice of romantic escapism?

Art & Soul by Claire Huston is a heart-warming get-away from all-the-worries story.

Becky Watson loves solving other people's problems. Well, she would have to, having chosen to be a life coach. She is full of enthusiasm and mojo for fixing problems of her clients.
There is, however, a rather big problem she couldn't fix - her personal life is in a shambles. Despite priding herself in her ability to read the other people with ease, she gets involved with a married man, and has a child.
Since having Dylan, her life coaching business is put on hold, while she is stuck in a rut, working to make the weddings go smoothly. Her clients seem to be of an entitled type which is known as Bridezilla.
A friend suggests she works her magic on her reclusive artist brother Charlie Handren.

Charlie has lost his artistic mojo years ago, when his wife has left him. He's bringing up their daughter Phoebe on his own, while his forays into art seem to consist of staring into space in his studio and moping about his lacklustre performance.
As the title suggests, you get a glimpse into a tortured arty soul.
To begin with, Charlie appears as a bit of a caricature. He looks like a hobbit: "His facial hair was rampant, tufted and piebald. Above that undergrowth, dirty brown hair, with patches of grey at the temples, rambled down past his shoulders..." His eyes remind Becky "those of a chocolate-brown Labrador she had once seem tied up outside the supermarket in the chill rain waiting for its owner to return". So, not the most eligible romantic hero, and more of a castaway.

Charlie is not impressed with Becky either. Having shown her around his studio, he realises that she knows nothing about art, and her tastes tend to be rather conventional. He describes her as an art philistine in a text to his sister.
It doesn't help that Becky is scathing about his work, describing it as "paintings which look like the masterpiece my toddler produced the time he tipped his poster paints over the living room rug" Ouch.
Her criticism is savage: "You're acting like a privileged, pathetic, selfish fool who's one drink away from becoming a total cliché". Double ouch.

Despite a rocky start, Charlie hires Becky to come up with a plan to revive his artistic career. She promises to organise a come-back exhibition for him in a prestigious venue, and hopes to set him up with a woman of his dreams, Rachel Stone, who conveniently happens to be the manager of the Stone Gallery.

Becky and Charlie soon become close. While helping Charlie to pursue the woman of his dreams, she is left insecure about what she really wants.

Art & Soul is a warm-hearted confection of a novel, a thoroughly-enjoyable romance.

There are several secondary characters which are a delicious satire on certain arty types. The art gallery manager Rachel Stone reminded me of someone I knew in the past (I believe they still run the gallery in a little town in the shire). The same ruthless type with steely eyes and a smile which is full of artifice who enjoys bossing her staff around.

Her mother Barbara, the matriarch of the art gallery world, comes alive in just a few short sentences: "While Barbara Stone was well-preserved for her age, she was also proof Botox could do so much... "Ms Watson. Such a pleasure," she said, shaking Becky's hand using her fingertips.
Liar, thought Becky, as she watched Barbara withdraw her hand and trail her fingers down the skirt of her pink Chanel suit".

Then there is a café owner Ronnie, who is a cake genius but a huge gossip and a pain in the backside as a partner. Even Becky, who's supposed to be her best friend, thinks of her as a gossiphound.

Art & Soul is an entertaining read, funny, sweet and witty. You will chuckle out loud, and lick your lips - there's cakes and laughs galore.

Chez Maximka, books about artists

Many thanks to Claire Huston, Goldcrest Books and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

This post is part of the blog tour for Art & Soul.

Chez Maximka

About the author:
Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. Art & Soul is her first novel.
A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them.

You can find recipes for all cakes mentioned in Art & Soul at along with over 100 other recipes. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

Social media links:
Twitter: @ClaraVal
Facebook: Claire Huston Author

romance authors, books about artists

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Photo diary: week 17, project 366

I was looking at the videos on my iPhone the other day, when I came across last year's May Day dancing videos, and my heart skipped a beat. Who would have thought almost a year ago that this might not happen again a year later. It feels almost like a loss of innocence, and I don't mean just children's.
All those elderly spectators sitting around the green, watching the May Day dance, some were brought from care homes in wheelchairs, clapping enthusiastically to the rhythm of the folk music.
There won't be May Day dance on the Church Green this year. And that is so sad.

Last week was slightly different from two weeks of holidays, because Sasha was back to school. He had two days at school, and it is so important for his mental health. He looks so happy when he comes home. It's lovely to see a sparkle in his eyes, as he's rather subdued by the whole lockdown.

Most of the photos from last week are taken in our garden.

The weather has been so warm in the last couple of weeks that the lilac started to bloom a bit earlier than usual. I saw this little five-petal lilac flower and made a wish.
When we were kids, we thought those flowers brought you luck, and you had to eat it, when wishing for something.

Chez Maximka, English garden in spring

One of Eddie's school tasks on Seesaw was to watch a Youtube video and draw a puppy of his own. He also looked at the book How to draw animals.
I think it's a cute puppy.
Just in case you're wondering about his Cressida Cowell competition entry, sadly he didn't win.

I baked two cakes - an apple almond cake to celebrate the National Tea day, and a banana loaf yesterday. I know everyone seems to be baking banana breads these days, but what else can you do with blackening bananas?

Wedgwood china cup and saucer, Chez Maximka

Aquilegia in our garden grows like weeds everywhere.

Chez Maximka, English garden in spring

Yellow poppies are also spreading like fire. I do like them, they are so jolly.

Chez Maximka, English garden in spring

On Friday our order of Cooltime artist graphic marker pens has arrived, and Eddie asked me to teach him how to draw a cat. He watched me drawing, then worked independently on his own. I love his cat, it's very expressive.

Chez Maximka, Cooltime artist graphic pens, cat drawing

Apple trees are in full bloom now as well. But the lawn in the garden is almost destroyed, as my guys play football and table tennis there every day. And the hedges are awfully overgrown.
I decided to trim them the other day, and managed to cut through the cord of the trimmer. Can't blame anyone, it was entirely my fault. Very annoyed with myself.

How did your week go?

Chez Maximka

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Saturday, 25 April 2020

Lockdown Creative Activity - Help MAP Build The World's Largest Bouquet of Flowers

I've read that homeschooling is the ultimate test of your patience. It's true. I used to be a teacher and worked with primary school kids but I do find teaching my younger son is leaving me tetchy and impatient. To while away the lockdown hours, I'm trying to encourage him to do more art.

You can find excellent tutorials online, but if watching someone doing step-by-step is not to your liking, you might like to get some useful How to draw (insert a subject) books.

There are some interesting children's art competitions around as well. In the last few weeks, my son submitted his drawing to a couple of drawing competitions. I believe there's another one going on - check our Rodda's Insta page for details.

And it's not just children who could immerse themselves in fun art projects.

Over a week ago I was asked to spread the word about an inspiring art project hosted by The Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) in India.
While COVID-19 keeps us apart, the MAP is working to bring us together digitally.

Founder Abhishek Poddar wants your help to create the world's largest digital flower "bouquet of hope". It is a fun activity for the whole family while stuck indoors.

For Abhishek's parents 25th wedding anniversary in 1989 he surprised them with an art installation of 25 flowers. Twenty five of India's well-known artists created a single flower, one for each year of his parents' married life together, in the artists' own inimitable style.
Every image reminded them of a family or friendship moment, an incident or a story behind each painting.
"At times like these, we hold on to precious moments - of family times, of challenges we managed to overcome, of personal journeys we ventured on", said Abhishek.

MAP wants to send the world this virtual bouquet of hope, not just for this difficult time but for the future ahead.

Anyone and everyone is encouraged to join in and send an image from their garden or balcony, a drawing, painting, or even create a flower motif from an object or textile.

Images can be submitted to (check out what beautiful flowers you can find there).

MAP, flower paintings
Image credits: MAP

MAP hopes you can join in on this fun arts and crafts project! So, get our your camera or iPhone and snap that pretty flower you have in your garden, or encounter on your walk.

Chez Maximka, spring flowers

Maybe embroidery is your hobby, or you love crochet? Do you enjoy drawing or painting?
I'm thinking of submitting my old water colour, which I painted over 10 years ago.

Chez Maximka, flower water colours

Or perhaps my Mum's acrylic art work which she painted last autumn for a friend, while staying with us.

Chez Maximka, flowers in art

I am also hoping that Eddie will draw a flower for the project. He's been busy drawing in the last week, but mostly Marvel characters and a cat.

This inspiring art project is encouraging you to add a flower to this symbol of unity. "Flowers are a celebration - of new life, of new beginnings. They often speak of the unspoken, exchanged as symbols of hope, love and courage".

About MAP:
The Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) is a new museum, being built in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. It will be among India's very first major private art museums, with a goal to share India's artistic heritage while also igniting a new modern museum culture.
MAP connects India's past, present, and future by showcasing historical artefacts alongside modern and contemporary works, folk art, textiles, painting, sculpture and photography. The MAP collection currently has more than 18,000 works ranging from the 12th C to the present day.

Friday, 24 April 2020

The Poor Relation by Susanna Bavin #BlogTour

books set in Manchester, books set in Edwardian England, Chez Maximka, historical romance

She drew in a breath - and then remembered not to let it out on a sigh. As the poor relations, they were required to be ultra-respectable, though they never got any thanks for it. It was part of their station in life.

The Poor Relation by Susanna Bavin is a gripping, well-paced tale set in the Edwardian era.
For fans of historical romance and drama without saccharine.

1908, Manchester.
Mary Maitland has been working at the Town Hall for 5 years. She is efficient and smart, training young men for higher jobs in the office. Disillusioned with being rejected for promotion for the 6th time, since she is too valuable and competent. Mary is frustrated to be told she is not suitable for advancement since she is a woman. And young men "have to get on".

Her Dadda, a senior clerk in the same office, thinks it's fair she minds her place: "It's my job to support you". He's a stickler for convention, who believes that as a master in his own house, all his womenfolk - wife and two daughters - are his inferiors who should know their place both in the house and society. After all, Mary is a girl from a respectable family, and should not get ideas above her station. What's more, they have influential rich relatives, whose opinion should be considered above all.

Worried about her Dadda's disapproval, Mary applies for a new job at an employment agency for women in secret. The ladies who run the agency are impressed with her efficiency and offer her a job. Being higher in the social hierarchy, they don't think she deserves a salary equal to the one she's had at her previous job. They are friendly and very "modern", i.e. following the latest suffrage ideas and holding meetings to discuss women's rights, but they are also a product of their own class and education.

Encouraged by her employers, Mary starts writing articles for different women's publications, using a pen name (her late mother's maiden name). She knows her father and their connections wouldn't approve of her minor independence.

The Maitlands are related to the Kimbers, the aristocratic family of the neighbourhood. They don't fraternise. The Kimbers barely tolerate their lower-class relations, inviting them for a Sunday lunch once a year. While they grudgingly commend the elder Maitland's behaviour (after all, he was born a Kimber), they cannot stand a "frightful harpy of a grandmother" who loves nothing better than snooping around the big house, given a chance.
(To be fair, the grandmother is pretty obnoxious. She's rude, entitled and ignorant. It's not quite clear why the Maitlands cannot restrain her offensive behaviour)

There is also an inverted snobbery on part of the Maitlands and their common neighbours.
"Oh, the difficulties of being the poor relations! The Kimbers presumable wouldn't have minded her attending high school, but the neighbours might have thought the Maitlands were getting above themselves. You trod a fine line when you were related to the neighbourhood's most important family".

The book gives a fascinating insight into the lives of women at the beginning of the XXc. It's not just Mary. Her step-mother is very conventional, she married a widower next door to take care of him and his children. There is poor aunt Miriam, a shy spinster and a victim of her bullying mother.

Lady Kimber has married twice and did splendidly well in the eyes of the society. She has status, money, a big mansion, her opinion and patronage are sought after. Basically, she has everything, that is, except love. Embittered and unrelenting, all her ambitions in life are centred on her only child - daughter Eleanor, who must marry the cousin to keep the title and everything that goes with it in the family.

There is disgruntled Miss Rawley, who has been living in her brother's household and looking after him. Even on his death, she doesn't gain independence. She's allowed to live in her late brother's house, which goes to her nephew.

The nephew, Greg Rawley, is exasperated by the will. He had high hopes of selling the property. Being a gambler and a wastrel, he is in debt to the most dangerous dealer, and the interest is soaring high. How can he pay off his gambling debts, if he cannot sell the house. Both Greg and Miss Rawley detest each other, but they must abide by the will.

Dr Nathaniel Brewer is unwittingly involved in settling the family disputes. He is an inspiring character, who wants to set up a community clinic in a deprived area of the city. There are many obstacles and limitations.
This part of the story deserves a special mention. It is quite appalling to see what the attitudes were to the "deserving poor" who should not be educated, even in the most basic things like personal hygiene, as it would give them ideas.

Struggling to find the funding for the clinic, Dr Brewer has to deal with people who inform him: "PIP would be happy to receive an application from your clinic, on the understanding, of course, that these education sessions cease immediately. I would remind you that I stands for Ignorant. So, which is it to be: funding, or education disguised as chit-chat?"

When Mary's Dadda asks her about the meetings she wants to attend, she says: "To discuss putting working-class girls into service with middle-class families, so they learn better habits of behaviour and hygiene.
"That smacks of socialism to me. There are good reasons for social differences", replies her father.

When Mary meets Dr Brewer, she is won over by his progressive ideas and drive to help the vulnerable. The problem is, Dr Brewer is married.

And then a charming cousin of Mary, Charlie Kimber, comes into her life. He is easy-going, funny, and a complete opposite of his haughty and arrogant Kimber clan. He is clearly smitten by Mary.
The family on both sides is shocked, when Charlie proposes to Mary.
She's seen as a social climber.

The pressure to conform is increasing. Will Mary be able to stay true to herself?

Mary's personality is developing from an obliging, obedient daughter to a gutsy heroine who's fiercely intelligent and capable to fight not just her parents, but the society's expectations. Her strength is born out of a devastating turn of personal circumstances.
Her bid for independence is based on her non-stagnant way of thinking and her determination to strike out on her own.

The ending felt a bit rushed, but I'm hoping it means there is a sequel coming.

Crammed with drama, tension and emotion, it's a fascinating story of love, loss and conflicting loyalties. A real page-turner.

This review is part of the blog tour for The Poor Relation.

books set in Edwardian England

Many thanks to Susanna Bavin, Allison & Busby Ltd and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

Chez Maximka, vintage photos, historical romance set in Edwardian England

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Apple almond tea cake

Wedgwood china, Whittard's tea, Chez Maximka

It was a National Tea Day in the UK yesterday. I felt like I had to bake something sweet to mark the occasion.
Reading Anca's recipe for Lamingtons, a coconutty chocolate treat from her childhood, made me dig out an old copy of Cakes & Slices Cookbook, a bookazine by The Australian Women's Weekly. I got it last year in the charity shop.
I didn't have any coconut, so Lamingtons would have to wait until I get hold of some, so I looked at what dessert from the book I might like to recreate.

I liked the sound of Apple almond cake, and had most of the ingredients.

Chez Maximka, lockdown baking

I have adapted the recipe, adding polenta for texture and reducing the amount of sugar and butter. The grated apple makes it moist, but you can hardly taste it. I think next time I bake it, I will also add a finely chopped apple to make it more fruity.

Apple Almond Tea Cake
1 medium apple, grated
100g caster sugar
100g butter (or margarine)
100g self-raising flour
80g polenta
2 medium eggs
100ml milk
a handful of flaked almonds

In a medium mixing bowl grate an apple (with peel on, if you want more fibre). Add the sugar, softened butter or margarine (I used margarine, as I've run out of butter, though I do prefer butter in cakes), flour and polenta and mix well.
Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add milk and mix until combined.
Grease a 20cm round spring cake tin (I also added a circle of parchment paper at the bottom, as my cake tin is quite old).
Pour the cake batter into the cake tin, and sprinkle a handful of flaked almonds on top. Place the tin in the oven preheated to 180C. Bake for 45+ minutes. Check if it's ready with a wooden toothpick.
You might also want to wrap a foil over the top of the cake tin closer to the end of cooking to prevent the almonds from burning.

This cake is lovely with tea or coffee.

Did you bake anything yesterday to celebrate the National Tea Day?

Chez Maximka, easy cake recipe

And if you're curious what tea I had with a slice of cake it is Whittard's Jasmine Dragon Pearls.

National Tea Day, Chez Maximka, Wedgwood tea cup and saucer

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Photo diary: weeks 15 and 16, project 366

Last weekend I spent glued to the radio, listening to Classic FM's Hall of Fame. It was four days of bliss. If I wasn't cooped up in the kitchen, I was carrying my iPhone around, with the app on, so that I wouldn't miss the countdown.
It is always a highlight of the Easter weekend for me, and this year it also gave me some semblance of normality, as if nothing dreadful is happening around.
None of my three votes made it into the top 100: Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite was at no.159 (up 65 places), The Gadfly by Shostakovich was at no.122 (up 7 places) and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet was at no.102 (up 14 places).
I was amused to hear my tweet read on the radio. If I knew they'd do it, I'd have said something a little bit more sophisticated.

I was disappointed with the overall winner, as it's not a piece I like. In fact every time it comes up on the radio, I switch it off.

Why am I droning on about Classic FM? It was the main reason why I skipped doing my weekly photo diary.

And here are some of the photos I've taken in the last couple of weeks.
I was walking around the block and saw this cloud circle around the sun, and thought I have to take a photo for Eddie, as it reminded me of the Avengers and the Agents of Shield.

Chez Maximka, Witney

This is one of the tulips in our garden, the colour is so intense.

Chez Maximka, spring garden

Marmite peanut butter was one of the products in the Degustabox food box. My guys refused even to try it. Categorically. You know me, I cannot resist trying something new, but oh boy, I didn't like it at all. It's way too salty. I used some of it to make biscuits.
Have you tried it?

Chez Maximka

We had such good weather for over a week, warm and sunny, and spent as much time as we could in the garden. We still continued doing homework with Eddie, even if technically it was an Easter break.

Chez Maximka

And these are the biscuits, made with Marmite peanut butter. I was having a short break in the garden with a mug of coffee and a book, which is a pure escapism into a different era.

Chez Maximka, red Cornishware

Another walk around the block, this time with Eddie, we ventured out in the evening. We looked wistfully at the closed playground and church, made a circle around the bridge and the flood fields.
I liked the spot of red in this rather monochrome little alley.

Chez Maximka

On the same walk we looked up to see those white doves who live at the "ghost house", which is covered with vines and holds dozens of nests. We've never seen anyone coming in or out of the house, but apparently someone the house is not uninhabited and the owner uses the back door to enter it.

Chez Maximka, ghost house

I didn't cook a big feast for Easter, but we had an Italian cake Colomba and lots of chocolate eggs and Lindt bunnies.
It also made me think of our Easter lunches in Italy, when we celebrated with my in-laws, and when we stayed at home and had friends over. It feels like a lifetime ago.

Easter nest, Chez Maximka

Cressida Cowell was running a competition to draw a dragon of your own, with a description of its powers and skills. Eddie enjoyed drawing his dragon.
We don't know yet who has won the competition, there were hundreds of entries, with some very good drawings. The prize is a drawing by Cressida Cowell.

We miss visiting our local Waterstones. Thanks goodness, the online shops still work. Eddie and I recently read Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens, and enjoyed it so much, that Eddie asked me to buy book no.2 in the series. And of course, I couldn't resist getting something for myself as well - a thriller by Wendy Dranfield. I follow her on Twitter, but haven't read any of her books.

Chez Maximka, best books for kdis

I know many people are sceptical about clapping for the NHS (just read Mumsnet), but Eddie and I joined in last Thursday. I missed it last week, as I was reading to Sasha.
We were a bit early, and the street was empty. It's so strange to see no cars or people around.

Chez Maximka

More tulip pictures from the garden. My Mum planted the bulbs of the white tulips last year. I wish she could see all the beautiful flowers here.

Chez Maximka

And a screenshot of me chatting to Eddie on WhatsApp, while waiting in a queue to Waitrose. My face mask is rather fetching, isn't it?! It was a rainy day, but we needed the rain after so many warm dry days.

How did your Easter holidays go?

Chez Maximka

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Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Oat cookies with Marmite peanut butter

Chez Maximka, easy cookies, red Cornishware

I'm not the biggest fan of Marmite, but I don't hate it either. I rarely fancy a smidgeon of it on a toast, but rather than this, I am not overly keen on sub-products which use Marmite as an ingredient. I've tried cheese with Marmite and crisps, and didn't like either.
You might have seen Marmite peanut butter in the supermarkets. There was a jar of it in the March Degustabox. My guys refused even to try it. I was brave, and had it spread on toast. It was way too salty to my taste.

In the current mood of "waste not, want not" I was wondering what to do with it.
Cookies are always a good option.
I tend to use a basic combination of ingredients to which I add different bits, but the main mix is the same - oats, flour, sugar, margarine, egg. I prefer to use margarine rather than butter, when baking cookies as they tend to keep their shape better (while for cakes I tend to use a real butter or oil).

Chez Maximka, easy cookies, what to do with Marmite peanut butter

Oat cookies with Marmite peanut butter (makes 18 cookies)
80g caster sugar
100g margarine
100g oats
140g self-raising flour
1 medium egg
2 tbsp Marmite peanut butter
30g chocolate, chopped into small pieces

You can use any kind of chocolate in these cookies, from cooking Menier chocolate (milk, dark or white), to supermarket own brand. Maybe you've bought too many Easter eggs, so chop up the remains to add to the dough. Or use chocolate chips (I rarely buy them, as they are usually overpriced).
In this particular batch I used the leftovers of the Galaxy caramelised hazelnut vegan chocolate bar, which we didn't like much on its own.

Cream the margarine with sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the oats, flour, beat in the egg and Marmite peanut butter (optional). Using a fork, mix together, then use hands to form a ball of dough. Dust with more flour, if it's too sticky.
Pinch walnut-sized pieces of dough, roll in your hands into a ball, then flatten it into a cookie.
Place the cookies on the tray lined with foil or special baking sheet.
Put the tray in the oven , preheated to 180C. Bake for about 13 minutes until starting to get golden at the edges.
Do not keep in the oven for too long, unless you like very crispy cookies.
Please keep in mind, that the cookies will be very soft when you take the tray out.
Carefully transfer them to the cooling rack, and in a couple of minutes they are ready to eat.

My sons love warm cookies.
These soft cookies taste best on the same day, but will keep in a cookie tin for a couple of days.

Marmite peanut butter gives just a hint of saltiness, so it's not overpowering.

Have you tried Marmite peanut butter? Did you like it?

Chez Maximka, easy choc chip cookies

Chez Maximka, easy choc chip cookies

Monday, 13 April 2020

Trust in You by Julia Firlotte #BlogTour

modern romance, books similar to 50 shades of Grey, Chez Maximka
"The tears roll down my cheeks and I start to run home. That's always my answer to everything, run. Run from Tom and his crew when I was younger. Run from talking to Adam and putting things right between us. Run whenever something challenges me, I'm sick of it"

Trust in You by Julia Firlotte is a sizzling modern romance set in rural Kansas.
If you're more used to the so called clean romance, look elsewhere for your next reading material. This is like 50 Shades on a farm. And that would be fine, if that's what you enjoy.

The main protagonist of the novel, Ella Peterson, is 18, and until recently she has lived a rather sheltered life, protected by her father and bossy elder sisters.
After her father's and uncle's tragic accident on the boat, the sisters move from England to their late uncle's house in Kansas.
Life is tough, they have no means to start a new business. And they get a loan from unscrupulous and dangerous people could only be described as organised crime members.

The events are spiralling out of control, and the sisters seem to be totally guileless, if they think you can negotiate with these people.

Ella is rescued from a sordid scenario by dark, brooding Adam Brook. But he's not a knight in shining armour. Far from it. Much older that Ella, he is attracted to her from the moment he sees her.
He is handsome, sexy, powerful, but also troubled, possessive and very flawed.

Offering Ella a job in his house, he is taking advantage of her situation and lack of experience. She is smitten at first by his looks and a grand house, yet she is also aware of the dark secret side of Adam's personal life and business.
Adam keeps asking Ella to trust him, but how can she trust him, when he is clearly dangerous.
What is he not telling her?
"It's resoundingly clear he cares about me and I thought I was getting to know him, but suddenly I feel like I really don't know him at all. Above all else, though, I feel safe when I'm with him. Oh God, I'm so confused".

Ella is extremely naïve for her age. She dreams of a boyfriend who she can love and trust, a fabulous career in song writing and being confident like her elder sisters.

She seems to be a magnet for male predators, and that I had credibility problems with. In one week, she's been assaulted by three sex pests men, who all find her virginity an irresistible draw.
It feels like she's never heard of #MeToo movement, and is way too forgiving, and also really-really confused about not sending the  wrong signals.

When she's accosted in the bathroom by a man, rather than be revolted that he's pinned her by the wall and starts touching her, supposedly out of concern for her tears, she feels "turned on and excited". He might look like a tattooed Greek god, but what the heck?!

I appreciate I'm most likely not the target audience for this book (hey, I could easily be Ella's mother), but I was appalled at the men's behaviour in the book.
The book is set in the present days, but the overall feel of it and especially the attitudes to women sets you back to the chauvinist times of the 1970s.

Trust in You is the first book in the Falling for You series. It's tense, suspenseful, with dark, sinister undertones.

This post is part of the blog tour for Trust in You. You can catch up on the other reviews:

Purchase Links

UK  -

US  -

Author Bio:
Julia is an avid reader of all things romance, and she has read hundreds of books across a variety of sub-genres and began writing her own novels in 2018. Four books are currently in various stages of editing and completion, the first of which is finished and will be on sale in spring 2020.
Julia has always been passionate about languages and fiction and has a degree in Languages and Trade and an A-level in English Literature.
When Julia is not writing or editing her own novels, she usually has her nose in books by other authors and is otherwise kept busy caring for her family, going to the gym and carrying her day job.
Julia lives on the South Coast of England with her two children husband and cats.

modern romance books

Media Links:
Author Website:
Facebook Group: Romance Chit Chat www.facebook/groups/501897750557397
Twitter: @juliafirlotte
Instagram: @juliafirlotte

Thank you to Julia Firlotte and Rachel's Random Resources for my copy of the book!

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Aubergine, butternut squash and tinned peach curry

Chez Maximka, easy curry

As I was sorting the recycling today, I noticed just how many tins I have used in the last couple of weeks. Being in the lockdown and not being able to go out shopping whenever we need some fresh produce, we rely on tins a bit too much.
Also I promise myself, after all this ends, and if I am here to tell the tale, I am not going to eat pasta for a long-long time. I'm sick just of the sight of it.
I try to vary different sauces, and pasta shapes, but it's still stodge.

Last time I went out shopping, I managed to buy a nice aubergine and a pack of cubed butternut squash and sweet potato. I do like chickpeas in a curry, but they are as rare and valuable these days as loo rolls.

Chez Maximka, easy curry, lockdown meals

Aubergine, butternut squash and tinned peach curry
1 medium aubergine, cubed
1/2 red onion
4tbsp olive oil
350g butternut squash and sweet potato
1 cube Knorr stock pot kaffir lime and ginger
1tsp mild curry powder
1 tin (227g) of chopped tomatoes
1 tin (160ml) coconut cream
1 tin (410g) of peach halves in juice

Start by heating up half the oil and frying the finely chopped red onion. Stir for a couple of minutes, then add more oil and cubed aubergines (I keep the skin on, but peel it off if you prefer). Add the cubed butternut squash and sweet potato.
Season with sea salt and spices and add the Knorr stock pot.
Next add the tinned tomatoes (chopped or plum), coconut cream and stir well. Slice the peaches and add to the curry. Bring to boil, then lower the heat and cook, simmering, for about half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the aubergines and squash are soft but still hold the shape.
If the curry is too thick, you might want to add some of the juice from tinned peaches.

Serve hot, with rice or/and flatbreads.

This is a variation of a vegetarian curry, which I cook quite often. You can swap ingredients - for example, use a dairy-free coconut yogurt or plain yogurt instead of coconut cream/milk. No tinned peaches? Add raisins or chopped apricots for a sweet note. Flaked almonds or chopped cashews for extra texture.
Make it more tomatoey by using two tins of tomatoes instead of a combination of tomatoes and coconut cream. Again, play around with whatever curry spices you have.

This curry has a lovely combination of flavours, and is easy to make.

easy curry, Chez Maximka

In this recipe I used a pot of Knorr Kaffir Lime & Ginger stock, which was one of the products in March Degustabox.
Knorr's range of veggie flavoured stock pots are an easy way of adding depth of flavour to meat-free dishes. They are gluten free and suitable for vegans.
You can substitute it with whatever type of ginger you have - grated fresh root, or ginger paste in a squeezy tube or from a jar.
Also add a squeeze of lime, if you have it.

Be creative and stay safe!

Monday, 6 April 2020

Hello Spring Degustabox (March 2020)

Hello, Spring (March'20) Degustabox couldn't have arrived at a better time. With all the panic-buying, the shelves of supermarkets were emptied of essentials, so it was a big treat to open the food box and find some much-coveted 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 box arrives, its contents are a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabix 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 March box?

food box, Chez Maximka

No prizes for guessing which product was picked up first.
Smarties Buttons (£1.59) are chocolate pieces with Smarties inclusions (milk chocolate in a crisp sugar shell). Available in smooth milk or white chocolate. You will receive one of two flavours.
Nutritional information: no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.
Each 6 pieces contain 77kcal and 8.9g of sugar.
My guys loved the buttons, especially the white variety, and asked to buy them, when we have a chance.
They will make a nice decoration for cupcakes or cakes, that is, if there are any left.
Available in major supermarkets.

Chez Maximka

I was delighted to see Homepride Superior Sponge Flour (£2). This is one of our favourite brands of flour, and I often buy it. I like the resealable containers which keep flour fresh.
Superior Sponge flour is the latest addition to the Homepride range, ideal for baking a Victoria sponge or any other classic sponge cake.
It's made from 100% British wheat flour, and is available at Tesco.

Chez Maximka

Walkers Baked Wotsits (£1) - corn puffs in iconic Flamin' Hot and Sizzling steak flavours - have been brought back recently after several years of absence.
They remind us of cheese puffs, with an extra flavour. No artificial colours or preservatives.
Available in the major supermarkets.

Chez Maximka, baked snacks

Naked Noodle Singapore Curry (£1.20) is a pot of egg noodles in a Chinese curry sauce.
Ingredients include dried egg noodles, dried carrot, garlic powder, curry powder, dried onion, coriander, turmeric etc.
Colour is enhanced by turmeric, all ingredients are natural. It's medium hot.
Nutritional information: 280kcal and 6.7g of sugar per pot.
These noodles are ready in 4 minutes, just add boiling water, stir, cover the pot and wait. Suitable for vegetarians, the noodles could be eaten on their own, or as part of a stir fry, or Chinese-inspired hot soup.
Available in all major supermarkets.

Chez Maximka

Nudie Snacks Roasted Broad Beans (£1.59) are a healthy vegetable snack, high in fibre and vegetable protein.
These vegan snacks in sour cream and chive flavour are tasty, and not too high in calories for a mid-morning or afternoon snack when you're feeling peckish.
The name Nudie made us think of one of Horrid Henry books, where a celebrity chef Nudie Foodie comes to school to cook healthy meals for children.
Available at ASDA, Holland & Barrett, Wholefood Markets, Amazon and

healthy vegetarian snacks, Chez Maximka

Knorr Kaffir Lime & Ginger Stock/Paprika & Sundried Tomato stock pot (£0.95) 
Knorr's new range of veggie flavoured stock pots are an easy way of adding depth of flavour to meat-free dishes.
Available in 3 flavours, simply add directly to your dish or dissolve into 500ml of boiling water.
They are gluten free and suitable foe vegans.
You should receive 2 items in your box.
Available at Morrisons and Tesco.

I used a Kaffir Lime & Ginger stock pot in a vegetarian curry, made with butternut squash, sweet potato, tinned peaches and tomatoes. It was a lovely, flavourful dish, which I'll happily make again.

Chez Maximka, vegan stock pots

Galaxy Oat Drink (£1.50) is a smooth, delicate, chocolate-flavoured drink.
I wasn't sure whether we might like it, but after trying it, I would say it's a winner. It's not too sweet, like many chocolate-based drinks are. My husband and son also tried it, and we all enjoyed it.
Definitely one to buy.
Galaxy Oat has no added sugar and is registered with the Vegan Society.
Available at ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and a wide range of convenience stores.

chocolate drinks, Chez Maximka

Cadbury Hot Chocolate 30% less sugar (£2.49) has the unmistakeable creamy taste of Cadbury, but with a reduced sugar content. It is naturally sweetened, with less sugar and calories.
Available at ASDA, Tesco & Sainsbury's.

Marmite Crunchy Peanut Butter (£2.50) is a new take on peanut butter, blended with the famous yeast extract. Marmite fans, rejoice! Rich in B vitamins, it has no added sugar and no palm oil. Contains naturally occurring sugars.
Nutritional values: 0.8g of sugar and 86kcal per 15g serving.
Spread it on toast, crumpet or bagel and enjoy.

Marmite-flavoured products, Chez Maximka

Jubel Beer Cut with Elderflower is an inspiring beer with a floral twist. It comes in an Alcohol-included version of the box. It is a light gold lager, naturally infused with elderflower essence. It is vegan and gluten-free.
It is a light, refreshing drink, lovely straight form the fridge.
Urban won the UK's Best Botanical Beer in 2018 World Beer Awards.

Chez Maximka, party drinks

Highball Alcohol Free Cocktails Pink G&T (£1.99) is just like the real thing, minus the alcohol. The subscribers of the non-alcoholic box would receive this product.
There are six delicious Highball cocktails: G&T, Pink G&T, Cosmopolitan, Mojito, Italian Spritz and Ginger Dram.
With less than half the calories of a standard cocktail and made with natural ingredients, they are a perfect alternative.
Available on

Merchant's Heart Pink Peppercorn/Floral Aromatics Tonic Water (£1.30) is a range of premium spirit enhancers, available in six distinctive flavours, ranging from a dry Hibiscus - suitable for premium gins, to a Ginger Ale - an ideal pairing for aged whisky.
Co-created with worlds-leading bartenders, designed to allow the flavours of the spirit to shine through on the palate.
You should receive one of 2 items in your box.
Available in Sainsbury's and Ocado.

Chez Maximka, spirit enhancers

Seedlip Garden 108 (£3 for 6cl)
The World's First Distilled Non-Alcoholic Spirits, solving the dilemma of "What to drink when you're not drinking".
The fresh and floral Seedlip Garden 108 captures the essence of the English countryside with sophisticated top notes of peas and hay, and a complex herbal character of spearmint, rosemary and thyme. Pair with your favourite tonic.
The full sizes 70cl Seedlip Garden 108 is available in Tesco, Waitrose, Ocado and Holland & Barrett.

Visit and use code DRINKTOTHEFUTURE for 15% off all 70cl products, plus free shipping and a free cocktail jigger.

Disclosure: We receive a monthly subscription food box for the purposes of reviewing.