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review 2016-11-09 00:45
Optimal You - A Review

OPTIMAL YOU by Christine Gingerich

Ms. Gingerich was the keynote speaker at an event that I was intending.  Hearing her speak about her personal journey to a healthier and happier lifestyle ensured that I wanted to pick up this book.  Ms. Gingerich grew up on a farm where the table was laden with fresh produce from their garden and meat they raised.  Sounds perfect.  The downside was that they also enjoyed sweets, particularly pies.  Her first job at a chocolate factory didn’t help her battle her sweet tooth.  While in high school she was athletic so was able to burn off the calories but come university she went way past the “freshman fifteen”.  Having tried “every diet on the market” without significant, long lasting results she looked at herself in the mirror one day and decided that she had to get her life and eating habits under control.
The result?
Years of studying nutrition, obtaining a degree in physical education and coaching others to cope with their own need for lifestyle changes. 
Yes, technically this is a cook book but it is also so much more.  “Optimal You” is chock full of information, both motivational and educational.  It is broken down into easy to follow sections which are helpful in starting your own personal journey towards a better lifestyle.  I thought the “Overcoming Hurdles” and “The Optimal Kitchen” sections were especially helpful.  Often we know what needs to be done but seeing it in writing explaining the “why” is the extra little push one needs to actually make the changes. 
So, on to the recipes. 
All the recipes in the book are made with fresh, natural ingredients that are not difficult to find, something that is important to me.  They are written in an easy to follow manner and accompanied by beautiful full color pictures.  Also important to me as a reader is that the recipes were food items that I would prepare anyway – just healthier versions. These include wonderful appetizers and main dishes as well as (I would be remiss not to mention them) soups and salads.  Appropriately, the luncheon at the event featured items from “Optimal You” and feedback later was unanimous that everyone had enjoyed their meal with her Squash Soup getting special kudos.  There is an “Apple Fritter Pancake” recipe that I want to try for our next special family Sunday Brunch.
All the recipes are easily distinguishable as “gluten free”, “egg free”, “wheat free” and “dairy free” with small colorful icons.
At the risk of repeating myself there is so much more included than the recipes.  Ms. Gingerich includes health saving tips, time saving tips and I particularly enjoyed the “Notable Quotes” that she interspersed throughout the book.  I have to admit to getting home and flipping through the book just to read those first.  The first notable quote belongs to Ms. Gingerich:
“Every moment of every day you make choices.
These choices help to form habits that collectively create your own lifestyle.
Your lifestyle ultimately determines the quality of your life.”
When I purchased her book she graciously signed it for me.  Meeting her in person, I can honestly say that she is the best advertisement for this book.  Not to embarrass her but – her hair was shiny, her skin was glowing and she was slim and fit … if that’s what Optimal You can do for a person count me in!
A few sample recipes and a meal planner can be found on her website www.optimalyou.ca.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)
Christine was raised on a farm outside of Stratford, Ontario where she grew to appreciate country living, natural wholesome foods and hard work. Even at a young age she had an insatiable desire for alternative medicine and preventative natural healing. Sadly, at a young age, she also developed a “sweet tooth,” and in her late teen years, found herself struggling with weight issues.
Having received her degree in Physical Education from Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, ON, Christine understood the basic essentials for good health. She began to change her diet and started a walking program. Her extra weight started to slowly melt away. She then began working in the health industry as a personal trainer and aerobics instructor, training in a variety of facilities and coaching a large clientele. After completing her Bachelor of Education in 1995 Christine joined the Waterloo District School Board as an elementary teacher.
In 2004 she conjoined her teaching and coaching skills from the classroom with her passion for natural healing, launching her personal coaching business, Optimal YOU. 
Christine was a writer for the former Open Magazine and has recently published her first book, Optimal YOU: Great-Tasting Recipes & Powerful Lifestyle Strategies to Achieve Optimal Health. Her two-part "LifeStyle Coaching" episode aired on Grand River Living, a magazine-style show on Roger's cable television.
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review 2016-03-16 19:23
The Night Bell - A Review

THE NIGHT BELL by Inger Ash Wolfe

When the night bell tinkled over the back door at the Dublin Home the sleeping boys hid under their blankets and tried not too breath too deeply for fear of attracting the attention of Old Father Crumb.  He came often, always announced by the gentle ringing of the bell hanging over the back door, to collect one or another of the boys living in the orphanage.  Those taken were never seen again.
Could the boogeyman these young lads imagined be real?  There had definitely been something going on at Dublin Home in the 1950’s that no one wanted to talk about and when bone fragments started turning up in the freshly turned soil of a new subdivision it became a puzzle for the 2015 police to solve.  Hazel Micallef didn’t believe in the boogeyman, but her 40 years with the Port Dundas OPS had confirmed that there were certainly evil men – even in her little corner of Northern Ontario.  After the discovery things take a turn for the worse when residents of the new subdivision are getting murdered.  Hazel suspects the two incidents are related.
Hazel doesn’t take kindly to the fact that the RCMP are taking over “her” case so when she is ordered to stand down on the murder investigation she and Detective James Wingate (on limited duty since he is still recuperating from the incidents in the last book, “A Door in the River”) decide to investigate a little bit more about the bones.  Little did Hazel know that the case would take her down memory lane to when she was 15 years old and her friend mysteriously disappeared.
This is the fourth installment in the Hazel Micallef series and I have enjoyed every one of them.  The danger that comes with being invested in a book series is that the stories start to become a little “cookie cutter”.  Not so in this case.  I think “The Night Bell” is the best to date.  Wolfe weaves a page turning mystery intricately with enough character growth to keep the books fresh.  Even in a book in which the main plot idea has been done many times before, he finds twists and turns to make one want to continue reading (voraciously) until the very last page.
In the mystery/thriller world of books where ex-army, special ops and damaged cops rule the pages Hazel is a welcome, refreshing and very entertaining change.  In her early 60’s Hazel is a small town career cop, divorced and living with her ex-mayor mother who is suffering from the early signs of dementia.  She sounds like the hobbyist sleuth in a “cozy mystery” but these books are far from that … plenty of blood, guts and nail-biting suspense to hold the attention of any fan of the genre.
“The Night Bell” could be read as a stand-alone novel despite some mentions of things that have transpired in previous books, but since it’s only the fourth in the series I would suggest starting with the first book, “The Calling”  to get Hazel’s whole story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from The National Post)
Who is Inger Ash Wolfe?
This was the question asked in March 2008, when a novel entitled The Calling was released by McClelland & Stewart. It was one of the most heavily hyped books of the spring season, not only due to its disturbing subject matter — a detective named Hazel Micallef finds herself on the trail of a serial killer targeting the terminally ill — but because of the secrecy surrounding the author. Wolfe was promoted as “the pseudonym of a well-known and well-regarded North American literary writer.”
Immediately, the hunt was on. Michael Redhill was an early suspect. Linda Spalding was a possibility, too. In Maclean’s, literary journalist and critic Sarah Weinman concluded that Wolfe was none other than Jane Urquhart. Eventually, the buzz settled down and the identity of Wolfe seemed destined to remain an unsolved literary mystery. But in aGlobe and Mail essay published late last month, as Wolfe’s third novel, A Door in the River, arrived in stores, readers finally learned the truth.
“I’m relieved that it’s over with,” says Wolfe, better known as Michael Redhill, sitting in the backyard of the east-end Toronto home he shares with his partner and two children.
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review 2016-03-14 19:02
Safe as Houses - A Review

SAFE AS HOUSES by Susan Glickman

Recently I’ve traveled to Iceland, Victorian England, the no-too-distant-future New York City and a small town in Virginia – all without leaving my house.  That’s part of the adventure of reading.  But sometimes it’s a treat to stay closer to home so I like to pick up a book that takes place in a familiar city and neighborhood.  Such was the case with “Safe as Houses”, set in the Hillcrest Village area of Toronto.  Hillcrest Village is a well-established neighborhood of larger homes, high real estate values and few “For Sale” signs.  The streets are quiet, tree lined and the area overlooks the Davenport Escarpment.  It has it's own little "downtown" with storefront shops and outside seating areas (weather permitting - not always a given in Southern Ontario) for coffee and snacks.  It is a neighborhood that can boast of old Toronto style and new Toronto fun.
Ms. Glickman stays true to the personality of the neighborhood in this book and uses the setting very well as the backdrop to her mystery.
Liz Ryerson’s life is a bit complicated.  She lives in a large home in Hillcrest Village with her two teenage children; a son she indulges and a daughter just entering the rebellious stage that involves boys and parties.  She and her children live on the main floor of her converted house while her ex-husband and his latest girlfriend share the top floor.  Unconventional to say the least, but it has to work because otherwise Liz could never afford to stay in the house she loves.  Sometimes the only moments of quiet she gets are in her bookstore, which occupies the street level of the house, or walking her dog through the nearby park.  It is on one such walk by the park’s duck pond that Liz’s dog unearths the remains of a man, a real estate agent Liz knows by reputation only.
Despite being traumatized discovering the body she is shocked that something like this could occur in "her" park at "her" duck pond and in "her" own neighborhood.  Suddenly she no longer feels safe in her own home.  The police are doing what they can but Liz feels the investigation is going too slowly.  Having recently befriended an elderly widower with too much time on his hands and an inquisitive nature, Liz finds herself taking on an investigation of her own.
This sounded like the type of book that I might start on a Sunday morning with my coffee and not want to put down until I finished it (That’s what Sundays are for – right?).  That was, unfortunately, not the case with “Safe as Houses”.  I often found my mind wandering.  The book is well-written and the story was engaging, but where I was expecting a riveting murder mystery this was more of a study of Liz Ryerson’s life with a side serving of murder.  I read entirely too much of her problems with her daughter’s new boyfriend, the awkwardness of having her ex-husband co-habitat one floor up and the difficulty of keeping the bookstore afloat.  Not boring … just not what I was expecting.
I very much enjoyed the Toronto setting and the short trip to northern Ontario Ms. Glickman included but, as I said, it was not quite the story I was expecting from the book’s description.  Still a solid three-star read, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to fans of a cozy mystery (as opposed to a mystery-thriller). 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the book cover)
Susan Glickman is a novelist, poet, critic, and teacher.  Her previous fiction includes “The Violin Lover” and “The Tale-Teller”.  She lives in Toronto, where she teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and the University of Toronto.
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review 2016-01-15 19:50
Smoke - A Review

SMOKE by Catherine McKenzie

Beth used to fight forest fires.  She left that vocation in order to concentrate on her marriage and to focus on trying for the baby she and her husband so desperately want.  The baby that she hopes may save their marriage.  Things don’t go quite as planned and on the eve of discussing the possibility of divorce a forest fire erupts on the outskirts of town.  Instantly, she is drawn back into the excitement she, admittedly, has missed.  This fire might not only destroy her home but her marriage as well.  When all is said and done, will anything good be able to rise out of the ashes?
I am a bit ambivalent about this book.  While the story is good – I did enjoy reading about the forest fire and the tools used to fight it as well as the stress both the fire and the investigation surrounding it had on the inhabitants of the town.  However, it seemed to be lacking the page-turning excitement I thought it might have.  With an out-of-control forest fire raging all around them I found it a little difficult to believe that a town would go ahead with an annual fund-raising dance?  Add to that the fact that for the most part I didn’t really care for the character of Beth I wasn’t drawn into this book as much as I had hoped I would be.
The action did pick up in the last third of the book, but it was not until that point that I began to care about what happened to this town and its inhabitants.  Two-thirds is a lot of book to read through before things become captivating.
All that being said I think I went into this book with the wrong idea about the story.  I was anticipating a little more fire-fighting.  Someone else reading this without that mistaken preconception will probably enjoy the whole book rather than just, as I did, the last third.  The book was certainly well written and I would not hesitate to pick up another book by Ms. McKenzie.  I would just make certain I was more clear on the subject matter.
I received this book at no charge from the publisher, Lake Union Publishing, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)
A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practises law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. Catherine's novels, SPIN, ARRANGED, FORGOTTEN and HIDDEN, are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages, including French, German, Portuguese, Polish, Turkish, Slovakian and Czech. HIDDEN was also a #1 Amazon bestseller and a Digital Bookworld bestseller for five weeks. She has also published a novella, SPUN, which is a sequel to SPIN.
ARRANGED has been optioned for film, and SPIN has been optioned for a television series. A short film of ARRANGED was made in 2014 and won a Canadian National Screen Institute Award. Catherine was on set while they filmed it. It was one of the cooler experiences of her life.
Catherine’s fifth novel, SMOKE, will be published by Lake Union on October 20, 2015. She is currently at work on her sixth novel, which is expected to be published in 2016.
An avid skier and runner, Catherine climbed the Grand Teton in 2014.

And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots.

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review 2015-10-30 19:03
Two More Ghost Stories (sort of)

Two more additions to this year's list of "Halloween Reads".  While neither of these is definitively a "ghost story" they both have cringe-worthy moments and they both have "ghost" in the title so I am including them.

HUNGRY GHOSTS by Peggi Blair 
Ricardo Ramirez is a homicide investigator in Havana.  It’s not a popular profession to have in Cuba nor does it come with much government support in the way of state of the art labs, DNA testing or even pencils.  However, Detective Ramirez has his own secret weapon … the ghosts of the victims he will be investigating.  Whenever Ricardo sees a new apparition he knows that a new case is about to come his way.  Unfortunately, these ghosts cannot speak to him, but somehow, they manage to help.
The latest victim appears when the body of a dead prostitute is found with nylon stockings tied in a bow around her neck … the same MO as his one and only unsolved murder.
Quick switch of locations where Charlie Pike finds a similar victim, also with stockings tied into a bow around her neck, on a First Nations Reserve in Northern Ontario.  Can these cases possibly be related?  Is there really an international serial killer on the loose?
For me this book was interesting on so many levels and, surprisingly, the ghost story was the least of them.  While the ghost added color and some comic relief to a rather grisly murder mystery, had the book been written without the inclusion of the apparitions it would have worked just as well.  I enjoyed the glimpse into the life of the local inhabitants of Havana that is a far cry from the tourist experience.  Contrasting and comparing Detective Ramirez in Cuba to Detective Pike on the First Nations Reserve was eye-opening … so many of the same issues face the population in both areas.  Ms. Blair incorporates the comparison so smoothly into her narrative that it never detracts from the story, yet makes a strong statement never the less.  It thoroughly added to my enjoyment of this well written book.  There were enough plot twists and red herrings to keep me turning the pages at a pretty brisk pace and the ending was a revelation I didn’t really see coming until Ms. Blair places her reader in the midst of the action.
I enjoyed all of the characters but have to give a special shout-out to the portrayal of Hector Apiro, the coroner.  He is one of the most original characters I’ve read in a long time and were I casting this as a movie Peter Dinklage would be my first and only choice.  If that’s not teaser enough to tempt you to pick up the book I don’t know what is.
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This is the third in the Inspector Ramirez series and the first I have read.  It held up well as a stand-alone book and despite my protest of not wanting to get involved with another series I will be picking up book one and two somewhere along the way. 

There were specters, so I am including this in my Halloween reads and giving it 4 ghosts … not as a Halloween read but as a very good book overall.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her blog)
I am a lawyer, realtor, and author living in Ottawa, Canada. I was a defence lawyer and prosecutor, but most of my legal career was spent in Aboriginal law. But my Inspector Ramirez mysteries series is set in Havana.
Why Cuba?
I spent  Christmas in Old Havana in 2006. I saw how bored the young police officers were, slouched against lamp posts, waiting for a crime, any crime to occur. I went to astonishing art museums, the book market (hundreds of thousands of used books), cigar and rum factories, artists’ stalls, and, of course, the Malecon.
I visited most of Hemingway’s favourite bars (no easy task — they’re all over the place) and learned how to make the perfect mojito.
Havana is colourful mimes on stilts, elderly cigar ladies, child beggars, feral cats and homeless dogs. It’s gorgeous, collapsing Spanish colonial architecture, crazy anti-George Bush billboards, one of the most educated populations in the world, and everywhere, music. Cuba is communism, extreme shortages and incredible generosity, corruption, inane bureaucracy and genuine kindness.
It is quite possibly the most interesting place I’ve ever been. How could I resist writing about it?
A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay
We meet Merry as an adult just as she is about to lead a journalist/author into her childhood home, a home that became a house of horrors for Merry.  When she was 8 years old her beloved older sister Marjorie began to show signs of instability – the nighttime stories she had always invented for Merry took on a dark cast and Marjorie herself became withdrawn, dark and moody.  Well, Marjorie was a teenager and these things were par for the course.  Or were they?  While Marjorie’s mother insisted that it was something visiting a counselor could take care of her father was not so sure and as his descent into unemployment and malaise deepened his religious convictions increased so he decided an exorcism was more along the line of what Marjorie needed.
Somehow the Barrett family and their troubles came to the attention of the media and before they knew it, they were the stars of a reality television show, “The Possession”, centered around Marjorie’s “affliction” and upcoming exorcism.
All of the events that unfolded in the Barrett household are told in alternating narratives of Merry discussing her past with the journalist/author, snippets of a blog Merry wrote (which were the parts of the book I enjoyed the most) and recounting the filming of the reality show as Merry rewatches episodes.
Was it possession, mental illness or playing to the media?  Who was the ill member of the family?  Marjorie?  Mr. Barrett?  Or, quite possibly someone else altogether?
I can’t honestly admit that I enjoyed this book as much as I expected to.  The writing is excellent.  I think Mr. Tremblay did an admirable job of capturing Merry’s young voice and then carrying that through to the present and an equally good job with Marjorie as the “possession” overtakes her.  And yes, there were those creepy unexplainable moments and yes, the “demonic possession” of Marjorie did seem like it was a real possibility.  I’ll even admit to a bit of angst about the actual exorcism (flashbacks to “The Exorcist” I think) but overall this book didn’t wow me even as a psychological thriller.
Overall, as one of my Hallowe’en reads gets 3 ghosts.  Just not my cup of tea, I guess.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his blog)
Paul Tremblay is the author of the novel A Head Full of Ghosts. His other novels include The Little SleepNo Sleep till WonderlandSwallowing a Donkey’s Eye, and Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (co-written with Stephen Graham Jones).
Paul is very truthful and declarative in his bios. He once gained three inches of height in a single twelve hour period, and he does not have a uvula. His second toe is longer than his big toe, and yes, on both feet. He has a master’s degree in mathematics, teaches AP Calculus, and once made twenty-seven three pointers in a row. He enjoys reading The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher aloud in a faux-British accent to children. He is also reading this bio aloud, now, with the same accent. He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts and he is represented by Stephen Barbara, Inkwell Management.
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