Red Notice (review)

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red-notice-9781476755748_hrRed Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With a special talent for sniffing out stock that would make money for his clients, Bill Browder and his company Hermitage Capital did very well beginning in the mid-1990s from their headquarters in Moscow. Then came November 13, 2005.

That day on his return to Moscow from London, Bill was detained at the airport and kept overnight with no food, water, or explanation. The next morning rough officers escorted him to the departure lounge and put him onto a flight back to London.

It was the beginning of an ordeal that lasted for years and put him in the bad books of Putin himself. Though Browder had begun fighting the dishonest Russian oligarchs while still working in Moscow, the backlash he experienced then was nothing compared to what happened next.

A raid of his Moscow office (after he was kicked out of Russia) and the office of his lawyer resulted in his companies resurfacing registered to new owners. They went after him for tax evasion of millions. However, a tax audit proved he had over-paid his taxes. This set him and his Russian lawyer Sergei Manitsky on the track of a crime ring of corrupt police officers, bankers, and petty criminals. Unfortunately, the chase ended in murder.

This book opened my eyes to the rotten center of Russian business. I’m sure that criminals like computer hackers are considered the lightweights of white collar criminals in a land where the decay starts at the top.

An interesting sidebar to the book: one of Browder’s contacts in Moscow and to whom he told his initial story of corruption was Chrystia Freeland. She was Moscow Bureau Chief of The Financial Times when she interviewed him (1998-ish). She is now a Liberal MP and has recently been appointed Canada’s Foreign Minister. She is also persona non grata in Russia.

The YouTube video linked below was made by Browder in 2010 to help expose the complicated web of criminal activity. It adds background and clarity to the story of this fascinating and disturbing book: Russian Untouchables – Episode 1

 

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Finding Sarah Finding Me (review)

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Finding Sarah Finding Me: A Birthmother's StoryFinding Sarah Finding Me: A Birthmother’s Story by Christine Lindsay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this heart-wrenching memoir, Lindsay tells the story of giving up her newborn daughter for adoption and takes us on the grueling journey of reuniting with her. The book also tells the adoption stories of five more individuals.

Written from the heart, Finding Sarah, Finding Me underlined for me how strong is the mother-child bond, of both birth and adoptive mother.

A touching read. Have tissues handy.

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Note – to readers and to self:

I haven’t been blogging much here lately. I will try to do better. I’m aiming for a post a week. (There, I’ve said it; maybe that will keep me more accountable.) The reviews will be shorter, though.

Anna Karenina (review)

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Anna KareninaAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve just finished reading Anna Karenina—that 140-year-old tome by Leo Tolstoy. I read it on the recommendation of another old book—If You Want to Write (first published in 1938) by Barbara Ueland. (By the way, Ueland’s book is one of the most inspirational books on writing you’ll find anywhere.)

I did read Anna Karenina many years ago while trekking through Europe. But I must have absorbed very little because it felt like a brand new book to me.

What a read!

It’s a story set in Russia before the Communist Revolution (first published as a serial from 1873-1877, as a complete book in 1878). The characters belong to the nobility class. Anna Karenina of St. Petersburg is married to statesman Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin. While visiting her brother Stepan Oblonsky in Moscow she meets the dashing Vronsky (an army man) at a party. Vronsky is immediately smitten by her beauty.

A parallel story is that of Levin, a friend of Stepan’s. Levin owns a rural estate and comes to Moscow only occasionally. But he is lonely and the story opens with him summoning his courage to ask Kitty, whom he has courted sporadically and shyly, to marry him. (Kitty is the younger sister of Stepan’s wife Dolly).

However, before he meets Anna, Vronsky has been paying a lot of attention to Kitty. Though she is fond of Levin, Vronsky—who Kitty and her family expect will pop the question any day now—is a better catch. So Levin’s proposal to Kitty comes at a bad time while Vronsky meeting and falling in love with Anna permanently dashes Kitty’s hopes of marrying him.  That’s the beginning…

Some of the things I loved about this book:

  • The psychological understanding and depth with which Tolstoy portrays his characters. He captures nuances of feeling and motivation that are quite remarkable. A passage late in the book where Anna descends into madness is one I thought particularly brilliant.
  • There are large chunks of prose I found poetic and beautiful, for example the peasant life seen through Levin’s eyes and Levin’s wedding.
  • The insights the book gives into the social life of the nobility in Russia at the time (I think of Tolstoy as Russia’s Jane Austen in that way). He addresses themes of religion, the position of peasants, and status women in society documenting particularly society’s double standard regarding acceptable morals of men and women.
  • The plot is, for the most part, captivating.

Some things that put me off:

  • All the Russian names, diminutives and variants. Confusing!
  • Long passages where Levin and his friends discuss the place of the peasants in society and religion. I got the feeling that Tolstoy was working out his own thoughts and positions on these things through Levin. (Others who comment on the book describe Levin as the most autobiographical of Tolstoy’s characters in Anna Karenina.)

If you haven’t read what some describe as”the greatest book ever written,” you owe it to yourself to do so. Plus it is such a fat volume (paperback = 752 pages) you won’t be needing another book for a long time with this one. (I got mine as an e-book, though, so no hand strain with that edition!)

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YesterCanada (review)

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YesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and AdventureYesterCanada: Historical Tales of Mystery and Adventure by Elma Schemenauer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In YesterCanada Elma Schemenauer tells thirty historical tales of Canada.

Using her considerable story telling skill she puts us right into the various Canadian settings these stories inhabit, from the grassy fragrance of the Saskatchewan prairie, to the bone chill of the arctic, to the salt spray of the seaboards, east and west.

What a fun read! You’ll find individuals, mysteries, wonders, and heroes aplenty in these 230 pages.This book is a must-have for all Canadian 150th birthday memorabilia collectors (a celebration just around the corner in 2017).

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Essentialism (review)

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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of LessEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book after I heard Michael Hyatt interview Greg on one of his podcasts.

I probably read it a few years too late (although it wasn’t yet written when I could have used it—when my kids were little and I was juggling parenting, running my home-based business, homemaking, and volunteering at church).

The book deals in an organized way, from idea to execution, with the topic of paring down one’s life. McKeown, it seems, has done this himself and so understands the obstacles—the desire to please, the fear of missing out, how available our technology has made us to everyone.

I read a library copy of the book and so didn’t have the freedom to underline that I would have with my own copy. However, McKeown has highlighted some of his major takeaway points in the book’s format. Here are some that grabbed m attention.

“The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten” p. 36.

“We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs, but we can’t escape them” p. 54.

“Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize” – p. 101.

“If it is not a clear yes, then it’s a clear no” – p. 109.

“The Latin root of the word decision—cis or cid—literally means “to cut” or “to kill” – p. 159.

What I took from this book were some ideas that weren’t new to me but by reading them here, were re-emphasized. I also felt affirmed in that some of these principles I’ve discovered on my own and they’re the way I live. For example McKeown speaks of the freeing power of routine (Chapter 18). I love my routines for exactly the reason he says they’re important: they preserve my decision-making energy for the important stuff.

Though this book hasn’t inspired me to make any huge changes, it has made me aware:
– I can’t do it all.
– It’s okay to say no.
– When I say yes to a new commitment, I’m saying no to something else.
– Bu focusing on less there’s a good chance I’ll accomplish more than by spreading myself thinly over many things.

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Eleven must-haves in my writer toolkit

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I’ll bet you don’t even remember the days when a computer was the newest thing in writing gadgetry. With the plethora of apps and add-ons that has bombarded us over the last years,  these days it’s almost a full-time job to keep up with the latest.

I don’t think I have. But I do have some favorites and frankly don’t know how I’d get along without them. Here are eleven tools I use every day.

TextEdot ocpmTextEdit – I use this simple word-processing software that came with my iMac and MacBook to draft all my blog posts. If I ever need to strip something of html coding, TextEdit works well for that too. (Just click on “Plain text” in the program’s Preferences.)

Scrivener logoScrivener –  This powerful program is helpful for putting together most things from articles to books. I even use it to store my poem collection. Its keyword function, ability to collect links, mark each post with icons etc. make it very adaptable to almost anything you want to do with it.

Evernote iconEvernote – I use this program to collect information when I’m researching. I love how I can copy snippets to it when I’m browsing web pages. When I use it to take lecture notes I sometimes activate its recording ability.  I have it installed on three devices so now use the paid version (it’s free for two devices).

Pocket app - logoPocket – This app collects the URLs of articles I want to read later. Pocket is also installed on both my computers and my iPad so I can access the same list from three places.

Blogger icon Wordpress logoBlogger.com and WordPress.com  – I blog on both these platforms and love both. I have connected two of my blogs to domain names so have dropped “blogger” and “wordpress” in the url without the expense of self-hosting (called “domain mapping”).

Facebook iconFacebook private profile and Author Page.  Facebook keeps me connected with family and writing friends and lets me spread encouragement, kudos, and information about good books, resources etc. I have my website blog connected to my Facebook Author page so new posts automatically show up there.

Twitter iconTwitter – I use Twitter to connect with friends, colleagues, do a little marketing, and find interesting links and information. My blogs are connected to Twitter so whenever I post to them, a tweet goes out automatically.

 

FeedlyFeedly – This RSS reader, installed on both computers and my iPad, provides me with a wonderfully efficient way to read blogs.

 

SpotifySpotify – Using this digital music service I can listen to my favourite artists while doing office busy-work, or stream wordless classical, jazz, or pop as a background to writing.

 

TimerA Timer – Finally, I wouldn’t be without my iPad timer. I work best when I know I’m committed to write for a set amount of time. (It’s amazing, too, how inspiration rises when you know you’re stuck there—no ifs, ands or buts). A good amount of time for me is an 90 minutes. I set my timer for 30 minutes and take it in segments.

Maybe you noticed, a lot of these tools help with connectivity—me staying connected to myself as I work on different devices. What writing tools could you not live without? What makes a new one attractive to you? I’m always open to ‘new and improved’!

(This is an updated post that was first published on January 27, 2014. This post was my contribution  [2 of 6] to a writers’ BLOG HOP.  Read about what tools other writers are using HERE.)

The Price of Freedom (review)

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The Price Of Freedom (A Story Of Courage And Faith, In The Face Of Danger.)The Price Of Freedom by Simon Ivascu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every young man between the ages of eighteen and twenty knew from early childhood that they would be required to go into the army to give one year of their lives in military service. … it was the young men with strong Christian beliefs who faced the worst danger in army life. Many gave up their faith in order to make it through their term of service.

Those who clung to their beliefs, like Simon’s brother Stefan, were regularly ridiculed, mistreated and beaten, sometimes fatally. Stefan had landed in the army hospital after one of his beatings. While still recovering from his injuries he had chosen to escape from Romania. He’d paid the dangerous price of freedom, risking prison and death, rather than return to his duties in the army” – The Price of Freedom, p. 16,17.

The Price of Freedom begins with 18-year-old Simon, Stefan’s younger brother, having recently received a conscription notice himself, running away from home in order to avoid the same fate as his brother. We follow him as he jogs, walks, hides, watches, waits, sneaks, crawls, even crosses a river on the underside of a bridge. In this way he makes his way through Romania, Hungary, and Austria, finally reuniting with Stefan in Italy five weeks after he sets out.

A short time later Simon’s younger acquaintance Wesley Pop also sneaks away to Italy to avoid conscription. The young men meet in Italy and renew their friendship.

But life in the free world is not at all what they expect. Because they are both in Italy illegally it’s nearly impossible for them to find work, landlords don’t want to rent to them, and the attitude of the Italian people is cold and suspicious. Eventually both receive notices that they must leave the country within 15 days or face jail and deportation. Desperate to leave but not back home, they consider all means of escape and end up in a shipping container. A story that is harsh to this point, now becomes deadly.

The events are told alternately from Simon’s and Wesley’s points of view. Co-writer Bev Ellen Clarke’s use of creative non-fiction techniques makes the book read like a gripping adventure. I found it both hard to put down and hard to read because its descriptive style had me right there in that dark, airless container on those bundles of ceramic tile with Simon and Wesley, facing lack of oxygen, heat, thirst, sea-sickness, and starvation while heading to who knows where?

However, the inclusion of wonderful coincidences and amazing answers to prayer transform this book from a story about the resilience, tenacity and courage of the human spirit (which it is) to more—a story about prayer, faith in God, and miracles.

Obviously the young men survived. Simon and his brother currently live in Kelowna B.C. and are part of the singing group Freedom Singers (I enjoyed their singing this summer at the Gospel Music Celebration in Red Deer, Alberta).

This true story did more for me than just than illustrate God’s care for His children and entertain. It also opened my eyes to the plight of refugees giving me worthwhile insights for these refugee-filled times. Highly recommended.

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