Book Review: Cossack by Ronald McQueen

Cossack (Drava Book 1) by Ronald McQueen is an illuminating story that gives us a glimpse into the plight of the Cossack people around WWII. The story introduces us to a once-thriving staništa (Croatian for habitat or living space) that now just includes a handful of houses, farm buildings, a slow-moving river, and a rusted tractor. This is where the Cossacks lived and a few of them still live—people belonging to the Don and Dejnev families.

The people in the staništa have learnt to live with what is now their hard reality and know how to celebrate the little things in life. But, this doesn’t last for long, as what remains of these families is attacked and destroyed by Russian soldiers. One of the very few who escape from these soldiers is Katja Dejnev—a girl “just approaching the first bloom of young womanhood.” Where does Katja go from here? Whom does she turn to? This forms one of the largest chunks of this beautifully written story.

I have read my share of historical fiction, but this one is something that will stay on top of my mind for a long time to come. The author has taken great pains to spell out every little detail that would help us imagine the settings, the battles, and the characters. It is these details that ensured that I took my time reading the book. I found it to be an emotional roller coaster. It’s not easy to read about the hardships faced by the Cossacks as they get trapped between the Nazis and the Red Army. But, the strength and determination shown by each of the characters makes it a true story of inspiration.

This book is a must-read if you enjoy learning more about history that hasn’t been heavily documented previously; however, if you are new to historical fiction, you might want to pick another book before you dive into this one.

There are breaks of sorts in the story as you see it flow from the perspective of three main characters from different backgrounds— Katja (introduced earlier in the review), Andrei, the old but dependable veteran; and Mikhail, the young, brave soldier. This gives us pause and helps us assimilate the new events that happen in the lives of each of these characters as they move through Europe, fighting and fleeing from the enemy.

There is no doubt that the author has done his research abundantly well. Though there is a disclaimer before the book begins that the story weaves some fiction with real history, it’s hard to tell in places where fact ends and where fiction begins. The writing was so wonderful in most places that I found it easy to get emotionally connected to the main characters.

I selected this book to read as I was curious to know what the author’s perspective was on WWII; however, I never imagined it would teach me so much about Cossack history. I was impressed at the depth of narrative.

Nevertheless, there were times when there were jumps back in time that were introduced into the story without preamble. This was disconcerting. For instance,

Katja was thrilled.

Beside her on the front board of the wagon, Mikhail looked up and smiled at the girl. He had some idea of how impressive all this must be – a simple farm girl who had probably never seen anything much larger than a village-sized stanista. For someone like that Novocherkassk must seem like a dream.

And so, with Katja gaping, open-mouthed at her surroundings, they entered Novocherkassk, the modern capital of the Don, where the lives of everyone were about to change forever…

…Huge sobs wracked her body and she couldn’t breathe. She was lying half on the floor and half in someone’s arms, and someone was talking to her. After what seemed a long time her sobbing settled down and the words finally got through to her.

‘There, there little one, there’s nothing to be afraid of. They have gone.’”

I noticed a number of typos and punctuation errors in the book. It requires another round of efficient proofreading and that should do it. However, these errors did little to detract from the overall story.

This book is historical fiction at its emotional best—though I’ll have to nip off a point here for the unwarranted jumps back in time. I rate it 3 out of 4 stars for its thoroughly researched, realistic storyline, relatable characters, and matter-of-fact and vivid take on the plight of the Cossacks during Stalin’s rule. If you are a fan and regular reader of historical fiction, you will love this book—provided tragedy doesn’t affect you too much.


Book Review: Who Told You That You Were Naked?: A Refreshing Reexamination of the Garden of Eden by William Combs

Capture Who Told You

I am a non-Christian. This doesn’t mean that I do not read works that focus on the Christian faith. I do, as I believe every faith has something good to teach each one of us. That’s how I took up Who Told You That You Were Naked? as my latest read. I completed the book within a week and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. Honestly, there is just so much to learn and absorb in this book that renders it almost impossible to rush through any of the chapters. One thing I can tell you about this book is this: take your time to read it, take breaks in between to allow your mind to savor what was just revealed to you, and see how it applies to your personal situation in life. It really helps.


A glance through the short blurb on the back cover of the book gives us some information about the author—William E. Combs. A retired Presbyterian minister, Bill Combs holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from the Fuller Theological Seminary. Leveraging his knowledge and experience in this book, the author reevaluates the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The key argument that the author makes is that—all our lives—we have misunderstood everything about “The Fall” and most of the message conveyed in the Bible.  Our definition of “sin” is misplaced. No, sin isn’t a series of transgressions; rather, it is the knowledge we have inherited from Adam and Eve, which permits us to identify and analyze good and evil.


The book has just 10 chapters, each of which present a set of questions to us at the end that help us question our own understanding of the content of the chapters and also include open questions that we could discuss with a group of others interested in the subject. It is my personal opinion that asking ourselves these questions can increase our belief and our connection with God. Who knows, this might help us keep away from questioning his existence each time we encounter roadblocks in life!


Of all the sections in the book, my favorite was that which talked about the reason why God put the tree with the forbidden fruit right smack in the middle of the Garden. He could have chosen to not have that tree around in the first place and, thereby, completely uprooted (pun intended) all chanced of Adam and Eve succumbing to temptation. To top all of that, God also offered this couple the choice of path they could take in this matter—eat the fruit or continue to be his obedient creations. The author has inspired me to take some of the lessons offered in the book quite seriously and alter some of my own habits to have more faith in God every living minute of my life. It might sound easy, but I know it will be quite an uphill task. But then, I am positive.


One flaw I noticed in the grand scheme of the book is the author’s inclination to speculate. He makes some presumptions throughout some parts of the book about the biblical content that are instances of unadulterated conjecture. Most theories he presents in the book are absolutely impressive and convincing; however, these other theories have little in the form of substantiation to help us truly believe them.


Nevertheless, this book is brimming with wisdom and insight from the author. Therefore, I recommend it to all readers looking for a sound Christian faith book. In addition to the author’s point of view on the diverse aspects relating to Christianity, you will also come across some instances in the book where he describes some wonderful stories about how God communicated with him and his wife and how that transformed their lives completely. I found some minor spelling and grammar mistakes, but these issues certainly aren’t enough to stop me from rating this book 3 out of 4 stars.

Book Review: From Drift to Shift: How Change Brings True Meaning and Happiness to Your Work and Life

From Drift Capture

From Drift to Shift is a nonfiction book by Jody B. Miller. The author has presented the contents of the book as a collection of several real-life events encountered by people from different walks of life. These events seemed like roadblocks to these people initially and the impact of the events caused them to drift in life. Nonetheless, they managed to rein in their emotions and feelings of helplessness, transformed their mindset, put in dedicated effort, and succeeded in finding their true place in the world.


All of us want to be happy—that’s a given (unless, God forbid, we are some sort of twisted masochists). Nevertheless, recent polls and surveys have revealed that at least one-third of our population is unhappy. What is the root cause of this unhappiness? Is it a lack of self-esteem? Or, is it something more complicated than that? Jody Miller gets us engrossed in the abovementioned inspirational stories to provide us with answers to these questions.


In part one of the book, she walks us through the reasons why shifts sometimes become inevitable. Part two deals with when exactly we should make that shift, while parts three and four focus on how to shift and how to steer your life in the right direction after the shift, respectively.


The author’s narration is very graceful and she manages to convince us that we all need to make a shift in our lives at some point along the way in order to find balance, meaning, and happiness.  All the people featured in From Drift to Shift have successfully discovered their passion, given it their all, and come out as winners in their lives. And seriously, why remain stuck in suffering when making our way through it might lead us to a beautiful way out on the other side?


However, I found that the stories introduced and presented in the book were all extreme examples. I know that it is meant to show us that no matter how big the challenge, we can turn the situation around to actualize positive change in our lives. But—maybe—the book could have featured these inspirational stories peppered with a healthy dose of simpler, everyday instances that we could all relate to instantly.


Since the topic is about happiness and self-awareness—and one can never really have too much of either—I think it was quite considerate of the author to provide us with references to additional reading material to supplement our knowledge and understanding. I believe the art of shift cannot be mastered by just reading this one book; rather, it should be treated as a continuous learning process.

Jody Miller talks about the previous assignments and self-awareness workshops she attended and reveals her thoughts and apprehensions during those sessions in an attempt to put us at ease and show us that we are all just humans and deal with the same kinds of fears and strive toward the same goals. I love the genuineness and energy with which she puts words to paper. I appreciate that the author wrote in a humble, identifiable manner. For example, she talks about one of the self-awareness workshops she attended in San Diego, during which she was asked to step outside and bring back something from nature that embodied her in spirit. She writes:


“My ego wanted me to pick a seashell to represent how I would ride the waves to distant, exciting shores; or, to choose something like a feather to show that I had the strength to let go and trust the wind to guide me. It all sounded poetic, but I knew what I was.

I was a weed.”
This is a book that will inspire you to follow your dreams and desires, and everyone—from a CEO to a fresh-out-of-school student—will be able to benefit from it. I rate From Drift to Shift 3 out of 4 stars, only because of the number of typos that seem to have slipped in. These typos break the flow of the narrative in places and prove to be the only thing that put a damper on the power packed in this wonderful book.


Book Review: Yesterday: A Novel of Reincarnation by Samyann

Yesterday Capture

Yesterday, by Samyann, is a historical fiction book with a story that ranges across decades from the Chicago of today to the American Civil War of the 1800s and the most horrific conflagration of those times that we now know as the Great Chicago Fire.

This well-written novel tells us the story of Amanda Parker who saves the life of Mark Callahan—a mounted policeman—and drags his limp form through a litter of rubble and out of the path of a falling train. When Amanda gets hurt in the process, Mark manages to move her to safety and call for help. These events form a bond between the two of them and they end up seeing a lot of each other. They cannot shake off this feeling that they know the other from before. However, tragedy has always kept Amanda company. What’s more, death has always managed to claim all her loved ones without fail. That is why she strongly resists the pull she feels toward Mark. Amanda and Mark are sure of one thing though: they both want to uncover the mystery of how they were connected to each other in their past. The story introduces us to Bonnie, Jack, and Daniel, and we gradually learn the parts each of these characters played in the pasts of the main characters.

I loved how much research has gone into this story. There is a lot of history that we are educated on but never in a way that bores us. Every minute detail related to Amanda’s and Mark’s pasts has been woven seamlessly into the plot.

What’s really admirable about this book is how it is a healthy mix of romance and mystery. We get to learn much about the process of past life regression—something I have not seen dealt with in so much detail in any other book I have read to date. Modern day techniques of forensics also come into the picture and play their part in putting together the pieces of the puzzle involving the past of the main characters. The whole story is really enjoyable, and the storytelling itself is fast-paced.

The author focuses on generating some really warm, fuzzy feelings in the reader—and it really works! However, I feel that Amanda’s character could have been a little stronger. I know that she has had a difficult past, but she seems to use that as an excuse for her odd behavior at times. For example, when she knows she isn’t too good at handling regressions herself, she still attempts slipping into one of these sessions unassisted, gets hurt mentally by it, and runs out of the house to avoid the people she loves. At another time, she locks herself in a room for three whole days and goes on a drunken bender. I know I am being less sympathetic to the character, but I guess I have always preferred seeing stronger female leads in books. Note to Amanda: Stop wallowing in self-pity; you have a wonderful man (a soulmate at that) and a beautiful family!

I rate Yesterday 3 out of 4 stars. I am someone who likes to see mush levels at a minimum in romance novels, and this one was right up my alley. Unfortunately, the book contains a number of punctuation errors. This prevents me from giving it a higher rating. I recommend Yesterday to all those who enjoy historical fiction.

Book Review: Murdered by James Schannep

Murdered Capture


MURDERED: Can YOU Solve the Mystery by James Schannep is, according to the author, a work of fiction that features actual locations and businesses in conjunction with fictional and fictionalized elements—woven together to give the story a “noir” feel.

You (yes, YOU are one the main characters in this book!) are on vacation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. You are counting days to the Carnaval—touted as one of the grandest fiestas on the planet. You are a bit high on drinks and have gotten separated from your friends thanks to the pre-Carnaval crowd. There are non-stop drumbeats behind you—creating a sort of background score to the whole scene you are about to encounter. While roaming the streets and taking in the sights like every other tourist, you stumble upon the dead body of a woman. Just across from her is a revolver with a note that simply says “Pick Me Up.”

Here comes choice #1. Do you pick that gun up or just leave it there? And, that’s when the story begins…

I don’t usually opt for murder mysteries—especially if they involve gore. I read the blurb of the book and found it to be fairly “safe” in that area. Hence, I really was looking forward to reading it—for all the mystery and action. Once I started off with my first choice, I kept going ahead with the story not quite realizing how far I was moving ahead with it. I quickly found that reading the book gave you this feeling that you are actually reading multiple books at the same time—given the innumerable choices you get to make throughout the book—each choice leading you to a different flow of the story.

I found the writing style to be fresh. It’s not always that the reader gets to be “in” the story. I found just one grammatical error—nothing major—and it didn’t affect the quality of the reading in any way.

The tone of storytelling is quite youthful and upbeat. To be quite honest, however, though I enjoyed clicking on the choices and seeing where they landed me in the story—toward the end—the available choices could not keep me engrossed. I am not implying that the story was not engaging enough. I just feel that the chapters could have been a little longer—just enough to flesh up the characters a little more—before the choices were sprung on me. Also, some chapters just gave me one choice and still the text underneath it read “Make Your Choice.” That made me feel like there needed to be other alternative routes I could have been offered, but I had to go with the one choice that the author wanted me to take.

As an example, here’s an excerpt from the book:

Once out of earshot of the others, Danly says, “I need to spend a few hours at the consulate. Can you take a taxi back to the hotel? Take a shower, maybe a nap—I’ll check on Bertram and ring your room when I get back.”
“Sure thing,” you reply.
>Back to Rio

I did expect so much more from the story itself. Once you have reached the end of the book, it offers the reader a choice to start over with different choices. I went through the choices once more and went through the whole “new” version of the story. But, I did not find both versions compelling enough for me to go through the next sets of options and see where the story went from there.

I must add here that it is an interesting approach to mystery writing. One cannot deny that. However, it is the short length of the chapters and the lack of substantial character development that influenced my rating for the most part. I wish the story gave more of an opportunity for the readers to get emotionally invested in the characters more. I thus rate MURDERED: Can YOU Solve the Mystery? 2 out of 4 stars as my reading experience with this book was a little below my expectations. However, I would like to stress that this is just my personal opinion, as I have seen many other sites showcasing 5-star reviews of the same book. So, I guess it is just a matter of personal preference. I think the book will resonate with the YA-lovers the most.

Book Review: Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks by Morton E Tavel, MD.

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Everyone seems to be hung up on the pros and cons of the foods they consume. Some of us focus on those food items that help us lose weight, the sports lovers among us focus on foods that build their stamina, parents focus on foods that could help bring up healthier children, and some others just eat anything they fancy as and when they feel like it. So, yes, I have to admit that as someone who loves food and also cares a great deal about my health, I wanted to know what a reputed physician had to say about what I eat on a daily basis. Who wouldn’t want to have a doctor talk to them about things that mattered the most?

As a now-retired physician with extensive experience in his field of Internal Medicine and Cardiology, M D Morton E Tavel comes to the aid of millions like me who have been waiting for some practical medical advice; the sort of advice that could help us take better care of our health while steering clear from overspending on so-called miracle medical cures that are completely bogus.

Published in 2015 by Brighton Publishing LLC, Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks: A Physician’s Advice is non-fiction work that promises to have our backs when we stumble over false claims that promise better health, a longer lifespan, lower body weight, evergreen skin, shiny hair, healthy blood pressure levels, fitter bodies, and so much more. Divided into three parts, this book serves as a handy guide that serves us some positive health tips, busts some age-old myths, and pulls us from the dark well dug out for us by the quacks and “wannabe” medical practitioners. To someone like me who has been devoted to all books and content associated with food and health for years now, Dr Tavel seems to be a doctor with sound scientific knowledge and extensive experience; most importantly, he seems to advocate only those medical concepts that are backed by solid medical evidence.

Chapters 1–32 of Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks deal with recommendations for good health. They talk in detail about what we consume in solid and liquid forms and point out what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong with regards to food. With detailed explanations on what obesity is and a simple formula to figure out if we are underweight, overweight, or obese, Dr Tavel explains what people belonging to each of these three weight categories can do to help themselves.

As a science major, I have always wanted to see scientific proof for everything before I believe it. That’s exactly why I believe in what Dr. Tavel talks about in his book as he supports all his recommendations with scientific proof. Furthermore, when an author and a doctor tells you with so much confidence that dark chocolate is good for your blood flow, what else can you ask for from life?

After educating us on the good foods and drinks, Dr. Tavel then moves toward discussing day-to-day issues of modern man that include overuse of painkillers, following the dash diet, the danger of relying heavily on dietary supplements, and so on.

After reading the chapters of the book that dealt with the myths, I can confidently say that I am now more well-informed about what exactly goes on in our body when we indulge in energy drinks, spend on organic foods, and get picky about hard and soft water. In the initial chapters of the “myths” section, we get a glimpse into how the media has been irresponsible in spreading rumors about vaccines and their effects on infants. If you are a parent to a newborn, this book is an invaluable compendium of helpful facts for you.

It’s true: Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks throws some light into a lot of misleading information that we have been fed over the years that have affected our decision-making process with regards to our eating habits and our daily activities. However, the last few chapters of the book that deal with the so-called “tricks” failed to convince me too much. Agreed, Dr. Oz and many others quoted in the book may justifiably be called “quacks.” However, the author seems to blanket all ayurvedic and homeopathic treatments and practitioners under this smelly umbrella as well. As someone who has been living in India for years and has been enjoying the benefits of these branches of alternative medicine, I think the book needed to be more objective before making such strong statements against them. I have been suffering from allergic rhinitis for quite some time now and conventional medicine could not help me with this condition despite prolonged treatments. I found the answer in homeopathy. Thanks to the latter, I am free from nasal allergy now. Ayurveda has helped me combat my sinus mucosal thickening in a surgery-free manner as well — something that conventional medicine told me was impossible. So, though there are many quacks out there, not all practitioners of alternative medicine can be branded in this manner.

All said and done, will the book benefit readers? A big YES! And that’s why — after due consideration — I rate this book a 3 out of 4 stars. I haven’t found any major grammatical errors while reading. If one can ignore this one section that talks negatively about all forms of alternative medicine, the book is a treasure trove of sound medical advice. I respect the fact that Dr. Tavel has authored this book with a good intention to help the general public as much as possible. In his own words:

”As a member of the mainstream medical community, I and others have always sworn to the principles embodied in the so-called Hippocratic Oath that dates back to ancient Greece.”

One of the statements in this Oath is “If it is given me to save a life, all thanks.” I think someone who believes in this cannot possibly go wrong with his medical advice — at least not intentionally so.

I have already recommended this book to a couple of family members who I thought could benefit from it. I personally think that this book is for all of us, as we are all targets of medical shams and witness new health fads every single day. To make the deal a little sweeter, the book is an interesting read and — I can assure you — it will not lull you to sleep due to boredom. If only we had textbooks like these during school!

Wonderful Reads: My 7 Favorite Books of All Time


So – just like you – I love books and, yes, I do believe that books can transform people for the better. And that’s why I have created this snazzy little list of 7 books that I believe you need to read if you want to witness that change for yourselves. They include some wonderful memoirs and some interesting novels. So, read on and get inspired:

Pick No. 1: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

What matters WP

Why was it picked: We cannot escape the states of aging and death. And what does medicine achieve? Mostly not we want to achieve for our health. Doctors who pledge to spend their lives extending other peoples’ lives perform scary medical procedures on patients that ultimately bring more suffering to the latter. Packed with insightful research and beautiful storytelling, Being Mortal states that medicine can bring in comfort to our existence, assuring us of not just a decent life but also a decent death.

Pick No. 2: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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Why was it picked: This insightful book teaches us why certain people and businesses find it very difficult to change, even though they have been trying for years, whereas some others appear to transform themselves overnight. It lends us a look within P&G, Target, Saddleback Church, NFL locker rooms, and the country’s biggest medical facilities and shows us the way in which adopting certain keystone habits can bring home billions and signify the difference between failure and success, life and death. Allow Charles Duhigg to demonstrate how making the most of this new science can change our companies, our societies, and ourselves.

Pick No. 3: Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

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Why was it picked: This book takes us along on the weirdest adventure of the protagonist (Helen)’s “good girl” life: Almost a month in the extreme wild of the mountains in Wyoming, she emerges a winner through mosquito infestations, an unexpected summer blizzard, and a bunch of sorority girls. Thanks to all her experiences, Helen learns how to make her voice heard loud and clear. Most importantly, she learns that there are times when being lost is quite important to being found.

Pick No. 4: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

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Why was it picked: This book was published in 1947. Right since then, it has been a favorite of many readers who see the work as an ode to the unbreakable stuff that the human spirit is made of. The book has been read by millions and already translated into over 55 languages. Anne Frank was just a teenager when her family had to remain contained within the “Secret Annex.” It is during this phase of her life that we see her grow up to be a young woman and become a wonderful connoiseur of human nature.

Pick No. 5: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

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Why was it picked: Think about your death and reflect upon what matters the most to you: This is what a lot of professors are asked to do. The same was expected of Randy Pausch –  a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon. Upon being asked to deliver his “Last Lecture,” Pausch didn’t have to use his imagination much, as – unfortunately – he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the actual talk he delivered conveyed a summary of all things that Pausch had come to believe in about life – not about death. This book is here to stay. This book will be loved and shared by every generation.

Pick No. 6: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

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Why was it picked: Terrible ideas? Yes, this book is full of those! In this book, Lawson says: “Don’t sabotage yourself. There are plenty of other people willing to do that for free.” And there’s more of these adorable gems in there. I love every single line in this book!

Lawson is massively adored around the globe for her undeniable humor and sincerity. With Furiously Happy, she has delivered her funniest best. And this book makes perfect sense, ‘cuz hey, at times crazy is the only way to be.

Pick No. 7: It’s OK to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort

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Why was it picked: Purmort gets engaged to Aaron – a charismatic comic-book enthusiast. Where does the engagement take place? In Aaron’s hospital bed when he gets diagnosed with brain cancer. They also have a baby while Aaron is on chemo. They publish an obituary on Aaron during the period of his hospice care, which announces his real identity: he is Spider-Man. Truly touching.

The book reaches out a hand to life and accepts it with all the tears, pains, and joy. The book reads like someone is conversing with a BFF, and sends some magic pixie dust our way. All you people in this world who have had their life do a 180 out of the blue and have learnt to live with it? This book is for you.

Well, that’s just my short list. If you have more books to recommend to me, please drop a line below and let me know.

Happy reading, beautiful world!