August 2021 Book Reviews: The Chosen, The Inner Game of Tennis, Daughter of Cana, The Art of Racing in the Rain

August was surprisingly more fiction-heavy than usual. We’ve got two ancient history retellings, a story about life from the dog’s point of view, and then a performance-mindset/learning book masquerading as a book about tennis.

To see how I did this last month with my To Be Read list, keep reading!

(To learn more about the Tic-tac-TBR Game, join our Brilliant Writer Merry Band and you’ll get access to the game recordings inside our app!)


August 2021 Book Reviews

Personal Ratings & Review

I use 2 criteria to rate every book on a scale of 1–5:

  1. Content: the ideas in this book are interesting, edifying, and worth learning.
  2. Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written.

In July, I had no penalty books and these were the prompts I had on the tic-tac-toe board:

And here is the book list:

F = Fiction. N = Nonfiction.

Penalty List

  1. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Ben Franklin: The story of one of America’s most famous historical figures, as told by said historical figure himself 😉
  2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: A story of justice and redemption, and the potential for mercy to redeem people, written by the lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative.
  3. The Midwife by Jennifer Worth: The memoir of a young post-war nurse in London’s East End slums.

(Didn’t get to any of these this month. So no reward for me…)

Tic-Tac-Toe Prompts

F=Fiction, NF=Nonfiction

  1. Prompt: Sport
    The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey (NF): How to apply the concepts of Self 1 and Self 2 to improve your performance in tennis and beyond.
    How I did: Finished. Technically, this wasn’t fiction, so there wasn’t a “main character,” but I decided to stretch the prompt to include “male narrators of nonfiction books.” So there 😉
  2. Prompt: Pick a holiday — All Saints’ Day
    The Chosen I Have Called You By Name (F): The novelization of Season 1 of the Biblical fiction TV series, The Chosen, about the life of Christ and the disciples.
    How I did: “Saints” refer to the disciples, so that’s how I chose this book for this theme. Finished the audiobook in two sessions.
  3. Prompt: Something I ate — squash
    Sophie’s Squash (F): The picture book tale of a girl who adopts a “pet squash” and what happens over time.
    How I did
    : Read in one sitting, of course! It was a cute and clever picture book. Do picture books count for this list?
  4. Prompt: Cover different from others
    Daughter of Cana (F): The twin sister of Doubting Thomas watches in consternation from afar as her beloved twin goes off to follow an itinerant preacher. She teams up with the brother of said preacher to try to get their wayward siblings back, with frustrating (for them) results.
    How I did
    : Technically, the cover features a girl, and none of the other covers do, so there. Finished in one evening.
  5. Prompt: Urban setting
    The Art of Racing in the Rain (F): The story of a dog who comes to live with a racer, and the joys and tragedies they experience through his life.
    How I did
    : Finished in a day.

Review of Books Read

Warning: Light spoilers ahead! They will be marked with a [SPOILER] sign.

The Chosen I Have Called You By Name by Jerry Jenkins (F)

“Get used to different.” — The Chosen

  1. ★★★★
  2. ★★★★

Ever since I stumbled on The Chosen TV series (thanks, Youtube algorithm), I’ve been fascinated by this retelling of the life of Christ, which focuses on the perspective of the disciples.

It’s the first ever crowd-funded multi-season series depicting the life of Christ, and it’s certainly “different,” as the motto says.

While the series and the story has its flaws, The Chosen is a particularly skilled retelling of the famous old Bible stories (or at least it has been, so far).

I love how they portray Jesus as an actual person, as opposed to many previous retelling which depict him as some kind of zenlike otherworldly figure. In this rendition, Jesus suffers physical aches and pains from overwork, practices speeches, scolds his followers, works for his living, brushes his teeth, and does all those things that humans do.

The disciples also are portrayed in all their fallible glory. Peter’s impetuousness, Matthew’s greed/callousness, the Sons of Thunders’ tempestuousness, Mary Magdalene’s brokenness…none of that is skipped over or shelved.

These were REAL HUMAN BEINGS, and they feel like it, finally, both in the show, and in the book.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about The Chosen, you can watch it completely for free online or in their app, and you can read my recaps of each episode here:

Reading the book after watching the show was particularly interesting, not just because it was fun to see behind the scenes and inside the minds of some of the characters as a fan, but as a writer, to see the difference between what is portrayed on the screen versus what’s shown on the page.

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey (NF)

“The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.” — The Inner Game of Tennis

  1. ★★★★★
  2. ★★★★

This is my second or third time reading the Inner Game of Tennis, and it’s the perfect time to review this most important concept of keeping your judgmental conscious mind (what Gallwey calls “Self 1”) out of the way to perform at your best.

In this book, tennis teacher W Timothy Gallwey teaches his students (and his readers) that there are two “selves” in each human: One doing the action (Self 2) and one doing the judging (Self 1).

His point? The more you keep Self 1 out of the way to allow Self 2 to do what it intrinsically knows how to do, the better you will perform…at tennis, and in life.

One concrete illustration of this concept that sticks out to me is an anecdote Gallwey relates about teaching a woman who had never played tennis how to play fluently within an hour, without ever verbalizing to her how to hold the racket, hit the ball, move her feet, or any of those details you might THINK would be important for a beginning tennis player to know.

I’m not a tennis player, but the power of this book is that the main concepts are applicable not only to tennis, but to so many other aspects of life. (Which is obviously the reason why Gallwey ended up writing a whole series of “Inner Game” books beyond the tennis idea after this book was published to massive success.)

But first things first: If you’re interested in improving your tennis game, or your performance in any time-bound activity (music, sports, even work duties), check out The Inner Game of Tennis 🙂

Daughter of Cana by Angela Hunt (F)

“‘I haven’t left you. You will always be my sister.’
‘Being and being there are not the same, brother.’”
 — Daughter of Cana

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

I didn’t plan to read Daughter of Cana, at first. Someone recommended it to me, so I dutifully borrowed it from my online library, but let it sit until it was JUST about to expire. And then I thought I might as well skim it briefly to see if it was any good.

I ended up staying up all night, finishing the book.

Daughter of Cana is the story of Tasmin, the fictional twin sister of Thomas Didymus, apostle of Jesus. It’s a Biblical fiction novel told from the perspective of a character who lives during the entire life and ministry of Jesus, but doesn’t really interact with him firsthand.

Instead, she teams up with Jesus’ brother Jude to try to convince their two wayward brothers to give up their religious fanaticism and come home to fulfill their traditional roles.

Along the way, they stumble across other major Biblical characters (not knowing who they are, of course), and learn more about the great mission that their brothers are on.

Overall, I admire the research Hunt did in preparation for this book. With The Chosen having re-whet my appetite and curiosity for Biblical fiction, I enjoyed reading the story of Christ from the long-distance perspective, so to speak.

But if I were to nitpick a few things about this book, I’d say characterization and relationships could use work. Specifically, the relationship between Tasmin and Thomas.

Granted, they spend most of the book physically apart, but we are told more than we see that they are supposed to be VERY close, as twins and because they share a common tragedy. Which makes Tasmin’s grief over Thomas’ departure a little less believable. (This is where flashbacks could come in handy)

Just my two cents. Otherwise, this book was a worthwhile read!

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (F)

“There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.” — The Art of Racing in the Rain

  1. ★★
  2. ★★★

The Art of Racing in the Rain was made into a movie not long after it came out, because of course it was.

I mean, how can you resist such a cute furry yellow face on the cover? It totally sells itself!

But okay, alright, we’re not here to evaluate how cute the dog on the cover of the book is. We’re here to discuss how the content of the book stands on its own.

And my honest opinion is…it was alright. Honestly, if this book was about a pet turtle instead of a dog, it would have lost most of its luster.

(Or then again, maybe not, because a turtle is a rather unusual pet…)

The story involves a racer and his dog, and how the dog accompanies him through his life, which includes several dramatic reversals and tragedies. You know, the usual.

Personally, I felt the tragedies and “emotional touchpoints” in the book were a bit contrived/melodramatic, and couldn’t really connect to any of the human characters. Even the dog as the narrator wasn’t a particular draw. His voice was philosophically reflective, but unimpressive.

Just goes to show the importance of a cover image, guys. If you can somehow wrangle a cute dog on there, you’ll automatically 10x your story’s attractiveness. Unfair, perhaps, but such is reality 😉

Sophie’s Squash by Miller & Wilsdorf (F)

“[Bernice was] just the right size to love.” — Sophie’s Squash

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

Does a picture book count for a reading list?

Well, I’m the one making this reading list, so I’m going to go ahead and say yes 😉

Sophie’s Squash is a very quick read (of course), but it’s a clever concept — a little girl goes with her parents to buy a squash from the local farmers’ market, but instead of letting her folks cook the squash for dinner, she ends up treating the squash like her personal doll.

The final twist at the end is rather predictable, but still sweet, and a solid story for children, overall.

I’ve always liked reading children’s books, for all ages, because there’s so much we writers can learn from those who write for the youngest minds, even if we write for adults. Some of the concepts, though expressed simply, can be quite profound.

Not to mention, if you have any interest in visual art at all, picture books are also a rich resource for you! I’m no professional or even amateur artist, but I’ve had an appreciation for art since childhood when all my closest friends were artists 🙂


Summary

Nonfiction: Reading The Inner Game of Tennis was a good refresher after reading the spin-off, Inner Game of Stress, last month.

Fiction: The Chosen was my favorite fiction work for the month, but Daughter of Cana was also a pleasant surprise, and then who can resist a book about a dog? Ever since I read A Dog’s Purpose and Marley and Me, I’ve had a furry warm spot in my heart for books featuring dogs as main characters and narrators 😉 Then Sophie’s Squash was a great reminder for me to set aside some more time to study picture books in the future ~ overall, a solid month!


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