Dec 2021 Book Reviews: 7 Women, McGrowl, Assume the Worst, The Science of Rapid Skill Acquisition

It’s The Final TBR Wrap Up for 2021!

A bionic dog, seven remarkable women, a primer for becoming a brilliant student of life, and a graduation speech that…doesn’t quite hit the mark?

Those are just some of the books I read this month. Read on to see what I read and why, and what I thought about these books 🙂

What’s inside this TBR Wrap Up Article:

  1. List of books read this month
  2. Brief reviews of selected books

(To learn more about the Tic-tac-TBR Game, join our Brilliant Writer Merry Band!)

December 2021 Book List & Prompts:

December 2021 tic-tac-toe prompts
Books chosen for the TBR


(F) = Fiction. (NF) = Nonfiction.

  1. Prompt: Penalty Book
    Assume the Worst by Carl Hiaasen (NF): A nontraditional (and somewhat cynical) “graduation speech.”
    How I did: Finished in a day.
  2. Prompt: Penalty Book
    Essays by Francis Bacon (NF): A collection of essays by philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon.
    How I did: Started, didn’t finish.
  3. Prompt: Penalty Book
    The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (F): A gifted thief is caught, then sent on a mission in a fantasy world based on the ancient Medo-Persian world.
    How I did: Started, didn’t finish.
  4. Prompt: Penalty Book + Love
    7 Women by Eric Metaxas (NF): Mini biographies of seven remarkable women from history: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria of Paris, Corrie Ten Boom, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa.
    How I did: Finished in a day!
  5. Prompt: Re-read a book I loved
    McGrowl by Bob Balaban (F): A boy and his bionic mind-reading dog must find and escape from an old pair of enemies.
    How I did: “Book I loved” is a bit of a stretch, but I did like dog books when I was a wee kiddo, so I decided to put this in anyway. Finished in a few days.
  6. Prompt: Title has the word “the”
    The Science of Rapid Skill Acquisition by Peter Hollins (NF): A primer on what to learn and how to do it most effectively and efficiently, according to the latest scientific research.
    How I did: Finished in a day.

Selected 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. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)
  2. Craftsmanship: the work is polished, skillful, and well-written. (Out of ★★★★★ stars)
7 Women by Eric Metaxas

7 Women by Eric Metaxas (NF)

“When I consider the seven women I chose, I see that most of them were great for reasons that derive precisely from their being women, not in spite of it.”— Eric Metaxas, 7 Women

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

7 Women is a collection of biographies about seven of the world’s most influential women: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria of Paris, Corrie Ten Boom, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa.

Some of these names were familiar to me, others were not. Of the seven, I’ve read biographies/autobiographies about Corrie Ten Boom and Mother Teresa, and I’d heard of Joan of Arc and Rosa Parks, but was wholly unfamiliar with Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, or Maria of Paris.

In case you were wondering, Susanna Wesley is known as the “Mother of Methodism,” the woman who raised John and Charles Wesley, the men who started the Methodist movement that influenced the eventual abolition of slavery, first in England, then in America.

Hannah More, on the other hand, was a close associate of William Wilberforce, the politician who helped end the slave trade in England. She was a brilliant writer who bridged the divide between cultures and championed social reform and female education in adition to abolition.

Then Maria of Paris was a highly unusual nun (think, a nun who smokes) who was martyred in Ravensbruck when she was caught trying to save Jews from the Nazis.

Each of these women’s stories laid out in easy-to-digest novella-length treatments. I only wish there were more women like these to feature in a book like this. Not long ago, Metaxas did write a sequel to his “Seven Men” book, though, so perhaps “Seven More Women” will be coming at some point!

The Science of Rapid Skill Acquisition by Peter Hollins

The Science of Rapid Skill Acquisition (NF)

“Learning a new skill…can increase the overall value of your life…The sense of accomplishment is a reward in itself, but you can also improve your status quo…[and] enhance your all-around abilities.” — The Science of Rapid Skill Acquisition

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

If you are unfamiliar with deliberate learning and the science of how the mind learns, this book is an excellent little primer on both of those concepts, and more. The Science of Rapid Skill Acquisition summarizes everything you need to know

If you’ve already read Ultralearning, Flow, The Little Book of Talent, and books of the like, then this book is mostly review. But if you’re unfamiliar with those titles, and the ideas of deliberate practice, interleaving, flow, growth mindset, skill stacking, etc., then you might want to pick up this book to learn more about what it takes to learn how to learn.

Overall, the book has good ideas, is mostly well-organized, the writing could be a bit more polished and have more personality, but it’s a solid introduction to “rapid skill acquisition,” as promised. 7/10 stars!

Assume the Worst by Carl Hiaasen

Assume the Worst by Carl Hiaasen (NF)

“We’re much more efficient at carnage now. Try your very hardest not to participate.”— Assume the Worst

  1. ★★
  2. ★★

Graduation speeches are interesting to listen to and read, because speakers know they’re delivering their message to young adults who are in a transitional phase — moving from a structured scholastic life where many things were taken care of for them, into the wild, unpredictable world of “real life” where they will face challenges they may have never dreamed of before.

But I have to say that Assume the Worst was disappointing. I loved Hiaasen’s children’s books (Hoot and Flush are my favorite) for their quirky, upbeat humor and strong relationships (friendships, parents and children, siblings, etc). And while Assume the Worst tries to inject some of that zany humorous style of communication, it has too much cynicism for my tastes.

Not because I’m a Pollyanna, but precisely because I am not. I don’t think it’s wise to, in a crude way of putting it “blow rainbows up the butts” of graduates and tell them that life is like a lemon-meringue pie, but neither do I think that depressive cynicism thinly disguised with a veneer of a quirky writing voice does any good either.

More importantly, this speech-book was pretty forgettable. I didn’t learn anything from it I didn’t already know or find any turns of phrases that I particularly wanted to keep. And being forgettable is never a good sign for a writing.

McGrowl by Bob Balaban

McGrowl: It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World (F)

“After a visit to a villain disguised as a veterinarian…in a nearby power plant, McGrowl had developed bionic powers.”— McGrowl

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

Right before the holidays, my folks came for a visit and my mom handed me this copy of McGrowl that I’d gotten in my childhood. Until she did, I’d almost forgotten I ever read this series as a kid.

But I was glad to give this lower-middle-grade novel a quick re-read, because I’ve always been fascinated by children’s literature and have been thinking about planning a middle-grade series myself sometime in the not-too-near-but-not-too-far future. And yeah, it will probably include a dog. (For now, at least).

Anyway, in this book, main character Thomas and his trusty bionic dog sidekick McGrowl have to deal with a new father-daughter dog-training duo that wins over half the dog owners in town — including Thomas’ best friend Violet.

Thomas has to deal with his loneliness and jealousy while simultaneously trying to protect McGrowl from their long-time enemies who have long been trying to dognap the mind-reading pooch for their own nefarious purposes.

Overall, the book is a pleasant romp for kids, but there isn’t anything particularly standout about it, in terms of cleverness, humor, plotting, characterization, etc. But it’s a solid book for kids who like dog stories!

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