July 2021 Book Reviews: The Inner Game of Stress, The Four Tendencies, Mark of the Raven, The Land Beneath Us

July turned out to be more fiction-heavy than usual, but I still got in a few interesting nonfiction reads.

Fiction, particularly fantasy fiction, rarely catches or hold my attention nowadays, but this month I discovered a trilogy that had me binging the entire 3-book set in one day.

Interestingly, it wasn’t even the best story or most well-written series I’ve ever read. In many ways, it fell short of that, and yet something about the books made them mysteriously binge-able.

What that factor is, I’ll talk about more below. For now, let’s get into this month’s Tic-Tac-TBR book review wrap up!

(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!)

July 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:

July 2021 tic-tac-toe prompts

And here is the book list:

F = Fiction. N = Nonfiction.

Penalty List

None this month!

Tic-Tac-Toe Prompts

F=Fiction, NF=Nonfiction

  1. Prompt: Male MC
    The Inner Game of Stress by W. Timothy Gallwey (NF): Apply the lessons from the first book of the series (Inner Game of Tennis) to improve your mental health in today’s stressful world.
    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: TBR machine — purple on the cover
    The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin (NF): Learn how you and other people react to internal and external expectations, how your reactions categorize you into four main tendencies, and how to use your understanding of tendencies to be more productive and work well with others.
    How I did: Finished. I used the TBR machine website to pick a random prompt, and it came up with “a book with purple on the cover.” Head. Desk. It took forever to come up with a book, until someone recommended The Four Tendencies…one of the circles on the cover is purple…ish…so it counts!
  3. Prompt: Booktuber recommended
    Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse (F):The eldest daughter of a secretive and vengeful house has a powerful ability — she can walk inside people’s dreams, influencing them, finding out their secrets, and even killing them in their sleep.
    How I did: Finished. Then kept on reading the rest of the series. I believe I first heard of this book from the booktuber Chantel Klassen, of Chantel at An Intentional Life, and it sounded vaguely interesting, so I grabbed it for this prompt.
  4. Prompt: Book by author or character with the same name as me
    The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin (F): When the unimaginable happens to a young librarian, a soldier with a difficult family history chooses to save her, knowing that he is going to die in the upcoming war…
    How I did: Finished. This was also a difficult prompt to find a book for. But at last I found a WWII historical fiction novel by an author with the same first name, and as WWII is one of the most fascinating eras in history (for me), I decided to give this a go.
Books on the board!

Review of Books Read

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

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

“Everyone is playing an inner game, whether they recognize it or not.” — The Inner Game of Stress

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★★

I read Gallwey’s first and most famous book, The Inner Game of Tennis, years ago as a young college kid. I remembered that it was one of those “life-changing idea books,” at the time, but many years later, I’d completely forgotten what was so life-changing about the book.

So when The Inner Game of Stress came across my radar, I decided to read it to see if I could refresh my memory.

Honestly, The Inner Game of Stress is similar to many other nonfiction sequels where the author comes up with one VERY GOOD idea, and then creates several spinoffs that don’t really include anything truly new, they’re just close variations on a theme, to use a musical metaphor.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes in life you need repetition to remember core principles, and it can be super helpful to see principles applies in specific, narrow cases. Like watching how Gallwey applies his Self 1-Self 2 thinking concept to stress, work, golf, skiing, and music (yup, those are all the titles in the Inner Game series).

After reading this book, I actually went back and re-read the Inner Game of Tennis for a more thorough refresher. Absolutely worth the time it took to do that 🙂


Final note: The Inner Game principles are really simple. To boil it down to a point, it’s all about observing, rather than judging-condemning your actions. When you do this, Gallwey says, you tend to perform better in life and sports. There’s more, of course, but that’s the crux. For the rest, you’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin (NF)

“Different strategies work for different people — in fact, what works for one person may be the very opposite of what works for someone else.” — The Four Tendencies

  1. ★★★★
  2. ★★★

According to popular author Gretchen Rubin, all human beings respond to expectations (internal and external) in four predictable patterns, which she calls tendencies. Hence, The Four Tendencies.

Rubin named the four tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. And depending on your particular tendency (or blend of tendencies), you may want to adjust the way you work, rest, play, and interact with other people on a personal or professional level if you want to live a happier, more effective life.

The Four Tendencies isn’t quite a “personality test,” although it’s designed to help you understand yourself better. And for the most part, it does help a bit in that arena. I thought I learned something interesting, at least.

If there was a way to improve the book — I would have liked to learn more about Rubin’s theories about where and how these tendencies come about, and whether/how a person can change his or her tendencies.

It would be nice to have more scientific literature to support her claims as well — many of the ideas in this book come from Rubin’s personal experiences and results from surveys. But to be strict, surveys are not the most vigorous scientific method, considering how self-selecting survey respondents are.

Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse (F)

“The dream world is made from the dreamer’s memories, mind, and subconscious.” — Mark of the Raven

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

It’s been a long while since I last binged a fiction series, let alone fantasy (one of the genres I’m least attracted to nowadays), but I actually binge-read The Ravenwood Saga, starting with the first book, Mark of the Raven.

And yet the interesting thing is that this book isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Not just because it’s fantasy, but because I didn’t feel particularly connected to the main character, I wasn’t completely convinced by the worldbuilding, and the conflict/resolution/story arc/subplot interweaving was a bit two-dimensional.

That said, this book and its sequels had drawing power, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why. If I were to guess, I’d say it’s the following:

  • Similar worldviews. One reason why I dislike fantasy is there’s been a trend with modern fantasy in particular which promotes ideas and worldviews and practices that I really cannot stand behind. Even if it’s “just entertainment”
  • Intriguing premise. Let’s face it, being able to visit, manipulate, and kill people in dreams is a fascinating concept.
  • A healthy relationship. In many ways, the main characters’ relationship is a little bit too perfect (is there a term like “Mary Sue” or “Gary Stu,” but for relationships?), especially considering it’s dramatically unusual beginning. But it’s a nice change from all the destruction in relationships, real and fictional that we’re seeing out there nowadays.

There’s also the little matter that I was using this book to procrastinate on other work tasks (ha!), so perhaps that contributed a bit. But overall, I would still recommend this book if you’re bored and in the mood for a positive fantasy story that isn’t going to wrench your heart or make you think too hard.

The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin (F)

“What do you mean?…No one knows how he’ll die. Right?”
“It’s not something…I don’t tell people. They’d think I’m crazy.”
 — The Land Beneath Us

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

The Land Beneath Us is a historical light romance and actually the third book of a series about brothers. I didn’t know that when I picked it up, but after skimming the summaries of the other two in the series, I decided that I probably landed on the best of the three, by accident ;D

What I like about this book is that the “romance” aspect of the story is actually not front and center. In fact, the two main characters (Leah and Clay) spend the majority of their time apart after entering a marriage of convenience because 1) there’s a war going on and 2) Clay knows he’s going to die in the fighting.

My favorite part of reading historical fiction is learning about the history of the time the book is set in — the culture, clothing, social norms, current events, etc. And The Land Beneath Us does include several of these details. The author is especially well versed in military training, and it was interesting to learn what life was like from the perspective of an ordinary “housewife and soldier” going through WWII.


If you’re familiar with this genre, you’ve probably already guessed that the book has a happy ending, ie, Clay doesn’t die. Although I think the final “keep the characters apart a little longer by using the trope of ‘I don’t want to be a burden in your life’” was a bit cliched. (Ah well, cliches are cliches for a reason — because they often work.)

Overall, still a fun, quick read if you’re into this type of story!


Nonfiction: Reading The Four Tendencies and The Inner Game of Stress (and reviewing Inner Game of Tennis) was the right thing to do after reading William Glasser’s Positive Addictions last month.

In my mind, all of these books are linked, along with Darren Hardy’s Compound Effect, Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits, and James Clear’s Atomic Habits from way back when.

Why? Because the messages of all of these books complement each other and work together to create one overarching message:

If you want to live a productive, successful life, do what you are supposed to do, regularly, over the long term.

That sounds a bit anticlimactic, but the longer version is too wordy: Success, productivity, and health requires consistent work over time (Compound Effect, Positive Addiction), and consistency (Mini Habits, Atomic Habits) comes from keeping yourself hopeful and inspired, which involves understanding how you function (Four Tendencies) so you can maintain that precarious balance of challenging yourself to do hard things while not kicking yourself when you mess up (Inner Game).

(See, I told you it was too wordy)

Fiction: In terms of fiction, I am still searching for a gold mine (the last time I hit one was when I discovered Lynn Austin and her historical fiction series, 3 or so years ago), but in the meantime, it’s been interesting trying out some unfamiliar authors.

Both Morgan L Busse and Sarah Sundin were new authors to me, and their works are decent, if a little bit forgettable (I had to look up the synopsis for Sundin’s novel to write this review — I’d forgotten what it was about).

Busse’s fantasy trilogy is fresher on the mind, and also a bit more creative (as fantasy often is, what with the whole building-a-whole-new-world-and-magic-system thing). But there were still a few jarring moments when my head was filled with question marks instead of simply enjoying the story.

But I’m still on the lookout for solid fiction with a powerful theme (or themes), realistic, relatable characters, and a believable story arc that will suck you in and leave you a better person than before 🙂

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