Religion, Psychology, (& A Puppy) - June 2022 Book Reviews: The Robe, The Chosen 2, Schopenhauer’s Porcupines, A Puppy Called Aero

Anyone up for a little religion and psychology this month?

Those are the topics covered in the books I read in June, anyway. It was definitely a much lighter-than-usual reading month, and yet I still somehow managed to knock out enough books to put on the TBR board. (Thanks, audiobooks!)

So here we go, deep dive into review on books that are a mix of fiction and nonfiction, covering mostly religion and psychology (and oh yeah, there’s a puppy, too ;D)

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!)


June 2022 Book List & Prompts:

June 2022 tic-tac-toe prompts

Key

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

  1. Prompt: Novel based on true story
    The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas (F): Biblical fiction about what happens to Jesus’ famous robe after his crucifixion.
    How I did: Mix of audio and physical book
  2. Prompt: Book made into movies, plays, etc. (A bit of a stretch, but I’m going to include shows that were made into books for this!)
    The Chosen: Come and See by Jerry B. Jenkins (F): Based on Season 2 of The Chosen, a Biblical fiction show based on the life of Christ and his followers
    How I did: Finished in two days
  3. Prompt: Mystery + Penalty book
    Schopenhauer’s Porcupines by Deborah Luepnitz (NF): A clinical psychologist tells stories about some of her patients.
    How I did: Finished.
  4. Prompt: Penalty book
    A Wish in the Dark (F): A middle-grade retelling of Les Mis set in a Thailand-inspired fantasy world where everyone is dependent on a single tyrant for their source of light.
    How I did: Did not finish. Read the first fifty pages and got bored, skimmed the end, didn’t think it worth it to continue.
  5. Prompt: None
    A Puppy Called Aero (NF): A boy with ADHD gets a chance to change his life by training service dogs.
    How I did: Finished in a couple sittings 🙂

Selected Book Reviews

Books on the board!

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)

The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas (F)

“There is no vanity so damaging to a man’s character as pride over his good deeds!”

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

Douglas’ The Robe is a Biblical fiction story set right after the crucifixion of Christ, speculating about whatever might have happened to Jesus’ robe after he died — you know, the robe was taken by the Roman soldiers who played dice for it?

Douglas imagines what might have happened to the Roman tribune who won the robe. Did it change his life? And if so, how so? In The Robe, this unnamed Roman soldier is given a name (Marcellus), a family and backstory, and a journey post-winning-the-robe. The basic story:

When Marcellus is given the task to crucify Jesus, and later wins his robe in a game of dice, he suffers a mental breakdown. His loyal slave Demetrius takes him away to heal, and over time, the two run into the followers of the crucified Jesus, who claim that He has now risen and will be coming back. This strange revelation changes both men as political machinations behind the scenes threaten to destroy them both…

Thoughts: I was super impressed by another Biblical fiction story of a similar “flavor,” Quo Vadis, so when I heard that people were recommending The Robe to fans of Quo Vadis, I decided to give it a try…six years later (What can I say? I’m a bit of a slowpoke). Although it’s a somewhat chunky book, I finished it in a couple days, with a combination of audiobook listening (to start) and ebook (or rather Project Gutenberg) reading (to finish. I’m faster at reading than listening to books).

In terms of the story and writing quality, I’m a bit torn. Douglas has a way with words that makes you want to keep reading to find out what happens next…but he’s not so good at delivering on his promises. And he’s not great at setting up romantic relationships, either. The brother-like bond between main character Marcellus and his slave Demetrius is well depicted, but neither man’s romantic interests or relationships are well set up, thought through, described, or resolved. It was actually rather frustrating, since that is one of the core pillars of strong storytelling — whatever relationships that are being presented in a story must be done WELL.

That being said,

The Chosen 2: Come and See by Jerry B. Jenkins (F)

“I was something else once too. Once you’ve met the Messiah, am is all that matters…remind him that the people out there, they want to define us by our past. Our sins…But we’re different. We’re awake.”

  1. ★★★★
  2. ★★★

Based on the indie hit television series on the life of Christ and his followers, The Chosen: Come and See is the second novel in a planned 7-part series, and follows the free TV show closesly. The Chosen: Come and See (Or Chosen 2, as I like to call it in my head!)

Chosen 2 is a bit tricky to write about since it’s not so much a novel on its own as it is a nearly-exact transcription of the TV show. Jenkins merely adds a few background details and character perspectives to the work that his son Dallas has already done with the screenplay and filming. But we’re not given a whole lot more in the novel than what we already see in the show.

Which is why I rated it as a 3-star for writing skills. It would have been interesting to learn more about the background details — culture, history, etc., etc. of these ancient Biblical times, but alas, ’twas not to be. And tis’ the same thing with the internal states of characters. We don’t get to hear much internal monologue or behind-the-scenes going-ons.

In fact, some of the writing actually is a bit too on-the-nose. For example, in the show, it’s hinted that Thomas and Ramah are interested in each other, but the book just blurts it out in exposition. Sigh. Sometimes subtlety is more beautiful.

Other than that, if I you’re interested in hearing me summarize-critique the story as written in screenplay form and played out on the screen, you can hear more about my thoughts in an upcoming in-depth summary and review (you can check out Season 1 here).

Side note: Chosen 2 is one of two physical books I read this month (Over the years, I’ve switched to 80% ebook, 15% audio, 5% physical, or thereabouts).

Schopehnauer’s Porcupines by Deborah Anna Luepnitz (NF)

“For Lacan, desire is what simultaneously defines us as human subjects and what prevents us from ever being whole or complete. To desire something, after all, is to lack something.”

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

Schopenhauer’s Porcupines is one counselor’s account of several patients she’s counseled over the years. The reason for the intriguing title is because of a story Schopenhauer is said to have told: About a group of porcupines who huddle together for warmth, but as they squeeze closer to each other, their quills poke each other painfully, so they move apart. But when they move apart, they get cold and want to smoosh together again, and so on and so forth.

The idea is that people are a lot like this. On the one hand, we need relationships with each other in order to survive and thrive. On the other hand, all people have painful “quills” that poke each other the closer they draw to one another, until, at some point, the people give up and start moving away from each other…but then, they face the problem of lacking meaningful, life-sustaining relationships again, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

Whew!

That was a doozy of a run-on sentence-paragraph.

Anyway, the point of the book, as you might imagine, is that each of the clients featured (pseudonymously) in this book struggle with interpersonal relationships. And through the course of their interactions with the author-therapist, and her interactions with them, both parties change and grow. Y’know, the usual.

Thoughts: The first two stories really caught my attention, but after a while, I grew a bit tired of the author and her stories. They felt longer than they needed to be, and I had some pretty deep disagreements with some facets of her worldview, as well (not the least of which is that I harbor a strong suspicion of the old psychologists and their scientifically unsubstantiated hypotheses-taught-as-fact about how the human psych and existence itself ought to be viewed). I’m fascinated by psychology, all the more so, perhaps, because there are so many quacks, past and present, in the field. And it’s a struggle to discern what is useful and true knowledge, and what only appears to be such.

I certainly have’t cracked the code, but I will keep trying, in part by reading books like these: first hand accounts of what goes on behind the closed therapy doors. Maybe I can make something of it some day…

A Puppy Called Aero by Liam Creed (NF)

“I’ve spent most of my life making sure — albeit not always on purpose — that people don’t relax when I’m around.”

  1. ★★★
  2. ★★★

A Puppy Called Aero is the true story of a boy (named Liam) with rather severe ADHD, who finds redemption and growth by training a puppy to become a service dog for veterans suffering from PTSD. Along the way, Liam learns how his condition has affected his family, how to care more about others (like the men and women who get the puppies after they’re trained), and how to control the worst of his “acting out” by teaching his dog to do the laundry.

More or less 😉

The book is well written (by Liam himself, with the help of a more-experienced cowriter) and tells a generally uplifting coming-of-age true story about a boy and his borrowed dog. Liam tells the reader of his experience being overactive and angry youth, and being given a “second chance” by participating in a British TV program where troubled teens are taught to train service dogs in the hopes that the process will help the teens themselves.

Now. You may be wondering: There are a TRUCKLOAD of dog stories and dog-related memoirs and my-dog-saved-my-physical-and-or-mental-life tales out there, so what makes Aero any different?

…Erm, nothing. It’s not different. It’s yet another entry in the rapidly-growing feel-good warm-fuzzies dog-as-mans-best-friend memoir niche. But that doesn’t mean it’s BAD. It may not be standout, but it’s not totally a Hallmark movie, either (okay, it’s a bit of a Hallmark movie. But that’s okay. What else do you do when there’s nothing good on Youtube or Netflix or whatever-streaming-platform-you-use nowadays?)

Personally, I would have been far more interested if Liam had gone into more detail about the process of training, how he changed and his relationship with the other kids…which he did, but not without much memorable detail. But hey, of all the different kinds of books and stories to be rapidly proliferating out there, books about dogs that teach kids responsibility and give them a sense of self worth are not half bad 😉


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