More Than the Tattooed Mormon, by Al Carraway

More Than the Tattooed Mormon Al CarrawayMore Than the Tattooed Mormon
by Al Fox Carraway
Pub Date: November 17, 2015

I have never met Al Fox Carraway, I have never heard her speak in public. But I’ve gotten to know her through social media the last few years (her Instagram posts of her baby daughter are highlights of my day), and I LOVE HER. Look at that smile. How could you not love this woman? Can’t you just feel the happiness she exudes? How could you resist reading this book knowing this smiling woman is going to talk to you? I was SO EXCITED to learn she was writing and publishing a book, and was lucky enough to snag a galley copy of it for review.

Al Carraway, sometimes known as “The Tattooed Mormon” (but she’s not particularly a fan of that moniker, as she details in the book), is an LDS public speaker and online personality. This is a woman who feels the gospel so fiercely she can’t help but talk about it with everyone. She has said she buys up any copy of the Book of Mormon she finds in thrift stores so she can have a fresh copy each time she reads. Goodness knows how many copies she actually has. (And they’re all annotated and highlighted and dog-eared. This woman is SERIOUS about her scripture study.) She’s a great example to anyone who might feel shame for their past, or think that Heavenly Father doesn’t know them — Al is a testament to the healing power of the Atonement.

In her book, she details her early life and conversion story, which is amazing. I love hearing conversion stories. I was born in the covenant, and as I like to say, both sides of my family go back to Nauvoo. I come from hearty LDS Pioneer Stock. Hearing conversion stories from someone raised outside the faith is exotic to me, and completely inspiring. I have so much respect for these folks, and definitely Al, for going against the grain to reach a greater happiness. Al had it rough. I don’t know if my faith could have withstood what she had to face on her journey to the gospel. It’s heartbreaking to read about all that she lost as she followed the spirit. But she has perspective and insight now to know why she had to go through those trials as she did, and it’s equally great to read about all she gained as she followed the spirit. And you will want to read about it. It’s one of those stories where it’s so clear now how certain things had to click for Al to be who and where she is today.

Each chapter is basically a talk and a testimony from Al, honed from years of speaking in front of LDS and other groups. And each detail a different part of her life to this point, from her small branch in New York, to leaving everything she knew to move to Utah, to facing prejudice for her appearance, to meeting her husband. Frankly, I can’t wait for a few more years down the road when Al will have to write another book to update us not only on her life, but what she’s learned in the gospel! There are so many beautiful stories in here, I can’t recount them all. But one stood out to me a lot – Al was speaking at the Utah State Prison on the men’s side. It wasn’t a religious meeting, she was asked to speak on change. And at the end of the meeting, a one-time choir of inmates performed “A Child’s Prayer.” She says looking at those men of varying ages and backgrounds singing, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” made her cry. And I couldn’t help but shed a few tears myself. And that wasn’t the only time.

I’m impressed with her faith and her humility. What a pillar of a woman. I was only a few chapters in and started making up a list of people I will need to get this book for. It’s one of *those* books. It’s a book for investigators. It’s a book for life-long saints. It’s a book for those going through trials. It’s a book for YSAs. It’s a book for those returning to the faith. It’s a book that I can see being quoted in talks and lessons for years to come. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up.

Sterling Bridge, by Chad Robert Parker

Sterling Bridge Chad Robert Parker Cedar FortSterling Bridge
by Chad Robert Parker
Pub Date: November 10, 2015

Admittedly, I am not much of a sports person. I have been known to enjoy a number of sports movies, though, and every once in awhile I’ll give a sports book a try. This debut novel is based on a true story out of Tooele, Utah about a town with its own self-imposed segregation, and a high school football coach looking to bring the two factions together. As I got into the story, I found it was like one part Remember the Titans and one part Follow Me, Boys! (both of which are films I love).

Tooele, Utah in the 1920s was separated between Oldtown and Newtown and this caused animosity from all levels – from the school system, to the kids, to their parents. Sterling Harris is a new teacher and new football coach, intent on getting kids from both sides of town enrolled in the high school and playing football. Naturally it’s the promise of playing football and winning games that invigorates these kids into regularly attending school, doing well in their classes, and not fighting each other based on who came from an Oldtown or Newtown family. Sterling inspires the boys he coaches, and the citizens of Tooele learn to get along better, all while he has to deal with some trials in his personal life. It’s a sweet story that does deserve to be told.

I did have a few quibbles with book. For one, I had trouble determining just what exactly the trouble was in Tooele in 1926 until about halfway through when a Catholic priest character is briefly introduced and gives a run-down of the town climate. Up until then, “Oldtown” and “Newtown” sounded like fake names used as placeholders that the author forgot to take out. I am not from Tooele, so I definitely don’t know the local history, and since the factions in the town weren’t described enough so I could follow the drama, it took me awhile to piece it together. I also felt the author had a lot of stories to tell over the course of almost a decade, not only about the football team and their achievements and setbacks, but also personal stories from the families of the team, and in Sterling’s own life. But I felt they weren’t all given the time and development needed to really make them resonate. Either the author needed to expand on each of these stories to make a longer book, or cut some of these stories and details to focus on the prominent ones to be more effective.

However, the character of Sterling Harris sounds like a fascinating man, and I’m glad his story is getting a novel treatment. Local heroes so often get forgotten, with perhaps a street or building (or in Sterling’s case, a school!) named after them. It’s good and fun to have a fictionalized account of who they were so future generations can get to know these people from the past, and see how those local heroes affect the current generation, and how alike we still are. So while I may have found some faults with the novel itself, I applaud the effort to introduce me and hopefully other readers to a person of interest. It certainly makes me want to investigate into prominent people of the past from my own area to see if a book could come out of their story!

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.