Faith and a Life Jacket, by Ben Bernards

faith_life_jacketFaith and a Life Jacket: 7 Truths for your Eternal Mission
by Ben Bernards
Pub Date: September 1, 2016

I have not served an LDS mission. My plan is to serve one day with my spouse. (I have yet to find a spouse, so waiting on the Lord for that one.) But I do appreciate these kinds of “mission prep” books for their simple and down-to-earth stories and advice that are at a young person’s level. And if you have a future missionary in your life, this would make an excellent stocking stuffer (if you’re like me and already making up Christmas shopping lists!).

“Sooner or later, the fires of Anticipation will dim, the thrill of the Unexpected and New will fade. Discouragement and doubt will entice you to give up and walk away from it all. That’s when you’ll face the Decision Point—the moment where you get to choose how you will respond to your challenges: rising up to them and pressing forward with faith, or remaining disengaged and frustrated.”

The author frames his “7 truths” around his personal mission experiences. Why this man’s story has not been made into a film already is beyond me. He served in Fiji, for starters, and spent part of that time living in a hut in a village, where he and his companion would have to hunt and cook their own food, and ran into a few occasions when their lives were very literally in danger. And at one point his mission president sanctioned a missionary band! Missions aren’t always going to be that drama-filled, but I love the way the author demonstrates how these kinda crazy experiences showed the Lord’s hand, and how a young person can learn simple lessons from them that can be applied to their own experiences and lives, even after the mission.

What makes this book even better for me is how universal it ultimately is. I’m not preparing to go on a mission like the intended audience, but I can use the excellent advice the author offers and expounds on in my everyday life (and maybe one day I’ll get to apply it to a full-time mission). While I’m guessing none of this advice is particularly new or earth-shattering for the average reader (you’ve heard it all in General Conference over the years), it is presented in a way that is fun to read, and easy to digest. It’s not written in a “dumbed down” way that really bothers me with many books aimed at the youth, but in a way that is more at their level, and assumes they want to be treated as an adult. And even those of us not preparing to serve a full-time mission, or already have, can gain some insights – both practical and spiritual – from this relatively light read of a book. I think all of at, at various times in our lives, could use a little help building up our “mental arsenal,” as the author calls it, to keep the Spirit of the gospel burning bright.

Give this easily-digestible book a try. It’s a nice little companion for some personal scripture study, prep for a teen getting ready to serve a mission, or anyone who just needs a light church-centered read to get them through the week.

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Shelf Evaluation: Amanda Mae

Amanda Mae Shelf Evaluation A “shelf evaluation” seems to be the kind of thing nerdy book lovers enjoy – getting to talk about their books. I saw other book sites and blogs do these, and I thought it would be a fun exercise for the Not Your Relief Society Book Club community! What I have featured here is a portion of my “church books” shelf, books related to religion and Mormonism. (Being a former bookseller, I tend to shelve my books by genre.) So let’s give this a try!

Starting on the far left, you will see my copy of Daughters in My Kingdom with The Beginning of Better Days barely making the frame. I devoured both books when they became available, and my DIMK is looking a little worn with Post-It’s stuck in it from when I’ve prepared talks and lessons. I’m delighted with the renewed interest in the history of the Relief Society, and I’ve made it a mini mission of mine to encourage all women in the church to learn more about the organization of the Third Hour they attend. It’s followed by Sheri Dew’s Women and the Priesthood and Neylan McBain’s Women At Church. If you’re interested in learning more about the experience of women in the LDS church, these are also required reading. Both tackle similar issues from different angles, and both offer invaluable advice and encouragement. I definitely took a pencil to both of them. Continue reading

Planted, by Patrick Q. Mason

Planted Patrick Q. MasonPlanted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt
by Patrick Q. Mason
Pub Date: December 28, 2015

Some books get just enough push and hype that you realize you really need to read it so you can be part of the discussion. Planted was definitely one of those books for me. Quite a few people in the Bloggernacle have praised it, and as soon as I read just a few pages out of it I knew I wanted to add my chorus to those praises.

“[…] God created us in all our sexual, racial, and cultural differences, precisely so that we could learn from the unique gifts of others and then glorify God for the gift of his diverse creation.”

Brother Mason is a scholar and active LDS member. He states in his introduction that he wrote this book after having many discussions with people at various levels of faith, and felt the need to address the feelings of doubt that get brought up. It’s a book not just for those who question and have doubts, but for those who feel more solid in their faith and testimony and want to know what they can do to help those who do experience doubt. As someone who has been on both sides of that fence, I felt Brother Mason did a good job of covering a lot of ground. It’s not comprehensive to be sure, but he does provide an excellent bibliography of other books and talks and articles to read tailored to more specific questions one may have. Having only read about 15 of the listed sources, I’m looking forward to adding more to my “church TBR” list.

“We must constantly remember, in [Eugene] England’s wise words, that ‘the Church is not a place to go for comfort, to get our own prejudices validated, but a place to comfort others, even to be afflicted by them.’ The path of ease, recognition, and casual sameness is not the way of the cross Christ calls us to bear.”

One of the things I really appreciate about this book is the frank and understanding tone Brother Mason uses. It’s like a good friend is offering useful advice and telling a few good stories, too. He uses clear language to explain a few troubling moments in LDS history, giving the reader an example of how they can not only frame the questions they may have, but also how to properly seek out answers (or at least reconciliations) for themselves. He constantly reminds the reader that this is a church of continuing revelation, that something that we find troubling now was viewed differently in the past (and led me to think of what “normal” things the Church does now that 50, 70, or 150 years from now will seem weird and troubling). I highly recommend this book as an exercise in thought, and a boost for discussion among friends and family. It’s a reassuring hug that though the people in this Church are not perfect, the gospel is, and you will find answers to the questions you have.

The Only Pirate at the Party, by Lindsey Stirling

Only Pirate at the Party Lindsey StirlingThe Only Pirate at the Party
by Lindsey Stirling and Brooke S. Passey
Pub Date: January 12, 2016

It’s always fun to learn that a celebrity is LDS, and is *practicing* LDS. Lindsey Stirling is so cute and adorable that learning she was a missionary in New York before her musical career took off makes me feel squishy. If you haven’t heard of Lindsey Stirling, you need to head over to YouTube and check out her videos. I’m a sucker for a violinist who has fun with their instrument. I’ll wait.

I was in a community theater production of The Passion of Dracula around the time the NBC series Dracula came out, and the cast got a little obsessed with Lindsey Stirling at the time, since she wrote the music used as the theme to the short-lived series. I find her adorable and a lot of fun in addition to being talented enough to dance while playing violin.

Her memoir is great. Her bubbly personality shines through with each chapter. Nothing of great depth for the most part, and no earth-shattering revelations (she’s too young for that, anyway), but delightful stories of her childhood with her family and neighbor friends, her musical journey, her mission, her fight with an eating disorder, and various adventures of being a famous musician. This could easily be a great gift for the music-loving teenager in your life.

Lindsey also has some great lines in the book that delighted me. My favorite being, “home is where the cereal is.” I love her sense of humor!

She’s isn’t heavy into bearing her testimony like some LDS members might, but she certainly acknowledges a Heavenly Father who always has an eye on her, and great parents who appear to have raised her right. She fully admits to struggles and foibles she brought on herself, and how her ED affected not just her health but the people around her, too. She also makes a point of talking about her standards and how hard it is to find modest costumes for herself and her dancers, and how much she loves her crew for respecting her standards and keeping an eye on her as well. It’s these little details that add up that make me respect her all the more.

Though I can’t profess to being a superfan of Lindsey Stirling, I sure do love her energy. And I LOVE celebrity memoirs by people who aren’t SUPER famous. They’re a little more grounded in reality. This ones holds that up. Even if you aren’t so much into her music, I think most LDS women will appreciate reading a book about another LDS woman whose life is a little more fantastical than normal, but still has normal, everyday troubles like the rest of us. It’s refreshing. And with a good mix of humor, heartbreak, and hard times, I think this is a memoir a lot of people could enjoy.

His Right Hand, by Mette Ivie Harrison

His Right Hand Mette Ivie HarrisonHis Right Hand
by Mette Ivie Harrison
Pub Date: December 1, 2015

Last year I read Mette Ivie Harrison’s first adult novel The Bishop’s Wife, and loved it. A book put out by a major publisher featuring Mormon life and it’s not a total put down of Mormon life? Amazing! As soon as I heard she had Book #2 in progress I was ACHING to get my hands on it, and I was able to get a galley of His Right Hand. I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. I may have even stolen a few moments at work to read “just one more chapter” to get me through the day. (And when I tweeted that to the author, she tweeted back that Anne Perry had the same reaction!) (Also, while reading The Bishop’s Wife first will set up some plot points, this one does stand on its own.) Continue reading

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.