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


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.

The Actor and the Housewife, by Shannon Hale

The Actor and the Housewife book coverThe Actor and the Housewife
by Shannon Hale
Pub Date: June 9, 2009

I read a galley of this book shortly after it was published a few years back, and moved to Provo for a few months after, where I worked as bookseller at the now defunct Borders Books store in the Riverwoods shopping complex. Shannon Hale is a super popular children’s author, best known for her Princess Academy series, and a fellow Mormon! (And she is fabulous to follow on Twitter.) So I was surprised that The Actor and the Housewife, the second adult title written by Hale after Austenland, was not flying off the shelves in Happy Valley. And recently the author said on Twitter that the book was quietly going out of print. (It’s still available digitally, in some libraries, and for low prices online, so it’s not a rare book yet!) The first time I read it, I devoured the book. I had not read a book by a major publisher that featured Mormonism so prominently and so positively before, and I sang praises for this book for ages afterwards simply because in my sphere it was such a welcome addition. My thoughts on the book have evolved upon reading it again, but I still find it overly a charming story with the added plus of being centered on Mormon life.

The book is about a Mormon housewife, Becky Jack, who stumbles into a friendship with a heartthrob actor Felix Callahan. The way I remember it from the first time I read it was it’s like Hale wrote herself into a fan fiction (without being a total Mary Sue) about being friends with Colin Firth. (The contemporary and personal equivalent for me would be Aaron Paul*, and you can pretty easily project your own fantasy male lead in the story as you read.) The book follows Becky and Felix for a number of years as they face life’s challenges and wonder how on earth they became friends and are so drawn to each other. Becky is very much in love with her husband Mike, and Felix is married to a French supermodel, but of course some conflict enters the friendship because it is so unusual. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this the first time, since it was a Mormon experience novel that tied in aspects of LDS life without belittling it, without apologizing for it. Becky just IS. And at the time I really appreciated that.

Reading this novel again years later, I do cringe a little at the initial “meet cute” of Becky and Felix. It’s a little over the top. But then the thought occurred to me that Hale kind of wrote The Actor and the Housewife in the style of a YA novel, but definitely aimed at adults. It’s an odd angle, but that helped me to read it with a little less cynicism. From other reviews I’ve read, this type of story did not grab a lot of people (which is probably why it’s going out of print), but if you’re an LDS stay-at-home mom especially, or grew up entrenched in Mormon culture, you might find some delicious overlap in Becky’s story, and some fantasy fulfillment as well. It’s a well-constructed fan fiction, and should be enjoyed as that.

The story is separated into three acts, and I think what I most remember about the book is the third act. It’s heart-wrenching and heartwarming, and all the pieces of the story puzzle start to fall into place in a satisfying way. The last third of the book is what has stood out to me the most about the book, and it makes getting through the more treacly parts of the book absolutely worth it. And if you’re active LDS, I can pretty much guarantee you will sob and it will be a lovely sob. I’ll just warn you now.

The book could bring up some good discussion following Becky’s train of thought, the whole “what if?” aspect of the story. What if you suddenly became friends with your “freebie” celebrity crush? Do you agree with Becky’s choices? How would your family and church friends react to this friendship? Is Becky and her social circle people you know? How would you handle similar circumstances in your marriage and with your friends? Do you find people are draw into your life almost inexplicably, and later on down the line you realize why you needed each other?

So while I’ll agree with the assessment that the book isn’t for everyone, it’s by a well-loved author and features LDS characters in a way that doesn’t make them the villain. It’s fun and light and silly, and still give a good punch in the end.


*I have legit had fantasies about meeting Aaron Paul and his wife Lauren, since he’s done filming in Atlanta a few times over the last few years. Mostly it involves going out for pizza or me making them pizza, and we have a silly moment of dancing to Florence + the Machine. Pretty tame fantasy, I know.