Trudging Toward the Telestial Kingdom


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Book Review: Christmas in Zarahemla

Christmas in Zarahemla by Amiel and Jorge Cocco is a children’s book available in English and Spanish that tells the Book of Mormon story of the first Christmas in the Americas. A prophet named Samuel predicts the birth of Jesus Christ, and that a new star will appear in the sky when he is born. Few people believe him, but another prophet named Nephi continues sharing his message. Enemies of Samuel and Nephi threaten to kill people who believe their prophesies. But (spoiler alert) as they gather them for the slaughter, the signs of Christ’s birth are realized, and the mass execution does not take place. The book ends with an image of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.

The illustrations in this book are absolutely gorgeous and the main reason to buy this book. They are the kind of art that both kids and adults would enjoy looking at repeatedly. I’m going to be searching out more work by this illustrator. (I read the book on my Kindle, so I can’t comment on the quality of the print version.)

But the text has room for improvement. The vocabulary and sentence structure of the English version are too advanced for young children, and may even be a struggle for middle schoolers with an average reading level. (My day job involves editing non-fiction for children, so I have experience in this area.) The text does not consist of direct quotations from the Book of Mormon, so there’s really no reason for the language to be so advanced. The Spanish version, which I also read, is not written at a low literacy level, either. Most kids wouldn’t be able to read the story by themselves until they’ve had an adult read it to them many times.

Another issue is that the book assumes a certain level of familiarity with the Book of Mormon. It uses the terms “Lamanite” and “Nephite” without any explanation. (Something simple like, “Samuel was a Lamanite. That means he had a different king than the Nephites,” would have sufficed.) It also makes a sudden jump from Samuel’s story to that of the succeeding prophet Nephi, leaving the reader to wonder what happened to Samuel. I also thought that the story ended pretty abruptly with Jesus’ birth. One more page talking about how the believers in the Americas felt about his birth would have made the story more complete.

In short, I enjoyed the story for the illustrations and think it’s worth the $4.99 retail price for that. But the text has lots of room for improvement, and if this team continues to make children’s books, I hope they put a higher priority on readability.


You can get Christmas in Zarahemla as an e-book for  $4.99 on Amazon.com, or join Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited to borrow the book without additional charge.


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Free LDS-themed books on Kindle today

While I was looking through LDS books for Kindle on Amazon today, I noticed several that are free – besides the Scriptures and textbooks regularly offered there free by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I’ve included a short list below. (You can see the full list here; sort by “Price: Low to High.”) I haven’t read most of them yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality or level of Mormoniness.

  • Christmas in Zarahemla– A children’s story of the first Christmas in the Americas. A tale of the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite with original illustrations inspired in authentic Mayan codices. Also in Spanish.
  • Year of the Dead (Sustainable Earth Book 1)– A Gentile fights to survive the zombie apocalypse in Salt Lake City.
  • Kaleidoscope (Faylinn Book 1)– A girl fights her desire to become a tree.
  • Mr. Wrong: An LDS Love Story– All Sara Fairbanks wants is to marry her missionary. All Beau Hennings wants is to start a new life. When she and Beau accidentally kiss three days before her missionary comes home, Sara is more confused than ever.
  • Sacred Road: my journey through abuse, leaving the Mormons & embracing spirituality– Todd Preston’s Sacred Road shows the audience the darker side of a Mormon life, coupled with an honest perspective not often seen in such literature.
  • Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service– Required reading for anyone who wants to understand LDS missions.
  • Book of Mormon | Doctrine and Covenants | Pearl of Great Price– An alternative history of aboriginal Americans and some interesting modern-day revelations.
  • A Challenge for Brittany (CTR Club Book 1)– Children’s book. Brittany Stevenson, her little sister Christine, and her best friend Meagan have been asked by their bishop to be friends with Parker — a new kid in the ward. But Parker is autistic and loves to play with Brittany’s braids. He even tries to stick them in his mouth! Brittany isn’t sure anyone can overcome that kind of embarrassment! Or is there a way?
  • Parakeet Princess– Heather MacLean is in a new world. She’s always been happy to be a Mormon but now, at age sixteen, she’s moved to a small town where Mormons are mainstream instead of a minority. It’s a shock to her system — and her love life.
  • Mormon Mission Prep: A Practical Guide to Spiritual and Physical Preparation– Mormon Mission Prep: A Practical Guide to Spiritual and Physical Preparation takes a unique look at missionary preparation by focusing on the practical as well as the spiritual side of preparing to serve the Lord. The book provides details on the application forms and estimated timelines of when to start and how long steps should take.
  • Hope: a Talk by M.D. Jones– “Hope: a Talk by M.D. Jones” was prepared to promote the members of his local ward to have hope and faith. This talk has excerpts taken from previous General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Included in the talk is a story given from conference by Elder Neil L. Anderson, and portions told by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
  • Mitt Romney and the Mormon Church: Questions– Anti-Mormon. A brief review of the Mormon corporate empire and the power it holds over high priest and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose family has been a part of the Mormon Royalty since the Church’s creation.
  • Curelom Riders– This 1,000 word flash fiction is a fantasy retelling of Ether 7:18.
  • The Book of Finch: Tale of the Real ‘Fingerling’ (Book of Finch Series 1) – Kris Attfield was given a patriarchal blessing from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that told him he’d witness and perform miracles, and is currently a priest in that organization. He has had numerous experiences with the reality of his blessing and those who speak to the contrary. He has been considered a schizophrenic, but the doctors who said that generally did not give any consideration to the reality of miracles.

Kindle books can be read on the free Kindle app for phones, tablets and computers. You can download the Kindle app for free here.

And please keep in mind that prices can change frequently on Amazon, so check the current book price before hitting the “buy” button.


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I spent the last few days listening to The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff while doing other things. It has an interesting framework, going back and forth between the fictionalized autobiographies of Brigham Young’s so-called 19th wife (it’s likely he married more than 18 women before her) and a murder mystery in a modern polygamist community, where the 19th wife of a polygamous man has been jailed for his murder.

I’m not going to write a lot about the book, because it’s an international bestseller and certainly you can read better reviews elsewhere. (Here are a bunch of reviews and summaries on Amazon.) I’ll just outline my basic reactions to the story, and highlight some parts where I think Ebershoff got his history and doctrine wrong. Continue reading


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The Holy Spirit vs. Morality

I listened to the Infants on Thrones episode about Johnny Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith when I went running today. It’s a book about Dan and Ron Lafferty, two brothers who were raised in the LDS church and in adulthood became Mormon fundamentalists.1 As they went deeper into fundamentalism, they believed they were becoming more attuned with the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This belief, combined with anger at a sister-in-law over religious and personal differences, led them to murder her and her infant in the 1984. Thirty years later, they show no contrition, still holding onto the belief that God commissioned the murders

Much of Under the Banner of Heaven is a meditation on fundamentalism and the relationship between faith and violence. Does believing in things that cannot be rationally explained predispose people to commit irrational acts? Krakauer draws on examples of violence in Mormonism’s early history (such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre) and juxtaposes them with modern Mormon fundamentalist acts of violence, such as the Lafferty murders and the kidnapping of Elizabeth Snow. Into this, it weaves the theme of following what one believes to be the Holy Spirit, and how dangerous that can be.

At least, that’s how I remember it – but maybe I leaned toward this interpretation because I had recently left a Holy Spirit-drunk congregation that was skirting dangerously close to a fundamentalist path.

Listening to this Infants on Thrones episode got my mind churning about a story in the Book of Mormon that has chilling parallels to the Lafferty murders: Nephi’s murder of Laban. Continue reading


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Drive-by Book Review: Nethermost by Francis M. Gibbons and Daniel Bay Gibbons

Drive-by Book Reviews is a series of short reviews that highlight one or two salient points from a book. They don’t attempt to give a detailed examination of the work as a whole.


Nethermost: Missionary Miracles in Lowly Places is a new book by father-and-son team Francis M. and Daniel Bay Gibbons.* Francis M. Gibbons is a former member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and has served as a missionary president. The book shares stories from the authors’ time in the mission field, as well as faith-promoting stories from church history – some that will probably be very familiar to LDS readers, and others less so. (You can read some excerpts on Daniel Bay Gibbons’ website.)

The part of the book that made the biggest impression on me wasn’t any of the mission stories, however. It was a single paragraph in the introduction:

The word Nethermost is a found only in Jacob, chapter 5, which is a great allegory of the gathering of Israel in the last days. We read of a great vineyard filled with all of trees, some tame and many wild. The Master of the vineyard, however, has one favorite tree, planted in the best spot. In time, His favorite tree begins to grow old into decay. In order to save the tree, the master of the vineyard instructs his servants to prune its branches and grafting their place other branches taken from wild olive trees. The Master of the vineyard is about to burn the natural branches of his favorite trees, but then changes his mind. He tells His servants to take the “young and tender branches,” which they have just pruned, and carry them to the “the nethermost part of the vineyard” and there graft them into other wild olive trees. After many years, the Master of the Vineyard sees that his favorite tree has become corrupt and has ceased to bring forth good fruit. He considers whether to cut down his beloved tree, but then decides to try one more experiment. He instructs his servants to return to “the nethermost parts of the vineyard” to see what has become of the natural branches of his beloved tree. And the servants go, and see that the natural branches are thriving and bring forth good fruit. So the Master of the vineyard and his servants returned to “the nethermost part of the vineyard.” There they gather the natural branches, bring them back, and graft them back into their mother tree. There they once again bring forth good fruit.

This is the first time I’ve read a summary of the olive tree parable short enough that I’m actually able to follow what happens in it. Every time I read it in The Book of Mormon, I totally lose track. Now I think I might understand what the allegory is about: Some of the Israelites get separated from Israel and become part of a different nation. Israel becomes corrupt, but the separated Israelites thrive. They return to Israel and strengthen it.

So basically this allegory is about the overall story in The Book Of Mormon, and The Book of Mormon’s intended role in history as explained in its introduction by Joseph Smith:

[The Book of Mormon] is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers…. and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ…

Back to the allegory: The favorite olive tree is Israel. It starts to “decay” when it rejects the teachings of Adam, Moses, Enoch, Lehi, etc. that Christ will come and atone for all people’s sins.** Lehi and his descendants are the separated Israelites. The surviving descendants later become known as the Lamanites or Native Americans. They are the “remnant of the house of Israel.” Through their record, The Book of Mormon, they will help bring the rest of Israel (aka the Jews) to Christ.

Yay! I finally get what that vineyard thing is about!***

*Note to self: What is it with LDS men and the use of middle names/initials? Did it catch on as soon as Joseph F. Smith became the fifth president of the church, or did the trend develop later?
**See Selections from the Book of Moses in Pearl of Great Price and 1 Nephi in The Book of Mormon.
***And if I’m wrong, I hope someone will correct me. I’m still confused about why a place where trees are grown is called a vineyard.


You can get Nethermost: Missionary Miracles in Lowly Places as an e-book for  $4.99 on Amazon.com, or join Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited to borrow the book without additional charge.


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Book Review: iPlates, Volume 1 by Stephen Carter & Jett Atwood

If you find yourself falling asleep every time you try reading the Book of Mormon but are still curious about its contents, you might want to try iPlates Volume 1: Zeniff, Abinadi, Alma, and Ammon: Book of Mormon Comics by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood. Using the text of the Book of Mormon as inspiration, this comic book/graphic novel tells entertaining (and often gory) stories about prophets, missionaries, kings and warriors from the sections of the Book of Mormon that take place in the Americas before Christ’s birth.

The stories in iPlates center on:

  • Ammon, a Nephite missionary who wins a Lamanite king over to Christ by chopping off the arms of  thieves
  • Zeniff, a faithful Nephite leader who challenges his culture’s prejudices against the Lamanites
  • Noah, a Nephite king who controls the kingdom by keeping his subjects drunk
  • Abinadi, a Nephite prophet who challenges Noah’s corruption and (spoiler alert) is executed
  • Alma, a corrupt and a-whorin’ Nephite priest who gains faith in Christ’s coming after hearing Abinadi’s testimony, then becomes a prophet and missionary

iPlates doesn’t chain itself as tightly to the minutiae of the source material as other visual adaptations of the Book of Mormon I’m familiar with, such as The Book of Mormon Movie and Animated Book of Mormon Stories, which are basically Cliff’s Notes with extra dialogue and humor thrown in. Instead, iPlates uses the Book of Mormon’s skeletal stories as a starting point, fleshing out the details to   bring the characters to life. For example, it posits that King Zeniff and Abinadi the prophet were friends – which is possible given the Book of Mormon’s timeline, but is never mentioned in the Book of Mormon. In short, iPlates is to The Book of Mormon what Wicked is to The Wizard of Oz.  Continue reading

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