More than the Tattooed Mormon by Al Carraway

More than the tattooed Mormon is author Al Carraway’s personal story of growing up in a non-practising Catholic NY state family, her sidewalk meeting with two missionary boys in funny helmets and eventual conversation to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have been following Al on social media for about a year now and I’m so glad I finally sat myself down to buy and read her book.

I read More than the tattooed Mormon as a part of the Read Harder Challenge 2016. It was my fictional or non-fiction book about religion 🙂

tatooed

Before I get into my review, here is her blurb, courtesy of Goodreads.

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Al Fox Carraway has spent the last four years inspiring the world with her story of conversion, redemption, and finding faith. As a blogger, social media personality, and award-winning public speaker, her message has reached millions. This moving biography and up-close account of her life and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the “LDS” or “Mormon” church) will show you what it means to truly trust in the Lord.

“Don’t go, Al. You won’t fit in.”

Being baptized and following the Lord has made Al’s life harder than it ever was before. She endured criticism from friends and family for becoming a Mormon. She faced harsh judgments from Church members for her appearance. She gave up everything and felt more alone than she ever had in her life. All because she chose God.

Now she shares an up-close look at how trusting God has led her to places she never expected. As a blogger, YouTuber, and award-winning public speaker, her message has reached millions. Sharing her love of the Savior, Al goes beyond her own conversion and encourages readers to choose God above anything else. This uplifting book inspires readers to build a true relationship with the Lord that will bring them real, lasting happiness.

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I found Al’s testimony to be incredibly inspiring. She has such a positive and happy attitude towards life that I would consider her a role model for any person, regardless of religious beliefs. I admire her faith and inner strength. Taking steps on faith in God and trusting everything to work out with your best efforts put forth is much harder than it sounds, and something that I have been struggling with for a very long time.

I also thought that her book shed a lot of light on the LDS Church without being judgmental, or too wrapped up in the practices of the Church.  This might sound crazy for a book about religion, and admittedly there are verses throughout, but I didn’t find the book to be as “religious” as I expected. I felt as though Al was sharing her testimony in a positive way and hoping that it reached to the very souls of her readers, but not that she was attempting to convert the masses.

In full disclosure, I am a “convert” to the LDS Church myself. I identify as Mormon. But I’m kinda a lackadaisical convert. The nearest meeting house is only about 30 minutes away, but thus far I have been too nervous to go by myself, even though I can feel God telling me that is what I should do. I do own a bible which I have read through and the Book of Mormon, which I have rather fallen off the wagon from reading the last year. But I participate in the General Conference Sessions biannually and try to follow as many of the beliefs as I can.

So I feel like I can say Al’s book was more spiritual in nature than religious, because I didn’t learn too much more about the Church than I already knew (although hey!, apparently I am an investigator?!) but she did fill me with a desire to take further steps towards being baptized and receiving a Temple Recommend.

I would like to go to one of her firesides in person. I do feel like she might be a better public speaker than she is a writer, although Al freely admits she writes from the heart and it isn’t her strength. That is obvious at times and she does repeat herself sporadically throughout, but her message was so clear and pure that I know I will read her book again and again.

Here are some of the most important messages that I took away from The Tattooed Mormon:

We are all born with the Light of Christ; every single one of us has it. But when we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the promise that it is ours to keep and have always is very real. Oftentimes we as members don’t recognize His presence because of its consistency in our life. -Al Carraway

This passage was particularly meaningful to me because it spoke to my self-doubts and cynicism. I have begun to realize that maybe God speaks to me through my instincts, little feelings I get sometimes and that learning to “listen to my gut” will help me to better follow the path God has set before me. When others speak about God answering their prayers with wisdom and guidance, I scoff and doubt the veracity of the Church. But this passage made me wonder if I just can’t recognize God’s work in my life because he has always been there and I just never noticed.

Choosing God is choosing happiness. -Al Carraway

Yes! Happiness is a choice. It is a choice you have to make every day. Sometimes multiple time an hour every day. But it is a choice. I think it is one of the hardest and greatest gifts that we receive in this world, free agency. It is so very much harder to be positive and happy than it is to feel angry and bitter, to have a bad attitude, especially when life isn’t going perfectly. But happiness doesn’t come from invisible dust that the Happiness Fairy sprinkles about. She doesn’t deliberately skip you while visiting the rest of the world at night. Happiness is the clear choice, but it is so friggin’ hard. Choosing God does help me to slow down and keep perspective, to enjoy the simple things in life. Choosing God helps me to choose not to be offended or slighted. And to remember than I am in charge of more than just my emotions in the moment, I am in control of my happiness throughout this mortal life.

And in that moment, I thought of Christ. I thought of the time He fed the multitude and when He raised Lazarus from the dead. I said out loud, ‘Holy cow, those are great miracles!’ And while waving my hand up at Heavenly Father, I yelled, ‘That is what I need, a miracle!’ And I thought, what happened right before those miracles came? Well, Christ prayed, right? But they were prayers of gratitude. And I thought, Wow, what an incredible example. -Al Carraway

Al, you little genius. I asked God for a lot in my prayers. They are usually altruistic things, like helping a family member in need, to bring comfort to the sick or distressed, but I rarely think to thank God when things are going poorly. I say the occasional ‘thanks for providing for me’ or ‘thank you for this wonderful life’ but in no way do they come close to equalling out the requests, and usually only come during the rare moment everything is going right. Al’s thinking has turned mine on its head.

Ok, so I promise that I am not copying out all my favourite highlighted passages and I am still only up to Chapter 2. Clearly, this book spoke to me. So I’m going to leave off with one last quote, because I think it is one that is helpful to the religious and non-religious alike.

I remember having to make a decision. It’s a decision I had to make and continue to make; it’s a decision you have to make every single day: choose to get mad, choose to get bothered or offended, or choose to not. Choose to keep going, choose to trust, choose to have faith – or not. What it came down to and what it will always come down to is this: choose God or don’t. -Al Carraway

Well, maybe the end got a little religious. Sorry. It goes to my point though, you decide what emotions you want to feel. You have an angry, jealous and bitter wolf inside of you and a happy, positive, loving one. The one who grows is the one you feed.

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Claim Me by Anna Zaires

Claim Me is the third and final novel to the Capture Me Series, which is in turn a companion series to the Twist Me series. Reading both series would enhance your enjoyment but is not necessary; however it is necessary to read these novels in order.

captive

Here is the blurb, from Goodreads:

She’s on the run.

Yulia Tzakova’s freedom comes at a heavy price. Her former captor dominates her dreams, and survival consumes her waking moments. She may have escaped, but she’s far from safe.

In the shadowy world of spies and betrayal, nothing is what it seems.

He’s obsessed with getting her back.

Lucas Kent’s rage knows no bounds. The danger of his job occupies his days, but hunting down Yulia is what he lives for. When he finds her, she’ll never escape again.

He’ll do whatever it takes to keep her.

—             —

* Please note that my review contains some spoilers. Read with caution. Also, I received a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Claim me is much longer than either of the two previous novels, which is something I was super thankful for. The pacing remains fast, but I enjoyed the experience of reading a full-length novel instead of a longish novella.

Unlike in Capture Me and Bind Me, there is very little of the struggle between Yulia and Lucas that was previously present. They have both given up on fighting their feelings and present more of a united front. Similarly, the book didn’t feel like a “captive romance” anymore, because Yulia wasn’t really a prisoner. She wasn’t allowed to leave the compound sure, but she also didn’t have any desire to and Lucas certainly indulges her everything whim and desire. I would venture to say that they have an easier relationship than Julian and Nora!

The first third of the book follows Lucas’ attempts to retrieve Yulia after her escape. He ends up rescuing her and her brother in Ukraine, and feels like a right idiot for not realizing she was protecting a sibling from him, rather than a lover. I was glad to see that little realization since I wanted to kick him in the last one.

The main issue is that Julian will never forgive Yulia for her actions in the Twist Me series, which is a very awkward thing when Lucas and Yulia live on his compound. The solution to this problem actually made me a little sad. It makes sense and it works, but I guess I wanted a Brady Bunch family-style moment.

My least favourite part is Nora going badass on Yulia. Having read the Twist Me series, I didn’t feel like it was in keeping with Nora’s normally very forgiving personality, especially given her (admittedly limited) interactions with Yulia in the past. I’m going to have to re-write that little scene in my head if I ever re-read the story.

Claim Me is a very character-driven book; Zaires’ focus is on the relationship between Yulia and Lucas growing and establishing roles for Yulia and her brother in his world. The whole arc in the series is wrapping up and I didn’t find that there were many plot twists or much that I could comment on. Everything was very predictable to me, but I still found the book enjoyable. The story is satisfying as a conclusion, although it did leave me wishing that Peter will give his own books sometime soon.

I did read this in one sitting and highly recommend it to anyone who has read the series. There is also an epilogue from Julian’s point of view taking place a few years in the future. As much as I loved Yulia and Lucas, I still prefer Julian and Nora and hope we will get to return to them one day!

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Sordid by Nikki Sloane

Sordid is the newest dark romance that I have read and a surprisingly good addition to my library. The premise relies on the traditional older man overwhelms younger female virgin trope, but it is well-done, IMHO. The anti-hero protagonist is Luka, the eldest son of a Mafia Captain, and his very reluctant heir. Luka is brilliant and wants to go legit as a businessman, but can’t break out of the role he was born into.

sloane

** Warning: Moderate spoiler alert here in terms of a trigger warning.

Luka rapes the heroine, Addison. It happens at the beginning of the book, when they are both drunk at a frat party. He isn’t excessively violent (ie; no hitting or punching her, and he tries to protect her from his mafia connections afterwards) but at the end of the day she says no and he doesn’t stop. That is rape. It IS the darkest part of the book, but if that’s a trigger for you, don’t bother reading Sordid.

So when Luka fails to cover up his crime by drugging Addison (in the hopes that she would forget it happened), he takes her prisoner and decides to make her his forever. To be fair, he intended to do that all along but hoped to woo her more gently if he could manage to make her forget the rape… and his relatives were all in favour of killing her to avoid police attention, so in “keeping” her, he does save her life. I guess there was no letting her go at that point.

But I transgress ….

Lately, I have been heavily into the captive romance sub-genre, no doubt brought on by the fantastic series Twist Me by Anna Zaires. While I hate reading about a man hitting his girl in anger, there’s no denying I like books that push the envelope far further than genteel society would prefer. I like my stories to rip me open, tear out my guts and heart and then stuff everything back inside and close up, a little different for having the experience. Sordid succeeded on this account.

It wasn’t my favourite captive romance but I enjoyed it and would highly recommend. The drawbacks were that the ending was a little too tidy and easy, the betrayals too few, and Addison adapted with too little introspection. She obviously resists at first, and then tries to play along to gain an attempt at escape, but ultimately settles in and learns to enjoy Luka’s rougher preferences and ownership without too many qualms. I’d rather have seen her struggle with it more.

The takeaway: I liked the story and would definitely read more from Nikki Sloane. I’ll have to see if she has anything else out there. Sordid read like a stand-alone, not a series.

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Read Harder Challenge 2016

Book Riot published their inaugural reading challenge in 2015 and released a new challenge for this year. They provide a list of 24 tasks, designed to help you read outside of your normal comfort zone. Looking through the list, I’d guess there are at least 5 categories that will feel “at home” to the average reader, but in others, you will definitely be stretching yourself.

Here is the link to the Book Riot challenge page. They provide lots of helpful tips for finding books to fit each category if you are struggling, and if you post about, use the hashtag #ReadHarder ! The printable pdf is on the link provided as well, but here is a quick snapshot of the current challenge.

ReadHarderChallenge2016_checklist-1

My co-workers and I are all participating (I work in a library, so we’re obviously all “book-y”) and I’ve been meaning to post about it on here for a while! I got a late start because I worked two jobs all winter and had no time for books. Don’t feel as if you are behind, come join me in the challenge!

I’ve only checked off a couple of categories so far. For a book under 100 pages, I used Saving for School by Gail Vax-Oxlade, which I already reviewed on this blog. And for the book that you read to another person, I used the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in my story-time program. I’m still working on the others, so when I review, I will try to remember to note that it was a part of this challenge! Hope this helps inspire you to read something new 🙂

Bind Me by Anna Zaires

** Bind Me is the second book in the Capture Me series, and these books need to be read in order. It is a companion series to Twist Me.

bind me

Synopsis:

He’s determined to break her.

For Lucas Kent, his new prisoner is a maddening contradiction: compliant yet defiant, fragile yet strong. He needs to uncover her secrets, but doing so may ruin everything.

His obsession could destroy her.

She’s determined to escape.

For Yulia Tzakova, her captor is the man of both her dreams and her nightmares: tender one moment, cruel the next. She can’t let him crack her, but resisting him may leave her broken.

A moment of weakness could cost her everything.

—                 —

I love Lucas and Yulia! They have great chemistry together and I love the darker elements of this story. It reads very differently from how the Twist Me series played out, but it works. The best things about this book are that we see a whole lot more interaction between the two and the emotional entanglement deepens.

Lucas decides that he has to keep her and sets about trying to learn all Yulia’s secrets. I got the sense that he was almost keeping her as a pet. He loves her and lusts after her, but they can never be equal partners in this relationship. His goal is to keep her safe – from herself as much as the rest of the world – containing her while indulging in carnal pleasures.

It’s about tying her to me, binding her so tightly she’ll never be able to leave.

Zaires, Anna; Zales, Dima. Bind Me (Capture Me Book 2) (Kindle Location 510). Mozaika Publications. Kindle Edition.

I got so frustrated with Yulia, for not opening up and sharing with Lucas about her brother. Her secrecy is meant to protect him, and I can understand logically that she believes Lucas will kill anyone important to her, especially since he is connected to the Agency, but as a reader, we know that Lucas believes this man she is protecting is her lover, not a teenage brother.

Ignoring the part of me that revolts at the idea of injuring Lucas, I take the fork, slip it into the back pocket of my shorts, and close the cabinet. I can’t allow him to break me. My brother’s life depends on it.

Zaires, Anna; Zales, Dima. Bind Me (Capture Me Book 2) (Kindle Locations 1196-1198). Mozaika Publications. Kindle Edition.

My favourite scenes in this book were Lucas breaking beneath the protective shell Yulia wraps around herself to find out about her past and the Agency that she worked for. They were steamy and intense and emotionally scarring for Yulia but that is what makes such a great story for the reader! I also loved when she tries to teach Lucas how to cook. It changes up the power dynamics established early on, if only briefly, and is a humorous aside to otherwise dark material.

“Okay, that’s enough potatoes, I think,” she says, getting up. Her flip-flops— the only shoes I got her— make a slapping noise on the tile floor as she comes toward me. “Now we need to take the garlic, mix it with dill, salt, and pepper, and place everything on a frying pan. You have oil, right?”

“Oil. Check.” I grab a bottle of olive oil from a cabinet to my left. “Do I pour it over the potatoes?”

She props her hip on the edge of the countertop. “You’re kidding me, right?” I frown, not appreciating the mockery. She bursts out laughing. “Lucas, seriously. Have you never fried anything in your life?”

“Nothing that was edible afterwards,” I grudgingly admit. “I may have tried it once or twice and given up.”

Zaires, Anna; Zales, Dima. Bind Me (Capture Me Book 2) (Kindle Locations 1028-1034). Mozaika Publications. Kindle Edition.

My main complaint about Bind me is that the story was too long. I felt that it would have been better to combine the first and second novels but thankfully, the author has posted that the third (and final) book in this series will be longer. In addition, the upcoming Claim Me is said to have some more scenes with Julian and Nora!

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