Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Nook GIVEAWAY and Review: "COULD IT REALLY BE THIS EASY?" by Ted J. Peck

Could it Really Be This Easy?


Ted J. Peck

(The author is sponsoring a giveaway--one free copy of his book. To enter, simply leave a comment below by July 2.)

From the back of the Could it Really Be This Easy:

It’s easier than you think. Whether you’re trying to figure out which school to attend, who to date, or how to repent after making a mistake, following God’s plan for you isn’t that complicated. 

LDS parents who keep their eyes peeled for resources to strengthen their teens will be heartened by Ted J. Peck’s perspective on navigating these years. His book, Could it Really Be This Easy? The Eternal Equation of Success for Teens breaks the Plan of Salvation and the challenges of mortality into bite-sized nuggets, which he delivers with humor and personal anecdotes.

Peck clearly loves and understands the youth of the Church. After retiring early from a successful career, he chose to become a seminary teacher. Could it Really Be This Easy is the culmination of fifteen years spent presenting Gospel principles to students in terms teens can relate to.

I’ve never met a seminary teacher who didn’t feel a divine responsibility to the youth of the Church, and Peck is no exception. He pours his testimony into Could it Really Be That Easy, sharing life stories that illustrate how the practical application of Gospel principles, like choice, agency, attitude, and a host of others, can impact a youth’s success or failure in life, therefore impacting Eternal Life. Best yet, he shows them how easy it can be to take charge of their choices. To act rather than be acted upon.

Peck mirrors the Master Teacher, who used situations and objects that were familiar to his listeners. In like manner, Peck breaks good and evil into the good team and the evil team, carrying that idea over as he compares mortality to a football game. While the concept is not unique, Peck’s thorough development of that comparison is impressive.  His comparisons and examples hold your attention. He refers to the teen libido as “the beast,” and illustrates principles, like the importance of how we view things, by sharing his personal experience with each one. In the topic of how we view things, case, he tells the story of a to-die-for Mustang he drooled over, and his agony when he could not get his wife to love it as he did. The stories entertain while also serving as the conduit for the delivery of important truths. In short, the messages stick.

The book gets off to a slow start. Peck’s “Introduction,” and the first four pages of his “Welcome to the University” chapter are more about Peck’s journey, and might not engage younger readers, but these pages help introduce the teacher, establishing his credibility, and that of his truth-packed, easily digested messages.  

Peck’s writing style at first feels suited to a pre-teen to early teen crowd. If you’re older, keep reading. Peck clearly addresses the pre-mission crowd as well, from basic doctrines through to a section that includes questions to ask while dating, questions that help identify young people whose values goals and choices compliment yours. Peck writes as if he were delivering a live presentation before a class, complete with the personal asides he would share. One can easily imagine him pulling out all the stops to befriend and reach each individual. I hope his next project is a talk tape of his stories.

The ease and power of making correct choices is Peck’s primary message. His book speaks less to those whose greatest trials are beyond their control—youth who face serious health issues, the death of a loved one, family stress due to job losses, etc. He does address these issues in general ways, by discussing the power they do have--to be as positive as possible, to remember the long game, to exercise faith in God's promises. He encourages those who cannot shape their mortal outcome by mere choice to remember that this game is eternal, and the real win comes further down the road.

Peck’s style will appeal to most youth, but even if you have a less than avid reader, parents and leaders will benefit from reading Could it Really be That Easy. A family could easily pull months of great FHE lessons from these pages. Likewise, the stories would enhance lessons, firesides, and talks, and most importantly, would provide pertinent explanations and examples for critical one-on-one conversations.

The chapter headings don’t always reveal what topics are covered in each section, but Peck includes chapter summaries with a recap of the section’s basic points, which makes locating topics a bit easier. On the next reprinting, I hope they include a topical index as well.  

A read through Could it Really Be This Easy is empowering. The book is written with LDS references, but it has value for any Christian reader, young or old. Adults will find the read enlightening as well because of its simple delivery. The cadence of a few critical messages plays over and over in the background of every chapter. God loves you. He wants you to be happy. Satan wants you to fail. God will help you succeed. You get to choose.

Start by adding a copy of Could it Really Be This Easy to your family bookshelf.

Could it really Be This Easy is available at your local LDS bookstore, or on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Could-Really-Be-This-Easy/dp/146211637X/

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book Nook Review: "TWINKLE and LUNA" by J.E. Sakura

Debuting picture book author J. E. Sakura’s work graces walls in many states across the U.S.  During her forty-year career as a professional artist, her passion was creating murals filled with whimsical images children would be drawn to and with which they’d be inclined to interact. Sakura has now turned her some of her most beloved and characters into a delightful children’s e-book titled, Twinkle and Luna.
While the transition from artist to author was long in the making, Sakura admits that her pictures have always come alive in stories that played out in her mind. Some of the ideas were inspired by conversations with clients. Such is the case with Twinkle and Luna. Says Sakura:
Years ago, a ​client, the Fire Chief for Baltimore, told me he called the smoke detector the guardian angel of his daughter's room​. I thought that was adorable,​ ​and​ ​added a little angel around it in​​ the sky​ I painted onto her ceiling​.  His idea of naming a smoke detector inspired me to name the moon Luna, and the main star Twinkle, as well as imagine a relationship.  
Supported by a degree in classical literature, Sakura took a children's book writing class with Rick Walton at BYU. The book was finished during that semester. Here is the back cover blurb that will be included in Lulu’s paperback version:
​"​Have you ever wondered if the Moon might be lonely, surrounded by so many stars far away in the night sky? Twinkle dances with Sparkle, Shimmer, Glimmer, and Glow every night, but Luna has no one.  What would it take to bring them together—maybe some stormy weather?  Twinkle and Luna become unexpected heroes for each other after just such a dark and dreary night.​"​  
More of Sakura’s bright, beautiful picture books are in the works. Her time spent in Japan and Korea, first as a missionary, and then as a teacher, influences her art. On her website and blog she explains how she used Korean paper as the background as she developed some of the night skies in Twinkle and Luna. Says Sakura:
When not teaching English, I wandered through ancient Korean farmlands and mountains, I wrote, and I worked on illustrating my stories, which include 3 more: Flutter Bye and Lady Dot; Bunny Birds & Co.; and When Mommy Stays Home. Like Twinkle and Luna, the words all came to me in the form of lullaby-styled songs.  I'll make the CD for Twinkle and Luna this summer.​
On a personal note, I shared Twinkle and Luna with a three-year-old grandson. The pictures had him completely engaged. I read the words of the story, but he was reacting to the pictures before I was able to get the words out. After one read, he could retell the story on his own.
Children will immediately acquaint Twinkle and Luna to the beloved nursery song, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Twinkle and Luna expands on that magic with a story about being kind, and befriending others. It’s delightful and timeless message is eclipsed by the beautiful images which are the star of this book. It’s a gift parents and grandparents will enjoy sharing with their little ones over and over.
The 8.5” X 11” paperback is available through CreateSpace for $9.25.  The purchase link is https://www.createspace.com/4550406

You can read more about J. E. Sakura’s artistry and her upcoming projects at:  http://jesakuranoyume.blogspot.com/, and https://www.facebook.com/jesakura

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Nook Review: "THE SONG OF MY FATHER," by Christine T. Hall

Christine T. Hall’s first book, Conversations With a Moonflower, reminded me to slow down, and cherish time with people.  When I saw her new book mentioned on social media, I was anxious to get my hands on a copy and explore more of her insightful essays on life.

Hall’s new release, The Song of My Father, opens with her farewell to her greatest teacher—her father Frank. She arrives on his hospital floor during a code blue call to his room—a call from which he never regains consciousness. Denied the opportunity to speak with him, she sits by his bedside, holding his hand, and speaks to him, recounting aloud moments his example and faith-filled lessons, his song, served as her anchor.

The book is comprised of eighteen tender essays divided thematically into three parts. Within each part there are several chapters. In “Music Lessons,” Hall shares glimpses into how her father’s example, in situations as varied as his treatment of a homeless soldier suffering with PTSD, to his patience over a flat tire. These events supported and mirrored his sage verbal counsel, note for note, becoming the melody of his life’s song. Hall notes how his words, delivered in beautiful simplicity, were often re-edited takes on famous quotes, attributed to the wrong individuals. The whimsy of the delivery did not detract from the quality of the counsel, which, as The Song of My Father illustrates, proved true as Hall grew. Her father’s underlying philosophy of life, that no matter what happens, “good will come of this,” eventually became Hall’s expectation as well.

Part Two, “Learning to Sing” opens with the horrific event that plunged Hall into despair, causing her to question how good could ever come from such an experience.  This section chronicles the experiences that pull her from the abyss by reminding her of her father’s song, setting her back on the path of hope. These poignant essays are written in Hall’s unique voice, elevating each piece from a sweet story to a moving personal experience for the reader.

In the final section, “The Song of Believing,” Hall reminds us that we all need a song of hope. In her own words: “Each of us, at some time in our lives, will experience loss, heartache, and a grief that seems to test us to our limits. If we choose to live and walk by faith . . . we eventually come to a place of acceptance and finally, after much work, to a place of believing.”

It is that tone, that honesty, that makes The Song of My Father so powerful for readers. Admittedly, Hall shares some incredible, deeply personal experiences, facing them with unvarnished candor and straightforwardness. There is no Pollyanna-ism here, nor self-pity, or aggrandizement. Hall squarely leaves you with the understanding that each of us will face hard things, and times when we will need to draw upon an inner strength gleaned over a lifetime. Hall’s resolve was strengthened by the words and example of her father. She challenges readers to identify and build their own song of faith.

What overwhelmingly shines through each essay is the power of parents’ influence, and how deeply the resulting impressions are imprinted upon a child. Hall’s message is that good can be learned, even from imperfect parents.

This book will likely prompt readers to consider their own parents’ influences in their lives, and it should cause parents to consider the “song” they are leaving for their children.

The Song of My Father is worthy of placing on any family’s bookshelf. It would make a treasured, thought-provoking gift for a parent or older child, but there is broader value in this timely book. Each essay would serve as an excellent vehicle for family discussions on a variety of topics, from hope to service, from forgiveness to patience and sacrifice.

Christine T. Hall's The Song of My Father is published by Cedar Fort, and is available in a hardback gift-sized book, or as an ebook. Get the hardback version. You’re going to want to sit and read this one many times.