Thursday, December 22, 2016

DVD REVIEW: The Christmas Dress by Covenant Communicatiobs


It’s Christmas Eve, and Leland Jeppson’s hope is gone. Struggling to get by in their rustic homestead, he had at least wanted to give his family a special Christmas. But with a blizzard blowing in and the train bearing their gifts nowhere in sight, it seems Christmas is just one more thing they’ll have to do without. But as dusk falls, the Jeppsons’ packages unexpectedly arrive at the post office in the not-so-nearby town. Half-blind Postman George Schow is hesitant to brave the storm, but his son, Sidney, will stop at nothing to bring Christmas to the Jeppsons—and ask their daughter, Ellen, to the New Year’s Eve dance. Now it’s up to father and son to battle fierce elements in an attempt to deliver a Christmas miracle. Don’t miss this heartwarming reminder that while God helps those who help themselves, sometimes He does so through others.


Short and sweet is how I would describe this brief story about a Christmas miracle.  The Jeppson family waits anxiously for the arrival of some packages sent by Mary Jeppson's sister in Idaho, but as of midnight Christmas Eve the packages had not yet arrived.  The parents are sad that their children's hopes of Santa coming are going to be disappointed.  Ellen, the oldest child, is well aware that without these packages, there will be no Christmas.  When her mother reminds her to have faith and hope, she sneaks off to the bedroom to look at the mended dress she'll have to wear to the upcoming New Year's dance, and sheds some tears.  Unknown to the Jeppson family, their packages have arrived but George Schow thinks their delivery can wait until after the snow storm has passed.  But Sidney, Schow's son knows that the Jeppson's will have no Christmas without these packages and urges his father to deliver them immediately.  But as the storm worsens, it's going to take every ounce of faith, hope, and prayer, these two families can muster to make this Christmas miracle happen. This short video is a reminder that God helps those who are willing to help each other, and that the real meaning of Christmas is in the joy of service.  This is a movie that would make for a great addition to Christmas Eve programs or activities.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

TALK ON CD REVIEW: Ask of God by John Bytheway


In this high-tech era, we are overflowing with information—and sadly, some misinformation. More information means more questions! In this engaging presentation based on James 1:5-6, John Bytheway evaluates three types of questions: "Gotcha," "Google," and "Golden." Golden questions are the most important in life, involving gospel truths and our place in the plan of salvation. "The problem," Brother Bytheway states, "is when we expect Google-speed answers to Golden Questions." Using scriptural stories, quotations from Church leaders, and a good dose of humor, Brother Bytheway encourages listeners to "Ask in Faith." As they do, they'll learn to find their own answers to difficult questions—and the first step in this vital process is to "Ask of God."


I knew going in that I would probably enjoy this talk quite a bit.  I've listened to talks and presentations given by John Bytheway before and thoroughly enjoyed them.  And I did indeed really enjoy listening to this approximately hour long talk about seeking answers from God.  I loved the way that Bytheway divided his talk into a discussion of three types of questions: gotcha questions, Google questions, and golden questions.  "Gotcha" questions are those designed to manipulate others into giving you what you want.  Several scriptural examples of individuals doing this to the Savior and his prophets.  People who use these sorts of questions don't really want a legitimate answer, and in fact may already know the answer.  Google questions are information questions that the Google browser can provide answers to, but it's just information, no wisdom is provided to help use the information gathered.  Golden questions are the sorts of questions that people really, sincerely desire an answer to and can be answered through the gospel and God himself.  But as Bytheway points out, society has trained people to want answers to "Golden" questions, in the same amount of time as Google provides answers, and many times, the answers don't come that way.  Using stories, quotes, and scripture references, Brother Bytheway explains the importance of prayer and how it is for our good to use it the way the Lord designed it to work.  He also points out the important of having faith in God, and being willing to 'wrestle' to find the answers we seek, especially when they don't come right away.  This is an inspiring talk that is aimed at youth, but that has great advice and reminders for anyone who cares to listen.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 15, 2016



The details of the passing of John Jones in Nutty Putty Cave have been well documented, but his story did not end there. Witness the power of love, family, and the Plan of Salvation in this critically acclaimed film that shows that family bonds extend beyond this life.


 EXCEL ENTERTAINMENT is the preeminent independent film distribution company in Utah, and though largely known for its Mormon-themed films (God’s Army, The Work & the Glory series, 17 Miracles, Pride & Prejudice, etc.), Excel has also had success releasing films with non-Mormon themes and stories (Forever Strong, Saints & Soldiers, etc.). Although the technology and means by which audiences consume films is changing rapidly, the demand for highly creative storytelling that motivates us to live up to the light that each of us has been given is as high as ever. We feel a deep obligation to not only bring stories of hope to the world, but to promote films with high standards of craftsmanship reflective of a belief in a divine and benevolent creator.

Deseret Book


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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

BLOG TOUR: Christmas Greetings from the Presidents

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In the early days of Calvin Coolidge's presidency, a new White House tradition was born with the decorating of a "National Community Christmas Tree" in 1923. Since 1927, the annual lighting of the tree has also been accompanied by a presidential message. Those addresses, many of which are collected here, have provided an intriguing snapshot into the soul of two enduring institutions: The Christmas holiday and the American nation.

From the initial, decidedly brief messages that "Silent Cal" Coolidge presented at the end of the 1920s to those given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the midst of World War II as well as Ronald Reagan's message expressing solidarity with the people of Poland, which charted the beginning of the end of the Cold Car, the Presidents of the United States have marked the time through these inspiring messages of hope and goodwill.

This collection of Christmas messages consists of at least one address from each president since Calvin Coolidge. Reading them, we can trace the history of the United States from the Roaring Twenties through the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the brief eras of Camelot and Watergate, the oil crisis and the fall of Communism, eras of economic book and recession, and the aftereffects of terrorism. Through all of these historic events, the lasting message of Christmas shines bright: We look to Christmas to remind us of what we can be—what is possible when we unite in hope, faith, and forgiveness.


This beautifully designed gift book celebrates the messages of love and peace that have been shared by presidents of the United States, past and present.  Each chapter highlights the words imparted by the president in addition to a brief description of what was going on in the world at the time.  Historical photographs and brief side-notes help delineate the events that lead to the delivery of these messages.  The words shared are an important reminder of what our country stands for and what has lead us to where we are today.  The inspirational messages remind readers that peace and good will are important in leading America into the future.  While the men who spoke these messages were far from perfect and whose decisions continue to have an impact on the roads the United States travels, these words suggest the ideals that we should continue to strive for.

Monday, December 5, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Winter Sky by Chris Stewart


In a bombed-out Polish village during World War II a young resistance fighter finds that he is suddenly alone and trapped between two opposing armies. He is one of Poland's "Devil's Rebels" fighting desperately to save his homeland, but an injury has erased his memory and his only possession is a torn photograph of a couple he assumes are his parents. The woman appears to be holding the hand of a young child whose image has been ripped off. Could the child be him?

Caught in the crosshairs of the retreating German army and the advancing Russian forces, the village holds nothing but destruction and despair until a mysterious young woman offers a small glimmer of hope that may represent his last chance - news of a refuge train departing from a nearby town headed for American installations at the border. But complications arise when the resistance fighter is betrayed by his own countryman and hunted by German SS Officers who are determined to kill him before they retreat.

Desperately searching for a home and family he can't remember he is persuaded to rescue two children who are doomed to die without his help.

As time runs out the former rebel is faced with an impossible choice. Standing at the crossroads of saving himself or risking his life for strangers, what would motivate a young man at the brink of salvation to make one more sacrifice?


Chris Stewart has written a compelling story about a little known time and place.  Many World War II stories focus on the fighting, or the different fronts of the war, Russia, France, Italy, etc.  I have never read a story before that takes a look at the Polish fighters who resisted the Germans after their country had already been overrun.  In a surprisingly few pages (less than 200), Stewart takes the reader into a country teetering on the edge of disaster.  After so many years of war, no town is left untouched, people struggle to find enough to eat or even a place to sleep.  The Germans are on the cusp of leaving, but the Russians offer no hope to the suffering people.  And appearing in the midst of all this is a young resistance fighter, who finds himself in a town that is supposedly his with no memory of who he is and only a few flashbacks of where he has come from.  His only clue to his identity is an old photograph he carries in his pocket.  As he moves through town hoping for something to remind him of who he is, he finds himself in an old church where he meets a beautiful young lady named Melina, who gives him something to fight for.  But Colonel Muller, the local German commander hates the rebels with a passion and refuses to leave until this young man has been captured and killed, no matter how dangerously close it puts him and his men to the Russians.  With only one hope left, the young man sets off with two young children to find a refugee train heading towards the American lines.  But with the difficult winter conditions and a freezing river ahead, and the Germans behind, their chances of survival aren't good at all.  I was amazed at how much of story the Stewart manages to create in this relatively short book.  In addition to the young man, we meet Zarek, a man whose willing to betray his own people, so his family can survive; we meet Antoni, a young former rebel, whose missing a leg, whose willing to sacrifice himself to save a town, and we meet Melina, a young woman who is not exactly what she seems.  This is a book that tugs at the heartstrings.  It wasn't easy reading about all the suffering that war brings, often to the innocent.  Yet it's also a story of finding hope and courage, and a reason to keep fighting even where there appears to be none.  I can highly recommend this book for those who enjoy those kinds of stories that stay with one long after you put it down.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016


While it has been several years since I've attended a performance of The Forgotten Carols, I can tell you this:  the music is beautiful and the message sweet.

Popular Musical Production ‘The Forgotten Carols’ celebrates 25th Anniversary
The Forgotten Carols, a seasonal concert favorite, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  Michael McLean, a well-known performer, composer, songwriter, author and director staged his first one-man concert in 1991 with the hopes of it becoming a tradition families would enjoy. For those first performances McLean played all the parts to give people a sense of how families could create their own narration at home.
Over the course of the last 25 years, McLean’s modest one-man show has evolved into a huge theatrical production with over 1 million concertgoers enjoying the music that has become a time-honored Christmas tradition and attracts repeat attendance from guests of all ages. The show has been produced all over the world in limited runs, including shows in Ireland, Germany, England and even Ukraine. “One of the great things about touring is seeing the familiar faces that have been coming for years and are part of the Forgotten Carols family,” shares McLean. “New comers and longtime devoted fans of this production keep the magic of the performance alive. We embrace, giggle, and sometimes cry at these reunions.” 
The Forgotten Carols 2016 concert schedule includes performances in four states Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. The production has arranged over 20 shows in 12 different cities and showcases an elegant arrangement of special musical choral performances and solos. McLean stars as one of the musical’s primary characters, John, an elderly gentleman who helps Constance, a young nurse who can’t be bothered with Christmas, discover a new love for the season.   
Each year, local community and student choirs are invited to perform alongside the professional Forgotten Carol company members during the concert in their cities. It’s important to McLean and the show's producers to preserve this tradition that keeps the magic alive for an enchanting experience each year.
Performance tickets are on sale now. For a complete listing of concert dates and locations or to purchase tickets visit the website at


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The winner will receive FOUR tickets to a performance of his/her choice. 
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: God is in the House by Virginia Foxx


Members of Congress reflect on their deep faith and how it guides them as politicians and legislators in leadership, voting, and responding to our nation's crises.

The book was compiled by Representative Virginia Foxx, who personally asked congressional colleagues who are devout in their Christian faith, representatives who are in a Bible study group with her, and colleagues she knows on a personal level to each contribute an essay.

Essays by current and former Members of Congress:

House Chaplain Daniel P. Coughlin
Mark Critz
Stephen Fincher
J. Randy Forbes
Virginia Foxx
Tom Graves
Janice Hahn
Randy Hultgren
Sam Johnson
Jim Langevin
Dan Lipinski
Sue Myrick
Thomas Osborne
Steve Southerland
Chris Stewart
Juan Vargas
Allen West
Frank Wold


In this time of such turmoil, political and otherwise, it's easy to forget that God is out there and that he loves us.  This book could not be more timely as it is a collection of spiritual thoughts and experiences from both currently serving Congressmen and women and former Congressmen and women.  The foreword is from a speech given by Paul Ryan, current speaker of the House.  Each of the following sections is written by one of the invited participants.  Some of the writers share personal or familial experiences that have lead them or kept them in the faith.  Others shared thoughts about how their faith helps them in their personal lives and to connect to others both politically and otherwise.  It was refreshing to hear about Bible study groups and the work that these accomplished politicians put into doing their jobs the best they know how with God's guidance.  And even though there is great disagreement between some of these people, it's nice to know that they all look to God in their lives for comfort and direction.  The stories in here are both ordinary and remarkable.  There are stories of spiritual impressions that lead to saved lives and survival in the most desperate of conditions.  Stories of examples and reaching out to others who are different.  While many religions and beliefs are represented here, they all have one thing in common: a strong belief in God and His love for each one of us.  At this conflicting time of great emotion, I found great comfort knowing that there are still those in our government who find the time and energy to call upon God for help.  There is hope for our country as long as individuals at all levels make the time to seek God.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

BOOK SPOTLIGHT w/ WRITING ADVICE: For Sale by Owner by Marlene Sullivan

 Mckenzie Forsberg is headed home. She's quit her big-city job to return to her roots in the small town of Lake Forest. Kenzi hopes to buy her childhood home from her brother, Tom, as a way of revisiting the peace and security she's been missing in her life. But soon she is shocked to discover that the house has a pending sale, and Tom won't budge from the sale—not even for his sister.

Handsome widower Jared Rawlins catches Kenzie's eye until she realizes that he's the one who is buying her house—but he can only close the deal if he sells his own house by Christmas Eve. Jared is more than a little interested in Kenzie but has second thoughts when it seems that she may be sabotaging the sale of his home.

Slippery feelings of animosity and distrust ensue, with both Jared and Kenzie denying the chemistry between them. But then an unexpected discovery about their connected past puts a new twist in the dynamic. Now, can they put their differences aside and come to terms on a relationship that could last forever?
MY REVIEW can be found here

“For Sale by Owner is a sweet, clean, romantic, holiday story that will warm you as surely as a cup of rich hot chocolate held between mittened hands and warm cookies straight from the oven (7 recipes included in book!) A tale of small sacrifices and lost love found and prayers answered. With a little bit of family drama thrown in for Christmas spice.” Reviewer & blogger, Diane Tolley.

“Wow, I really loved everything about this book! I loved the tenacious way that Kenzie goes about her life. I loved that there is a cute love story and also a cute story from the early years of Kenzie's life that ends up coming full circle before the book ends. This is a cute, clean, fun book that you won't want to put down, I know I didn't!” Reviewer & blogger, Cathy Jeppsen.

Marlene Bateman Sullivan was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and grew up in Sandy, Utah.  She graduated from the University of Utah with a Bachelor's degree in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they live in North Salt Lake, Utah with their two dogs and four cats. Marlene has been published extensively in magazines and newspapers and wrote the best-selling romance/suspense novel, Light on Fire Island. She has written three other mysteries; Motive for Murder, A Death in the Family, and Crooked House.

Marlene has also written a number of LDS, non-fiction books:  Latter-day Saint Heroes and Heroines, And There Were Angels Among Them, Visit’s from Beyond the Veil, By the Ministering of Angels, Brigham’s Boys, Heroes of Faith, Gaze into Heaven; Near-death Experiences in Early Church History, and The Magnificent World of Spirits; Eyewitness Accounts of Where We Go When We Die.


For Sale by Owner is available at Deseret Book and Seagull Book. It can also be purchased online at:


“What made you decide to move to Lake Forest?” Kenzie asked.
“I’ve always loved it here,” Jared said. “It’s a beautiful area, and there’s a special atmosphere here. People are so friendly. I guess part of the reason I came is because I needed to go someplace new and kind of start over, you know?”
            Kenzie did know. That was exactly what she was doing now. She’d gotten over Larry, but she needed to go someplace new and reinvent herself and her life.
“Now let me ask you,” Jared said. “What made you decide to come back?”
            “A lot of reasons. I need a fresh start too. I’m tired of the hectic pace in Chicago.” Impulsively she added, “Also, I had to get away from my job at Midwest. A guy was causing some real problems for me—” She stopped. Their eyes met and lingered. Jared’s compassion was evident and the expression on his face kind. She felt so comfortable talking with him—as if they were kindred spirits. Something in her heart softened into a spreading pool, and she smiled at him.
Tearing open his packet of Oreo cookies., Jared took one and dunked it in his hot chocolate.
Kenzie frowned. “Figures. You’re a dunker.”
“And I bet you’re a twister.”
Snatching up a cookie, Kenzie twisted it open and took a bite of the creamy middle. “Ummm.”
Jared shuddered. “That’s wrong in so many ways.”
Picking up her mug and warming her fingers, Kenzie sipped her hot chocolate. “This is wonderful!”
“It’s a secret recipe—been in my family for generations.”
            “No, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?”

Guest Post by Marlene Bateman, Author of For Sale by Owner

How to Improve Your Writing Style

There are many elements of good writing but perhaps one of the least understood is style. What is style? Style is not what you write but how you write. Voltaire said, “Every style that is not boring is a good one.”  But how do you improve something as nebulous as style? Over time, I’ve come up with some simple things that can enhance anyone’s writing style.

1.            The smaller the number of words you use to contain a thought or an image, the more impact it will have.  Let me give you an example: “Lee was a mean woman.” It’s always better to be more specific; “Lee was a shrew.” Another example; “He passed away early in the morning, and people all over America cried.” A much better way to say that is; “He died at dawn and the nation wept.” Do not put extra words in a sentence for the same reason you don’t tape two windshield wipers to the windshield of your car: they wouldn’t serve any purpose, and they would get in the way.
2.            Be wary of adverbs. Adverbs usually only crop up when you use a weak verb and need to boost it. You can use them, but be SURE they are needed. Most aren’t.
3.            Use strong verbs that are active, vivid, specific and familiar.  One example of this is; Buster ate his dog treats quickly. It’s much better to say; Buster gobbled his dog treats.  Don’t use weak general verbs like walk, cry, fall, and touch if the situation calls for plod, weep, collapse, and caress.
4.            Make tension fuel your plot. Without tension, there is no plot.  Remember, whenever the protagonist’s intention is denied, the effect is tension, which readers LOVE.

5.           Create tension through opposition.  The role of the antagonist is to thwart the intention of the protagonist. Don’t make things easy (and boring for your readers) for your protagonist!

6.            Make tension grow as opposition increases.  Tension is a result of a chain of cause and effect, which builds and produces conflict and tension. This is necessary to keep the story going.  Every time something happens, the stakes grow larger and the action snowballs.

7.            Make change the point of your story.  We expect events to affect the main character in such a way as to force a change in his/her personality.  Your main character should be a different person at the end of the book than he was at the beginning.

8.            When something happens, make sure it’s important.  Plot is your compass and gives you a general idea of the direction you’re headed. If you write something that is specifically related to the advancement of the plot, keep it. If not, chuck it.  

9.            Make the causal look casual.  Everything in your writing has a reason, a cause that leads to an effect, which in turn becomes the next cause. For example; If a shotgun is necessary, show it well before it is needed. Make the appearance of the shotgun casual—show it in a way that the reader almost doesn’t notice. Then later, when a gun is called for, readers will remember seeing one earlier.

10.        Make sure your lead character performs the central action of the climax. Keep the main character on center stage with the action. And remember that your main character should act, not be acted upon.

11.        Show, don’t tell.  Showing means creating a picture for the reader.  You can say a person seemed impatient, but it’s better to show that by saying, “She looked at her watch constantly,” or have her ask, “Are you almost done?”
12.        Avoid clich├ęs.  They’re tiresome.
13.        Appeal to the senses.  Bring your writing alive with the sounds, the smells, the flavors, and the peculiar tactile sensations that come from textures and temperature and motion.  Remind the reader that the world sparkles, roars, and sometimes stinks. The senses are touchstones for the reader.  Don’t say it was noisy at the baseball game.  Mention the crack of a bat, the whizzing of a fast ball, the roar of the crowd, and the heckling from the bleachers.
14.        Put emphatic words at the end.  Emphasis tends to flow to the end of a sentence, so if there is one word or phrase you want to say a little louder, put it at the end.  This is especially important when you are trying to be humorous.
15.        Keep it simple.  Write in a simple, direct, unpretentious way—with every sentence an arrow aimed at exactly what it means to say.  Remember you are trying to do one thing; tell a story.

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