Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ex Mormon lit part II...

I'm going to start another ExMormon lit post because the other one is so long that it takes forever to load on the page.  As I find more media of interest to Ex Mormons that I personally have experiences with, I will add to this post.  Some of the links to reviews on this page are no longer good because Epinions tanked.  I am in the process of updating the links to the reviews I managed to move to my blog.

Books about the Mormon Missionary experience

Way Below the Angels by Craig Harline

Back in the 70s, Craig Harline spent two years in Flemish speaking Belgium trying to convert beer loving Belgians to Mormonism.  He wasn't as successful as he'd imagined he'd be in terms of wooing new Mormon converts.  One could say his mission was a success in that he learned to love another culture and its people and he learned to be himself.  Highly recommended, though this book is not necessarily "exMormon lit" since Harline is still a believer.

Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary by Jacob Young

I just finished this book by Jacob Young, who spent two years on a Mormon mission in Russia.  He writes a beautiful tribute to his missionary years, though I think he suffered a crisis of faith.  I myself was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia, which is not so far from Russia.  I identified with a lot of what he wrote about, though his mission and mine were very different.  Young writes very well and really puts a human face on what it's like to be a missionary in Russia at a time when life in Russia was especially tough...  Highly recommended.

Books about Leaving Mormonism

Sacred Road: My Journey Through Abuse, Leaving the Mormons, and Embracing Spirituality by Todd Maxwell Preston.

This book is about a New Zealand born son of Mormon converts who grew up in a huge family.  Todd Maxwell Preston's parents were born and raised in New Zealand and they embraced the Mormon church, which led to them relocating back and forth between New Zealand and Utah.  Preston writes about what it was like to be raised in the church, expected to adhere to strict Mormon rules, and conform to the mold set by an abusive father.  Preston's journey out of the church is very personal and difficult and he experienced many losses along the way.

Happiest Misery: My Life As A Mormon by Jared Lonergan

Interesting book about a guy who grew up Mormon after his parents converted.  This book is different in that Jared Lonergan writes a bit about his apparent eating disorder.  He was also quite obsessive about sex, which wasn't a good thing given the fact that masturbation is forbidden among Mormons.

Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church by Lynn K. Wilder

This book is about a former Brigham Young University education professor who converted to Mormonism and left the church after about 30 years.  She and the rest of her family are now "biblical Christians" who live in Florida.  I wasn't all that impressed with this book because it seems to me that the professor is still somewhat Mormon.  I understand that it takes a long time to get out of that way of thinking, though… especially given how long she was LDS.  This is probably a good book for those who are still religious and looking for a faith promoting story.

I'm (No Longer) A Mormon by Regina Samuelson

I just finished this very interesting book by former Utah teacher and ExMormon Regina Samuelson, who made the decision to leave the LDS church.  "Regina Samuelson" is a pseudonym and the author explains why she has chosen not to use her real name.  After that, she offers some very entertaining and enlightening stories about her time as a Mormon and what ultimately led her to abandon the faith.  She outlines what she stood to lose by leaving the church as she explains why those losses weren't enough to stop her from abandoning her beliefs.  Lots of mindblowing anecdotes about the life of a Brigham Young University student and church members in general.  Highly recommended.

True Crime involving Mormons

Picture Perfect: The True Story of a Beautiful Photographer, her Mormon Lover, and a Deadly Obsession by Shanna Hogan

This is a book about Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander.  Jodi Arias had a torrid affair with Travis Alexander, a proper Mormon man and returned missionary.  Though they apparently had sex plenty of times, Alexander did not return Arias' romantic ardor.  On June 4, 2008, Arias savagely murdered Alexander as he showered.  In 2013, the world would watch as Jodi Arias was tried for her crime.  I thought this book was pretty decent, though I'm not sure Shanna Hogan presented Travis Alexander in the most objective light.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart and Chris Stewart

Elizabeth Smart finally shares her memories of being kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  The writing is decent, though not especially great.  The book is not especially graphic, which I'm sure will be a relief to many readers.  Elizabeth Smart really survived an ordeal and I have new respect for her after reading her book.

I'm Just An Ordinary Girl: The Sharon Kinne Story by James Hays

This is a true crime book written by James Hays.  It's not especially well-written, but may be interesting to Mormons and ExMormons because one of the crime victims was LDS.  Sharon Hall met and married her husband, James Kinne, at a church sponsored dance in Independence, Missouri.  Kinne was a devout Mormon with equally devout Mormon parents, while Sharon Kinne was a foul-mouthed sociopath who thought nothing of snuffing out his life for $29,000 and blaming his death on a gun accident perpetrated by their two year old daughter, Danna.  This book seriously needs some editing, but I still found it interesting.  It might be worth a look if you enjoy true crime.

Scouts Dishonor: A Personal Story of God, Abuse, Recovery, and Truth by Tommy Womeldorf

This is Womeldorf's account of being molested by a Boy Scoutmaster and eventually falling into a destructive spiral of alcoholism and drug addiction.  Womeldorf eventually recovered and decided to take action against the LDS church and the Boy Scouts of America.

Books not about Mormonism, but other oppressive religions

I was inspired to add this section by a comment made on RfM by a poster who was interested in books that are not about Mormonism but similarly restrictive faiths.

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini and Rebecca Paley

Leah Remini's story about growing up in and eventually leaving Scientology after becoming a celebrity.

Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman

Interesting book about a woman who was raised a Hasidic Jew in Williamsburg, New York.  Deborah Feldman grew up under the watchful eye of her strict grandparents and other extended relatives who expected her to marry young to a properly raised Hasidic Jew.  When Feldman realized how oppressive she found Hasidic Judaism, she decided to leave the faith.  Witty, entertaining, and a page turner, though I think understanding this book completely requires familiarity with Judaism.

I'm Perfect, You're Doomed by Kyria Abrahams

Entertaining book about a woman of Jewish descent whose parents became Jehovah's Witnesses.  Kyria Abrahams eventually decided to leave the JWs and wrote a very frank and somewhat funny book about what JWs believe and what drove her from the faith.  I thought this book was very interesting, though I didn't condone some of the author's manipulative behaviors.  Recommended.

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp

This book is not specifically about religion, though the author is a lapsed Jehovah's Witness.  She gives a very informative look at what it's like to be homeless.  She also ties her former faith into her story.  I really liked this book.

My Billion Year Contract: Memoir of a Former Scientologist by Nancy Many

Here's a fascinating look at Scientology written by someone who was once L. Ron Hubbard's right hand woman.  Nancy Many joined Scientology in the 1970s, signing a "billion year contract", pledging her allegiance to the Sea Org.  I didn't think Nancy Many was the best writer, but I appreciated her story.  If you're looking for a first person narrative, this is a pretty interesting book, though I have read others that I liked better.

The Church of Fear: Inside the Weird World of Scientology by John Sweeney

Well-written look at Scientology written by an author whose writing is sometimes very entertaining and sometimes annoying.  This book is certainly not an objective look at Scientology, but it is well-researched and factually based.  I liked it.

Banished: Surviving My Years In The Westboro Baptist Church by Lauren Drain and Lisa Pulitzer

Interesting book written by one of Westboro Baptist Church's few members not related to the Phelps' family.  Lauren Drain's father meant to make an expose about the Westboro Baptist Church and ended up joining its followers.  Drain was raised in the church and was later expelled.  I thought her book was very revealing, though I got the sense that she missed her church family.

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill and Lisa Pulitzer

Lisa Pulitzer ghost writes yet another fascinating book about an oppressive religion.  This is the story of Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece to David Miscavige, leader of Scientology and former Sea Org member.  I thought this book was very well written and informative.  Well worth reading if you are interested in Scientology escape stories.

Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me by Ron Miscavige and Dan Koon

Book about Ron Miscavige, father of Scientology head, David Miscavige.  Ron and his wife, Becky, eventually escaped the church and are now speaking (and writing) about their experiences.

A link to my review of the San Antonio production of The Book of Mormon Musical...

My review of the Book of Mormon Soundtrack...

An excellent memento of The Book of Mormon Musical...
Oct 14, 2013

Review by knotheadusc

Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros: Hilarious. Beautifully performed. Explicit language.
Cons: May offend some audiences. Explicit language.
The Bottom Line:  This show is hysterical... and I loved the music.

A couple of weeks ago my husband Bill and I visited the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas. We were there to see the final production of The Book of Mormon Musical, which is currently touring. For a long time, I had been wanting to see this musical that comes to us courtesy of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez. Parker and Stone are, of course, the pair who created South Park. Robert Lopez is known for his work on Avenue Q. My interest in this show is two-fold. First off, my husband is a former Mormon and pretty much lost his family to Mormonism after he decided it wasn't for him. Secondly, I have a wicked sense of humor and knew this show would be hilarious. I wasn't disappointed. It was very funny and I left the theatre humming the songs. I decided I had to have a copy of the soundtrack released in June 2011. This, of course, is the original Broadway Cast, not the group performing the night we caught the show.

The Book of Mormon Musical is basically a story of two missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham. Elder Price is a gung ho missionary who is polished and ready to spread the gospel. Elder Cunningham is overweight, a compulsive liar, and not the most devout missionary in the world. The two are sent to Uganda, a place that could be described as hell on Earth. There, they are confronted by locals who care a lot more about poverty and avoiding the warlord obsessed with female circumcision and spreading AIDS. Elder Price and Elder Cunningham have their work cut out for them.

What I love about this show and its awesome music is that it really does lay out the expectations of young LDS men to go out and spread the gospel. These guys used to go out at age 19, but now can go as young as 18. Many of them start out full of excitement and bravado, only to be confronted by the harsh reality that most people aren't interested in converting to Mormonism. In most places, it's because they are happy with their beliefs or lack thereof. In this story, it's because the locals have so much more to worry about than churches.

The Book of Mormon Musical soundtrack features Andrew Rannel in the role of Elder Price and Josh Gad as Elder Cunningham. Nikki M. James plays the lead female role, Nabulungi, a pretty young woman who is a local. Her father, Mafala Hatimbi, is played by Michael Potts. All of the players are excellent in their roles.


This show is very irreverent and may be shocking even to someone who doesn't mind foul language. It will likely offend most devout Mormons. The song "Hasa Diga Eebowai" is especially profane and includes quite a lot of mentions of the so-called c word. Frankly, I like the song because to me it makes perfect sense. But if you are at all offended by filthy words, you will probably not like this show or its tunes. There is a lot of explicit language and some rather graphic descriptions of legitimate horrors in Africa and elsewhere.

The songs
The first song, "Hello", gets things off to a great start with a hilarious look at how missionaries operate around the world, trying to get people to read their book after they ring the doorbell.

"Two By Two" is a musical look at how missionaries find out where they're going (though this isn't really accurate, it works for the show). Elder Price watches his friends going to fun places and hopes the same for himself. That's where he finds out where he's going...

"You and Me (But Mostly Me)" is a song by Elder Price and Elder Cunningham about how they are going to go to Uganda and kick major butt as missionaries.

This show boldly confronts the way church members deal with homosexuality. The song "Turn It Off" in Act I is especially great, since Elder McKinley (played by Rory O'Malley) and the other missionaries is sort of the head guy singing about his gay tendencies. But he "turns off" those feelings, like a lightbulb. Having hung out with a lot of former Mormons, a few of them gay, I know this technique is often encouraged among members who struggle with what they refer to as "same sex attraction". A lot of gay members end up marrying women and have sexless, loveless marriages that ultimately fail.

"I Am Here For You" is a sweet bonding song between Elders Price and Cunningham as they commit to helping each other be successful in the mission.

In "All-American Prophet", the missionaries and the rest of the company start telling the story of the Book of Mormon... told, sort of South Park style. They get the story pretty accurate and the song is one you can tap your toes to.

Nabulungi starts to think maybe there is something to Mormonism and sings a lovely solo called "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" (Salt Lake City in an African accent).

"Man Up" is an edgy rock number about manning up and getting the job done. Elder Price freaks out.

In Act II, things really kick into high gear, when Elder Price becomes discouraged and decides to run off, hoping he'll be sent to Orlando, Florida, which is where he wanted to go in the first place. Instead, he ends up having a nightmare about Hell. Meanwhile, Elder Cunningham's penchant for telling lies comes in handy as he becomes the first missionary who manages to convert the locals.

When Elder Price wakes up, he starts thinking he needs to atone for trying to run off. He barges into the warlord's den and sings a heartfelt song to him "I Believe". This is a great number that was featured on the 2011 Tony awards. The warlord seems like he might be listening, but then we soon find out what he really thought.

Meanwhile, Elder Cunningham baptizes Nabulungi as they sing "Baptize Me". Again, this part is not entirely accurate, but it works for the show. With that baptism, more come and Elder Cunningham is hailed as Uganda's most successful missionary for telling lies. Since he was not supposed to be left alone (missionaries must always be with their companions), Elder Price and Elder Cunningham have broken the rules.

"I Am Africa" is an inspiring song that sort of channels The Lion King. It's a song that calls on all the most famous things about Africa and how it's a great place. The music is uplifting, but the words are cynical.

"Joseph Smith American Moses" is a hilarious song the Ugandans perform for the Mormon leaders who have visited to congratulate Elder Cunningham on his success. The performance is based on the twisted story Elder Cunningham told the locals. It becomes clear that Elder Cunningham didn't do his job correctly and all his successes were false.

"Tomorrow is a Latter Day" is the showstopping ending. I won't give it away.


I loved the show and was not offended by the language or graphic sexual stuff in it. Like most South Parkepisodes, this show is on the surface offensive, but there's definitely a moral. Naturally, I love The Book of Mormon Musical soundtrack. I would not recommend it to those who are offended by blasphemy, swearing, or anti-Mormonism. On the other hand, I know of at least one person who joined the LDS church after seeing this show and the Playbills were full of ads for the LDS church.

I will share that the theatre was packed on the night we saw the show and there was a prolonged standing ovation. Of course the Broadway cast did just as well as the touring cast did. So if you liked the show or just want to hear the songs, you should get the soundtrack. Five stars from me.

The liner notes come with printed lyrics and photos.

Recommend this product? Yes

Great Music to Play While: Listening

I think it may be time for a new post... Stay tuned for Part III of my Exmo Lit review series!


  1. The Regina Samuelson book sounds like something into which I could seriously delve. I'll need to order it.

    1. I think you'll like it. She's pretty cool. I posted my review on her Facebook page and she got very excited and friended me!

  2. Thanks for this blog...appreciate your frank reviews.

    1. Thanks for reading! I hope my lists help you find good books!


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