Thursday, July 2, 2015

OUR NATION'S BIRTHDAY


As a teenager, the Fourth of July included parades since I played in the marching band. Later as a mother it still included parades where my daughters played and marched or carried flags. And what would the Fourth be without a picnic and fireworks? Many of my Fourths also included fishing and stories about family members who served in various branches of the military. Above all it was a family day, in essence a small piece of what the historic events of 1776 were all about, a time when father, mother, and their offspring could enjoy the fruits of the sacrifices made for them so long ago. 

It was a novel concept back then that people might govern themselves; that matters of religion, education, employment, and self defense rightly belong to the individual. In order to prevent the kind of tyranny they had so narrowly escaped, those founding fathers drew up a constitution that called for an overall government limited to certain responsibilities. The remaining rights were to be restricted to the states in order to keep government as close to the people as possible. Such long time emblems of tyranny as a monarchy, state religion, and the education of only the wealthy were rejected. Opportunity, equality, and freedom became the new mantra of our ancestors who offered their lives in exchange for a new way of doing things. Farmers and shopkeepers became soldiers who suffered and many died for this dream. In the intervening years many other good men and women have died on battlefields around the world where they fought to preserve freedom and the simple red, white, and blue flag under which the revolutionaries fought has grown to include fifty stars. 

With the passage of time, freedom grew to include those who came here against their will and those fleeing poverty and a lack of opportunity elsewhere.  On the way there have been injustices; the Mormons were ordered exterminated by a narrow-minded governor, some areas denied black people the right to vote, Western states were ordered to stop allowing women to vote, some Hispanic transient workers have been denied payment for their hard manual labor and deported instead, Chinese railroad workers were often treated badly, Japanese families were incarcerated. There are, and likely always will be, some low-minded people who will continue to persecute those they consider beneath them, but real Americans revel in the success of anyone who works for it. 

The past week has been troubling for many Americans whether they support non-traditional marriage or not. There is great concern over the usurpation of state rights by the Supreme Court and serious, justifiable concerns about freedom of religion, parental rights, children's rights, divorce laws, and the legality of other potential matrimonial combinations. Most of these concerns could and should have been worked out without the drastic interference of a few unelected individuals. This is what legislatures are for. The hateful, insulting rhetoric being flung about by both sides of the controversy certainly isn't helpful either. Social changes brought about by majority consensus have proved to work better than those forced on people by edict. It will be a challenge and likely involve many contentious years to work out this issue. It's easy to say this doesn't concern me, but in fact it concerns all of us, and we all need to be involved in working out solutions that are fair to all Americans. Let's not let this issue be the one that destroys "justice for all" or the "freedom to worship according to the dictates of our own consciences." 

I'll be cheering at a parade, eat yummy food, and fly the stars and stripes this Fourth. I hope you will too. America is still worth celebrating. And just one more thing, a slogan I learned as a teenager, "Don't go forth with a fifth on the Fourth, or you might not be around to go forth on the fifth."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why I Believe




In today’s crazy world, there are so many mixed messages being broadcast, twittered, published, and shared in various forms of social media, I can understand why there is confusion about what is real, and what is not. We live in a world of technological wonder, and yet there is more unhappiness, misery, anger, and greed flourishing despite all of the remarkable items that are available to make life easier. I have to ask, then, what is missing? In my opinion, it boils to down to simply one thing: we’ve lost our way. We have become so disillusioned, hardened, and skeptical, we no longer believe in the simple things that make life worthwhile: faith, hope, and charity.

I understand the confusion. I felt the same way years ago as a struggling teen. At that time we lived in a community where several religions existed. When school was in session, lunch hour became a heated discussion in the hallway as my peers did their best to prove that their way of thinking was correct. Doctrine was shared and debated, and each day I grew more confused as I tried to figure out for myself what was true.

At home, I continued to receive mixed messages. My mother had always believed in God, and had taught us at a young age that prayer was how we communicated with our Father in heaven. Nightly prayers were encouraged before we went to bed. It had become a habit. Then one day, my maternal grandmother became critically ill. When her life hung by a tiny thread, our father gathered us together in the living room for the first ever family prayer rendered by our clan. For the first time I heard my father pray out loud as he begged for my grandmother’s life to be spared. Sadly, it was not. After her death, my father told me that prayers were not answered. It was a confusing time.

Because it was a habit, I continued to pray each night, and I often begged to know who was right and what was true. Then one night (back in the “olden days” sacrament meeting was held at night) as I sat with some of my friends during a fast and testimony meeting for the LDS church, a young lady stood up to share what was in her heart. She was a college student, and someone most of us respected. As a result, we listened to every word she said. When she shared that she knew she was a daughter of God, my heart began to burn within my chest. It was something I had never experienced before and I was puzzled. Later I would understand that I had received some very strong promptings from the Holy Ghost, but at the time, I had no idea what was happening. Regardless, that incident filled me with a desire to gain a testimony for myself. The problem was, I had no idea how to go about obtaining such a thing. So I asked one of my friends for advice, someone I knew would be honest with me. We were the same age, and she lived next door, which was handy. I wandered over one night to visit, and eventually asked this friend of mine how one went about gaining a testimony. She told me that I needed to read the Book of Mormon, and then pray about it. 

Excitement filled my heart. Could it be that simple? I hurried home to put her counsel to the test. I went inside my bedroom, shut the door for privacy, and dug out my copy of the Book of Mormon. I sat on my bed and read a couple of chapters. Then I closed the book, knelt down in prayer, and asked for a witness that it was true. I was expecting something similar to a fireworks display, and was disappointed when it didn’t happen. I did experience peace of heart, which was an indication I was on the right path, but I was too young and silly to appreciate what that was. 

Disappointed, I tried to go to sleep, my father’s words echoing in my head. “Prayers aren’t answered. No one listens. Why bother?” 

A few days later, I talked to my next door neighbor/friend again and told her about my experience and how disappointed I was. She simply smiled, and told me that I needed to read the entire Book of Mormon—stressing that eventually, I would receive the witness I was seeking. Sighing, I finally comprehended that gaining a testimony wouldn’t happen overnight. 

To make an extremely long story short, let’s just say that during the next few months, opposition descended with a fury. This happens whenever we are trying to do a good thing. The adversary doesn’t just stand idly by when we are struggling to find truth. He throws everything he can at us to prevent that from happening. Doubts are whispered into our hearts and minds. Others around us are prompted to do and say hurtful things that can become obstacles as we seek to find our way. And challenges arise that sometimes bring us to our knees. 

The death of my grandmother that year was a constant heartache. I had been her oldest granddaughter, I carry her name, and there had been a special bond between us. Losing her made me question things I thought I knew about life and death . . . and prayer. 

A few months later, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with Lupus, and we nearly lost her as her kidneys shut down. She spent months residing in a hospital in Salt Lake City as I once again came face to face with questions about life . . . and death . . . and prayer.

Then, adding insult to injury, I was attacked in the park across from my home one night. It wasn’t a random event. I had been called by my attacker (he lied about who he was—and this was before the day of Caller ID) and I was invited to an after-Christmas party, something I was assured all of my friends would be attending. Thinking this was a chance to de-stress, I walked over since the park was just across the street from our house, and found myself under attack from an unknown person. (We never did discover who he was.) Following strong promptings that came immediately (it was like someone was yelling inside my head to get my attention, since I was paralyzed with fright) I fought back and my assailant dropped me in the snow, and ran away. I was not harmed physically, aside from a few bruises, but emotionally, I would carry scars for a very long time. After that, I didn’t trust people. I was terrified to go anywhere alone, especially at night. So on and so forth. Once again I struggled with questions about life . . . death . . . and prayer.

My Young Women leaders were concerned because I seemed to retreat into a shell. I rarely attended meetings, especially those at night. I went to school, came home, and spent a lot of time in my room playing my guitar. I felt betrayed by everyone, including God. How could He have allowed this terrible thing to happen? Wasn’t I trying to be a good person? Hadn’t I been working on gaining a testimony? I was so busy feeling sorry for myself, I blocked out how watched over I had actually been during the attack at the park.
About three months later, my desperate Young Women leaders went to my parents and begged for their help. A tri-stake youth fireside would be held in West Yellowstone that spring and they felt this event would help me return to a sense of normalcy. In the past, my parents had always vetoed trips of this nature. I was their oldest child and they had been a little over-protective. The attack in the park didn’t help with this. However, they were beginning to worry over my retreat from life. And so we witnessed a tiny miracle—my parents gave their permission for me to attend the youth conference. I was stunned. I hadn’t even asked to go, since I didn’t want to go anywhere, and I knew they would say “NO!” My parents and leaders assured I would be watched over and protected during the entire experience, and eventually, I agreed to attend. 
It was a blissful weekend. My friend who had been in the Salt Lake Hospital, was home recovering, and she went with me to this event. The two of us stayed in a hotel room with one of the Young Women leaders—a promise made to my parents—and I felt safe for the first time in weeks. The workshops held were enjoyable, and I actually smiled, something my friends and Young Women leaders pointed out. Everyone held their breath, hoping I was on the way back from my traumatic event. 

The last night of the conference, a special testimony meeting was held. As I sat with my friends, we were in agreement that a person had to be crazy to get up in front of all these people. We had been mixed in with kids from all over the area—it was a tri-stake event and there were people in attendance that we didn’t know.About half-way through the meeting, my heart once again felt like it was on fire—the same thing I had experienced months before when the college girl had shared her testimony. I found that I couldn’t just sit there. I stood up and headed to the pulpit. My friends and leaders were shocked. I had pretty much become a recluse since the attack. Now I was on my feet, walking toward a microphone. That was yet another miracle.

I don’t remember everything I said that day, but I’ve never forgotten how I felt as I shared what was in my heart. It was a simple, heartfelt testimony of truth. No details about my very bad year were shared—but as I stated that I knew I was a daughter of God, a strong witness was borne to me that this was true. And suddenly, all of the answers I had been seeking fell into place. I knew the Book of Mormon was true, something I had been studying all year. And because it was true, I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. All of the pieces of a testimony I had prayerfully begged to obtain, came together. When I returned to my seat, my heart was filled with a joyful peace I’ve never forgotten. That feeling stayed with me the entire night. The best part was, after the meeting, a younger girl in our ward came up to me and gave me a hug, telling me that for the first time, she had felt something from someone else’s testimony—the circle was complete.

I have had many trials—many challenges since that time, but the testimony I worked so hard to obtain, has stayed with me. It has been the glue in my life. Years ago, it helped me heal from a traumatic event that could have ruined everything. It helped me understand the miracles that had been a part of my life all along. It has helped me appreciate the little things that are actually the big things in mortal mode. It has filled me with the knowledge that God is very real, and He loves His children. He does answer prayers—but it is often in a different way and timescale than we anticipate. Faith and hope matter—and being charitable toward others is the key to finding true happiness.

I still reflect on life . . . and death . . . and prayer—but now I know how important these things are. I’ve never taken them for granted and each one has touched my heart in a myriad of ways.

To those of you who are seeking truth—know that the pieces will come together eventually. Sometimes we just have to put our trust in God and steadfastly do those things we know will eventually help us find our way. It will take time and effort, but the end result is very much worth the journey.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

REMEMBERING MY DAD


Since Sunday is Father's Day, I'm devoting my blog to my father today. He was many things during his lifetime, but first of all he was my father. One of his attributes that helped to shape my life was that he was a story teller. The stories he told of homesteading, of his adventures in Canada, a run in with a pack of wolves, his devastation at the loss of loved ones, and his adventures and interactions with others fired my imagination.   

My father, Jed Smith, was born across the river from Shelley, Idaho in a tent with wooden sides and a canvas top. That was his home for the first six years of his life. The year he started school his father took up dry farm land on the edge of the lava rocks sixteen miles away. They built a small house and pens for their stock, dug a well, put in a windmill, and his mother planted a garden. Grandpa worked away from the homestead, leaving the running of the farm to his wife and the three children, who were all under eight at this time. He only made it home about once a month to bring groceries to his family.  

One night Daddy heard an awful racket near the shed where their sow had recently given birth to new little pigs. He ran out to investigate and his mother ran after him with her .38. They found a coyote trying to get the baby pigs. Grandma shot and killed the coyote. The next morning Daddy and his younger brother had the task of hauling the coyote carcass away and burying it. Rattlesnakes and coyotes were a constant threat. 

After three years the family proved up on the homestead, but the crickets wiped out their crop that year, so they moved back to Shelley, painted and fixed up a chicken coop and lived there for almost four years. Though Daddy was only ten years old, he went to work for his grandfather building roads across Idaho and Wyoming. The flu struck their small community and my father and his mother, being the only ones that didn't get the flu, became the caretakers for family and neighbors for miles around. They bathed the sick and cleaned up after them, cooked huge kettles of soup to feed as many people as possible, cared for their stock, and washed and dried bedding. 

When Daddy was thirteen, the family moved to Canada.  He, his brother, and a sister were baptized the night before they started to Canada. Grandpa wanted to wait, but Grandma said she wouldn’t go to Canada unless her kids were baptized before they left. They soon discovered the closest doctor was twenty miles away and that he was an old drunk no one trusted. People began bringing their medical problems to my grandmother and she became the local midwife. Daddy was called out many times during the night to harness the horses and drive his mother to a neighbor’s house where he would huddle in the barn while she delivered a baby. 

Daddy's years in Canada were filled with hard work and little schooling, though he dated the schoolteacher. As the oldest he was expected to help support the family which he did by working on other farms and ranches, driving cattle, cooking for a timber company, mining, refereeing boxing matches, riding broncos in rodeos, and delivering supplies for the Hudson Bay Company by dog sled. In his early twenties he was accepted into the Royal Mounted Police Academy. When he graduated, he didn't become a Mountie because he wasn't a Canadian citizen and his family was talking about returning to the States. Instead he went to work for the RCMP doing many of the same things as the Mounties, but without the red coat. He delivered supplies to far flung outposts, inoculated the Indian tribes against a small pox outbreak, and assisted in a few arrests. 

One Fall, Daddy was threshing grain when a new worker arrived in the field. He showed the man what to do and they worked together all morning. At Dinner and after the man had gone, he found the man was Edward, the Duke of Windsor, who at that time was next in line to be king of England. 

When the depression brought about the loss of the Canadian ranch, the family moved to Camrose for a year. They rented a house and traded their crop for a Whippet car and $600. They then drove back to Shelley, Idaho.

Daddy had a fine singing voice and began singing with a dance band where he became acquainted with the band's female singer. They were married shortly after. The two didn’t have many years together. She died three days before Christmas in 1939, leaving Daddy alone with three little boys, the oldest of which was not quite five years old. His sisters helped him as much as they could with the boys, but many times he tied long ropes to their overalls so they could go from the house to the barn and back, but no farther, while he did chores.  

One night he stopped at a dance in Blackfoot to pick up his brother. He noticed a young woman who was having difficulty discouraging a would-be suitor. He cut in while they were

dancing and wound up falling in love with her. They were married after a short courtship and in the following years added five more children to the family, including me.

My Dad was a farmer, but he wasn't afraid to take on any job that enabled him to support our family. He ran the farm for several years at the state mental hospital, spent most winters sorting potatoes in potato cellars, and worked for the Forest Service in Montana a few years. He was still growing a garden when he passed away a few months before his one hundredth birthday. 

There was a special closeness between my father and me as I grew up. Daddy held me in front of him in the saddle before I could walk. When I had rheumatic fever, he taught a private Sunday School class for me every Sunday morning. He taught me to fish and to shoot. He and I tramped deep into the Bitterroot wilderness area to fish together and when my older brothers all left home, I became the one who ran the dairy and irrigated when he'd be gone for weeks at a time on fires or look-out duty for the forest service. We both had an insatiable desire to discover and learn and we spent hours talking about religion, politics, medicine, the world, nature, and anything else that stirred an interest in either of us. Whenever I gave a talk, was in a play, or did anything he considered noteworthy, not only was he there to cheer me on, but he made sure everyone else knew he considered me special. As the years have gone by, I've become more and more keenly aware of how fortunate I was to grow up with a father who loved me, who taught me, and who gave me wings to fly. I love you, Daddy. Happy Fathers' Day!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Flying By and Leaving Me Behind!

It's amazing how quickly time flies when you are busy. I have a little note that says "Blog" that I stick in my keyboard to remind me when it is my turn to blog. Apparently it has been there for a month and I have been ignoring it because last Friday it was once again my turn to blog and it didn't happen! My list of excuses is much too long to recount.

Someone totally lied when they said we'd have the "Golden Years" to accomplish the fun things we wanted to do! Life doesn't slow down enough for that to happen! Today is the first day in way over a month that I haven't been scheduled for at least two things, and usually three or four. The only thing that I had to do was pick up my husband when he dropped his car off for service after he played golf. Otherwise, the day is mine to finally catch up. Between grandkids, helping a son do projects (and helping a grandson repaint his bedroom furniture black - his mom didn't like the blue and yellow we painted it last fall. He promised me it would be okay with her. It wasn't! ) and preparing a 40 minute 40 slide power point presentation on what information you can find in obituaries, and practicing music to accompany a young man in sacrament, it has been one giant blur. Among a hundred other things on the list! :)

We did find a house for my daughter and her family. They have been in South Carolina for less than a year and discovered they hate rain. It has rained nearly every day that they have been there. She suffers from the seasonal disorder SAD like her dad - they need sunshine! They have had 9 days in a row without rain - the rest of the time it has rained some every single day! (Why can't we have some of that here in the desert!) And it is hot and humid. So her husband found another job back here at Edward's AFB and they will be moving here the 15th of July. That makes us very happy! South Dakota and South Carolina where they've been for the last four years are a long way away! But the house hunting wasn't exactly easy. She has a grand piano that requires a nice sized room and a long-arm quilting machine that needs a 15'x8' space. We would look at a house - take pix and send them to her and tell her about it with pros and cons. It needed to be in a certain school district, needed to be big enough for all her things, and we wanted them to fairly close to us so they could come often and enjoy our pool on these hot desert days when the temperature hangs about 100 degrees. We found one - just a couple of miles away and half mile from the schools they wanted! Hooray!!

We are, of course, in a drought - the fourth year in California so we are struggling to keep a little bit of our lawn green and not lose it - or our trees. Glenn's gardens are suffering but we are trying to stay within our water ration - we have to cut 37% of water usage. Without his gardens and our pool, that would be hard, but with those, it may be impossible! Life is interesting. When my kids come and stay with us the first few days they will be moving into their house, they do not get to shower here! Teenagers and water rationing do not mix!

Right now, I'm going to go get in our pool with hubby and cool off - it's 95 degrees today - then come back and tackle the list of things I have put off for the last month. Hubby's very wise mother told me once, "Relationships are much more important than accomplishing." So I'm putting aside my list of things to do and working on my marriage relationship - as well as getting the exercise I need. I like this kind of multi-tasking! Happy Summer!


Monday, June 8, 2015

The Famed Yellow Brick Road


We all have days when we wonder why we ventured out of bed. Yesterday was a day like that for me. I woke up with a splitting headache that would not go away. It appeared to be a nasty arthritis inspired type of thing--the kind that makes you feel half sick. I tried everything I could think of to encourage its departure, but it was all to no avail. The headache from hades refused to leave, no matter what I did. So I took a time out from life. I soaked in the tub and tried to get my body to calm down. I dressed in comfortable clothes and avoided a frantic pace--something I had been keeping up for several days in a row. I turned on soothing music and closed my eyes, doing my best to relax. I dirfted off to sleep for a bit, and though the headache was persistent, I noticed that I did feel somewhat better after resting.

I love to read, but yesterday reading seemed to aggravate things, so I continued to listen to music. Eventually, I wandered out to the living room and found a movie I haven't watched for a long time--a gift from one of my sons, a modern adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz." It's a six hour adventure (it was originally aired as a mini-series on TV) which is why I've never watched it in one sitting before . . . until last night. I started it at 4:00 and it wrapped up about 10:00 p.m. The nice thing about owning the movie, is that it can be paused for periodic snack breaks. I mostly sat, intrigued by the storyline and noticed an analogy for life. See if any of this sounds familiar:

The heroine, D.G., feels restless. She senses there is something important she is supposed to be doing in her life, but she can't quite figure out what that is. She comments at one point that she just doesn't feel like she fits in with everyone around her. Then suddenly, adversaries arrive in her life, intent on causing her harm. The people she thought were her parents, (they weren't--they were actually keeping her safe until it was time for her great adventure) save her by throwing her into a raging tornado that propels her into a strange land. She finds herself alone, and doesn't know who she is, why she's there, or where she's supposed to be going.

Adventures abound as D.G. meets up with people who help her find her way. These people become her friends and she learns that each one is seeking something they are missing from their life. Glitch longs for wisdom. Tin Man is in need of a change of heart. Raw, a lion looking sort of fellow, lacks courage. Together they help each other as they journey along, seeking the answers to questions that plague. At times everything seems to be upside down as corruption has twisted things that used to be good and pure. It is a confusing journey as the four friends seek for a purpose to their life. They help each other through challenging times, certain their quest is crucial.

D.G. is also aided by hints that arrive just as she needs them most from her real parents. She learns that she is actually the daughter of a queen, and that she has an important mission to fulfill. The happiness of her family depends on the choices she makes. It takes every ounce of stamina and courage she can muster to survive--her faith in what she now knows to be truth gives her the strength she needs to save her family during a perilous time. And in the end, love is what matters most. Love for her family helps D.G. push beyond what she thinks she is capable of accomplishing and she is able to face her fears and stand up for what she knows is right.

This movie has a feel good ending and I found myself smiling when it was finished. And since my brain is always searching for symbolism (no wonder I get doozy headaches on occasion) I reflected on what I perceived was the message. We all start life somewhat like D.G.--most of us try to figure out who we are and why we're here. It would also be nice to have a hint of where we're going. Along the way, we meet people, good and bad, who influence our journey, and the choices we make. The adversary and his minions never make it easy and obstacles always seem to surface at inopportune times. We are tested and challenged along the way, and those experiences, though never fun, are what help shape us into who we're supposed to be. Eventually we figure out that the people who matter most are our family members--those who are truly in our corner when the going gets rough. And in the end, the thing that matters most is love.

So . . . I guess this was an important reminder I needed yesterday. Sometimes we all need a brief time out from life to ponder where we're at on our respective yellow brick roads. It's easy to get bogged down with all of the running and going and doing and trials and challenges. Sometimes we need a reminder that the journey truly is worth it in the end. 




Saturday, June 6, 2015

SUMMER PROJECT


This spring my husband and I started an ambitious project to redo the blocks around our front flower garden and to put a block wall around the large flower garden in our back yard. It's taken longer than expected due to rain, out-of-town trips for two weddings and a funeral, and the discovery that I have a large ulcer. Finally, the past couple of weeks we've had beautiful weather, other than one bad night and a few nose bleeds, I've felt well. Granted my husband has done most of the heavy work and I've tried to keep him from uprooting too many flowers, but it's coming together. What do you think?

 




The project isn't finished, but we're working on it.  

Earlier flowers were a little ragged due to the wild weather, but I think these are gorgeous!
 

 

In case you haven't noticed I have a soft spot for flowers and growing plants. We moved a lot (22 times that I remember!) as I was growing up, but my mother always planted a vegetable garden and lots of flowers wherever we lived. One summer we lived in the caretaker's house in the middle of a cemetery and I thought it was the most beautiful place in the world. Both of my sisters and all of my children plant flowers. It wouldn't be summer without flowers. 

Recently I read an interesting article about bees. Honey bees are dying off and it seems pesticides aren't to blame as first thought. The real culprit is the lack of summer flowers. Fewer people plant flowers than once did and there aren't enough to sustain the bees through the summer, so they starve to death, which in turn, reduces needed pollination for the growth of human food. Environmentalists should be proud of me; I'm doing my part!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

REVIEWERS AND READERS

I've blogged about reviews before, but I'm doing it again. Some people say they never read reviews. That's unfortunate because reviews serve several useful purposes. They're a means of discovering what is new in the book market. They save money by giving readers a glimpse of both the subject matter and the quality of a book so people can make an informed decision concerning purchasing the book. They alert readers to a favorite author's newest release, they serve as a heads up concerning objectionable language, the presence of explicit sex or violence, and alert buyers to the general price of the book and sometimes to where the book can be purchased and in which formats it's available. 

Reviews are generally written with readers in mind, but authors can benefit from thoughtful reviews as well. A review will usually point out areas where the novel excels and in which areas it could be improved. 

Many readers like to share their enjoyment of a book on sites such as face book, Amazon or their own blogs. This is great and a benefit to both readers and writers. Unfortunately there are trolls writing reviews as well as legitimate readers and reviewers. These people get some kind of sick pleasure out of trashing books or poking fun of them. On the other hand I know a reviewer who gives every book five stars and a glowing review no matter what, which isn't helpful either. 

Here are a few suggestions for readers reading reviews. First, be aware of the difference between reviewers who write for a legitimate publication and those who just slap comments on a social page. Professional reviewers may not be as kind as your mom, but will usually give a pretty fair idea of what to expect from a book you may be considering.  Keep a list of bloggers, social page writers, and friends you can depend on to give honest critiques of the books they read. Ignore the rest. 

And here's a little advice for writers. Don't argue with a review. No matter how awful and unfair you feel a review may be it's best to ignore a bad review except to use it to improve the next book if any of the criticism is valid. It's okay to use positive reviews to promote your book, but be sure to credit the review author and the publication. Don't assume your book didn't get reviewed because the reviewer didn't like it. Reviewers receive huge numbers of books and there are many reasons for not reviewing a particular  one; such as already reviewed book or books on that topic recently, reviewed too many books by that particular author in too short a time, doesn't fit the particular publication's policy criteria, etc. 

For nearly fourteen years I've been reviewing adult level LDS novels for Meridian Magazine, a job I love. From a personal point of view, I find LDS authors are getting better and better and I thoroughly enjoy reading most of the books sent to me for consideration. There are some books, even though written by an LDS author, I don't review such as horror, occult, sexually explicit, profanity laced, or books critical of LDS doctrine. I also don't review children's or young adult novels. I do review books from established LDS presses, new publishers, national press, and self publishers in paper format or kindle e-reader format. Both marketing managers and authors are welcome to send books to me for possible review. (Contact me by instant messenger to get my mailing address.)