Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Book Reviews (page 1 of 7)

Good Christian books I can recommend

The Heart That Heals

The Heart that Heals by Patsy Burnette is a Bible study guide written out of Patsy’s pain and heartache over losing her teenage sister Ginger. It is a very gentle, non-threatening study that can be used as a journal (as I did) and is split into three parts, looking at emotions, burdens, and growing in Christ. Each chapter opens with a beautifully hand-drawn design with a Bible verse for the reader to colour in.

As soon as I heard of The Heart that Heals being launched, I was desperate to read and use it. It is written by a woman who knows how it feels to be broken and wonder if anything will ever be ‘okay’ again. This book is a good, safe read for anyone who is broken and raw. Patsy’s style is very gentle. She knows about broken souls.

I think it is a book where the reader will get as much or as little out of it depending on his or herself. Each chapter closes with three questions aimed at helping the reader think through what he or she has just read and note down any changes they will make as a result.

At times, I found the book bordering on being a little shallow – as if truths were being skimmed over. I felt there were places where the book could easily have gone deeper. It also sometimes felt slightly repetitive.

But, I also found it thought-provoking and urging me into action. After completing the study on the importance of bearing one another’s burdens, I sent a thank you card to a faithful friend who prays for me every day.

The book reminded me of who God is, what His character is like, and what He thinks of me. I needed that. It helped me get back into the Bible again, and that can only be a good thing!

Here is a quote from The Heart that Heals that blessed me.

Sometimes we think that turning to God and relying on His mercy, grace and comfort will make our brokenness disappear.
No, not necessarily. Relief from our brokenness may not always be the best thing for us.
Relief is not always in His plan, but peace is.

I was privileged to be chosen to be part of Patsy’s online launch team and to have received Kindle and printed copies of the book to provide an unbiased review. I have given it 4* on Amazon.

Love Beyond

I enjoyed reading Love Beyond by Heidi Baumgartner, of how God has used her to bring His love to the women working in Soho’s red light district for the past thirty-odd years.

Heidi opens the book with her childhood, early adulthood and how she came to know Jesus for herself and His subsequent call for her to minister to sex workers. She tells it as it is, which I like: the difficulties, enjoyment, ups, downs and everything in between. You have to be in this type of work for the long haul as there are no quick fixes. Lots of prayer, commitment to visit the same venues regularly regardless of whether there is a welcome at the door, praising in the darkness, always asking God for His Kingdom to come in this place among these people.

She writes: ‘I think it’s the most amazing thing to be able to worship Jesus in the midst of a dark place, knowing that God inhabits the praises of His people and that praising Him changes the spiritual atmosphere.’

And: ‘One day while I was in Soho, I began my prayer time by singing to the Lord. The moment I started to praise Him, Jesus gave me a brief glimpse into the spiritual realm and I saw strange-looking creatures running away. With their hands they were covering their ears, saying, “Oh no, she is singing again!”‘

In the book are stories to celebrate, of women leaving the sex trade and some committing their lives to following Jesus. Heidi also shows the other side of such work, of faithfully ministering and offering friendship and support over many years without ever seeing any real change.

She is also very real and writes of how God does not hesitate to show up in the most unlikely places:

‘We all felt His wonderful presence and once more I was deeply touched by His amazing grace. Jesus really cares about people and nothing escapes Him. He heard the prayers of four people, praying in a tiny kitchen on the first floor of a brothel in Soho, and decided to visit us by His Holy Spirit.’

Having volunteered in this type of work myself elsewhere in the UK, I know firsthand how discouraging it can be and how oppressive it feels at times. It is also highly rewarding and I loved meeting with women working on the street as well as those working in massage parlours. What astounded me about Heidi was her level of commitment to the women: for years she actually lived in Soho within easy walking distance of the women to whom she ministered. I particularly loved that the women weren’t a ‘project’ to her but she showed them real, authentic friendship. They often had meals together and the women knew how much Heidi loved them. I think the fact she has not burnt out reveals her passionate heart for God because only He could sustain a ministry like this.

It’s a great book and I highly recommend it. I’ll leave you with two more quotes:

‘…after visiting the flats in Soho for thirty years I still don’t believe that a woman wakes up one morning and says to herself that she’s going to earn her living by working as a prostitute.’

‘Jesus responded that I should never stop asking for His Kingdom to come, regardless of the people or the situation.’

 

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

 

Lucy Butterfly: Ella In Between

I enjoyed reading the Lucy Butterfly series by Heather Cursham, which are intriguing fantasy adventure stories. They reminded me of CS Lewis’ Narnia series.

Lucy Butterfly and her young sister Ella are girls with a love of adventure. The randomly find themselves in a magical kingdom after falling asleep, where they are heroines on a quest. They make key friends in the kingdom as well as meeting talking animals. In the process, they learn more about themselves; maybe that is the point of them visiting the kingdom.

A Dream Tale is the first in the series in which Lucy falls asleep to find herself on a quest to break the curse of the kingdom.

Lucy Ever After sees both Lucy and little sister Ella on a joint mission to set the now struggling kingdom free from darkness.

In this third book Ella In Between, Lucy is away on a gap year in sub-Saharan Africa where she is putting into practice all the things she learned in the kingdom. Ella finds herself in the kingdom once again, not so much to help her friends there but to learn vital life lessons for herself through an exciting treasure hunt.

Like the Narnia series, there are Christian threads if you have eyes to see it, though these books could be read and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Heather Cursham has a well-paced, easy-to-read writing style and there was enough ‘grip’ to keep me turning the pages to see what would happen next.

It is a YA series I will happily recommend to friends with children.  I give it 4* on Amazon.

 

The Gardener’s Daughter

Motherless nineteen-year-old Ava has always believed brilliant botanist Theo Gage to be her father. But when a chance discovery reveals she is not his daughter, her world falls apart. Determined to discover her true identity, Ava impetuously runs away and enlists the help of inexperienced private detective, Zavier Marshall. Pursued by shadowy figures, she takes on a new name and follows in her dead mother’s footsteps to work at the mysterious Fun World Holiday Camp. Penniless and cut-off from everything she’s ever known, and trapped in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a ruthless criminal gang, will Ava survive in a world where she s more valuable dead than alive? Will she discover the shocking truth behind her mother’s death? And will she find her real father before it s too late?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is intriguing and kept me guessing right to the very end with its twists and turns. The characters surrounding Ava are not necessarily who they seem to be, whether from her past or in her present.

The Gardener’s Daughter is cleverly written and is a satisfying read. I had been looking forward to this next book by K A Hitchins and I wasn’t disappointed. She is right up there as one of my favourite authors. I’m giving this book 5* on Amazon and can highly recommend it.

New Life: Reflections for Lent

I’m absolutely delighted to be part of a brand new book that has just been released: New Life: Reflections for Lent. Conceived by the committee of the Association of Christian Writers, they invited and accepted contributions from different members. Each contributor has written a devotional, poem, or story for every one of the forty days of Lent.

It’s a joy and honour to have been a part of this project and I can hardly believe that my dream of being published has now been realised twice. I co-authored Drawn from Words (another Lent project!) in 2016, and now New Life. Yesterday afternoon, I was kept busy posting out copies to friends. I can’t quite believe this is happening!

I have a few copies at the bargain promotional price of £5 plus postage. If you would like to order one, please leave a comment below with your email address and I’ll get in touch. UK only I’m afraid.

God is amazing isn’t He?! He puts dreams in our hearts and then fulfils them as we press on with Him. Wow. Just wow.

 

Taking Off The Mask

We all have a tendency to wear a mask. There is a need to hide who we really are. Maybe we have been badly hurt by someone we trusted in the past. Or perhaps we’ve been told at some point we were no good. Whatever the reason, we put on a mask to try and fit in and make ourselves acceptable or protect ourselves from further hurt.

As we hide our innermost self from others, we can end up hiding even from our own self.

Taking off the Mask by Claire Musters is a helpful new book dealing with this whole area of hiding who we are from others and ourselves. Claire talks openly and honestly about serious problems in her marriage and church life that arose because of wearing a mask and were made worse by continuing to wear it. Only when she was prepared to let the mask drop and face who she really was could she experience freedom to be the beautiful woman God made her to be.

We need to realise that it is what God thinks of us and says about us that is important, not what others think and say, or even what we think about ourselves. Our own thought lives are often so damaging to us and are indicative of deep pain hidden inside, keeping us trapped behind a mask.

Claire opens the book with her own story before, in subsequent chapters, taking the reader gently step-by-step through a process of learning to see where and in front of whom we hide ourselves and how to work through that to freedom. At the end of each chapter are searching questions designed to help the reader gain insight and benefit from working through the book. It would be possible to read and work through this on your own, though probably better with a trusted friend or counsellor.

I found it helpful to journal my way through the book by making a note of particular points that spoke to me:

Spidergram of Taking off the Mask…too often we can act out a part that we believe is expected of us, rather than truly living in the freedom that God’s love brings.

He [God] delights in us and wants us to enjoy the experience of being ourselves, and yet so often we can be trapped in an unnecessary cycle of pretence.

Let go of the fig leaves of shame and guilt. Accept God’s covering of forgiveness and righteousness.

We need to learn to stop looking to others for validation, and spend more time gazing on our Father’s face.

…sometimes we …can look at the difficult circumstances we are in and allow them to colour our view of God and ourselves.

The adventure of embracing all that He [God] has called me to is really liberating.

I have given Taking off the Mask 4* on Amazon. I was provided with a free copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review for the book’s launch today.

 

Undivided Heart

Undivided Heart by Lucy Mills is a thoughtful book based on a verse from Psalm 86 in which the psalmist prays: ‘… give me an undivided heart…’

In the first half of her book, Lucy explores what makes us who we are and what motivates our actions. She looks at the many different things that give us a divided heart: our drives and desires, issues, circumstances, boxes we squeeze ourselves into, social media, and labels we put on ourselves or allow others to give us. All of these things can limit us, create unnecessary burdens, and keep us from enjoying the abundant life God has planned for each one of us.

The second half of the book, Lucy considers what has motivated God’s people in the past (from the Bible) and looks ahead to our glorious future with God, and how abundant life is offered right now. Our incentive is to enjoy some of the benefits of knowing God now, not in a ‘health, wealth, prosperity’ way, but in going deeper in our relationship with God and seeing His kingdom come.

If kingdom is about the royal reign of God… then the ‘requirements’ of living under this reign emphasise how we live together under the kingship of God. … being generous… acting with fairness and justice, forgiveness and mercy.

In the kingdom, treasures are found in unexpected places, the poor are considered rich and the weak are made strong.

Somewhere, right now, two people with two different viewpoints are praying together in the name of Jesus, under the banner of love. Such is the kingdom.

Having an undivided heart results in God being so crucial to us that we are able to face suffering that has no answers here. Lucy looks at Job, and how God did not answer his ‘why?’ but gave him a vital encounter with Himself. God didn’t give Job answers, He gave Job Himself. Lucy also considers how Jesus – the Son of God – came to fully identify with us in our suffering. He became our sin so that we could have God’s righteousness. In our sufferings, God gives Himself.

In her final chapter, Lucy sums up what it means to ask God for a united or undivided heart.

An undivided heart is not soft, pink romantic snuggliness. It’s a fierce, focused, even suffering heart, which looks towards its one redeemer. A heart which longs and thirsts and waits.

Each of the twenty chapters is short. Included within most if not all of the chapters is a Bible verse or passage and a poem. Each chapter concludes with a few helpful questions to aid the reader in gaging where their own heart may be divided and how this can be changed.

I thought Lucy incredibly insightful in this book, which is uncomfortable at times and helpfully illuminating at others. I certainly had one or two light bulb moments in reading it.

I have given it 4* on Amazon. I was provided with a free copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review for the book’s launch this week.

Out of Silence

I’d been looking forward to the second of Annie Try’s books in the Dr Mike Lewis series and I wasn’t disappointed. Out of Silence gripped me from the first page and kept me guessing right to the very end with its twists and turns. Absolutely brilliant.

Bearded Dr Mike Lewis is the central character, a clinical psychologist suffering from depression and struggling to keep on top of his busy and demanding job. He lives alone in a soulless flat following the death of his young son and subsequent break-up of his marriage. You get the impression he has lived in a vacuum for the past five years from which he is now beginning to emerge. It is almost funny watching this loveable bumbling man’s bachelor-type ineffectual attempts at everyday life. He comes across as caring but quite naïve at times, very human in fact and someone I could relate to.

Another key character is Mike’s young client Johnny Two, a teenage asylum seeker who is so traumatised he is unable to speak. Helping to unlock Johnny’s voice with pretty art therapy colleague Anita helps Mike to come to terms with his past and finally allow himself to grieve the loss of his son.

Working with Anita involves Mike in a bit of a love triangle featuring the two of them and his ex-wife Ella. Mike’s bewildered confusion and efforts to make things right is all rather endearing.

Add in a grumpy, stressed social worker who is extremely sceptical about Johnny Two’s alleged trauma, medical secretaries who don’t hesitate to let Mike know their approval (and disapproval) of his treatment of Anita, and a dangerous psychopathic patient stalking Mike’s colleague, and you have a fascinating read.

I loved this book and have given it 5* on Amazon. It’s a novel where you think, ‘Just one more page and then I’ll go to bed,’ and an hour later you’re still avidly reading. I’m looking forward to more in the Dr Mike Lewis series.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

Ordinary Miracles

Challenging, exhilarating, faith-raising, adventure-stirring, full of ouch moments.

Ordinary Miracles: Mess, Meals and Meeting Jesus in Unexpected Places by Chris Lane is about making friends and being church on an inner-city estate. The author is open, honest and real, telling it like it is. Sometimes you are blown away by what God does, other times there are no happy endings. It’s messy and complicated but heart-warming.

I was struck by God being at work in every place at all times. So often I pray asking him to be at work in this and that. This book opened my eyes to the fact that He is already at work and it’s we who need to tune in to what He is doing in any given situation. I find this really exciting: being able to show people where God is already at work in their lives (I’ve already been able to put this into practice with a lovely woman I met in the red light district). Chris writes:

I now get offended when I hear a place or a person being described as ‘godless’, because I think it is an offence to our God who is always reaching out, always seeking the lost, always bringing His light into the darkest places. He asks that we follow Him to those people and places.

I think this makes life more challenging (in a good way) because we can’t just write off people of whom we disapprove. If our God is already reaching out to them, we need to be big-hearted enough to follow Him. Challenging!

This book also raises my faith for miracles to happen. Chris is open and honest about how hard it is to step out of your comfort zone to offer to pray with strangers in the pub or in the street. Yet when he made the effort, things happened. People were healed physically and emotionally, and situations changed. God’s presence fell on the least likely people and they were astounded to discover He loved them.

Your church may run a food bank,
but who sits around your dinner table?

Finally, I was hugely challenged by the need to share life with people different to me. It’s not enough to do a few acts of charity, and retreat. Jesus didn’t work that way. He shared life with people. As Chris points out in the book, a lot of the Gospels is about Jesus eating and spending time with ‘sinners’. He didn’t have projects, He had friends. Chris’ church is based around a dinner table and everyone is welcome. Not just a nice ideal, but a messy reality. This particular passage has stayed with me:

When all our connections with those different to us are based on the modern idea of charity, we are able to hold people at arm’s length, while easing our consciences that we are making a difference in the world. Jesus goes much further than this, and challenges us to do the same. Your church may run a food bank, but who sits around your dinner table?

Ouch. That last sentence makes me deeply uncomfortable…. And it’s right that it does. But what are Adi and I going to do about it…?

Ordinary miracles should come with a health warning. If read thoughtfully, life may never be the same again….

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

 

 

Lydia’s Song

This novel on child sex trafficking in Cambodia is written in three parts. The first section focuses on Lydia, an English woman in the year 2036. She reminisces about her expat life thirty years previously: fostering a homeless child called Song and falling in love with Radha, a local man. It was a life of contentment until tragedy struck.

The second section is all about Song, the young Vietnamese refugee child in Cambodia who was fostered by Lydia. The two met when Song had run away from an unhappy home life. Lydia took her in and the pair settled into a comfortable life together. Then Radha came on the scene. He worked as a receptionist at the English doctor’s practice. Charming, pleasant, full of fun: life seemed perfect.

But then Song was trafficked into the child sex industry. Bought and sold. Lydia tried frantically to find her but it was impossible.

The third and final section brings both Lydia’s and Song’s stories together to a satisfying conclusion.

The book is well-researched and highlights the plight of many young children in this part of the world. Song’s story is particularly well-written and gives enough information without being brutal with gruesome details.

Personally, I didn’t warm to Lydia as a character but liked Song who, despite a rocky start and horrific experiences as a girl, turns out as a lovely, balanced woman.

I think this book would be a useful place to start for anyone wanting to learn more about child sex trafficking.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing an unbiased review.

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