Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Category: Book Reviews (page 1 of 6)

Good Christian books I can recommend

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.

At Therapy’s End

What a powerful book. It drew me in from the first page. The storyline covers very difficult issues: domestic violence, loss of a child, mental illness. But the characters seem real and make you care about them. Susie gives tantalising clues throughout which keep you guessing before bringing it to a very satisfying conclusion.

This novel really made me think, similar to how Francine Rivers uses her novels to open up hard issues and challenge your thought processes and attitudes.

Domestic abuse has a huge impact on not only the perpetrator and survivor but on the children as well. They see and hear and sometimes physically experience the violence and mind-controlling abuse. It has a knock-on effect for life, and though there can be freedom and healing, it is a long and very painful process for the survivor and those affected.

The loss of a child is also a terrible thing that no parent should ever have to go through.

Susie explores these issues sensitively and realistically without them becoming too emotionally overwhelming for the reader. It made me cry at times. It made me think.

It’s a very good book, well-written, realistic, gritty at times, but heart-warming too; there is always hope.

I’d recommend it. Not necessarily an easy read because of the issues being dealt with, but very well worth it. I think it would be especially helpful for anyone who has friends or relatives in an abusive relationship or who are grieving the loss of a child.

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

The Girl at the End of the Road

I loved The Girl at the End of the Road. I completely forgot I was reading, which is the type of book I like best. It’s a true page-turner and keeps you guessing.

The main character, Vince, has worked hard to forget his roots and make a successful life for himself in London. But the story opens as his career comes crashing down, taking his home and an intimate relationship with it.

We follow Vince’s story as he moves back in with his parents in the village where he grew up. It is fascinating to see his reactions in reconnecting with old school friends, one of whom – Sarah – appears quite eccentric.

The reader goes on a journey with Vince as he painfully rediscovers [read more]

 

Refugee Stories

This is seven real-life stories of people who became refugees and sought asylum in the UK. They are written in the individuals’ voices and edited by Dave Smith who brought the book together and adds facts at the end of each story.

I was struck by how normal – middle class even – these seven individuals are. Each one was educated, often very well off in their own country, but ended up having to flee their homes for various reasons. The first six stories are very similar though set in various countries. The seventh story is a little different.

It opens up the reality of the having to deal with the Home Office. After going through all sorts of major trauma in their own countries, often with their lives under threat, and difficult journeys to the UK, the last thing these people need is to deal with endless and – at times – seemingly badly organised bureaucracy.

This book brings the vagueness of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers down to the individual’s story I’m reading.

For anyone wanting to know what it’s really like to flee your country in fear of your life, this is a useful book.

It’s not easy reading. Partly because with the exception of one or two stories I could never forget I was reading and that made it hard work. I think this was because each chapter has a different ‘voice’ and so the writing doesn’t always flow easily.

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

 

The Search for Home

The Search for Home is the true story of Beatrice Smith who was ten-years-old when the troubles between the Hutus and Tutsis broke out in Rwanda in the 1990s. She witnessed horrific events and saw scenes no human being should ever have to see.

From Rwanda, her family fled (literally) across the border into Zaire, then onward to Kenya, before enduring a lonely year in Swaziland. They spent four years as refugees, often homeless and hungry, trying to learn new languages and cultures, desperate to stay together against the odds.

At last Beatrice’s father sought asylum in the UK and, after much prayer and many problems along the way, the rest of the family were able to join him.

The family’s faith and prayer life shines out of this book. Their commitment to praying when all hope seemed lost challenges my prayer-life, and I had to remind myself that Beatrice and her siblings were children. But they also saw God answering their prayers in amazing and unexpected ways.

This book is so timely for today. It’s easy to get desensitised to seeing weary men, women and children walking along dusty roads clutching bundles and blankets or even seeing them crowded into flimsy dinghies trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Beatrice’s story makes refugees human again. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose my home and be forced to flee England because of war. Beatrice makes it a little more real. When you lose everything and are simply trying to survive day to day, how easy it is to wander too far when collecting wood for fire and find yourself in danger. Or when you are desperate and have no options, you become a sitting target for human traffickers.

This book helps the reader to comprehend some of the suffering refugees endure. Even something as basic as having a working kitchen, a shower with running water and a toilet, and then being forced to do without. Not knowing where your next drink of water will come from, never mind anything else. And this on top of all the emotional and mental trauma.

When reading the final chapters, I held my breath as Beatrice shared her hopes for life in the UK. She longed to feel welcome, to be accepted, to feel safe and secure, to know she was home. Would she find that? Having read her story, I really wanted her hopes to be realised.

The Search for Home is a page-turner. It’s very readable. And as I wrote earlier, a timely message for today. It’s not enough to look at people from other cultures and say from the comfort of having known nothing but safety and security that they should be doing this or that. I just want to play my part in making them feel welcome without judging them. In their shoes, what would I do?

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

Trying to Fly

I loved this new book by Annie Try. The first chapter reminded me of a cross between Emma Donoghue’s The Room and John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. A chilling event is seen through the eyes of six-year-old Jenny Drake, whose life is forever changed by what she witnessed and experienced.

From chapter two onwards, we follow fifty-six-year-old Jenny as she works with her psychologist to try and find healing and wholeness by facing her past. The tragedy she witnessed as a child left her with all sorts of problems, probably the most significant being agoraphobia. An important part of Jenny becoming free is to return to the beach where the event took place.

At the beach, Jenny meets Jim, who witnessed the same event as an eleven-year-old boy.

Jim becomes a solid friend for Jenny and he persuades her to join him in a spot of sleuthing to get to the bottom of the mystery. The police had closed the case but there are many loose ends. Together, they begin to search for the truth and to clear the reputation of a good man.

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. As well as the mystery-factor, my eyes were also opened to the hidden issues people around me may have. As I followed Jenny’s progress in battling the fears that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her, it helped me to see that people act oddly for a reason. She evoked my sympathy, though at times I got frustrated: You’ve come so far, don’t give up now! I also wanted to scream at her not to be so trusting (no spoilers!).

Annie Try is a psychologist as well as an author and she really knows her stuff. Her expertise when revealing Jenny’s mental and emotional struggles shone through, and made this book all the more special.

It’s a gripping read and I heartily recommend it.

Instant Apostle provided me with a free Kindle copy for the purpose of writing a review, but I will also be purchasing a paperback copy that I can lend to friends.

90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, James

I’m excited about this devotional book by Tim Keller and Sam Allberry.

Each short chapter gives the Bible text for the day followed by a few helpful notes. The notes are split up by sub headings, as well as questions which aid the reader to think about the passage and how it applies to your life. At the end of the chapter is a small paragraph with suggestions of how to pray in to what you have just read.

The page layout (it’s on my Kindle) is easy on the eye with lots of white space and clear headings and short paragraphs. It is appealing and draws you in, making you want to read it.

This is precisely the kind of devotional I like to start my day with. I don’t have to work at trying to wake up reading lots of dense text, and at the end of a chapter wonder what I’ve just read because I haven’t taken any of it in. With a book like 90 Days In, I can begin reading and find that my brain and heart are engaging with the subject matter almost at once.

I love Tim Keller’s books. His love and passion for God shine brightly through each page, and he brings fascinating insights from the original Hebrew and Greek.

I’ve read only one other book by Sam Allberry but found him to be a very readable writer with a deep love for God. He comes across as compassionate and sensitive with a wholesome love for the truth.

I’m looking forward to reading and savouring 90 Days In, using it as my morning devotional. I have given it **** on Amazon and am grateful to Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free copy to review.

 

 

Forty Years A Gambler

If you’ve ever wondered what life with a gambling addiction looks like, wonder no more. In this easy-to-read book, Ian shares his incredible story of how what started as a seemingly harmless and fun pursuit turned into life-changing addiction, debt, crime and prison. Gambling was ruining his life and stealing his happiness and peace of mind.

But Ian’s life was turned completely around when he encountered Jesus. It’s thrilling to read how he has been set free from a gambling addiction and is helping others in similar circumstances.

Ian’s wife also shares her story of a downward spiral into significant debt through playing Bingo.

Playing Bingo and fruit machines may appear to be harmless, yet can lead to heartache, misery and financial debt.

This book throws light on some of the inner workings of the gambling industry….. An eye opener, though perhaps not that surprising.

In the last part of Forty Years A Gambler, there are helpful appendices from various organisations working with people with gambling problems, as well as the results of a gambling impact survey set up by Ian and endorsed by Birmingham University.

For anyone working with vulnerable people who may be suffering from this secret and little understood addiction, this book is a must-read.

 

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