What I have been reading: Spring

I know that we are well into summertime now, but I hope you will forgive the lateness of this post. I have been working hard on two books (both of which will be published in November – more details to follow). But, although I have had a little less time than usual, I have been delving into my pile of unread books and have a great selection for you below. I have the pleasure of knowing a few of the authors and it is great to be able to celebrate their amazing achievements with them (and to actually really like their books! 😉 ) I will also be posting up interviews with a couple of the authors featured here in the coming weeks so do look out for those…

Mosaic Of Grace New Cover Black EdgeMosaic of Grace
by James Prescott

This book oozes authenticity. James has obviously been on a huge journey into understanding more about God’s grace, and he shares beautifully and honestly with the reader. There are also stories from others that back up what he’s saying. I was so encouraged by this book, as God has been saying such similar things to me – isn’t it great when that happens? If you want to understand more about the precious grace of God, and be drawn in by an engaging writer, then look no further.

THroughmartha'seyesThrough Martha’s Eyes
by Corinne Brixton

I have recently discovered that I enjoy biblical fiction and I was intrigued to read this particular title, as I have read a few books based around Martha’s story in the last year or so. This one was definitely more scholarly in approach to begin with – the author is keen to capture 1st century Judea, with all its traditions and customs, well – which she does. I found I was a bit impatient in the first part of the book, eager to get to the action, but I was totally gripped partway through and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book.

InkcoverInk
by Alice Broadway

I had heard a lot about this novel, and knew its first print run had sold out extremely quickly. Some are hailing it the new Hunger Games; others told me it was suitable for my 11-year-old daughter. So I picked it up with great curiosity. Alice is a wonderful writer and I was drawn into the dystopian world she has created immediately. The premise of the story is fascinating, as every significant event in a person’s life is tattooed on their skin and, at their death, they are skinned (descriptions not for the faint hearted) and then weighed to see if they are deemed worthy of being made into a book of remembrance. This novel tackles big issues such as love, loyalty, trust and immortality, and there are biblical stories and ideas woven into it too. I will be interested to read the next book in the trilogy – the jury is still out as to whether my squeamish daughter will be reading this one!

whatfallsfromtheskycoverWhat Falls From the Sky
by Esther Emery

When most of us face a life-changing crisis in our lives we can have a tendency to hide ourselves away or rant a lot online. Not Esther – she gave up the internet for a year and then wrote about it! I love her honesty and the wrestling within her journey. The book is full of struggle and yet contains a huge amount of hope too. She doesn’t shy away from discussing the difficult relationships in her life – and the things she doesn’t like about herself. She had walked away from faith in the past, and it was beautiful to read how the silence drew her back to God. If you know you are too dependent on technology or are experiencing a crisis then I would thoroughly recommend you read this book. For anyone else I would say – read it too!

therunawayThe Runaway
by Claire Wong

This book is about a close-knit Welsh community and what happens when a teenager runs away from home. Then two strangers enter her village not long after she leaves it and old secrets begin to be discovered… The story is centred around the teenager Rhiannon, hence the title, but there is great treatment of each character. I warmed to many of them – mainly the strong, positive female characters such as Maebh and Grace. I love the way storytelling is given such prominence in the book too.

This is Claire’s first novel (she has written a lot of poetry) and it shows great promise and skill – I’ll be looking out for her next book.

annabelleeAnnabel Lee
by Mike Nappa

This thriller is not the usual type of book I read – and it wasn’t a clear cut story either, which kept me guessing for a long time. Annabel Lee is the main subject of the story, a young girl who is hidden in a bunker near the start of the book. The secrets surrounding her are eventually discovered by private investigators Coffey and Hill, although they are complicated figures too. In fact each character is unusual, and the novel twists and turns throughout. I found the author’s treatment of ‘the Mute’ particularly fascinating. I wasn’t sure how to engage with the book to begin with, but found I began turning the pages more and more quickly as I wanted to discover all the links. If you like thrillers then I would definitely suggest you try this book out.

thelivingcrossThe Living Cross
by Amy Boucher Pye

This is a devotional for Lent, which I used this year. Utilising daily reflections and prayers I found it a really helpful and thought-provoking book. The theme Amy focuses on throughout is forgiveness and the scriptures and stories she shares from others really gets the reader to dig deep into the subject – such a skill when there is only limited space each day. There are also creative ideas to interact with, which means the book would lend itself well to a group as well as for individual study. I’ve never been through a Lent devotional before but I was glad I started with this one!

thesecondbride


The Second Bride

by Katharine Swartz

This was my chosen fiction book to take away during half term break. I was away with my extended family so I thought I would simply be dipping in and out of it when I had a spare moment. However I read the book in one straight sitting because I was completely hooked (and it happened to be the one rainy day and everyone else was occupied with games or their own books – phew!).

The Second Bride is about a family in which the parents have each been married before. It is when the mum’s (Ellen’s) stepdaughter Annabelle moves in that the tension levels hit the roof. Alongside their difficult story is one from the 1870s – connected to theirs from the outset when Ellen finds a death certificate hidden under their floorboards. To begin with, I found the way that the book hops from one story to the other quite tricky (as I wanted to find out what was happening to the characters and didn’t like the interruption). However, I got used to the rhythm and found myself reading faster and faster as the emotions and stories heightened. When the rain stopped and I was invited to go on a walk I commented to my family that I couldn’t believe how many emotions I had been through while reading this book, and I couldn’t possibly stop until I got to the very end! It is certainly a gripping page turner…

 

 

Love is… forgiveness and grace

steveand-i-christmas2016I am sharing this post today to commemorate National Marriage Week as well as Valentine’s Day. I know that the latter is an over-commercialised event, but my husband and I grab it as an opportunity to take time out to spend with one another. I also wanted to share this post as it my story of grace – which is the subject of my friend James’ new book, Mosaic of Grace, released yesterday (you can check it out here). What I share below is taken from my own book, which will be published later this year. I first wrote this for Amy Boucher Pye’s Forgiveness Fridays blog, but feel it is an appropriate way to celebrate my own marriage today. If it weren’t for my husband’s forgiveness and grace extended towards me there is no way we would still be journeying together today…

 

Our lives were shattered – lying about in little pieces on the floor. And the worst thing was that it was pretty much all down to me. I had chosen to believe the lies, especially the one that whispered that my husband didn’t care about me. I believed it because he worked around the clock in a recording studio and there was little left of him when he was at home. I believed it because my heart was hurting and I was lonely…

Vulnerable and foolish

As a woman who had grown up with self-esteem issues, I didn’t deal well with feeling abandoned. When I came before God with my feelings that I didn’t matter to my husband, His answer was that He wanted to take care of me and show me how to lean on Him completely. But I threw it back in His face. I needed someone who could hug me – and God just didn’t seem physical enough at the time.

But this put me in danger of allowing my emotional needs to be fed by other sources. Eventually, a friendship with another man in my church, which had started innocently enough, resulted with us deciding to leave everything behind and to start a new life together. With our actions we devastated the lives of my husband, the man’s wife and all the other members of our close-knit church community.

Lost

Two weeks later he chose to go back to his wife. I was left reeling, feeling totally deserted – but also knowing I deserved it all. Tellingly, it was my husband whom I rang once the other guy left. After all, my husband had been my best friend since I was a teenager so it seemed natural and I called him without thinking. How hard it must have been for him to take me back home, watch me huddled in the foetal position, sobbing endlessly. The next day he moved me, and a lot of my belongings, to my parents’ home where I was to stay until I had healed enough to discover what was next for my life.

I had lost everything by wrongfully pinning my hopes on another human being rather than God. And I was like a wounded animal at times – licking my wounds, lashing out, wanting to be left alone. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my husband going home, getting up for work each day and not knowing whether our marriage was salvageable.

Of course, we had deep issues that needed dealing with within our marriage. But I had to get to a place, first, of believing there was a future there. That I could look past all the years of hurt and misunderstanding and repent as well as forgive, and move on.

A taste of real love

When my husband visited me, at times I felt a little suffocated, as I knew he was trying his best to win me back. But, most of the time, he was gracious, gentle and loving, knowing also when to give me space. How he responded to me during that horrific time of limbo taught me what real love is. He showed me Jesus’ love for me in a very tangible way.

I had used him terribly – basically turned my back on him – and all our friends knew about it. And yet he was there, whenever I felt I could see him, a solid anchor who remained firm. He showed me that, even though I had done the worst thing I could to him, his love for me hadn’t faltered. He proved, over and over again, that he wanted our marriage to work.

Yes, we had counselling. And yes, we both had to face up to our failings, to understand the responsibility we had for one another and the changes that needed to occur. But his gentle patience during that time melted my hardened, broken heart. Even after I was back home, there would be moments when I would be wracked with emotional pain all over again and he would just hold me, caring for me through the tears.

Salvation through sacrifice

I know it must have been so, so excruciatingly difficult for him, and he certainly laid down his life for me. He also spoke to his bosses about what was going on, and the result was a miracle: studios always work around the clock but they agreed to put into practise the unheard of rule that the studio my husband ran would close by 8pm. Yes, his sacrifice saved our marriage – and revealed another layer of God’s love to me in such a powerful way.

Although this period of time was more than 16 years ago now, I can’t help but think of my husband’s loving sacrifice anytime I ponder the concept of forgiveness. You can read more of our story, and the passion for authentic openness that it birthed inside of me, in my forthcoming book: Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically.

What I have been reading: winter 2015/16

As well as a few titles that I have kept returning to week after week, I saved up some of the books that I’d been sent in the latter part of 2015 to enjoy over the Christmas period, and during my recuperation from a minor op. Here’s my thoughts on the selection:

outofsortscover

Out of Sorts By Sarah Bessey

This was a book that I read in order to interview Sarah for an author profile in a magazine. I knew she was a great writer, but I wasn’t prepared for how much the book was going to resonate with where I was at, or how much it would challenge me. I love the way that Sarah gives us permission to feel out of sorts – as a pastor’s wife I often feel I need to hide my struggles for the benefit of those around me – but at the same time have a conviction that sharing those same struggles would help others. She talks of how a period of growth often includes feeling out of sorts as we re-navigate our assumptions about our faith. I didn’t agree with absolutely everything, but I think Sarah would be okay with that – after all she indicates that her desire in writing the book is not so others will go on the same journey that she has, but will find their own way deeper with God. Amen to that.

resilient cover

Resilient By Sheridan Voysey

This book was born out of Sheridan’s own experiment: to spend a month in the Sermon on the Mount. Written as a devotional, I really took my time with this one as I found the bite-size chapters were packed with challenges and insights. Sheridan doesn’t just stick with a verse by verse walk through the Sermon – each section has a chunk of the Sermon at the start but then he includes other scriptures that have resonated with him on the particular subject in question. I found this a very honest and enriching devotional, which has given me much to ponder and work through for myself.

 

findingmyselfinbritain

Finding myself in Britain By Amy Boucher Pye

I was really excited to delve into the pages of this one: I have known Amy and worked for her for a few years in our editorial capacities, so I was intrigued to find out what Amy’s book would be like. And I wasn’t disappointed. Charming, witty, honest and with an openness that only an American would have, Amy introduces the British year to the reader, describing each season and event in the calendar though her American eyes. As an American married to a British vicar she has lived here for many years so has great insight. She also introduces us to some of her childhood delights and other native joys – as a Brit who grew up in America it was lovely to go down memory lane as I recognised so much of what she described from ‘back home’. This is a perfect book to give as a gift to a friend.

 

the scent of waterThe Scent of Water By Elizabeth Goudge

I saved this book to take into hospital with me, and I have to say it was the perfect choice. Gentle, tender, poetic and beautifully descriptive, the book is about a middle-aged woman from London who is left a house in the country when her father’s cousin dies. She decides to leave the city and move there, and, in doing so, embarks on a journey of discovery – about herself, her distant relative, her lost love and the people she lives near in the country. The pace is slow and meandering – at another time I may have got impatient with that but it was just what I needed. I enjoyed the moments of spiritual insights too, jotting down many of them.

 

twosteps forward

Two Steps Forward By Sharon Garlough Brown

This is the sequel to Sensible Shoes. Again a title I had had for ages, I saved it for the Christmas break. The first book introduced us to four women who met during a spiritual formation journey at a retreat centre. They are all very different, but strike up a friendship that lasts beyond the retreat. With sequels I am always concerned that I won’t get as caught up in the story, or won’t care as much about the characters as I did first time round, but Sharon did a brilliant job of moving their stories on and I was gripped. I loved reading about how the characters were learning to use the things they discovered on retreat back in their everyday lives, with all the difficulties and struggles they contain.

As she did in the first book, Sharon also includes great spiritual insights, many of which are highlighted ready to be transferred into my journal as they spoke to me personally. I love it when a novel is more than a mere escape – although that is obviously a big role novels play in our lives. This book left me challenged, with new spiritual disciplines and exercises to try. I heartily recommend it – and the whole series if you haven’t read the first book. I’m excited to learn that Sharon is already working on the fourth book in the series…