The story behind the theme of my 2019 release: Then Sings My Soul

I think one of God’s favorite things to do is to make and shape people. Of course I can’t speak for Him, but the works of God’s hands are mentioned not infrequently throughout the Bible, how God sculpts the land and the heart, and how He creates artists, too.

Moses talks about an artisan named Bezalel who may have been one of the earliest lapidarists.  Exodus 31:5 (NLT) reads, “[Bezalel] is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!”

And in Isaiah 64:8 (NLT) we read, “And yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.”

Jakob, the main protagonist in Then Sings My Soul, is a lapidarist–one who works with and fashions stones and gems. Jakob’s father (Josef) was a lapidarist, too.

This is a piece of raw aquamarine, the sort of stone Josef  would have worked with and passed on to Jakob in the story.

I used the trade and theme of lapidary in this novel because my grandfather was a lapidarist, too. In fact, he actually made the stone on the cover of the novel, and you can read more about that providential story in the afterwords in the back of the novel.

As a special treat for you today, here are the actual diagrams and notes my grandfather used to make this stone:

When you read Then Sings My Soul, I think you’ll discover why the theme of lapidary lends itself so well to Jakob and his daughter, Nel. They both start out pretty rough, living in ways not everyone would approve of. But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t see the beauty He knows they can become.

The same story can be yours, friend. If you feel dirty and rough, unnoticed, worthless…God sees the new and clean, the priceless and sparkling person He is making you to be.

The work a lapidarist does on a stone is harsh at times. There are cuts and chisels, chunks hacked off and angles shorn. But in the eye of the Lapidarist, all these steps are necessary.

More than that, as He works, the Lapidarist holds you in His hand and never lets go.

What about you? 

Do you have places in your life that need polished? 

Do you wonder where God is in the midst of your journey?

Favorite books of 2018

Isn’t it fun to look over what you’ve read throughout the past year? With just four days left, I’m one book shy of the 52 book goal I set for myself last January. Still, 51 ain’t bad. Maybe I’ll finish that last one this weekend!

I was surprised at how eclectic my list was, a little nonfiction, a little fiction, a little YA, couple of classics. Then again, it was a year of literary self-care for me, and I was determined to read what I wanted to read for sheer pleasure, rather than what I felt like I was supposed to read as an author.

You can see all the books I read by visiting the Reading Challenge section of my Goodreads Page.

You can read about my favorite books of 2017 by clicking here.

And you can read about my favorite books of 2016 by clicking here.

In the meantime, here are my five favorites of the 2018 bunch:

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

Synopsis: Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes the only way to survive is to open your heart.

Why I liked it: As someone who struggles with OCD and tends to be more than a little agoraphobic at times, I adored this story for its accurate portrayal of living with mental illness, as well as for its charm. Raymond is adorable. Eleanor is frustrating and endearing. I was captivated throughout the story, and think of it often even now–a true measure of what qualifies a book as a favorite for me.

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

Synopsis: Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.

Lab Girl
 is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s stories: about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs; about how she found a sanctuary in science, and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands”; and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work.

Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home.

Why I liked it: For as long as I can remember, my love of science and nature has intermingled with my love of writing. Hope Jahren loves trees, and I do, too, which you know if you’ve read Before I Saw You. This unique memoir tugged at the scientist heart within me, and made me appreciate anew how hard scientists work, and what they give up, to advance knowledge for all of us. Her memoir is genuine and honest, and makes me look at the world in new and fresh ways. It also made me just plain happy to see another writer who loves science, not unlike Barbara Kingsolver (one of my all-time favorite authors).

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

Synopsis:  Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Why I liked it: Human frailty and resilience–that’s what I loved about this story. Not to mention the fact that I visited Alaska myself some 30 years ago and fell in love with the wild and beautiful place. Months later, I am still thinking about this story, the darkness of it, the desperation, the frustration, and the redemption. A great, meaty beast of a read. 

The War that Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Synopsis: An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Why I liked it: We all have something twisted about us, don’t we? For Ada it’s a twisted foot, and more than that, the broken way the people who should love her the most react to it the worst. Unexpected. Heartaching-ly real. A moving tale of family and identity, indeed, this one is a lifetime favorite of mine, and I can’t wait to finish reading the sequel, The War I Finally Won. No wonder this story is a Newbery Honor Book.

My Exaggerated Life: Pat Conroy, by Katherine Clark

Synopsis: Pat Conroy’s memoirs and autobiographical novels contain a great deal about his life, but there is much he hasn’t revealed to readers—until now. My Exaggerated Life is the product of a special collaboration between this great American author and oral biographer Katherine Clark, who recorded two hundred hours of conversations with Conroy before he passed away in 2016. In the spring and summer of 2014, the two spoke for an hour or more on the phone every day. No subject was off-limits, including aspects of his tumultuous life he had never before revealed.

This oral biography presents Conroy the man, as if speaking in person, in the colloquial voice familiar to family and friends. This voice is quite different from the authorial style found in his books, which are famous for their lyricism and poetic descriptions. Here Conroy is blunt, plainspoken, and uncommonly candid. While his novels are known for their tragic elements, this volume is suffused with Conroy’s sense of humor, which he credits with saving his life on several occasions.

The story Conroy offers here is about surviving and overcoming the childhood abuse and trauma that marked his life. He is frank about his emotional damage—the depression, the alcoholism, the divorces, and, above all, the crippling lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. He also sheds light on the forces that saved his life from ruin. The act of writing compelled Conroy to confront the painful truths about his past, while years of therapy with a clinical psychologist helped him achieve a greater sense of self-awareness and understanding.

As Conroy recounts his time in Atlanta, Rome, and San Francisco, along with his many years in Beaufort, South Carolina, he portrays a journey full of struggles and suffering that culminated ultimately in redemption and triumph. Although he gained worldwide recognition for his writing, Conroy believed his greatest achievement was in successfully carving out a life filled with family and friends, as well as love and happiness. In the end he arrived at himself and found it was a good place to be.

Why I liked it: Raw. Honest. Redemptive. Not only were the parts about abuse and its impact on life significantly relate-able for me personally, but also the extremes of self-doubt and difficulty involved in being an author. Conroy has always been one of my favorites, and this book explains much of the reasons behind that. I’m so grateful he and Katherine took the time to gather, record and share all of this. 

*****

What were you’re favorite books of 2018?

What do you look forward to reading in 2019?

*****

Here’s a book to consider for your New Year’s reading list:

Coming April 2019, Then Sings My Soul!

Synopsis: 1904, Chudniv, Ukraine. Playing hide-and-seek in bucolic fields of sunflowers, young Jakob never imagines the horrific secrets he will carry as he and his brother escape through genocide-ridden Eastern Europe.

1994, South Haven, Michigan. At age 94, time is running out for any hope that Jakob can be free from his burden of guilt.

When Jakob’s wife dies, he and his daughter, Nel, are forced to face the realities of his worsening dementia—including a near-naked, midnight jaunt down the middle of main street—as well as emerging shadows Nel had no idea lay beneath her father’s beloved, curmudgeonly ways.

While Nel navigates the restoration and sale of Jakob’s dilapidated lake house, her high school sweetheart shows up in town, along with unexpected correspondence from Ukraine. And when she discovers a mysterious gemstone in Jakob’s old lapidary room, Jakob’s condition worsens as he begins having flashbacks about his baby sister from nearly a century past.

As father and daughter race against time to discover the truth behind Jakob’s fragmented memories, the God they have both been running from shows that he redeems not only broken years, but also the future.

“Sorrells stitches together a beautiful story of family and belief that illustrates the importance of closure and the peace derived from faith.” ~Library Journal

Road Trippin’ with Tyndale and Beth Moore: Stop #12

Welcome to Tyndale Fiction’s Road Trip Scavenger Hunt! We’re so happy you are here. To participate, collect the key words through all 13 stops in order, so you can enter to win our grand prize giveaway!
Some details:
  • The adventure begins on Wednesday, August 1. You’ll have two weeks to make your way through all the stops (giveaways will close on Tuesday, August 14).
  • While you do not have to start at Stop #1, keep in mind that the grand prize giveaway phrase will begin with the word you collect at that first stop.
  • To complete your submission for the grand prize giveaway, be sure to collect the key word within each author’s blog post, submitting the final, completed phrase in the form hosted on this page.
  • Also, be sure to enter the giveaways these authors are hosting on their blogs!

Enjoy the journey—we hope you’ll discover new books along the way as you hear from Tyndale Fiction authors about road trips, the settings of their novels, and more!

Happy road tripping!

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I am very excited to welcome beloved Bible teacher and bestselling debut fiction author Beth Moore to the blog!

Beth’s novel, The Undoing of Saint Silvanus, took her main character, Jillian Slater, on an unplanned and shocking road trip to New Orleans. Here’s the story’s setup: “Only God knew why Jillian Slater agreed to return to New Orleans on the news that her father had finally drunk himself to death. It’s not like they were close. She hadn’t seen him—or her grandmother, the ice queen—in almost twenty years. But a free trip to New Orleans was too intriguing to resist.”

Talk about a locale with atmosphere and intrigue!

Listen to Beth talk about her first road trip to New Orleans and why she chose the Big Easy as her setting for this novel:

When I was fifteen, my little brother and I, the only two kids left at home, took a grueling two-day road trip with our parents to our cousins’ house in Florida. Houston reaches out to Florida with the long, skinny arm of Interstate 10, the only decent bicep of the route being New Orleans.

I have no idea what got into my father’s head, but he decided to trot the four of us right down Bourbon Street. We’d only recently moved to Houston from a small town in Arkansas, so we hadn’t even acclimated to crowds yet. I’m pretty sure he had no idea what he was going to walk his family into.

I would have told you I wasn’t naïve. I was no innocent adolescent. Our family had dangled on the precipice of hell for several years. But I had never walked by a strip bar in my life. Not sure I’d ever even driven past one. The pictures posted at the front doors were so explicit and disturbing that I couldn’t shake them out of my head for years. Dodging drunks, we finally made our way to Jackson Square,  past painters and sidewalk entertainers and palm readers. It was the wildest thing I’d ever seen.

Fast-forward many years, and my husband, Keith, and I would start going back to that city for anniversaries and bask in the deep-fried goodness of New Orleans’s brighter side. Still plenty spicy. Just not as seedy.

Fast-forward a few more years, and I was asked to teach the women of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church at their annual conference. I guess it was as close as I’ve ever come to love at first sight. That whole congregation accepted this white girl like I was one of them. We are blood kin in Jesus. To be loved and embraced by them is still one of the greatest honors and joys of my ministry life. My Bible study Breaking Free was taped in their auditorium. When my younger brother was transferred there for work, FABC also threw their arms open wide to him. He attended that wonderful, warm church until he was transferred again several years later.

New Orleans is second in my heart only to Houston. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why. I’ve had a complex relationship with it. But that’s just it. I’m somehow rarely drawn to simple relationships.

And that is just the kind of relationships you’ll find in The Undoing of Saint Silvanus. The investigation into Jillian’s father’s death quickly unfolds, and she is drawn into the lives of the colorful collection of saints and sinners who pass through Saint Silvanus. As Jillian walks into a web of spiritual and personal danger borne out of her family’s broken history, she finds that only God himself can orchestrate the undoing of all that is going on at Saint Silvanus.

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Here’s the Stop #12 Important Information:

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Before you leave–a chance for another prize!

Be sure to leave a comment here on Amy’s blog for a chance to win this small prize pack from Amy! The winner will receive a signed copy of Before I Saw You, and a farmhouse-style wooden arrow that can be hung on a wall or added anywhere you’d like in your home. Winner of this prize will be drawn at random the same day as the Grand Prize winner, August 14.