Upon Review: Mama Lacee by Kenneth Brooks

May 21st, 2013

I love to curl up with a nice, steaming cup of tea and a free book to review. In fact I subscribe to three book review sites: Book CrashBook Rooster and The Bookplex just so I can indulge in my favorite leisure activity. What’s even better is when an author contacts me for a review. If you’re an author looking for someone to review your book or short story, check out my Request a Review page.

Because I like to share the great reads I’ve found (and warn readers of the not-so-great finds), I developed a system:

  • One cup — worse than a cup of luke warm black pekoe
  • Two cups — it may be hot, but you’ll need plenty of sweetener just to tolerate it
  • Three cups — it’s not my favorite, but it beats going without
  • Four cups — nice and hot and only needs a smidge of sweetener to be perfect
  • Five cups — loose leaf vanilla Earl Grey, yummy

Sometimes a book or story doesn’t warrant a five cup rating, but it’s so good it can’t be missed. For those I include the “Must Read” starburst in front of the cup rating. You’ll find my cup rating above the picture of the cover. Enjoy!


Mama Lacee by Kenneth Brooks

Four Cup Must Read



Usually it’s the description that makes me want to write a review. However, this one leave a lot to be desired:


It’s my general rule that I won’t accept a book for review without checking the Look Inside feature on Amazon first. I’m glad I did.

The Good…

Don’t be fooled by the less than appealing cover. The story is riveting. It’s a wonderful glimpse into a time of rampant racism and blatant abuses of power. Best of all, there’s plenty of spirituality (the author considers it paranormal activity) to intrigue those who enjoy peeking behind the veil of reality.

The Not-so-good…

I don’t know if it was the author’s intent or not, but there is a lot of jumping between point of view and past and present tense. At times it feels like there’s an outside narrator and then the character seems to take over the telling of a scene. It can be rather disconcerting. Also, there are some formatting issues where paragraphs look strange.

The biggest drawback of the entire story is the abrupt ending. I would have liked to have known what happened to the rest of the people in the story once the “bad guy” is defeated. Did they learn from what happened and become better people? And what about the business men? What did they do? What happened to those who enforce the laws? If Brooks ever decides to release an updated version of Mama Lacee, I hope he considers giving his reader a good denouement to this marvelous story.

The Overall…

If you can get past technical flaws in the writing and don’t mind an abrupt end, Mama Lacee by Kenneth Brooks is a fantastic read.

Paid and Free Editing Software For Manuscripts

May 19th, 2012

I’m stuck in the writer’s cave right now with yet another round of edits. It’s tedious and often boring, but, considering I’m not sure I’ll have enough money later to hire a professional editor, it’s worth it. That’s why I’m doing this round with free editing software.

Using software to help you edit your manuscript isn’t an easy cheat. You’ll still need to do the work of re-writing and you’ll still need your beta readers. However, editing software can make self-editing a little less worrisome.

There are a lot of different online options, both paid and free.

Paid versions

If you’ve got the money, you might be interested in AutoCrit Editing Wizard. I didn’t find the demo useful because the 1,000 words I chose always came back with an error. That could have been because my WIP is a fantasy with mages and magical cats who use incantations the software couldn’t read. If that’s the case, it makes me wonder just how useful this software is in its full version.

Also, in order to use AutoCrit for more than just 1,200 words per day (that’s 400 words 3x per day) and receive more than 3 reports, you have to spend a lot of money. There are 3 memberships: Gold (1,000 words for $47), Platinum (8,000 words for $77) and Professional (100,000 words for $117). You get more goodies  the more you spend, but if I’m going to spend that much money for my WIP I think I’d rather hire a human being.

Free versions

I’m happy to say I’ve found 3 online self-editing programs that are free (or inexpensive). I use all three together because each program catches something the others miss.

I use EditMinion first because it highlights adverbs, weak words, said replacements, sentences ending prepositions and passive voice in different colors. It wasn’t until I ran my first couple scenes through this free editing software that I realized I was in love with adverbs and had a real problem with passive voice.

Next I use Pro Writing Aid Editing Tool.* This free editing software catches things like sticky sentences (sentences with too many glue words), vague and abstract words, overused words, repeated words and phrases, complex words and pacing. Like passive voice, I have a real fondness for sticky sentences, and this program finds those with ease. There’s also the Pro Writing Aid Editing Tool paid version* with lots of extra goodies and they’ve recently come out with a download that works with Scrivener files.

Last of all, I use ClicheCleaner. It’s great for finding cliches and redundancies. You can download a free demo version that lets you scan up to 20 documents before needing to pay $12.95 to do any more. I downloaded ClicheCleaner because I always thought I had issues with using too many cliches. After using this free editing software, I was surprised to find I don’t have a big problem after all. Of course, even one can be too many.

Whether you choose to pay for your self-editing software or use a free version, remember that a program cannot replace a human being. The great news is, after running your WIP through the programs and correcting all those errors, you may find you can afford a human editor after all.

How do you self-edit your manuscript? What paid and free editing software have you used?

Looking for more great tips on how to launch your writing career without breaking the bank? Check out my writer’s web site Writer on a Shoestring Budget.


*While I am a Pro Writing Aid affiliate and these are affiliate links, this in no way changes how I feel about the software. I personally used both EditMinion, which I am not affiliated with, and Pro Writing Aid Editing Tool prior to becoming an affiliate and will continue to use both in the future. I fully endorse all the programs on this post because I believe in their merit as writing tools for better writing.

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7 Links To Understanding (And Finding) Beta Readers

April 14th, 2012

3997687488_05f3e2de10_m_editingPerhaps one of the most daunting things I have yet to accomplish with my current WIP, Apprentice Cat, is finding enough beta readers. I imagine its a problem many of you have or will face, too. I’ve put together 7 links to understanding (and finding) beta readers, as well as critique partners and editors, in this post in hopes that it will be helpful to us all.

  1. Finally, an answer! Here’s the difference between line, copy, and content editing by Pavarti K. Tyler: Besides giving a quick idea to what beta readers and critique partners are, Pavarti shares gives us the inside scoop on what each type of editor does and why you might want one.
  2. 3 Ways to Determine if Your Writing is Crap by Jody Hedlund: In this post Jody breaks down the different levels of readers an author might use from “unskilled” beta readers (those who aren’t writers) to fellow writers to professional editors.
  3. Does my manuscript look fat in this? 7 reasons why writers need critique partners by Laura Pepper Wu: Laura explains what makes a great critique partner and why having one is so important.
  4. Ask Jami: How Do We Find Beta Readers? by Jami Gold: In this post, Jami goes into detail what a beta reader does and some ways we can find them, including offering ourselves as beta readers.
  5. The Art of Critiquing: I explain what makes a good critique and give some suggestions of what to do before handing over your manuscript to a beta reader or critique partner in this post.
  6. Critters Makes for Better Writing: In this post I give a more in-depth look at one online resource for critiques.
  7. Bad Critique Groups—8 Things That Can Push a Group Over to the Dark Side by Anne R. Allen: No one wants to be in a bad critique group, so Ruth gives us 8 things from having no rules to dogmatic PC/Religious policepersons to watch out for when choosing a crit group.

Do you know of other resources for finding a beta reader?

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Upon Review: In Her Name: Empire by Michael Hicks

February 29th, 2012

I’m so excited this week because Natalie Hartford of Life Out Loud is spotlighting me on her blog. Natalie calls herself an urban redneck who loves all things pink and she’s a real firecracker. Take a moment to hop on over to her blog and enter her contest for a special edition signed Simply Prayer ebook (open internationally) or a signed copy of the paperback version (open to US/Canada).

Now, on to the review:

I love to request free books to review. In fact I subscribe to two review sites: Book CrashBook Rooster and The Bookplex, but sometimes I find an intriguing tweet that leads me to a free book. Such was the case of Michael Hicks‘ book Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, Book 1).

Here is the description that fascinated me:

In the first book of an epic futuristic fantasy trilogy, this is the coming-of-age story of Reza Gard, a young boy of the Human Confederation who is swept up in the century-long war with the alien Kreelan Empire. Nightmarish female warriors with blue skin, fangs, and razor sharp talons, the Kreelans have technology that is millennia beyond that of the Confederation, yet they seek out close combat with sword and claw, fighting and dying to honor their god-like Empress. Captured and enslaved, Reza must live like his enemies in a grand experiment to see if humans have souls, and if one may be the key to unlocking an ages old curse upon the Kreelan race. Enduring the brutal conditions of Kreelan life, Reza and a young warrior named Esah-Zhurah find themselves bound together by fate and a prophecy foretold millennia before they were born.

I admit it. I was sucked into the story before Chapter One ended.

The Good…

Although the stakes never change (life or death every time) it feels like it does. It’s not a matter of if Reza will survive; it’s a matter of how and who will survive alongside him.

Empire is rife with tension and conflict from beginning to end, forcing the reader to keep turning pages to see what happens next. The characters feel real and demand we pay attention to them.

The Not-so-good…

While the overall writing is captivating, there is quite a bit of head hopping to get used to. Even so, Hicks is able to pull it off with a minimum of jarring the reader.

At times the descriptions of the Kreelan homeworld were more detailed than I like and I felt they dragged the story down. However, one expects a certain amount of world building in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I don’t think the descriptions in Empire were excessive.

The Overall…

Loved Empire (In Her Name: Redemption, Book 1) by Michael Hicks. Even without the excerpt for In Her Name: Confederation in the back, I was eager to see what happens in the next book. I highly recommend this for anyone remotely interested in Science Fiction.

Upon Review: Prophecy by Joanna Penn

January 11th, 2012

I love to request free books to review. In fact I subscribe to two review sites: Book Crash and Book Rooster, but sometimes I have the privilege to review a book by an author I know.

I was among several who received a preview copy of Pentecost and I fell in love with the heroine, Morgan. When Joanna asked if I’d review Prophecy, I was ecstatic. The first book was wonderful. Would book 2 be as good or would my friend rush to fill the void left by the first book’s end? Enquiring minds wanted to know.

Here’s the description that so intrigued me on Prophecy by Joanna Penn:

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” Revelation 6:8

The prophecy in Revelation declares that a quarter of the world must die and now a shadowy organization has the ability to fulfill these words. Can one woman stop the abomination before it’s too late?

From the catacombs of Paris to the skeletal ossuaries of Sicily and the Czech Republic, Morgan and Jake must find the Devil’s Bible and stop the curse being released into the world before one in four are destroyed in the coming holocaust. Because in just seven days, the final curse will be spoken and the prophecy will be fulfilled.

If the last bite of food is as heavenly as the first, you know you have a culinary masterpiece. Books aren’t much different and Prophecy left me wanting more.

The Good…

While we got to know Morgan and her allies somewhat in Pentecost, each of their characters are deepened in Prophecy. We’ve gone from Prince of Persia two-dimensional characters to Lord of The Rings multi-dimensional people. Every major player pops off the page and makes you feel something.

The action is just as intense, just as Indiana Jones/Lara Croft as before, but the transitions from one scene to the next are even smoother.

I was also thankful that Joanna didn’t go into explicit detail about how certain minor characters looked or felt when they died. Those instances were better left to our imaginations.

Slightly disappointing…


I was haunted by many of the images in this book, but the final battle wasn’t one of them. It was well written and certainly did the job of being climactic, but perhaps just a little B-movie-ish. Noble’s transformation into a demon was too on-the-nose and it felt rushed, as did the rest of the battle.

However, after it was all over, the aftermath scene was perfectly executed. I particularly liked that Jake Timber wasn’t super-human and didn’t easily bounce back from being crushed by the Noble/demon character.

The overall…

If you want a great can’t-put-it-down book and love kick-butt heroines, then pick up a copy of Prophecy by Joanna Penn. It’s money well spent.

Upon Review: Pentecost by Joanna Penn

January 11th, 2012

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know anything about what will happen in Joanna Penn‘s book, Pentecost, then don’t read any further. Suffice it to say it’s a fast-paced, enjoyable read with plenty of cinematic scenes worthy of Ron Howard’s direction.

The Full Review

If you like Indiana Jones action, a Lora Croft style heroine and a mystery steeped in Christian myth and mysticism, then Pentecost is the book for you.

Full of fast-paced action this book hits the ground running from the prologue where we are instantly captivated by the failed escape of a nun, one of the 12 Keepers of the Pentecost stones, and her resulting grisly death. From there we are launched on a whirlwind race around the globe with Oxford University psychologist Morgan Sierra and Jake Timber from the mysterious ARKANE, a British government agency specializing in paranormal and religious experience. It is up to them to trace the journeys of the Apostles and collect the Pentecost stones to save Morgan’s twin sister and 2-year-old niece from the sadistic Joseph Everett, who plans to use the stones to bring about a new Pentecost. Along the way the duo must also keep a step ahead of the mysterious Thanatos, an organization intent on using the stones to start a holy war.

If the aim of a good story is to take a protagonist, give her a goal, and then throw as much stuff between the protagonist and her goal so as to make it look impossible to reach it, then Joanna Penn has accomplished it with flare. Her use of both expected turns and surprising twists made this story haunt my dreams at night.

There were a few drawbacks that kept me from fully enjoying the entire book. First was some jarring “head hopping” where the POV switches between characters in the middle of a scene. Second was the need to “humanize” Joseph by making his goal to heal his brother with the Pentecost stones and revealing an abusive childhood. Third was that Thanatos’ attempts to liberate the stones from Morgan and Jake were almost laughable considering this was supposed to be a high-powered secret organization. Lastly was one glaring error in biblical attribution — Daniel was thrown to the lions, not into a fiery furnace.

Even with those drawbacks I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys action-packed adventure stories, though if you tend toward biblical literalism and need your heroine to believe in God as main-line churches preach I would read something else. All in all, a most enjoyable read.

4 Steps To Keep Your Original Files Safe When Creating An Ebook In IDCS4

December 18th, 2011

When the proof of my second book, Simply Prayer, finally arrived in the mail I had to beg my husband to read through it just to make sure the errors I found needed to be fixed or if I was just being a perfectionist. Usually I would have simply buckled down, fixed the errors and ordered another proof. However, I ran into a snag with the digital files — which is the point of this post.

If you use InDesign CS4 you probably know about the book feature where several separate files can be compiled into a single book. It’s a great tool that keeps file size down and makes it simpler to print a single chapter.

The downside, as I discovered after sending my .pdf to CreateSpace, is transferring all those files into an ebook. You can’t simply re-save the book with a new name and expect the chapter files to save themselves as new files too. You’ll have a newly named book using the original chapter files instead.

What that means is that any re-formatting you do to your chapters will be saved over the original files. For instance, I wanted to include the pictures from the print edition in the ebook edition, but I wanted them to be seen just before the section titles. To do that I followed Elizabeth Castro’s instructions from EPUB Straight to the Point and pasted them directly into the text box. It looks great in the epub, but when I went back to check something in the original book file (after making those changes to two entire chapters!) I discovered that change was there as well. Not good.

If I had already approved the print edition and had no plans to ever release a second edition similar to the first, then it wouldn’t be a problem. Now, if I wanted to make any changes to the print edition, it will be a major headache. I’ll have to re-format the print files, getting them back to the original as close as I can, before I can correct those little things I didn’t like.

The good news, at least, is that I’ve learned a valuable lesson I can pass on to all of you.

  1. Save the original files in a single folder, including images and anything else contained in your print edition.
  2. Copy everything from that folder into a second folder strictly for epublishing and web content.
  3. Re-name everything in the second folder. I chose putting an “e” in front of each file name to make it easily identifiable.
  4. Open the new “eBook” in IDCS4, select all the old chapter files, click the remove button, then add the new “eChapters.”

It’s a little bit of work to create a second set of files in a new folder, but believe me when I say a little work now will save a lot of work later.

What other tips and tricks have you learned while putting your book together?


GFront-Cover-25-percentod promises to be with us through everything,
encouraging us to trust him through every situation we encounter.

Individuals and groups alike will find themselves
discovering that every day is a new opportunity to see God’s touch on their lives as they journey through scripture to uncover that:

  • No Matter Who You Are…
  • No Matter How You Feel…
  • No Matter What People Do…
  • No Matter What Happens..
  • No Matter Where You Are…
  • No Matter How Little You Have…
  • No Matter What You’ve Done…
  • No Matter How Old You Are…

Trust God!
Paperback edition also available on Amazon.

Ebook version available for Kindle, InkteraNookKobo, and Scribd or…

buy the .pdf version here



Get six Bible based, inspirational messages by Virginia Ripple from the blog One Servant’s Heart all in one .zip file.

Messages include:

  • Called to Forgive Called to Serve
  • New Beginnings
  • No Fear In Love
  • The Boneyard
  • The Dirty Little Penny
  • The Hardest Commandment

Pay What You Want for the audiobook.


Simply Prayer ebook

When we find ourselves stymied by what we think prayer should look like, it’s time to step back and think like a child. God loves each of us and wants to hear from us.

Prayer can be as complex as we want or as simple as we need, but sometimes we need a little help getting started. In this book you’ll discover the basics of:

  • What prayer is
  • Why we pray
  • How to pray
  • How to know your prayers are answered

From repetitions to labyrinths to dancing to journals, it is all Simply Prayer.

Ebook version available for NookKindleKobo, and Scribd or…

buy the .pdf version here

You can purchase this book at Amazon.com or in my CreateSpace store front.

Or Pay What You Want for the audiobook.


Fear NotWhen life seems impossible to cope with, God reaches out to remind us of his promises for our lives. Journey through scripture to meet God in new and unexpected ways as you discover what it means to “Fear Not!”

Anyone can use Fear Not to meet God in new and unexpected ways.  Each of the eight sessions begins with an introduction, then moves on to a scripture reading (included), questions to ponder, a meditation picture and lastly a list of possible hands-on projects you can do.

The eight sessions are:

  • Session 1 … God is always with us
  • Session 2 … God is in control
  • Session 3 … God keeps his promises
  • Session 4 … God keeps us safe
  • Session 5 … God provides for us
  • Session 6 … God reveals himself to us
  • Session 7 … God gives us new life
  • Session 8 … God sends a Helper to us

Ebook version available for NookKindleKobo, and Scribd or …

 buy the .pdf version here

Paperback edition also available on Amazon.com or in my Lulu.com store front at: Virginia’s Store Front.

Characters: Memorable Minors And Rounded Majors

December 10th, 2011

stick figure photoAs I was test driving the Storybook software I downloaded a while back, trying to decide if it will be as good a writing tool as Scrivener, I suddenly discovered that I have no idea what the difference is between a major and a minor character. They’ve all just been characters, with the exception of the protagonist and antagonist of course. Yet I was being asked by this novel-writing software to decide who were major characters and who were minor characters in my book, Apprentice Cat. A little research later and I had my answer.

Memorable Minors

Minor characters are usually flat, two-dimensional characters. They are the ones who show up in a scene or two to help move the plot along, but don’t need a complicated back story. However, just because a character has a minor role over-all that does not mean the character can’t be memorable. Darcy Pattison suggests four great ways to help create memorable minor characters without having to round the character out.

  1. An ailment such as a cold
  2. An unusual role
  3. An unusual job
  4. Distinctive facial features

Rounded Majors

Major characters are well-rounded. They are the protagonist, antagonist and any other character that needs an in-depth back story in order to fulfill their role in the plot. Of course, rounding out a major character means giving your reader some back story and that can be tricky. Ronni Loren has some tips on how to “dish out back story in digestible bites” like using

  1. dialogue
  2. minimal flashbacks or memories
  3. character thoughts
  4. action in the story

Knowing how to create memorable minor characters while slowly rounding out major characters can be hard work, but it’s a task worth tackling for a great story.

What makes you remember a character?

Sandwich Critiquing: The Art of Constructive Criticism

November 5th, 2011

Welcome to Toolbox Saturday where you’ll find tools for various things from writing to whatever.

editing photoYou’ve been asked to read a friend’s manuscript. After dutifully plowing through 100 pages of less-than-perfect, sometimes entertaining, but often difficult to understand prose you’re left with one question: how do you tell your friend her manuscript needs a lot of work?

Refuse to play…

Unless you really don’t care about hurting your friend’s feelings and possibly losing a friend, this can be a very tricky situation. I know several writers who refuse to read other people’s unpublished works for just that reason. Yet, it seems crueler to me to let a friend send an unpolished manuscript out knowing you could have helped.

Give ’em a sandwich…

Enter the sandwich method. I don’t know who first came up with the idea, but I say, “God bless ’em,” because it makes giving (and receiving) constructive criticism a lot easier on the old ego. Simply put, the sandwich method gives the criticism “sandwiched” between bits of praise.

I can hear my husband saying, “So I can say ‘I like your hair. Your characters stink, but those jeans are really slimming on you.'”

Uh, no. The praise has to come from something in the manuscript.

Praise what?!

“But, Virginia,” you may be whining, “it’s nothing but sentimental drivel and inane cliches!”

That may be; however, as Brenda Ueland says in If You Want to Write, even in the worst writing there is something of value. You may have to look hard, but it is there.

Be specific…

As for the actual criticism, it’s always best to be specific. Telling someone their story didn’t hold your attention doesn’t cut it. Why didn’t it “hold your attention?” Was there too much description? Were the characters two-dimensional and uninteresting? Perhaps the sentences were too long and rambling. Be specific.

Heap on more praise…

Last of all, be sure to end with some more praise. I like to point out something good in the work I didn’t mention before. Sometimes all you can do, though, is reiterate the praise (using different words, of course) that you already gave. Either way, I tell the manuscript’s author that it has potential because I honestly believe everything has potential. Some things just need a lot (and I’m talking about a whole overhaul) of work.

How do you approach giving a friend constructive criticism?

Photo by TheCreativePenn


Catch up on the adventure with other books in the Malkin series.

Apprentice Cat CoverApprentice Cat available in paperback and for KindleNookKoboScribd and iTunes.

Buy the .pdf now 

Also available as an audiobook on AudibleAmazon and iTunes.



Journeyman-Cat15percentJourneyman Cat available in paperback and KindleNookScribdiTunes and Kobo.

Buy the .pdf now 

Audiobook coming soon.



Secrets-of-the-Malkin-sidebar-newsletterSecrets of the Malkin ebook version available for KindleNookiTunes and Kobo.

Buy the .pdf now 




Huntress of the MalkinHuntress of the Malkin ebook version available for KindleNookKobo and iTunes.

Buy the .pdf now 

Upon Review: Insider Thought Trading by James Bars

October 19th, 2011

Welcome to Spirit Wednesday where we take a look at all things spiritual from meditation to prayer to cleaning the house. Yes, even house work can be a spiritual experience… if you choose to see it that way.

I love to request free books to review. In fact I subscribe to two review sites: Book Crash, which is where I found Insider Thought Trading, and Book Rooster, where I discovered The Unfinished Song: Taboo (read my review here).

Like anyone, I have thought processes I’d like to change. When this book popped up on Book Crash it sounded like a great place to start. Here’s the description that sold me on Insider Thought Trading by James Bars:

Would you like to know how to use the brain God gave you in combination with the power He has also enabled you to access to live a joyful life, a promising life, a life of unlimited potential and true success that will never ever end? It is here! God has already provided it! This fun-to-read, parable style book will show you how and provides you with many creative tools to help bring your life into harmony with His.

I love stories, especially stories that teach us about living a better life, so I requested my free review copy. I wish I hadn’t.

The Good…

I enjoyed the stories. As I’ve said in previous reviews, it takes a lot to make me cry over a character in a book or movie, but this one had several stories that had me rooting for the character to make a commitment to change and stick with it.

The confusing…

The stories were good, but about half-way through they disappeared. It became what I can only describe as a regular self-help book. In fact, I had to skip ahead and then backtrack just to be sure I was reading the same book. It wasn’t as if there was a clear break between the formats. The parable-like teaching began as if the character was reading from another book and then it just became that book. It was very confusing.

Also, I found the questions at end of chapters the distracting. Although I analyze stories for life points, I rarely come to the same conclusion as the teacher/author. I’ve always believed we each come away with whatever lesson we need at that point in time. I really prefer not being forced to come to the same idea as someone else.

The overall…

In the end, I skipped most of it just to read the stories because I got more out of them. If you’re looking for a straightforward book on how to change your thought processes so you can live a happier life, keep looking.

However, if you like a good story and you don’t mind wading through some confusing text to get to the self-help guide, then you might enjoy Insider Thought Trading by James Bars.


Prayer can be as complex as we want or as simple as we need, but sometimes we need a little help getting started. In Simply Prayer you’ll discover the basics of: what prayer is, why we pray, how to pray, and how to know your prayers are answered. If you’re looking for ideas and examples on simple ways to pray you can find them in Simply Prayer, available in print, for KindleNook and audio book.