Monday, August 31, 2009

Prayer Power by Peter Lundell

Prayer is so important in our relationships with God--like talking is to friendships. That's why I'm excited to feature a book today on prayer. Leave a comment for a chance to win a prayer gift basket. (see below)

Please welcome Peter Lundell to discuss his new book out from Revell.

1. Many Christians don't talk about hardships with prayer. Why do you open up about the struggles you have had drawing close to God in prayer?

My first draft of the book read like an instruction manual of all the things you ought to do to be spiritual like me. I realized that the more spiritual I tried to sound, the less honest I was being. I was hiding behind my words. No reader should have to put up with all that. And besides, it was boring.

So I determined to be totally honest. I rewrote the book and openly shared my doubts, struggles, and failures, because everybody goes through the same things. And if I’m not honest with readers, how can I expect readers to be honest with others or even themselves?

I take sort of an “I mess up and you mess up, but God loves us anyway, so let’s connect with him” approach. Re
aders often tell me how much they identify with that. And when they read about how God still worked amazing things in my life and in others’, it gives them hope.

I’ve discovered two things:
First, honesty is liberating, and I don’t want to live any other way. Second, when we stick with prayer and don’t give up, answers and victories rise from our struggles. Answers and victory never rise from pretending.

I hope to connect with readers so that they’ll in turn connect with me and the victories I’ve experienced—so that they will experience their own victories.

2. What are some of the things God has taught you about prayer over the years - especially from the perspective of your leadership roles?

It’s good to listen before I talk. If I always dive into prayer and never spend time listening, I only dump my own “give-me list” on God. But his word says in 1 John 5:14–15 that when I seek and pray according to his will, my prayer will be answered. So the key is to first get in sync with God.

We’ve got to have a hunger, or thirst, for God. Without hunger, no program or technique or anything we learn will go anywhere. But with hunger for God, we could know almost nothing and still have a great prayer life. Hunger is singularly important—which is why it’s the first chapter.

When I pray with faith and don’t get what I ask for, God will soon show me why. There is always something to learn in unanswered prayer.

3. What do you mean by "praying boldly" and how can Christians learn to do that?

Praying boldly is the opposite of excessively polite prayer and of—I’ll just say it—wimpy prayer. Praying boldl
y is praying without intimidation, not caring what other people think, expressing ourselves to God without concern for being appropriate or religiously correct but rather with a passion from our guts that pours out, unashamedly. Bold prayer is not arrogant. It’s humble and faithful, because of its self-abandoned focus on God and expectation of what God will do.

People often assume they must be polite or solemn before God. Nowhere does the Bible teach this. Two thirds of the Psalms are complaints, and they are not polite. Most prayers in both Old and New Testaments are bold, expectant, and to the point. When Jesus teaches on prayer in Luke 11:5–10, he talks about an obnoxious guy who bangs on his friend’s door at
midnight. Then he says we should bug him the same way by continually asking, seeking, and knocking. I often wonder if God gets tired of diplomatic prayers. Why else would he actually tell us to be bold and persistent—and use examples that, if we were on the receiving end, most of us would say are obnoxious.

There’s no real method to do
ing this. It’s a mindset that chooses to free itself from previous assumptions and uses the Bible as a model of how to pray.

4. How can we practice the presence of God and include him in everyday tasks?

Practicing the presence of God primarily has to do with developing an attitude, a continual awareness that God is always with us, and that in turn, we always incline our attention toward him

The first thing most of us need to do is to slow down or cut unnecessary activities from our calendar. Busyness is an enemy to practicing the presence of God. Jesus repeatedly blew off other people’s agendas for him and continually focused on his purpose for being here. Pastors who do the same are always happier, closer to God, and more effective. And when we practice the presence of God, we increase our ability to be intimate with him when times do get busy.

Here are some practices that may help develop that attitude: My last thought before I sleep and my first thought when I wake up is centered on God. When I get mad or stressed, I try to see things from God’s perspective. When I am waiting for someone, I use that time to pray. I do menial tasks with an aware
ness and love of God. I often have a praise song on my mind as I go through the day.

5. You're a proponent for creating a place of prayer and establishing a time of prayer. Why are these important elements for prayer?

These two disciplines are the most important external helps for maintaining a strong prayer life. Without them, our good intentions eventually drown under the assaults of busyness and distractions.

A place of prayer helps us concentrate in the face of distractions. That place could be the church sanctuary, an empty room in the house, a spot in the back yard, or even a rug laid out on the floor, on which the only thing we do is pray. The physical surroundings of a location devoted to prayer tell our brains, “Focus on God.” And if we ever feel bored or in a rut of over-familiarity with a place, a change of location can be stimulating.

Establishing a set prayer time engrains a habit of prayer into our minds, such that if we miss it, we feel anxious because something is missing or wrong—and it is! A set prayer time is not to force ourselves to pray as much as to create a boundary of protection from busyness. That boundary of time is like a protective fence around a garden, where we give ourselves freedom from intrusions to sp
end unhindered time with God. Preferably we’ll do this as early as possible in the morning, so we can lay the whole day before the Lord. And unlike a prayer place, I have never found benefit in changing my prayer time, so I highly recommend keeping it sacred, especially if we’re travelling or really busy. Whether short or long, this protective fence of a set time must be intentional, because no one else can do it for us.

6. What advice would you give to people who struggle with God when they pray?

True men and women of prayer will sometimes struggle in prayer, as did many figures in the Bible, like Jacob’s symbolic wrestling with the angel and Jesus’ wrestling over his fate in

Like anyone else, I struggle with unanswered prayer or major decisions to do something by faith, when tragedy strikes, problems of injustice, and healings that take a lot longer than I’d like. The key is to keep struggling—don’t give up and too quickly assume something is God’s will before you know for sure. The angel commended Jacob for not giving up until he got a blessing. God the Father actually sent an angel to help Jesus wrestle in
Gethsemane. Sometimes wrestling in prayer is God’s will for us.

Wrestling in
prayer is actually a good thing. It draws us closer to God. And it changes us in the process. And that’s what most of us hope for!

Readers: Leave a comment for a chance to win a prayer-related gift basket with the materials you see here, including a copy of this book!

Prayer Power by Peter Lundell

When God Turned off the Lights by Cecil Murphey (Cec is one of Peter's mentors)

Committed but Flawed by Cecil Murphey

Also includes: Prayer Journal, Pen, and Candle

Comment ideas: talk about your own prayer life, or mention something you read about here. Don't forget to include your email address so you can be contacted if you win!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Through the Fire by Shawn Grady

I'm excited to welcome new author Shawn Grady with his debut novel: Through the Fire.

Here's the back cover copy:

Firefighting burns in Aidan O'Neill's blood. The son of a fireman, O'Neill has a sixth sense about fire and often takes dangerous risks. When one act of disobedience nearly gets a rookie killed, O'Neill is suspended. His weeks off are supposed to be a time to reflect but instead he escapes to Mexico, where another rash act of bravery actually kills him. But only for a few minutes. Called back to Reno, he's now haunted by visions of hell and paralyzed in the face of fire. And at the worst time, because an arsonist is targeting Reno. With a growing love interest with one of the investigators complicating everything, Aidan must discover where his trust rests as the fires creep ever closer.

Intriguing, huh?

Shawn graciously agreed to drop by Net's Book Notes and answer some interview questions. So, let’s jump in:

When did you get started writing?

I’ve been writing since a young age, but finally realized after reading A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway that I didn’t need a stack of 3x5 cards with character descriptions and a detailed plot outline to begin a novel. I just needed to start writing. So, in 2001 I did, though eventually set it down for about two years. In 2004 I started attending writing conferences and submitting manuscripts. And in 2008 I had the blessing of signing a three-book deal with Bethany House Publishers.

Tell us what inspired Through the Fire.

I stuck with the old adage to “write what you know”, and in the context of the firehouse and the camaraderie and banter and tradition I wanted to relate a personal story of loss and redemption and reflect a bit of the greatest story ever told.

Which you did very well. Tell us about winning “Most Promising New Author” at Mt. Hermon in 2008. Was it a total surprise? Was that what caused you to be more noticed by editors and/or agents? (or were you already agented and/or contracted?)

Winning the award at Mount Hermon was a great surprise and honor. It felt like a great validation from my peers and the staff. I had already signed with Bethany House that February and the award was a huge boon that helped carry me through the hard work of crafting and honing my first novel.

I can understand that boost required while facing the doubts that come with finishing a project. What’s next for you? (book title, release date, etc.)

Right now I am working on a title due out in the summer of 2010 called, Tomorrow We Die. It’s about a Reno paramedic who feels like he’s chasing the Angel of Death.

We’ll be watching for that one. How can readers contact you?

I love to hear from readers and can be contacted through my website:

Thanks for stopping by, Shawn! We wish you the best with your writing.

Shawn's bio:

Shawn Grady has served for over a decade as a firefighter and paramedic in northern Nevada. From fire engines and ambulances to tillered ladder trucks and helicopters, Shawn’s work environment has always been dynamic. The line of duty has carried him to a variety of locale, from high-rise fires in the city to the burning heavy timber of the eastern Sierras.

Shawn currently lives in Reno, Nevada, just outside of Lake Tahoe. He enjoys spending time in the outdoors with his wife, three children and yellow Labrador.

And now, my review:

“Why are you the most qualified person to write this story?” Writers know when they're writing a book proposal, they have to answer that question.

Firefighter Shawn Grady answered that question in spades on every page of his debut novel, Through the Fire.

I’m staring at a near-blank screen, racking my thoughts for words as I tap out this review. Where to start?

Prose: phenomenal.
Heart: real.
Story: believable and well-paced.
Emotional payout: satisfying.
Spiritual: surprised me with effective and believable, non-preachy and heartfelt threads.

With a busy schedule like mine, reading a book in a short span of time is nearly impossible. I read Through the Fire in three days. The story races. Shawn uses witty prose to drag you in and make you chuckle, scratch your chin, even stop to think. But only for a second. Then you gotta jump back in and see what’s gonna happen next.

And the fact that this is Shawn’s debut novel . . . fantastic! He nailed characterization, plotting, prose. You will cheer his beaten-up hero on through to the last page.

Shawn’s obvious expertise in firefighting lent a fulfilling realism that you can’t fake. That’s what made Shawn the best author for this story.

And writing it in first person?! C’mon! If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I’m a staunch believer in first person prose. I love it! His choice to write this story in first person was brilliant—you’re sucked into the story as if these things are happening to you. And in suspense, that’s what you want.

You’ll also probably recognize from my other reviews, I’m not a huge fan of suspense. But I’ve been looking forward to Shawn’s book since last September when we “met” through ShoutLife after the ACFW conference. The summary drew me in.

Congrats to Shawn on a fantastic debut novel, which I know will be award-winning before it has completed its run.

Looking forward to your future work.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist

I'd heard some great things about this book, so I found a copy and read it. Glad I did! Here's the summary:

In 1860s Seattle, a man with a wife could secure himself 640 acres of timberland. But because of his wife's untimely death, Joe Denton finds himself about to lose half of his claim. Still in mourning, his best solution is to buy one of those Mercer girls arriving from the East. A woman he'll marry in name but keep around mostly as a cook. Anna Ivey's journey west with Asa Mercer's girls is an escape from the griefs of her past. She's not supposed to be a bride, though, just a cook for the girls. But when they land, she's handed to Joe Denton and the two find themselves in a knotty situation. She refuses to wed him and he's about to lose his land. With only a few months left, can Joe convince this provoking--but beguiling--easterner to be his bride?

Here's my review:

I always enjoy Deeanne Gist's books. Her inspirational romance is edgy in respect to sexual tension, but I believe that's why readers enjoy her work. She maintains wholesome boundaries on the couples in her stories, but doesn't ignore the fact that humans have a God-designed sexual nature.

I appreciated the setting of her latest novel--Seattle in the late 1800's. In her author letter at the end of the book, she explains she employed a bit of artistic license, but as a reader, I felt the story flowed smoothly and her adjustments of time lines didn't affect the story a bit. In fact, I learned a few things about the region as I read.

This novel is entertaining on many levels: romance, history, humor, setting. Near the end, though, I felt she could have tied up the story earlier than she did. There seemed to be a couple of places where the story would have worked to end it. But her final challenge did seem insurmountable, and in romantic fiction, where you're wondering how these two will get together and each have their dreams come true, that's what you want.

I think readers who appreciate edgy inspirational fiction will enjoy this novel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Menu for Romance by Kaye Dacus

I so enjoyed Kaye's first book, "Stand-in Groom" that I was thrilled to volunteer to read her second book for review: "Menu for Romance." Once again, her characters were rich. She portrayed their professions as if she herself has served either as a chef somewhere or an event planner. But of course characters' careers are not why readers read romance, and Kaye nailed that, too. With believable conflict and surprise twists, she brought together an enjoyable journey for us romance lovers.

Kaye brings a deep sense of longing for a lifetime love to her work. You see the theme in both novels in her "Brides of Bonneterre" series so far. What makes this so rich is the obvious heart she packs into her stories. As in her prose, characterization, emotion, romance, she took no shortcuts with this aspect. Great writing contains that kind of honest heart, and Kaye accomplishes it every time.

Great read. I highly recommend it!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

ACFW Conference 2009 blog

Attention writer's conference attendees.

The ACFW blog contains a full collection of the ACFW conference blog tour posts thus far. It's simpler than clicking around to all the different blogs--less time consuming. And chock full of great advice, strategies and how-tos. You'll get a lot out of it, whether you're attending the ACFW conference in Denver next month, or any writer's conference!

Check it out:

(My post "What's It's All About" from this blog on 7/17/09 is up at this link.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Christian Fiction Releases - August, 2009

Happy August! Here is the list of Christian fiction releases for this month as provided by ACFW.

1. All That Glitters, Scenarios for Girls, book 2, by Nicole O’Dell from Barbour Publishing. The reader will decide if Drew Daniels does the right thing when sudden popularity causes her to forget about things that were once important to her.

2. Forgiven, Sisters of the Heart Series, Book 3, by Shelley Shepard Gray from Avon Inspire, a division of Harper Collins Publishing. Tragedy strikes when a brother and sister find themselves facing two difficult situations.

3. Surrender the Wind, by Rita Gerlach from Abingdon Press. When a patriot of the American Revolution inherits his grandfather's estate in England, he inherits more than a crumbling manor house.

4. Sweet Waters, Otter Bay Series Book 1, by Julie Carobini from B&H Publishing Group. Sweet Waters is the story of a newly-jilted woman who talks her sisters into moving back to their hometown only to discover family secrets that threaten the fairy tale image she'd always had.

5. The Blue Enchantress, the Charles Towne Belles Series book 2, by MaryLu Tyndall from Barbour. An adventure-seeking woman and a security-minded captain are shipwrecked together.

6. The Last Woman Standing, by Tia McCollors from Moody. A man, his woman, and his ex-wife search for love again.

7. Truth or Dare, Senarios for Girls Book 1, by Nicole O’Dell from Barbour. Peer pressure threatens to drive Lindsay Martin to doing something she doesn't want to do; the reader will decide.

8. Under the Tulip Poplar, by Diane Ashley and Aaron McCarver from Heartsong Presents. When Rebekah Taylor and Asher Landon struggle to find their ways to the other, will they allow God to direct bring their separate dreams together as one?

9. You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, Book #1 in the VA VA VA BOOM series, by Allison Bottke from David C. Cook. When life is a dance and Disco is a state of mind, it’s Mamma Mia goes Vegas!