Sunday, January 24, 2016

Product Review: Online Proofreading Service - Grammarly

As an avid reader, the daughter of an English professor, and somewhat frequent blog writer, I have some pet peeves in the areas of poor grammar, incorrect spelling, and misplaced punctuation.  In fact, I consider myself to be an official member of the apostrophe police! My husband and I twinge at the sight of a misplaced apostrophe, and we have been known to edit words with (or even without) permission.  I have correction opportunities occasionally in my work as a Content Specialist at my job, where I frequently edit copy that comes in from customers who are setting up their new websites. I revel in the opportunity to fix any punctuation errors before they ever make it to publication on the web.

That being said, I do not consider myself to be a professional writer, or worthy enough to be an English scholar as my mother is.  I tend to end sentences with prepositions, use the passive voice far too often and sometimes use the word "it's" improperly.  In the past I have run my book reviews through a Word document, trying to catch some of my spelling errors and some minor grammar problems, and this has been helpful.  However, I recently was introduced to an online proofreading service called Grammarly.  This program not only spell-checks; it does so much more.

I quickly and easily installed Grammarly into my browser, and off I went! Before I knew it, the program was picking up errors that I would not have seen otherwise. In fact, it has the ability to notice over 250 types of problems, most of which won't get picked up by Microsoft Word. Commonly used phrases were highlighted, and the system made recommendations for other words I could use instead. On one occasion it even picked up a politically incorrect word.  I still chose to keep the word (because I'm not always politically correct), but I was impressed with its ability to notice that choice of language.

Grammarly has not only been helping me craft better-worded blog posts (including this one), but it also will interface with my Gmail.  It goes pretty much wherever I go on the web.  At the same time, I can also choose to disable the add-on, rendering it to the "OFF" position if I so desire.  I have found it to be very flexible and handy as I have been working, and encourage you to give it a try yourself.   A basic account is free and has many great features.  Here's what Grammarly has to say about their free service:

What products does Grammarly offer for free?

In addition to the online text editor, Grammarly also offers a free browser extension for Chrome and Safari, which corrects over 150 types of errors. Grammarly for Chrome and Grammarly for Safari bring Grammarly’s powerful algorithms straight to you wherever you are writing online, including Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Tumblr. You can correct mistakes in your text with a single click.
  • Grammarly® Answers, an online community for writers to ask and answer questions on English writing.
  • Grammarly® Handbook, an online guide explaining English grammar and style.
  • Grammarly® Words, an online dictionary-thesaurus hybrid.
  • The Grammarly Facebook community and Twitter account, both of which provide fans with fun grammar tips and discussions.
  • The Grammarly Blog, offers daily tips, fun commentary, and valuable insights from the wonderful world of writing and grammar.

Whether you're a fellow blogger, student, or someone who does any amount of writing on your computer, Grammarly could be an excellent tool for you.  Give it a try, and tell me what you think! Just CLICK HERE to get started!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Then Comes Winter Road Trip & Giveaway!

Yesterday the snow began to fall here in Greensboro, North Carolina, and it's slated to continue on and off until the evening today.  We have a lovely winter wonderland, and I'm still in my pajamas, with added sweatshirt, wool socks and bedroom slippers for warmth.  My boys were outside for most of the day yesterday, playing in the substance they've rarely seen throughout their lives.  Hubby has been working long hours, so we're all lying around, recovering and enjoying the peace.

While I have a spare moment, I thought I'd share a quick post with you.  Recently we promoted the book Then Comes Winter, edited by Christina Boyd.  This industrious woman has decided to send her book on a road trip, garnering the signatures of all of the book's contributors! To make this even better, she is offering to give away this collector's item to one of you!  Check out her note below, and enter to win.  Stay warm, and grab a good book.  That's what I'm off to do!

This past November, Then Comes Winter, a collection of winter themed short stories, embarked on a trip to visit the hometowns of the talented authors who contributed to its making. Along the way through three countries, the traveling copy of Then Comes Winter has been collecting autographs and souvenirs and visiting special places in each region.

The book's final stop is yet undetermined. Its wanderlust will end once a winner is chosen on February 14, 2016 through this rafflecopter drawing which will determine the lucky winner whose bookshelf will house the only paperback of the anthology signed by all the authors and the editor. Be a part of this unique journey and enter to be that final destination.

Birch Bay, WA

Baltimore, MD
Are you the one lucky reader to win the Then Comes Winter paperback that is traveling the world to be signed by all twelve authors? Enter today to be the final stop on it's road trip. In the meantime, enjoy some of the photos from the roadtrip thus far. And follow along on it's final stops through the US. 

This giveaway is open worldwide.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book & Audio Book Review: He Taught Me to Hope by P.O. Dixon

The legend of King Arthur meets the timelessness of Miss Jane Austen's endearing works in this delightfully entertaining Pride and Prejudice adaptation.

What if Elizabeth is promised to another when she meets Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the one man who captures her heart and imagination like no other?

Are the chances of Darcy and Elizabeth finidng their happily-ever-after as dire as they seem, or is there a measure of hope by way of a strong and enduring bond between them?

He Taught Me to Hope: Darcy and the Young Knight's Quest takes you back to a magical time of enchantment and romance and lets you fall in love with Darcy and Elizabeth once again.


I must say, He Taught Me to Hope is not what I expected, which I will explain momentarily. Initially however, I must share that after reading P.O. Dixon’s work Bewitched, Body and Soul, I naturally anticipated quality Austenesque writing, and she has once again delivered. Dixon knows how to craft her characters and story lines in ways that are not seen in many authors of her genre. She is quite the talent, and I wish I’d read this title sooner. It’s also whetted my appetite for more of her work, and as such I’m thankful that she is the author of over two dozen titles, including full length novels, novellas and short stories. He Taught Me to Hope is also the first in a short series of books, so I look forward to spending more time with the world she has modified here.

The unexpected aspect of the novel is its ties to King Arthur. Given the title and the description of the book, I was almost anticipating a complete “mashup” of characters, with Darcy truly taking on the role of King Arthur and Elizabeth taking on the role of Guinevere.  I assumed there would be a magical sword, and a possible wizard or two.  How Dixon would be able to pull this off I did not know, but the idea was intriguing and I looked forward to seeing how this idea might transpire.

Darcy as King Arthur is indeed referenced many times in this Austenesque tale, but it comes on behalf of the young Ben Carlton, son of the widowed Elizabeth Bennet Carlton.  Ben has a fierce imagination, and quickly brings Mr. Darcy into his imaginary world when they meet one day while Ben is out and about playing on his own. Darcy later meets Elizabeth Carlton, not knowing she is the mother of the boy he has come to care for very much.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth is engaged to marry another, which is where the book’s love triangle begins.

He Taught Me to Hope is not so much a magical tale in the sense that Darcy does not interact directly with elements of the Arthurian legend, but it is magical in that P.O. Dixon’s story is a wonderful one. I was surprised at her choice of fiancĂ© for Elizabeth at the beginning, but this provided delectable tension and a very satisfying plot turn within that relationship. While I felt that Darcy and Elizabeth catered to little Ben a bit too much, he was not completely spoiled by any means, but I did find him a bit annoying at times.  I felt he received more coverage in the book than was warranted, but on the other hand, I loved the relationship that was built between him and Darcy.  As the mother of two boys, I enjoyed the "love triangle" between Darcy, Elizabeth and Ben, which caused me to want Darcy and Elizabeth to have their happily-ever-after even more.

In true Austenesque fashion, much is made of Darcy’s tie to his cousin Anne De Bourgh, who frequently feigns illness so that she would have Fitzwilliam by her side. She becomes completely deluded, assuming that Darcy belongs to her, and that he has no right to pursue anyone else, much less a widow of little to no social standing.  This story line took a dominating position at the end of the book and went on a bit longer than I would have preferred, but its resolution was very satisfying and worth the wait.

Ms. Dixon does have a few spicy romantic scenes within the story, so in that sense I would give this title a PG-13 rating, but the amount of content in this area is very limited. She spends her time building characters, their relationships and the narrative, so romantic tension is very natural and not gratuitous by any means. This shows her talent in writing, that she has no need for repeated scenes of tawdry bodice-ripping in order to craft a lush romantic tale.

Once again I am very satisfied in P.O. Dixon’s work.  Do not expect an Arthurian mashup when you choose this novel, but do expect an excellent story with a memorable take on Jane Austen’s characters from Pride and Prejudice.

Audiobook Review Note:

The audio book version of He Taught Me to Hope is performed by the talented Pearl Hewitt.  Hailing from Newcastle Upon Tyne in England (but now residing in the U.S.), Pearl has read other works of Austenesque fiction from such authors as Abigail Reynolds and Maria Grace, in addition to several by P.O. Dixon.

My initial reaction to Jane’s voice was one of adjustment.  Her English accent is quite formal, and at first I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it. After a while I adjusted to the sound, and it became very much a part of my experience with the story. I would switch between reading the text at home and listening to the book in the car, and while reading the book I would hear her voice in my head.  The only character whose voice never really settled for me was the voice she chose for young Ben.  I frequently found him irritating.  But this may have been a function of him as a character, as I felt that he was placated and catered to far too much in the story. It may have nothing to do with Jane’s choice of voice for him.  That being said, I enjoyed her performance very much, and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.

For more detailed thoughts (including more from me) on the Audible version of He Taught Me to Hope, check out the reviews HERE.

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