Friday, August 28, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: The Best Book(s) I read in August

It’s time for The Cephalopod Coffeehouse! We gather once a month and discuss the best books we read this month and what we loved about them.

This month I started reading way too many books all at once, and I ended up only finishing one. I will feature it here today, but I’ll also tell you about some other books I’m reading that I think will be even better. I should warn you, though—they’re all regency romances. I’m on a regency kick at the moment.

Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen is the story of Hannah Rogers, a clergyman’s daughter with a secret forcing her to leave her home and become a companion to the wealthy, yet haughty, Lady Marianna Mayfield. As the story begins, Hannah is travelling into the country with Lady Mayfield and her husband, Sir John, when the carriage crashes, and they are all plunged into freezing water. Rescued by a kindly doctor and his wife, Hannah awakes to the name “Lady Mayfield.” Confused and disoriented, Hannah assumes that she is Lady Mayfield. Once taken to the Mayfield home, she begins to remember her real name and situation. She is told by Dr. Parrish that the traveling companion drowned and that Sir John is in a bad way. Every opportunity she has to tell the doctor that she is not Lady Mayfield is in some way thwarted, but when Sir John begins to recover his wits, Hannah knows she will have to fess up and risk prosecution for fraud.

I loved the first half of this novel. It was suspenseful and it kept me guessing what was going to happen and wondering how Hannah was going to get herself out of this mess. The characters were colorful, well-developed, and authentic. As so often happens in a novel, however, the last third of the book was a little too long and drawn out. There were some courtroom scenes that took forever, and I became irritated, thinking—“just tell me what happens!”

The ending wasn’t as satisfying as I would like. Although unexpected, I felt it was a little too convenient. Overall, I liked the book, and I would recommend it to one who enjoys a regency read with an unconventional twist.

I have also started reading Heartless by Mary Balogh and I’ve enjoyed it very much (I’m only halfway through). Luke Kendrick is the hero who has been betrayed by family and his fiancee. Ten years after all of that, he's back to claim the land and fortune that is rightfully his. Yet the hard blows to his life have left him incapable of love. He marries Anna Marlowe, only to find that she's not the innocent he thought. Even so, he agrees to remain married to her as long as she will bring forth heirs. As time goes by, love begins to bloom in her heart for him, but he does not return her sentiment. We are left to wonder if they'll ever have a meeting of the hearts...
The novel is rife with themes of the nobility, marriages of propriety, family lineages and peerages, and lots of rakish men getting themselves into all sorts of trouble. If you like that sort of thing, this is a well-written and intriguing book. 


Finally, I started reading A Heart's Rebellion by Ruth Axtell. I just started this one two days ago, but it is set in 1815 during the London season. Jessamine Barry, jilted by the man she truly loved and wanted to marry, now leaves her quiet English village to venture into London for the infamous season. Even though she is initially unimpressed with the balls and parties, she soon meets Lancelot Marfleet and learns his family is very well known throughout society. Through this route she is introduced to more people, and apparently (although I haven't gotten there yet), she falls in with a rakish sort of gentleman who is all too happy to lead her down the path to rebellion.
So far I've really gotten into this book. I love reading Jane Austen-ish novels that deal with manners and society. I can't wait for the rake to come on the scene. I always love the rakes!
So that's what on my reading plate at the moment.
Tell me what you're reading right now, then check out some of my fellow bloggers and their reads for the month.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Connections Between Porn and Infidelity

With the proliferation of news this week about AshleyMadison and the notorious list leak of cheating spouses, there are a lot of folks out there in disbelief at some of the names on that list. Celebrities, prominent business figures, and lots of average joes and janes. So it kind of makes you wonder—what on earth is with all of the cheating spouses?

Obviously some people cheat on their spouse because they meet someone who fills a void, or they fall in love with another person, but statistically speaking, cheating increases exponentially with the use of pornography. Research cited in an article by National Center on Sexual Exploitation and conducted by Dr. Jill Manning concluded that in the case of 56% of divorcing couples, heavy porn use is involved in the split.* Dr. Manning testified to this fact before the U.S. Senate in 2004, so we can probably assume that number is even higher 11 years later. AshleyMadison capitalized on the men and women involved in pornography by advertising their services on pornographic websites.

From a marketing standpoint it makes perfect sense. That is their target audience. These days there is an epidemic of men (and an alarming increase in number of women) who are incapable of committing to lasting relationships. Scientific evidence shows that the brain chemistry is altered by the use of pornography. The dopamine high is addictive and larger and larger doses are needed. It can also produce a delusional effect where the person thinks there is an unlimited amount of sexy, hot people out there just waiting to do all manner of the 'wild thing' with them. When their partners balk at such activities, they look to the illicit affair to fulfill the desires.

According to another article based out of Arkansas, the release of the AshleyMadison list is, as you can imagine, greatly affecting marriage counselors who are suddenly inundated with clients. Sex addiction is another factor in this whole ball of yarn that counselors must deal with—but again, sex addiction usually goes hand-in-hand with pornography use, and sites like AshleyMadison feed both of those addictions in spades.
If you want to check out Haley Halverson’s article on the connection between cheaing spouses and pornography click here.

To check out the article on Arkansas marital counselors and the effect all of this is having on them, click here.

*Halverson, Haley. Why Do People Cheat? The Link Between Ashley Madison and Pornography. National Center on Sexual Exploitation. 26 August 2015.

*stock photo used

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Summer Concert with Frankie Valli

When I was a teenager, my friends and I were always attending summer concerts. That was in the mid-1980s and the bands looked more like this.

Recently, I’ve been taking in some concerts at our local venue, Wolftrap Center for the Performing Arts. They are an outdoor arena with seating under cover as well as on the lawn. If you buy tickets for the lawn, you can bring a lawn chair, food and drinks, and then you just sit back and enjoy. For a friend’s birthday this week, I joined her and her husband for an evening under the stars to see Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Now, I’m not particularly a fan. As a matter of fact, all week I was telling people that I was going to see Frankie Avalon. Oops. Once, I got there I realized I had the wrong Frankie.

Frankie V. was well before my time and no, I haven’t even seen Jersey Boys. The only song I knew for sure was the theme song from Grease. And I wasn’t even allowed to watch that movie when it first came out. I didn’t see it until I was in my twenties. My whole reason for going to Frankie Valli was to hang out with good friends and listen to some music.

To say I was impressed with this eighty-year-old’s vocal strength, as well as the impeccable harmonies by the Four Seasons, would be an understatement. I was neither the oldest nor the youngest person in attendance, but everyone around me was dancing and singing along to songs like, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “My Eyes Adored You.” Over and over I found myself turning to my friends and exclaiming, “Oh, I know this song! I didn’t know he did this one.”

There was also some realization for all three of us that we had turned into our parents. Whereas we used to listen to headbanging metal or country music, we found ourselves completely excited by songs from our parents' era. There was something both poignant and disturbing in that notion, but when the band began playing “Oh what a Night” and we all rushed to the edge of the lawn to dance along, age hardly mattered. We were all Frankie Valli fans.


What concerts have you seen this summer?


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Abolition, Restoration, and Love146

candle in dark
This week I want to highlight a group called Love146. They are an international anti-trafficking group with US offices in New Haven and Houston, who offer safe housing and rehabilitation for girls rescued from sex trafficking; they also offer training and resources for those willing to go out and work in the trenches.

Their moving introduction video talks of how Love146 was created, when several of the co-founders embarked upon an undercover operation in Southeast Asia in 2002, hoping to learn how best to fight the horrors of child trafficking. They were unprepared for what they saw—in once instance, children with numbers attached to them, sitting behind a window, watching cartoons while waiting to be ordered off of a menu by number. Literally. One of the co-founders admits to feeling an overwhelming rage and desire to smash the window, to pull the girls to safety. Because this was an undercover mission, that response was impossible. They felt helpless. But one of the girls, #146, changed everything for them. Whereas most of the other children’s faces registered hopelessness and resignation—a typical and very human response to repeated trauma—in the eyes of #146 they saw defiance. She was still registering a desire to fight, there was still a light in her eyes. She was their call to action, and the reason Love146 was created.

Their mission statement is, “Abolition and Restoration! We combat child trafficking & exploitation with the unexpected and restore survivors with excellence.”

If you have a chance, pop over to their website and check them out. They work in the trenches. They see the unimaginable.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cover Reveal for Piper Morgan Joins the Circus by Stephanie Faris

I'm very excited to be hosting Stephanie Faris today. Stephanie writes middle grade fiction for Simon & Schuster, and all of her books have the most adorable covers. Today I'm privileged to be part of her tour for the cover reveal of:

Piper Morgan Joins the Circus

Stephanie Faris

Cover illustration by Lucy Fleming.


When Piper Morgan has to move to a new town, she is sad to leave behind her friends, but excited for a new adventure. She is determined to have fun, be brave and find new friends.
And after learning her mom’s new job will be with the Big Top Circus, Piper can’t wait to learn all about life under the big top, see all the cool animals, and meet the Little Explorers, the other kids who travel with the show. She’s even more excited to learn that she gets to be a part of the Little Explorers and help them end each show with a routine to get the audience on their feet and dancing along!

But during Piper’s grand debut, her high kicks and pointed toes don't go quite as planned. After causing a dance disaster, she has to prove to everyone--especially queen of the Little Explorers, Lexie--that she belongs in the spotlight. 

Stephanie Faris:


Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the upcoming Piper Morgan series. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive. 



Books That Make Your Heart Flutter Blog Hop!

What are some of the books that just make your heart go pitter-patter when you read them?

Today I'm participating in a blog hop hosted by Candlelight Reads.

I used to read a lot of romance when I was younger, but I have two all-time favorites that still make me sigh with a racing heart by the end. One is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. When I was younger, that moody, broody Mr. Darcy was exactly my type of guy(except all the moody-broodies I knew were actually not very nice people). When Darcy redeems himself near the end of the story, I always find myself grasping at my heart and dabbing a tear from my eye.

The second novel is The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, for a completely different reason. The story does not necessarily end predictably, but I sigh with satisfaction at the characters' use of restraint and decisions to do the right thing.

Incidentally, The Age of Innocence inspired my novel Song from the Ashes, which I'm giving away free via ebook through random drawing. Just comment below with a book that makes your heart go pitter-patter, and you'll automatically be entered to receive a free ecopy.

Here is an excerpt from the novel:

Landon felt the blood rush to his face. He knew once he began saying the words he wouldn’t be able to stop, and they would change the precarious balance of all that had been between them.
“April and I had a heart to heart while I was there. She confronted me with something—with the reasons why she felt I was rushing the marriage.”
            Ella moved to sit in the chair closest to the bookshelf—the furthest one from him.
            “She thinks I just want to hurry it along to convince myself of my feelings for her, when it’s really someone else I want to be with,” he said.
            Ella’s face colored as her expression of surprise froze her features.  “Someone else?”
            He nodded, watching her eyes darting around, considering his words. Even so, Landon felt he couldn’t sit another minute; his right leg jittered up and down furiously.
“The thing is,” he rushed on, “I told her she had nothing to worry about. She remembered a girl she saw me with at church a few times, and I assured April that girl is long gone—out of my life. But…,” he paused at the word, looking up at Ella who looked stricken—as though her breath had caught in her throat. Her mouth was slightly open and the muscles in her neck constricted.
            She stood up and walked toward him. “Landon, I don’t think you should say—“
            “She guessed right,” he rushed on, knowing he had to get the words out. “April guessed right.”
            Ella stood in front of him, looking up at him, shaking her head. “No.”
            “What time do you have to leave?” he asked, his voice sounding thick and unlike himself.
            Without moving, Ella glanced at the clock behind him. “I should be leaving soon—now, really. My ride’ll be here.”
            He slumped a little, nodding slowly.
            “You should come with me,” she said softly.
            The thought crossed his mind, but in actuality, he didn’t want to go with her. He wanted her to stay there with him. He didn’t want to leave the house or have her leave; he wanted everything to stay exactly as it was right then in that moment—just the two of them alone in the world.
            “April was right when she guessed I wanted someone else,” he got the words out, meeting Ella’s gaze—watching her eyes well with tears. Minutes seemed to pass as they stood there, staring at one another; the weight and reality of his words sinking in.
            She turned suddenly and retreated to the safety of the couch where she sank down, shaking her head just as the tears spilled over her cheeks.
“Don’t do this Landon. Do not mess with my head. I can’t take that—not from you.”
            He stood his ground feeling the adrenaline rushing through him, “I’m not messing with your head, Ella. I wouldn’t do that, but I have to tell you how I’m feeling. I don’t know how I could live with myself without being honest…with myself and with you. I think I want things to be ….different.”
            She looked up at him, and her face was wet with tears.
“Different? Things can’t be different, Landon. You haven’t broken anything off with April—in fact, now you’ve set them on the fast track for marriage. How can things be any different?”
            Her words hurt; they held a mirror before his face and he saw his weakness. “How do you feel about me, Ella? Tell me how you feel.”
             “No,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “Don’t put me in that position, Landon! I’m not going to pour my heart out to you—to another woman’s fiancé—only to have my heart smashed all over again. You know what I went through with Grey. I’m not going there again.”
            Landon sat beside her on the couch, wanting desperately to be close to her. He had hoped his confession of feeling would bring her heart closer to his, not push her away. He didn’t want to argue with her. He took her hand in his, and although she didn’t clutch his fingers the way he’d hoped, she didn’t pull away either.
“I’m not like Grey Dyer, Ella. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
            She nodded, her eyes wide and shining with tears, “I know. But you can’t be my husband.”
            He studied her face, his hand squeezing hers, “Why can’t I be? You’re the woman I want to be with, Ella.”
            “Please, don’t say that,” she said, her voice breaking.
            “Why not? It’s true!”
            “But there’s April…”

Once you've commented and entered the free giveaway, be sure to check out other bloggers (their links are below) and their great selections and giveaways!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Heart of the Matter

For those of you interested in learning more about pornography and how it affects the average individual, I highly encourage you to check out the documentary, The Heart of the Matter: Finding Light in the Darkness of Pornography Addiction.

This film takes a look at the dark aspects of the addiction and how it damages lives of men and women alike, but it also shows the healing that can and does occur when light shines on the problem.
This is now available on DVD and digital download. Click this link to check out a trailer of the documentary.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: Relatable Characters in Jane Austen

There are two reasons for which I read novels. 1) I like to be wholly engrossed in another person’s life bearing no resemblance to me whatsoever; or 2) I like to read about a character or characters whose emotions or actions are relatable and warrant empathy. I’ve spent the last year reading books in the former category. But just last week, I started reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen, but I’ve never read S&S and thought it was about time to do so. While reading in Chapter 16 last night, I realized something. I've been both Marianne and Elinor at different points in my life. Throughout my twenties I most closely reflected Marianne's impulsive, reckless, and passionate search for the sort of love that wrecks one’s world.

“She played over every favourite song that she had been used to play to Willoughby, every air in which their voices had been oftenest joined, and sat at the instrument gazing on every line of music that he had written out for her, till her heart was so heavy that no farther sadness could be gained; and this nourishment of grief was every day applied. She spent whole hours at the pianoforte alternately singing and crying; her voice often totally suspended by her tears. In books too, as well as in music, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past and present was certain of giving.”

How often I have listened to songs over and over again that reminded me of a long lost love-interest, or recounted times, places, movies we experienced together. Marianne’s “violence of affliction” as Austen calls it, is proportionally related to the degree of expectation she poured into the relationship. Most of us have had our expectations dashed to the ground in love. Some things never change no matter the era.

In contrast, as I grew older, my view of love and relationships became much tamer and more practical—like Elinor. Unlike Marianne who throws 150% of her affection after Mr. Willoughby upon first meeting him, Elinor reserves her opinion and her judgment of his character, managing it deep within her own heart, regardless of what her fluttering emotions tell her. Elinor’s guardedness can be summed up in one short quote from Chapter 4: “I am by no means assured of his regard for me.” Elinor is much more inclined to use her head first, suppressing her emotions. In the end, of course, as they usually do one way or another, her true heart is revealed.

As my years of singleness stretched into my thirties, and after far too many heartbreaks, I realized that this was a much more sensible approach to take to relationships. I will say, however, that after waiting so many years for the right man to come along (and much like Elinor at the end of S&S), the emotion, relief, and gratitude was that much sweeter when I finally married my husband.

Here are a couple of clips from the 1996 movie starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. The scene regarding Marianne’s wild love for Willoughby is especially heart-rending.


What about you? What books/characters do you find most relatable?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cosmo Cover-up

The next time you check out at your local supermarket, you may notice Cosmopolitan magazine is no longer “baring all” for everyone to see. Cosmopolitan has always pushed the envelope in terms of their front covers, whether practically naked women or jaw-dropping article titles are emblazoned upon them. Under a recent a campaign headed up by National Center on Sexual Exploitation, many retailers agreed that these covers, flying right at the eye line of small children, did not need to be on display for all. Chains such as Rite Aid, Food Lion, Hannaford, and many others, will now cover these magazines with blinders.

It should be noted that NCSE is not asking Cosmo to change their covers or content; they are asking retailers to consider their shoppers and their shopper’s children. This measure would prevent minors from being forced to view pictures of women in various states of scant clothing (or in some cases no clothing with only certain parts covered by objects).

Click here to learn more about this Cosmo cover-up.

What do you think? Should Cosmo wear blinders in check-out aisles?