Monday, April 15, 2019

Hilarious Adventures and a Very Sweet Romance | Review of The Lady and the Wish

About the Book (from the author's website)

A King Thrushbeard Romance

Lady Gillian Montmorency is determined to win Prince Fidelio’s heart, but her plans are crashing around her ears. First, Fidelio’s older cousin with a beard like a bird’s nest proposes to her. Next, intimidating Prince Max insists she will be his next trophy. ​

But the worst of all, her parents reveal a financial scandal. To pay off her father’s debt, Gillian must agree to work one year as companion to an old lady at some remote and ramshackle villa. ​ Fine. She’ll go. But she doesn’t have to like it.

Coming Soon!

My Rating


My Review

I'm in love with this sweet, fun, utterly enjoyable series! I still need to catch up on the early books (I've started Ellie and the Prince, and then I need to read The Siren and the Scholar, which I'm looking forward to!). From what I have experienced, though, The Lady and the Wish is a fitting and yet unique addition the series.

Gillian's story starts off at the familiar Faraway Castle resort. But she and her father each make choices that take her far away from her family's vacation destination and her home—and bring her to a new job, crazy circumstances, a big mystery, and an unexpected romance.

While I love Faraway Castle with its gorgeous gardens, fascinating and cute creatures, and awesome amenities, it's too fun to follow Gillian to Lady Beneventi's villa. :) The modern elements of this fairy-tale world are more prominent because of this different location (well, and Gillian is also a very modern girl!). We see the use of cell phones and social media, and that—in addition to the clothing and communication—make this story almost like a contemporary romance. Except for the wishes...

The Lady and the Wish is full of entertaining and creative challenges for our heroine as she attempts to serve as a companion for the unpredictable Lady B. This particular story isn't quite as epic in scope as The Rose and the Briar, but it contains hilarious adventures...and focuses on a very sweet romance full of modern-day difficulties and fairy-tale charm.

I confess I looked up the basics of the King Thrushbeard story early on, as I wasn't familiar with the plot and was curious. Curiosity kills the surprise, so to speak. ;) Still, this retelling has plenty of its own twists, especially with all the wishes, and is relatable, adorable, and just plain happy! I love the change of seasons and the way the characters and romance develop. This is another delightful story from J.M. Stengl, and I can't wait to experience more of this series and see what she writes next!

*With thanks to the author for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.*


You can check out my review of book 3 in the series, The Rose and the Briar, HERE. And land a FREE e-copy of The Little Siren (a series companion novella) when you sign up for the author's e-newsletter HERE! (It's a sweet story!)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Winner and Tour Highlights | Mercy Blog Tour

Happy Saturday, friends, and welcome to the conclusion of the Mercy blog tour! Come see the name of our giveaway winner and check out the tour highlights and Eniola's ebook freebie. :)

The Winner Is...

Congratulations to the winner of Eniola's giveaway prize pack...

Gina R.!

She's won a signed copy of Mercy, a $50 gift card, and a journal. Woot! Gina, an email has been sent to you. :) And many thanks to everyone who participated in the giveaway and spread the word about Mercy!

Tour Highlights

This tour came with thoughtful book reviews, enlightening interviews, and inspiring posts from Eniola and our team of bloggers. In case you missed any of them, here are some links to browse...

Articles by Eniola
College-life post by Carissa
  • "One lesson that I learned from my college years wasn’t learned inside a classroom." | Read more
Interviews with Eniola
  • "I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The underlying mystery of what happened between Sola and Tayo kept me intrigued right from the beginning." | Anne's review of Still
  • "I loved that the characters were so relatable and easy to find one that you can see yourself in." | Carissa's review of Mercy
  • "Mercy was an outstanding book and I am so so excited for book three to find out what happens next in the lives of Sola, Nikky, Tayo and Ladi! If you enjoy new adult books full of mystery and real-life problems you must check out these two books!!" | Anne's review of Mercy
  • "Prentice has undoubtedly done a fine job with this one; the second installment in the Still series is a work of Art and Heart, worthy of impeccable applause." | Miranda's review of Mercy
  • "Following the life of Nikky, Sola, Ladi and Tayo in this book makes you pause in your tracks to appreciate the love of God and how amazingly thoughtful He is concerning you." | Oyinkansola's review of Mercy

Get Book 1 for FREE

Don't forget that Still, the full-novel prequel to Mercy, is currently FREE in ebook format! Enjoy the series from the beginning when you download your copy today through Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo, or OkadaBooks.

Buy Book 2 Today

Intrigued by all this talk of Mercy? You can purchase an e-copy through Amazon or OkadaBooks!

Eniola and I sincerely thank the wonderful bloggers who participated in this tour and all those who read the posts and commented. :) We appreciate your support of Eniola's work and hope you'll be blessed by her stories!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

3 Things I've Learned About Publishing (Guest Post by Eniola Prentice) | Mercy Blog Tour

The Mercy blog tour continues! Mercy is the second book in a series about four medical students who must face some very difficult challenges in their faith, relationships, and schooling. Today, author Eniola Prentice shares about her writing journey and what she's learned along the way...

3 Things Ive Learned About Publishing
Eniola Prentice

Five years ago, I had an idea to write a series, but I had no idea how to get my novel to readers. I knew nothing about publishing. It was like finding a needle in an enormous haystack. In some ways, it still feels like finding a needle in a haystack—but now the haystack is a little smaller. Here are three things I have learnt about publishing:

1. Do your research. While preparing for publishing the first book, I did a lot of research. I found out that self-publishing is not something failed writers do. I realized the industry had changed, and self-publishing was a viable path to publishing a book. It's not easy, and the wealth of information can be overwhelming at first. But something that helped me was studying the career of a successful self-published author I admired. Joanna Penn was one of my biggest influences.

2. Community is everything. The self-publishing world is a vibrant community of writers supporting each other within and across genres. I formed connections with Christian writers, Nigerian bloggers, and medical bloggers. It made things much easier the second time around. I asked Amber to edit the first novel in the series, but she couldn’t because of her schedule. She referred me to Rachelle Rea. The second time around I reached out to Rachelle, who referred me to Amber. Amber became such a great support for me, and I gained a friend.

3. Set your goals. I think we get bogged down in defining success as being a best seller. I think setting realistic goals unique to you as a writer is important. Sometimes your definition of success is different than another writer’s. When you reach your goals, you can be content that you met your own personal expectations, not the world’s.

How is your journey going?

Eniola and I would love to hear about your own writing journey. What challenges are you currently facing? What goals have you made or met?

And don't miss the opportunity to enter Eniola's tour giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of her new book, a $50 gift card, and a journal! Just fill out the form below to get your name in the drawing. (See the tour introduction post for the giveaway rules and details.)

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Embracing Faith in Medical School (Guest Post by Eniola Prentice) | Mercy Blog Tour

The Mercy blog tour continues! Mercy is the second book in a series about four medical students who must face some very difficult challenges in their faith, relationships, and schooling. Today, author Eniola Prentice shares about her own faith journey through the lows and highs of medical school...

Embracing Faith in Medical School
Eniola Prentice

My faith journey began with questions. I had questions for God right before entering medical school, so many whys I wanted answered. Why, if God loved me, had some negative things happened in my life? Why had things happened the way they had in my life? Why was I unhappy all the time? I started medical school with these burning questions in my mind.

All my questions certainly have not been answered, but I have learnt that the faith journey is a process. No matter how much I try, I can’t rush the Father through the process. Trust me, I do try to rush Him. 😊

I got answers gradually through medical school. In my first year, I struggled with who I was in the past and who I was becoming. I called all my Christian friends “aliens” because I felt I didn’t quite fit in with them, that I was different in some way. But I began to accept the picture God was painting.

My faith in God grew steadily. It wasn’t always easy, but His grace was enough for me. I held on to Him because I had no choice. I held on to His word and believed in it until it became life to me. There was a lot of pain during the journey, but His presence never left me. I always found comfort in whatever situation I was in.

Most doctors would rarely describe medical school as the most important and formative years of their lives. But God surrounded me with friends who became family. I believe the friendships God blessed me with were the second most important inspiration for writing the Still series. Of course, the first was the Holy Spirit.

I believe it is important to always grow and evolve. My faith journey will never end—until the day He welcomes me home with “Welcome, good and faithful servant.”

How is your journey going?

Eniola and I would love to hear about where you are in your faith journey or how you've been growing. If you'd like prayer for your current challenge or next step, please let me know in the comment section! ♥

And don't miss the opportunity to enter Eniola's tour giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of her new book, a $50 gift card, and a journal! Just fill out the form below to get your name in the drawing. (See the tour introduction post for the giveaway rules and details.)

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Monday, April 8, 2019

Celebrate the Release of Book 2 in an Inspirational New-Adult Series | Blog Tour

Kick off spring with this exciting blog tour for Mercy, book 2 in a new-adult series about four medical students navigating faith, romance, and a difficult-but-rewarding career path! I'm honored to be coordinating this tour for author Eniola Prentice. :) Read on to learn more about this new book, the author's writing journey, the tour schedule for the week, an awesome giveaway you can enter, and a free ebook you can download today...

About the Book

Broken. Drowning. Desperate. Lost. 
When the lives and hearts of four friends start to crumble, can God’s mercy reach them still? 

In her second year of medical school, Fadesola (Sola) Cardoso faces an impossible choice: stay with her longtime boyfriend, the one who knows her darkest secrets and loves her anyway, or move forward with Ladi, the man who gives her hope for an unstained future. Even as she wrestles with her options, life as a medical student becomes increasingly difficult—full of endless exams, stressful social activities, and reminders of a past that continues to haunt her.

Ladi struggles with Sola’s divided loyalties while trying to maintain his perfect image as class president, promising student, and model Christian. But scandals inside and outside the lecture hall threaten to break apart the fragile peace once and for all between Ladi, Sola, and their friends Nikky and Tayo, who are fighting battles of their own.

In this epic second installment in Eniola Prentice’s new-adult Still series, the faith of these four medical students will be tested like never before. Discover their gritty troubles and grand triumphs as they navigate friendships, revelations, romance, and career goals in light of the redemptive power of the cross.

Available now!

About the Author

My journey as a writer began with an idea—an idea that blossomed into a vision for the Still series. I became fully committed to Christ around 2008 when I began medical school. Shortly after, the idea for the Still series was birthed. My time in medical school was one of the more formative seasons of my life. I made lifelong friendships and, most of all, my journey with Christ really began. Although there were challenging times, I would without a doubt relive the experience in a heartbeat!

I published Still (book 1 in the series) right before residency, and now—five years later—the next book in the series has been published. In the time in between, I was the prodigal daughter and walked away from my Father. Everything on the surface looked good, but my heart was far away from Him. His love never left me, though, and He welcomed me home when I came back to Him. I went through painful processes, but they changed me and made me a better person. The girl who wrote Still is not the woman who wrote Mercy.

I am passionate about sowing godly seeds into the hearts of young women. I know how it is to be brokenhearted and believe the lies of the devil because his version of events is all you’re told. I know how it is to truly believe that you are not loved by God because of the events of life.

My hope is that, through my writing, you’ll come to know that God truly loves you and cares about you affectionately. He is close to your broken heart and binds up every wound.

I guess the author bio should be about milestones and, like the quintessential dramatic Nigerian aunty, I have missed the mark. I am a Nigerian-born, American-educated physician who lives in Maryland—but I believe I am more than well-constructed bullet points. I am a child of God through the ups and downs of life, and that will remain constant.

Eniola Prentice 

The Tour Schedule

Monday, April 8
Tuesday, April 9
Wednesday, April 10 
Thursday, April 11
Friday, April 12 
Saturday, April 13


Celebrate the release of Mercy by entering this exciting giveaway! Fill out the form below for a chance to win a signed copy of Mercy by Eniola Prentice, a $50 gift card, and a beautiful journal. Due to shipping costs and varying international laws, this giveaway is open to US residents (age 18 or older) only. Void where prohibited. Good luck!

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Don't Miss Book 1...

Still, the full-novel prequel to Mercy, is currently FREE in ebook format! Enjoy the series from the beginning when you download your copy today through Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo, or OkadaBooks.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Discussion 4 (Conclusion) ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the fourth and final discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 25-31. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 25-31

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "I can pray in my mind—I'm sure God can hear thoughts as well as words. It is nice to think He can hear me if nobody else can."
  • "You look like a star—you have a radiant sort of personality shining through you—your proper habitat should be the evening sky just after sunset—or the morning sky just before sunrise. Yes. You'd be more at home in the morning sky."
  • "If everybody had always been happy there'd be nothing to read about."
  • "Teddy will paint pictures and I will write poetry and we will have toast and bacon and marmalade every morning for breakfast—just like Wyther Grange—but never porridge. And we'll always have lots of nice things to eat in the pantry and I'll make lots of jam and Teddy is always going to help me wash the dishes."
  • "Time went on and autumn passed and winter came with its beautiful bare-limbed trees, and soft pearl-grey skies that were slashed with rifts of gold in the afternoons, and cleared to a jewelled pageantry of stars over the wide white hills and valleys around New Moon."
  • "Though I may not be very good-looking now, when I go to heaven I believe I'll be very beautiful."
  • "Elizabeth Murray had learned an important lesson—that there was not one law of fairness for children and another for grown-ups."
  • "For heaven's sake, girl, don't write what you can't understand yourself."

General Impressions

Confession time: I finished Emily of New Moon about a week ago and promptly proceeded to read Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest (completing the trilogy). I was eager to see what happened to Emily and her friends and how the series ended! Don't worry; I won't talk about those other two books and spoil anything here. ;) But if anyone else reads them and wants to chat, please feel free to comment below or message me through Goodreads or via email (! I'd love to hear your further thoughts on these characters and their lives. ♥

As for the end of the first book, I definitely found it intriguing. Emily has a couple of near-death experiences: one that leads to her friendship with Dean Priest, and another that leads to solving the mystery behind Ilse's mother's death.

Dean...I'm so torn about him! In some ways, his friendship with Emily is so charming and heartwarming. In other ways, some of the things he says when he first meets her (after saving her life) are a bit...shocking. But then, big age gaps in relationships are not uncommon in my family, and there's even a story I heard about my great-great grandparents (I believe) wherein my great-great grandfather saw my great-great grandmother when she was a little girl and he was a young man, and he knew right then he was going to marry her someday. So...! It's definitely not an unheard of thing, but it does feel a little jarring, hearing Dean hint at romance with a girl who could be his preteen daughter. Especially when he talks possessively. And yet, I couldn't help but be intrigued by what might come of it all in time. Maybe, down the road...?

Speaking of romance... Again, I realize Emily is a little young yet! But there are some really sweet moments with the boys in her life in these last chapters. Teddy and Emily share a secret adventure in the Disappointed House. While Emily doesn't seem to like the idea of marriage at this point, I think their daydreams of delicious breakfasts and helping each other with the dishes is pretty adorable. :) And then there's Emily's illness and the way Perry keeps watch through the night, so worried about her and wanting to know she'll be all right. ♥

We must talk about the new teacher in town! I love that Mr. Carpenter turns the education system upside down, just like Muriel Stacy in Anne of Green Gables. And I love the way he balances encouraging and challenging Emily in her writing, even if the challenges come off more strongly than the encouragement. ;) I'm so glad that these kids finally get a different teacher who is able to joke, wants to help the students excel in what they're best at, and doesn't treat them like Miss Brownell!

I loved seeing the relationship between Aunt Elizabeth and Emily grow and mature at the end. Aunt Elizabeth recognizes how she wronged Emily and actually asks for forgiveness! And Emily hurts when she realizes she hurt Aunt Elizabeth. It's realistic to know things don't become perfect after that scene, as is said in chapter 30: "Their points of view were so different that there were bound to be clashes; they did not speak the same language, so there was bound to be misunderstanding." And yet, I'm happy that there's been such progress and there is such hope for them. :)

As with other sections in this book, so much happens and develops in these chapters. And as I mentioned earlier, the introduction of these characters and their adventures made me want to read more and finish the trilogy to see how it all turns out! Also, isn't it neat how these last chapters set up the title of book 2, Emily Climbs? :)

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What did you think of Emily's first meeting with Dean Priest (and the near-death experience that brought it about)?

2. How would you feel about having Mr. Carpenter as a teacher? Do you agree with his teaching methods and how he critiques Emily's works?

3. Were you surprised by the truth about what happened to Ilse's mother? How did this chapter ("When the Curtain Lifted") make you feel?

4. Which scene in this book was the most adorable (or romantic) to you?

5. What was your favorite part of Emily's story? What are you hopes or predictions for what will happen to her in the rest of the series?

Thank you for joining us for the Emily of New Moon read-along! I loved chatting about the book with you! 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Discussion 3 ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the third discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 18-24. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 18-24

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "I'm in a scrape and I've been in it all summer. You see"—Emily was very sober—"I am a poetess." "Holy Mike! That is serious. I don't know if I can do much for you. How long have you been that way?"
  • "Of course, it was trash. Father Cassidy knew that well enough. All the same, for a child like this—and rhyme and rhythm were flawless—and there was one line—just one line—'the light of faintly golden stars'—for the sake of that line Father Cassidy suddenly said, 'Keep on,—keep on writing poetry.'"
  • "A queer feeling came into me and I thought 'What would I feel like if I was stuck before a big crowd of people like this? And besides the honour of the school is at stake,' so I whispered it to her because I was quite close. She got the rest all right. The strange thing is, dear Father, that now I don't feel any more as if I hated her. I feel quite kindly to her and it is much nicer. It is uncomfortable to hate people."
  • "'I love Revelations.' (And I do. When I read the verse 'and the twelve gates were twelve pearls' I just saw them and the flash came.)"
  • "A certain thing happened at New Moon because Teddy Kent paid Ilse Burnley a compliment one day and Emily Starr didn't altogether like it. Empires have been overturned for the same reason."
  • "Everybody who has ever lived in the world and could string two rhymes together has written a poem on spring. It is the most be-rhymed subject in the world—and always will be, because it is poetry incarnate itself."
  • "The air seemed to be filled with opal dust over the great pond and the bowery summer homesteads around it."
  • "Aunt Nancy says the way to be healthy is to eat just what you want and never think about your stomach."
  • "I can bear it when other people have a bad opinion of me but it hurts too much when I have a bad opinion of myself."

General Impressions

As you can see, I had a lot of favorite lines in this section...and there are so many more I could have included! I don't know if this will horrify you, but I've been underlining and writing in my used copy of the book. (I know!) But I enjoy doing that, especially for a read-along, as it makes it much easier to find lines I liked or remember my impressions. :) Anyway, if you looked at my copy, you'd see a good amount of "Ha!," "LOL," smiley faces, and exclamation points in the margins for this group of chapters.

I suppose it would make sense to start with Father Cassidy, as chapter 18 is all about Emily's encounter with him. I absolutely love his sense of humor, which is balanced so well with his kindness and respect for Emily. Yes, he does poke fun at her, in a sense, but he encourages her and speaks her language (as the narrator notes on page 194 in my copy). He listens to her and appreciates the gravity of her request to save the bush and of her passion for poetry. And he even writes her a letter, which means so much to her! He serves as an example to me of caring for children and their interests. :)

I also enjoyed seeing Lofty John humble himself (to some degree) and Aunt Elizabeth laugh some more and stand up for Emily at the Christmas gathering. Progress!! Speaking of progress, it's lovely to see Emily growing and maturing in her perspective of others (like in that third quote above regarding her archenemy Rhoda). But Emily still has plenty of growing left to do.

In the Teddy vs. Perry competition, I found it funny that Emily noted in one of her letters, "Teddy's [Christmas gift] was a little the nicest." She seems to be aware whom she favors of the two at this point in time. ;) Which explains why she really doesn't like Teddy complimenting Ilse (fifth quote above). LOL.

But oh my goodness! Perry's aunt Tom asking Emily to marry him when they're older...that scene was both unnerving (at the beginning) and hilarious (when Perry shows up). Perry telling Emily, "Ilse is better looking of course, and I don't know why I like you best but I do"...oh boy! But Emily's retorts are great, capped off by Perry's threat to knock Teddy's head off again. ;)

And then we end up at Wyther Grange. When Aunt Nancy asks Emily for a visit, it totally reminded me of Anne (in Anne of Green Gables) winning over Diana's great-aunt Josephine. (I confess that even though I've read the book, the images from the 1980s adaptation are ingrained in me!) Anyway, Aunt Nancy is quite a character, as is Caroline. Aunt Nancy says some absolutely hilarious things, like "The Murrays have keep-your-distance eyes" and "I never held with inflicting kisses on defenseless creatures simply because they were so unlucky as to be my relatives." LOL.

But as funny as Aunt Nancy can be, I don't really see her being a good influence on Emily, and I don't really care for how she treats poor Caroline, even if Caroline dishes it back some. While Emily notes the similarities between their friendship and hers with Ilse, I feel like there's an extra layer of meanness with these adults. Still...they do keep each other company and stick together, so there's that, I guess! I'm not sure what to think about Emily breaking the Jacobite glass... It was an accident, so I'm glad she wasn't punished severely, but perhaps there should have been some consequence? While Aunt Nancy's response isn't really instructive, it is funny, and I can't blame her for being relieved! ;)

One last note: It was interesting to see the reference to Gothic romances at the beginning of chapter 23. Yep, there seems to be a flavor of that in Emily's story, and it's fun to see the author mentioning that genre!

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What are your impressions of Father Cassidy? What do you like or not like about how he interacts with Emily?

2. If you could pick a line from these chapters that resonates with you the most—that makes you think, That's me!—what line would it be and why?

3. How did you feel about the Murray Christmas gathering described in chapter 20? How is it different from or similar to some of your own family Christmases (from childhood or more recently)?

4. What was something fashionable when you were younger that you really wanted, like Emily's desire for bangs? Have your tastes changed since then?

5. If you were invited to visit Wyther Grange for a while, would you want to go? What might you think of the place and its occupants?

Join us next Sunday for our last discussion! 
(Chapters 25-31)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Maya's Story: A Hiatus

Hi, friends! I just wanted to pop in really quick and let you know that I haven't forgotten about Maya's story. I really wish I had another chapter ready to post, but I confess I don't at this time. :( However, I do hope to write another four chapters soon to complete the story! If you haven't read the first four chapters, here are the links:
For the moment, I guess you can consider this the intermission halfway through the project. ;) Thank you so much for your patience, and I hope it won't be too long before I have the next set of chapters ready to share! ♥

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Discussion 2 ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the second discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ If this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 11-17. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 11-17

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "I should not write fassinating again because you told me I must not use the same word too often but I cant think of any other that deskribes my feelings so well."
  • "The call always had an odd effect on Emily; it seemed to her that it fairly drew the heart out of her body—and she had to follow it. She thought Teddy could have whistled her clear across the world with those three magic notes."
  • "Ilse glanced happily around her—poor little neglected Ilse, who found in Emily's companionship what she had hungered for all her short life and who was, even now, being led by love into something of her rightful heritage."
  • "Old Kelly thought that the surest way to please a female creature of any age was to tease her about getting married."
  • "Perry was away with Cousin Jimmy all day and when he came home at night he said to me, very feerce, Who has been making you cry. I said I had been crying—a little but not much—because I was not let go to the party because I had laughed at prayers. And Perry marched right up to Aunt Elizabeth and told her it was all his fault that I laughed."
  • "There is a beautiful fringe of isikles along the cookhouse roof. But there will be much more beautiful things in heaven."
  • "Spring is such a happyfying time isn't it, Father."

General Impressions

For a sweet but emotional coming-of-age story, these chapters sure seem action packed! We get to know Ilse much better, and we also meet Teddy and Perry. There are lovely scenes with the children playing and spending time together, and then there are scenes full of excitement and horror—like when Emily thinks she's been poisoned, or when the teacher decides to be very awful (and completely unprofessional) and reads Emily's poetry aloud to the class in a mocking way. (Just...ugh!!)

Did anyone else think the scene where Emily gets locked in the spare room as similar to the red-room scene in Jane Eyre? There does seem to be a bit of Gothic flair to this story!

Overall, I'm really enjoying getting to know Emily's new home, family, and friends. The moment when Aunt Elizabeth actually cracks a smile over Emily's dramatic near-poisoning suggests there might be hope for her to grow more tender in time. (A very, very small ray of hope, but still!) As always, Aunt Laura is a dear, and I absolutely love when Cousin Jimmy speaks up and reminds Aunt Elizabeth and Miss Brownell that no human should kneel before anyone but God in that way. (Go, Jimmy! And I'm so glad Elizabeth listened and changed her mind.)

I'm pretty sure I would be like Emily in having to adjust to the constant tantrums and fights with a friend, but I must admit that Ilse is hilarious and charmingly genuine in all she thinks and feels. I love how her friendship with Emily is helping her grow and opening her eyes to truths beyond her dad's opinions.

As for Teddy and Perry... Goodness, I like both of them. ♥ I love Teddy's gentleness and sweet friendship, and I love Perry's forthrightness and protective nature. Perry standing up for Emily makes my romantic heart happy, even though I realize they're a little young to be thinking too romantically yet. ;) (This is making me want to find out what happens in the rest of the trilogy though!)

There are so many humorous lines and scenes in this section of the book, and it's really fun to get some of Emily's point of view through her letters to her father. I'm looking forward to reading more and seeing how Emily's friendships and writing develop!

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. If you could have Ilse, Teddy, or Perry as your friend, which one do you think you would get along with the best? Which one do you think would help you grow the most?

2. What did you think of Emily's response when Lofty John suggests she's eaten poison? How might you have reacted similarly or differently?

3. Which scene did you find the most humorous in these chapters? What part particularly made you laugh or smile?

4. Imagine yourself as a student in the classroom when Miss Brownell is reading Emily's poetry—or in the house when Miss Brownell comes to speak with Aunt Elizabeth. How would you feel, and what might you do to come to Emily's aid during or after the incident?

5. If you lived at New Moon, which season would be your favorite to experience?

Join us next Sunday for our third discussion! 
(Chapters 18-24)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Discussion 1 ~ Emily of New Moon Read-Along

Welcome to the first discussion of the Emily of New Moon read-along! ♥ Before we get started, if this is the first you've heard of the read-along, you can learn more about the schedule in this invitation post.

Today we're going to discuss chapters 1-10. If you've already read them, you can share your thoughts in the comments section or in your own post! (Feel free to use the image above, linking back to the Emily of New Moon read-along tag.) If you still need to catch up, you're welcome to check in whenever you're ready. :)

Hope you enjoy the discussion!

~ ~ ~

Emily of New Moon: Chapters 1-10

Discussion format: your favorite quotes, general impressions, and five questions to answer for each week's reading

Favorite Quotes
  • "Darkness and hobgoblins were nothing when you had plenty of company. But to be alone—ah, Emily shivered with the delicious horror of it!"
  • "It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside—but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond—only a glimpse—and heard a note of unearthly music."
  • "Your mother thought Emily the prettiest name in the world,—it was quaint and arch and delightful, she said."
  • "Everything we had was small except our love and our happiness."
  • "One couldn't be afraid or bitter where love was—and love was everywhere." 
  • "Nobody who was loved as much as he was could be a failure."
  • "Books were Emily's friends wherever she found them."

General Impressions

I'm fairly certain this will be my first time reading through Emily of New Moon... (Unless I'm forgetting something!) I think it's felt familiar so far because I might have tried starting it when I got this copy and especially because I watched some of a mini-series based on this book with my uncle and grandparents when I was younger. (Not entirely sure how far we got through that!)

Anyway... ;)

Some elements remind me of Anne of Green Gables: the fact that Emily is orphaned, her love for nature and describing it through lovely words, and the way she feels different from everyone else. But Emily definitely seems to be her own character, and I appreciate her love for cats, her passion for writing, and her desire to honor her father's memory.

Her three new guardians are also quite different from Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert (from Anne of Green Gables), although Emily is still getting a mix of strict upbringing and secret kindness. I really hope Aunt Elizabeth softens and starts to see what a blessing she has in Emily. I love Aunt Laura and her gentle ways! And Cousin Jimmy... I do like the thoughtfulness and generosity he shows Emily, although I'm not sure what to think about the times a switch seems to flip and he frightens Emily with his intensity (not meanness, though, thank goodness!).

New Moon itself seems charming, if a bit dark with the stories it holds and the fact that they only use candlelight at night. I hope Emily will come to love the sound of the sea. :) And I'm eager to see how this place, with the nearby fairy path and Jimmy's beautiful garden and the property's dear quirks, becomes home to her.

Of course, there's also school and making "friends." The back cover description assures me there are more true friends to come on the scene, which gives me hope! It's not all that fun to read about how "children can be the most cruel creatures alive" (a quote from chapter 8). Ugh! Makes me think of Lord of the Flies by William Golding (thank goodness things aren't that bad in Emily's story...but still!), which is a book I had to read for school once upon a time that I really, really didn't like. But I guess all this serves as a reminder that we humans are sinful beings from birth and in desperate need of God's grace and mercy.

Chapter 10 ends with a sweet little poem and a promise of great big trouble to come...

Discussion Questions

Answer any or all five of these questions in the comments section or in your own blog post!

1. What did you think of Emily's life before her father passed away? What stood out to you as wonderful or sad?

2. Which of Emily's Murray relatives has made the greatest impression on you so far in either a positive or negative way? What is it that makes their character so striking?

3. Are you a cat person? What did you think of Emily's choice between Saucy Sal and Mike?

4. Are you a fan of poetry like Emily? If you enjoy reading it, do you prefer blank-verse or rhyming poetry? What's your favorite poem you've read or written?

5. What are your thoughts on Emily's school experience so far? If you could step in and make changes to the system, what might you do?

Join us next Sunday for our second discussion! 
(Chapters 11-17)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Chapter 4 | Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance {A Just-for-Fun YA Story}

Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance is a young-adult story I'm writing just for fun! I'm sharing a new chapter each week.

Maya's adventures continue on the Fourth of July, meeting new people and finding herself challenged in different ways. If you'd like to see how her journey on the Northern California coast began, here are links to the first three chapters...
Chapter 4 starts now. Thank you for tuning in!

Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance
By Amber Holcomb

Chapter 4

As it turned out, Conner lived in Arcata, about a 20-minute drive south of Trinidad. His family's house was one of the few normal-looking ones in an area crowned by small Victorian homes of various colors ranging from subdued blue to bright pink.

Maya drove herself there—the farthest she had ventured out since the move. She briefly panicked about finding a parking spot, but one appeared down a nearby street that didn't require fancy parallel-parking techniques, thank goodness. For a moment, she sat in the quiet of her car, taking a few deep breaths to calm her nerves and wondering if she should have offered to bring some sort of side dish.

A man with long dreadlocks pulled into a ponytail ambled down the sidewalk, and once he'd passed, Maya grabbed her orange fabric purse and stepped out of the car.

She arrived at the front porch of Conner's house at the same time as a middle-aged man and a girl who might be close to her own age. She offered them a smile but didn't know what to say or how to greet them. The girl, who had straight auburn hair and a bag of potato chips clutched in one arm, held out her free hand. "Hi! My name's Lucy, and this is my dad."

The man, whose hair color nearly matched his daughter's, nodded with a polite smile as Maya shook Lucy's hand and then his.

"Um, I'm Maya. Conner's friend."

Lucy's grin widened. "You know Conner? He's my cousin. He's a few years older than me, but he's really cool and fun to hang out with. We have some other cousins who should be here today too."

"Cool." Maya held her purse close to her side, wishing she had something else to bring inside. She followed Lucy and her dad up the three short steps and let them be the ones to knock.

A woman answered and held the door open. "Hey, Rick, Lucy. Come on in!" Then the woman caught sight of Maya standing behind them and offered her hand once the others had passed. "You must be Maya. So glad you could come." Her smile was warm, and her soft face looked cheery framed by her short, platinum-blonde curls.

Maya shook her hand and smiled in return. "Thank you so much for letting me come."

"Of course." The woman who must be Conner's mom ushered her inside. "Before I forget, let me go grab the book I want you to borrow. As soon as Conner told me you were reading classics this summer, I knew I had to introduce you to this. Be right back."

Conner's mom hurried off, weaving through a small crowd gathered in a large open room to the right. While Maya waited, she thought about how her mom and Conner's would probably like each other, given their shared love of reading. Maybe if they had a chance to meet, they'd become BFFs.

Voices filtered over from the room tucked down the hallway to her left, which appeared to be a kitchen from the smell of barbecued meat wafting from that direction.

Before Conner's mom returned, Conner himself stepped away from a group of guys and met her in the entryway. "Hey! Did my mom abandon you?"

"She's just grabbing a book for me." Maya slid her purse down her shoulder. "Where should I set this?"

"Right there is fine," he said, pointing to a bench with a variety of tennis shoes and sandals beneath it.

Maya set her purse next to another much smaller, less colorful one on the bench and untied her sneakers, placing them among the other shoes. When she stood up, she found Conner smiling at her with an openness that caused her own smile to bloom.

"I'm happy you're here," he told her. "Let me introduce you to my cousins."

Maya was about to tell him she'd already met one of them when Conner's mom reappeared. "Here you go!" She held out a little hardcover book that looked old but beautiful, with red and gold flowers etched on the green cover. "It's a collection of essays called Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. Perfect summer reading. I bet you'll love it."

Her excitement had Maya accepting the book with an eagerness usually reserved for the days when she discovered new releases available at the library. "Thank you so much for letting me borrow it." She turned and gently slipped the book into her purse. "I promise I"ll be careful with it and give it back to Conner soon."

When she turned back around, Conner's mom beamed at her. "No rush, sweetie. I love introducing people to great books." She glanced at Conner. "Are you going to introduce Maya to everyone?"


"Good. Lunch should be ready soon." And with that, she headed off down the hall—a woman on a mission.

"Your mom is really nice," Maya said.

Conner nodded in agreement. "She is. Ready to meet some more of my family?"

He didn't give her a chance to say no or run away...which she may or may not have been tempted to do. Instead, he put a supportive, guiding hand on her back and led her to the two guys he'd been talking with earlier.

"This is Drake," he said, nodding to the younger one, who had a kind, rounded face. "And this is Tanner." He tilted his head to the taller guy with a more angular face and a full head of hair even darker than Conner's.

"Hi. I'm Maya," she said to both of them, hoping her smile didn't look as awkward as she imagined it to be.

"Hey," they replied. Tanner raised the cup he was holding in a semi-salute that almost made her giggle. She bit her lip to contain her grin as she watched a trickle of the guy's soda run down the clear plastic and over his fingers.

"These two and Luce are my best friends. Lots of family gatherings over the years, so it's not like we had much choice." But one look at Conner's face told Maya that he didn't resent the fact at all. He clearly enjoyed having them as friends, if his grin and relaxed expression were any indication.

"Did you guys start talking about me while I was in the kitchen?" Lucy appeared beside Maya, obviously the youngest of the group and used to tagging along.

"We were telling Maya how terrible you are at Mario Kart," Tanner said, grinning mischievously.

"What?" Lucy practically shrieked, startling Maya. But none of the adults sitting on the couch or standing near the front window reacted or paused in their conversations. "You guys are totally going down!" Lucy continued, her tone still one of high-pitched outrage. "I will prove once and for all that I'm the best."

Drake chuckled, hands in his jeans pockets, just like Conner. Maya caught Conner and Tanner exchanging a glance before Conner said, "You're on. Right after lunch." Then he met Maya's gaze and asked, "You'll play, too, right?"

Maya felt Lucy's excited energy mounting as the girl bounced up and down on the balls of her sock-clad feet. Tanner and Drake seemed both chill and happy at the thought of new competition. And Conner... He looked at her with such hope that she felt enveloped in a cozy sense of belonging.

"Only if you don't mind getting your butt kicked," she said.

The group "ooh"-ed appropriately, and Conner's gaze narrowed in friendly challenge.

Maya smiled triumphantly.

* * *

It was probably the best Fourth of July Maya had celebrated since she was a little girl. While she only won one race when they played Mario Kart on the Wii, it happened to be the very first game—and thus, obviously, the most important. Lucy had high-fived her, Tanner and Drake had groaned good-naturedly, and Conner had tipped his head in appreciation of her victory, his eyes almost twinkling with the sunlight that streamed in through the living-room blinds.

Lunch had been a lot of fun too. There had been hamburgers and hot dogs, a whole table full of chip bags, potato salad, a green salad topped with cucumbers and little cherry tomatoes, watermelon, and strawberries in a glass bowl. For dessert, they had a variety of cookies and brownies to choose from.

All the adults—Tanner and Drake's parents, Conner's mom, Lucy's dad, and two more couples, plus a set of grandparents—had been welcoming and kept the stories and laughter flowing in abundance.

Maya had returned home full. And the great day had ended with a trip to Eureka at night with her parents to see the fireworks over the bay. Each white sparkle and purple pop and red bang had sent shivers of hope through her. She'd left behind family and friends and interesting places, but maybe she could love this new home too.

But then the rest of the week fizzled in comparison. Maya had exchanged cell-phone numbers with Lucy, but hadn't yet heard from her. Conner had agreed to take someone's shift at work on Saturday, so he couldn't come to the beach with Ace for their usual walk. After the excitement of the holiday, Maya found herself growing bored. She didn't want to read another book for school. She was tired of unpacking boxes of dishes and clothes. And the house was so quiet, her parents busy preparing for their classes in the fall. Maya wanted to do something and nothing—but nothing was winning each new day.

It wasn't until the Monday after the Fourth-of-July party that Maya decided to pick up the book Conner's mom had lent her: The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome. She didn't really think she'd like it, but she found herself chuckling while reading the preface and giggling through the first random essay. She devoured the whole collection that afternoon, feeling better for the laughter and the understanding—as this man from the 1800s articulated her feelings so precisely on topics like the hardship of getting out of bed and the way moodiness tends to strike in the evening.

For a while after she finished the book, she sat curled up in the corner of the couch, thinking. Then she got up, grabbed her journal and a pen from the desk in her room, and returned to write her own "idle thoughts."

"On Being Homesick and Lonely"

I've been homesick many times, since I've experienced many moves and new homes. I don't know exactly which place I'm homesick for most; I guess it's usually the last place I lived because that's where I'd been trying to rebuild my life, and that's where my most recent set of friends are.

In some ways, I like change. I like the thought of what's waiting for me, of what might be exciting and new. But I don't like having to settle down and make friends again and again. It's hard work. It's lonely work for a long time.

Wouldn't it be nice if you moved to a place and were given a set of friends along with the keys to your new home? You wouldn't have to try and fail, to reach out and feel rejected. They would just be there, wanting to spend time with you.

But I guess those friendships wouldn't feel very real. You wouldn't have a story of when you met that you could laugh over together after you've been friends for a long time. You wouldn't have those early memories and the closeness you feel only when someone has chosen you when you were alone. I wouldn't even trade these awkward but awesome weeks with Conner just to be automatic best friends with him and his cousins. It's just hard to remember all this when I'm feeling lonely and tired of trying. I guess that's why I need to remind myself.

Maya read over her very short essay, which wasn't exactly profound, but somehow made her feel a bit more hopeful.

She hadn't realized how dark the room had gotten in the early evening gloom until her mom turned on the tall lamp next to the other side of the couch.

"Is that better?" her mom asked with a parental smirk that had a chuckle behind it.

"I guess so." Maya grinned.

Her mom sat next to her, pulling down the light blanket from the top of the couch to drape over their laps. "What are you writing?"

"Just some thoughts." She held up her closed journal, then set it on the end table. After a moment of comfortable silence, she added, "I wish it wasn't so hard to make friends."

Her mom patted her knee. "I know. I like Conner though. He seems like a nice boy."

Maya nodded. "I was just hoping his cousin Lucy might text me. She's a couple years younger than me, but she seems really fun and sweet. And I wish Conner would invite me to hang out again, since Saturday didn't work."

"Well, maybe you have to be the one to reach out to them this time. It's not always about who does the inviting. It's still a gift if someone wants to spend time with you, even if they didn't reach out first."

Maya pulled at a string coming loose at the edge of the blanket. "But I don't know my way around the area like they do." She glanced up in time to catch her mom's sympathetic smile.

"You don't have to. Sometimes all it takes is a kind gesture to get the ball rolling."

"But I was the one who wrote Conner a letter. I've used up my bravery."

Her mom's laugh was full of love. "Remember, Conner invited you to that family gathering last week. Don't keep score, honey. Just be a good friend yourself, and the rest will fall into place. It might be hard sometimes, and not everyone will stick with you, but you'll never regret being the initiator. You've been so good about that before. Don't lose heart now."

Maya felt her eyes water, and she laid her head on her mom's shoulder. "Thanks, Mom. I love you."

A gentle hand swept back her curls. "Love you too."

* * *

That night, Maya sent two texts. One to Lucy, asking her how she was doing and seeing if she'd maybe want to go shopping sometime. The other to Conner, asking how his shift went on Saturday and wanting to know if he and Ace could show her a new trail.

Copyright © 2019 Amber Christine Holcomb

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Chapter 3 | Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance {A Just-for-Fun YA Story}

Maya's adventures continue! She's given her new friend, Conner, a letter (an action inspired by Daddy-Long-Legs) and uncovered a mystery of sorts with him (inspired by Northanger Abbey). Her latest read? Dracula by Bram Stoker...

Want to catch up?
Chapter 3 starts now. Thank you for tuning in!

Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance
By Amber Holcomb

Chapter 3

June 25

In honor of Dracula by Bram Stoker, I'm keeping a journal this week. Conner suggested I hunt for something—like real-life squirrels or video-game zombies—since the characters in Dracula hunt down a vampire. But that was a big no from me. Although I wouldn't mind playing non-zombie video games with Conner sometime.

Anyway, I decided on the journal because I thought that was a neat aspect of the book, how it's told through journal entries and letters and stuff. I already wrote a letter as my Daddy-Long-Legs-inspired action, so here I am.

To be honest, this week hasn't been super exciting so far. Conner and I have started texting, so I guess that's cool. Mom wants me to help unpack some more boxes that have been sitting in the garage, so maybe I'll write more later.

Same Day, Evening

Compared to some other towns I've lived in, Trinidad is really cute and quiet and not scary. But my room is on the first floor of our new home, and my window looks out on an alley... And I forgot to close the blinds earlier. I got distracted reading Dracula, and then looked up to see darkness creeping into my room. I hate having the blinds open at night!

When I got up to close them, I thought I saw movement on the gravel outside. Way too big for a cat or even a dog. Why would someone be sneaking around this time of night? I mean, I guess it could have been one of the neighbors...

Okay. I'm totally being paranoid. This book is getting to me. Vampires never seemed all that terrifying until I started reading Dracula.

Same Day, Later

Okay, it's only been like 15 minutes, and I'm freaking out more. My blinds are closed, but I know I heard something tap the window. And I know I saw a light flash briefly out there, or at least some sort of glow. I am now going to shut the curtains, set aside Dracula (I don't care anymore about trying to finish it tonight), and listen to Taylor Swift (the songs from her early days, not the current stuff). I will remain calm.

Same Day, Even Later

Conner!!! I am seriously questioning our friendship right now. He texted me a Bitmoji (the evil-laughter one) and confessed to messing with me. That's what I get for telling him where I live. (Isn't that a total no-no until you know a guy for at least a year? I have no one to blame but myself.) But seriously, I thought he asked for my address because he wanted to hang out sometime, not because he was plotting against me!

He couldn't coax me out of the house for an in-person apology (or possibly an in-person session of rubbing it in my face). But I did send him some Bitmojis in return, to show him I was properly scared but I don't hate him. He owes me though.

And with that thought, I am now going to try to sleep with a smile on my face and a vengeful Taylor Swift song ringing in my ears.

June 27

Yesterday was pretty boringplus, I slept almost half of it away after Conner's stunt the other night that kept me awake so late. (Well, Dracula can be blamed too.) But today I am determined to be more productive. I'm going to help Mom unpack more and organize the spare room. And I've been thinking about Conner's hunting suggestion. No, I will definitely not hunt some harmless animals. I wouldn't even know where to start. But Mom told me she heard about a beach not far from here where you can find agates. So she and I might go there this afternoon, and maybe I can hunt down some shiny rocks.

Same Day, Evening

Conner is the best. He totally won over my mom today. He drove us (and Ace) to the beach and asked Mom a lot of questions about her job as an English professor. (Which she loves to talk about.) She recommend some books to him, mostly self-help stuff about making goals and figuring out your direction in life, that sort of thing. She totally means well and really wants to help, and I'm pretty sure Conner got that.

Anyway, my hunt was a success! I've discovered I'm a natural at spotting agates in the sand, thanks to Conner. He pointed out the first one for me, and then I found five more. Most of them were small, but one was the size of my thumbnail, and it was a shadowy, gray-purple color. The others were orangey.

In case I forget or need to tell my children someday, here's how to spot an agate. (Note that not every beach has them.) Dig with your hands in wet sand on a rocky beach. It's best to search on a sunny day, because you're looking for a glow. Agates aren't completely clear, but they do tend to let some light pass through them. And they often have milky-white spots too. They're generally smooth and look like jewels compared to the rocks around them.

After reading my tips, I'm realizing they're not all that helpful. Really, you need someone like Conner around to verify that you actually found an agate and not just a pretty rock that you really, really hope is an agate.

Anyway, we had a lot of fun. The three of us sat on a beach towel, sifted through rocks, and talked about all sorts of things, like favorite school subjects, places we want to see, and desserts we hate. (Like custard. It's gross. The end.) And Ace was on his best behavior. He ran around some, but he spent a lot of the time lying down nearby, sniffing at our rock piles. Meanwhile, the sun shone down and the waves lapped a few feet away. I loved it.

Oh, and we got fudge in town when Conner brought us back! He couldn't stay for dinner, but Mom said she'd invite him again soon.

June 30

I finished Dracula a couple days ago and haven't quite decided what to read next. My mind has been consumed with thoughts of next week. Conner invited me to his family's Fourth of July party. He thinks I need to meet some more people. I really don't like parties, but he promised it would be funand he said his mom has a book I should borrow.

Nothing much else to write about this week. Guess I'll listen to some music and try not to stay up all night worrying about the socializing I'll have to do soon.

Copyright © 2019 Amber Christine Holcomb

Monday, February 25, 2019

You're Invited to the Emily of New Moon Read-Along!

March is on its way...and here's hoping that means spring is coming soon too! :) In the new month, I'll be hosting a read-along for L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon. Whether this will be your first time reading it (like me!) or your gazillionth, I'd love to have you join me in cherishing and discussing this classic!

For this read-along, I've decided not to worry about a hashtag for Twitter/Instagram. We'll keep things simple and stick around the blogosphere. Here are some further details...
  • We'll read 1 chapter per day (31 days / 31 chapters). Love when the numbers work so well! 
  • Discussions will take place here on Sundays (the 10th, 17th, 24th, and 31st). 
  • I'll provide ideas and questions, and you can take part through commenting on my discussion posts or creating your own blog posts!
Here are some examples of past read-alongs I've hosted: Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense & Sensibility, The Silver Chair.

So excited to begin reading Emily of New Moon and to exchange thoughts with you! Let me know if you'll be joining the fun by commenting below or posting on your blog. :) (Feel free to use the image in this post and share it wherever you'd like!)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Chapter 2 | Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance {A Just-for-Fun YA Story}

Last week we met Maya, a girl who just moved to the coast of Northern California the summer before her senior year of high school. She's challenging herself to let each of the novels she reads over the next few months inspire her to do something different. Her first "something" inspired by Daddy-Long-Legs? Write a letter to the boy she briefly met on the beach.
Chapter 2 begins now. :) I've included pictures I've taken of the area, to hopefully enhance the reading experience. Thank you for tuning in!

Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance
By Amber Holcomb

Chapter 2

It took Maya a week to run into Conner again. Every morning she tucked the folded note into her jeans pocket and made her way to the same beach. She'd seen a couple young families there, a surfer (in this water? Brrr!), and even an older man with a dog, but no Conner and Ace.

Until the following Saturday. That morning she arrived at her usual spot more from the pull of routine than the draw of hope. But a large golden creature caught her eye, and her heart started beating rapidly at the thought of releasing her letter today.

Just like the previous week, she found herself watching the boy and his eager dog as they played fetch together. She wondered if she should walk toward them, shove aside her childish hesitance and stride ahead confidently.

As she took the first step across the dry sand, Ace bounded her way, prized branch in his mouth. When he reached her, he dropped the stick at her feet, looking both pleased with himself and expectant of her participation in the game. She smiled and reached down to grab the branch. When she straightened, she saw Conner waiting behind his dog, hands in his jeans pockets.

"Hi," she offered, feeling brave, her smile still in place.

"Hi again," he replied. Dark hairs peppered his chin and cheeks, and Maya wondered if maybe he wasn't as young as he first appeared. Maybe she was trying to make friends with someone who had already left behind all traces of high-school associations.

She bit her lip and let her fingertips graze the edge of the note in her pocket. Sucking in a fortifying breath, she slid the letter from its comfort zone and held it out to Conner. "This is for you."

"It is?" He cocked his head, staring at the folded paper in nearly the same way Ace was staring at the branch in her left hand—but with a touch less eagerness.

After a moment, he grabbed the note. With one more curious glance at her face, he unfolded the page and read silently.

Maya bit her lip again and glanced down, not wanting to watch Conner read her childish words, and not wanting to make eye contact with Ace in case the dog thought she was ready to continue the fetching game. Not yet. Hopefully soon.

A minute or two ticked by, marked only by Ace's panting and the tide's steady arrivals and departures. Finally Conner cleared his throat, and Maya's head popped up.

He smiled, his posture appearing more relaxed than before as he folded the letter back up and stuck it in his own pocket. "Friends?" he asked, holding out his large hand.

Maya grinned, offering a shaky laugh along with her hand. "Friends. Thanks for not thinking I'm too weird. I've moved a lot, and I just know how long it can take to get to know people..." She trailed off, realizing her hand was still firmly ensconced in his. With a blush, she released her hold.

"I can understand that," he said kindly.

Before she could respond, Ace whined. "Oh." She held up the stick, and the dog crouched low and then sprung up, leaping and spinning in circles while barking excitedly. She giggled and caught Conner's eye. "May I?"

"Of course. I'm afraid of what will happen if you don't. Ace knows what he wants." He chuckled.

Maya took a step back, bracing herself in the tenuous sand. Pulling her arm back, she took aim and threw the branch as far as she could. It didn't quite reach the water, but Ace still bounded after it, leaving her alone with Conner.

The two of them watched the dog snatch up the stick. But he quickly became distracted by a seagull, barking and lunging at the poor bird, the stick forgotten.

"Since I now know some things about you," Conner began while Ace continued his antics, "maybe I should share some things about me. You know, if we're going to be friends and all."

Maya gave him a sideways glance and noticed he was smiling. She breathed a sigh of relief and grinned. "Seems fair."

"You already know my name is Conner. I graduated this year and am working as a waiter for the summer until community college classes start up in the fall. Not really sure what kind of career I'm going for, but I figured I should get my general ed out of the way."

Maya crossed her arms as the wind picked up. "That sounds really wise. A lot of my cousins are older than me and are constantly warning me about college debt."

Conner nodded, the wind teasing his dark hair and flapping his three-quarter-sleeve gray shirt. "Yeah. As for hobbies, I like watching basketball, sometimes playing it, and video games. I read some, too, but probably not as much as you. And I volunteer at an animal shelter."

"Really? That's awesome."

He glanced away, seeming almost embarrassed. "I like hanging out with the dogs. I started volunteering a couple years ago to improve my chances at scholarships and stuff, but now I just like it. It's where I got Ace, at the shelter. Took a while for my mom to agree to adopt him."

Ace seemed to sense he was being spoken of, as he finally retrieved the branch, running toward them with his prize.

Maya ran her hand through her thick ponytail full of curls. "Like I said in the letter, he's a great dog. I've never had a pet besides some fish when I was younger. I think I've been missing out."

Ace didn't slow down as he approached them, instead racing right between them and looping back around them. They laughed.

"Why don't you join us on the rest of our walk?" Conner asked. "I brought his leash and was going to take him up the Trinidad Head trail."

Maya happily agreed, and they returned to the sandy parking lot. As Conner unlocked his car and reached in for the leash, she studied the lighthouse sitting at the edge of the lot, marking the route toward the pier, which she'd discovered the other day. The lighthouse was fairly short, white with a red roof, and somehow out of place. A parking lot didn't seem like the most attractive or useful location for a cute little lighthouse like that.

The car door slammed shut, and Conner stepped up beside her, Ace at his heels. "The lighthouse wasn't always here," he explained, apparently guessing at her thoughts. "It used to be up there." He pointed toward town and the street on the bluff overlooking the ocean.

"Oh, that makes way more sense."

He went on. "They had to relocate it for some reason, so it ended up here. But it was pretty iconic where it used to be."

"Is it real?" Maya blushed, realizing how stupid her question sounded. "I mean, was it ever a functional lighthouse?"

Conner shook his head. "It's a replica. The real one is still on Trinidad Head." He gestured to his right, toward the trail they were going to take.


He just grinned in response and led the way.

The first part of the trail brought them to a road, which they followed until they came to the official trailhead. As they walked onward beneath trees and past little hideaways created by branches tangled together, they talked about the places Maya had lived, the kinds of video games Conner liked, and the books they'd been reading. They took a spur trail to the summit and found a bench at the top.

The wind blew more harshly here, but in a free, full-of-life way, like Ace when he'd run through the sand on the beach with no intention of slowing down. But up here, the dog was content to sit at their feet, his tongue moving up and down with his big breaths.

"I just finished Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen," Maya was saying. "It was part of my summer homework assignment."

"Oh yeah. I had to read that one too. That's that mystery wannabe story, right?"

She laughed at his description as her hair whipped around behind her. She raised her voice above the wind. "That's the one. I liked it. I've only read that one and Pride and Prejudice by Austen, but I want to read more of her books."

Conner peered at her as if he were attempting to decipher something. "You're a Darcy fan, aren't you?"

She laughed again and shook her head, crossing a leg over one knee. "Nope. I've seen a few movie adaptations, and Colonel Brandon is my favorite from what I've seen."

"Which story's that?"

"Sense and Sensibility. I want to read that one this summer."

"What's so charming about Mr. Brandon?"

"He knows his mind." Maya paused, staring out at the solid blue ocean surrounding them far below. "He's steady. Dependable. That's what I want in a husband someday. I've had enough changes in my life."

She suddenly realized the conversation had gone beyond guy-friend territory. "Umm, anyway..." She searched her mind for a change of subject. "I have a personal reading goal for the summer."

Conner stroked Ace's head and scratched behind the dog's ears. Ace looked like the most content creature in the world as he tilted his head toward his master. "To read all the Jane Austen books or something?" Conner asked.

"No. More like...well... I want to have reading not be just a comfort, but also something that inspires me to act, you know? To live more boldly this summer in a new town and everything. I wrote you that letter after I finished reading a story told through letters."

"Huh. That's cool." Conner stood then, and Maya followed suit. He led them carefully back to the main trail, slowing down and glancing behind him now and then, likely to make sure she didn't trip over the rocks. It was sweet.

Once they were walking along once again, he asked, "So what's your action for Northanger Abbey? You said you just finished that one, right?"

"Yeah. I'm not sure. I mean, I don't think it should inspire me to disobey my parents or try to uncover someone's family secrets or anything like that." She would have chuckled at her joke if she weren't so out of breath.

"How about finding a mystery?" he said over his shoulder.

"I'd thought about that, but I'd have no idea how to go about it. I'm not Nancy Drew."

Conner's chuckled floated faintly to her on the calmer wind. "Does it have to be a real mystery, or just like a little personal one?"

She pondered that as she watched Ace sniff at the bushes before getting pulled along by Conner's steady stride. "What do you mean?"

"Well, the lighthouse was a mystery to you. You know, how it got to be there, if it was functional, that sort of thing. What if I show you the real one and then you can call it good?"

"It seems a little...easy, I guess."

"I'd say your last task was pretty bold, writing a letter to a stranger."

She smiled at his back. "True."

"And hey, I don't remember much of that story, but wasn't the main girl from a different place, and she made new friends?"

Maya's smile grew. "Good point. And that's what I'm doing now with you and Ace."

"Exactly." He turned then, offering her a grin, then continued to lead the way.

They passed a large cement cross on their left before coming to a little wooden platform. Maya stepped up eagerly, but all she could see on the hillside below was a bunch of short trees, thick undergrowth, and the wide ocean spreading before them. "Where's the lighthouse?"

Ace danced around her legs, and Conner gently nudged him aside so he could stand next to her. "The trees make it really hard to spot it. But if you look carefully in just the right direction, you can see the top of it."

Before she knew what he was doing, he put his hands on her waist and hoisted her up to stand on the first rung of the fence enclosing the platform. Her face flushed bring pink. "Umm, where am I supposed to be looking?"

"Over there."

She followed the angle of his finger, squinting through the leafy branches to find the lighthouse—trying to ignore the fact that one of Conner's hands still rested on her side. She failed at both the finding and the ignoring.

Suddenly his hand drew back, as if he'd also just realized where he'd been resting it. Maya felt both relieved and slightly disappointed. His touch had been unexpected but reassuring, like he wouldn't let her slip.

Redirecting her focus, she scanned the greenery once again, then shook her head. "I don't see anything. No red roof."

"Oh," he said. She glanced over and saw him standing beside her, looking down the slope. "It's not red like the memorial lighthouse back there. It's black."

"Oh..." She stepped up one more rung, staring intently through the trees. "Wait... Is that it? I see a little black ball with a spike, and I thought I saw a glimmer, like light reflecting off glass."

"That's it!"

"Man, you can hardly see anything from here."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I think there's some sort of way to actually get down there. Not from here, but from another trail. But you have to go on a certain day or something to have access. I've never been."

"Still, this is cool. Just as mysterious as the abbey." She turned around, her heels stabilizing her on the fence, and grinned at Conner. "Thanks for showing it to me."

He met her gaze and smiled freely. "No problem."

Without a second thought, Maya put her hands on his shoulders and jumped to the floor of the platform. And as they walked along the rest of the trail together, Ace dragging them forward whenever they slowed down, it felt like they really had become friends in a day.

Maybe Conner could help her figure out what to do after reading the next book on her list. Dracula should provide a good challenge.

Copyright © 2019 Amber Christine Holcomb

*Did you spot the lighthouse in that last picture? You can learn more about the lighthouse HERE and the trail HERE