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

Monday, February 18, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved That Should Get More Love ♥

Top Ten Tuesday is such a fun blog series that's currently being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week's topic is "Books I LOVED with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads." For the month of Valentine's, I think it's a great idea to spread the love for some amazing books that could be considered "hidden gems." Here are ten books I greatly enjoyed...

by Krissi Dallas
Goodreads stats: 4.27 stars, 144 ratings

This is such a fun and epic YA fantasy series (perfect for summer vacation)! There are four books out so far, with a fifth in the works. :)

by Cambria Hebert
Goodreads stats: 3.66 stars, 745 ratings

The ratings show that readers have mixed feelings on this contemporary fantasy... But it's a total FAVE for me! The premise is different and rather dark, but it's hard not to fall in love with the hero (and the butler). 
Goodreads stats: 4.31 stars, 938 ratings

 I so need to reread this! In my review, I said this book is "the epitome of what I long for in historical romance." Such a lovely read! Burning Sky (the author's debut) is also powerful and beautifully written, and I have another book of hers on my TBR I'm looking forward to reading.

Ain't We Got Fun 
by Emily Chapman & Emily Ann Putzke
Goodreads stats: 4.19 stars, 42 ratings

This is such a charming epistolary story! In my review, I said, "The characters are all such dears! *Hugs them close*" Looking for a heartwarming little historical? Here you go!

Unlucky in Love & Lyrics 
by Tracy Joy Jones
Goodreads stats: 4.75 stars, 4 ratings

You might have seen me mention this on the blog before, back when it was available to the author's newsletter subscribers. Well, great news! This delightful contemporary romance novella is now available on Amazon for only $.99, and you can read it in time for St. Patrick's Day!

by Michelle Griep
Goodreads stats: 4.02 stars, 82 ratings

I also have to mention Gallimore; both books are such awesome time-travel romances that were published a while back. The author has become well-known in the realm of inspirational fiction for her great historical novels, but if you enjoy the concept of time travel, I highly recommend these engaging stories. :)

The Electrical Menagerie 
by Mollie E. Reeder
Goodreads stats: 4.64 stars, 88 ratings

Say hello to a super fun steampunk novel with such endearing characters! This author has a great writing style. As you can see by the star rating, readers love this book. :) Now we just need more readers to discover its awesomeness!

The Rose and the Briar 
by J.M. Stengl
Goodreads stats: 4.47 stars, 110 ratings

Any fairy-tale fans? This is such a fun reimagining of Sleeping Beauty! I still need to read the first two books in the series (!), but I loved this one, especially the garden setting.

Ten Thousand Thorns 
by Suzannah Rowntree
Goodreads stats: 4.37 stars, 41 ratings

Another Sleeping Beauty reimagining...but in a very different genre! I've read a couple other unique retellings by this author, but this one is my favorite so far. It's exciting and thought-provoking, with a great hero!

Dancing & Doughnuts 
by Rachel Kovaciny
Goodreads stats: 4.29 stars, 21 ratings

Another fairy-tale reimagining, this one in the Wild West. :) If you're looking for something intriguing but utterly light and sweet, this is a tasty choice! 

* * *

What are some of your favorite hidden gems?
Which books should get more love?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Chapter 1 | Maya's Unconventional, Not-So-Fictional Romance {A Just-for-Fun YA Story}

Happy Valentine's Day! 💗 Today I'm sharing the first chapter of a young-adult story, with the rest to be told in weekly installments. This is a just-for-fun sort of project. :) I enjoyed putting together a cover for the story (with thanks to India Tupy via Unsplash for the lovely background image and PicMonkey for the tools!). I'm hoping this will motivate me to write more and keep a project flowing!

In case you're wondering, I haven't written the other chapters yet. So we'll see how Maya's story shapes up as I forge ahead by the seat of my pants! ;)

With all the winter snow here in Montana, it's nice to think about summer on the coast. But more than that, I'm hoping Maya's adventures might encourage me—and anyone who reads them—to embrace the place where God has us for this season and be open to the possibilities in the unfamiliar and the humdrum.

Thank you for tuning in!

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

Chapter 1

Maya strolled down the sidewalk that morning, acquainting herself with her new hometown that was so different from other places she had lived. The Northern California coast was a mystery to her, and the tiny town of Trinidad even more so. Everything felt so mild and tame. A thin layer of fog shrouded the morning sky, the sun a faded peach ball apathetically attempting to shine through.

The temperature hovered uncertainly between sweater weather and a-long-sleeved-shirt-is-fine warmth. Since she was out walking, she had figured a long-sleeved shirt would work...but the brisk ocean air had her crossing her arms over her chest to ward off the chill.

Her parents had moved her to various places across the Midwest and East Coast, and she had grown up accustomed to surviving the extremes. But for the past few years, she had known the redwood coast was the goal.

Apparently her parents had traveled around California on their three-week-long honeymoon, experiencing the state's vastly different national parks. But it was the redwoods that had enchanted their hearts, and teaching positions at Humboldt State University were just the ticket to bring the two professors back to stay.

Maya was happy for them, even if the job offers had come the summer before her senior year of high school. So here she was, familiarizing herself with yet another area in the few months before school started.

As she walked past the Eatery, the ocean came into view before her. She glanced right and left, then jogged across the street to stand on the bluff overlooking the coastline. The white specks of fishing boats on the gray-hued water painted a quaint picture, that peachy sheen of the sun gently gilding the scene from its place slightly behind her.

She sighed and stuck her hands in her pants pockets. A child screeched playfully from somewhere down on the beach below, and a lady nodded at her as she ran gracefully past in a workout shirt and shorts, likely on a familiar Saturday morning route.

Maya's thoughts turned to her summer reading goal. She had to get through a couple classics for her English class's summer homework, and there were some other classics she'd been meaning to read for a while now. These next few months she planned to make good progress. Books were a comforting constant in her life—a life that changed a bit too often for her liking.

She followed the road that led downhill, hopefully aiming toward the beach. Something had been nagging at her, a desire to do something different, to do anything to embrace this new start. What if...what if she could put her reading to work, letting those precious books inspire her into action?

She smiled at the thought. She knew by her mom's concerned glances and her parents' hushed conversations that they were worried about her. This morning walk was one way she could prove to them she'd thrive here, that she wouldn't spend the whole summer hidden in her room or stuck on the couch.

But one little walk should only be the beginning.

As she rounded the curve and glimpsed a sandy parking lot ahead, she pondered her current read. Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, a book her cousin Grace had eagerly recommended to her, was an adorable little novel told through letters. Maya hadn't read many books like that before, and she was surprised to find how much she anticipated the contents of each letter the young college student, Jerusha (AKA Judy) wrote to her anonymous benefactor. It made Maya a little more excited for the start of her own classes and school-year activities.

So, what could this story—which she'd likely finish this weekend—inspire her to do?

The most obvious answer in her mind was to write her own letter. She could dig out her stationery from one of the boxes in the garage and write a note. But to whom?

Her mind began to sort through the names of friends she'd made in the various placed she'd lived. Before long, she arrived at the parking lot. Should she go right, left, or straight ahead to what appeared to be an uphill trail?

Right. She scurried awkwardly down an incline, her shoes sinking into dry sand with each step. Then she found herself standing on a little beach that stretched and curved onward to her right, with a rocky bluff towering to her left, and the tide beckoning gently in front of her.

The only other person on the beach was a boy about her age. He threw a stick for an energetic golden Lab that happily bounded into the waves to retrieve it.

Maya watched them for a few moments, arms crossed over her chest, not really realizing how rude she might appear until the guy gave her a sidelong glance. Oops.

She grinned in what she hoped was an apologetic way and gave the guy and his dog some space. Names. She was supposed to be thinking of someone she could write to this weekend.

She pulled off her tennis shoes and plopped down onto the cold sand. Her toes dug through the dry crystals as she pondered Daddy-Long-Legs. Judy wrote to her benefactor; maybe Maya should write to one of her past teachers or her grandma in Boston who always sent generous Christmas gifts. But what exactly would she say? Was a random thank-you note nice...or just strange?

She scooped a handful of sand and watched it trickle back down to the ground through the spaces between her fingers. This reading-challenge plan felt just as difficult to grasp or define. Maybe she should stick to completing her reading and forget about coming up with action points inspired by each book.

Water spattered her shirt and pants, and she smelled the wet dog before she even noticed how close he was.

"Ugh!" She attempted to scramble to her feet but couldn't get her legs under her before the golden Lab practically tackled her and started licking her face like they were long-time pals. "Nice doggy," she grunted, pushing at the large creature unsuccessfully.

A giggle bubbled past her lips. She'd never had a dog—or any pet besides some fish—to claim her like this.

"Ace!" the boy called. "Leave the girl alone, won't you?"

But Maya had given in to the inevitable and placed her arms around the wriggling dog's neck, laughing like she hadn't since her last girls' hang-out weekend back in Texas, when she and her friends had had the silliest conversations about which fictional guys they each should date.

The boy was right beside her now; she glimpsed the frayed hems of his jeans, which seemed a little too short for his tall frame. "I'm so sorry about this." He reached for the dog's collar, but Ace continued to strain toward Maya with his big front paws, even as the boy pulled him off her.

Now that Maya could see better and breathe again, she glanced up at the guy, noting his tousled dark-brown hair. Her hand went to her own hair, imagining the messy brown curls, as well as the slobber and sand likely streaked across her face. She thought she saw the boy's lips twitch, but the motion stopped before she could be sure. He held out a hand to her, the other hand keeping a firm grip on the dog's collar.

Maya grabbed the offered hand, expecting a handshake. But the boy pulled her to her feet instead, so effectively that she barely had to put any effort into standing.

Her gaze fell to the dog, who seemed to be dancing with restrained eagerness as he pawed at the sand. "So his name is Ace?" she asked.


Maya nodded, grinning at the happy-go-lucky creature that had chosen to make friends with her. "He's cute. Kind of crazy, but cute."

The boy studied her for a moment—she could feel the gravity of his thoughtful gaze—before holding out his hand again for a proper handshake. She took it and glanced at his guarded but kind expression. "I'm Conner," he said.

"I'm Maya." She offered him a tentative smile, shuffling her bare feet through the chilly sand.

She was about to ask him something else, anything to keep this unexpected but hopeful conversation going, but he said, "Sorry again about Ace. I better get him back home now."

He didn't explain his need to rush off, and she didn't have the boldness to ask. So she simply replied, "Okay. No problem," and watched as the rather adorable pair headed back to the parking lot.

* * *

Later that day, Maya sat on her bed, pondering Daddy-Long-Legs and the part where Judy had expressed her desire to embrace life as it happened. She once again considered her plan to write a letter, now that she'd finished the super sweet story...and then her thoughts wandered back to her walk that morning and the moment she'd met Conner and Ace.

She absently clutched a handful of the comforter splashed with bright yellow and orange patterns, then released it, then squeezed the colorful fabric like a stress ball. How could she embrace this new home, her new reality? How could she live with eagerness for this very moment in time?

Honestly, she was lonely. She missed her extended family out east and her friends scattered across the states. She wanted a new friend here. Someone to help her live with joy and discover the blessings of Northern California. Someone who could be her starting place to building a whole circle of friends.

Thoughts of Conner and his lively dog came to mind again, rushing in like the ocean's tide.

Sliding off her bed, she walked to her desk and sat on the hard wooden chair. After pulling out a blank piece of paper and her favorite blue gel pen, she began to write.

Dear Conner,
I just moved to Trinidad. Maybe you already figured that out, not having seen me before or anything. Anyway, you and Ace seem really nice and very comfortable with life here on the coast. And I was wondering if maybe we could skip the awkward "strangers" phase and become friends?
I'll be starting my senior year this fall. I spend a lot of time reading, but I also like cooking, traveling, playing card games, chasing sunshine, doodling, and watching food shows.
Ace seems like a great dog. If you ever need an extra hand to throw a Frisbee or stick for him, just let me know!

She read over what she'd written, her face burning a bit at how middle-school she sounded. But she couldn't really think of another way to write a letter to Conner without sounding just as awkward.

Now, she just needed to run into him again.

Sometimes a girl had to take desperate measures to embrace life. Of course, she supposed she could always say these things straight to Conner's face and avoid handing him a letter, but, well, she wasn't that desperate.


Copyright © 2019 Amber Christine Holcomb

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Drama Begins in 1930s Hollywood | Review of Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

About the Book (from Penguin Random House)

In this novel from the acclaimed author of A Bridge Across the Ocean and The Last Year of the War, two women working in Hollywood during its Golden Age discover the joy and heartbreak of true friendship.

Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie…

Los Angeles, 1938. Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone with the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide. What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

Available Now

My Rating


My Review

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is poignantly penned, a tale of two roommates and friends who carry past pain into their present choices. It's one of those stories where you can sympathize with both main characters and yet feel disillusioned with them at the same time. You don't have to look too deep to see your own weaknesses and fears reflected in their behavior.

This is first and foremost historical fiction, as the contemporary snippets are few and far between. But it's nice in that way to be able to stay firmly rooted in the lives of Violet and Audrey without much interruption. And the historical backdrop is quite fascinating! While modern Hollywood has little appeal for me, the Hollywood of the late 1930s depicted in the first half of this book definitely has charm (although I still don't think I'd have wanted to get too drawn in to that world, between the pressure, temptations, and crazy work schedule!). The studio, Audrey's bungalow, nighttime walks along the boulevard...all endearing in their own way.

As for Violet and Audrey themselves, what drama begins when these two meet! I enjoyed reading about their growing friendship, even as I grew dismayed at the signs that everything might be falling apart. There is some romance in this novel, although it doesn't quite take center stage. Instead, the main focus is on these two women, the span of their friendship, and the hurts and hopes marking their journeys.

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard isn't a rom-com with lots of feel-good moments and a typical happily ever after. Despite its many incidents of heartbreak, though, it's a star-studded story—featuring bits of distant light in the midst of dark times and emotions. It's a heartfelt, thought-provoking read that points to the importance of truth, freedom of choice, compassion, and grace.

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

This is the alternate Kindle cover of the book. 
Which version do you prefer? 

Have you read any books by Susan Meissner?