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.

"Yeah."

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.

Yet.

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

Spring/Summer

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?