Friday, November 29, 2013


25 Adult and 35 YA and MG excerpts are posted below.

Read, enjoy,  CRITIQUE!  Keep your eyes open for the critiques from our participating authors and editors.  And please remember that, during the actual auction on Tuesday, December 3, I am requesting that all critiques stop.  You may resume critiquing after the auction closes on Wednesday.

Critiquing guidelines are HERE.

Happy reading!!



A seventeen-year-old Mirror Walker travels between worlds in desperate pursuit of the World Mirror that allows other-worldly creatures to possess her mother. But the man who has the mirror also has the guy she loves, and saving Mom could cost his life.

Silence fell in a quiet crash as I pulled away from the keys, the final chords fading into stillness.

“That didn't sound like Chopin, Gracie.” Mom shuffled into the living room, bleary-eyed and yawning. Steam rose from the black cup cradled between her interlocked fingers.

“And that doesn't smell like decaf.” I hid a smile. She and Dad were doing some sort of cleanse—Mom’s idea—and caffeine was on the no-no list.

I moved my hands along the worn brown wood of the piano, following the grain with my fingertips. Rare Vancouver sunlight poured through our condo’s floor-to-ceiling windows and the piano was one of the few things that didn’t shine with the threat of reflection. The threat of monsters.

Mom moved to stand beside me. She reeked of fresh ground beans. “Don’t tell your father,” she said in an exaggerated whisper.

“I won’t if you don't tell Mr. Lee I’m ditching Chopin for the day. I swear, if I play those audition songs one more time—” I left the thought unfinished and launched into the haunting tones of Regina Spektor’s “Samson.”

Mom laughed and caressed my cheek. Her fingers felt warm, the heat from her coffee cup sinking into my skin. The cup itself came into view and a warm spill of sunlight brought its glossy surface to life. I caught a brief glimpse of my distorted reflection and then the monsters replaced it. They always did.

Lines of fire traced patterns between their mottled brown scales, and the thick black horns protruding from their foreheads pulsed with a dull light.

(59) MG Contemporary: TREE ROPER

TITLE: Tree Roper
GENRE: MG Contemporary

When his dad lands in the hospital, one-eyed twelve-year-old Declan Parker’s cosmetic surgery hopes are wrecked, unless a neighbor girl and her uncle, a wounded army veteran, can help him save his dad’s tree care business.

It was the third day of summer vacation, and I was hanging in a tree. Finally. A chance to have some fun and make a little money. My first client of the summer stopped pacing as I glanced down at her tired face and messy nest of white hair.

“Please don’t walk right under me, Mrs. Murphy. It’s not safe.”

“Oh, of course. Are you sure you’re okay up there? Maybe you should come back down and I’ll try again with the food.”

“I’m good. I’ve done this lots of times. Besides, I don’t think your cat’s that hungry yet.”

“Well, I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I won’t.”

I needed to show her I could do this. I still burned from the way she stared at my face three days ago when mom introduced us. Mrs. Murphy couldn’t have known then that my right eye was a fake, though. Mom probably told her later.

As I hung on the rope above her yard, my arms throbbed. I relaxed into Dad’s old canvas and leather climbing saddle and slid my right hand down to rest on the friction hitch. Dumb move. The knot slipped and I shot down two feet of rope before I could let go. When I released it, my body jerked to a stop.

I looked down to see if Mrs. Murphy noticed. She stood quietly, staring at the street, folding and unfolding her hands. Probably praying. I know I just said a quick one.

(58) YA/Speculative Fiction: CROWDED

TITLE: Crowded
GENRE: YA/Speculative Fiction

Having never seen a sunrise, sixteen-year-old Leo Noble breaks out of the subterranean slums beneath a futuristic, overpopulated NYC, spurring a citywide manhunt that puts every citizen under fire.

I have a name passed down so many times, it’s worn out like the shirt on my back. Ever since New York City Authority put the One Child Policy into effect twenty years ago, citizens in our underground zone passed both their first and last names down to their children. But our family has been doing this for generations. I'm Leon Noble the eighth, or maybe ninth—the number got lost somewhere in the 21st century.

The number’s not the important part. Down here in the slums, all that matters is giving your children a bit of you that says, “Hey, I was here!” My twin sister and I both carry pieces of our family’s past, as she has my mother’s name, Annabelle.

Today is our sixteenth birthday, where we’ll soon endure the last of our yearly commencement ceremonies. We should’ve left for the zone square by now, but Mother still frets to make us as presentable as possible.

She buttons a black suit jacket over my old stained t-shirt. My outfit feels much less special this year—I wear this drab top all the time. In previous years, I wore a crisp, albeit oversized, white collared shirt that buttoned all the way down under the jacket. After the ceremony last year, I bent down to pick up a couple of pennies and split the back straight in two.

“Looks like you’re getting a bit too big for this jacket,” my father says with a smirk, looking me up and down.


TITLE: The Dyslexic Spell Reader
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

When Aubrey’s severe dyslexia turns out to be a trait of advanced spell readers, the only person who can help is her ex-best friend and current tormentor, Seth. Since the society of spell readers sees her as a threat and constructs “accidents” to end her life, Seth says he’ll keep her alive—but can she trust him?

They’re discussing my flaws. Again.

Usually math is the one place where I’m okay.

Or, at least, I thought it was. Now at this impromptu sister-teacher conference, I’m realizing that my capacity for failure is endless and that this classroom smells like stale dry erase markers, pencil shavings, and a fresh dose of disappointment.

I don’t understand why Nala is so obsessed with finding answers. It’s an impairment. A disability. A handicap. Something that transforms me from an average girl to a “slow learner.” I try so hard and never succeed. But I’ve memorized all the spelling and decoding rules, even if I can’t ever play by them.

There are six types of syllables.

1. Closed. Short vowel sound. Examples include hag, bitch, and many other derogatory terms, such as ass, that I’m internally chanting on a repeated loop as Mrs. Manilow politely tells us I’m an idiot. Nala acts like a bobblehead doll. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

“Do you think this is due to her dyslexia?” Nala asks Mrs. Manilow. Seriously? What isn’t?

2. Vowel-consonant-e. The “e” at the end turns bossy and forces the first vowel into submission, twisting its arm until it screams its name. Like in “grade,” “life,” or “hate.” My “wires” (“E”: “Say your name, letter ‘I,’ or I’ll end you!”) are crossed in my head and therefore I have a boatload of problems.

“She isn’t asking for help, but that could be due to her speech and language issues,” Mrs. Manilow says as if she’s explaining something delicate and profound.

(56) YA Magical Realism: THE MILLINER'S SON

TITLE: The Milliner's Son
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Without love from his family, sixteen-year-old Theo hides himself in his music. When a series of thefts rock his Parisian neighborhood and leave the father of the girl he loves dead, Theo must step into reality. But reality isn't full of love—it's full of magic, dark magic connected to the thefts and deadly magic his parents may be using themselves.

Thursday after school, and Theophilus Chapelier, with a black leather bag slung over his shoulder, meandered through the same narrow, winding cobbled streets, humming along to a favorite tune on his iPhone. He knew by heart every chapel and convent he passed, every mansion converted into a hotel, every jewelry shop and chic boutique, every tearoom and upscale brasserie.

Parisians showed off their hats—cloche felt hats, cadet caps, berets, and fedoras. How many were made with his father’s own hands? He could guess if he wanted to, but he didn’t care to know. Not today. Maybe not ever?

A hat maker deserved respect locals would say. The craftsmanship deserved respect. However, one could easily go mad, making hats all day and night.

Under a clear sky and warm light, a pleasant breeze flirted with Theo’s dark hair. He pulled down his headphones. The main streets buzzed with locals and tourists.

Theo stopped at a local patisserie and ordered a slice of wood-fired pizza, his favorite. This was the first café his parents had taken him to for a family brunch out. He couldn’t help but wish to share a meal with his parents rather than eat alone. He wanted his parents to know how much he needed them. He let himself dream about this for a moment.

The honk of a car horn pulled him out his thoughts. As he devoured his slice of pizza in three bites, he glanced at the old man holding a newspaper in front of him. The headline read: LOCAL GOLDSMITH MURDERED.

An intense curiosity came over Theo.


TITLE: Revising the Catch-Up Plan
GENRE: YA Contemporary

When her younger brother’s drug addiction escalates to violence, seventeen-year-old MacKayla is sent to live with relatives in the deep South. She’s beginning to adjust to her new life when tragedy strikes twice: a hurricane hits town and her brother, back home, disappears. Mac must choose between leaving to search for her runaway brother or staying to assist the storm-ravaged community – and family – she’s grown to love.

Five days in Alabama and I’d already discovered three undeniable truths:

1. Pale Minnesota skin was not made for Southern sun. Two minutes in direct light and I was as pink and sticky as State Fair cotton candy.

2. “Sweet Tea” would be better named “Sugary, Delicious Goodness.” How had I gone seventeen years without this amazing beverage?

3. One week and a thousand miles was not enough time or space to erase an unwelcome memory.

I pushed my legs fiercely against the front porch, propelling the old rocking chair into a creaky sway of motion as I tried, once again, to forget that night. My glass of Sugary, Delicious Goodness was sweating against my palm, forcing me to grip it tightly as I took an oversized gulp. I closed my eyes and imagined I was sitting on our deck back home, my long-anticipated summer plans still awaiting me.

The sound of a truck crunching onto the gravel driveway pulled me into the present. I was not at home. I was in po-dunk Alabama, staying with my Great Aunt and Uncle who I hadn’t seen since I was a toddler.

“Hi there, MacKayla,” Aunt Shirley called, smiling and scooting her plump body out the truck’s passenger door. Uncle Joe turned off the engine and nodded a silent greeting, the large bald strip across his head shiny as he unloaded several large bags. I scurried to help, the former Girl Scout in me unable to stand by and let a seventy-five-year-old haul groceries on his own.

(54) MG Contemporary : SAY MY NAME

TITLE: Say My Name
GENRE: MG Contemporary

Not being able to say his own name was 12-year-old Rory’s biggest problem, until his former friend Brent’s brain injury forces them together in the close quarters of the speech therapy room. Now Rory must deal with Brent’s unpredictable behaviors and struggle to forgive hurtful memories, or be forced to find out which is worse: being the target of bullying, or becoming one himself.

I can’t tell you my first name. It’s not that I don’t want you to know who I am. It’s just that, literally, I can’t tell you. All my life I’ve been wishing I had a nice short name with a sharp, hard sound to start it off, like Cam, or Tim. But that’s not what I got. My name is full of R’s. That’s the problem right there. R is not one of my sounds. I have more sounds now than I used to, but R is still not one of them. Figures.

My least favorite thing is meeting new people. Everybody asks, What’s your name? Then it’s all, What? What did you say? Can you repeat that? But it doesn’t matter if I repeat it, because it always comes out the same way. Wrong. Introducing myself is supreme torture and guaranteed embarrassment. Which is why I’m lying here awake, dreading the first day of sixth grade tomorrow.

Sure, there’ll be people from my old school, but we’ll be all mixed in with the four other elementary schools in town. And I know some of those kids will ask me my name. Because that’s what normal kids do.

I wish I could be normal, too. Then I could be more like my friends, who are all excited about going to a new school with fresh teachers to annoy and a whole different level of freedom. Not me. Thinking about what’s coming my way mostly makes me feel sick.

(53) MG Contemporary: CLEMENTINE

TITLE: Clementine
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade

Fourteen-year-old Clementine is only allowed to leave the cabin she shares with Mama and Daddy when she helps bury the bodies of Mama’s many miscarried babies. A tumor takes root in Mama’s belly and after Clementine helps place Mama next to the dead babies, she’s left alone with Daddy. Alone, until Daddy brings a new sister to live with them.

I don’t have much that is just mine.

I have a rag doll in a yellow dress that

Mama made for me when I was small.

The doll, Annie, has blue eyes and brown hair,

just like me.

Her face is smudged with dirt,

but my face is clean.

I don’t go outside much.

It isn’t safe, and Daddy gets angry.

I have a belt made from leather that

Daddy gave me when I was small.

The belt is dark brown with little flowers

carved into it.

Mama makes most of my clothes,

so the belt is something special,

but I don’t like it.

If I go outside without permission,

Daddy hits me with that belt.

I am Clementine.

The only people I know are Mama and Daddy

and some people from books.

Mama has a trunk full of books.

She calls them peace-offering books.

For every fight, every raised fist, every flowering bruise,

Daddy presents Mama with a book.

Those little paper apologies crowd her trunk,

Whispering the words that Daddy will never speak.


My mama’s young

Said she was about 13 when she had me; that makes her 27 or so now.

A baby having a baby,

she said.

Told me she didn’t know what to do with me.

Hadn’t ever been around any other babies.

For a long, long time, hadn’t been around anyone except Daddy,

she whispered.

Daddy is older

Tall, covered in ropy muscle

Strong, leaving bruises on mama’s face and body

Quiet, saying things only once, and you’d better listen when he talks.

Listen hard.

(52) YA Fantasy: ENERGY BENDER

TITLE: Energy Bender
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Growing up in an agrarian, intolerant village is difficult for Adelaide who doesn’t understand why she can feel and harness the emotions of others. She guards her sickness, afraid that if anyone found out she would be sent to the Cradle Grave prison camps. When a girl her age goes missing, the Elders have questions for Adelaide that probe too far into memories of her own kidnapping years ago and threaten to expose her secret.

Adelaide felt the grief before she heard the wailing. She was walking to the schoolhouse when a heaviness settled in her feet and then lodged in her chest. Every breath hurt, her limbs ached. She wondered if she was ill. Then she heard the crying. It came from inside the house she was passing, its dirt yard swept clean with a broom. Someone in that house, a woman by the sound of it, was in so much pain that her emotion radiated all the way outside to Adelaide. She stood rooted to the ground, confused and afraid of what she was feeling.

“Skunk, what are you doing?”

Adelaide cringed at the voice behind her. She turned and saw Billy Blount approaching.

“Nothing, I just…do you hear that?” A high shriek punctuated the crying.

Billy spat on the ground. “Dirty blood in that house. Best stay away ‘til they re-sanctify the place.”

“What happened?”

“Baby came in the night. Harelip. The Elders took it.”

“Took it where?”

“Doesn’t matter, does it? It was different-blooded.” Billy appraised her. “What are you, soft?”

He smiled in the hard way he reserved especially for her. Most people wouldn’t look her full in the face for so long. Adelaide covered the right side of her face with her hand.

Billy sneered. “I guess you would be soft. You’re practically different-blooded yourself, aren’t you, Skunk?”

He reached out and pulled her long braid, hard. Adelaide knocked his hand away.

Billy laughed. “Could have been you, Skunk.”

(51) YA Fantasy: HEART OF SPARKS

TITLE: Heart of Sparks
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A duty-driven princess hiding a forbidden magical gift must decide between the crown and her heart when she falls in love with the defiant, horse-training sister of the prince she's supposed to marry.

The door of my carriage clicked open, and a gust of hot summer air beckoned me to meet my future husband. I took as deep a breath as the bodice of my dress would allow and stepped down onto pale flagstones leading up to the gatehouse of a castle. As my shoes touched the ground, I silently scolded my heart. It ignored me, hammering in nervous double time against my ribs even though my life since the age of six had been a constant rehearsal for this moment.

Colorful banners hung from the battlements of the gatehouse, alternating the plum of my homeland with the deep blue of Mynaria. Behind the gatehouse the rest of the castle loomed, a massive structure crowned with square towers that jutted up into the blue sky overhead. Though the building was grand, and massive, it looked naked to me without the twisting spires that crowned the castle where I had grown up.

A line of horses adorned in full barding awaited me in front of the entryway, their polished armor glinting in the afternoon sun. Even from several paces back I could tell that their necks arched well above my head. A breeze fluttered the dark blue embroidered silk that hung from their reins. Though I’d read about the warhorses of Mynaria, such massive creatures were beyond my imagination. The carriage horses seemed diminutive by comparison, and they had frightened me badly enough when I’d first seen them at the foothills of the northern mountains I called home.

(50) YA fantasy: ALL THAT REMAINS

TITLE: All That Remains
GENRE: YA fantasy

Murder is commonplace for seventeen-year-old assassin Lea Saldana, until her entire family is slaughtered in one night. When she discovers her boyfriend’s family are the traitors, there’s only one thing to do: kill them all. But when her estranged uncle—the only person who can find the traitors—is kidnapped, Lea must choose between killing her rivals, or saving all that remains of her family.

When I was seven, I told my mother I wanted to be a courtesan. I didn’t know what it meant, but courtesans owned all the beautiful things I could imagine: embroidered dresses and makeup and feathered half-masks. My oldest brother Rafeo said they spent their nights at balls and parties entertaining the nobles.

Rafeo was only trying to protect my innocence, but he simply encouraged me. I wanted their life of beauty and luxury, not one of blood and death.

Mother hadn’t been happy. My confession was more proof I wasn’t the daughter she wanted, I wasn’t the proud Saldana girl-child she deserved. After that, I stopped telling my mother what I found beautiful, like gold thread embroidery, silk dresses and feather half-masks, and instead focused on things she found beautiful: knives and poisons and masks crafted from bone.

Now, I squatted quietly on the roof of a bordello, cloak pulled around my body, bone-mask secured against my face. Below me, a man stumbled across the flagstones like a drunkard.

The man bumped into a barrel. He removed his expensive leather hat with elegant stitches and dunked his head, the rainwater darkening his silk collar. He shook his hair like a shaggy dog, the water flashing in the light of the sweet-smelling oil lanterns outside the bordello.

It wasn’t as if courtesans actually lived that life of beauty and romance. Their art and skills made everything seem pleasant and lovely, when truthfully there was darkness in their world, too. Even if it was concealed by rouge and paints.

(49) MG adventure: THUNDERSTRUCK

TITLE: Thunderstruck
GENRE: MG adventure

Most kids get something like an iCube for their birthday. Twelve-year-old Hunter got an entire valley, a link to a tribe of ancient Thunderbirds and the daunting job of saving the world from drought. No biggie, until he comes up against what it means to have the last of anything—everyone else wants it too.

Hunter raced home as fast as his bike would take him. Normally when school let out early, he’d go explore some part of the city he hadn’t seen before. But today was Gotcha Day, and he had some serious questions for Mom and Dad.

“Hunter!” Alejandro shouted from behind. “Wait up!”

Hunter glanced over his shoulder. Alejandro pedaled hard to catch up, and Hunter slowed as he rode between the sun-baked stalls of the abandoned farmer’s market.

“What’s the rush, man?” Alejandro panted as he pulled alongside. “It’s like you can’t get home fast enough.”

“It’s Gotcha Day,” Hunter said. “Mom and Dad are waiting for me.”

“Okay, but why the hurry? I mean, it’s not like your parents are going to un-adopt you if you’re late.”

“I guess.” They couldn’t un-adopt him, but they might wish they could. Hunter was pretty sure they weren’t going to like what he had to ask.

Mom and Dad were great. Hunter had totally lucked out with them. But every time he asked about his birth parents, he got the same response: They’d wanted to keep him, but couldn’t, and Mom and Dad would tell him more when he was old enough.

He’d turned twelve two weeks ago. He was old enough now. And after what he’d found in the library today, there was no way he was waiting any longer.

The community pool flew by on their right, iron gates chained shut. They had been for as long as he could remember.

(48) YA Contemporary: BLANK CANVAS

TITLE: Blank Canvas
GENRE: YA Contemporary

A young girl growing up in a family of tattoo artists desperate for a future all her own, uses her natural artistic ability in ways that if caught, could cost her more than just her future. She could lose everything.

“I need you to take your pants off.”

His dark eyebrows shoot up and his face heats with embarrassment but he doesn't move. Wheeling my stool closer, I lower my voice to avoid attracting any attention from the other room. “If you want me to do it, you’re going to have to drop them.” His hazel eyes narrow at me in challenge. I don’t know why, it’s not like this is our first time or anything, but then I see it.

“The hearts are a nice touch,” I snort, fingering the edge of his black boxer briefs.

“Just do it,” he grumbles.

“Shh, keep your voice down,” I say while tugging his waistband down and smoothing the stencil over his hipbone with the heel of my hand. I tighten the thumb screw to make sure the tip isn’t sticking out too far and flinch. Regardless of whether it’s a straight or curved tip like the fifteen magnum I’m staring down, the sight of a needle never fails to make my stomach flip. With my foot hovering over the pedal and my hand in place, I take a deep breath and lean forward. “Okay, here —“

The rings scraping along the metal rod make a trilling sound as the purple curtain flies open behind us. We jump apart.

“Hey, have you se—omigosh, what are y’all doing!” Abby whisper shouts, her blue eyes going wide as saucers when she sees the position we’re in.

“Um, nothing,” I say as calmly as I can over the blood rushing through my ears.

(47) MG Science Fiction: SAVAGE JUNGLE

TITLE: Savage Jungle
GENRE: Middle-grade Science Fiction

Stranded during a wildlife safari in the most lethal jungle in the universe, twelve-year-old techie Kreith struggles to escape by battling not only his insecurities, but electrocats, giant land squids, and the other treacherous creatures that prowl the jungle.

My heart rate doubles as Uncle Tonas hands me what I’ve been waiting for all day. Heck, all year— a present about the size of my fist. He always gets me the coolest gifts, like that fluorescent slug from planet Zambor last year for my eleventh birthday.

I rip the wrapping paper off the present without removing the bow, lift the lid off the cardboard box, and peer inside. A small electronic chip rests on the bottom.

“What’s—?” I ask.

“It’s a book,” Uncle Tonas says, eyes wide in his huge, muscular face. “Go on, download it.” He leans forward with those monstrous shoulders of his, a cigar between his pointer and middle finger. The total opposite of me. Sure, I’m only twelve years old, but my overly large black sweatshirt and baggy jeans hide the fact I’m as skinny as Uncle Tonas’s pinky finger.

“Uh…okay.” A book? That’s what he got me—a book? I try not to show my disappointment as I pick up the tiny chip and insert it into my Multipurpose Bracelet, my parents and Uncle Tonas looking on from the couch. I should really try to be grateful. It’s the thought that counts, after all.

“Would you like to download the book The Top 200 Most Treacherous Creatures in the Universe?” the MB asks in a voice as gruff as Uncle Tonas’s. I set the MB’s voice to that because it sounds like his and he’s the man, though I’m starting to doubt that after this sorry present…


TITLE: The Fiddler King
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Eighteen-year-old King Lesandro and princesa Anna-Maria are destined for an arranged marriage, until assassins attack Lesandro and Anna-Maria is accused of his murder. When Lesandro turns up alive, disguised as a minstrel, the two of them must learn to trust one another as they try to outfox the new Regent’s forces and reclaim Lesandro’s throne.

Lesandro d’Orsino eyed the black knight bearing down upon him. He shifted to the left, but knew he was cornered. He was the lone white piece left on the board and there was no way he could keep his tiny black and white kingdom.

“Check and mate.” His cousin, Taddeo, spoke precisely as he nudged the black bishop forward. The light of the campfire flickered on the polished ebony. He made a disappointed sound. “When will you open your eyes and start using the board to your advantage?”

Lesandro’s jaw tightened. It wasn’t as if he were trying to lose, yet Taddeo trounced him every night since they’d left home. One hundred and three times, to be exact. Somewhere, his cousin had gotten it into his head that if Lesandro could develop tactics on the chessboard, it would translate into a talent for useful things like court intrigue and leading a kingdom. “I haven’t your gift for strategy.”

“You do when a sword is in your hand.” His cousin’s voice took on the lecturing tone that was becoming more common. “As soon as you sit down at a chessboard, you become as intelligent as a straw-headed practice dummy. Look, here.” He brought Lesandro’s attention back to the remnants of the game. “Use your queen more. She could have taken my knight four moves back, yet she only sat in her square bower, listening to gossip.”

“Exactly why I have no use for a queen. Why should I shackle myself to a girl like that?”

(45) Upper MG Fantasy: SHADOWCATCHERS

GENRE: Upper MG Fantasy

Thirteen-year-old Zane’s job catching shadows for the palace is the only thing keeping him out of the slums where he was raised. But when he discovers he’s actually stealing souls, he must choose between the job that keeps him fed, or quitting and becoming the Empress’s next target.

Zane slouched in the shade of a stall, casually eating a fig, while he waited for the man he was hunting to appear. The market was almost empty, except for a few slow-moving servants dragging their feet through the sand. Even under their headdresses, Zane could see the sweat beading on their foreheads and felt sorry for them. Sure, he was out here, too, but at least he got to hide in the shade.

A cloth merchant, dressed in a fine embroidered shirt, ducked out of his shop and hustled through the market. He stayed close to the stalls and out of the sun as he walked, but whether it was to keep cool or to protect his shadow, Zane didn't know. Either way, Zane would have to be careful.

Dropping the fig skin, he double-checked the sketch in his pocket. Same fair hair and beard, same crinkly eyes, same snaggle-toothed smile. Definitely his man.

Zane peeled himself off the wall and slipped across the sand toward his mark. Three scraggly chickens clucked out into his path, causing him to stumble slightly. Wretched birds! Sidestepping them, he checked to see if anyone had seen, but no one seemed to have noticed. The market was like a ghost town, just the way he liked it. Most Catchers worked when the market was crowded, and the shadows long, but he preferred the precision of getting up close.

(44) MG Contemporary Fantasy: APPRENTICE

GENRE: MG Contemporary Fantasy

A thirteen-year-old amnesiac and a cockroach have five days to stop Death from triggering the apocalypse.

Death never told me how I died. He just pointed with a bony finger and said, “Come.”

I had to obey. I couldn’t think about not obeying.

The jerk didn’t even tell me I was dead until after he threatened to kill me twice.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should start earlier–maybe that first morning, when I was normal. At least, I thought I was.


Mom slid her briefcase onto the kitchen counter then poured a coffee. She stared at the mess on top of my head. “Did you brush your hair?”

I mumbled through a mouthful of cereal. “Yeah.”

She knew brushing never made a difference. The only time it ever stayed in place was when it was short. And I wasn’t a crew-cut kind of guy.

“Well brush it again.”

I rolled my eyes and slouched.

Mom whacked my head. “And cut the attitude.”

She didn’t hurt me or anything. It was just part of what most mornings were like. I bugged her. She bugged me. We got along okay, but she was always ‘helping’ me. Helping me dress neater. Helping me study harder. Helping me practice more. I told her it wasn’t really helping if I didn’t want it, but that never stopped her.

Mom sipped her coffee before asking, “Are you going to the dance on Friday?”

I almost choked on my juice. “How do you know about that?”

“You left the form in your pants. I do wash things occasionally.”

(43) YA Magical Realism: CHICK MAGNET

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

JD Marshall has a power most guys would trade their left nut for. With one hypnotizing look, he can get a girl to do whatever he wants. But his power’s really a curse a witch put on him, one he’s got four months to break or lose any chance of ever having a real relationship. Unfortunately, the probable curse-breaker happens to be his hot new English teacher.

Getting with Susan Milton should be the last thing on my mind.

I should be thinking about Northeast and their defensive line, the one that racks up eight QB sacks a game. I should be running through Coach’s five new plays—the ones the Panthers won’t see on the scouting tapes. I should think about how David and I are going to get a keg for the beach after the game. Or how if I don’t play the game of my life, we won’t even need one.

Maybe I should focus on my senior project.

Or the Pre-Calc test I have in thirty minutes.

But I just can’t get my mind off her.

Ever since she walked into English on the first day of school, I haven’t been able to focus on much else. And not just because Susan Milton’s the hottest chick I’ve ever seen. I mean, she is: tight little body, sexy smile, shiny blond hair that smells like the flowers growing in my backyard. She has a habit of wearing these low cut tops, and if she bends over just right, I almost get a free show. And God, her voice. The way she recites poetry, it’s like she’s singing—just to me. I used to hate English. Now I hate the wait until third period for my new favorite class.

But Susan Milton is forbidden. Off limits. I can’t have her.

And unfortunately I can get practically anybody.


TITLE: The Dragon's Pearl
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Fourteen-year-old Misha has always lived in the shadow of her mother, the most powerful mage in South Korea. When she accidentally frees a dragon from his magical slumber, Misha must track him down, now masquerading as a human in the underbelly of Seoul before he wrecks vengeance on the person who sealed him away in the first place: her own mother.

“I have time for one story,” her mother said. She was dressed in an eel-black suit, her phone in her pocket ready to vibrate and whisk her away at a moment’s notice. “Two, if my secretary drove off the bridge and hasn’t called yet.”

“Nothing about waterfalls,” Misha said, feeling toasty under a blanket of goose feathers. She’d hate to go to the bathroom now. “No tidal waves, either.”

“Sure,” her mother said. Then she proceeded to pick the one picture book with the ocean on the cover. Misha only forgave her because it was The Blind Man’s Daughter, her favorite. Her aunt had read it to her many times.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved her blind father very much.” Her mother paused. “She would have done anything in the world for him.”

Every story came with a bad guy and in this folktale, it was the Dragon King, causing trouble for merchants who wanted to sail to China. He thrashed his golden scaly body under the ocean, sinking ship after ship. It was an epic tantrum.

“So he’s like that dragon in the news,” Misha said, eager to show off. Most grownups thought she was too young to understand her mother’s job, but they didn’t know about the encyclopedias she’d read, the Time feature on her mother she’d cut out. “Your nemesis.”

“Do you even know what that word means?” her mother said, with a wry smile.

“It means someone you have to stop.”

(41) YA Science Fiction: LIMITLESS

TITLE: Limitless
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Seventeen-year-old NASA intern Cassie Dhatri dreams of space, but in order to win a spot on a top-secret experimental mission, she'll have to outsmart a battery of psychological tests... and sixty-three cutthroat teen geniuses.

A moderately intelligent robot could do my job. Okay, so I realize letting a sixteen-year-old intern anywhere near actual rockets would be irresponsible, but still – NASA was vastly underutilizing my skills.

Not that I was complaining. Because, come on – NASA. I'd mop the floors as long as they let me stay. But I could have been doing so much more than data entry in the legal department at Marshall. I mean, this was where they built the rockets that took men to the moon. Not that you could tell by looking, not anymore.

I worked in a deserted corner of the office. If I leaned way out from the wall, I could just see the back of my nearest coworker's head from across the room. The quiet made me a little nutty, so I usually worked with Beethoven blasting in one ear. It helped keep at least half my brain awake, while I memorized notes in the background of whatever else I was doing.

"Hey, kid!" My coworker Andre's voice snapped me out of my math-trance. I muted my cell just in time to see his scowling face hover over the cubicle wall.

Two weeks ago, I'd gotten bored and found a math error in the payroll, which happened to be Andre's fault. He may have gotten into some trouble over it. "Yes?"

He jabbed his thumb vaguely over his shoulder. "Big boss wants to see you. And you'd better take that thing out of your ear."


TITLE: The Crimson Crown
GENRE: YA Fantasy

When her lord sends Tiandra to the kingdom of Peran to complete a task, she hopes that this will be her chance to prove that she can be useful, despite her deaf ears. But in Peran, Tiandra oversees a conversation and makes a terrible mistake. To save herself and thousands of others, she now has to find a way to appease her lord and stop an invasion, before she’s caught and turned in for the price the king of Peran has set on her head.

At dawn the auction block was full of human merchandise. By noon the adults were gone. Boys who looked like they might be useful on a farm were sold next, followed by girls pretty enough to work for tavern keepers. Slowly our numbers shrank until the sun was low in the sky and I was the only one left.

The block stretched out around me, huge and empty. Beyond it was a world of gray: gray ships, gray water, gray buildings, gray sky. The clouds hung thick and heavy, threatening to add snow to the misery of the day. Beneath them, a bitter wind blew in off the water. My ears were deaf to the sound of it; but I could see the long strands of red hair that the wind threw into my face and feel its icy fingers wrapping around my limbs. I had never felt so cold or so small.

Sailors and merchants hurried through the harbor, seemingly blind to my existence, while a small crowd clustered at the bottom of the auction block to watch the sport. The number of spectators had dwindled as the weather worsened, but there were still prospective buyers. A handful of them stood talking to Soren, the man who had owned me for the past year and a half.

(39) YA Science Fantasy: Magick 7.0

TITLE: Magick 7.0
GENRE: YA Science Fantasy

After an orphan triggers the stupidest quest ever, she has three days to slay a silver dragon that doesn’t exist or she’ll be exiled from home. But when she uncovers the true purpose of the quest—to fix the computer that created the world—she must stop the ten-thousand-year-old scientist who programmed the computer or he’ll use it to erase her world and recreate his own.

At Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children they didn’t play favorites. Each orphan was treated with the same amount of disdain and neglect. They were provided with one threadbare tunic, one pair of ill-fitting shoes, and one dusty and moth-eaten overcoat. They were given a daily ration of gruel, and they were bathed exactly once per month, just before going on duty in the coal mine. This, incidentally, was consistent with the advice given in the popular self-help guide, How to Raise Orphans and Make Money.

There were three ways to leave Saint Lupin’s. The first was to get adopted. Perhaps by a nice family who would whisk you away to your long dreamed-of castle on a hill—one surrounded by forests and glens, filled with interesting and friendly people, rich with history and bright with promise and hope. The board of governors was extremely pleased with its track record in this regard as it had managed to prevent all adoptions since the Institute’s foundation.

The second way was to reach the age of sixteen and be unceremoniously kicked out on your bottom.

The third way was to embark upon a quest. Although quests were heavily regulated (so they could then be heavily taxed), there were no restrictions regarding age or background and thus anyone could apply. The secret to a successful application was first to fulfill a prophecy (prophecies were also heavily taxed). At Saint Lupin’s, both of these topics, that is, quests and prophecies, were considered particularly taboo subjects of inquiry.

(38) YA Thriller: Lynchpin

TITLE: Lynchpin
GENRE: YA Thriller

Alanna Stephens' latent ability to manipulate the four elements can only be triggered by agonizing pain. An off-the-books CIA operation — led by Alanna's adoptive father — exploits her powers with torture, forcing her to create natural disasters. But when a rogue agent threatens to expose Project Lynchpin, Alanna's next target becomes a volcano. She has only ten days to gain control over her powers and escape, or she will be forced to kill the agent — along with one thousand innocent people.

I’m perpetually late to gym class, and senior year is no exception.

I’ve joked to Noelle that there’s no point in being on time if I’m not actually able to participate, but really, the emptier the locker room, the less likely it is that someone will see if my skin shows evidence of a Lynchpin session.

I rush in with a frazzled, apologetic look on my face, just in case Ms. Finley is there. The coast is clear, so I stroll to my locker and drop my bag on the bench where Noelle sits, tying her shoelaces. She shakes her head when she sees me.

“Alanna! It’s the second day!”

I shrug. “Tardiness is a side effect of my condition.”

According to my doctor’s note, I’ve been diagnosed with severe asthma and mild hemophilia, a combination that’s excused me from every gym class since elementary school. Both are lies, but the truth is worse.

“I can’t see Finley buying that one, but good luck.”

As if on cue, a whistle trills in the gym — the thirty second warning.

"Go ahead," I say, shooing Noelle away, "I'll meet you out there."

By the time I’ve spun my combination lock left, right, and left again, I’m the last one in the room. I grab the regulation Blue Ridge Academy t-shirt and pull it on over the three-quarter-sleeve shirt I wore today. The movement tugs the edges of the red, puckered burn scar on my right upper arm.


GENRE: YA Fantasy

In a city where light is deadly, the people of Creperi are confined to darkness. Sixteen-year-old Jazzlyn’s immunity from the Star’s deadly rays may be the key to their salvation but when the black clouds protecting the city threaten to break, Jazzlyn discovers that someone doesn’t want Creperi freed from the dark. If she can’t figure out who before the sky opens up, her city, along with everyone she loves, will burn.

Mushrooms thrive in the dark, so they’re the only food that isn’t rationed, and the pungent stink wafting through the house is a sure sign we’re having them for breakfast. Again.

I blow out an exasperated breath and plod downstairs.

Mother stirs a pot of fungi ragoût that boils over the hearth’s open flames. The firelight brings out the red in her hair, which she wears twisted into a braid over one thin shoulder. She looks up as I pause beneath the stone archway that divides the common room from the kitchen.

“Jazzlyn,” she says. “What took you so long?”

“I was just...” putting off the inevitable.

“Never mind,” she says. “You’ll have to eat when we get back.” When my face scrunches up, she sets her spoon on the counter and plants a hand on her hip. “What?”

We’re attending another birth this morning, that’s what. Regardless of what the Shadow Council thinks, forcing this world upon anyone is hardly fair, not that Mother will listen. “Nothing.” I grab a lantern off the table. “Are you ready to go?”

She nods and we slip out the front door and into the ebony morning, where endless black clouds pulse overhead like a living, breathing thing, blocking the light out, or perhaps, sealing the darkness in. The swaying lantern casts a pale glow over rows of mortar and stone houses and their barren plots of dirt. I scan the spaces between shadows, uncertain of what I expect to find.

(36) YA Light Science Fiction: STREAMWALKERS

GENRE: YA Light Science Fiction

In an overly extroverted, gene-selected future where each person's Worth™ as a human being is measured, ranked, and bodily displayed, introverted teenager Wren is a Worthless recluse. When forced to choose between protecting her father and having her guarded personality forcibly exposed, Wren pursues another option: winning a team adventure race through the hostile wilderness.

If Wren’s ability to dream had not been blotted out by Surf, the black market drug some introverts used to seem more friendly and likeable, she was sure she would have dreamed of some place quiet: where water was clean and plentiful, where the breeze rolled gently through fields of soft flowers and bare toes, where there was no high school, and where all the people were dead. Not the rotting, putrefying, reclaimed-by-microorganisms dead, but the kind where they just disappeared—poof!—without a trace, leaving her free to think and investigate her story device in solitude. Okay, Wren didn’t wish her dad dead. But in her dream he would be self-sufficient . . . in his own hut a few miles away. And he could visit . . . occasionally. She wallowed in the idea, blowing off the social convention against spending too much time inside one’s own head.

Wren checked the digital readout on her chest to see if her Worth™ had changed overnight. It was stuck at 10. She tapped it just to be sure, but it remained steady. Typical, she thought.

Put simply, Worth™ was a scientific measurement of a person’s value as a human being, displayed on a scale of 0 to 100. It was all about using your outgoing personality to “put yourself out there.” Worth™ was generated by the positive buzz surrounding your KamaStream presence; by how many zealots you had, and especially by how much influence you had on their shopping habits. Buying stuff because of you created economic ripples and increased your social authority. It might even earn you corporate sponsorship.

(35) YA Contemporary: JAWAHAR

GENRE: YA Contemporary

When Merritt Reed becomes the focus of her high school’s gossip, she feels like an island. Perhaps that’s what draws her to Hamza. Though everything about the dark-haired loner screams, “Go away,” she wonders if he’s hiding something. Especially when she hears his parents call him Amir, meaning prince in Arabic. Gradually Merritt falls for Hamza and the turmoil hidden deep in his green irises, but his secret could get them killed, or worse, grounded for eternity.

LATE might as well be a four-letter-word that gets your mouth doused with Tabasco sauce if your mom catches you saying it. That’s how much I hate being late, especially to school. I’m like the white rabbit, frantically glancing at his pocket watch, no time to give Alice decent directions. “No time to say hello/goodbye. I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”

Today is one of those four-letter-word days. I just woke up, heart galloping in my chest, head dizzy from catapulting out of bed to the buzzing of my younger sister’s alarm.

Eep! Forget the shower, cute hair, or outfit that was going to say I’m totally fine with my newly single status. Instead I grab the jeans I wore yesterday and snag the first top my fingers touch in my closet.

Here’s hoping my hair doesn’t look like Medusa’s snakes have partied in it.

I rush downstairs, struggling into the sleeves of my new spearmint-colored parka.

“Merritt, what are you still doing here?” my mom asks, eyes widening over the rim of her coffee mug. “I thought you’d taken the bus.”

“Forgot to set my alarm.” I grab a banana from the fruit holder. “Can you take me? I’m super late.”

“There’s a foot of snow outside. Do you really think I’d make you walk?”

“The way my morning is going, probably.”

She gives me a look that says I’m being way too dramatic about my life. Whatever.

(34) YA Magical Realism: THROUGH THE WALLED CITY

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Fifteen-year-old Micaela Uribe’s trip to Cartagena, Colombia comes with a side of magic: slipping through the city’s past. Now she must decipher Time’s message before she loses the boy, her grandmother, and her life.

Miami is hot in the summer. Cartagena, apparently, is hell.

At least that’s how it feels when I walk out of the airplane, carry-on bag over my shoulder, and onto the rolling platform they’ve set before us. The mid-afternoon sun is almost white against blue of the sky. And worse yet, except for the few hills way out there in the distance, the outlook is bleak: run-down warehouses and colorless buildings with patches of rowdy grass. Everything looks ancient and moldy.

Bienvenida a Colombia,” I mutter.

In front of me, the rest of the passengers crawl down, pausing in between steps to gesture and point. At what, I don’t know and I don’t care. Hurry up. Sweat runs down my face, down my neck and back, gluing my pink tank top to my skin. Even my white linen pants are heavy and sticky with this heat. What was I thinking wearing long pants? More importantly: what were my parents thinking, sending me here? Summer’s my time. I had plans. I don’t see why my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary has to trump my sixteenth birthday. They’ve had forty-nine of them. I only turn sixteen once.

“You’ll fall in love with the magic of the city,” Mami promised. Yeah, right— especially if the rest of Cartagena is like this: old and decrepit. But then she went a step further, adding the words that lodged the infamous Hispanic guilt right smack in the middle of my chest: “It would make your abuelitos so happy to see you there.”

(33) YA historical fantasy: FORTUNATA

TITLE: Fortunata
GENRE: YA historical fantasy

Seventeen-year-old Charley Stilton has a choice: Accept the high society Boston marriage arranged by her grandmother or fight to be an alchemist. Option A is dreadful, but Option B may be deadly.

Gold dusted my windowsill.

The flakes shimmered in the weak March sun and made my heart beat a staccato in time with the horse hooves below and the sputtering dirigibles above. Gold. By the Nameless Monk, how I needed it. Gold meant coins; coins meant fresh ingredients. And that meant one more chance to find Papa.

I gathered my skirts up in one hand and crouched. My knees popped after having stood for so long at my hideaway work table, so loud the double crack startled me. I threw a hand out against my wardrobe to steady myself.

Grandmother. I cast my eyes to the ceiling, but the floorboards above remained silent. I was convinced she used Volta Brass Ears to listen in on me. The flared horns at the end of those snaking metal hoses could pick up even the flutter of bee’s wings. Or a granddaughter secretly practicing alchemy. But even she couldn’t suspect stiff knees signaled a heretic at work. I hoped. I swallowed back the creeping fear and leaned into my wardrobe.

I’m Charley, I reminded myself. Not Charlotte. Charley. The silks, taffetas and tweeds of my skirts and dresses rustled in answer when I pushed past them. I’m an alchemist. I will prove the worth of women, and all Scholarship will acknowledge me. Repeating Papa’s long-ago words stiffened my resolve.

My fingers rasped against the wooden slats at the bottom of my wardrobe, feeling for the catch.

(32) YA Science Fiction: BECOMING HERO

TITLE: Becoming Hero
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Comic-book superhero Skye takes on awful plot twists every day, but when his parents die in a nasty cliche, he's had it. He shoots his author. Will murder save his world, or damn his soul?

Comic-book Universe: Issue 339

Rain trickles across a fading green dumpster in a narrow alleyway. A dark shadow, a superhero gone bad, stalks the rooftops above, heaving a giant gun off his back as he readies it for his prey.

Skye ignored the stench of the banana peels and burger wrappers crushed against his face and forced himself to breathe steady. He clenched his fingers tighter around the bleeding wound in his shoulder, trying not to think about the infection he'd get from hiding in the dumpster. Just breathe. In, out. In, out. Any change in that pace, and his hunter might hear him. Hunter--that's how he had to think of his best friend now.

The thought sunk into Skye's chest like another punch. Dammit. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth against the hot tears. How could he--

"I suppose you're wondering how I could do this to you," said a soft voice just above him. Skye heard light footsteps on the dumpster lid, but didn't reply. Mark had walked past his hiding places before.

"You can hear me, right? I know you're nearby. Please just show yourself. Just end this."

Skye heard Mark's feet crunch against the pavement. He heard the rustle of plastic bags being kicked; a nearby window smashed.

"None of this would have hurt if you'd just let me take you out the first time. I didn't want your parents to die. Come on, Skye, you think I wanted Jackie to die for you? She was my friend, too. I didn't want you to see any of this."


TITLE: Startripped

Blinded in a freak accident, seventeen-year-old Camria is tempted by a mysterious young man's offer to restore her sight, in exchange for her memories which she discovers are not her own but belong to another girl who lives light-years away.

I usually don’t have a problem putting my makeup on. After I recovered from the accident as much as I could, a team of therapists helped me deal with everything else. One of them taught me to count each touch of the brush to my eyelashes, each stroke of color to my lips. I’ve practiced enough I can face the world now without having someone check to make sure I’m presentable.

But today I keep messing up.

My hands are shaking, and the brush keeps jerking and hitting the wrong spots. I’m dreading this party. I’ve had to wash my face off and start over again so many times that I just leave the water running in the sink. My face feels raw.

As I start again, a sharp rap rattles the bathroom door.

“I’m not ready yet!”

My younger brother pushes the door open anyway. “Mom wants to know what’s taking so long. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

“If you’d stop interrupting me, I’d be ready by now.”

He doesn’t take the hint. “Why do you bother standing in front of the mirror?”

“Go away, David.” Usually I would call him Shorty, which he hates (he’s thirteen and anxious he hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet), but I’m trying not to be the bitter, mean person that I feel like inside.

“At least you don’t have to see yourself anymore. We still have to look at you.”

“Out!” Forget trying to be nice. Forget going to a party where everyone will feel sorry for you because you lost your sight in an accident. A bad car accident is the official story, because the real reason is classified.

(30) YA Contemporary: THIS ISN'T SHAKESPEARE

GENRE: YA Contemporary

When seventeen-year-old Stacey can’t decide between a future with Cal or pursuing a dance career, a friend challenges her that she might be in love with love instead of Cal. Breaking up with Cal now, after she slept with him, goes against everything she believes, but staying with him might be the biggest mistake of her life.

We sit on the hood of my Taurus with the windshield as our backrest and gaze at the endless summer sky. Calvin leaves in the morning for a college four hours away and I’ll start my senior year of high school next week. He won’t be home for three weeks. Maybe it wouldn’t seem so awful if we hadn’t spent every spare minute together since we made up in July.

“Make a wish,” I say when the first star of the night blinks on. I wish for him to have a great first week at college and turn my eyes to the pale crescent moon.

Twenty-one days.

I can’t think about that though. I can’t even imagine it. My head rests against his chest as I sit between his legs. My body rises and falls as he breathes and I lose myself in the perfectness of being here in this moment, feeling his heat flood my back. A moment that tastes of forever and happily ever after.

Then I ruin it.

“How can you look at that sky and not believe in God?”

He twirls a strand of my long brown hair around his finger. “Stace…” There’s a tiny warning there. He won’t be dragged into that conversation again.

The reminder starts to crimp the edges of the perfectness.

Before the frown has time to fully form on my face, he presses his cheek to mine and hums the Journey song that was playing when we met. A peace offering.

(29) YA Contemporary: SLAM

GENRE: YA Contemporary

A forbidden Slam Book forces Kortney Watkins to see that while she is invisible to everyone who “matters,” she is just as much of a bully on her own. Will she do what’s necessary to become popular and lose the friends she already has, or embrace the person she knows she should be?

It all began in the hallway of Pepperdine High, during the fourth week of my sophomore year. School was tromping along, as it does, and I'd just switched textbooks in my full-to-capacity locker when Madison was suddenly standing way in my personal space.

"It's a Slam Book," my cousin whispered as she snuck a yellow notebook to me in-between English and Spanish (which is confusing, having those two back to back, because how am I supposed to remember one language while trying to learn the other? I mean, I know English is my "native tongue," but still...).

"A what?" It looked like a plain old notebook to me, nothing like my leopard skin or (fake) jewel-encrusted ones. No name on the cover, and the cardboard was wrinkled and wavy, like it had either been dropped in a bathtub or pawed through by the entire class. Which, it turns out, it had been. Pawed through, I mean, not dumped in water.

"It's something Andi's mom did when she was in school, like fifty years ago. She said it was all 'the bomb'."

Andi herself was more than scary. She had a constant crowd around her, but I'd never felt like braving her bossiness to be a part of her popularity-ness. Just thinking about her made me shudder, and let’s not even talk about her mom.

Madison was still going on. "Everybody in our grade is in it, a different name at the top of each page. You write something about each person, like if you go to my page you write 'awesomest cousin ever,' then go on to the next one."

(28) YA Contemporary: THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY


When party girl Ava Grace gets knocked up by her best friend’s boyfriend, Harvard-bound Oliver Douglas, keeping the baby puts Ava’s spot at her elite private school in jeopardy. Pregnant and friendless, Ava must figure out how to make it to graduation – and accept that maybe she can’t do it alone.

I think tonight is a tequila night. One more year behind me, one year closer to San Francisco.

As soon as we walk in Malia’s room I get down to business. First, pull the curtains closed so I can’t see the windows. Then clothes. Then makeup.

I watch Malia’s face in the mirror as I apply red lipstick. Going out lips.

“You’re really wearing that?” she asks.

“Of course I am.”

She pulls on her standard khaki shorts and pink polo. “Of course you are.”

I don’t do preppy like everyone’s favorite shoo-in for valedictorian, Malia (her only competition? Her equally uptight boyfriend, Oliver).

“Maybe you’ll pick up some style tips in Greece,” I say. I believe in expressing myself through clothes. I adjust my black tank top just so, making sure the top of my lacey purple bra peeks out. My bra collection is epic and I believe in showing it off. Whoever decided women had to keep all their undergarments hidden and nude was depressingly limited. My favorite jeans are perfectly skinny, faded, and tight. With the bright red streak in my dark brown hair, I don’t need anything else. I’m enough. I’m everything.

I’ve spent years cultivating my brand. I’m as dedicated to it as Malia is to hers. This is why we work so well. She doesn’t pry, I make her interesting. Win-win.

I flop down on her bed and examine my nails, still sprinkled with paint from this afternoon. I can’t believe I even have to engage with Malia’s bad attitude about spending the summer in Greece.

(27) YA Science Fiction: RED DIRT WHITE NOISE

TITLE: Red Dirt White Noise
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

When her only friend is kidnapped by pirates, Nadira Kordell won’t let her partial deafness, her parents, or pretty boy Dax stop her from journeying across the wilds of Mars to find a way to save her friend—uncovering a secret that threatens the newly terraformed planet in the process.

Remembering how to breathe is harder than it sounds.

Without the respirator tube, too many seconds tick past by the time my brain tells my body what it needs to do. Lungs sputtering, I pull air in, let it out, and swallow around the pain.

I cough and pray my heart won’t rocket out of my chest until enough oxygen kicks in, and my body slowly comes back under my control. Took long enough. I can still feel echoes of the tube where it was wrenched out of me. Like throwing up a hard, thick straw, leaving my throat bruised but intact.

But I’m here—breathing—and too soon, I wish I wasn’t.

I try to sit, but my arms aren’t quite ready to listen. I flop back against the hospital bed. Everything grates. Every breath. Every movement.

My eyes water as I blink back the harsh light of the examination room. Antiseptic dulls my nose. The crease of my arm where my port was aches even though the skin’s now healed over. My jumpsuit—brand new when we left Earth—has that itchy, worn-too-long feeling. I need a bath. And a one-way ticket back home.

The med tech hums as she checks my vitals. Hands brisk and impersonal like those of some manufacturing line inspector. She checks off boxes with her stylus, then signs the bottom of her touch screen with a well-practiced flourish.

She looks up and smiles. “Welcome to Mars...” She glances at the screen “…Nadira Kordell.”


TITLE: Where Devils Breed
GENRE: YA Fantasy

When her sister and friends are sold to the Imperial harem, seventeen-year-old Nia vows to save them— even if that means conspiring with mystic Bedouins, betraying the boy she loves, and slitting the Sultan’s throat.

The harem traders circled my sister like wolves— lips curled over yellow teeth, fingers clawing at her face. I couldn’t watch. I bowed my head and whispered a prayer to Bacha, Goddess of Beauty, begging her to smite Akilah with leprosy or make warts sprout from her nose. Something so unsightly the traders wouldn’t wish to take her.

I was ashamed to admit it wasn’t the first time I’d asked Bacha to curse my sister. But it was the first time it hadn’t been for jealous, selfish reasons.

“Magnificent.” One of the traders turned Akilah’s chin this way and that.

The crowd whistled and clapped, but I muttered oaths.

Bacha had failed me. Again. I knew she would. Not even the gods could diminish Akilah’s glossy brown hair and blackberry eyes. She was a peacock among pigeons. A ruby among pebbles. A queen compared to the other girls for sale in the yesir, the slave marketplace.

The square was full to bursting, every soul in Bagrati crammed inside the outdoor plaza, crawling over each other like weevils to get a glimpse of the traders. There was no escaping the smell. Between the camel dung, spice shops, and sweating bodies, it was enough to make the strongest stomach turn. And it was hot, hot, hot— the sizzling sun on my face, the blistering sand between my toes. I couldn’t imagine how much worse it was for Akilah, trapped in the center of the commotion, withering beneath the weight of so many eyes.


TITLE: Cross-Dressed To Kill
GENRE: Mystery

In this traditional mystery, a stellar female impersonator and his police detective twin brother put their lives, careers and friendship in jeopardy to corner a killer targeting Portland’s cross-dressers.

When the call came, Sam Carstairs abandoned his plans for a rare night off and grabbed his car keys. Dead bodies were a part of the job and since his promotion six years ago to Detective at the Portland Police Bureau he’d seen more than his fair share. Tonight promised to be no different, even if the locale wasn’t the norm.

He pulled to a stop before the Chinese Garden on NW Third and Everett and showed his badge to the nearest uniform. The EMS van and the two squad cars were positioned so their beams fell on the circular entrance to the garden itself.

“Detective Skelton is already inside, sir.” The officer pointed to the round opening which gave formal access to the Garden. “In the Fish Pavilion.”

Sam bent under the garish yellow police tape and headed along the stone walkway to the pavilion, one of the smaller structures overlooking Lake Zither at the center of the compound. He followed the faint murmur of voices toward the victim, a long shadowed figure resting on the granite tiles inside the small square enclosure. The pale moonlight reflecting off the lake water and long-leaved banana plants brushing against the pavilion roof made it easy to forget the Garden was in the heart of a bustling city. Peace, he thought. Must be nice.

“Hell of a place for this, isn’t it, Sam? No homicides in this area for a while now. And never inside the Garden.”

(24) Fantasy: SPIRIT WEAVER

TITLE: Spirit Weaver
GENRE: Fantasy

After Gaern’s unexpected disappearance, Lora abandons her army post to search for him, becoming an enemy of the king and awakening the desperation of an oppressed people. Captive to a prophecy she doesn’t believe, if Lora refuses to face up to her failure to become a Spirit Weaver, she will have little chance of saving Gaern from his dark path.

Lora thrust her ski poles into the knee-deep snow, raising a mittened hand to shade her face from the glare of the sun. She stared past the wolverine ruff of her parka hood, down the slopes to the evergreen forests rolling out like a legion of the king’s Honor Guard.

Now that she was here, the fear turned her gut into clenching coils—like a snake consuming itself. The snake twisted at the thought of what she might find in the valley below, twisting tighter at what she almost certainly would not find.

She searched for the smoke-haze of Eloedir rising up through the crowns of the distant conifers, though she knew all signs of her village would be hidden beyond the valley’s bend. Her own frozen breath was the only sign of life now, drifting back past the unstrung wooden bow protruding above her right shoulder. Over the other shoulder gleamed the mottled bronze hilt of a curved saber, engraved with the swan of the king.

Lora adjusted her pack, stamping her feet in their bindings to warm her toes. She pushed off down the slope, finally letting her eyes settle on the place below where five years ago her father and brother had been slain. She let the place come to her, refusing to change course because of a memory, though that memory had changed the course of her life. She felt the presence of her kin like ghosts haunting her with one silent question: “After all this time in the army, what mark have you left on the world?”

(23) Contemporary Romance: MAN MAID

TITLE: Man Maid
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

She runs the most successful cleaning service in town. He's a PI hired to find some dirt. It's going to get messy.

Friday should not start with a dead cat. That seemed more of a Monday sort of problem. Sadie Martin ended the call and slumped back in her desk chair. Her black and white mutt, Jack, came over to sniff the phone dangling from her hand. “Seriously?” she asked the ceiling. “For real? This is happening?”

The ceiling didn’t answer and when Jack found no treat in her hand, he went back to his doggy bed with an aggrieved sigh. Sadie hauled herself out of the chair with her own sigh. Dead cat. Even worse, it was a client’s dead cat. She picked up her purse and pointed at Jack.


He obeyed. Mostly because he was already back to sleep. Sadie shook her head as she headed down the hall while digging in the purse for her keys. Dog never listens to a word I say anyway.

“Hey, Molly?” she called. “Rosie’s dead and Heidi is flipping the freak out so I’ve got to get over there and . . .”

The words stuttered to a stop as her mouth fell open. There was an honest to God freaking angel sitting in the small reception area. She glanced in the direction of her receptionist’s desk but it was empty. “Who are you?”

The man stood. “Wyatt Anderson. I have a nine thirty interview.”

“Oh shit! I mean, sorry. Hold on. I’ve got a bit of a situation.”

She turned and backtracked to the kitchen where she spotted Molly coming out of the supply room with a package of copy paper. “There’s a man out there!” Sadie whispered.

“Must be your interview. Is he cute?”

“No, he is not cute. He’s freaking gorgeous.”

(22) Literary: THE OBITUIST

TITLE: The Obituist
GENRE: Literary

Peter “Mac” Macris is mostly suicidal. He’s returned home to Ohio and already purchased a gun when he inadvertently confuses the issue by finding hope and human connections. Mac becomes the obituist, a man who writes personalized obituaries for the dead and dying.

Alice died in the back seat 10 miles West of the last exit to Allentown. Just one last sharp ragged raspy breath that went in and then leaked out slowly and wasn’t followed by another.

Her voice choked with phlegm, Becky announced the passing. Two false starts and a long throat-clearing before she could speak. Mac already knew what she was going to say. Lesser parts of him raged against the inevitable: “She ain’t breathing, Mac.”

With Becky’s mastered words thick and crackling through her throat, the larger part of him settled in. Relief overwhelmed grief. Mac looked into the rearview. The interior of the car was grim and black. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. It’s been a minute.” The grief moistened her voice. She sounded briefly beautiful and young.

“Should I stop?”

She didn’t answer. He heard her lighter flick. Whiffs of cigarette smoke tickled his nose and he tightened his grip on the wheel. They should not smoke with Alice in the car.

He deflated. It didn’t matter anymore.

He reached into his pocket for one of his own.

When she answered his question, it was a whisper: “No. I don’t think so.”

He nodded. Slowed the car slightly. Alice was done.

He prayed to wherever Alice had gone and wiped his eyes with his sleeves. The lights of oncoming traffic were haloed and gauzy. It made it hard to tell what was where.

Another wisp of the fog cat-footed across his mind.

(21) Mystery: THE BIG UGLY

TITLE: The Big Ugly
GENRE: Mystery

Since he was left alone by his wife's death to raise their two young boys, Jerry Fulks has been sleeping through life. When he finds a corpse in his estranged mother’s dining room he’s forced to wake up -- the dead man is a brother Jerry didn’t know he had and Jerry’s about to be arrested for his murder.

It was only June but both my boys, warmed to a simmer by the stuffy morning heat in our small house, were already whining about spending another day running feral under the hot sun at day camp. They wanted to go to their grandmother’s house instead.

I wasn’t having it but then John brought up their dead mom.

It’s been three years, but even when I know it’s a cynical ploy to get what they want, I can’t trump dead mom. The boys used to pull it out only in emergencies, but recently they’ve been slapping it down over deuces and threes and I don’t have the energy to fight it. Someday I’ll have to stand strong, but not today. Today was just too damn hot.

Today I dropped them at their grandmother’s. “They’ll go to the rec center for the rest of the week,” I explained to her when I pulled up to her driveway.

“Boys need a boss,” she explained back to me, “not a negotiator, Jerry.” Then she kissed my head and herded my boys through her gate.

Someday she's gonna to say no. It was a familiar thought about rubbing her love thin from overuse and I clipped it before it was even completely thought. I was running late and my reliable failure to stand my ground already had me feeling like a terrible parent.

My phone buzzed as I pulled away from her house. I looked at the number.

(20) Science Fiction (Literary crossover): WHITE SKY

TITLE: White Sky
GENRE: Science Fiction (Literary crossover)

Raised as an orphan in a village on a small planetary colony, Jem has never met his own people — the invaders who banished the villagers to the isolated settlement. His skill with a bow brings him confidence and pride — and more distrust from the villagers. When he’s blamed for the murder of two elders, survival may mean leaving to seek the people he knows only from tales of their arrogance and cruelty.

As far as Omalda could see, the white tundra passing beneath the cruiser stretched out ahead. Endless, silent, empty. Occasional patches of mottled brown or grayish-green made the surface appear rippled, like water. She imagined herself in the belly of an enormous seabird that searched for fish swimming beneath strange white waves. Although the speed they traveled was slow relative to what the vehicle was capable of, the surreal landscape swept rapidly below them. And yet how great a distance it would be, Omalda thought, if one were walking across it.

“Glad I’m not down there,” Aldas said, echoing her thoughts. He was looking through his binoculars; twisting in his seat to follow something in the white world beyond the curve of the window, he bumped Omalda with his elbow. “I’m sorry, did I . . .” he began, turning back to her.

She gave his arm a playful shove. “It’s all right,” she assured him. She leaned over, pulling against her harness, to look out the window on his side, her shoulder pressing against the solid muscle of his upper arm. “See anything interesting yet?”

“No . . . but I thought I saw something moving, and then I lost it.” He spoke slowly as he concentrated on moving the sight line of the binoculars across the tundra.

(19) Contemporary Fantasy: DAY OF THE NIGHTWRAITH

TITLE: Day of the Nightwraith
GENRE: Fantasy: Contemporary

Buck Buchanan, an 800-year-old Celtic warrior, wants nothing more than to die. But he can't, or, more precisely, won't, until he kills the last dragon--the Nightwraith. After seventy years of coming up empty, he tracks the beast to the streets of present-day Philadelphia. With his 200-year-old ex-wife at his side, Buck discovers the Nightwraith's horde of immortal, formerly-human worshippers are planning to incinerate the city in order to plunge the world into war, and he has to decide whether bringing an end to his own life is more important than saving millions of others.

"I guess it was only a matter of time, wasn't it?" the bartender asked. He hadn't shifted, hadn't flinched, when Buck had entered the bar, and for that Buck respected him.

Buck pulled off his amber sunglasses and stuffed them into the inner pocket of his green leather jacket. "Probably," he answered, looking over the three other men in the small tavern. Gruff Parisians, all gathered down at the opposite end of the bar with their beer and wine. They reeked of mortality, of day jobs, of depression. In here only to forget the world around them, the world that would forget them soon enough.

That was fine by Buck. He turned back to the Spaniard behind the bar. "How've you been, Julian?"

"I go by Antonio now." He smirked, a friendly cover to the anxiety his red-veined eyes betrayed.

"Does it matter?"

"To me it does." He reached for a short glass and flipped it over, and then grabbed a bottle of scotch from a mirrored shelf behind him and filled the glass half way. He nudged it across the bar. "I don't
suppose you're just here for information?"

Buck shook his head. Some of the wraithborn were good for information, that was true, but not Julian. The ones like Julian were only good for dying. "Afraid not. We have a bit of a debt to settle."

(18) Urban Adventure: WOE TO THE TYRO

TITLE: Woe to the Tyro
GENRE: Urban Adventure

After his alcoholic mother dies, sheltered teenager Leroy Smiley is left reeling… by how little he feels.

His numbness comes to an abrupt end, however, when a blurry image of a forgotten family friend forms in his mind. Desperately seizing his unlikely chance at the one thing he's ever wanted - a normal life - Leroy ditches his new foster home to find the caring woman from his past. With little more than a few hazy memories, though, it'll take more than desperation to find her. He hops a train to Folsom City Prison to learn more from his father, and winds up on a journey that takes him further than he'd ever imagined, as he experiences the harsh indifference of the real world for the first time.

Leroy Smiley stood beside his mother’s casket, trying to feel something. Before him lay Adalynne Smiley. Adalynne Bradley, if she’d had her way. Of course, to have her way would’ve required time and effort, so she’d remained a Smiley until the end. Didn’t he know it.

Leroy peered down, more staring through her than at her. This was the woman who had birthed him, bathed him, and clothed him, the woman who’d provided for him, or had at least tried to play it off as such. The woman who had made him who he was. Perhaps that was the problem.

The chemical fumes adrift in the funeral home air invaded his mouth after conquering his nose. The place looked as sanitized as it smelled. Shades of white and grey smothered the walls and ceiling, the monochromatic monotony broken only by the cheap cherry-stained wood of Ada’s casket. It felt unnaturally smooth as Leroy grazed his fingers along it, looking down at his mother nestled inside the padded box. The mortician had bought her a dress suit with a billowy blue blouse. Ada always said brown was her color, but they couldn’t know that. Layers of makeup, unable to match her hazelnut skin tone, gave her face a muddy complexion. Still, he mused, she looked better groomed currently than at any point in her forty-eight years of life. At least the years he’d been around.

He knew he should feel something toward, about, for her. For himself.

(17) Science Fiction : PRIME

TITLE: Prime
GENRE: Science Fiction

When Ravin is drafted for full-body recycling she must partner with the man responsible for her capture if she hopes to escape before her body is sold at auction.

Before the sun came up, my brother, Sam, traded two fingers on his left hand for food. Food they said I stole.

“Why would I steal anything Sam bought with his own flesh?” I asked through clenched teeth.

“I don’t know, Ravin.” Ashley said. He tugged on his beard as he paced between me and the rest of the clan who gathered outside for my impromptu trial. “I don’t claim to understand your criminal ways.”

I shook my head. None of this made sense. Sure, I’d broken a few rules in the past. And yes, everyone blamed me for my mother’s death, but stealing food? That’s ridiculous.
I looked to my father. As the leader of the Dayton clan he could end this.

“The punishment for stealing food is exile.” My father said, a deep crease between his eyebrows.

 “But I would never.” Didn’t they know that?  I smoothed my hands over my hair until it was gathered behind my ears.

Sam’s sacrifice was huge but it wasn’t rare. After the Biological Trading Act passed in 2255, people with missing limbs, or different color limbs, were normal. Fashionable, even. 

Members of the Dayton clan were encouraged to Trade fingers on their non-dominant hand for the good of the group. But I haven’t. I’m all-original which placed me deep in the heart of freak territory.

Freak, yes. Thief, no. I balled my ten fingers into two fists. “What proof do you have?"

(16) Women's Fiction: TO THE SEA

When Kira’s husband dies suddenly in a car accident she’s shaken to her core, but her broken heart is cracked wide open when she discovers he had several affairs. She overcomes her well of grief with surf lessons. The chilly Atlantic gets hot as she lusts after Jamie and longs for Ian. Cast adrift, salt, be it tears, sweat, or the sea guides Kira toward the truth of who she really is and the best way to love and be loved.

Late night. Don’t wait up for me. Kiss.

At the sight of the text, Kira quelled the temptation to chuck her phone at the vintage linen paint coating the wall of her brand new custom colonial. The only thing stopping her was the thought of having to touch it up.

She blew out the tapered candles, immersing herself in darkness. Before her fingers found the light switch, she took a deep breath, reminding herself that Jeremy’s new position at the firm kept him busy, but it wouldn’t always be like this. As she returned the unused dinnerware to the china cabinet, she decided to hang onto one of the wineglasses.

The guidebook to Paris on the kitchen island reminded her they were still technically in the honeymoon phase of their marriage, but they’d postponed their honeymoon until they’d cleared their busy schedules in the spring. The promise of the city of light strengthened her on nights like these. Along with the full wineglass, she slouched upstairs to her bedroom, alone.

A ringing sound in Kira’s dream jarred her to waking. She answered breathlessly. “I’m sorry to report your husband has been in an accident. He’s here at Mass General.” The rest of the call sounded fuzzy as if Kira had cotton stuffed in her ears. In a haze of disbelief and fear, she drove through the damp and sleeping streets of Boston to the emergency room as the dark night sky faded to gray.

(15) Fantasy: A BREATH OF SILVER

TITLE: A Breath of Silver
GENRE: Fantasy

In 2165, Historian Bryn MacBride thrives on uncovering facts about the Outside beyond Cimmeria’s quarantine, but with her mother’s time running out, she must delve into folklore and a forgotten labyrinth called the London Underground for answers. When her hunt lands her in 1692, history in the flesh tests her knowledge — and her loyalty.

I wouldn’t normally choose to spend my birthday in the Ruins. Triss Locke loved exploring, and following her father’s funeral that morning, I figured we could all use the distraction. It was on that last-minute research expedition, amidst our upheaval, I decided on two sure things. One: I would never voluntarily fit into a vase; and two: marriage was complete and utter bollocks.

The debris cascaded between my fingers, leaving in my hands a near-perfect specimen — the sort that makes an entire day’s digging worthwhile. Cracks spiderwebbed the rim but nary a chip. Pleased as I was at this discovery, it was uncanny in its resemblance to the jar that now held Jack Locke in particle form atop his wife’s mantelpiece.

“Guys, check this out,” I called, scribbling location notes.

Triss and Hyde turned from a vibrant glass pile, conspicuous against the Ruins’ melted ashen sea. Triss’s eyes widened.

“Oh, it’s glorious, Bryn!” She took the urn to show Hyde.

I smiled and returned to shoveling, resolution still ablaze. Tonight I’d endure my birthday dinner. Mama would roll out her annual “find a husband” speech, but seeing Mrs. Locke a pasty shell of her former self, I had no better defense. I’d deliver my “I’m happy as a lark without one, thanks all the same” comeback. This time, revamped with Mrs. Locke as Exhibit A.

Just because Cimmerians lived to forty-five, tops, didn’t mean I should procreate. It did, however, denote my twenty years left to research the Meltdown.

(14) Urban Fantasy: WITCH WAY DOWN

TITLE: Witch Way Down
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

A practicing psychic and struggling witch, Grace Taylor is using her psychic gifts to help the New Orleans Police Department solve monster-related crime when her picture makes the newspaper and she’s outed as the NOPD’s secret weapon. Now, every monster in the city worth its weight in body bags knows how to get away with murder—take Grace out of the picture.

The choking stench of burnt flesh filled the air. It sat on the back of my tongue and slid down my throat. Standing with a hand clenched over my nose and mouth didn’t help; it just made me look like I didn’t belong. Hands shaking and jaw clenched, I shut my eyes as I fought through a wave of nausea. Crap. I couldn’t decide which would be more humiliating: puking all over the crime scene or passing out and taking a nosedive into the human remains at my feet. I knew which one would never wash off.

“Grace, you okay?” March asked with what sounded like genuine concern. March was Sergeant Robert Marchand of the New Orleans Police Department and the lack of his usual sarcasm threw me. I didn’t like it.

Holding up a hand to cut him off, I forced my eyes open but I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t trust what might come out of my mouth. Nearly a year since I’d been roped into helping with monster-related investigations, it should’ve gotten easier. If March could stand here looking all calm and collected, I should be able to do the same. I needed to work on my magic, figure out a spell to make a rotting corpse smell like strawberry jam, or pine trees, or dog shit—anything else really.

The six-foot circle of charred grass at my feet held the remains of at least three people. I stared down at the gruesome mess and tried to force my brain to stop counting body parts.


GENRE: Literary Fiction

Sara, a school social worker, has a six-year-old patient she doesn’t know how to help. The problem isn’t that he’s stopped speaking; it’s that he thinks they can go find his dead mother and her dead father in a magical land in the sky. And even worse, he’s right.

Jake settled himself deeper into the cloud-nest of his bed, top-bunk, high and lofted, closer to the sky and the Stories. When mom came in, she would have to climb up the ladder to reach him, and he would have time to watch the darkness under her eyes crinkle up and break apart, and there would be humor and soft pillows to lean on instead of the edged cliffs her face had earthquaked into, ever since she started school. School and work and him and dad and church and still somehow the quiet spaces she needed to fit herself into, he knew, were too many things pushing together. It was like the tech tonal plates under the ground they’d talked about once in school, that made big earthquakes where houses scrunched up like people who are too cold, and roads flew up in the air, to the sky, to nowhere, toward the Stories. He didn’t like either kind of earthquake; he liked the windy open sky, the soft pillowed clouds, both here on the earth, and in the smooth light brown of her face. That’s where the Stories were.

There was a small sound at the door, and there she was. The light from the hallway framed a fuzzy arch around her big blue sweater, the one that hung all the way down to her knees and that dad said was ridiculous, but she wore every single night, and her head and her shortshort hair that looked just like his.

(12) Thriller: PENNY CANDLE

TITLE: Penny Candle
GENRE: Thriller

Joan Bowman joins the Constitution Defense Legion to fight a runaway government in Washington, D.C., but after working her way into a leadership position, she discovers the underground resistance group is as bad as the government it is fighting. The only way out alive is by becoming a state’s witness, but betraying the group means betraying her mentor and lover.

Something changed. The encircling woods went silent.

Joan’s heart pounded against the moss under her belly as she squeezed and released the grip on her M-16 assault rifle. She scanned the surrounding undergrowth.

Jason tapped her shoulder and pointed to her right. “Seventy-five yards at our two,” he whispered. “The oak with two notches. The notch on the left.”

“How did they get so close without us seeing them?” she said as she zeroed her attention on the double-notched tree.

“They’re shape-shifters, man.”

Joan pressed the rifle butt against her shoulder, tucked a stray strand of brown hair behind her ear and snuggled her cheek against the stock so she could see down the barrel. In a measured movement, she raised the rifle until the notch of the tree was centered in her sights. “I’ll shift their shapes for ‘em,” she said.

Jason pressed his tattooed hand down against the barrel of her M-16. “Let’s go down the other side of this hill and slip away. No sense getting shot when the exercise is almost over.”

“We can take them.”

“Ever get hit with a round of simu-nition? It hurts like a mother—”

A twig snapped to their right.

Jason snatched the back of Joan’s shirt and jerked her upright. “Let’s go. Now.”

Joan planted her feet, set her jaw and glanced over her shoulder toward the sound. “I’m a fighter. Fighters stand their ground,” she said, but she was talking to herself. Jason had disappeared through the nearby stand of mountain laurel.

(11) Contemporary Women's: THE LAST RESORT

GENRE: Contemporary Women's

Hints of blackmail, a love child, and her missing life savings lure a down-and-out young widow to Costa Rica in search of her late husband's secrets—and a second chance at happiness.

One year, three months, and two days ago, my husband wrapped his BMW around a tree trunk, forcing me into the role of underage widow and single mom. Though at times I still missed him so much my heart wrenched inside-out, most days I yearned for him to drive back into my life so I could kill him myself. This morning, as I ripped the final foreclosure notice from our hand-carved mahogany front door, I dreamed of slipping cyanide into his single malt scotch.

Sweat trickled down my face as I plotted how I'd wedge the remaining towers of boxes inside the three-car garage into the storage trailer clogging the driveway. Had we moved two years ago, the yard would have been filled with a team of movers and a couple of eighteen wheelers. Now, except for the small stash of plastic bins and suitcases lingering in the cool foyer, the remnants of our life could fit into a single twelve-foot portable aluminum box.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I pictured Mom, feather duster in hand, belting out “I Am Woman” in her version of '70s housewife karaoke. Yes, I could do this. Since I sing like a goat, I hummed while I hoisted an oversized stack of boxes from the ground and sidestepped towards the trailer. I could do anything. I was strong. I was invincible. I was—caught on a weed rising between the pavers. Before I could spit out a swear, I toppled face first to the ground.

(10) Science Fiction: SECOND SUN

TITLE: Second Sun
GENRE: Science Fiction

Universe-crosser Audra Merritt would risk her own life to rescue her niece and nephew from the government organization that wants to exploit their abilities, and so "fix" the holes leading to the secondworld. The problem: Audra is part of the organization--and sacrificing the children’s lives may be the only way to save her universe from the explosion of the secondworld’s sun.

The ocher rays of sunset flooded the sky, and the light of the alien second sun ate that of our native star. If I were the type of person to believe in omens, I would have considered it a bad one. Good thing I wasn’t superstitious.

“Merritt,” Donovan said. “You all right?”

It was the question you asked when you didn’t know what to ask, because you already knew the answer was no. I lied anyway. “I’m fine.”

Sunlight refracted off the waiting armored van. At just the right angle, the reflections blinded. Same case with my partner’s Steelex armor, which provided a convenient excuse to avoid looking at him.

As we neared our transport, Donovan said, “You don’t have to go. The others and I can take care of it.”

“It’d be worse if it were only strangers coming.”

He didn’t mention that all-strangers-but-one might be no better, considering I hadn’t spoken with my sister for several years. I appreciated his omission.

We piled into the van along with two warden-only pairs, all of us arranging ourselves on the parallel benches to face our respective partners. The vehicle set off down the tunnel. Donovan and I each had copies of Quinn’s registration file. I didn’t need it, but kept toying with the idea that if I could treat this like any other collection, I’d forget that the conscript was my niece.

(9) Romance: RETURN TO ME

TITLE: Return To Me
GENRE: Romance

Abandoned by her actress mother, then again when her fiance deploys for World War II, eighteen-year-old Sadie Stark vows she would never surrender her own child. But when she discovers her fiancé's bomber has crashed over enemy lines, she must find the courage to persevere and make the right choice for herself and the child she carries.

Sadie watched from the farmhouse as a pick-up truck rambled up their lane. When the tires crunched across gravel near the front porch that sagged like their sway-back mare, she repinned a stubborn wisp of gray hair that had escaped her carelessly twisted bun at the nape of her neck.

The truck puttered to a stop.

Sadie watched as the woman peeled her toned thighs from the sticky vinyl seat and eased down to the ground. She studied a piece of paper and then looked up, catching Sadie's gaze. Then she hoisted a bag of groceries in her arm the way a mother lifts a child.

"May I help you?" Sadie asked curiously. She didn't recognize this woman, although her gait was oddly familiar.

"Yes, I hope so," the woman replied. She took the porch steps slowly, squinting in the sun, her puckered cheeks the color of a ripened peach. "I stopped at the market asking for directions and Ruth Dalton? She directed me here, and asked that I bring your groceries. I hope that was okay."

"Thank you. Please, come in."

A breeze sucked the checkered curtains to the screens and then released them to tinker with the chimes as the women retreated inside. The woman's flip-flops lapped at her heels as she followed Sadie to the kitchen.

"I'm looking for Sadie Stark."

Sadie froze while looking through the window at the pond under the great willow tree. Their tree. The sight of it evoked feelings she'd buried for many years.