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New Releases: 7/16

New Releases

Happy New Releases Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

Earth by Ben Bova

Placeholder of  -15A wave of lethal gamma radiation is expanding from the core of the Milky Way galaxy at the speed of light, killing everything in its path. The countdown to when the death wave will reach Earth and the rest of the solar system is at two thousand years.

Humans were helped by the Predecessors, who provided shielding generators that can protect the solar system. In return, the Predecessors asked humankind’s help to save other intelligent species that are in danger of being annihilated.

But what of Earth? With the Death Wave no longer a threat to humanity, humans have spread out and colonized all the worlds of the solar system. The technology of the Predecessors has made Earth a paradise, at least on the surface. But a policy of exiling discontented young people to the outer planets and asteroid mines has led to a deep divide between the new worlds and the homeworld, and those tensions are about to explode into open war.

In the Woods by Carrie Jones & Steven E. Wedel

Poster Placeholder of - 10It should have been just another quiet night on the farm when Logan witnessed the attack, but it wasn’t.

Something is in the woods.
Something unexplainable.
Something deadly.

Hundreds of miles away, Chrystal’s plans for summer in Manhattan are abruptly upended when her dad reads tabloid coverage of some kind of grisly incident in Oklahoma. When they arrive to investigate, they find a witness: a surprisingly good-looking farm boy.

As townsfolk start disappearing and the attacks get ever closer, Logan and Chrystal will have to find out the truth about whatever’s hiding in the woods…before they become targets themselves.

Midnight at the Blackbird Café by Heather Webber

Image Place holder  of - 53Nestled in the mountain shadows of Alabama lies the little town of Wicklow. It is here that Anna Kate has returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café.

It was supposed to be a quick trip to close the café and settle her grandmother’s estate, but despite her best intentions to avoid forming ties or even getting to know her father’s side of the family, Anna Kate finds herself inexplicably drawn to the quirky Southern town her mother ran away from so many years ago, and the mysterious blackbird pie everybody can’t stop talking about.

As the truth about her past slowly becomes clear, Anna Kate will need to decide if this lone blackbird will finally be able to take her broken wings and fly.

The Redemption of Time by Baoshu

Place holder  of - 99In the midst of an interstellar war, Yun Tianming found himself on the front lines. Riddled with cancer, he chose to end his life, only to find himself flash frozen and launched into space where the Trisolaran First Fleet awaited. Captured and tortured beyond endurance for decades, Yun eventually succumbed to helping the aliens subjugate humanity in order to save Earth from complete destruction.

Granted a healthy clone body by the Trisolarans, Yun has spent his very long life in exile as a traitor to the human race. Nearing the end of his existence at last, he suddenly receives another reprieve—and another regeneration. A consciousness calling itself The Spirit has recruited him to wage battle against an entity that threatens the existence of the entire universe. But Yun refuses to be a pawn again and makes his own plans to save humanity’s future…

NEW IN PAPERBACK

The Darkest Star by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Image Placeholder of - 4In the world of the Lux, secrets thrive, lies shatter, and love is undeniable.

Evie Dasher knows firsthand the devastating consequences of humanity’s war with the Luxen. She was just a kid when it tore her world, and family, apart. Now seventeen, Evie is thrown back into a conflict she wants no part of—and into the path of Luc, an unnaturally beautiful guy she assumes is a Luxen, but is in fact something much more secret—and much more dangerous.

Her growing attraction to Luc will lead her deeper and deeper into a world she’d only heard about, revealing secrets long buried, a life-shattering betrayal, and a romance that just might make it all worth it.

Low Chicago by George R. R. Martin

The stakes were already high enough at Giovanni Galante’s poker table that night in Chicago. Poker. Dealer’s choice. Seven players. A million-dollar cash buy-in.

But after a superpowered mishap, the most high-profile criminals in the city are scattered throughout the past and their schemes across time threaten the stability of the world.

Perfect for current fans and new readers alike, Low Chicago is an all-new time travel adventure that highlights the criminal underworld of 1920s Chicago, featuring a fresh cast of characters from the Wild Cards universe.

Co-edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass (screenwriter, Star Trek), Low Chicago features the writing talents of Saladin Ahmed (author of the bestselling comic Black Bolt), Paul Cornell (screenwriter, Doctor Who), Marko Kloos (author of the bestselling Frontlines series), John Jos. Miller, Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in Motion, The Stars Change), Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Award finalist Christopher Rowe, Kevin Andrew Murphy, and Melinda M. Snodgrass.

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New Releases: 8/14/18

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu

Placeholder of  -84 When Chen’s parents are incinerated before his eyes by a blast of ball lightning, he devotes his life to cracking the secret of this mysterious natural phenomenon. His search takes him to stormy mountaintops, an experimental military weapons lab, and an old Soviet science station.

The more he learns, the more he comes to realize that ball lightning is just the tip of an entirely new frontier.

Denied by Cathy Clamp

Image Place holder  of - 96 Anica Petrovic used to be human, until she was kidnapped and turned into a shapeshifter. Now she’s a bear. Political strife in Serbia led Anica, her father, and her brother to settle in the Pacific Northwest, in a shifter community where all are welcome.

The town is rocked by a series of brutal murders which appear to have been committed by a bear. Anica and her family are all bears, but she knows they are all innocent. Not so innocent is newcomer Tristan, also a bear—Anica’s sensitive nose tells her he’s hiding something, but she can’t believe he’s a killer.

The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen

Place holder  of - 2 Years after the events of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, the lonely young outcast and physically-challenged Fant, Pizlo, is now a teenager. He still believes he hears voices from the planet’s moons, imparting secret knowledge to him alone. And so embarks on a dangerous voyage to learn the truth behind the messages. His quest will catapult him offworld for second time is his short life, and reveal things the galaxy isn’t yet ready to know.

NEW IN PAPERBACK

Enhanced by Carrie Jones

Poster Placeholder of - 63 Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may beout of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her.

 

 

NEW FROM TOR.COM

The Million by Karl Schroeder

Image Placeholder of - 15 Every thirty years, ten billion visitors overrun Earth during one month of madness: partying, polluting, and brawling. In between, the world is ruled by the Million; the inheritors and custodians of all of humanity’s wealth and history, they lead unimaginable lives of privilege and wealth, and they see it as their due.

NEW IN MANGA

Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter Vol. 1 Story by Reia; Art by Suki Umemiya

Monster Musume Vol. 14 Story and art by OKAYADO

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New Releases: 10/17/17

Dark Signal by Shannon Baker

Image Place holder  of - 54 Reeling from her recent divorce, Kate Fox has just been sworn in as Grand County, Nebraska Sheriff when tragedy strikes. A railroad accident has left engineer Chad Mills dead, his conductor Bobby Jenkins in shock. Kate soon realizes that the accident was likely murder.

Who would want to kill Chad Mills?

Deadlands: Boneyard by Seanan McGuire

Poster Placeholder of - 55 Step right up to see the oddities and marvels of The Blackstone Family Circus and Travelling Wonder Show! Gasp at pit wasps the size of a man’s forearm. Beware the pumpkin-headed corn stalker, lest it plant its roots in you!

Annie Pearl is the keeper of oddities, the mistress of monsters. Her unique collection of creatures is one of the circus’s star attractions, drawing wide-eyed crowds at every small frontier town they visit. But Annie is also a woman running from her past…and the mother of a mute young daughter, Adeline, whom she will do anything to protect.

Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson

Place holder  of - 17 Three years ago, Lift asked a goddess to stop her from growing older–a wish she believed was granted. Now, in Edgedancer, the barely teenage nascent Knight Radiant finds that time stands still for no one. Although the young Azish emperor granted her safe haven from an executioner she knows only as Darkness, court life is suffocating the free-spirited Lift, who can’t help heading to Yeddaw when she hears the relentless Darkness is there hunting people like her with budding powers. The downtrodden in Yeddaw have no champion, and Lift knows she must seize this awesome responsibility.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Image Placeholder of - 70 Once again, Earth is under attack. An alien species is poised for a final assault. The survival of humanity depends on a military genius who can defeat the aliens. But who?

Ender Wiggin. Brilliant. Ruthless. Cunning. A tactical and strategic master. And a child.

Enhanced by Carrie Jones

Placeholder of  -10 Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.

From the Two Rivers by Robert Jordan

Since its debut in 1990, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan has captivated millions of readers around the globe with its scope, originality, and compelling characters. From the Two Rivers is a special edition that contains Part 1 of The Eye of the World, Jordan’s internationally bestselling epic fantasy saga, and is a perfect gift for old fans and new.

Last Chance by Gregg Hurwitz

The New York Times bestselling author of Orphan X, Gregg Hurwitz, returns to Creek’s Cause to follow the Rains brothers as they fight an alien threat that has transformed everyone over the age of 18 into ferocious, zombie-like beings, in this thrilling sequel to The Rains.

Battling an enemy not of this earth, Chance and Patrick become humanity’s only hope for salvation.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it to the stars. The bad news is that, out there, planets fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common.

The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz

In one terrifying night, the peaceful community of Creek’s Cause turns into a war zone. No one under the age of eighteen is safe. Chance Rain and his older brother, Patrick, have already fended off multiple attacks from infected adults by the time they arrive at the school where other young survivors are hiding.

Most of the kids they know have been dragged away by once-trusted adults who are now ferocious, inhuman beings. The parasite that transformed them takes hold after people turn eighteen–and Patrick’s birthday is only a few days away.

Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders

Before the success of her debut SF-and-fantasy novel All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders was a rising star in SF and fantasy short fiction. Collected in a mini-book format, here—for the first time in print—are six of her quirky, wry, engaging best.

 

Vallista by Steven Brust

Vlad Taltos is an Easterner—an underprivileged human in an Empire of tall, powerful, long-lived Dragaerans. He made a career for himself in House Jhereg, the Dragaeran clan in charge of the Empire’s organized crime. But the day came when the Jhereg wanted Vlad dead, and he’s been on the run ever since. He has plenty of friends among the Dragaeran highborn, including an undead wizard and a god or two. But as long as the Jhereg have a price on his head, Vlad’s life is…messy.

Wild Cards I by George R.R. Martin & Wild Cards Trust

There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces—those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers—cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.

NEW FROM TOR.COM

Weaver’s Lament by Emma Newman

Charlotte is learning to control her emerging magical powers under the secret tutelage of Magus Hopkins. Her first covert mission takes her to a textile mill where the disgruntled workers are apparently destroying expensive equipment.

And if she can’t identify the culprits before it’s too late, her brother will be exiled, and her family dishonoured…

NEW IN MANGA:

Alice & Zoroku Vol. 2 Story and art by Tetsuya Imai

Beasts of Abigaile Vol. 2 Story and art by Aoki Spica

Devilman Grimoire Vol. 1 Story by Go Nagai; Art by Rui Takatou

Ghost Diary Vol. 3 Story and art by Seiju Natsumegu

Hatsune Miku Presents: Hachune Miku’s Everyday Vocaloid Paradise Vol. 1 Story and art by Ontama

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Tor Teen Back to School Sweepstakes

It’s August, and that means we’re in the final days of summer. It’s nearly time to head back to school, but hopefully there’s still a bit of time—time to get that last beach trip in, that last dip in the pool, or that last lazy afternoon with a book and a frosty lemonade. Whatever your ideal last days of summer consist of, we want to give you a pile of books to keep you company and to last you well into the new school year. Take a look at the titles we’re offering:

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Sign up for to receive our monthly Tor Teen newsletter to enter for your chance to win:

Birth Month:

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  1. To Enter: Submit your entry by fully completing the sign-up form found at https://www.torforgeblog.com/2017/08/21/tor-teen-back-to-school-sweepstakes (the “Site”). Sweepstakes begins online at 12:30 AM Eastern Time (ET) on Monday, August 21, 2017 and ends at 11:59 PM ET on Friday, August 25, 2017. Your entry will sign you up to receive emailed news related to Tor Teen as well as enter you into the sweepstakes.

Limit one entry per person or household. The entry must be fully completed; mechanically reproduced; incomplete and/or illegible entries will not be accepted. In case of dispute with respect to online entries, entries will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the e-mail address submitted at the time of entry. “Authorized account holder” is defined as the natural person who is assigned to an e-mail address by an Internet Access Provider, on-line service provider, or other organization (e.g., business, educational institution, etc.) that is responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted e-mail address. Entries become property of Sponsor and will not be returned. Automated entries are prohibited, and any use of such automated devices will cause disqualification. Sponsor and its advertising and promotions agencies are not responsible for lost, late, illegible, misdirected or stolen entries or transmissions, or problems of any kind whether mechanical, human or electronic.

  1. Random Drawing: A random drawing will be held from all eligible, correctly completed entries received on a timely basis, on or about Monday, August 28, 2017, by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, whose decisions concerning all matters related to this sweepstakes are final.
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  3. Prize: One (1) Grand Prize winner(s) will receive Flying by Carrie Jones, Enhanced by Carrie Jones, The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz, Last Chance by Gregg Hurwitz, Ferocious by Paula Stokes, Vicarious by Paula Stokes, Firebrand by A.J. Hartley, Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley, Roar by Cora Carmack, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter, Seeker by Veronica Rossi, Riders by Veronica Rossi, The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller. Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) of the Prize: $231.86.

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New Releases: 8/15/17

We’ve all been there: sometimes you’re peacefully reading your newest novel, only to see a cockroach scuttle by in front of your cozy armchair. Or you’ve got something that needs some light percussive recalibration to fix. Or your cousin has insulted your reading taste at Thanksgiving dinner, and all you have is the book you brought to the gathering to avoid talking to anyone. We’ve all had to use our books as bludgeoning weapons before, so here’s a list of SF/F doorstoppers that you can pitch in a pinch, now updated to include The First Binding by R. R. Virdi—on sale in paperback now!

By Yvonne Ye


Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

The Dinosaur Princess by Victor Milan

Image Place holder  of - 8 Humans were abducted eons ago at a god’s whim. Empires have risen and fallen and now men ride into battle on Stegosauruses and their generals lead them on White Thunder T-Rexes. Welcome to Paradise, and the third volume in Victor Milan’s glorious alternate fantasy universe.

The ancient gods who brought mankind to Paradise have returned to judge their human experiment. The Grey Angels, fabled ancient weapons of the gods, have come to rid the world of sin.

Ferocious by Paula Stokes

Image Placeholder of - 27 When Winter Kim finds out that her sister is dead and that she has a brother she never knew about, only two things matter—finding what’s left of her family and killing the man who destroyed her life. Her mission leads her from St. Louis to Los Angeles back to South Korea, where she grew up.

Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman

Poster Placeholder of - 64 A brutal crime. The ultimate cover-up. How do you solve a murder with no useable evidence?

Private detective Nils Shapiro is focused on forgetting his ex-wife and keeping warm during another Minneapolis winter when a former colleague, neighboring Edina Police Detective Anders Ellegaard, calls with the impossible. Suburban divorcee Maggie Somerville was found murdered in her bedroom, her body covered with the dust from hundreds of emptied vacuum cleaner bags, all potential DNA evidence obscured by the calculating killer.

NEW IN PAPERBACK:

Flying by Carrie Jones

Place holder  of - 99 People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She’s used to being coddled, being an only child, but it’s hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother’s babying gets more stifling than ever, she’s looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while.

But that night, Mana’s life goes haywire.

The House of Daniel by Harry Turtledove

Placeholder of  -13 Since the Big Bubble popped in 1929, life in the United States hasn’t been the same. Hotshot wizards will tell you nothing’s really changed, but then again, hotshot wizards aren’t looking for honest work in Enid, Oklahoma. No paying jobs at the mill, because zombies will work for nothing. The diner on Main Street is seeing hard times as well, because a lot fewer folks can afford to fly carpets in from miles away. From Harry Turtledove, “Master of Alternate History,” comes a tale of minor league baseball set in an alternate Great Depression America full of wild magic

NEW FROM TOR.COM:

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

Searching for clues about her best friend’s mysterious suicide, Danielle ventures to the squatter, utopian town of Freedom, Iowa, and witnesses a protector spirit — in the form of a blood-red, three-antlered deer — begin to turn on its summoners. She and her new friends have to act fast if they’re going to save the town — or get out alive.

NEW IN MANGA:

Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of Devil Vol. 5 Story by Yun Kouga; Art by Sunao Minakata

Shomin Sample: I Was Abducted by an Elite All-Girls School as a Sample Commoner Vol. 6 Story by Nanatsuki Takafumi; Art by Risumai href=”https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250796172/thefirstbinding” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>The First Binding by R. R. Virdi-1#1: The First Binding by R. R. Virdi

Volume one of R. R. Virdi’s new Tales of Tremaine series, The First Binding, is a fresh face on the “books large enough to qualify as a two-hand weapon” scene. With 832 pages of epic fantasy contained within, The First Binding is professionally rated to block everything from sword-strikes to gamma lasers, and is guaranteed to OHKO any mortal-class adversary. Use this book to win your next grudge match, and then dive into this exciting and expansive new series with all the time you’ve saved by making it your go-to armament for close combat. Find the paperback in stores now!

#2: Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Weighing in at a hefty 1232 pages, this latest installment in the Stormlight Archive will be sure to beat up your feelings while bludgeoning your enemies. Follow the Knights Radiant to war as tactical subterfuge, political maneuvering, and scientific innovation collide to change the very shape of Roshar’s future. For conducting guerilla warfare and internal sabotage in an occupied tower, the hardcover will be sure to deal maximum damage. For a stealth invasion of said tower, we suggest utilizing the paperback for its dexterity and flexibility. Find the paperback in stores now!

#3: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

Book three of the Stormlight Archive actually outweighs book 4, coming in at an impressive 1248 pages. Add some psychic damage to your bludgeoning attack by shouting “YOU CANNOT HAVE MY PAIN” at your foes in time-honored Kholin tradition while hurling this brick.

#4: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Fervent collectors of Stormlight hardcover editions noticed that Words of Radiance, despite only having 1088 pages, is actually quite a bit chunkier than Oathbringer. This is because the paper weight dropped from a 45# stock to a 35# stock between printings (we could go on about book production and paper weight, but we’ll spare you for now). At any rate, this book lives up to its working title, The Book of Endless Pages, and comes pre-equipped with the best one-liner in the series (so far): “Honor is dead, but I’ll see what I can do.”

#5: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini 

You thought we were going to go all the way with Stormlight titles, didn’t you? We thought about it, but decided to branch out to Christopher Paolini’s debut adult novel, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. This galaxy-spanning odyssey of first contact and apocalypse earns its hefty page-count with its complexity and scope, and yes, if you were wondering, it outweighs each of the Eragon books at 880 pages. Bonus: you can also get it in paperback to realize your dual-wielding potential!

exordia by seth dickinson#6: Exordia by Seth Dickinson

Clocking in at a chonkin’ 544 pages, Exordia by Seth Dickinson is a double-edged threat as a bludgeoning weapon. Not only will it physically clobber you with it’s rounds-up-to-quadruple-digits page count, but this book will also emotionally destroy you. This book will wreck you body and soul, and for that reason demands to be read.

#7: Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

The longest book in the Wheel of Time series, we think this book could also be a strong contender for any therapeutic smashin’ you might need (goodness knows Rand could use some therapeutic smashin’ throughout this book). But if you’re new to the Wheel of Time series, we recommend starting with the first book, The Eye of the World. We know that media tie-in covers can be somewhat divisive, but with the new edition of The Eye of the World coming in at 784 pages, it is an undisputed tome and thus highly suitable for a spot of bludgeoning when necessary.

the ruin of kings by jenn lyons#8: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Come see the book that Lev Grossman called “rich, cruel, gorgeous, brilliant, enthralling and deeply, deeply satisfying” — much like how you will both look and feel if you come to a book fight prepared with Jenn Lyons. With all five of the Chorus of Dragons series on hand, you’ll be well-stocked for either hurling or bludgeoning, or just curling up in a corner and reading all 2,784 pages (cumulative!) while the melee rages about you.

#9: Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Clocking in at only 608 pages, this series-ender makes up for its lower page count with its absolutely badass title. We recommend this book for the aura of awe it will generate in your foes, along with its special Area-of-Effect abilities of inducing existential dread in your opponents and cautious hope in your allies.

#10: Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

At a respectable 512 pages, Harrow is well-suited to fighters of smaller statures, delicate wrists, and a deeply murderous streak. Seriously, look me in the eyes and tell me that you wouldn’t bring a necromancer to a fight.

#11: Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

“But wait,” you say. “This is a novella, with only a measly 128 pages!” you scoff. “How can this be a good bludgeoning weapon?” you laugh.

Just as there is a time and a place for every door-stopping saga, one must never underestimate the lethal capabilities of a well-crafted novella, and Cassandra Khaw’s latest is an exquisite weapon for the task. Lyrical, unflinching, dreadful, and vicious, Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a haunted-house novella perfectly-matched for those who are both courageous and deadly. A few well-placed bonks with this novella at high speed might just win your fight, and that book jacket alone may be enough to terrify most opponents into submission.

#12: Dawnshard by Brandon Sanderson

We’re not done with Sanderson yet! With Dawnshard’s upcoming release for the first time in hardcover, it felt right to finish this list where we began — with the Stormlight Archive. At a petite 4.25” x 6.7” (and a healthy… 304 pages), Dawnshard may be small but it packs a punch. Its size makes it the perfect handbag bludgeoning weapon, featuring finely-tapered print-over-board corners and some truly earth-shattering Cosmere reveals. And come on — wouldn’t you want the Lopen by your side in a fight?

Disclaimer: Tor does not actually encourage you to use your books as bludgeoning weapons. Please consider deploying your house slipper instead, as we cannot issue replacements should your copy become tragically stained by cockroach innards.

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Sneak Peek: Enhanced by Carrie Jones

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The adventures of cheerleader-turned-alien-hunter Mana continue in this sequel to Flying by the New York Times bestselling author of Need, Carrie Jones.

Seventeen-year-old Mana has found and rescued her mother, but her work isn’t done yet. Her mother may be out of alien hands, but she’s in a coma, unable to tell anyone what she knows.

Mana is ready to take action. The only problem? Nobody will let her. Lyle, her best friend and almost-boyfriend (for a minute there, anyway), seems to want nothing to do with hunting aliens, despite his love of Doctor Who. Bestie Seppie is so desperate to stay out of it, she’s actually leaving town. And her mom’s hot but arrogant alien-hunting partner, China, is ignoring Mana’s texts, cutting her out of the mission entirely.

They all know the alien threat won’t stay quiet for long. It’s up to Mana to fight her way back in.

Enhanced will become available October 17th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter 1

The town has been emptied. When you walk down the street, you meet nobody, nothing, except for the bees buzzing hopelessly in the air, the beetles scuttling across the cracked sidewalks. Nothing seems to matter to the bugs or the wind; they just keep on keeping on. The sky above me is dark, tornado brown and hopeless. The debris the humans left is picked up and spun on.

It’s my dream nightmare.

I’ve had it every night since my mother has been in the hospital. It haunts me in the daytime too. This dream of a future Earth with no humans, this dream of a future earth inhabited only by aliens and beetles and bees . . . I can’t let it be real.

I am terrified it will be real.

I am terrified that I won’t have a chance to stop it.

Human beings like to think that we are the most important species to ever exist, the top of the food chain, the most dangerous predator. There is safety in that. Even as we mourn how awful we are as a species, we can breathe a sigh of relief that though we are awful, we are still safe in that awfulness. Humans don’t feel threatened by dolphins. We don’t worry that rabbits will attack our phalanx, split our defensive line, capture us, and then roast us on a spit. Our homes aren’t threatened by roving bands of manatees bent on our annihilation.

We trust that we are safe. We trust that our biggest threat is each other.

That trust is a lie.

There are much bigger things squelching, stomping, and fluttering about. There are much bigger threats than us humans. Without our weapons, we are a pretty weak species. Our skin breaks and tears. Our minds twist and explode. Our lungs can only bring in so much air. Our muscles can get us to run just barely fast enough—even Olympians can’t run fast enough—to escape the threat that approaches us.

And then there is me. There are four facts in the story of Mana Trent.

I am a weapon.

My mother loves me.

My mother is not my biological mother.

My whole life is a lie, a story.

I am a weapon that aliens originally planned to use to infiltrate the humans from within, but I was rescued by my mother, a government-endorsed alien hunter turned rogue, and she created a fabricated life for me before she was kidnapped and shot and spiraled into a coma, which is where she is now—in a coma in a hospital. It is where she has been for weeks and weeks. Now, I’m waiting to be used, to be helpful, for word from the agency she worked for that they need me. So far? Nothing.

The world of desolation, of bees and wind and beetles? It could happen.

This is what I’m thinking about on a freaking freezing day in December. And these thoughts swirl around in my head so fiercely that I forget to answer half the questions on my world history test and instead just doodle all over the margins: WHO AM I? WHAT AM I? WHO DO I TRUST?

My best friend Seppie has passed in her test early and sits back at her desk texting or checking out the cheerleaderswhorock Tumblr tag or something. Her parents are doctors, normal and brilliant and human. They deal with systemic racism and microagression with grace and humor, the same way Seppie does. They are the sort of people you want to belong to—smart and funny and perfect in their imperfections.

The bell rings. A dog races outside the classroom window, infinitely more fascinating than the test I should be focusing on. Clouds loom above the dog, thick and gray, heavy with snow that is ready to fall. A front must be coming through, a change in the weather pattern. I shudder.

“Turn your tests in!” our student teacher calls. Her name is Mrs. Horton. We call her Mrs. Horton Hears a Who a lot.

My paper is terribly lacking in answers, kind of like my life. Standing up, I sigh. Seppie nudges me with her bag. “You okay?”

“I feel lost,” I tell her.

She pats my arm. Already, Ms. Efficient has packed up her laptop, phone, books, and world history textbook, which weighs eight thousand pounds, while I’m still struggling to get my actual test paper to the teacher’s desk.

“I’m sure your mom will wake up soon,” she says.

“It’s not just that.” My head aches.

“Ms. Trent! Kindly stop asking your friend for the answers and turn in your test.” Our teacher, Mr. Boland, is not normally quite so much a pain. He is today.

“I—I–” I can’t even get a word out.

And I don’t honestly have to speak because while I’m just standing there stuttering and mortified that he thought I might have been cheating, Seppie has whipped my test paper out of my shaking hand and strides to the teacher’s desk. She slams it down. Her biceps are definitely looking stronger lately. She has started taking Krav Maga, this Israeli self-defense system designed for the country’s special forces.

“I hope you seriously were not implying that Mana was cheating, Mr. Boland, or that I would help her cheat, because that sort of besmirchment of my character does not suit me nor you.” Her hands fly to her hips. “Do I make myself clear?”

He coughs and flattens my paper on the stack of other tests. “Perfectly.”

She gives him a glare-down. He looks like a bully that’s been beaten up in an alley and I swear if he could turn tail, run, and hide right now, he would. Instead he just pivots to the left, pivots back, his hands go up almost into a V stance, and he adds, “No insult meant.”

Everyone remaining in class is silent, standing there, stopped, as we wait for Seppie’s reaction.

Finally, she says, “None taken, but you need to apologize to Mana here. She’s not the best test taker but she’s no cheater. Are you, Mana?”

“No, never,” I mumble. I don’t mumble because it’s a lie. It isn’t. It’s the truth. I mumble because I’m so horrified.

He laughs nervously. “All set then. Everyone have a lovely day. Try not to be late for class.”

As we walk out of the room, Seppie drips disdain. “‘Try not to be late for class?’ Witness Mr. Needs to Assert His Authority.” But as soon as we’re out in the hallway and nobody is listening she says, “Sometimes I think you like failing tests.”

“Favorite thing in the world,” I quip, taking out my phone and checking if there is any communication from China in response to my million texts to him about helping him save the world, or at least humanity. There is nothing.

China is my mother’s former partner. He has promised me that I can help him try to locate all these parts in some sort of machine that aliens are making to destroy people. He is arrogant and wears sunglasses a lot and is secretly kind beneath his tough-guy exterior. He is also ignoring my texts.

Seppie yanks the phone out of my hand and scrolls through my unreplied-to texts. She sighs. “How many texts have you sent him?”

“Three a day,” I admit. “For a month and a half at least. How long has it been?”

“Fifty-six days.” Handing back the phone, she cocks her head toward me, chin down. This is Seppie’s sad posture. It’s the same way she looked when we lost the cheerleading state championship in eighth grade because Doreen Dwyer forgot to do a back hand spring and then later fell out of a simple prep and elevator. We lost by a point. Seppie never forgave her. And then there was the time Seppie did not get a perfect 2400 on her SATs and got a 2390 instead. I couldn’t talk to her for a week. Nobody could. Lyle and I eventually sat her down for an intervention that involved binge-watching Scream Queens and lots of chocolate ice cream.

I feel like I would get a full-on Seppie lecture about seeming desperate in texts and how you should never act too needy, except that she has class now and we’ve come to the intersection in the hallway where we always part.

She gives me a tiny hug. “Listen. Some things are just not meant to be. Maybe it just isn’t your destiny to save the world. It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Her words sting. I stiffen even though I’m being hugged. “I don’t have any other destiny. I’m supposed to be helping them.”

“Sweetie, if they wanted your help, I think they would have texted you back by now.” Her words stay in the air for a second and thud to the floor, hard and heavy things. She lets go of me, hug over.

“I know you think I can’t help—”

“This is an alien versus humanity thing, Mana. This is war.” Seppie’s voice is low but insistent.

“I know it’s a war.”

“Why do you have to be a part of it? There’s no reason you have to go through all that again. Your mom is in the hospital.”

“I know that.”

“Your dad is missing.”

“I know that!” I talk over her. “That’s why I have to do something. Don’t you get it?”

“No. I don’t. You can stay here, right here, and be safe.”

“There is no safe. Come on, Seppie. You know that now. There are people like my mom and China laying down their lives for us—these . . . these silent heroes—and I have to be a part of that. I can’t not be a part of that. I can’t do any less than that. You’ve seen what I can do.”

I want to keep arguing, but her words hurt and I say nothing else as her face shifts from sympathetic Seppie to an expression that I’ve never seen before.

“I—um—I got into a special camp,” she says out of nowhere. “It’s sort of a pre-med, pre-college thing for people who want to be doctors.”

She’s leaving me? Now?

The floor is suddenly super-attractive and I want to stare at it, but instead I manage to rally and throw myself into Seppie in a congratulatory hug. “Really? I am so happy for you! When? Where?”

“Soon. I—um—I’m probably going to miss some school.” She hugs me back and whispers into my hair, “You sure it’s okay? I feel weird leaving you.”

This seems sudden and for a second I don’t trust her, which is ridiculous. I mean, I trust my friends, but I keep expecting her to shake her head and make the sign of the cross and tell me she’s not up for all the weirdness and danger that are my life now. She hasn’t, though. I have to give her that.

I give her an extra-tight squeeze and try to talk through the lump of sadness that has lodged itself in my throat. “Of course! I’m a big girl. I can handle myself without my best friend for a week or so. Right?”

She breaks the hug, but keeps her long arm wrapped over my shoulder. “Of course you can. You can do anything, Mana. You just have to put your mind to it.”

“Thanks, life coach,” I quip.

“Best friends are often life coaches.”

“Sure, if their advice is ‘go kiss that cute guy over there,’ or ‘yes, climb out the window so we can sneak into some twenty-one-and-over club.’” Laughing makes it better, but the reality sets in again. “How long will you be gone?”

“A week or two. The details are still being worked out.” She cringes. “I won’t be here to cheer for a bit, but I’ll be back in time for Districts.”

I try to process it all, but it just makes me sadder. “Wait. When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“It’s been very last minute, rush-rush,” she says, but her voice doesn’t ring 100 percent true. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

She folds me into another quick hug and lets go. She doesn’t scrutinize my face because she knows me well enough to predict that I won’t be able to hide my sadness. Neither of us wants that.

“Try to have all your life crises internally when I’m gone, okay? All your big questions? Just stand by on figuring them out, and try not to have any big external emergencies! You know what I mean, right?” she shouts over her shoulder as she disappears into the classroom.

And the crap thing about it is not just that I have failed my world history test, but that the answers to those questions that were spiraling around in my head throughout the exam suck. Who am I? I will never know. What am I? Some sort of experimented-on freak. Who do I trust?

It has been weeks and we haven’t looked for anything at all.

So, yeah, these were the things that I was thinking about instead of answering why governments in the Middle East back in ancient times weren’t centralized or why pre-Columbian civilizations were similar to classical Greece. Clue: It’s all about the city-states, which I knew, but I was too distracted to answer.

I barely held it together when I stared at those blank spaces. And then Mr. Boland was such an ass, accusing me of cheating.

“Mana?” Mrs. Horton is notoriously wine-loving, which you can tell from the red veins in her eyes, but she is also notoriously kind, and I know she can tell that I’m upset, thanks to the blank piece of paper Seppie turned in for me and my currently shaking hands. She comes around from the other side of the hall. “Are you doing okay?”

I nod stiffly. I don’t trust my voice. I’m not good when people are kind to me or when they ask about my mother.

“How is your mother doing?” she asks, right on cue.

I freeze. There are kids behind me. I will not lose it. I drop my bag. Stuff falls out all over the floor.

“She’s the same,” I lie. She is the same physically—still in a coma—but she is not the mother, the quiet, demure, non-alien-hunting mother, that I thought she was for all the years of my growing up. “I’m sorry about the test.”

I squat to pick up my things and Mrs. Horton helps.

Her face squishes up a bit as she studies my face and then her attention focuses on the other students streaming pass me down the hallway. She hands me my world history book. “We can talk about this later.”

My F.

We can talk about my F is what she means.

“Okay,” I say and scurry off. Now that my pen and stuff are back in my bag, I escape down the hallway without making eye contact with anyone and head toward lunch, but I completely do not want to go to lunch. I want to cry, because seriously? Seppie leaving after I’ve failed my world history exam is the final straw in the Mana Entrance to Nervous Breakdown Land. I don’t want to whine, but I’m already dealing with a lot of world-changing crap, which includes trying to keep the entire human race from dying without my actually doing anything. It seems ironic that the class I’d be failing would be world history. Soon, there may be no humans left who will care about world history.

I start texting China—just one more time.

“Mana!” Seppie’s voice calls after me and she runs down the now empty hallway. I’m not sure why she’s left class and whatever she was going to say is forgotten once she sees my phone in my hand. “Are you really texting him again?” She takes a step back, exhaling, probably remembering how I stopped bullets midflight, knocked men and women down simply by the crazy anger that happened in my mind after I had some caffeinated Coke. “It is not up to you to save the world, Mana. You have nothing to prove.”

The bell rings.

“It’s not about me.”

She taps my phone with her perfect fingernail. “Stop texting. It makes you seem desperate.”

She pivots away even as I yell after her, “But I am desperate.”

The hallways are empty. And I need to go somewhere or else I’ll get a detention for loitering.

So, I bomb into the bathroom in the foreign-language wing. This is the bathroom nobody ever uses because it smells like dead mice and Clorox bleach wipes all at once. I smash open a stall with my fist, all macho and stuff, ready to hunker down on the toilet and cry in an un-macho way . . . but there she is, standing on top of the toilet paper holder, ruining my plans.

“What—?” I start to speak but my words sort of strangle in my throat. I’ve never seen this girl before. She balances on that tiny perch with just one bare foot. Her toes, not her toenails, are yellow. They match her hair.

She puts her finger to her normal-colored lips. She appears human, but she’s not—even I can tell that. “Shh . . .”

“What?” I point at my chest. “Me?”

Her head bobs this way and that. She cocks it to the side like a dog does, listening. “Shh . . .”

“But what? Why am I shh-ing?”

Reaching out, she yanks me into the stall, hauling me up in the air in a swift, easy movement. I dangle there. She uses her free foot to slowly nudge the stall door shut. Yep. Definitely not human.

“You might want to lock it . . . the door, I mean,” I whisper when I remember how to talk again.

Her eyes widen and she says in a deep croak, “Good idea.”

With a quick release and grab, she shifts her point of contact with me to the back of my sweater, which panics me slightly because I don’t want it to rip. My mom is in the hospital, my dad is missing, and I’m a bit low on funds so I can’t ruin all my clothes unless I want to suddenly pretend to be Goodwill chic. I’m not quite ready for that commitment yet. Even as she pulls the catch-and-release-and-catch maneuver, the alien girl pushes the latch of the door shut with her big, yellow toe. Peppermint swirls suddenly appear on her yellow toenails, which is absolutely amazing, and I would love to find out who did that because I am in dire need of cool toenails.

“Your nails,” I whisper, “are adorable.”

She actually smiles. Her teeth are normal like a human’s. Just then the door to the bathroom creaks opens and her grin disappears into a determined line. She puts her finger to her lips, but she doesn’t have to tell me. I know enough to be quiet.

The whole feel of the bathroom changes. Tension fills the air. Whatever has just stepped in here with us is most certainly not human.

All the alien girl’s muscles quiver as if in anticipation of a fight. Her nostrils twitch. The stall door, marred with beautiful graffiti illustrating in black ink a bum having an explosive poop, keeps us from seeing who or what just came into the bathroom with us. I check above the compartment’s walls. There’s no drop ceiling to escape through. We can hardly dive through the toilet and into the pipes. We are stuck in the tiny space, stuck, waiting. Fear pushes my heart into overdrive.

Something is with us.

Don’t check in here. Don’t check in here. The words flop around inside my head like a prayer. Don’t check in here. Don’t check . . .

No sound fills the bathroom. This is obviously weird all by itself. People don’t come in the bathroom and just stand there doing nothing. They wash their hands or use the toilet or open their purse and get stuff out to brush their hair or smoke something illegal or pop pills or gossip, but they never, ever just come in the bathroom and make no sound.

The alien girl tenses.

I tense, too.

I’m afraid to breathe.

I can’t believe I’m even trusting my life and safety to an alien girl I haven’t met before. However, she does have nice toenails. Lyle says I am too trusting. Lyle is my other best friend besides Seppie, and we kissed once and it was beautiful, but now we’re both dealing with identity issues since he’s turned out to be an alien and we’re also dealing with absent mothers. Mine is hospitalized. His is jailed. Still, he’s probably eating in the cafeteria right now, safe and full. My brain is babbling.

Something is with us, something bad.

The girl gives me Be quiet! eyes, even though I didn’t say anything. A spider crawls across the top of the bathroom stall door. Two seconds later a giant tongue curls up around it and then disappears, trapping the spider and sucking it away. The world smells of moldy bread and death. Fear gags me.

Maybe, I think, it won’t notice we’re here.

Maybe, I think, we should run.

In the next second, everything goes straight to hell.

The stall door slams open. The lock turns out to be a flimsy, useless thing against the force of the creature on the door’s other side.

Standing there, it appraises us for half a second.

It’s monstrous, large, and green, like you imagine orcs or trolls from fairy tale books. Only there are four eyes on its head instead of two, and its head is long and pointy and strangely undersize on top of its enormously muscled shoulders.

I study it, looking for a weakness, a something, a way to escape. Instead I freeze.

It is naked.

So grossly naked.

But I can’t tell if it’s male or female? Or both?

“How did it even get in here?” I yell. I scream a swear word. Luckily, the walls in this part of the building are five thousand years old (not really) and thick. I don’t think anyone can hear anything coming from a bathroom or another classroom, ever. I hope not, at least. I don’t want anyone else coming in here and getting hurt. I swear again.

The alien girl matches my curse and jumps straight up into the air, hauling me with her and then moving sideways a couple feet. “Tuck your legs!”

I do and we vault to the next stall, where she lands perfectly on another toilet paper holder. There’s no time to say anything or even breathe, because the monster thing moves to that stall, too. Its tongue flicks out toward us.

“Again!” she yells and jumps back to our original stall, even as she yells the word.

It may be big, but it isn’t stupid, and it’s right there behind us.

I smash-kick the door at the thing’s face. The door hits its nose, but bounces right back open. Alien girl lets out some impossible groan and the monster’s tongue lashes out again. We move up and over. This time she lands in the toilet. Her naked foot falls into the bowl, which is disgusting and horrible. A hard cracking noise fills the stall. She drops me and cries out. I try to yank her up.

She shakes her head. “It’s broken.”

Broken. Her foot? The toilet? It doesn’t matter. What matters is surviving.

“How do we fight it?” I ask. “How?”

Before she can answer, there it is again at the door. It towers over us, a hulking, naked form.

I have no weapons, just my Hello Kitty backpack, but there are books in it. I rip it open and yank out my world history book. I throw it as hard as I can at the creature’s face. It makes impact. The thing grunts and lashes its tongue out toward me. The alien girl lunges sideways, her foot still stuck in the toilet. The tongue wraps around her waist. The force is enough to free her from the toilet, but it also makes a sickening noise like all her internal organs have been crushed and flattened.

“Run!” Her eyes bulge as the creature yanks her closer to its mouth. “You idiot! Run, Mana!”

She knows my name. She also knows I am a bit of an idiot.

“Mana! Go!”

She tried to protect me from this . . . this thing . . . And of course, everyone has been ignoring me and yet, here I am, fighting aliens in the grossest bathroom at school, and none of my friends is backing me up. Just the poor alien girl.

There’s no way in hell I’m going to leave her here and run away. Anger makes my head vibrate. Yanking the toilet seat off the toilet, I try not to think about germs and bacteria from poop and vomit and stuff, and instead rush forward right at the creature. Its mouth seems toothless but full of sucker-like things. I smash the toilet seat into it, just above the tongue, pushing as hard as I can. The creature’s arm smacks me backward and I’m airborne before my side slams into the wall by the sinks. It takes me a second, but only a second, before adrenaline and pure rage have me rushing forward again.

“Don’t hurt her!” I yell.

The ugly alien starts sputtering and coughing, and the alien girl is not in its mouth, which is good. I grab the world history book and jump up to smoosh it into the thing’s mouth, too, just above the toilet seat, which thankfully is still lodged in there.

“Eat history, butt head.” I mutter this like I’m some kind of badass myself, but I’m shaking, not a badass; not just angry, but terrified.

His tongue tries to get back into his mouth.

I have given it a gender affiliation.

I rip open the garbage bin and shove the rounded, metal top into his mouth, too.

“Girl! Are you okay?” I shout.

There’s a grunt from somewhere, but I can’t focus on that now, can’t take my attention off the alien.

The eyes turn to examine me and then they pulsate and bulge, pupils widening and twitching before all four of them roll into his head. He falls, grabbing onto me. We tumble down to the tiled floor, hitting hard. Pain billows through my arm, my knee, but it’s not a forever-pain, more like I’ve landed in a bad back twist and wrenched a muscle.

Two seconds later, I have scrambled out from beneath the wretched thing’s arm and I’m trying to find the alien girl. She’s on the other side of his gasping, twitching body. I have to clamber over him to reach her. She’s an odd bluish-yellow color, even for an alien. I unwrap the tongue from the center of her torso, ignoring its sliminess, and lift up her shirt a bit to inspect the damage.

Everywhere the tongue touched, her skin has turned blackish purple. I must gasp or something, because she shakes her head. The alien beast from Shrek Gone Wrong Land has stopped moving.

“You have taken its life journey,” she whispers, “and it has taken my life journey from me.”

I start to protest but she grimaces and reaches into the pocket of her pants. “I was bringing this to you. That is why . . . I’m here. And to warn you. They are trying to kill you and all like you. The Samyaza. They know you are here now. He is proof . . .”

Her voice pauses and stops. It is a hoarse whisper, a last vocalization. My heart breaks for her and when she reaches her hand out to me, it trembles.

“Take it,” she insists. “Please.”

I grab a black crystal from her hand. It looks like it’s made up of chunks of tiny rectangles all latched together somehow, and it shines and reflects light like police officers’ sunglasses in old movies. The stone pushes against my skin like it wants to hide in my palm, to just run away from the death, the bathroom, the world. It feels . . . happy, safe, good. I wrap my fingers around it. It just fits.

“Don’t let anyone see it. Don’t let anyone have it. Don’t tell anyone. It will help you locate the others. You must keep it safe. She trusts you—” She loses her ability to talk for a second and her eyes close. “She wants you to—”

“No . . . hey . . . Stay here . . . I need to thank you. I need you to be okay . . . And . . . open your eyes,” I beg her, forgetting about the crystal the moment I place it on the floor next to her.

There is still movement beneath the lids. That has to be a good sign.

“We have to get you help,” I say. I grab her hands in mine. They are blackening even as I hold them. The color spreads like spilled watercolor paint, taking over her skin. “I can call China, maybe? They must have a way to help you.”

“No. You can’t tell anyone. Not even him.”

“You aren’t with them? Isn’t that why you’re here? To activate me? Make me an agent?”

“You aren’t some weapon to be activated, Mana. Remember that. You are a living being. A soul. With choices.” Bluish liquid drips out of her mouth and she convulses. Once. Twice. Her eyes open and lack lucidity, but then they refocus, right on me. “Your destiny is not to be used by others. That is a big lie. It is a lie you can choose, but not a lie that you might want . . .” A gurgle obscures her words. She keeps talking through it and I’ve lost what the lie is. “ . . . and Pierce says you can be trusted. She says you are kind.”

Pierce! Pierce was the alien who worked with my mom and China. We thought she died. Nobody has talked to her since we left her defending a compound against some aliens.

“Is Pierce alive? Is she okay? Is she with China?”

The alien starts to answer but instead of words, another gurgling noise comes out of her mouth. “No more talking!” I wipe at her face with some paper towels that are on the floor. “We have to get you help. Now. No arguing.”

“My organs are crushed,” she says. “It is not your fault. I should have been better—faster. That toilet. . . . So sorry . . .”

“You were great. You jumped over the stalls and you had the best balance, and your toenails—” The words burble out even as my stomach twists with worry and sorrow. There’s no way that I can save her.

“You are a sweet girl, Mana. Please, take the crystal. Don’t let anyone know. They will want it. Use it to find the rest. The link. They are there.”

“The rest of what?”

Her eyes open. “It will help you find other enh—”

And then she is gone. Her words stop. Her breath stops. Her eyes don’t move. Her hands in mine are heavy weights.

“Don’t go,” I whisper. “Please, I like you. And you know things. Please . . . Don’t go.”

But there is no point in begging, because she is already gone.

Copyright © 2017 by Carrie Jones

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Why You Want a Cheerleader To Be There To Fight Aliens With You

Flying by Carrie JonesWritten by Carrie Jones

  1.  Remember Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? She was a cheerleader and came back from the dead, slayed demons, and still knew the importance of friends. Yes. She was a fictional character, and occasionally sulky and a control freak, but that’s what happens when you face multiple apocalypses while trading quips.
  2.  If Rick Grimes was a cheerleader, the Walking Dead would be much more fun. Think: Back tuck decapitations. Think: Staddle jumps of doom. Plus, better hair.
  3.  On that same thread of thought, cheerleaders are great motivators. It’s what they do. They build support amongst the team members even when that team is losing 100-3 in the third quarter of the state class b basketball game. You want that kind of attitude when you’re battling an apocalyptic situation involving aliens, don’t you? Yes. You do. You don’t want an Eeyore beside you when you’re fighting aliens.
  4.  Strong calves. The world is better with strong calves.
  5.  Brains. Most cheerleaders have better than a B grade point average. What does that mean? It means cheerleaders can think and concentrate and do well on standardized tests. I told you to push aside the stereotypes. The dumb cheerleader? That’s a rare creature. Sort of like Big Foot. You think they are all over the place, but it turns out that it was just a lot of bros hanging out in furry suits they bought on Amazon when they were bored.
  6.  Fighting aliens is going to take athletic prowess. Cheerleaders are astonishingly good athletes. They hoist people over their heads. Think about that. DO NOT TRY IT YOURSELF! Just think about it. That’s strength. They have to be flexible. They have to do tumbling runs, dances, cheers, and yell things all at the same time. They train for this. You want them on your side. Believe me.
  7.  They are used to danger. Cheering requires tumbling. Tumbling means doing back hand springs, round-offs into back tucks. It means throwing the physical mass that is your own living body into these weird upside down positions that bodies are not safe to go into.
  8.  They are used to danger. Yes, this is here twice. Have you ever stood in front of a couple hundred angry fans of an opposing team and still yelled, “Blue. White. Blue. White. Let’s fight?” Probably not, unless you are a cheerleader. You have to stay peppy even when people throw hotdogs at you. Hotdogs can be dangerous. Aliens, too, are dangerous.
  9.  They are used to danger. Yep, this is three times. Cheerleaders do these things called ‘stunts.’ They are called stunts for a reason. That reason is defined by Merriam-Webster as “An unusual or difficult feat requiring great skill or daring.” What happens if you don’t have that great skill? You get hurt. Cheerleaders build pyramids of bodies. They stand on one leg sometimes and grab their foot behind them. They fling each other into the air in basket tosses and catch each other. This is bad ass. There’s no other way to say it, honestly. It’s just bad ass.
  10.  They know how to work as a team. You can’t do a stunt by yourself. Well, not very well. Cheerleaders know how to work in a group, how to play to their skills, how to fight together. Believe me. If aliens kidnap your mom, you want a cheerleader to have your back. They are used to catching bodies that are being flung around, spotting each other in case there is danger, and not even breaking a sweat.

So, yeah, if you’re building an alien apocalypse team, add cheerleader to your list. Trust me. You won’t regret it.

Order Your Copy

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(This is a rerun of a post that originally ran on July 19, 2016.)

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Why You Want a Cheerleader To Be There To Fight Aliens With You

Flying by Carrie JonesWritten by Carrie Jones

  1.  Remember Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? She was a cheerleader and came back from the dead, slayed demons, and still knew the importance of friends. Yes. She was a fictional character, and occasionally sulky and a control freak, but that’s what happens when you face multiple apocalypses while trading quips.
  2.  If Rick Grimes was a cheerleader, the Walking Dead would be much more fun. Think: Back tuck decapitations. Think: Staddle jumps of doom. Plus, better hair.
  3.  On that same thread of thought, cheerleaders are great motivators. It’s what they do. They build support amongst the team members even when that team is losing 100-3 in the third quarter of the state class b basketball game. You want that kind of attitude when you’re battling an apocalyptic situation involving aliens, don’t you? Yes. You do. You don’t want an Eeyore beside you when you’re fighting aliens.
  4.  Strong calves. The world is better with strong calves.
  5.  Brains. Most cheerleaders have better than a B grade point average. What does that mean? It means cheerleaders can think and concentrate and do well on standardized tests. I told you to push aside the stereotypes. The dumb cheerleader? That’s a rare creature. Sort of like Big Foot. You think they are all over the place, but it turns out that it was just a lot of bros hanging out in furry suits they bought on Amazon when they were bored.
  6.  Fighting aliens is going to take athletic prowess. Cheerleaders are astonishingly good athletes. They hoist people over their heads. Think about that. DO NOT TRY IT YOURSELF! Just think about it. That’s strength. They have to be flexible. They have to do tumbling runs, dances, cheers, and yell things all at the same time. They train for this. You want them on your side. Believe me.
  7.  They are used to danger. Cheering requires tumbling. Tumbling means doing back hand springs, round-offs into back tucks. It means throwing the physical mass that is your own living body into these weird upside down positions that bodies are not safe to go into.
  8.  They are used to danger. Yes, this is here twice. Have you ever stood in front of a couple hundred angry fans of an opposing team and still yelled, “Blue. White. Blue. White. Let’s fight?” Probably not, unless you are a cheerleader. You have to stay peppy even when people throw hotdogs at you. Hotdogs can be dangerous. Aliens, too, are dangerous.
  9.  They are used to danger. Yep, this is three times. Cheerleaders do these things called ‘stunts.’ They are called stunts for a reason. That reason is defined by Merriam-Webster as “An unusual or difficult feat requiring great skill or daring.” What happens if you don’t have that great skill? You get hurt. Cheerleaders build pyramids of bodies. They stand on one leg sometimes and grab their foot behind them. They fling each other into the air in basket tosses and catch each other. This is bad ass. There’s no other way to say it, honestly. It’s just bad ass.
  10.  They know how to work as a team. You can’t do a stunt by yourself. Well, not very well. Cheerleaders know how to work in a group, how to play to their skills, how to fight together. Believe me. If aliens kidnap your mom, you want a cheerleader to have your back. They are used to catching bodies that are being flung around, spotting each other in case there is danger, and not even breaking a sweat.

So, yeah, if you’re building an alien apocalypse team, add cheerleader to your list. Trust me. You won’t regret it.

Buy Flying here:

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New Releases: 7/19/16

Here’s what went on sale today!

Flying by Carrie Jones

Flying by Carrie JonesPeople have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. As her mother’s babying gets more stifling than ever, she’s looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while. But that night, Mana’s life goes haywire. First, the hot guy she’s been crushing on at school randomly flips out and starts spitting acid during the game. Then they get into a knockdown, drag-out fight in the locker room, during which Mana finds herself leaping around like a kangaroo on steroids. It turns out, Mana’s frumpy, timid mom is actually an alien hunter, and now she’s missing–taking a piece of technology with her that everyone wants their hands on, both human and alien. Now her supposed partner, a guy that Mana has never met or heard of (and who seems way too young and way too arrogant to be hunting aliens), has shown up, ordering Mana to come with him. Now, on her own for the first time, Mana will have to find a way to save her mother–and maybe the world–and hope she’s up to the challenge.

The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

The Shattered Lens by Brandon SandersonThe Shattered Lens is the fourth action-packed fantasy adventure in the Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians series for young readers by the #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson. These fast-paced and funny novels are now available in deluxe hardcover editions illustrated by Hayley Lazo. Alcatraz Smedry is up against a whole army of Evil Librarians with only his friend Bastille, a few pairs of glasses, and an unlimited supply of exploding teddy bears to help him. This time, even Alcatraz’s extraordinary talent for breaking things may not be enough to defeat the army of Evil Librarians and their giant librarian robots.

NEW FROM TOR.COM:

Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson

Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson

Nightshades is a new gritty urban fantasy from Melissa F. Olson. Alex McKenna is the new Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago office of the Bureau of Paranormal Investigations—the division tasked with investigating crimes involving shades. Or vampires, as they’re more widely known. Children have been going missing, and agents are routinely being slaughtered. It’s up to McKenna, and some unlikely allies, to get to the bottom of the problem, and find the kids before it’s too late.

NOW IN PAPERBACK:

Looking Through Darkness by Aimée Thurlo and David Thurlo

Looking Through Darkness by Aimée Thurlo and David ThurloJosephine Buck runs a trading post just off the Navajo Reservation. Widow Leigh Ann Vance is Jo’s right-hand-woman, filling the emptiness in her own life. Shortly after her husband, Kurt, was killed, Leigh Ann discovered he had been having a string of affairs. Leigh Ann’s trust issues affect her feelings for blind sculptor Melvin Littlewater. Kurt’s business partners accuse Leigh Ann of helping Kurt embezzle and the police wonder if Leigh Ann killed him. When she turns to Melvin for help, she finds him fighting his own demons, haunted by memories of a young girl he saw moments before the car crash that cost him his sight. Together, Leigh Ann and Melvin delve into the darkest moments of their pasts, searching for truth and light.

NEW IN MANGA:

Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of Devil Vol. 4 by Yun Kouga

My Monster Secret Vol. 3 by Eiji Masuda

See upcoming releases.

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Sneak Peek: Flying by Carrie Jones

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Flying by Carrie Jones New York Times bestselling author Carrie Jones introduces sassy alien-hunting cheerleader Mana in Flying, the launch of a sparkling new YA Science Fiction series.

People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She’s used to being coddled, being an only child, but it’s hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother’s babying gets more stifling than ever, she’s looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while.

But that night, Mana’s life goes haywire.

First, the hot guy she’s been crushing on at school randomly flips out and starts spitting acid during the game. Then they get into a knockdown, drag-out fight in the locker room, during which Mana finds herself leaping around like a kangaroo on steroids. As a flyer on the cheerleading squad, she’s always been a good jumper, but this is a bit much. By the time she gets home and finds her house trashed and an alien in the garage, Mana starts to wonder if her mother had her reasons for being overprotective.

It turns out, Mana’s frumpy, timid mom is actually an alien hunter, and now she’s missing–taking a piece of technology with her that everyone wants their hands on, both human and alien. Now her supposed partner, a guy that Mana has never met or heard of (and who seems way too young and way too arrogant to be hunting aliens), has shown up, ordering Mana to come with him. Now, on her own for the first time, Mana will have to find a way to save her mother–and maybe the world–and hope she’s up to the challenge.

Flying will be available July 19th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

CHAPTER 1

I wake up scared. Chills shudder down my body and my mouth tastes bad, like old sandpaper mixed with—what? Spaghetti sauce? Diesel oil? Rancid sour cream? I shut my lips tightly and try not to smell or taste or breathe, just fall back asleep, but my heart beats too hard, too fast, too crazy quick from whatever nightmare it was that woke me. It feels like when Dakota Dunham goes ballistic on the bass drum when someone gets a three-pointer at a basketball game.

The moment I think of Dakota Dunham, I know it’s no use. I’m not going to fall back asleep. My hands are clutching my quilt as I open my eyes. My glow-in-the-dark stars have faded into the ceiling, which means it’s past midnight—way past midnight.

Something thuds downstairs. I reach out to turn my light on and then think better of it. Because what if it’s some sort of demonic serial killer who attacks the single women of Milford, New Hampshire? What if he’s down there right now, stepping past our little yellow love seat, making his way toward my mom’s bedroom? Maybe he wields a machete or a chain saw or has just claws for hands, or something else all stereotypical serial killer, and he’s heading straight for my mother’s bedroom, ready to …

I whisper, “Mom?”

No answer. I try to think of a weapon capable of fighting off a demonic serial killer. My iPod Nano? Hardly. My pom-poms? Pshaw. My lamp? That could work. I reach out and grasp the light stand. It’s heavy enough.

Then comes her voice. It travels upstairs to my bedroom, loud and pinched. “You better not try it!”

You better not try it?

That is not the sort of thing Mom normally says. She’s the kind of mom who acts like a church secretary. She mouses herself down, you know? No makeup. Baggy clothes. Quiet voice. It’s like she’s hiding from the world. Not that the world is even noticing or anything.

I try again. “Mom?”

No answer.

I let go of the lamp, pull the covers off, and haul myself out of bed. It is not easy. My mom says I’m a sound sleeper and a lazy waker. An oak tree once fell on our house during a blizzard; I slept right through.

Shuffling across the floor, I can’t see anything. My leg bashes into the edge of my dresser. Pain shrieks up and down my shin. Great. That’ll bruise and look lovely when I’m cheering. Fumbling for my doorknob, I find it and turn it, pulling the door open, and … Light! Horrible, awful light smashes into my eyes. My lids shut.

Moaning, I struggle to open them again, to adjust. Blink. Blink again. Okay. I stagger toward the stairs and pad down them. The runner on the steps bristles against my naked toes.

“I am serious!” Mom yells.

I make it to the bottom of the stairs and wait there a second. The front door window shows a world of blackness. Mom stands in the middle of the living room. Her narrow back quivers with emotion. She’s not in her pajamas even. She is still wearing the same long, hippie skirt and sweater she had on earlier today … I mean, yesterday.

“Hey.” I whisper-say the word, not sure if I should interrupt.

She whirls around, snapping the cell phone shut. Her hair is wild, glamorous in a celebrity red carpet way, and her eyes match.

“Mom?”

I can actually see her make her body relax. Her shoulders slump again and she smalls herself down. She seems more mom-like. “Honey? What are you doing up?”

“You were yelling.”

Her eyes get big and innocent. “Yelling?”

“Into the phone,” I add, leaning back against the wall and yawning. I am not the sort of person who does well when they randomly wake up in the middle of beauty rest time. Obviously.

She rushes over to me and wraps her arm around my waist. We’re the same height now, which is wild really. It is so bizarre being eye to eye with your mom.

“You need to go back upstairs to bed right now, young lady.”

“Do not go all official mother on me, because you are avoiding the issue,” I say, but I snuggle into her and we trudge back up the stairs. My calves ache. I’m so tired from all the touch downs at cheering practice. Each step is hell. “Who were you talking to on the phone?”

“Crank caller.” Some pitch in her voice makes me feel like she’s lying, but Mom never lies. Still, it doesn’t make sense. She’s not a person who gets mad that easily, and as we get to the top of the stairs, I still can’t quite understand what just happened.

“Why did you keep talking to them then?” I ask.

She flicks on the light to my room and guides me in like I’m still five years old. She does a slight shrug. “I didn’t want to let him just get away with it. It isn’t okay to harass innocent people in their homes. If he does that to us, who else is he doing it to? I can just imagine poor little old ladies, grabbing their phones, disoriented in the middle of the night. Their first thought would be someone has died. It’s cruel.”

She says this all quietly but with force, and then she motions for me to get in my bed, which I do. She pulls my covers (penguin sheet, penguin blanket, second blanket, comforter, quilt) up to my chin, leans in, and kisses my forehead. Her small fingers smooth the hair away from my face. It feels nice. She gives me a tiny smile and says, “You have a good sleep, Mana.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t worry about anything,” she insists. “No being a little stress monkey.”

“I am not a little stress monkey,” I lie. My mom thinks I don’t handle stress well enough; she wants me to start yoga or meditate. Like I have time for that. She says my stress comes out in nightmares—typical, boring nightmares about being defenseless and having little gray men abduct you, or being naked at school, that kind of stuff. And she goes on and on about how I need to keep my heart rate down and be mellow.

“You, my little sweetie, are getting all crinkly faced. That means you’re worrying.” She stares at me with mom radar eyes and then tucks the quilt around me even more tightly before she adds, “I’ve got everything under control.”

My mind can’t wrap around what she’s saying, because I’m too busy trying to remember my last nightmare, which involved voices in my head, I think telling me the wrong answers for a computer science test. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“Nothing.”

She smiles at me. I smile back, and my eyes start to close, and I’m already thinking of Dakota and how his forearms look when he drums.

“I will always keep you safe,” she says, which is what she has said to me every single night since I can remember the actual tucking-into-bed process. Mom tends to baby me a bit.

I lift up my arm and wiggle my hand, but I’m so sleepy it’s barely a wiggle. She knows what I want though. She wraps her fingers in between and around my fingers.

“I love you, Princess Jelly Bean,” she says, placing my stuffed penguin next to me. I have a thing for penguins. This is normal, despite how much I get teased about it. Penguins are adorable. They mate for life. They waddle. They have built-in tuxedos. “I love you the whole world.”

I smile. “I love you too.”

She squeezes and lets go. I fall back asleep before she has even shut off the light. Poof. Just like that … I am off to Beddy Bye Land with the Kissy Penguins. At least, that’s what she always used to call it when I was little. Back then, she would tell me a story before I went to bed. They would always be about a girl hero, conveniently named Mana, and how she would rescue the world from space monsters. I would snuggle up against Mom and listen to her soft voice and fall right asleep every single night. I was such a baby back then. Now all my good dreams are about Dakota and his forearms.

 

Mom and I head to a cross-country meet on Saturday, not because we are runners but because Lyle, one of my two best friends, is competing, and we like to support him whenever we can. Plus, to be truly honest about it, a cross-country meet is much quicker than winter and spring track meets with their multiple events that take all day. So we try to get all our supporting done in the fall. Next year Lyle will be up at Dartmouth. My heart kind of sinks when I think about him going off to college and me still having a whole other year of high school.

But Mom is obviously not thinking about these sorts of things, and is her usual happy, caffeinated, wiry self as she pulls the car into a parking space by the field. She taps me on the knee. “How are you feeling today? Everything working well?”

“All body parts in regular working order.”

Lyle thinks it’s amusing that she phrases things this way. “She makes you sound like a machine,” he always says, and I always tease back, “I am a machine. A tumbling machine of awesome.”

We are sarcastic goofs. We have been sarcastic goofs forever, friends since I moved into the neighborhood in lower grade school, back when he was super awkward and gangly and his head seemed too big for his shoulders. He is not like that now. I spot him in his warm-up pants and windbreaker, and his shoulders stretch out the fabric of the jacket; his thigh muscles even stretch out his warm-up pants. He has gotten so-o-o huge. It’s kind of stunning. He waves and I go up on tippy toes, waving back.

Mom hooks her arm into mine. “That’s an awfully big smile, young lady.”

Lyle starts jogging over.

“Don’t give me that scoffing face. You know what I mean,” she teases.

“I have no idea,” I answer. Actually I have sort of an idea, but this peculiar jumble of feelings I have for ancient friend Lyle is not what I want to diagnose or even poke at right now, especially since Lyle is already with us.

“Hey.” He smiles. “You came.”

“Of course!” I bounce on my toes again and reach up to get a twig out of his thick, brown hair. A tuft of it bumps up in the back. I resist the urge to smooth it down and instead give him the twig. “Are you playing Grim Dawn out in the woods instead of on your laptop?”

“I wish!” He turns to Mom and greets her, and she presents him with a tin of cupcakes, which pretty much makes him explode with happiness. “Seriously? You are the best! Mana, your mom is the best!”

“I know.”

Lyle holds the tin delicately in his long-fingered hands. When we were little we used to call them wizard fingers, but his palms have caught up in size, so now I think they’re just manly. I try to process this thought: Lyle is manly. Lyle is manly in a way that does not fit how a cheerleader is supposed to think of her best male friend. Lyle is manly in a way of defined quad muscles and big hands and—maybe more manly than Dakota Dunham—more than—

Lyle interrupts my thoughts. “I’m going to bring these back there.”

“Don’t eat until after the race!” Mom calls after his retreating back. “We don’t want any cramps impacting your performance, young man!”

“No worries!” he yells to her, and then he shifts his focus to me as he strides forward, not watching where he’s going. Other runners skitter out of his way and he calls to me, “See you after, okay? Scream for me!”

“Always! Like I’ve just witnessed a disembowelment!” I yell, and he turns, and I’m stuck watching his retreating back as he returns to the rest of the team. A couple other people wave and I wave back, like a normal person does. People give Mom thumbs-up signs indicating their love of her cupcakes. “You should just be a baker.”

“I should! It would be much more fun. Not as many work trips.” She laughs and pats her belly. “But you would have two times the mother you have now.”

As the male runners disrobe and start trotting over to the starting line, I hip check my mother, who laughs and does it back. She waves to other parents if they wave first, but she stays with me, which is okay.

“I should make you those penguin cookies with the salted caramel,” she announces. “I haven’t made you those in a long time.”

When we get near the starting line, Lyle gives me a little wave/salute thing and I arrange my features into an overexcited smiley face for him, just as his mom walks toward us. After she does the small talk with my mom, she offers me a sip of her Coke, but I don’t even get a chance to decline.

“Mana is allergic,” Mom says, which Lyle’s mom knows. She has known me forever.

“I always forget!” she titters just as the bell goes off. “All the children with all their quirks. Caffeine allergies. Latex allergies. Peanut allergies. It’s funny how we’ve managed to survive so long as a species.”

Lyle instantly breaks away from the pack. I’m not sure how he does it, because I’m not much of a runner, but he makes running seem effortless—just all loping, quick legs and loose arms. He’s not even trying.

“He’s holding himself back,” Mrs. Stephenson says as the runners head into the woods. “He always does.”

“He’s a good boy,” Mom answers as the crowd starts to move to a better vantage point.

“He should do his best. College recruiters want to see what he can do.”

He has already gotten in early to Dartmouth, so this is a ridiculous thing for her to say. I can’t stand Lyle’s mom sometimes, and I say, before I can help myself, “He PRs by seconds every race, and he will do his best at states. He always does.”

Mom touches my arm. Then she nudges me into motion, calling good-bye to Lyle’s parental unit as we head toward the railroad tracks. You can see runners at the mile and 2.7-mile points from there. We get there just before Lyle strides past, still in the lead, still not sweating. He gives me a cheesy finger point. I give him one back.

“I’m glad he’s your friend,” Mom says out of nowhere.

And it is such a silly thing to say, but such a Mom thing to say, that I can’t help but smile even as I clap for some other students I know. “I’m glad you’re my mom.”

“Oh! Sentimentality alert!” She blushes. “I should record this and play it back to you the next time you’re mad at me for hassling you about your homework, or leaving socks on the couch, or eating all the cookies for the boosters table at the basketball game before the game even starts, or failing to put the cap on the toothpaste.”

I ignore this little litany.

“Mana is all lovey-dovey. Yes, I am.” I announce this to her, and it gets the appropriate Mom smiling response. Happiness settles into my chest as we wait for Lyle to appear again, running fast and strong toward us and the finish line.

He crosses and smiles, entering the chute where they funnel the runners post–finish line. It keeps them all in order. The wife of the coach takes his number off Lyle’s chest and people give him congratulatory back slaps, high fives, and fist bumps. He has a personal record. Again. He doesn’t even seem winded. Again. He trots over to us and gives me a huge hug. I inhale. Not even smelly. My hands touch the muscles of his back. Not even sweaty.

“PR!” He swings me around and I laugh. My feet leave the ground. My mother rather conveniently disappears and starts picking up discarded water bottles. She’s pretty environmental like that.

“You were amazing,” I tell him as he sets me back down.

His head bobs up and down. “I was, wasn’t I?”

“Amazing and humble,” I tease.

We fist bump and make explosions.

“You know what I was thinking about when I was running?” he asks. “I was thinking about that time in sixth grade that you were in the Les Mis play for show choir.”

“I hated show choir,” I interrupt.

“I know. But do you remember, you played Whore Number 2, and we went to music class and Mr. B. could not remember your name, and he actually called you Whore Number 2?” Lyle starts laughing, remembering while I pretend to pout. “That was beautiful. And you? You just turned bright red and answered anyways. Brilliant!” He fist bumps me again. “I was remembering how awesome that was and I just forgot about running. I totally lost track of time. It was the best race ever.”

“Cool,” I say, but I kind of want to say, “Yay! You were thinking of me.”

The rest of the day, I am so ridiculously happy that I actually doodle penguins and hearts on my mom’s grocery lists and on the to-do list, and try really hard to not think it means some sort of amazing thing. When it comes to liking your best friend, life can be kind of disappointing. You think things mean more than they do. You search for signs in the way his lips move, in how quickly he smiles, in the way his hip bumps into your side when you walk. And usually? The signs don’t mean anything at all.

Anyway, if it turns out to be nothing? Well, there will always be Dakota Dunham.

 

Two mornings later and nothing has changed in my best-friends-with-Lyle status. I wake up and Mom is gone before I get up for school. She has pushed a note underneath the kitchen timer shaped like a chicken. It doesn’t work, but she won’t throw it away. Lyle got it for her at the animal refuge zoo place he interns at during the summers. She wrote on the note in big, green magic marker letters:

DEVELOPMENTS AT WORK. HAD TO GO IN EARLY. I’M SO SORRY. THERE’S A BAGEL IN THE FRIDGE. I MADE CHOCOLATE-DIPPED PRETZELS FOR YOUR FUND-RAISER. LOVE YOU!!! SEE YOU AT THE GAME.

XOXO

LOVE,

MOM

She drew a big heart on the side, too. Sometimes, she is just too sweet. Sometimes, like when she’s yelling at me about how I tend to put the wet towels on top of the rest of the laundry, she is just annoying.

I open the fridge to pull out the bagel. My report card falls off the door. Yes, it is up there, stuck with a magnet of a Scottish Highland cow thing. Yes, that is geeky. That is my mother. I take the magnet and the report card and anchor it again. There.

When everything is back just the way it’s supposed to be, I thrust the bagel in my mouth and chew. After I shuffle out of the kitchen and up the stairs into my room, I pretty much just stand there for an extra second and gawk at the piles of clothes that are strewn all around my floor. I have to get ready for school and I don’t want to because it’s going to be just another boring stressful day in the otherwise boring stressful life of me. The getting ready process goes quickly and before I know it I’m back in the kitchen where I seize the Hello Kitty pretzel container. There is a cute penguin sticker on there now, amid all the happy kitties, which Mom must have put there. Lyle says she spoils me. September, my other best friend, says Mom babies me. I can’t say that most of the time I mind. Shoving my bag over my shoulder, I head out.

September has parked her truck in the driveway and is waiting.

“Hurry,” she yells. She is tall and long. She’s one of my bases for cheering, and even though her arms are about as thick as those pretzel sticks, she is super strong, like a farm girl, which she is not. Her mom is a doctor. Her dad is a nurse. They own no mammals or poultry. They do have a fish, Mr. Awesome.

I pull in a big breath. The cold, gray winter sky bleaks me down despite Hello Kitty, chocolate-dipped pretzels, and the new penguin sticker. I’m tired again today. For a second I wonder if I could pretend to be sick, but it’s game day, so I hike my bag higher on my shoulder and balance the pretzel container in my hand.

“Mana! Hurry!” September yells again. The sun glints off her skin. Kids use to call us Oreo when we were little because Seppie is so dark and I am so undark. I used to pray at night that I could resemble her instead of a ghost. That was before I understood about racism and how when some idiots gape at Seppie they don’t see someone beautiful and funny and brilliant; they see “other.” Idiots. Sometimes people think about me that way, too.

I rush down the cobblestone path to our driveway and haul myself up into her truck. Yes, she has a huge, gas-guzzling, black pickup truck. Do not ask me why.

“We’re not that late,” I say, slamming my bag down next to my feet. “You always get so stressed about being two minutes late. You don’t always have to be the orderly and perfect student.”

“Yes, yes I do.” She shakes her head. Her pigtails flail about and then she reverses out of my driveway like Satan is after us.

She pulls into the Stephensons’ driveway, which is barely worth driving over to since our houses are so close, and we wait. She honks. “Where is he?”

Lyle, all Gap clothes and smiles, comes barreling out of the house, slamming the door behind him “Sorry! Sorry! I was engrossed in something.”

“I am so going to kill you if you make me get a tardy. Three tardies equal detention. Detention equals poor academic record. Poor academic record means bad college. My fine self is not going to a bad college because you were climbing a tree.” Seppie executes a perfect K-turn while Lyle buckles up. His face is all smooth, squeaky clean like he just scrubbed at it with a wet facecloth. He always appears that way, and he smells that way, too, like mint-scented soap, the same kind my dad uses.

When I was super little, my dad taught me to hunt and to wash my hands after hunting, after being in public places, after touching raw meat or going to the bathroom. He’s that kind of guy—the kind that can kill a deer but still worry about germs. Lyle is not like that. I can’t imagine him ever killing anything. And germs? He eats Skittles he finds on the sidewalk.

A gash from shaving mars Lyle’s cheek just to the right of his nose. He has a new cut every morning, I swear. I want to put little Band-Aids on them.

“We aren’t really going to be late, right?” His shaggy brown hair flops over his eyes. Lyle nods at Seppie, then lifts one eyebrow over his dark brown eyes and asks me, “She will kill me one day, won’t she?”

“Probably.”

“What if we just left without you?” Seppie asks. “Did you even think about that?”

Lyle doesn’t answer. Just for the record, Seppie and I are both cheerleaders, which Lyle helps with too, actually. He’s an overachiever. Running is his big thing, but he helps cheer at competitions and important games because we need him for the ridiculous stunts where a good amount of upper body strength is involved. A lot of kids in my school do multiple sports. I do not, but I am an underachiever. Seppie and Lyle are all about getting into Ivy League colleges. It’s one of our essential differences. They worry about college; I do not. They get amazing grades; I get by. They will have scholarships; I will have loans. Lyle has claimed the window side, so I’m smashed between the two of them in the truck cab

“My feet are freezing,” I say as Seppie swerves around a pothole. Her elbow knocks into me, so I smoosh closer to Lyle.

“You should wear socks,” she says. Like she knows. “It’s almost winter. It’s getting cold.”

“Seppie, have you ever worn a sock in your life?” Lyle asks, stretching out his long legs, which he can do because he’s not stuck sitting in the middle. “You are the Sockless Wonder. That would be your superhero name: the Sockless Wonder, whose excessive foot odor thwarts all foes.”

“Shut up. You’d be Geek Boy. Cheerleader by day; Doctor Who watcher by night. Unable to match a single outfit even if his mama picks them out for him the night before. Permanently attached to his little online game. What’s the name of it? Lounge Lizards Take on the—”

“Unfair!”

They keep bickering. We drive through our subdivision and out onto Back River Road, with all its curves and supermarkets. I turn up the music. I close my eyes and try not to think about Lyle’s leg pushing against mine, or the test I have today that I totally forgot about, or Lyle’s minty smell, or why I am thinking about Lyle this way. Lyle of playing Doctor Who in the woods when we were seven, Lyle of the gaming fixation, Lyle of the newly developed chest muscles, Lyle of the—

Lyle’s voice interrupts my thoughts. “And then I professed my undying love to her and Mana just stared at me and said, ‘But I only love khaki-wearing koala bears who are into drumming and rolling up their sleeves to show off their forearms, Lyle. You would never do. You are far too manly-macho.’”

I open my eyes, blinking away all these random thoughts of Lyle and me growing up together, and sputter, “What?”

He starts laughing and punches me in the arm. We pass a school bus on the right—totally illegal, totally Seppie.

“She’s really out of it.” Seppie turns off Back River Road and onto the highway. “What is up with you today?”

I shrug. My shoulders bump against them. “I didn’t sleep much last night.”

“What, were you out late partying?” Lyle asks. “Partying on a Sunday night?”

“Funny.” I punch him. He punches me back. “I’m just tired.”

“Do you want some of my coffee?” He picks up his metal no-spill thermos.

Seppie snarks at him. “You know she can’t have caffeine. It makes her wild. You’re just tormenting her because you know she loves the smell.”

“I don’t actually remember ever having caffeine,” I say, whiffing in the warm, nutty scent. “Is that hazelnut? Wow. That smells good. I mean, that smells really good. I grab it and take a micro sip. It’s warm and sugary and nutty.

“Well, you’re not starting now.” Seppie reaches across me, takes the thermos, gulps, and says, “Yep. Hazelnut.”

“And you call me cruel?” Lyle snatches back his thermos and turns his attention to me. I swallow hard, which is ridiculous. My pulse rate seems to be getting higher. I lick the coffee off my lips as Lyle asks, “Why didn’t you sleep well? Are you getting sick?”

He puts his hand on my forehead. It feels nice, like all the tension is just oozing out of me and into his hands. We slow down, pull off the highway, and head toward the school parking lot.

“No fever,” he announces, and then goes into nerdy speech. “I declare this specimen devoid of fever.”

“No fevers. I just had more nightmares.” I stretch up. Lyle moves his hand away and I want to snatch his wrist and pull it back to my forehead. I kind of miss it. Seppie turns into the school parking lot and pulls the visor down to check out her reflection in the mirror instead of actually trying to find a parking space or anything like that.

I rub at my forehead. All the tension is back. And I swear I feel sweaty, like I’ve just run a marathon. “I don’t want to go to school.”

“Does anyone?” Lyle asks.

Seppie clears her throat.

Lyle goes, in a too-high, fake Seppie voice, “School is a magical place to find potential mates, enjoy learning, and practice my social networking skills that don’t involve the actual Internet.”

We all start laughing. The truck hits a frost heave in the parking lot. Lyle bashes his head against the ceiling because of the bump. This makes us laugh more, for some reason. By the time we get to school, my bed feels a long way away.

Lyle helps me out of the truck. It’s pretty high, and he and Seppie always take care of me because I’m shorter—and the whole flyer thing. “You seem better.”

His hands linger on my waist for an extra second and I so do not know what to think. “I feel better, except I think the coffee made my pulse rate go up.”

“The magical power of coffee. I don’t think you’re actually allergic. You’re probably just hypersensitive to it or something,” he says.

“Mm-hmm,” I say. “Right.”

“What? Do you want me to say it’s the magical power of friends that makes you feel better?” He smiles and lets me go.

But the truth is, that is it. It is the magical power of friends. I stand there, full of energy, so much energy suddenly, and jump into the air, possibly performing my highest back tuck ever.

“Whoa … that was almost—unnatural,” Seppie says, eyeing me.

“I feel so hyper!” I giggle, hugging her.

“And this,” she says, “is why your mom probably never wants you to have coffee. You didn’t drink any, did you? You were just pretending, right?”

“Right!” I shout a little too loudly.

She cocks her head and speed walks toward the school, yanking me along. “You are the worst liar ever.”

“I don’t think it even counted as a sip,” I say. “Just a taste. And now I’m all hyper. Coffee is wonderful!”

We make it into the building just as the first bell rings, and Seppie bolts off, Lyle following after her. They have to go to first period in the language wing, which is pretty far away. I watch them go and try not to feel all alone. Hyper and lonely is an unusual combination. I close my eyes and try to will myself to calm down. I already want more coffee. Maybe the real reason my health food nut of a mom doesn’t want me to have coffee is she knows that I’d be addicted after one tiny sip.

Copyright © 2016 by Carrie Jones

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