Q & A with Olivia Rivers with Giveaway!

Olivia Rivers—author of Tone Deaf—takes on the Sky Pony Q & A. Tone Deaf pubs May 3rd!

“The portrayal of Ali as Deaf is authentic and modern. She loves rock concerts for the vibrations and sensory pull of the crowd. She prefers to sign but exasperatedly reads the lips of people who talk fast or turn away as they talk. As Ali, Jace, and the band tour amid Amber alerts, surprising emotional connections are painfully forged and will resonate with young survivors of abuse, especially as Ali takes small steps toward recovery. VERDICT This gripping tale of survival has great appeal due to the parallel boy/girl narrative structure, the portrayal of a Deaf character at home in the realm of music and songwriting, and the overall pop culture tenor.” School Library Journal


 

Q: Why did you gravitate to the genre that you write in?

I started writing YA because it’s for teens, and I’m a teen! Well, technically, I just turned 20, but for most of my writing career, I’ve been a teenager. I can naturally relate to my teen characters, so writing Contemporary YA was the perfect fit for me.

 

Q: What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading The Unbound, which is the second book in a YA Fantasy series by Victoria Schwab. It’s all sorts of spooky and awesome!

I’m also reading The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, which is both ridiculously long and ridiculously good. I’ve always adored a good revenge tale, and Dumas is one of my favorite classic authors, so it’s a fabulous book all-around.

 

Q: If you could be a character in any children’s book, who would you be and why?

Hmm . . . I think I’d be Buck from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. I don’t think it’s technically a children’s book, but I read and re-read that book probably a dozen times in grade school, and I continue to love the story. Buck always charmed me with how loyal and determined he acts, no matter how difficult things get for him. Plus, being a giant sled dog would just be pretty darn awesome!

 

Q: Where’s your favorite place to write? 

I’m lucky enough to have my own office nook at my house, so that’s where I do most of my writing. I have two bookshelves packed with books, but aside from that, not much decoration, since I kind of suck at the whole decoration thing. The room is an organized disaster zone, so it probably looks like a giant mess to most other people, but I know exactly where everything is. I just can’t function when things are neat and tidy! This is my desk, complete with my demonic chair-guardian, who is aptly named Diablo.

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Q: What’s your favorite classic movie?

Okay, confession time: I’m really, really bad at watching movies. I get like fifteen minutes into them and my mind wanders and I find myself thinking about something entirely different. So I can’t claim to have a favorite classic movie, because I’m not sure I’ve ever sat through the entirety of one . . .

 

Q: If you could have any animal as a pet (current or extinct), what would it be?

I already own my dream pet! His name is Romeo, and he’s an Italian Mastiff and my BFF. He’s also the inspiration for Cuddles in Tone Deaf, who’s a giant, lovable pit bull mutt. Here’s a picture of Romeo posing with a copy of Tone Deaf.

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Q: Milk, dark, or white chocolate?

All of them. Together. Now, please?

 

Q: What’s your favorite holiday?

Christmas! My family celebrates with a giant feast and lots and lots of baking, so I spend a bunch of time around Christmas in the kitchen.

 

Q: What’s your favorite emoji? 

I have a thing for simple smiley face emojis. I use them probably way, way too much, but I find them strangely addicting. 🙂

 

Q: What did you want to grow up to be when you were Ali’s age?

I wanted to be a Sky Pony author! When I was 17, I’d just signed my contract with my agent and was about to go on sub with Tone Deaf. It was a crazy year—I was finishing up high school, starting college, and embarking on a writing career all at once!


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Tone Deaf_cover

Tone Deaf

His world is music. Her world is silent.

Ali Collins was a child prodigy destined to become one of the greatest musicians of the twenty-first century—until she was diagnosed with a life-changing brain tumor. Now, at seventeen, Ali lives in a soundless world where she gets by with American Sign Language and lip-reading. She’s a constant disappointment to her father, a retired cop fighting his own demons, and the bruises are getting harder to hide.

When Ali accidentally wins a backstage tour with the chart-topping band Tone Deaf, she’s swept back into the world of music. Jace Beckett, the nineteen-year-old lead singer of the band, has a reputation. He’s a jerk and a player, and Ali wants nothing to do with him. But there’s more to Jace than the tabloids let on. When Jace notices Ali’s bruises and offers to help her escape to New York, Ali can’t turn down the chance at freedom and a fresh start. Soon she’s traveling cross-country, hidden away in Jace’s RV as the band finishes their nationwide tour. With the help of Jace, Ali sets out to reboot her life and rediscover the music she once loved.

 

Rivers, Olivia - Tone Deaf

Olivia Rivers is a hybrid author with a passion for young adult fiction. As a certified geek, she enjoys experimenting with new publishing technologies, and her online serials have received more than one million hits on Wattpad.com. When she’s not writing, Rivers works as a freelance digital artist and assists at a literary agency. She resides in Northern California.

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Q & A with Jessica Taylor with Giveaway!

Author of Wandering Wild, Jessica Taylor takes on the Sky Pony Q & A! Check it out and don’t forget to enter the giveaway below!

Q: Why did you gravitate to the genre that you write in?

Speculative fiction was never really a draw for me—I just happened to want to write this story and I always saw it as magical realism. My next book is actually a contemporary story and I see myself writing mostly contemporary in the future.

 

Q: What are you reading right now?

Bone Gap! I think I’m the last person on earth to read it. I wanted to save it for when I had time. The voice and pacing are masterful, but the beauty of the story is the feminist message.

 

Q: If you could be a character in any children’s book, who would you be and why?

Winnie Foster from Tuck Everlasting. I love that she chooses to not live forever and instead faces the world on her own terms. She’s a great example of my favorite type of heroine—independent.

 

Q: Where’s your favorite place to write?

Honestly, I do my best writing in bed. If I have to write at a desk, I can, but when it comes to drafting, nothing beats propping myself against a heap of pillows.

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Q: What’s your favorite classic movie?

I’ve always been a fan of Sabrina. Audrey Hepburn is the ultimate fashion icon.

 

Q: If you could have any animal as a pet (current or extinct), what would it be?

I already do have my absolute favorite animal, my dog, Lexi. She’s an 11 year-old Bichon Frise, and we’ve spent the most important years of my life together.

 

Q: Milk, dark, or white chocolate?

Dark, but in small quantities. I’m not much of a chocolate fan.

 

Q: What’s your favorite holiday?

Christmas. I love to (over)decorate, wrap gifts, and watch cheesy Christmas movies.

 

Q: What’s your favorite emoji? OR What’s your favorite GIF?

I’m a fan of this one, lately.

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Q: What did you want to grow up to be when you were [the age of their book’s main character]?

A writer. I always say, “I didn’t choose writing. Writing chose me.” It was literally the only profession that interested me—and I’m so grateful for that!


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Wandering Wild by Jessica Taylor

“I believe in possibility. Of magic, of omens, of compasses, of love. Some of it’s a little bit true.”

Sixteen-year-old Tal is a Wanderer—a grifter whose life is built around the sound of wheels on the road, the customs of her camp, and the artful scams that keep her fed. With her brother, Wen, by her side, it’s the only life she’s ever known. It’s the only one she’s ever needed.Then in a sleepy Southern town, the queen of cons picks the wrong mark when she meets Spencer Sway—the clean-cut Socially Secured boy who ends up hustling her instead of the other way around. For the first time, she sees a reason to stay. As her obligations to the camp begin to feel like a prison sentence, the pull to leave tradition behind has never been so strong.But the Wanderers live by signs, and all the signs all say that Tal and Spencer will end only in heartache and disaster. Is a chance at freedom worth almost certain destruction?

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Spring Has Sprung!

Whether it’s a rainy day and you’re stuck inside reading on the couch or out in the sunshine, reading in the sunlight, you can’t go wrong with these books by Nancy Cote:

9781620879917-frontcoverDixie Wants an Allergy by Tori Corn, illustrated by Nancy Cote

It’s Dixie’s first day of school, and some of her classmates are sharing details about their various allergies. Bridget tells of her wheat allergy and how she gets to order a special meal from restaurants. Dixie thinks that must be a really special meal! And Charlie had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance once due to his dairy allergy. Dixie thinks that must have been thrilling! Even Hannah gets to wear a fashionable bracelet due to her peanut allergy. Dixie races home and begins to eagerly search for the slightest sign of an allergy. After many failed attempts, Dixie discovers that she is allergic to something after all. But is getting what you wish for actually as exciting as it once appeared?

Watch the Cookie by Nancy Cote

9781629146300-frontcoverSam and Mousey are best friends, and Mousey is always looking up to Sam and following his lead. They do everything together and share everything, too. So when Sam surprises Mousey with a big chocolate chip cookie, they can’t wait to split it. Unfortunately, Sam really has to go and he has to go NOW! “Watch the cookie. I’ll be right back,” he tells Mousey. Mousey diligently watches the cookie, but it turns out that he isn’t the only one. Pigeons come pecking and ants come marching. Mousey does his best to shoo them away, but it’s only when he yells in his loudest voice that he can scare them off. Just when Mousey thinks he has saved the cookie, a hungry cat appears—and this cat isn’t hungry for a cookie.

Puddle Jumpers by Anne Margaret Lewis, illustrated by Nancy Cote

9781634501859-frontcoverIt’s a rainy day in the month of May and Sam spots a rainbow, and then a puddle. A perfect spring puddle. His mother warns, “No! No jumping in puddles! You must keep clean today!” but Sam can’t stop himself from testing the water with his galoshes. And then the puddle invites him to play. The puddle whispers, “Jump, Puddle Jumper, jump!” and with that very first jump, Sam is off on an adventure of the imagination. He’ll be a frog in a pond, with a hat and some spots and a magic wand. He’ll be a crocodile with pink polka dots and teeth like blades, and a polar bear with purple polar hair. He’s going to jump, leap, dance, plunge, swim, and jump again. Sam is having so much fun in his puddle that even Mom can’t resist. With a leap and a thwump, she’s jumping too, cheering, “Jump, Puddle Jumper, jump!”

9781634502023-frontcoverWatch the Birdie by Nancy Cote

Mousey was watching a baby bird when it fell from its nest. The baby bird is okay, but she can’t fly yet! So how will she get back up the tree to safety? Mousey may be too small to get the baby bird back up by himself, but maybe he can find somebody else who can! Maybe a frog can jump high enough. Or maybe a bunny can hop far enough. Maybe a snail will be able to crawl his way up the tree . . .

Will Mousey be able to save the baby bird? Or will the hungry cat get in the way of Mousey’s valiant attempts? Sometimes it’s just the size of your heart that really counts.

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Melissa Hart on Raptors

The author of Avenging the Owl, Melissa Hart shares her experience with raptors. Check it out below!


Owls used to terrify me. My grandmother had a couple of barn owls on her property—at night, they’d swoop overhead, shrieking, in pursuit of rodents.

Still, when a cute guy at my dog park asked me, 15 years ago, if I wanted to volunteer with him at our local raptor rehabilitation center, I said yes.

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Like my character Solo Hanh in Avenging the Owl, I grew up at the beach in Southern California. I didn’t know what a raptor was. The cute guy explained that it’s a bird of prey—it hunts with its talons and uses its sharp beak to rip its food into pieces. The owls, hawks, eagles, falcons and osprey at the center had permanent injures; in the wild, they’d die, so volunteers cared for them in shifts, 24/7.

Suddenly, I found myself alone with these birds, giving them food and water and cleaning their cages. Scary. And character-building. I volunteered at the center for seven years. During that time, I transformed from timid and ignorant city girl to Northwest nature lover who’d rattle off cool facts about owls, in particular, to anyone who would listen.

Sometimes, high school students did their community service hours at the center. Other times, people who’d been in trouble with the law volunteered. For three months, I worked alongside a seventeen-year-old boy who did not want to be spending his summer caring for injured and orphaned birds of prey. They frightened him, and he found cleaning cages to be gross (he was right). Still, he began to fall in love with the birds—first an injured crow and raven, and then the little one-eyed kestrel, and then a great-horned owl.

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When the cute guy and I got married at the raptor center, the seventeen-year-old boy gave me a sketch of myself with the great-horned owl I’d been learning to glove-train for educational presentations. And the summer after his graduation from high school, he actually returned willingly to volunteer!

He was the inspiration for Solo Hahn in Avenging the Owl. I wanted to show readers what can happen when you open yourself up to the thrill and the weirdness of the natural world. Solo moves from being clueless and dismissive about the flora and fauna in his new state of Oregon to delighted over his discovery of banana slugs, strange forms of lichen, and of course, owls.

Think you might like to volunteer at your local raptor or wildlife rehabilitation center? Almost every region of the world has one—you can contact the good folks at International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council for the center closest to you.

For those who want just a little more inside information about my novel, my husband Jonathan inspired the character of Solo’s mentor, Lucas. Jonathan, too, is a “hard core bird nerd,” and we’re teaching our nine-year-old daughter to love them, as well. Click here to see the three-minute promotional film we made to celebrate the release of Avenging the Owl. We’ll be making several in the series, so check back on YouTube regularly.

Family Portrait

Life’s a hoot!

Melissa Hart

Find me on Instagram at @WildMelissaHart, on Twitter @MelissaMHart, and on Facebook! Or e-mail me directly at melissahartsmith@gmail.com


Avenging the Owl by Melissa Hart

9781634501477-frontcoverA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Han Solo avenged the destruction of an innocent planet by helping Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star. Han walked away with a gold medal and the love of his life. But when Solo Hahn—named in honor of the beloved action hero—tries to avenge the death of his gray-and-white kitten, he gets eight months of community service. Eight months of working at the local raptor center helping owls—his now sworn enemies.

For the first time in his life, Solo is labeled a troubled kid, an at-risk youth. He’d always gotten good grades, had good friends, and gotten along with his parents. He used to volunteer to read Reader’s Digest to old people at the retirement home next door, and his favorite thing in the whole wide world was to surf. He wrote screenplays for fun. But when his parents uproot him and move the family from California to backwoods Oregon, Solo starts to lose track of the person he was. Everything is upside down, and he finds himself dealing with things way beyond his understanding. He’s the new kid in town, and he’s got a bad reputation. The question is: What will he do next?

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Q & A with Danica Davidson

Author Danica Davidson takes on the Sky Pony Q & A. Check it out below! And check out Danica’s other books here.

Q: Why did you gravitate to the genre that you write in?

I like to write in all different genres. I started writing stories for kids when I was a kid. I’d take the stories to school with me and pass out to my classmates. I liked (and still like!) to write all sorts of stories with adventure, mythology and fun. So writing for kids is just kind of a natural path I’ve continued, and that has led to me writing my Minecraft books.

For my manga book, Manga Art For Beginners, I’ve been a big fan of manga since I was a teenager. When I was a kid I read comics like Betty & Veronica and TinTin, but it was manga that really took me off into the graphic novel world. I’ve worked as a journalist writing about manga and also have adapted manga into English for a publishing company. That means the editor would give me the Japanese-to-English translation, which would sound very literal, and I would rewrite it to sound more natural to readers. For example, something translated as, “What a disagreeable child!” could be rewritten to, “What a brat!” And then I’d do that for hundreds of pages as I worked on these different books.

Q:What are you reading right now?

Aldnoah.Zero. It’s a manga about a future where people live on Mars.

 

Q: If you could be a character in any children’s book, who would you be and why?

That’s tough, because I feel like I’d want to be one of the characters I’ve created. And I’m often creating new characters, so that answer would change a lot! I introduce Stevie’s cousin Alex in The Rise of Herobrine, and she’s a really fun character, very take-charge and adventurous, and much better with bows and arrows than I am. Maybe I’d want to be her for a bit.

Q: Where’s your favorite place to write?

Any place I can that’s quiet (unless I’m playing music for the mood) and uninterrupted. But I usually work at my desk or outside if it’s nice enough. When I’m writing at my desk, my dog Porthos is usually sleeping at my feet. I named him after the beagle Porthos from Star Trek: Enterprise, who’s named after the Porthos from The Three Musketeers. He is a very literary dog, even if he doesn’t know it.

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Q: What’s your favorite classic movie?

I’d say The Graduate. It’s for an older audience than the one I’ve been writing for, but I first got into that movie as a teenager and have watched it more times than I can remember. It’s been a while though, so maybe I should check it out again . . .

 

Q: If you could have any animal as a pet (current or extinct), what would it be?

Are you saying I can have a pet dinosaur!? Then I want that, of course!

But more realistically, I love dogs and cats, and I have both. Stevie’s cat Ossie in my Minecraft books is based on my cat, Sarah, who is a Siamese mix. Whenever I get my author copies in of my books, I like to take picture of them with my pets. And Sarah likes to be the center of attention, so that works.

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Q: Milk, dark, or white chocolate?

Milk, please!

 

Q: What’s your favorite holiday?

I love Halloween! Every October I read nothing but scary horror books to get in the mood. I love how Halloween lets you safely play with the scary side of life and you can dress up and pretend to be different things.

In the fifth book of my Minecraft series, The Armies of Herobrine, I have Herobrine crash a Halloween party at Maison’s school and unleash a pack of zombies. I can’t give too much away, but I chose to do this because I’ve been wanting to write about Halloween for a while. When I was a kid, I’d write a different scary story every October and bring it into school to share.

 

Q: What’s your favorite emoji?

They have a unicorn emoji now, right? I’ll go with that!

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Q: What did you want to grow up to be when you were 12?

A writer! When I was twelve I was writing novels and sending out letters to agents and editors and getting millions of rejections. I kept getting turned down because they told me I was too young, but that my stuff was good. I’ve never given up my dream to be a writer, and I want to thank all my readers for helping my dream become a reality.


 

9781510700048-frontcoverManga Art for Beginners: How to Create Your Own Manga Drawings by Danica Davidson

With titles ranging from Attack on Titan to Pokémon, manga is a billion-dollar industry with millions of fans worldwide. Readers will love this step-by-step guide to drawing characters that resemble the Japanese comics and anime they love. In this book, fans can learn how to draw their own manga characters and join in on the fun. Manga Art for Beginners explores the basics, like how to draw faces and eyes, and gradually shows how to get into more complex drawings.

Readers will learn to draw the following character types in easy, detailed steps:

• Hero/Heroine
• Schoolboy/Schoolgirl
• Male and Female Ninja
• Butler/Maid
• Bishonen
• Gothic Lolita
• Shrine Maiden
• Magical Girl
• Chibi

Down into the Nether by Danica Davidson

Down into the NetherStevie and Alex thought they defeated Herobrine completely, but they soon discover that he’s still on the loose. He has returned to Stevie’s nightmares, taunting him with threats to now destroy the human world.

The prophecies on music discs suggest that only Stevie and Alex, plus Maison, Destiny and Yancy, their friends from the human world will be able to defeat Herobrine. But the prophecies also warn that one of the friends will betray the rest, putting all the worlds at risk. Tensions run high as the group must figure out how to save the world while they try to discern the traitor in their midst. Maison, It isn’t long before the traitor is discovered.

Stevie and Alex find themselves separated from the others and must first journey into the Nether to find a special treasure that will enable them to confront Herobrine. The clock is ticking as they put their heads together to survive in the fiery depths of the Nether. Monsters are waiting for them around every corner and it won’t be much longer before they come face-to-face with Herobrine, who has become more powerful than ever.

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5 Things to Do on a Rainy Day

April showers bring May flowers. The May flowers are always nice but the April showers keep us indoors and bored. Instead of being sad about the rain, here are five fun things you can do to stave away the boredom:

5. Craft with the little ones using Mason Jar Crafts for Kids by Linda Z. Braden

9781632204134-frontcoverMason jars are no longer just for canning. Today we use them to drink from, to cook inside, and—with almost limitless possibilities—to craft with. In this fabulous new book, Linda Braden, author and owner of MasonJarCraftsLove.com and ItAllStartedWithPaint.com, offers up a collection of fun and creative Mason jar crafts for kids. Her ideas include everything from wild science experiments and delicious edible treats to holiday decor and gifts for the whole family. Kids won’t want to miss the fireworks in a jar or the lava lamp jar projects. And who could resist a Mason jar cupcake or a rainbow Jell-O jar? There are instructions for how to make your own lantern jars, snow globes, and even a Mason jar terrarium. This book will keep little hands busy all year round, with dozens of easy do-it-yourself projects.

Accompanied by photo tutorials and helpful step-by-step instructions, these projects are kid-friendly and offer a variety of options for both beginning and more advanced DIY fans. Each project is complete with age recommendations, a list of supplies you will need, and safety precautions. These projects are great for crafting with a big group or alone with your child, and perfect for long summer days, rainy weekends, and holiday preparation. Be inspired and discover the endless possibilities with the world’s most famous jar!

4. Binge watch the entire five seasons of Once Upon a Time on Netflix in preparation for the paperback release of another fairy tale retelling: Roses by Rose Mannering

9781634501880-frontcoverShe bears no name. Her silvery appearance is freakish to the numerous inhabitants of Sago, the cosmopolitan capital of Pevorocco in the Western Realm. With her mother vanishing at the instance of her birth, she is sent to live with the cruel, rich Ma Dane, where she is punished daily for something, though she knows not what. Tauntingly named Beauty, she flees Sago in a violent uprising that sets out to massacre all Magics and journeys to the farthest point of the country.

But Beauty cannot hide in the grassy Hillands forever. Before long, the State officials find her and threaten to take her back to war-torn Sago where death surely awaits. In a midnight blizzard she escapes them, running into a deep, enchanted forest to a great and terrible beast who will bargain for her life.

But can Beauty accept Beast? Eternity is a long time. Now for the first time in paperback, Roses is sure to capture your heart as you fall in love with Beauty and her Beast all over again.

3. Play some Minecraft and find helpful hints in our Hacks for Minecrafters series

9781634502115-frontcover

Packed with expert tips, cheats, and hacks on building, fighting, farming, enchanting, mining, and more, The Big Book of Hacks for Minecrafters shows exactly how the experts bring their amazing structures to life (like a Japanese pagoda or underwater dome) and fight every single type of mob (from Blazes to Zombie Pigmen and everything in between). Illustrated guides will let every kid follow along with each tip step-by-step to master the Minecrafting world.

 

 

 

 

2. Watch Rosemary’s Baby and then read Susannah Appelbaum’s Divah

41GkjrYv7pL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Seventeen-year-old Itzy Nash is spending the summer at the exclusive Carlyle hotel in New York City. But the hotel harbors more than the rich and privileged; it is host to a gorgeous fallen angel, reclusive movie stars, and—Itzy soon learns—demons of the worst sort. When the Queen of the Damned checks in, all Hell breaks loose. Itzy is called upon to save herself—and all of humanity—from the ravages of the Underworld. There’s only one problem: Itzy’s possessed.

Part gothic thriller, part historical fiction, the novel straddles the Upper East Side and the lush trappings of the Carlyle hotel, and Paris during the Reign of Terror in 1789. Marie Antoinette is the Queen of the Damned. Marilyn Monroe is an expert demon hunter. To kill a demon, Hermès scarves, Evian water, and a guillotine are the weapons of choice.

 

 

1. Read The Little Raindrop by Joanna Gray, illustrated by Dubravka Kolanovic to the little ones in your life.

9781628738216-frontcoverFrom cloud to puddle, and puddle to stream, the Little Raindrop is making its way on the remarkable journey that is Earth’s water cycle. In this inviting story—illustrated with pastels for a soft, full color—readers are taught about science and nature through a character-driven narrative that leads a little raindrop on a big adventure. With an easy-to-follow plot that teaches precipitation, water flow, and evaporation, The Little Raindrop offers a sweet story full of learning and discovery.

Featuring a heartwarming adventure from author Joanna Gray and beautiful pastel illustrations by Dubravka Kolanovic, The Little Raindrop takes readers on a fun and educational ride through the water cycle.

 

 

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Happy Opening Day!

In honor of Opening Day, check out some of Sky Pony’s favorite baseball books!


Mo Smells the Ballpark by Margaret Hyde with Nichelle Robinson, illustrated by Aman Chaudhary

Mo Smells the Ballpark 9781628736687

It’s Bark in the Park day at the baseball stadium! Mo, Jasper, Molly, and Lucky are excited to be at the stadium to watch the game. Mo gets busy right away, smelling the peanuts, hot dogs, cotton candy, and more as they make their way down to the field for the doggie parade. But when Lucky dashes onto the field in pursuit of a ball, Mo chases him and becomes wrapped up in a daydream of Team Mo vs. the Big Dog team. Mo and his friends must learn about teamwork, good sportsmanship, and having fun no matter if you win or lose as they face off against a pinched-face pug pitcher.

 

Jackie and Me: A Very Special Friendship by Tania Grossinger, illustrated by Charles George Esperanza

Jackie and Me 9781620876831

Thirteen-year-old Tania Grossinger lives in the famous Grossinger hotel in New York’s Catskill Mountains, but she doesn’t feel like a real Grossinger; her cousins own the hotel, and Tania often feels like she doesn’t belong. Lots of celebrities come to Grossinger’s, but Tania just wants to meet one man: Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play Major League baseball. When Jackie stays at Grossinger’s on vacation, he hears that Tania is a terrific ping-pong player. Jackie invites the young girl to meet him for a game at four o-clock—but she doesn’t believe he’s serious and stays in her room to read. Soon the telephone rings; it’s Jackie, wondering where Tania is! When she dashes downstairs to the game room, the famous Dodgers star is waiting for Tania—and this is the beginning of an unlikely but very special friendship.

 

Welcome to the Show by Frank Nappi

Welcome to the Show_cover

It’s 1950 and Mickey Tussler—the now-famous pitching prodigy with autism and a golden arm—is back for another baseball season in this third installment of Frank Nappi’s critically acclaimed Legend of Mickey Tussler series. Talk of Mickey’s legendary exploits on the field has grown since his improbable debut two years prior, as have the fortunes of Murph and the rest of the lovable ragtag Brew Crew. Now Mickey, Murph, and Lester find themselves heading to Bean Town to play for the Boston Braves.

The call up is sweet, for all of them have overcome insurmountable odds to get where they are. But life in the major leagues is filled with fast-paced action both on and off the field. The bright lights of Boston hold a new series of challenges, hardships, and life lessons—especially for Mickey, who finds himself a long way from throwing apples into a barrel back on the farm. The three newest Braves have each other to lean on, as well as a new group of fans who are swept away by pennant fever, but balancing everything this new world has to offer may prove to be the greatest challenge of all.

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New Books for Sky Pony Press

When the Sky Pony team starts working on a new book, we normally wait to announce it to the world through the usual places folks get new-book news: Publishers Weekly, Goodreads, retailer websites, and so on. But right now we’re working on a couple of new books that are so exciting, so high concept, so moving, and just so darn GOOD that we can’t keep quiet about them anymore. So, with much hoopla and not a lot of permission from our bosses, we are excited to announce these soon-to-be bestsellers:

 

Julie of the Wolves(ish)

4197466599_096fd2f8c2_zExactly like the Newbery Award winning novel first published in 1973, except Julie is a pony. When Julie runs away from her stable in Alaska, headed for the warm, horse-friendly countryside of California, she never expects to find herself stranded on the Alaskan tundra. But her sense of direction fails her, and with winter fast approaching, Julie’s only choice is to seek a wolf pack’s acceptance—by pretending she’s one of them. Despite some pretty obvious tells (smells like food, looks like food), Julie blends into the pack, learning to communicate with the other wolves, finding a place in the pack hierarchy, and ultimately being accepted as one of their own. For every reader who’s ever wondered what a pony would sound like if it howled like a wolf, Julie of the Wolves(ish) is the greatest wilderness survival story of all time meets literally any viral video of unlikely animal friendship.

 

A. Corn McGhee and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Diet

Winston (2)

Sky Pony Express’s friendly logo squirrel gets his own story in this soon-to-be classic! The Venerable A. Corn McGhee knows it’s going to be a terrible, horrible day when his mom offers him nuts at breakfast. His friends offer him nuts at lunch. His dad offers him nuts at dinner! Doesn’t anyone remember that A. Corn is on a juice cleanse? This charming picture book is sure to appeal to a new generation of children who understand that you’re never too young to detox.

The Really, Super, Possibly Criminal, Practical Book of Tips for Kids

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Finally, the child-friendly guide you’ve always wished you could give you kids, published in a single, attractive volume just in time for the holidays. Forget about crafts, science, and college planning; this book will teach your kid everything you’d ever really wished your kid knew. Tired of plunging the toilet? Balancing your bank account? Filing your taxes? Scheduling your root canal? Put this book in the hands of your two-to-eighteen-year-old child, and soon they’ll be doing those things for you—and more!


 

Weeeeell… okay, maybe we’re not publishing those books. April Fool’s!

Happy April, from Sky Pony to you!

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The Complete Brick Bible for Kids

It’s Easter Monday and if you celebrate, why not take a look at The Complete Brick Bible for Kids and see the stories inside come to life with LEGO bricks.


The Complete Brick Bible for Kids by Brendan Powell Smith 9781634502092-frontcover

Journey through the Bible’s most famous stories in this LEGO-tastic paperback edition of bestselling author Brendan Powell Smith’s Brick Bible for Kids books. From Old Testament favorites to the stunning and prophesied birth of Jesus Christ, this is a must-have book for any young reader new to Bible stories or obsessed with LEGO bricks.

Inside, kids will learn about six classic Bible stories, including:

Noah and his ark full of animals
David’s fight against the giant, Goliath
Daniel’s survival in a den of ferocious lions
Joseph’s colorful coat and his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream
Jonah’s miraculous survival in the belly of a whale
Jesus’s birth in a small stable in Bethlehem

Complete with a fun search-and-find activity at the end of each story for additional LEGO fun, this substantial paperback is the perfect holiday or anytime gift!

 

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The Soldier by Amalie Howard

Amalie Howard, author of The Riven Chronicles, has a new E-short out! Check it out below!


The Soldier

A Short Story Prequel in The Riven Chronicles

First appeared on YA Books Central

 

Part I: In the Outers

 

The sun is riding high in the sky, sending blinding waves of undulating heat across the scorched plains. The water in my eyes evaporates as fast as I blink. The gauge on my temperature guard reads a hundred and twenty degrees . . . and climbing. My odds of survival descend with each hike in temperature.

Spitting a mouthful of red-tinged saliva to the cracked earth, I stare down at the body struggling beneath my fingers and twist just enough to sever the creature’s spinal cord. It doesn’t make a sound as it dies. I watch the light fade from its eyes, an ugly yellow glow that pales to gray, and then nothing. Its socket-less gaze doesn’t waver, eyeing me balefully even in death.

My entire unit had been ambushed, attacked by a Reptile raiding party of some sort, and I’d taken a blow to the back of my head. I stayed conscious long enough to see the creatures rip apart two men under my command before blacking out. When I woke, only one of the Reptiles remained, the others destroyed by the pair of Vectors who’d answered our desperate distress call. I stare down at the remnants of the Reptile I just killed.

I’m not even sure how I’ve survived.

One of the Vectors scans the area with a blue stream of light, checking for data patterns to send back for analysis. Standard protocol. I stare at the red-streaked sky, and haul myself to my knees, grunting. My brain is fuzzy, but that’s to be expected after that kind of crack to the skull. The base of my head throbs in tune to my pulse and I press the heel of my palm there. My fingers come away red and sticky. Wincing, I check off some personal facts to clear my head—everything I can remember about myself.

My name is Dorn. I am a soldier of Neospes. I am seventeen. I was recruited three days shy of my fifth birthday. I am second legion—a commanding officer. And my men are dead because of me.

I am Dorn. I am a soldier, I repeat forcefully, banishing the last thought. Men die in battle every day, more so here in the Outers than anywhere else, and I’m lucky to be alive. Holden and Banks will be remembered as brave heroes who gave their lives to defend Neospes.

Wiping the bluish ichor off my gloves on the rusty sand, I glance to the side at the rotting mess of flesh and wire lying on the dusty earth. The creature is not even human, constructed of random bits of decaying flesh weaved into metal. Reptiles. They’re a scourge on the earth. I kick the thing in the head, disgusted. They are one of my world’s most hideous abominations—an inhuman marriage of organic tissue and artificial intelligence.

I glance at the Vector who crouches next to me, its milky eyes unsettling, and revise my earlier sentiment. Reptiles aren’t the only abominations in Neospes. In some ways, the Vectors are worse. They are purified corpses and, like the Reptiles, wired and controlled by internal programming. But at least they are loyal and not capable of independent thought. The Reptiles are rogue; the Vectors are complicit.

I study the red smears on the ground—what’s left of my companions’ bodies after the Reptiles finished scavenging. Black stringy worms creep up from the fissures in the ground to consume the meager remains. A rush of bile stings my throat—nothing goes to waste in the Outers. It would have been smart to have a team of Vectors on patrol instead of three vulnerable humans. But we’d been foolish . . . taking on scout duty without them, thinking ourselves superior. Better.

I’d been foolish. And my men had paid the price.

I cringe as the medicinal smell of the Vector’s body beside me assaults my nostrils. It doesn’t speak, only watches, waiting for orders in the hazy silence. Sometimes it’s comforting that they don’t have active vocal cords. They’re ominous enough without speech.

“You got the call?” I ask it roughly. It nods. “Good. Report it, and let’s get out of here.”

The Vector relays the information real time to the base computers back in the dome via the chip its brain, and then blinks, staring unnervingly at me. I hate feeling like the Vectors can see right through to all my darkest secrets. Clenching my jaw to hide my revulsion, I drag my gaze away to stare once more at the creature I’d killed.

This isn’t the first time a Reptile has attacked so close to the perimeter of Neospes, and it isn’t a good sign. It means they’re low on food, which makes them braver—more desperate. Fourteen humans, mostly derelicts out foraging themselves, had been murdered and taken for parts. All we’d found of the fourteen bodies were bone shards picked clean, their ivory color dull, not one drop of blood, tissue, or hair remaining.

We’ve known for years that we couldn’t underestimate the Reptiles—after all, they are remnants of the powerful Machines that once controlled every part of our world. But remnants aren’t the same. They’re shadows of what used to be.

Dangerous shadows.

At first, the perimeter reports had been sporadic, but recently the attacks had become more consistent, as though the Reptiles were scouting . . . searching for structural weaknesses in the dome.

The Reptiles wanted in.

It’s what I’d do if I were them—an ongoing, methodical check for flaws, seeking a crack in the earth that I could burrow beneath in order to get into the dome. Or, better yet, systematic attacks to draw the humans out into the open where the wastelands would kill us more efficiently than they could. The Reptiles are smart—far smarter than we give them credit for.

“Let’s go,” I say to the Vector.

I cough, spitting another mouthful of dark red chalk onto the parched ground before climbing into the back of the hover vehicle. My head is spinning slightly, but I think I can make it back without passing out. There are black spots in my memory, hazy patches of fighting and sleeping and bright lights. I can’t make head or tails of the sketchy recollections, but I’ve had worse concussions before. A few minutes in a med-lab will fix me right up.

A warm, dry wind spins a cloud of dust toward the truck like a miniature cyclone. The waning sandstorm had been perfect cover for a Reptile attack. We’d been hit not suspecting a thing.

“Move out,” I order as one of the Vectors initiates the command unit on the hover. Gunning the engine, we race across the red desert. It’s red because of the rock, but people still say that it’s because of all the blood the land had consumed. The Outers are a wasteland, and isn’t a place where anything human can survive. Only the Reptiles have managed to scrape out an existence here.

For a sharp second, I wonder whether Corporal Banks and Second Lieutenant Holden would be gutted for parts.

But it’s a stupid question. I already know the answer.

I think of the glistening pile of bones we’d found and bile fountains into my mouth. Retching, I close my eyes, letting the slow comforting rocking of the hover soothe my scattered nerves. We arrive back at the dome—the hub of Neospes and one of the bigger human cities rebuilt in the Eastern hemisphere—in barely any time at all. Taking the portable navigation tablet from my suit, I tap in a sequence of numbers and the screen lights up with an urgent message from my commanding officer, General Riven.

I’ve known her for years, but just the name on my tablet sends a spiral of dread through me. Even though she’s much younger than me—barely fourteen—she’s as hard as they come . . . and far more deadly. The daughter of the man behind Neospes’s bio-robotics engineering unit and the mind that invented the Vectors, Danton Quinn, she inherited her father’s rigid, ruthless core. At eleven, she’d been the youngest recruit to lead as a commanding officer, and now she’s a general, the highest-ranking officer in Neospes, and part of the king’s private guard.

The Vectors obey her without question, and although working with them makes my skin crawl, she shows no such reaction. Other soldiers joke that she’s one of them. But Vectors are dead, and she’s as alive as we are. Still, that doesn’t make her any less cold or forbidding. She follows orders to the letter, executing them without conscience or question. To her, mercy is weakness, and compassion a flaw. Truth is, all things considered, she may as well be one of the Vectors.

The holograph scanner on my tablet tells me exactly where she is, and after decontamination, I make my way to the communications building, despite my lingering grogginess. Shaking my head to clear it, the scanner accepts the Neospes identity chip implanted in my wrist and opens the thick metal doors, granting me entry.

Captain Reck Dorn, Second Legion, flashes from red to blue in bright lettering. I’m scanned three other times before I’m allowed access into the inner sanctum where the general is waiting. Keeping my eyes averted away from the Vectors guarding nearly every access point, I walk down the narrow hallway to the archway at the end.

In a wide room bordered by metallic walls and standing alone beside a flat table displaying a holographic map of the Outers, the general is slight in stature with short dark hair braided close to her scalp and a single blue and silver ranking braid hanging over her ear. There are no Vectors in this room, which strikes me as odd since she’s never without them.

The general doesn’t acknowledge me, but I’m sure she knows that I’m here. My arrival would have been announced at the first entry point, and she isn’t the sort of person that one can sneak up on. At first glance, she seems small and vulnerable, especially without any guards, but looks are deceptive. She’d kill me in half a blink before I could even formulate a plan of attack.

I take a deep breath that makes my neck and skull ache. “General,” I say. “You wanted to see me?”

“Captain Dorn,” she replies. Her voice is lilting but detached as she shuts down the hologram with a swipe of her finger. “You were attacked?”

“Yes, by a Reptile raiding party.”

“How many?”

“Twelve. They were more organized than I’ve ever seen the Reptiles. I would be dead if it hadn’t been for the two Vectors who answered my distress call.”

She’s frowning. “The Reptiles have always been organized. They may seem ragged, but they’re still robots . . . intelligent robots. We shouldn’t underestimate them. Were you hurt?”

“One of the Reptiles got in a lucky blow. Nothing that a med lab won’t take care of,” I add confidently, despite the insistent pounding in my brain that seems to have gotten louder in the last few minutes.

“See to it, then. You were lucky to survive after being out there for such a long time.”

A long time? I must be confused or she received incorrect information.

In spite of being summarily dismissed, I hesitate as she turns away. “General, we should contact the next of kin of the other two men who were with me on Outers detail—Corporal Banks and Second Lieutenant Holden. They were both killed in action.”

She turns, as though in slow motion, her eyes like lasers on mine, and the hollow numbness from my neck spreads across my back and around to my stomach. Her gaze is assessing, moving systematically from my face to my feet. She frowns so sharply that I can almost hear the crack of skin across her brow.

“Captain, you were on solo perimeter detail. There were no others with you.” Her words are inflectionless. Tiny pinpricks of sweat dot my brow as I process what she’s saying, but there’s a gaping hole in my head where answers should be. I glance dumbly at the tablet in my hand as if I might find them there.

Had I imagined the attack?

No, it’s not possible—I’d seen the Reptiles rip the other two soldiers to pieces with my own eyes. I’d smelled the blood vaporizing in the heat. Hadn’t I? My head aches and a wave of dizziness makes the floor tilt.

“No,” I say slowly. “You’re misinformed. Corporal Holden and Second Lieutenant Banks were with me. I saw them die.”

“Holden and Banks?” she asks, and I nod. The general consults something on her own tablet, then looks back up at me with guarded eyes. “You were all part of the same Outers detail, yes, but Corporal Holden and Second Lieutenant Banks were killed in action two years ago. Captain Dorn, are you sure you’re all right? Perhaps you’re confusing events. I saw in the report that you suffered a blow to the head. You’ve only been gone for three days.”

I stumble backward, the dizziness turning into full-on vertigo. “Three days?” I repeat dully. “That’s impossible. No . . . it was only hours before the Vectors came.”

“Captain, you’re dehydrated and disoriented,” the general says in a tone that makes chills race down my spine. Her mouth is pinched at the corners and her icy blue eyes, narrowed. “You were in the Outers for three days, not three hours. Three days. Your distress beacon came on an hour ago—the Vectors reported that they found you huddled in a cleft at the base of the Peaks. You were lucky that the electromagnetic interference of the area prevented the Reptiles from following you there.”

She walks toward me, her face impassive, but her movements purposeful. My head feels like everything inside of it is being sucked into a black vortex lined with pulsing neon commands as she steps within reach. She is weaponless, but I know better. The soldier in me senses danger and before she can get within two feet of me, my body is tensing in automatic attack mode.

My thoughts crash into one another in violent succession in my brain. Commands—of things I am meant to do, things I am meant to disable. And she is one of them. Each pulse makes the pain worse, pushing me to a threshold that I immediately know my body will not be able to withstand. Unless I comply.

Secure the area.

Every cell in my body surges forward, compelled by some unseen force, and my arm hooks around the general’s neck in a backward choke-hold. I can see her face reflected in the shiny surface of the opposite wall. That impassive face isn’t so emotionless now. Her mouth is in a tight white line and her eyes are so cold I can feel death blowing like a winter storm in my direction. But, strangely, I feel no fear. Only purpose.

“Don’t move,” I warn, tightening my arm.

“Captain Dorn,” she gasps, her body cool against the hot skin of my forearms. “I’m going to give you one chance to think about what you’re doing. You’re tired and clearly not thinking straight. You’ve had a shock from being in the Outers for so long. You’re ill and need medical attention. Release me immediately.”

The monotone of her voice is hypnotic but has little impact. I only recognize its timber from afar as if something in my brain is keeping me shielded from the power of her words. The pain has receded to a dull thud at the base of my skull as a new wave of orders hovers in front of my eyes.

Locate the target.

“General Riven, please stand down. I don’t want to have to hurt you.” Although my lips are forming the words, the message isn’t mine. It’s coming from somewhere else deep inside my head where the pain is at its worst.

Secure the target, my brain thuds.

The orders are simple and I must follow them. It’s the one thing that will eliminate the throbbing pain in my head—that’s the only fact I know for certain. It’s the single motivation driving me to action. I don’t question it. I obey it.

My eyes meet the reflection of the general’s in the silver wall. She stares me down, unafraid, studying me. Her nose wrinkles slightly and I see a shadow of understanding break across her face.

“You think I haven’t faced your kind before?” Her words are like hollow point bullets, detonating in every part of me.

“My kind?” I repeat, tasting the weight of the words—mine now—on my tongue.

Her eyes blaze blue fire. “Reptiles.”

 

 

Part II: Mind Over Matter

 

The world falls away beneath my feet, and I’m falling backward into an abyss. . . . It feels as if I’m splitting into fifteen different parts of myself—fragmenting bits of flesh held together by nothing but stringy tissue and shattered bone. My scattered pulse mimics her words in sonic bursts.

My kind.

Reptiles.

My kind.

Reptiles.

Flashes of light and wire and blood ignite in my memory. As if in response to the tune of my thoughts, the faint smell of rot fills my nostrils, and I glance down at the space between the cuff of my sleeve and my gloved hand clutched around the girl’s neck. The thin swatch of skin there is discolored and lined with dark blood vessels atop larger bruises of coagulated blood. I blink, forcing the image away. I’m imagining things. Or hallucinating. But when I reopen my eyes, the pale graying flesh is still there.

“No,” I say in disbelief.

“Yes.”

The General’s head smashes into my nose, dislodging my hold as she twists in a fluid movement, her knee cleaving into the soft tissue of my stomach. The breath whooshes out of me, but not before I react to slam an uppercut into her jaw. She shifts her head to the side, the blow sliding off toward her ear, and then she’s crouching, her foot snapping out to sweep mine from under me.

I barely feel the slam of the unforgiving floor before I’m jackknifing up to grab her arm and twist it hard behind her back. She utters a grunt of pain and spins under her own arm, the sharp crunch of her shoulder popping loud in the silence. It gives her enough momentum to kick me hard in the groin. I know I should be in agony, but I’m not. Something isn’t right.

Staggering back, the hot pressure of a blade pushes into the meat of my torso. To my surprise, I barely feel it, but the pungent smell of decomposing blood throws me. I release the general, my hands falling to the thick wet sludge of my belly.

“Smell that?” she asks, thrusting the slick gore-covered dagger into my face. “That’s you.”

“No,” I say, staring down at the brackish, fetid blood covering my fingers.

“Yes, you’re dead.” The general’s eyes are uncompromising, calling out the truth. “That’s why they left you, why they let you live. They chose to leave you. They wanted you to come back here, to infiltrate the dome. Why?”

The door opens behind us and four Vectors slip in, followed by a slim, dark-haired man with a thin face and a hooked nose, whom I recognize as the general’s father, Danton Quinn. The man behind it all. His face is as emotionless as his daughter’s.

The base of my skull warms as communication races along the receptors there, transmitting something, and I brace for the pain. But none comes.

Secure the target.

The sudden emptiness in my brain takes me by surprise and I savor the sensation of peace, free of discomfort. My orders are crystal clear. The target is the man, not the girl.

The general narrows her eyes at her father, suspicion flickering in their depths. “Why are you here, Danton? I didn’t summon you.”

Danton’s gaze slithers to me. “Why is Captain Dorn here? He was supposed to report to the med lab, but I was told you overrode my orders.”

She shoots her father a measured look. Her voice is conversational as she studies the knife in her hand. “Did you know he was a Reptile?”

“What? Is that you, Dorn?” Danton asks, noticing my fresh wounds, his nostrils flaring at the smell and sight of my entrails. The Vectors snap into action, but the general raises a hand, stalling them.

“Stand down, it’s under control.” The girl’s mouth flattens into a slash. “It’s not Dorn. Like I said, it’s a Reptile. One like I’ve never seen. One that is more human than machine. They wanted him here. And I want to know why.” Her eyes never leave my face.

“It looks like Dorn,” Danton says, mildly.

The girl shoots him a surprised look as if she’d expected a different response. His face is blank, but there’s a careful, calculating expression in his eyes that he’s trying to hide.

“Smell that?” she says, thrusting the knife at him. “That’s something dead. He doesn’t know what he is, but I’ve killed enough of them to know. That is a Reptile.”

“No, I’m not!” I shout. “I’m Captain Reck Dorn, Second Legion. An officer of Neospes.” But even as I utter the words, I don’t believe them. Deep down, I understand that what the general says is true. A hot wetness soaks my face as they both stare at me with opposing expressions—hers horrified and his, exhilarated. And then I’m laughing hysterically at the absurdity of being able to weep even though I’m clearly nowhere near anything alive.

The laughter is replaced once more by pain searing through me like razor-sharp blades and cutting away the last vestiges of my resisting humanity.

Complete the mission now.

Compelled, I dive forward with renewed purpose, dispatching one of the two Vectors lunging toward me with a blow to the temple. The other I smash into the metal wall with all the force I can muster. It slumps to the ground, loosening its grip on a deadly electro-rod, and my eyes swivel back to my target.

But before I can reach Quinn, a body tackles me. The sick crack of bone fills the room as I thump to the ground, both legs severed at the knee and useless. Lethal swords in hand, the girl shoves me down and straddles my chest. Sharp points press into my neck. Her eyes are like chips of pale blue ice.

“You’re already dead, but I’ll destroy you in seconds if you so much as twitch. Why have you come here? Why did they send you?”

My gaze slides, unbidden, to the dark-haired man at her side, and I see her eyes widen with grim understanding. “It’s not me you want. It’s my father.”

She glowers at him, suspicion etched on her face. “What would the Reptiles want with you? Or you with them? Why was he supposed to report to your lab?”

Something in her voice tugs at me—a faded memory, perhaps, locked somewhere deep in this decaying brain of mine. The general, who fears nothing, fears this man.

Quinn’s reply is mocking. “Protocol.”

They remain locked in a silent battle of wills, and I take advantage of the moment to buck her off, smashing my fist into the side of her head. Despite her earlier threat, my only objective is to get to the man at her side.

His expression is greedy, as if something is nearly in his grasp, and I realize that he wants me to come to him. I can feel the force of it radiating outward like a beacon. He’s no soldier, but for some inexplicable reason, he is a hundred times more menacing than his daughter. I’m far more afraid of getting anywhere near him, even as the agonizing stabs of pain in my head compel me to crawl forward, arm-over-arm.

The girl’s fear has become my own.

Or, maybe, we were always afraid of him. Still, one truth drives us.

He is the key to our survival.

Blinking, I process the voices swirling in my head as if I am part of some kind of omniscient hive mind. Who am I? The pain at the base of my skull explodes again, and all I know as the commands in my head pulse with liquid fire is that I need to reach him. He is our target.

But before I can get there, the girl twists into a side lunge and darts between us. Her eyes are so brilliant, piercing right through me—the human part of me—and I freeze. For a second, a phantom echo of a heartbeat pulses its way out of my chest.

“Escort my father out,” she says firmly to the remaining Vectors. “That is a direct order from your commanding officer.”

“No—” Danton snaps.

“Now.”

Her eyes are hard. As much as she might fear him, she doesn’t give in. The human part of me understands that he has hurt her terribly in the past. I see it in the set of her jaw, in the rigid slope of her shoulders, shielding her from his latest machinations.

She’s only a girl—a fierce one—but still a girl. And though I may be a pawn in a game that’s bigger than both of us, I want to help her. But even as I think that, the programming blasts along my veins, demanding that I fulfill my purpose. It burrows into that spot at the top of my spine to enforce its demands with agonizing beats of pain.

No, I will it, forcing it into quiet submission. The heartbeat I’d imagined strengthens. I know who I am. I am Reck Dorn. I am a soldier. And I am still here.

“Out. Now!” General Riven shouts. Without a second glance, the two Vectors grasp the man’s arm and remove him from the room. He’s livid, but proud, too, a brief emotional burst that’s eclipsed by fury. The door slides shut, leaving me alone with the general.

For a moment, I wonder at the odd relationship between the father and the daughter—as if she is some kind of creation that he is inordinately proud of, and yet despises in the same breath.

His daughter, the feared and respected general.

Defying him.

If I were alive, I’d laugh at the absurdity of it.

But I’m still alive, aren’t I? The phantom heartbeat flickers again like some kind of strange ignition, firing into my neural connectors. Despite the programming slamming into me on all sides, I feel human. I’m something more than someone else has decided I should be. The synapses in my brain fuse together, strengthening the existence of some emotional cognition not yet forgotten. Perhaps I am not yet dead.

Like an artificial pacemaker, I will my ghostlike heartbeat to reappear, and it does—beating silently, but rhythmically—forcing the abnormal Reptilian nature frothing within me into a pocket. I stare at the girl, silencing the pain in my skull to a near whisper. I can do that now, I realize. After all, I am dead. And pain is nothing.

Pain is nothing.

I am more than what they have made me.

The seconds tick by and I count them as silent throbs in my chest. They’re just markers of time—beat by tenuous beat, moment by moment. I’m not exactly sure how much time I have, but it feels like I have control over myself once more, no matter how fleeting it may be.

I am Reck Dorn. I am a soldier of Neospes.

I am me.

“Help you,” I manage to say, though my tongue is thick and unwieldy.

“Dorn?” The girl’s eyes are like the sun on a winter’s morning—bright, unerring, and intense. I bask in the light of them, remembering how it feels to have sunlight on my face, how it feels to know that someone won’t forget who you were . . . who you are. Despite what she knows I’ve become, she doesn’t loathe me.

“Yes.” I force my hands to turn palm up, a gesture of compliance—not that I need to. I want her to know that I’m here, despite how I may appear. If possible, her eyes flare even brighter. I wonder at the otherworldly shimmer of them. Or why she has no fear of what I have become.

“Captain Dorn,” she says gently, crouching next to me. “What is your mission?”

“To secure the target.”

“Which target?”

“The man,” I say with numb, uncooperative lips. A new flurry of orders surges in my brain, commanding me to silence any answers to the general. They are listening—those that have twisted me—from deep behind my eyes, the signals transmitting information like electricity. But they do not control me. Trying to resist, I clench my teeth together so tightly, I can feel them fracturing along my jawline. “Father . . . is . . . key.”

“The key to what?” Her voice sounds urgent but unsurprised, as if she has guessed what the man is capable of—that he will conspire with his enemy to satisfy his own desires.

“Coding . . . tech.”

“Artificial geneto-robotic technology?” Her eyes widen in delayed understanding as she answers her own question. “Reptile with human pairing.”

Wireless commands fly like lasers as fast as I can process them, ordering me to shut down. The agony is lava-like, pouring through me—punishing—but I won’t go down without a fight. I can’t. My teeth fracture inside my mouth and I can only nod in answer to the general, swallowing shards of hard white fragments even as my eyes roll back in their sockets.

“Thank you,” she says, her fingers trailing along the side of my temple. I flinch, but they are unexpectedly tender, as is her voice. “Somehow, you’re still in there, aren’t you, Dorn? How is that possible?” she murmurs. “If you were truly a Reptile, you would have fought me to the death. Something inside of you is alive, fighting against any artificial programming.”

“Imsorry—” I slur raggedly. It’s the only phrase my lips can form. I don’t know if I’ve even made a coherent sound, but she knows what I mean. Her eyes flare a little. My own burn with an emotion long forgotten, the traces of something lost years ago in the Outers where Captain Dorn died.

“We’ll fix you, don’t worry. I’ll find a way.”

But I know she doesn’t believe the words any more than I do. I’m a goner. Already I can feel the programming overriding the conscious fragments of my fading humanity despite my renewed efforts to resist it. It won’t be long now. I am their instrument. Their weapon.

“Isstoolate.”

“No, it’s not. My father will fix—”

My eyes close. “Hedid . . . it.”

 

 

Part III: Sins of the Father

 

The girl rocks onto her heels stunned, my words worse than any weapons. My claw-fixed fingers reach over to touch hers. Despite the rigid leader I know her to be, her sudden vulnerability ignites my waning compassion. I want to comfort her but don’t know how. I’m not a father or a brother. I’m a boy myself.

A dying boy.

A dead boy.

Not yet! My lips crack open and I find her eyes once more.

“Dorn?”

“You,” I grit through the thickness weighing down my tongue. “Kill me.” A mouthful of some foul fluid—a mixture of clotted blood and saliva—seeps into my mouth, but I blubber past it, “While me.” She nods, her face stricken. “Kill it,” I whimper through the wet froth on my lips, “before . . . hurt you.”

“It? Who?” she whispers, leaning in. Raising my arm, I grab the blue and silver brain hanging down from her hair, jerking it tightly in my grasp so that her face is nearly pressed to my cheek.

“Him. Tech.”

“My father?”

I nod, feeling the last remaining neurons in my head failing like dimming stars. I don’t have much longer. The ones who created me would have me dead rather than hand over any intelligence that could be used against them. I can feel the poison from the chip they’ve implanted starting to leach into me, demolishing any vulnerable organic material.

“What tech? Reptile tech? How? Dorn,” she says more urgently. “How?”

“S . . . sorry,” I whimper, the half sounds becoming static cries of pain. “Kill. It. You. Tech.”

She nods, her eyes fierce, and I can only hope that she understands what I’m saying. “I will make this right, Dorn. I will. I promise you that.”

“Do it,” I choke out.

She raises her hand, one of her short curved swords in her fist, and I close my eyes waiting for the final merciful strike.

But it never comes.

Instead, the door hisses open on its seamless hinges as a small army of Vectors surges in. The alarms are cacophonic, filling the room with shrieks and a flurry of activity. “Secure General Riven,” a man’s voice commands, muffled by a plastic mask. “Her security is compromised. Her life is in danger. Do it now!”

Out of the corner of my eye, the general is swept away from me in seconds. One of the Vectors slips a clear mask over her face. “No!” she shouts, flailing against the dead but resilient arms holding her and dragging her away. “STAND DOWN!”

But the Vectors don’t listen, pulling her farther away with each step as the man watches in triumph through his mask. He has won, I realize dully. The general’s life is tantamount, and her father has returned with a clever and calculating strategy. If her life is at risk, the Vectors are programmed to protect her, even from herself.

“Code Twelve,” the man barks in an insidious tone, confirming my guess. “Don’t struggle, Riven. It’s designed to protect you and to override all other orders. Your life is in danger from this traitor.”

“He’s not a traitor,” she snaps. Her fingers dig at the mask on her face. “You’re the traitor.”

Her father’s smile is oily. “So says the deadly nerve gas his body secreted a few seconds ago. Leave the mask alone or you’ll die.”

“What? No, there’s no gas.”

“Isn’t there?”

“Dorn?” Her eyes meet mine across the cold silence. I let the truth of it surface in them so that she understands, and I watch her hands slowly flutter down to her sides. The nerve gas I’d released a second ago would have been quick and painless. She would have died just as I would have once she destroyed me. Neither of us would have been turned into monsters.

At least she would have been safe. I would have protected her. I could have.

If it weren’t for him.

I lunge forward in a demented rage, crawling forward on arms fueled by fire, unimpeded by the legs that no longer support my body. The man is ready for me. He crouches down to meet me, his fist crunching into what is left of my face, and smiles. It’s a callous smile—one that tells me in no uncertain terms who the victor is.

It’s not him. It will never be him.

A single whimper seeps out of the corner of my mouth like a wraith . . . the last drop of what’s left of Captain Dorn. The man’s hand brushes across my clammy forehead, catching the hot bead against his fingertip and erasing its existence. His grin widens in gruesome delight, as if he’s taking pleasure in crushing the last bit of mortality from me.

“Don’t fight it,” he whispers.

Reaching around the base of my neck, he digs into the ragged flesh there without hesitation. I see the barest flash of silver—a disc that he pockets—just as a shock of electricity surges through my body. Looking down to his other hand, I see that he is holding the Vector’s fallen electro-rod from earlier.

It’s set to liquefy.

“Curious that his humanity almost circumvented the programming,” he whispers so no one else will hear, leaning down to peer deep into my eyes and ignoring my slurred words. He’s not speaking to me, I realize, but to the ones who have built me. “I will need time to restructure the coding. You have completed your part of the bargain as agreed.”

A cloud of static fills my mind as if there’s some kind of transmission wiring tripping in my ear, and then there’s only emptiness and the bits of me that used to be. My remote hosts are gone—having fulfilled whatever vile agreement they’d had with the man. For a second, I wonder what he would have promised them in exchange for their technology.

“Danton, stop,” the general shouts from behind us, her tone pleading. In my last moments of lucidity, I understand that she’s begging for me just as I had for her. “Please. It needs to be interrogated. Dorn is in there. I spoke to him.”

“Whatever he is, he tried to kill you, Riven,” Danton says loudly, thrusting the weapon forward. “The punishment for dissension is death.”

“It was the programming. You can help him.”

But it’s too late. I am a liability—the only one who knows the truth, and if he has his way, the truth will die with me. Quinn initiates the spark on the electro-rod.

A sweep of gut-wrenching fire rips through me like a storm, mercifully taking with it every single bit of pain. And in the silence . . . those precious few seconds between the few cells firing in my brain, fighting for life, I find clarity.

I stare at the girl, seeing more emotion on that face than I’ve ever seen in all the years I’ve known her. I want to tell her that it’s going to be okay, that she’ll overcome whatever is coming around the corner. But I can’t.

Because it’d be a lie.

With what the man is planning, there’s no hope for any of them. Not even her.

Especially her.

The blood slows beneath my clammy-cold skin for the last time, shocked into final stillness from the inexorable bolt of the electro-rod. The robotic programming in my brain seizes in response, its internal wiring melting like the all-too-fragile decayed human cells inside my body.

And Reck Dorn is nearly gone.

But I hold out, focusing on the girl-general’s face and the sound of her voice. She believes in me. She sees me as I am. As I was. I hold on to the vision of her eyes—the pale blue light behind them telling me that I’m not alone.

My lids drift closed, the artificial life seeping from my already inert body, taking with it the few facts about myself I remember—the ones I cling to with the very fabric of my being—the parts that makes me so unequivocally human, and so not them.

I am strong. I am worthy. I am human.

I am a soldier.

My name is


The Riven Chronicles:

The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

9781510701717-frontcoverSeventeen-year-old Riven comes from a world parallel to Earth, a world that has been ravaged by a devastating android war. As a Legion General, she is the right hand of Prince Cale, the young Prince of Neospes. In her world, she’s had everything: rank, responsibility, and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to rescue his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.

Armed with the mindset of a soldier and racing against time to bring Caden home, Riven must learn how to blend in as a girl in a realm that is the opposite of all she’s ever known. Will she be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?

The Fallen Prince by Amalie Howard

9781510701700-frontcoverRiven has fought for a hard-won peace in her world, and has come to shaky terms with who and what she is—a human with cyborg DNA. Now that the rightful ruler of Neospes has been reinstated, Riven is on the hunt for her father in the Otherworld to bring him to justice for his crimes against her people.

But when she receives an unwelcome visit from two former allies, she knows that trouble is brewing once again in Neospes. The army has been decimated and there are precious few left to fight this mysterious new threat.

To muster a first line of defense, her people need help from the one person Riven loathes most—her father. But what he wants in return is her complete surrender.

And now Riven must choose: save Neospes or save herself.

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