A MelanieM Release Day Review: ​ Alcatraz! (Repeating History #4) by Dakota Chase

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Repeating History: Book Four

In their further efforts to recover the historical artifacts lost when they set fire to Merlin’s office, Ash and Grant go back to the early 1930s, where they must infiltrate Alcatraz Prison and secure a locket belonging to Al Capone. They find themselves at odds when Ash plays the role of a prisoner, while Grant is a guard. Capone takes a liking to Ash, whom he sees as a younger version of himself, and places Ash under his protection.

Before they can return to their own time, the boys must help foil an escape from the Rock, expose a corrupt and dangerous guard, and secure the pendant.

Dakota Chase continues the incredible YA fantasy series with a jump back into time to the infamous prison island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.  A series that started because two boys with at odds social backgrounds were both in juvenile criminal court with three strikes against them, which most likely meant prison with the judge presiding over their cases.  But instead, in an strange, perhaps even mystical toss of the coin, both Ash and Grant were sent to the Stanford School for Boys .  To learn to “straighten up ” their act so to speak.  Instead by accident , when arguing with each other, they set fire to their history teacher’s office and destroyed it and all his collection of relics.  He wasn’t pleased considering it had taken him centuries and more to collect all those mystical artifacts and that he turns out to be none other than the Merlin!

Now both Ash and Grant are tasked with going back through time and finding, collecting, and bringing back each and every one of the relics lost in the fire or suffer the consequences.

And if they happen to learn something about history, humanity, and even themselves, growing a bit in the process….well. who is to say if Merlin had that planned all along.  It certainly hasn’t occurred to either of them yet.

Of the two boys, Ash is still the most angry, tilting at windmills, feeling put upon by fate and Merlin.  He has so much growing and maturing to do.  We still need to find more of where all this heat, and angre is pouring out from.  Grant with  his upper class upbringing has also made many adjustments, both to Ash, his attraction to Ash (both are gay), his situation at the school,  and the situation that got him there.  Think more hacker, less anger.  Still neither boy, and they are typical teenagers in so many ways (thoughts, dialog, and actions) have yet to understand the full consequences of their actions.  Here it will start to come home.

Dakota Chase’ research, no matter what the subject, and its incorporation into the storyline, has been flawless over the series to date.  That continues here with Alcatraz.  From the stomach churning boat journey across the Bay, the meeting by the guards, the motions through the gates into prison hell, you actually feel like you are walking into Alcatraz as it must have existed during the days of Al Capone’s “stay”.  The details are chilling, vivid, and, cuts to the bone of the matter of what it was like to be a prisoner or lifer in Alcatraz.  That includes men there solely because they loved other men.  What is shocking is that the prison wasn’t closed until 1963.  I have seen those cells personally.  You can’t believe any human beings were ever put into cells like those.  And the author has used great discretion here in the day by day existence of these men. This is a YA novel afterall. No sex and graphic violence, still real and alive.

Part of the joy of these stories is the discovery with Ash and Grant of the roles they are meant to play in finding said relic, how they need to retrieve it, and then get back to their time period.  So I won’t go into that here.  Again the characterizations are superb, the writing tight, and the storytelling  moves swiftly from start to finish.

No, here my only complaint (small one that it is) is the length of the quest and the swiftness with which they completed it.  I think that’s probably due to the location, who their “companions” were there, the seriousness of the boys situations, and , frankly, the need for the author to pull them out of there before realistically something would happen to them.  They had to get in and then get out.  Unlike the other stories where both Ash and Grant became parts of a “community”, where we almost fell in love with some of the people in the past, here we are dealing with seriously criminal elements, including Al Capone  who even at his most benevolent is still a murderer.  So it was much harder to feel engaged for the population there unlike all the other stories where there was an enormous  pull on your emotions and you wanted to know what happened to them after the boys returned.

For Ash and Grant, whether they fully acknowledged it or not, this story was them seeing what could have happened to them had they not been sent to the school.  They both might have ended up in prison.  For Ash this trip was a revelation about how poor judgement  sometimes comes truly with a high cost.

Time and the next story will see how much this personal growth will be carried forward by both of them. I can hardly  wait.

Cover Artist: Tiferet Design.  I am so in love with these covers.  They have both a retro feel that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hardy Boy adventure and yet still seems so fresh.  It’s as great as the story!  Kudos!

Sales Links:  Harmony Ink Press | Amazon

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 1st Edition , 180 pages
Expected publication: May 14th 2019 by Harmony Ink Press
ASINB07PDRQH71
Edition Language English
Series Repeating History #4

Series:

The Eye of Ra

Hammer of the Witch

Mammoth!

Alcatraz!

A Barb the Zany Old Lady Review: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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Rating: 5 Stars out of 5

There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe the goodness that is bundled up in this book. Unique? Exciting? Interesting? Challenging? Amazing? Magnificent? Superb? Heartwarming? Heartbreaking? Educational? Eye-opening?

Full of both ahhh and ah-hah moments, this story emitted a sort of sticky substance that made my kindle adhere to my hand until the last page was complete. I haven’t read a book so difficult to put down in quite some time.

The characters had character—another trait not always present in stories I’ve read. They were also young, vibrant, intelligent, respectful of their parents and family, and knew their places in the world. But they fell in love and everything they thought they knew turned topsy-turvy.

The royal family was just that—decidedly royal—and the queen and the crown prince were remarkably stuffy traditionalists. Henry, our second-born prince who falls in love, was conscious of his role in the family and in history. He knew he was gay from an early age and was fearful that his grandmother, the queen, would never accept him as he was and would force a marriage to beget heirs—the royal lineage being of utmost importance. He was right. Her opinion seemed encased in concrete. But his mother, who has stayed in the background most of Henry’s life as she grieved her dynamic and carefree Hollywood actor husband who died when Henry was young, surprised him and became his staunch supporter when he needed her most. His sister, Bea, often referred to as the Powder Princess, due to her previous drug addiction, was his bestie. She rocked. She was an outstanding secondary character and helped Henry stay strong in the face of staunch traditionalism.

Alex was a remarkable young man. The son of a Latino father and Caucasian mother, both of whom were attorneys who knew their career path was politics, Alex grew to adulthood among politicians and idealists. Even when his parents divorced, he maintained his own objective in being elected the youngest member of Congress in history. He was bright, witty, and loving, and from the time he met Henry as a young teen, he hated the Brit with a passion. The only problem was that it wasn’t hate he felt for Henry at all and when the two finally overcame their animosity, the sparks started flying—in a good way.

Their letters and emails were a history lesson wrapped up in sweet love and the heartbreak of being a continent apart. I learned more from Ms. McQuiston’s snippets of letters sent between historical figures and authors and her tours of the White House and the Victoria and Albert Museum and other locations than I ever did sitting in a classroom. And yes, a few facts intrigued me so much I looked them up to learn more—something else none of my teachers ever induced in my lazy, history-hating teen self. It’s very evident the author did a great deal of research for this book and I absolutely appreciated every single snippet.

Catch me in a corner at a cocktail party and I will go on and on and on and…you get the picture. This book is number one on my Best of 2019 list. It is definitely in my top ten of all time. There aren’t enough superlatives to give it justice and even trying to describe the story in a way that captures the emotion in it is beyond me. The simple fact is that if you read this book, you will be giving yourself an incredible treat.

The very attractive cover features the title in the colors in the title words against a bright pink background. Two drawn characters are leaning on either side of the the word Blue. Unique and interesting, it not only represents the story but it’s as creative as the author’s imagination.

Sales Links:  Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 425 pages
Expected publication: May 14th 2019 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Original TitleRed, White & Royal Blue
ASINB07J4LPZRN
Edition Language English

An Alisa Review: Once Upon A Wolf by Hurri Cosmo

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Rating:  3 stars out of 5

 

Hawk is alone, hiding from the world, living in a tiny, rickety cabin his grandfather built. He has few supplies and fewer yet of the skills needed to survive on his own, but because of what he did, because of what his father caused him to do… well, there’s just no other choice.

 

But then one day “Ghost” shows up. A large black lone wolf who begins to “take care of” Hawk. He brings him game, he protects him from predators, and he even pulls him from a raging river. He is Hawk’s only friend and Hawk begins to talk to ghost as if he is human and can understand.

 

Except Ghost isn’t human.

 

Ghost has filled a void in Hawk’s life, and he is very grateful, but he is a wolf and Hawk needs the company of a human. In fact, Hawk is desperately lonely, to the point he even tells Ghost he longs for the touch of a man, the first time he has ever said such a wicked thing out loud.

 

Then one full-moon night, a large, beautiful, naked man breaks into the cabin. At first Hawk is terrified, until he realizes the stranger has Ghost’s amazing golden eyes…

 

This was an interesting concept for a story, I have to give the author credit for that however I just didn’t feel the story.  Ghost shows up one day while Hawk is trying to survive in the cabin and quickly starts to protect and help him in his own way.

 

I liked the concept of how the wolf didn’t know it was a shifter but I had trouble with how that would actually work.  The sex scene that Hawk and Ghost saw was the most mechanical and unsexy sex I have ever read and I understand neither of them got how it worked before that it just turned me off, at least once these two came together it was more fluid and a better scene.  I was glad that after the confrontation with the townspeople Hawk was able to find the acceptance he never felt when his father was alive.

 

I like the cover art by E Keith and the visuals it gives of Ghost and the woods.

 

Sales Links: Painted Hearts Publishing | Amazon | B&N

 

Book Details:

ebook

Publication: April 10, 2019 by Painted Hearts Publishing

Edition Language: English

BA Tortuga on Her Office and latest release Eye of the Dragon (Wildcatters #2)

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Eye of the Dragon (Wildcatters #2) byB.A. Tortuga

Dreamspinner Press
Published May 10th 2019
Cover Artist: Alexandria Corza

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have BA Tortuga here today talking  about her latest release , Eye of the Dragon.   Welcome, BA!

 

 

Where I Write

Hey y’all! I’m BA Tortuga, resident redneck and lover of all things cowboy.

One of the best things about my work is that my office hangs right here in my office.

It’s a beautiful space, y’all. There are violets in the window with the purple curtains. Two walls are yellow, one wall is dark purple, one wall is covered in shelves.

I have my toys in here, all my gifts from readers and authors and friends and family. I have all my writing books in here. My wife and I share the room, so we get to talk all day long. Also, dog beds.

Three huge dog beds for the beasts.

Currently my desk has a picture of my daddy, a picture of my niece, a USB Christmas tree from my best friend, a buttload of weird antiques, and my coffee warmer.

It’s perfect, and I love it!

Much love, y’all.

BA

Official blurb: The Wildcatters: Book Two

Graduate student Cameron is on the trail of an ancient Chinese artifact, a ruby with a history. When he meets adventurer Poe in Mexico, he spills the beans on his quest, and Poe sees dollar signs as well as the hottest professor he’s ever met.

They head off to the salt flats and mountains of Utah, searching for a lost wagon train from the eighteen hundreds. What they find is danger beyond normal comprehension and a stone that drives men to insanity.

Soon Poe’s only concern is saving Cam, but to do that, he’ll need help from some old friends and a few new ones. When it becomes too late to turn away from their quest, Poe and Cam put themselves and their friends in deadly peril. It will take every bit of their talents and courage to make it through and survive the Dragon’s Eye.

About the Author

Texan to the bone and an unrepentant Daddy’s Girl, BA Tortuga spends her days with her basset hounds and her beloved wife, texting her sisters, and eating Mexican food. When she’s not doing that, she’s writing. She spends her days off watching rodeo, knitting and surfing Pinterest in the name of research. BA’s personal saviors include her wife, Julia Talbot and coffee. Lots of coffee. Really good coffee.

Having written everything from fist-fighting rednecks to hard-core cowboys to werewolves, BA does her damnedest to tell the stories of her heart, which was raised in Northeast Texas, but has heard the call of the  high desert and lives in the Sandias. With books ranging from hard-hitting GLBT romance, to fiery menages, to the most traditional of love stories, BA refuses to be pigeon-holed by anyone but the voices in her head.

You can find BA at:

Website: http:www.batortuga.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/batortuga

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/batortuga

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/batortuga/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/batortuga

Blogger: http://batortuga.blogspot.com/

Instagram: https://instagram.com/batortuga/

Tumblr: http://batortuga.tumblr.com/

Love Shifter Romances? Check Out the New Release Book Tour for “Once Upon A Wolf” by Hurri Cosmo (excerpt and giveaway)

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Hurri Cosmo has a new MM paranormal shifter tale out: Once Upon a Wolf.

Hawk is alone, hiding from the world, living in a tiny, rickety cabin his grandfather built. He has few supplies and fewer yet of the skills needed to survive on his own, but because of what he did, because of what his father caused him to do… well, there’s just no other choice.

But then one day “Ghost” shows up. A large lone wolf who begins to “take care of” Hawk. He brings him game, he protects him from predators, and he even pulls him from a raging river. He is Hawk’s only friend and Hawk begins to talk to ghost as if he is human and can understand.

Except Ghost isn’t human.

Yes, Ghost has filled a void in Hawk’s life, and he is very grateful, but he is a wolf and Hawk needs the company of a human. In fact, Hawk is desperately lonely, to the point he even tells Ghost he longs for the touch of a man, the first time he has ever said such a wicked thing out loud.

Then one full-moon night a large, beautiful naked man breaks into the cabin and grabs Hawk, looming over him like he wants to eat him alive. At first Hawk is terrified, but then he realizes the stranger has Ghost’s amazing golden eyes…

Painted Hearts Publishing | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | QueeRomance Ink | Smashwords | Goodreads


Giveaway

Hurri is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card with this tour. Enter via Rafflecopter:

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Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d4760/?


Excerpt

Once Upon A Wolf

Taking care of the man was proving to be a little more intense then Ghost first thought it would be. Comical, too. Feeding him was no challenge but keeping him from killing himself with his eagerness for life certainly was turning out to be.

His own readiness for something just out of reach every time he was with the man was also a huge trial. Something quite unusual had happened in the river this morning. Something unexplainable, even by Ghost’s standards. For a moment in time, a time of great desperation, he had been able to hang on to his human with more than just paws. He couldn’t see, the water and the situation too demanding for that. But Ghost had been able to wrap something around the man’s hips, and he knew his paws were not capable of that.

Something in his very being had changed in him ever since the human had come into his life.

He had always been attracted by the man’s aroma, always wanted to mix it with his own. His desire to taste him was overwhelming at times. Making the human his was easy enough since there had been no challenge, but it was claiming him that seemed impossible. If the human had been a wolf, Ghost would have mated with him. He didn’t care Hawk was very obviously a male of his species. How could it matter? Except, the fact Hawk was human, and Ghost was not, did.

However, there was something else that was just at the surface and with the full moon this very night, he was more aware of it than ever.

He could feel it. It was coming.

Tonight.

He loped into the woods, quickly finding and killing a fat rabbit. He then trotted it back to the cabin and laid it on the doorstep. He yipped and scratched at the door, but he heard no movement inside. Appeared the man was sleeping. Good. After this morning’s ordeal there was no doubt he needed it. But frustratingly, this door was proving to be a real problem. He had watched how the man opened it, with those marvelous hands of his. He lifted a paw to examine it. Similar. He also had fingers of a fashion. They weren’t long like the man’s, but he had claws, which he liked. Something the man didn’t have. Still, those fingers…

And he couldn’t help but think that was exactly what he had when he grabbed hold of the man in the river. Hands and fingers.

But it didn’t matter at the moment because, even if he had somehow, miraculously, sprouted hands this morning, they were gone now. And he had no idea how to get them back. Ghost jogged into the woods and gathered more game for the man, laying it all at his door. He would wait patiently for the man to wake up.

***

Hawk woke with a start. Had he heard something?

He threw his cover off, jumped to his feet and ran to the door. It wasn’t until he had flung the door open, expecting to find Ghost standing there, that he realized, not only was he well rested again but his feet no longer hurt. At all.

And there was quite the array of game lying at his feet. Seemed Ghost had already been and gone a number of times.

Hawk lifted one of his feet to examine the bottom. Once scratched and cut, now it appeared completely healed. He could still make out scabby scars but that was it. How could that be? It was only hours ago he had done the damage and these wounds seemed days old. He remembered how Ghost’s wounds, too, had given the impression of being days old once he had him in his cabin and near the fire. The large wolf had hardly needed his care. He recalled joking about Ghost’s magical skin. Was there something truly enchanted about Ghost? Could it be when he had licked Hawk’s wounds the wolf had not only stopped any kind of infection from taking hold, but also healed him like this?

Hawk pulled in a long breath as he examined his other foot and found the same thing. He could see where the cuts had been but that was it. Then, checking the minor scratches on his arms and legs and even thinking about the ant bite on his ass, he marveled that they were all completely healed. Was this proof magic existed? His father had believed in it. So did most of the townspeople. Not only did they believe in magic, but in monsters. Growing up, Hawk had witnessed more than a few times his father picking up his gun and heading out the door to meet up with any number of the townsmen, all crashing together into the dark woods after drinking themselves into false bravado and whipping themselves into a murderous frenzy. “Hunting the monsters,” he would sometimes yell out at Hawk if he caught him staring at him. Hawk never asked where he was going. Not when March was like that, all wild-eyed and smelling of liquor. He learned quickly asking his father anything in that state would as soon receive a fist to the face as it would an answer. If March offered up any kind of explanation, ever, Hawk knew to be content with it.

As far as hunting monsters, Hawk was never invited to go. “Too fucking stupid,” had been the reply, accompanied by a hard palm to the back of Hawk’s head when, one time, a friend of March’s had the audacity of asking why. “Don’t care if the dumb sonofabitch shoots himself, but I don’t want him shooting me!”

No, Hawk never went on those excursions into the deep wood where evidently the monsters lived, although it had been a favorite pastime with the men in town. However, Hawk thought those forays were more often about getting naked and drinking till dawn. Oh yes. He couldn’t help but hear the hushed stories. It was why Hawk wasn’t invited. No wives or kids. “Hunting monsters” was messy business and was no place for the squeamish. True enough since they were all old men, ugly and fat and wrinkly. But Hawk thought about the naked part anyway. He thought about it a lot. Especially these last several days because the moon was nearly full, and it was on these nights that the town’s menfolk would go about “protecting their village.”

Did he believe there were real monsters in the woods? Absolutely, but nothing more than the normal grizzly or black bear. However, he was beginning to believe in magic. All his wounds were healed, and he held the magic had to have come from the wolf. And now, because of that magic, running out to check on his traps was possible.


Author Bio

I live in Minnesota where I hold tight to the idea that here, where it’s cold a good part of the year, I won’t age as fast. Yep, I avoid the truth as much as I avoid mirrors. But one of the reasons I love writing is reality doesn’t always offer up a “happily ever after” and being able to take control of that is a powerful lure. Being a happy ending junkie, writing just makes them easier to find. Oh, I don’t mind “real life” and I do try to at least keep it in mind when I write my stories, but I truly love creating a wonderful couple, knowing they will fall in love and have their HEA. Every – single – time. And, of course, that is exactly the reason I love reading this genre, too. Give me a glass of red wine, some dark chocolate, and my computer, whether I’m reading or writing, and I’ll be entertained for hours. The fact I actually get paid to do it is Snickers bars on the frosting on the cake.

Author Website: http://hurricosmo.com

Author Facebook (Personal): https://www.facebook.com/hurri.cosmo

Author Facebook (Author Page): https://www.facebook.com/OfficialHurriCosmo/

Author Twitter: https://twitter.com/HurriCosmo

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6466687.Hurri_Cosmo

Author QueeRomance Ink: https://www.queeromanceink.com/?s=hurri+cosmo&search_type=book_search

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Check Out the New Release Blitz for At the Trough by Adam Knight (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: At the Trough

Author: Adam Knight

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: May 13, 2019

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 107200

Genre: Science Fiction, LGBT, lesbian sci-fi, futuristic, dystopia, education, conformity, teacher, student, secret meetings, forbidden book, mental illness

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

In a future where schools have no teachers and no classrooms, Jennifer Calderon is the perfect student. Every day she watches her video modules, plays her edu games, and never misses an answer. Life is comfortable in the Plex, a mile-wide apartment building. Corporations and brand names surround her and satisfy her every want and need.

Then one day, her foul-mouthed, free-spirited, 90’s-kitsch-wearing girlfriend Melody disrupts everything. She introduces her to a cynical, burned-out former teacher, who teaches them the things no longer taught in school. Poetry. Critical thinking. Human connection.

But these lessons draw the attention of EduForce, the massive corporation with a stranglehold on education. When they show how far they are willing to go keep their customers obedient, Jennifer has to decide what is most important to her and how much she is willing to sacrifice for it.

Excerpt

At the Trough
Adam Knight © 2019
All Rights Reserved

One: Learning if Fun
“The brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in response to certain stimuli. Eating candy, having sex, consuming drugs, even petting a dog can trigger a pleasure response. Video games, especially ones with bright lights, upbeat music, and facile accomplishments are especially potent, flooding the brain with a sense of reward. As such, they were the bane of teachers for many years. That is, until EduForce began to use these games in their products. The scourge of learning was being disguised as learning itself.”

—Charles Winston, The Trough, p. 114

Jennifer Calderón stared into the screen, slack-jawed and passive as the bright colors and shapes burst before her eyes. Her pupils traced letters and blocks as they bounced from one end of the sixty-inch screen to the next. She reached out and touched a word before it hit the bottom–GAMBOLED. The white letters lit up, neon-green, and the word whooshed across the screen to smash into another word—GAMBLED—and shatter into a shower of sparkles.

“Same-sounder found!” a chirpy electronic voice declared.

Dopamine squirted into Jennifer’s brain in happy little jets. A smile traced the corners of her lips. Learning was fun.

Jennifer flicked her eyes to the upper right-hand corner of the screen. The figure 23/25 quickened her pulse. Two more. Two more word pairs and she would earn the Same-Sounder Achievement.

A new word appeared at the bottom of her screen. ASCENT, it read. The friendly female voice read the word and definition. Bubbles with other vocabulary terms floated around the screen. Colors whirled before her eyes and electronic dance beats filled her ears as she searched for Same-Sounders. Then she saw it. The word, in white letters on a floating bubble, drifted toward the bottom. Jennifer’s finger jabbed at the screen. Pop! The word ASSENT exploded in fireworks. More music and chirpy voices.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice said. More dopamine gushed into Jennifer’s brain. Her eyes flicked up to the corner. 24/25.

CYMBAL.

Once more, Jennifer scanned the bubbles and blobs and cubes and tetrahedrons swirling in her vision. Her breath was shallow. More and more words poured onto the screen. In one moment after another, tiny subdivided fractions of seconds, Jennifer saw and rejected words she did not think made the same sound as “cymbal.” Her eyes, her brain, and her hands all had to work in unison. Each level of Same-Sounder Finder was faster, more complex, and more stimulating than the last.

Then she saw it. SYMBOL.

She thrust her finger out to the screen. The little magenta gem in which the word sat was zigzagging down the screen, and she almost missed it and pressed the word TUMBLE crossing its path. But the SYMBOL illuminated, exploded, and a fireworks finale showed on the screen. 25/25.

“Same-sounder found,” the voice declared, then louder and triumphantly, “Same-sounder achievement unlocked!”

Jennifer leaped and thrust her fists in the air as a fanfare of electronic tones rang through her bedroom. Not many students earned perfect scores on Same-Sounder Finder, but Jennifer did. She earned perfect scores on everything. She was twenty-three years old and finishing her last year of schooling, a year ahead of the usual schedule. Because of all the hours she put into learning, and because she never had to redo any of her modules, she had raced ahead of her peers, many of whom were still on Achievement Level 13 or 14. She was working on 15.

After the music died down, the screen went still. Jennifer’s head was still pounding. A headache was setting in, as was a twinge of crankiness. She left her bedroom and went to the kitchen where she poured herself a cup of coffee. Her mother always had a pot brewing, anything to keep her beloved daughter focused on school. Jennifer clogged the coffee with sugar and milk, stirred it, and took a gulp. Better. She freed a couple of aspirins from their foil pouches and swallowed them with the next mouthful of coffee. She returned to her room.

Jennifer slid her finger along the screen and opened it to a new frame, one summarizing her academic progress. Current Achievement Level: 14. 12 percent of the way to 15. 106 of 880 modules completed. Achievement Level Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0.

Total Progress to Completion of all Achievement Levels: 97 percent. 12,845 of 13,215 modules completed.

And then there was the final number. The prized number, the number she had worked for since age three.

Aggregate Grade Point Average: 5.0/5.0

Every assignment Jennifer had ever done, from toddlerhood into now her mid-twenties, had been flawless. Missing just one question on one task would eradicate her record—The Perfect Five. There had been students with 5.0 GPAs before, but their scores came with asterisks. Usually the student had missed a smattering of questions throughout their education, resulting in a score that would round up to 5.0 in the ten-thousandths place. But Jennifer Calderón began each module on a knife’s edge, knowing one slip up would end her lunge at history. Each completed question nudged her progress toward earning Achievement Level 15, the equivalent of what was once her high school diploma. Thus far, however, all she had was poor digestion, headaches, sleep deprivation, and occasional interviews for the NewsFeed as her accomplishment became more improbable.

Jennifer left the score screen and opened a new frame to continue with a new module. She had done three Grammar Modules in a row and wished for a change, so she opened a Chemistry Module. It made no difference to her. She never understood students who had favorite subjects, who would put off Math or Writing as long as possible. She never understood procrastination. She simply worked until she was exhausted, every day, with no heed to the subject area. It was all the same to her.

To unlock the next series of edugames, she needed to watch the Chemistry vidlesson. At the opening screen, she was given a choice of several hundred different teachers to choose from. Each teacher had his or her own style. Some were brusque and businesslike, while others joked and kept the lesson light. Some had an air of wisdom and experience, while others were young and attractive. Some explained topics deliberately, but Jennifer returned to the same half-dozen teachers who explained briskly. Unlike many students, Jennifer always watched the vidlesson before the edugame. It was true “Learning Was Fun” but it was also true that “Hard Work Pays Off.” It’s so easy, she thought. They give you all of the answers right in the lesson.

Too easy. But the thought was fleeting, and she brushed it away.

Jennifer selected Mr. 85. She was not sure why the teachers did not have real names, but she did not dwell on it long. Mr. 85 was a favorite of hers because he spoke a little faster than other teachers. The content of what he said was the same—it had to be; the teachers were scripted—but he lingered a few seconds less on the examples and generally made his points and moved on. She wondered how many minutes of her educational life had been saved by Mr. 85’s expediency.

Her stomach rumbled. I should eat, she thought, but instead she touched the icon for the Chemistry video and sat on the edge of her bed. The video opened. It was six minutes. Damn. A long one.

The introduction music came up, a familiar, infectious jingle followed by a voiceover. “Chemistry—All You Need to Know. A lesson by the EduForce Corporation.” Then the camera fixed on Mr. 85. Mr. 85 was a middle-aged black man with graying hair. He never smiled. Jennifer kind of liked that. He stood in front of a display showing an elaborate chart with boxes. Each box had one or two letters inside.

“Good day, I am Mr. 85. Today we are going to learn all about Chemistry. As you remember from the Introduction to Chemistry lesson, Chemistry is the part of science that is chemicals. The chemicals have names and symbols. Today I will teach them to you.”

He stepped to the right and indicated the chart. Jennifer already knew she would have to rewatch this segment of the video. Maybe the whole thing. All those boxes and letters would be difficult to remember.

“This is called the Chemical Chart. It used to be called the ‘Periodic Table of the Elements,’ but let’s keep it simple. The Chemical Chart shows you a list of all the chemicals, called ‘elements,’ in the world. Little ones are on the top and big ones are on the bottom.

“Let’s look at some of them. The very top one is called ‘hydrogen.’ Its symbol is H. The next one is Helium. Its symbol is He.”

Mr. 85 pointed out about a dozen of the most common elements and their symbols. Aluminum. Carbon. Oxygen. Phosphorous. Jennifer repeated to herself everything Mr. 85 said.

“Next, we are going to look at what the elements do together,” he went on. “But first, you may be getting tired. Do you find your energy dragging after all this learning? If so, why not order a box of Perk-Eez? It’s the little yellow pill that keeps you shining bright!”

The video of Mr. 85 paused and was replaced with a new screen offering Jennifer the opportunity to order a box of Perk-Eez. She touched the “Yes, please!” button on the screen, and a message immediately appeared. “Thank you! Your delivery will arrive at your unit shortly. Your household account will be debited.” Perk-Eez were another reason Jennifer was on track to graduate two years early.

Mr. 85 returned.

“Now that you know some of the chemicals’ names, let’s look at what chemicals do. They like to be together. Sometimes the same kinds of chemicals get together. One oxygen and another oxygen will get together, and they make up the oxygen we breathe. If you have taken the Human Biology module, you know we breathe oxygen.”

The Chemical Chart was replaced with a graphic of two blue blobs with the letter “O” on them smooshing together.

“Sometimes different chemicals get together. A carbon and two oxygens get together and make up something called carbon dioxide. Yes, that’s right, carbon dioxide, the bad thing your grandparents put into the air that almost killed Earth!”

A new graphic with two blue blobs and a red blob with a “C” all clinging together replaced the old one.

“All kinds of chemicals get together. Let’s look at some combinations.”

The screen showed a series of different colored balls, all with different letters, making different combinations. Jennifer shook her head, trying to maintain focus. It was a lot of new information.

As the video neared completion, Mr. 85 folded his hands and stepped to the center of the screen again. Jennifer thought she almost detected a smile.

“I hope you have enjoyed this lesson on Chemistry. Please rewatch this video as many times as you like before going onto the edugames. My name is Mr. 85 and it has been a pleasure teaching you today. This has been an EduForce vidlesson. EduForce, making learning easy and fun since 2034.”

The video closed. Jennifer watched it again three times. After the second time, the doorbell rang. She accepted the delivery from SentiAid, the pharmacy delivery service. She tore open a foil packet and gobbled a couple of Perk-Eez. Almost instantly, even faster than after a cup of coffee, her brain and body were buzzy and alive.

All right, she thought. Let’s play some more edugames.

The Chemistry edugame was called “Elementastic!!!” She read the instruction screen, then the game began. After a countdown, two words appeared on the screen:

Iron Argon

Jennifer typed in FEAR. The letters Fe and Ar zoomed in from the left and right of the screen, collided in a burst of color, and formed the word “fear,” which dissolved into sparkles that floated up to the top of the screen.

Carbon Oxygen Oxygen Phosphorous

Easy, Jennifer thought. She typed COOP.

More collisions and explosions.

Tin Iodine Phosphorous

SNIP

Helium Aluminum Sulfur

HEALS

Jennifer fell into a rhythm, working faster and faster on each round. Her breathing became shallow. Her pulse quickened and her pupils dilated as the words came faster, exploded bigger and more colorfully, until finally a computerized voice—male this time—announced, “Activity Complete. Chemistry Achievement Unlocked!” and Jennifer lowered her hands, panting.

The voice continued, “To celebrate your achievement, how about downloading the new song from Tuliphead? The infectious single ‘Plex Lovin’’ is already breaking new—”

“Sure,” Jennifer said, and the advertisement stopped. Buying was the easiest way to make the ads go away.

Even as a small child, edugames had come easily to her. She watched the vidlessons, played the edugames, and thought little of it. She learned with carefree abandon. But when she reached the age of twelve or thirteen, she became aware she was doing something unusual. Of course, she did not have classmates to compare herself to, and she had few friends to ask, but she understood she was different. Other children made mistakes, even had to redo modules they had not mastered. She had wondered what mistakes were, to have the certainty of rightness yanked out from under you.

As she grew older, she became acutely aware of her achievement. At age fifteen, she received a request for a vid interview with a reporter. She had sheepishly declined, unsure of what to say and certain her mother would not have allowed it. But over the subsequent years, several more interview requests came to her, and she began to accept them. Each time she said the same things, that she was proud and studied a lot to do the best she could. That answer was only half true. She was proud of her grade but never had to study. She watched a vidlesson, played the edugame, then moved on to the next.

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Meet the Author

Born in upstate New York, Adam now lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, son, a neurotic dog and two cats. He teaches middle school English and writes science fiction, fantasy, and history, often in strange combinations. His stories and essays have been published in several anthologies and online magazines. Beyond writing and teaching, his interests include running and making improvements on his creaky old house.

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