Saturday, July 2, 2016

Spotlight & Giveaway: The Siege By Mark Alpert

Mission: Sabotage.

Adam gave up everything for a new chance at life. Now with a cutting-edge digital mind, he is smarter, faster, better than a normal teen. Except Adam is anything but invincible. He's indebted to the government program that gave him this ability—and freedom comes at a price.

Adam and his teammates, the six Pioneers, swore to defend humanity against Sigma, the most ruthless artificial intelligence program ever designed. The Pioneers are all that stand between the AI and world domination. But Sigma has an advantage. It has learned about human weakness, and its new weapon? Betrayal.

In this war between good and evil, the battle lines have been drawn…but someone is about to switch sides.

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Excerpt from The Siege:

My girlfriend is mad at me, and this is the worst possible time to have an argument. It’s midnight, and Shannon and I are crawling through the grass outside a military base in North Korea.
“Slow down, Adam! You’re going too fast!”
There’s an urgency to her words, though she doesn’t raise her voice. In fact, we’re not even talking. We’re sending messages back and forth on a short-range radio channel. The antennas are embedded in the armor of the robotic crawlers we’re occupying for this mission. Shannon’s words leap from her antenna to mine, then ricochet inside my circuits. It takes me less than a millionth of a second to analyze her message and determine she’s angry, but I have no idea why. Even with all the computing power in my electronics, I can’t figure her out.
I send a radio signal back to her. “We’re okay. No one can see us under all these weeds and—”
“No, this isn’t safe. We’re supposed to go slow and be cautious. Just follow orders for once, okay?”
Instead of arguing, I adjust the motors inside my crawler and reduce its speed. Shannon and I are on a reconnaissance mission, so we’ve transferred ourselves to machines that are designed to be stealth. My robot is shaped like a snake, like one of the big rat snakes that are pretty common in this part of the Korean Peninsula. All its motors and sensors and electronics are packed into a five-foot-long flexible tube that’s four inches thick in the middle and tapered at the ends. At the core of the tube are special neuromorphic circuits that hold all my data: my memories, my personality traits, the millions of gigabytes of information that define who I am and how I think. Shannon’s robot is smaller, only one foot long, but it has the same kind of advanced circuits inside, and they pulse with her own gigabytes of memories.
These are special-purpose machines, used only for spying. Our usual robots, the ones we occupy when we’re back at our headquarters in New Mexico, are larger and more humanlike. Shannon and I can download our data to any kind of machine -- infinitesimal, gigantic -- as long as it has a neuromorphic control unit. Better yet, we can use radio antennas to wirelessly transfer ourselves from one machine to another, streaking through the air like digital ghosts. We can do all these things because we’re not really human, not anymore. Our bodies died before we reached the age of eighteen. But just before we died, my father -- a computer-science researcher working for the U.S. Army -- turned our souls into software. We are Pioneers.
The official Army name for my spy robot is ATSU, the All-Terrain Surveillance Unit, but I call it the Snakebot. Its motors bend and twist the robot’s flexible armor, propelling it through the grass in a wavy pattern that looks just like the motion of a snake. At the Snakebot’s front end is an infrared camera that allows me to navigate in the dark by showing the heat signatures of all the nearby objects: the warm grass and weeds appear to glow brightly above the cool, dark dirt. Thirty yards ahead is the military base’s chain-link fence -- chilled by the cold October night air -- and beyond the fence is a guard tower with two North Korean soldiers standing sentry at the top. One of the soldiers holds an assault rifle, and the other is gazing through a pair of sleek, high-tech binoculars.
“I have a bad feeling about this, Adam. Those are infrared-vision binoculars. The soldiers can see in the dark, just like us.”
            I would shake my head, but I don’t have one. Instead, I wag the front end of my Snakebot back and forth. “Snakes are cold-blooded, and our armor’s cold too. Even if they spot us with those infrared binocs, we’ll look like reptiles.”
“I have news for you. Most people don’t like snakes. The guy with the rifle still might take a shot at us.”
It’s a good point. Shannon’s excellent at spotting dangers during our missions, which is one of the reasons why she’s the leader of the Pioneers. Besides her and me, there are three others in the Pioneer Project: Zia, Marshall, and DeShawn. All of us were terminally ill teenagers, with just a few months left to live, when my father figured out how to digitally preserve our minds and transfer the data to combat-ready robots. A sixth volunteer also made the transition, a seventeen-year-old named Jenny, but she’s no longer with us. I know Shannon blames herself for Jenny’s loss, which explains why she’s so cautious now.
But it doesn’t explain why Shannon’s acting so cold to me tonight. The radio messages she’s sending are so much harsher than her usual easygoing tone. A girl wouldn’t say that kind of thing to her boyfriend unless she was upset. But what’s bothering her? What did I do wrong?
My circuits ponder the question for an unusually long time, almost a hundredth of a second. Then I shunt it aside. I need to focus on our mission. Shannon and I have to get past that chain-link fence so we can see what’s inside the base.
“You’re right, we can’t stay here. It’s time to go underground.” I point my Snakebot’s front end downward, jabbing it into the moist dirt. Then I turn on the drill. “Stay close. This might get a little rough.”
The drill extends from the front of the Snakebot and spirals into the ground. It turns slowly at first, because the upper layer of soil is soft and easy to dig through, but after a few seconds I burrow down to the hard-packed dirt and the drill spins faster, so I can go deeper. I wriggle the Snakebot into the hole I’m digging, and Shannon follows me underground, her smaller robot slipping easily into the narrow shaft. Once I get six feet below the surface I change direction, turning the drill horizontal. I head for the military base, tunneling under the fence.
I can’t see much through the infrared camera now, but the Snakebot is equipped with other sensors to help me stay on course. I have a sonar device that sends sound waves through the dirt, and by analyzing the echoes I can detect the objects in front of me. There are thousands of thick roots threading down from the weeds on the surface, so many that they form a maze of tendrils. Between the roots are millions of worms and bugs and grubs, either creeping through the soil or lying motionless in hibernation. I have to admit, the underground world is pretty amazing. The Snakebot is showing me things that most people never get a chance to see. For a moment I’m thrilled to be a Pioneer.
But the feeling doesn’t last long, less than a thousandth of a second. And it doesn’t make up for all the things I’ve lost.
After two minutes of digging, I wriggle past the fence, which extends only three feet underground. As soon as Shannon and I tunnel safely under it, I review a series of photographs stored in my memory. A U.S. spy satellite took the photos a few days ago; they show an enormous factory complex that was constructed in a matter of weeks at this remote military base in the North Korean wilderness. The Pentagon’s spy chiefs thought the new factories looked suspicious, so they shared the pictures with General Hawke, the Army commander who started the Pioneer Project. The photos alarmed Hawke, so less than twenty-four hours after he received that communication, all of us Pioneers were loaded into a B-2 Stealth bomber that took off from our airfield near Las Cruces. Hawk didn’t brief us about the recon mission until we were flying across the Pacific -- but by then all five of us already suspected what was going on. It had to be Sigma.
Now I use my sonar to get my bearings. The sound waves echo against the concrete foundation of the newly built factory. It’s a hundred yards ahead.
“I’ve located the biggest factory,” I radio Shannon. “And my sensors are picking up loud noises coming from the building. They’re definitely mechanical.”
“The factory’s in operation? At this hour?”
“That’s what it sounds like. They’re working the night shift. Whatever they’re manufacturing, they’re going full throttle.”
Shannon doesn’t answer right away. She takes a few milliseconds to analyze our options. “Can we get into the building from underneath? Drill upward through the foundation and slip into the basement?”
“Yeah, that might work. Judging from the acoustics, I’m guessing the concrete’s pretty thin. We can probably break through it.”
“Probably? You’re gonna have to do better than that, Adam. I don’t like guesses.”
There it is again, that harshness. I wish I could ask Shannon what’s wrong. We were friends even before we became Pioneers, and she helped me a lot in those terrible days right after our transformation, when we had to adjust to our new lives inside hulking robots and while training for our first battle against Sigma. She helped me after that too, when we were all devastated over losing Jenny. A few weeks later I asked Shannon to be my girlfriend, even though I knew it was a little ridiculous. I mean, the Pioneers don’t have human bodies anymore, so how can we be boyfriend and girlfriend? That kind of relationship isn’t quite the same for us. But Shannon said yes anyway, and for the past six months the other Pioneers have treated us like a couple. Marshall started calling us the Dynamic Duo, and after a while Zia and DeShawn started using that name too. It made me feel good to know there was something special between Shannon and me. And I feel stupendously horrible that whatever we had seems to be slipping away.
But I can’t talk about this with Shannon, at least not till after the mission. “Okay, you want the details?” I say, “There’s a ninety-two percent chance that the concrete is less than thirty centimeters thick. Is that precise enough for you?”
My message is deliberately testy, echoing Shannon’s attitude. She pauses again before answering.
“Proceed to the target. But be ready to retreat if they detect us.”
Her tone is neutral, emotionless. I shouldn’t get so upset. Like I said, we’re not human anymore. But somehow that makes it even more painful.
Before I move forward, I use my sonar to send a seismic ping through the soil. In less than two seconds, the sound wave will travel three miles back to the small communications device I embedded in the dirt near the Hochon River. That’s where Shannon and I landed two hours ago after parachuting out of the B-2 bomber. When the ping hits the device, it’ll send a radio signal to the bomber, which is still circling the area, five miles overhead. Marshall, who’s in charge of communications for the Pioneers, will then share my message with Zia and DeShawn. One ping means Shannon and I are okay. Two pings means we’re not.
After sending the message, I wait five seconds until I receive Marshall’s signal that we’re good to go. I wriggle the Snakebot forward and plunge my drill into the hard-packed dirt.

Praise for The Six Series

“Adam is an unusual hero—and he faces a frightening question: Computers can't kill— CAN they? I'm still shaken by the answer. Will the near-future really be this terrifying?” –R.L. Stine, bestselling author of the Fear Street series on The Six

“This is serious YA sci-fi, full of big ideas, big questions, real science, and things that will make you think and wonder and lie awake late at night. And it's all wrapped up in a wonderfully exciting action story chock full of characters you’ll love.” –Michael Grant, bestselling author of the Gone series on The Six

“Alpert's exploration of neuromorphic electronics raises interesting questions about ethics, technology, and human nature…a haunting ending scene will leave readers pondering the line between progress and loss. A thought-provoking clash between humanity and machinery.” –Kirkus on The Six

“A well-researched, hardcore science-fiction joyride, great for fans of first-person shooter video games like Halo and Destiny. Highly recommended.” –School Library Journal on The Six
“The Six are introduced as terminally-ill teens, but there’s plenty of high-speed action in which they engage. Their physical disabilities and limitations through disease are forgotten as the teens’ hearts, minds, and personalities shine through, even though their bodies are now steel data containers...questions of principle, power, and possibility keep this look at our modern, hardwired existence fresh and fascinating.” –Booklist STARRED review on The Six

“Alpert’s innovative science fiction novel explores questions such as what makes people
“human,” when life ends, and what people owe each other.  Alpert pays Crichton-esque attention to the power of technology in human existence.” – VOYA Magazine, Perfect Ten on The Six

About the Author:
Mark Alpert is a contributing editor at Scientific American and the author of several science-oriented adult thrillers: Final Theory, The Omega Theory, Extinction, and The Furies. This is his first young adult novel. He lives with his family in New York. Visit Mark online at
Social Media Links:


Exchanging their bodies for machines, these teens will defy expectations, brave danger, and defend civilization. They are The Six.

Adam's muscular dystrophy has stolen his mobility, his friends, and in less than a year it will take his life. Virtual reality games are Adam's only escape from his wheelchair. In his alternate world, he can defeat anyone. Running, jumping, scoring touchdowns: Adam is always the hero.

Then an artificial intelligence program hacks into Adam's game. Created by Adam's computer-genius father, Sigma has gone rogue, threatening to kill Adam—and the entire human race. Their one chance to stop Sigma is using the technology Adam's dad developed to digitally preserve the mind of his dying son.

Along with a select group of other terminally ill teens, Adam becomes one of the Six who have forfeited their failing bodies to inhabit weaponized robots. But with time running short, the Six must learn to manipulate their new mechanical forms and work together to train for epic combat...before Sigma destroys humanity.

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Promo & Giveaway: Defending Taylor By Miranda Kenneally

There are no mistakes in love.

Captain of the soccer team, president of the Debate Club, contender for valedictorian: Taylor’s always pushed herself to be perfect. After all, that’s what is expected of a senator’s daughter. But one impulsive decision—one lie to cover for her boyfriend—and Taylor’s kicked out of private school. Everything she’s worked so hard for is gone, and now she’s starting over at Hundred Oaks High.

Soccer has always been Taylor’s escape from the pressures of school and family, but it’s hard to fit in and play on a team that used to be her rival. The only person who seems to understand all that she’s going through is her older brother’s best friend, Ezra. Taylor’s had a crush on him for as long as she can remember. But it’s hard to trust after having been betrayed. Will Taylor repeat her past mistakes or can she score a fresh start?


Buy Links (The Defending Taylor e-book includes an exclusive bonus story with Jordan and Henry from Catching Jordan!) :
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Excerpt from Defending Taylor:

I now understand culture shock: it’s me experiencing Hundred Oaks High for the first time.
A lot of kids go here. Five hundred? A thousand? There are so many I can’t tell. At St. Andrew’s, there were only forty kids in my entire class. We lived on a calm, sprawling, green campus. Walking down the halls of Hundred Oaks feels like last-­minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall.
Two guys wearing football jerseys are throwing a ball back and forth. It whizzes by my ear. A suspender-­clad male teacher is hanging a poster for the science fair, while a couple is making out against the wall next to the fire alarm. If they move another inch, they’ll set off the sprinklers. At St. Andrew’s, kissing in the hall was an über no-­no. We snuck under the staircase or went out into the woods. Ben and I did that all the time.
Thinking of him makes me stop moving. I shut my eyes. Dating Ben was stupid. Going into the woods with him was stupid. Thinking about what happened makes me so mad, I want to rip that newly hung science fair poster off the wall and tear it apart.
A boy shoves past me, slamming my arm with his backpack. That’s what I get for loitering in the middle of the hallway with my eyes closed. He looks me up and down. “You coming to Rutledge Falls this afternoon?”
“Paul Simmons challenged Nolan Chase to a fight. Rutledge Falls. Three o’clock. Don’t tell the cops.”
A fight? Where the hell am I? Westeros?
A girl bumps into my side. “Watch it!” Flashing me a dirty look, she disappears into a classroom with a group of friends, chattering away.
Seeing those girls together reminds me of my best friends, Steph and Madison. Right now, they’re probably gossiping before trig starts. I miss Steph’s cool British accent and Madison’s cheerful laugh.
I take a deep, rattled breath. And then another. I feel trapped, like the time I got locked in my grandpa’s garage and no one found me for an hour and I banged on the windows until my fists turned purple from bruises.
I can’t believe I had to leave my school. My home.
All because I made one stupid decision.
I check my schedule. My first class is calculus 1, the most advanced math course Hundred Oaks offers. Just a week ago, I was taking an advanced calculus quiz at the University of the South. St. Andrew’s is one of the best prep schools in the country, and they offer seniors the opportunity to take courses at the university, which is up the road. Even though I was still in high school, the professors treated me just like a college kid. I was only in the course for two weeks, but still. It was insanely difficult. The truth is, unlike everybody else in my family, I hate math. I have to work at it harder than anything else in my life.
But if I didn’t take college calc, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t get into an Ivy League school. I need to go to a top-tier school because that’s what people in my family do. My father attended Yale, and my sister Jenna is there now. According to Dad, my brother Oliver—­Jenna’s twin—­is a traitor for going to Princeton, but I think Dad respects him for having the balls to make his own decision.
When Dad called me into his home office last night, he barely looked at me as he pored over my new schedule. The silence was killing me.
“I don’t know how Yale will still consider me if I’m not taking all AP courses,” I said. “Hundred Oaks only offers AP chemistry.”
Dad sighed, took off his glasses, and set down my schedule. “I’m incredibly disappointed in you, Taylor.”
I looked him straight in the eyes. His quiet restraint worried me. I’d never seen him so upset.
But I was upset too. He rarely had time to call me when I was away at school, but he could spare a few minutes to comment on my one screwup? After how hard I’ve always worked?
Over the years, I’ve done hours of homework every night. I had a 4.2 GPA at St. Andrew’s. A 1520 SAT score. I was on track to be valedictorian. I was captain of the soccer team and on the debate team. I did everything I could to show Yale that I worked hard. That I am a unique individual. Because that’s what Yale wants.
But my one misstep has muddied my glowing record.
Dad ended our conversation with a death knell.
“Tee, I gave you all the tools you needed to succeed,” he said. “I’ve paid for your private school education since first grade, and you squandered it by getting kicked out.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, my face burning. “I’m going to keep working hard at Hundred Oaks though.”
“You’re damn right you will.”
My father had me so flustered, I wasn’t thinking straight when I said, “Maybe Yale will still take me because of who I am.”
“You mean because of who I am.” Dad rubbed his eyes. “I’ve always taught you kids the importance of integrity, and the minute you got into trouble, instead of owning it, you called me to bail you out. And now you’re doing it again. Using my name to try to get ahead.”
I hung my head. “I’m sorry, Dad.”
“I love you more than anything, but you have to take responsibility for what you did. You’ll have to figure college out on your own.”
“What does that mean?” I asked slowly.
“It means I’m not lifting a finger. I won’t be calling the alumni association or the school president to put in a good word for you.”
“But didn’t you do that for Jenna and Oliver?” I blurted.
He put his glasses back on. “You need to own up, Tee.”
So here I am, glancing around the unfamiliar halls of Hundred Oaks. The school is neat and orderly, but it doesn’t look completely clean, like no matter how hard you scrub, it still looks old. At least it’s not juvie.
I step into my math class, which is already filled with kids. I choose an empty seat at a wobbly wooden desk and stare out the window at the sunny, seventy-­degree September day. I bet at St. Andrew’s, my world politics teacher is telling my friends, “Gather your books. It’s a beautiful day out. Let’s have class in one of the gardens.”
I check out the problem set on the whiteboard. I could do this level of math years ago…
My former guidance counselor told me that colleges look for trends in our GPA and activities over four years of high school. So that means when colleges see my application, they will see:
      I’m taking easier classes;
      I’m no longer doing debate;
      I’ve lost my soccer captainship this year; and
      I was expelled.
I have never simply given up when calculus got a lot tougher or an opponent ran faster than me on the soccer field. So I refuse to believe my entire future is over because of one mistake.
I just need to figure out how to move forward.

About the Author:
Growing up in Tennessee, MIRANDA KENNEALLY dreamed of becoming an Atlanta Brave, a country singer (cliché!), or a UN interpreter. Instead she writes and works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., where George W. Bush once used her shoulder as an armrest. Miranda loves Twitter, Star Trek and her husband. Visit

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