stories in and

bacon grief by Joel Shoemaker

“Readers will root for Charlie and Tim to find their way through the thicket of anxieties and droll snark to happiness.” — Kirkus Reviews Charlie, a musical-theatre nerd with deep appreciation for sprinkle-topped ice creams and other snack foods, is active in his church and comes from a family who loves and appreciates him for exactly who he is, purple pants and all. Tim, a lover of crinkle-cut pickles, black olives and other forgivably-disgusting crudités, belongs to a conservative Christian pastor and devout mother who move to the rural town to staff a small church that, predictably, holds little place for Tim. After meeting online and given the green light to attend a youth group at another church, Tim and Charlie become fast friends with more and more in common. When they consider more than friendship, Tim is faced with his reality and the choice to reconcile faith and sexuality or walk away from it all.


The PoArtMo Anthology: Volume 3 by Azelle Elric, Meaghan Beatty, David Ellis, and Cendrine Marrouat.

Welcome to Volume 3 of "The Auroras & Blossoms PoArtMo Anthology"! This collection of positive and uplifting works has been created in response to PoArtMo, a year-long movement launched in 2020 by Auroras & Blossoms. PoArtMo stands for “Positive Actions Rally Thoughts & Momentum.” The Auroras & Blossoms PoArtMo Anthology: Volume 3 features a variety of different works by four contributors: Azelle Elric (drawings), Meaghan Beatty (essays), Cendrine Marrouat (poetry), and David Ellis (poetry).


Happiest in Denial by Cassandra Cordini

Who doesn’t dream of true love? When Mia meets Wolfgang, she thinks all her dreams have come true. Blinded by her passions, she plunges into marriage, even though dark shadows seem to hover around him. Wolfgang can’t hide his true nature and in time even Mia is finally forced to confront the truth about her husband. Dignity and self-respect come at a terrible price – will Mia pay it or will she be forever Wolfgang’s plaything?


Ride Every Stride by Amy Maltman

Jed Carver hopes to put his troubled past behind him. After fleeing across the country, he finds refuge in his new job at a prestigious stable and commits himself to his goal: a spot on the Canadian Equestrian Team. Jed is confident in his riding ability, but the obstacles outside the ring could be his undoing. Will his dark secrets come to light? Can he ride every stride until his dream comes true? Or will his demons unseat him? Jump into this page-turner for the equestrian and non-equestrian alike!


Returning to You by Gwen Tolios

Monica’s relationship with her father is falling apart, made more obvious when her return to Madison after years aboard results in him throwing her out of the house. Lisa Carson, her BFF and old college roommate, takes her in. Turns out Lisa has her own issues with her parents – they’re pushing her to date despite her lack of desire. So when Monica joins a Carson family dinner, she lies and says it’s starting a relationship with Lisa that brought her back to America. Lisa goes along with the ruse – it gets her parents off her back and it’s only until Monica repairs her relationship with her father and moves out. What Monica failed to take into account however is that crush she had on Lisa in college? Yeah, that didn’t go away.


What The Stars Didn't Show Us by Margherita Scialla

Life isn't easy when you have a brother who's always considered better than you. Hyunsuk's situation is even worse since he shares the same face as his so-called perfect twin. His life starts to change, however, when a new student arrives at his school and she sees something in him no one else had ever bothered to look for. Hialeah, already too familiar with the feeling of being alone, is set on befriending him, but can Hyunsuk finally come out of his twin’s shadow and open up to someone, when his brother makes it clear he doesn’t want him to find happiness?


Slow Motion by Jennifer Pierce

Westview belongs on a postcard. Quaint, picture-perfect, a tiny New England town steeped in history and traditions. Angela has always been everything people in Westview want her to be. She’s supposed to be happy there, but she’s starting to see the flaws in her seemingly-perfect life and she’s afraid that everyone else will notice, too. Now, in her senior year of high school, she wants something more than small towns, something bigger than the life planned out for her by a family that has designed and destroyed reputations in Westview for generations. Owen knows that history can depend on who tells the story, even in Westview. But all he wants is to run away from his own past, from the bad decisions he’s made and the tragedies still haunting him. He’s focused on the future and proving people wrong, even if that means keeping secrets. Long before they understood the rumors and grudges that rule their hometown, Angela and Owen were friends for one perfect summer. Since then, they’ve stayed as far apart as possible. But when Westview’s tricentennial forces them to work together, they must face difficult truths about themselves, their community, what being perfect really means—and the devastating consequences of pretending.


Paint by Colin Brooks

How do you navigate your life when you can finally make your own decisions? As Tucker Peterson moves away from home for the first time to attend college in Orlando, this is a question he must ask himself. He still hasn't told his family he's gay, he has no idea what he wants to do with his life, and now that he can do whatever he wants, he hasn't the slightest clue what should come next. Tucker, with the help of his new assertive friend Kiara, must learn to balance his newfound freedom with school and a job, and if he meets a cute boy on the way, then that's just an added bonus. Paint is a story of self-discovery, of queerness outside the family-friendly safety net of a high school drama, and of drag queens when you need them the most. If you grew up enjoying coming of age stories like Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and John Green's Looking For Alaska, then you will enjoy the similar themes expressed through a more adult and queer lens in Paint.


Mother Figures by Amy Barnes

Amy Barnes has a knack for what Jennifer Pieroni has called “smart surprise”. Each of these mother/daughter stories grabs the attention with its first sentence then continues to wrongfoot the reader willfully as it proceeds. The stories are focused, lean, yet packed with unexpected details – stigmata, plastic eyes, industrial bras, a watermelon called Trudy, vulture balloons. Barnes has a voice that is entirely her own. ―Michael Loveday author of Three Men on the Edge From the first sentence of each story in Mother Figures, Amy Barnes entraps us and stuns, taking us into a variety of worlds, strange and surreal—we embark on a journey involving distorted familial relationships, and through these contorted realities, there is a booming thread of truth, mirroring our need for love and friendship. Magically entertaining, Barnes is on the forefront of breaking barriers in the craft of flash fiction. ―Shome Dasgupta author of Mute Mother Figures both elevates and devastates. In twenty-three tiny stories, Amy Barnes explores the oft-searing complexities of motherhood and mother-daughter relationships through a funhouse lens of pop culture, religion and artifact. Each story is a tightly-woven portrait that exposes our most intimate relational fissures with surprising language and a playfulness that punches to the emotional core. ―Sara Hills author of The Evolution of Birds Reading Mother Figures feels like lifting a band-aid: sharp, ugly, and vulnerable, but tender too: and after, relief: you feel as though the new light and air will heal you. ―Meagan Lucas author of Songbirds and Stray Dogs, and editor, Reckon Review In ‘Mother Figures’ Amy Barnes explores the subtle complexities of female relationships. Each story, steeped in rich detail and nestled between the real and the surreal, will pull you in and keep hold of you long after you’ve finished reading it. An absolute delight. ―Laura Besley author of The Almost Mothers and 100neHundred


Ambrotypes by Amy Cipolla Barnes

We are all slightly askew,” says one of the characters in this delightful and moving collection of innovative stories that bend, at times, toward allegory. Here's a vintage world of cigarette vending machines, Jazzercise, Sears photography studios, McNally road maps, full-service filling stations, and Green Stamps dish sets, a world where a sister with sugar for shoes who desires an octopus lover, giraffes who give funeral eulogies, a student with a backpack wormhole that houses Einstein, and a woman who places a want ad to see if someone has found her name—all highlight our humanity, its losses and its longings, and in moments, the last times we don’t know are the last times. I loved these stories.” — Jill Talbot, author of The Way We Weren’t: A Memoir “Read this collection slowly. Each of these stories unfolds like a palimpsest of images you'll want to spend time unpacking. At the heart of Barnes' prose are the intricacies of human relationships made technicolor by magic realism and the author's expansive imagination.” — Christopher Allen, author of Other Household Toxins “No one aces the first sentence test quite like Amy Cipolla Barnes. Every story in her whimsical debut begins with a zing. With irresistible openers like: "There’s a beach ball in the apartment toilet," "I knew what I was doing when I swallowed the glass piano," "My great grandmother hung the moon," and "My third baby was born an alligator," how can we not keep reading? These may be AMBROTYPES, but Barnes writes in living, breathing color to bring us captivating, quirky family snapshots that engage faith, myth, fairy tale, and a little magic. For all the absurdist delight, there's no shortage of heartache or truth: "I prayed hard that my plastic Jesus would find my daddy either real pants or a job; It felt like too much to ask for both." Barnes is adept at rendering the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar in these sharply observed slices of life that never fail to snap, crackle, and pop.” — Sara Lippmann, author of Doll Palace “Nothing can really prepare you for the people you'll encounter in Amy Barnes's Ambrotypes: little girls with feet made of sugar; alligator babies; wives who grow feathers; fathers made of origami. These stories are surprising, wholly original, and go down easy -- the perfect reading for our current reality.” — Amy Shearn, award-winning author of Unseen City and The Mermaid of Brooklyn


Beauty in the Breakdown by Tegan Anderson

"We can't hide like this forever, Josh. How did we even get into this mess?" Family. Money. Run. Three things that Josh Ray and Clara Roberts have their entire life based around. It's an endless loop of get away from family, get money and get running. After a few months of what feels like stability, Josh and Clara have to start the cycle all over again until everything finally comes to an end. There was something beautiful in the way that things broke down. 'Beauty in the Breakdown' represents the importance of trust and self-discovery in an unstable lifestyle through the eyes of Josh Ray, someone who believes that there is always something beautiful in a breakdown.


The Fable of Wren by Rue Sparks

“There are wonders and terrors out there you can't yet imagine, and people out there you don't yet know are family." I don’t mix well with people; I prefer the birds. I spend my time trying to find the Trickster—a finch treasured by the locals. My smart mouth, brash behavior, and being non-binary in this secluded southern town keep me on the periphery of Spastoke’s society. Fine by me. All I need are the birds and my uncle Jeremy. Until he dies, and I can’t do anything to stop it. I want to withdraw from the town into the comfort of birdwatching and forget everything. Instead, Adrian Turney, my uncle’s friend and mentor, is found dead in the woods. My only hope of unravelling the truth is Jethro; a chatty newcomer that appears earnest, but can I trust him? When my uncle appears to me in my dreams, I quickly learn what started as a search for answers is so much more: a journey into the town’s shady past to uncover a danger in the woods lost to time. Along the way, I might discover I’m not alone as I thought. ---- Content Warnings: Chronic Illness Death Grief & Loss PTSD & Anxiety Attacks Terminal Illness


Post Mortem by Phelan Reed

Luck has never really been on Chance's side. Fresh off a five year stint in prison, he's ready to start over, but all his plans come to a halt when he's murdered. Not one to let a little thing like death stop him, Chance sets out to track down his last worldly possession: the coin that brought him back to life. With his murderer trying to put him back in the grave, the last thing Chance needs is to find a reason to stay alive... Avery has been a mortician for close to a decade, and though he's had his fair share of strange experiences, he's never had a person wake up on him. When one does, his otherwise mundane life suddenly gets a lot more interesting. Post Mortem is an ownvoice gay thriller romance with trans MCs, low heat romance, and a HEA! Content Warning: Death; Emetophobia; Mild to moderate gore/violence and body horror (autopsy scars, mouth trauma); Past Drug Addiction; Drug Usage; References to Homophobia and Transphobia; Suicide; and Referenced Self Harm.


When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Chair by Ryan Rae Harbuck

Her story has (not) defined her. From where she sat, her perspective of the world was both quite ordinary and rivetingly extraordinary—from a paralyzing car accident in her teens to traveling overseas on a journey of self-reflection to becoming a mom. Throughout everything she experienced, she fervently believed in following her given path. She wanted to trust its trajectory. She wanted to be sure. Her story is not about a chair. Her story is about her strengths and how they rose out of her instinctive vulnerabilities. Her story is about her struggles and how they became her victories. Her story is about being willing to hold it all, for herself and the whole of her world. Everyone has a chair. That thing you are bound to or unwillingly defines you. An element that makes you different from the rest. One that you have little choice in the matter. What’s YOUR chair?


Of Metal and Earth by Jennifer M. Lane

Seven ordinary lives are changed by their extraordinary relationships with a little green Jeep in Of Metal and Earth, a tale of restoration and redemption. James survives a fierce Vietnam battle by hiding beneath his Jeep. He loses his friends and returns home alone, surviving the town's pity by hiding in the bar. Emotionally scarred, he only finds the determination to lift himself up when he realizes what remains to be lost. He buys a little green Jeep, like the one that gave him shelter in the war, and hopes it will lead to salvation again. But the fortune it brings tarnishes, and James is left to sacrifice the thing that gave him hope for the people who need him most. Over the next thirty years, the Jeep changes hands, passing between friends, family, strangers, and lovers. A single mother who buys a car for her reckless son nearly destroys a friendship with a man who silently loved her for two decades. An insecure youth at the start of his career learns that the most important lessons are the ones you never set out to learn. A family torn apart by their differences finds that love can be the hardest road to take. And a city architect must choose between the easy way to restoration or a difficult path that could save more than a rusty old Jeep. Readers of Mitch Albom, Nicholas Sparks, Jeep owners everywhere, and viewers of This is Us will enjoy this heart-warming tale of restoration and redemption, a must read book for anyone inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit. Winner of the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Award for First Novel. Finalist in the 2018 IAN Book of the Year Awards in the category of Literary / General Fiction!


Stolen Moments of Joy by Hamour Baika

Baltimore, 2014. Abdul aches with shame. Used to bearing the brunt of people’s judgment, the Afghan immigrant can’t reconcile his love for his charming boyfriend with the bruises the man leaves on his face. So when a handsome activist’s flirtatious exchange offers solace, he goes against his beliefs and enters into a secret tryst. Drowning in guilt over the brief affair, Abdul struggles to reset his personal compass even as a racially motivated shooting twists his adopted city into a minefield. But his firm conviction that the troubles he’s facing are fair payment for the sins of his past keeps drawing him back to his beau’s punishing fists.


Iep Jāltok by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner

As the seas rise, the fight intensifies to save the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands from being devoured by the waters around them. At the same time, activists are raising their poetic voices against decades of colonialism, environmental destruction, and social injustice. Marshallese poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages, where she has performed in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to more than a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit. The poet connects us to Marshallese daily life and tradition, likening her poetry to a basket and its essential materials. Her cultural roots and her family provides the thick fiber, the structure of the basket. Her diasporic upbringing is the material which wraps around the fiber, an essential layer to the structure of her experiences. And her passion for justice and change, the passion which brings her to the front lines of activist movements—is the stitching that binds these two experiences together. Iep Jāltok will make history as the first published book of poetry written by a Marshallese author, and it ushers in an important new voice for justice.


The Church of Wrestling by Emily Thomas Mani

Eleven-year-old Jenny Arsenault is an undefeated wrestler, thanks in part to the guiding principle her father has taught her—Strike First. But she’s eager to try another principle. At the 1992 Canada East Championship, she defies Strike First and loses the gold. It’s not the only loss that day. Her mother also dies, launching her father into an intercontinental search for the answer to an impossible question: How do you strike first at death? A bold, inventive novella with unforgettable characters, The Church of Wrestling shows grief and obsession are full-contact sports, and family ties—even when seemingly broken—bind more tightly than a half nelson.


Bit Flip by Mike Trigg

Fortysomething tech executive Sam Hughes came to Silicon Valley to "make the world a better place." He's just not sure he's doing that anymore--and when an onstage meltdown sends him into a professional tailspin, he suddenly sees the culture of the Bay Area's tech bubble in a new, far more cynical light. Just as he's wondering if his start-up career and marriage might both be over, an inadvertent discovery pulls Sam back into his former company, where he begins to unravel the insidious schemes of the founder and venture investors that led to his ouster. Driven by his desire for redemption, he discovers a conspiracy of fraud, blackmail, and manipulation that leads to tragic outcomes--threatening to destroy not only the company but Sam's moral compass as well. Entangled in a web of complicity, how far will he go to achieve his dreams of entrepreneurial success and personal wealth? Bit Flip is a corporate thriller that delivers an authentic insider's view of the corrupting influences of greed, entitlement, and vanity in technology start-ups.


Drummond: Learning to find himself in the music by Patrick R. F. Blakley

Drummond, a thirteen-year-old C student in middle school, is steered into joining the high school’s marching band. He’s far from ready, and his friends help him make several attempts to learn new instruments to try and fit in better. With a little unexpected guidance from the drummers and their instructor, he realizes how well he already fits in. He discovers who he is inside. Homelife deteriorates behind him and pushes him forward into the arms of his new family, the marching band.


I Am Not Brad Pitt and Other Stories by Ross Dreiblatt

I AM NOT BRAD PITT is the first of three riotously absurd tales in Ross Dreiblatt’s debut short-story collection sending up America’s sometimes-fatal celebrity obsessions. “I Am Not Brad Pitt” opens in a prison cell in which Mr. Pitt’s clone-like doppelganger, Tobey Crawford, remorsefully recounts the sequence of unlikely events that resulted in his wrongful conviction for murder. The second story, “Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself,” considers the possibility that Keith Richards (along with, for good measure, Dolly Parton) is, indeed, a vampire. Nobel-Prize laureate Bob Dylan, the story’s vampire-killer, is equipped with more than just a harmonica and tambourine. The final work in the collection, “Keeping Compliant With The Kardashians,” examines whether Kardashian family members are, in fact, aliens from another galaxy and what precisely is their interest on Earth. Each of the stories are told with engaging humor, and each pokes fun more at American culture than they do, generally, of the celebrities themselves.


Falling for the Competition by Jen Smith

It’s going to be the best summer ever for ambitious, overachieving Quinn. A huge history buff, not only has she landed her dream job interning in the archives department of the local castle, but her best friend will be working there too. However, Quinn isn’t the only one to be working in Archives this summer; Quinn’s academic rival, Patrick, is sharing her office in Muniments. They’re competing for the Letter of Recommendation (singular) from the research historian that Quinn needs to get her dream future placement. Their emotionally-loaded and competitive rivalry turns into a reluctant friendship, as they spend every day working together in silence (and sharing the occasional Twix). Until the Re-Enactors arrive. Between Patrick and Harry – the Golden Knight of the jousting team – Quinn’s carefully planned summer is thrown into complete disarray. Meanwhile, her best friend’s relationship may look perfect on the outside, but Quinn is starting to realise that there’s more going on than there seems. Although Quinn is determined and single minded about planning every detail of her sparkling future, she comes to discover that the best things in life are the spontaneous ones – and that some people are more important than any Letter of Recommendation (singular) could ever be.


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