Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Random Lit . . . A Powerful Voice by Penelope Powell


Contemporary Christian Romance/ Women’s Fiction
Date Published: Jun 10th (digital) / Aug. 9th (print/POD)
Publisher: Anaiah Romance



Gloria Fielder is trying her best to live with sincere faith, but regret for a past decision makes it difficult to live with herself.
Justin Case knows first-hand the consequences of bad choices, but he doesn’t believe in burying past mistakes. He openly shares his testimony with the purpose of showing there is hope and freedom for those who come to Christ.
Justin is the new worship leader for the church service Gloria attends, and he also leads a new Bible study she knows will help her. To complicate matters, once Justin becomes aware of Gloria’s struggle, he seems intent on drawing her out of her self-imposed shell of guilt and regret. If she trusts him with her secret and her heart, will their friendship evolve into something more, or will it simply be her undoing?


Excerpt

© 2016 Penelope Powell
 
Chapter One
 
Time heals all wounds…unless you deserve to suffer.
When the thought from her internal mantra struck, Gloria Fielder froze mid-step. As if punctuating the accusation, an icy wind howled, the force of it wrenching the glass door from her grasp and slamming it against the stopper.
“A few more minutes and you would’ve missed us entirely.”
Gloria looked up into the unsmiling face of a rail-thin woman standing sentinel over a group of children. Gloria assumed she was the children’s director, as they were all dressed in the festive colors of Christmas, their bright reds and deep greens reminding her of the candlelight service in progress.
She hesitated, her gaze shifting to the plaster nativity figures less than ten feet away, the babe in particular so…lifelike. Would it be better to leave and apologize later for having missed the program?
“Could you shut the door please? It’s hard to keep everyone’s attention while a draft is blowing through, and it’s almost time for us to begin.” Seeming to barely hang on to her patience, the director’s smile was as tight as her collar.
Being late was bad enough, but being made to feel like she was an annoying interruption was well…worse. Gloria shifted to close the door.
After an inquisitive glance toward Gloria, a chubby boy with flushed cheeks pulled on the director’s sleeve. “Mrs. Parker, when do we get our candles?”
“Patience, Tommy. We need to wait for the lady to go inside the auditorium, don’t we?”
Glancing from the boy to Mrs. Parker, Gloria apologized.
“That’s all right. We’re happy to wait for you to get settled.” Mrs. Parker’s smile stretched.
Gloria glanced back toward the woman, wondering if she meant what she said. She’d grown up in a house where a smile often held duplicity. Committed to stay, she hurried toward the partition crammed with winter coats. She unfurled the red scarf from her neck, then squished it and her coat into the mix.
Hushed giggles drew her gaze back to the director, who was busy giving each child a candle with detailed instructions. Everything about them seemed to contrast her. Was it just last year she wore red, putting on a good front? She wasn’t interested in being that person anymore. The clingy dress and all it represented was exiled to the corner of her closet. Proof she was different.
The past few weeks had been particularly hard. When something like seeing the babe in the manger shook her confidence instead of giving her hope, she questioned her faith as a believer in Christ. The possibility of seeing someone at this service she’d rather avoid tightened her chest with further worry.
“Ma’am, they’re waiting for us to start.” Apparently losing her patience, Mrs. Parker nodded toward the doors going into the auditorium.
Gloria tamped down her misgivings, straightened her shoulders, and walked toward the sanctuary. As she edged around the children to reach for one of the doors, a little girl dressed in an evergreen velvet dress took a candle from a basket and offered it to her.
“Thank you.” Gloria smiled.
The girl’s pink lips curved in reply.
Suddenly, blinking back the unwelcome pressure of tears, she turned and eased through the doors. Assailed by the scent of melting wax and pine, she waited for her eyesight to adjust to the soft glow of dimmed lighting, giving her a chance to scan the room for empty seats.
Soon an usher stood next to her, his face brightening when he smiled. “Is anyone joining you?” His generous teeth gleamed in the darkness.
Just me. She shook her head.
He motioned for her to follow him, then pointed to some empty chairs. As she made a beeline for them, his parting greeting followed. “Merry Christmas.”
Gloria glanced over her shoulder and forced a smile. She wanted to be merry. Wanted to simply feel peace. Wanted a reprieve from the recording in her head. Some days, the indictment playing over and over—tightening the tendrils of regret—putting her back on the treadmill of if-only. Making forgetting impossible.
If time was linear, and the passing of it promised things would get easier, then why hadn’t the grip of shame and sorrow weakened?
She settled into a chair as the children from the lobby entered and dispersed down the center aisle, the sound of their voices rising as they moved toward the front, their song offering her a distraction from her turmoil. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and tried to escape into the words.
Joy to the World. A feeling she had yet to muster.
After several carols and a reenactment of the birth of Christ, the pastor walked up on the stage.
Bobby Jordan had thinning gray hair, a solid middle-aged build, and the demeanor and voice of an authoritative grandfather. But that was her opinion now that she knew him. Their first meeting was at her office. His friendly and forthright manner reminded her of the old Southern gentlemen at home. He explained he was a pastor hoping to refer church members who were house hunting, said a friend had recommended her.
Her peace of mind wavered at the memory. Fortunately, the uncomfortable connection led to providential results. If she had not been going through such a rough time, and if Bobby had not sought her out, she might never have begun a relationship with Christ. If only she could find a way to reconcile how the two connected without all the bad stuff. She rubbed her forehead.
“Thank you children, you may join your parents,” Bobby said.
Gloria glanced up as Bobby laid a hand on the shoulder of a little boy after dismissing the others to finds their seats.
“This is Johnny, one of our shepherds in tonight’s program. He’s seven. I asked Johnny a question earlier, and I wanted you to hear his response.” Bobby crouched down. “Johnny, what’s Christmas all about?” He tilted a microphone toward Johnny.
“Pweth-sents.” The boy turned toward the audience and smiled, the gap in his front teeth sparking chuckles from the crowd.
“What’s so great about presents?”
“They’we fwee.”
Bobby ruffled Johnny’s hair and told him to join his parents. When the laughter trickling through the congregation died down, Bobby stood at the edge of the platform. “Each Christmas, we decorate our homes with nativity scenes and our Christmas trees with lights.”
Gloria swallowed, the nativity from the lobby edging back into her thoughts.
“We send cards, sing carols, and we exchange gifts.” Eyes down, Bobby paused. “I agree with Johnny. Big or small, presents are special, but are they truly free? Certainly, they’re free to the recipients, but to the giver there is always a cost.” Bobby raised his arms. “But to each one of us, grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Paul wrote this to the Ephesians. God’s gift of grace. Undeserved favor for us.”
Undeserved. That was certainly her. She’d never measured up to expectations, which was one of the reasons why she worked so hard at her job.
“As recipients, God’s gift of grace costs us nothing because Jesus paid for it. He gave his life, so we might receive forgiveness. Receive life. In this season of giving, in addition to the wrapped packages we place under our trees, let’s give grace to one another. Offer forgiveness when needed, even underserved.” Then Bobby prayed.
As before, the children assembled across the front. Once their candles were lit, they disbursed down each aisle, lighting the candles of people sitting on the end as they went. Music played in the background.
Eyes closed, Gloria focused on Bobby’s words. She prayed the message would wash over her. Because there was hope in knowing Christ had already forgiven her. And she could do the same.
“Excuse me.”
Startled from someone’s touch, Gloria slapped a hand to her chest.
A man barely visible, given the darkness and shadows cast by candlelight, leaned closer. “Sorry to disturb you, but I thought you might want to light your candle.” Highlighting his explanation, he lifted his candle. For one brief moment, a striking, masculine face with eyes so dark they glittered like pools in moonlight stared back at her.
She swallowed, her heart still pounding from having been disturbed. “Sorry.” She fumbled for the candle amongst her things. Finding it, she held it toward him and tilted her wick toward his flame. A cool, woodsy scent wafted toward her, reminiscent of an autumn breeze. She inhaled the refreshing smell and relaxed a bit.
When her candle was lit, the flare illuminated his face once more. He looked up and caught her staring. Embarrassed, she turned away. “Thanks.”
“No problem.”
When the lights came up, she hit the aisle, determined to get through the lobby then home. The last thing she wanted to do was linger. Not that she didn’t enjoy talking with people afterward, but tonight she felt fragile.


Though her roots are buried deep in the hills of Middle Tennessee, she now lives in Indiana with her family and serves in her local church. She loves to entertain, give life to old things, antiquing, reading and of course writing.
Like the things we experience, I believe good Christian fiction can inspire and change someone’s perspective, and hopefully point them to Christ.


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Random Lit . . . Remembrance of Blue Roses by Yorker Keith

 
Literary Fiction
Date Published: April 2016

Remembrance of Blue Roses follows a man and a married couple in New York City, whose intricate relationship oscillates among friendship, love, love-triangle, and even obsession. Its romantic ambience is interwoven with classical music, opera, art, family legend, and international affairs, illuminating the lives of international civil servants at the United Nations and the UN peacekeeping mission in Sarajevo, and those with direct experience of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the Holocaust.
 
Mark, the narrator and an American, works for the United Nations in New York as a personnel officer; his friend, Hans, German, also works for the UN as an economist; and Yukari, Japanese and Hans’s wife, is a professional violinist. One day Mark encounters Hans and Yukari in a museum. As Hans enjoys opera singing and Mark is into painting, the three foster their friendship through classical music, opera, and art. Mark resists feeling drawn to his friend’s wife. One evening over dinner, they discover that their families were acquainted generations ago. This bonds them together. During the summer, inspired by the beauty of Yukari in her light blue dress at the UN garden, Hans and Mark secretly plant blue roses there for Yukari. The blue roses later blossom sumptuously. The three enjoy their blue roses, the symbol of their friendship and bond.
 
The story becomes complicated by the involvement of two other women: Mark’s ex-wife, Francine, a Swiss, who is remarried to another of Mark’s friends in the UN, Shem Tov, an Israeli; and Mark’s high school sweetheart, Jane, to whom he was briefly engaged. Francine encourages Mark to be happy with Yukari, while Jane now wants to marry Mark. Yukari becomes pregnant with Hans’s child and happily settles into her role as expectant mother. Mark, Hans, and Yukari celebrate New Year’s Eve at the height of their friendship and happiness. … Then a series of tragedies shatters their joy and alters their future forever.
 
... Then a series of tragedies shatters their joy and alters their future forever.
 
Praise for Remembrance of Blue Roses:
"A skillful tale that explores relationship nuances and redemption." -- Kirkus Reviews
"Yorker Keith’s Remembrance of Blue Roses is a slow-burning, passionate literary novel that speaks to the romantic in all of us. ... A precisely-written, well-crafted literary work that illuminates the many facets of love, obsession and, ultimately, redemption." -- Chanticleer Book Reviews
"A deftly crafted, multi-layered, compelling read from beginning to end, Remembrance of Blue Roses establishes novelist Yorker Keith as an extraordinarily gifted storyteller." -- Midwest Book Review
"Readers who enjoy a sophisticated and well-written book about the complexity of human relationship will definitely enjoy Remembrance of Blue Roses." -- Readers' Favorite
 

Excerpt
 
I have heard a wise man say that love is a form of friendship, and friendship a form of love; the line between the two is misty. I happen to know that this holds true because I have roamed that misty line. Time has passed since then, but I cherish the memory of the blue roses in grace and perpetuity — our blue roses. It all began with a fortuitous encounter.
 
* * *
 
On a fine day in early April 1999, I was sketching in the sculpture court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I felt hesitant working in such a public space, but this was a homework assignment for the art class I was taking. The object of my sketch was a sculpture of an adorable young woman, a nude, reclining on a moss-covered rock surrounded by an abundance of flowers. The smooth texture of the white marble sensually expressed her lively body, which shone with bright sunlight beneath the glass ceiling of the court. 
My drawing materials were simple, just a number 2 pencil, an eraser, and a sheet of heavy white drawing paper. The assignment was to capture the skin of a figure in as much detail as possible. I had almost completed sketching the woman’s body and was working on the rock and flowers. I was not doing badly, I thought, for a small crowd of museum visitors had gathered around me, showing approving faces and nods.
“Ah, this is excellent!” one man exclaimed.
I recognized the voice and turned to see Hans Schmidt, standing amid the crowd wearing a big grin.
“What a surprise!” he continued. “I didn’t know you had such an artistic talent, Mark. How are you?” He came forward and firmly shook my hand.
I greeted him, then pointed to my drawing. “I’ve been working on this for a while. I wasn’t sure how it would come out. But it’s coming along all right, I guess.”
“I don’t know much about drawing, but this looks great.” He gestured enthusiastically to a young woman next to him. “What do you think?”
“It’s pretty.” Her voice sounded like a bell.
“This is Yukari, my wife.” He guided her toward me, his hand lingering at the small of her back.
I swallowed. I knew Hans was married, but this was my first time to meet his wife. Hans’s wife is Japanese? How lovely she is. Hans, you devil, you’re a lucky man!  
“Pleased to meet you.” I gently shook her small refined hand. “I’m Mark Sanders. Hans and I are good friends.”
Hans’s wife appeared to be in her late thirties, or late twenties? I could hardly tell, because Japanese women often looked much younger than their age. She was willowy, of medium height, with a fine complexion, dark eyes, straight nose, and shiny dark brown hair that hung to her shoulders. For a Japanese woman, she had a touch of a Western woman’s body, the round breasts and a curvy waist. Despite her conservative dress, she reminded me of the nude I was sketching — though I quickly banished the thought.
She gazed directly into my eyes with keen curiosity. “Do you come here often to sketch? It’s really nice.”
“Well, yes,” I answered, “I visit this museum often. But to sketch? No, this is the first time. You know what? It’s so embarrassing.”
I dabbed some sweat from my forehead. We three burst out laughing.
“Hans, I’m almost done. Can you come back in ten minutes or so?” I said. “Then we could go to the terrace for a cup of coffee.”
“Sounds terrific,” said Hans. “We’ll be walking around the sculpture court. When you’re done, just join us.”
Hans took Yukari’s arm and started moving leisurely toward other sculptures. She smiled at me and went along with him. Hans tried to hold her closely at her waist, but she discretely slipped away. I didn’t understand what it meant. I presumed that as a Japanese woman she was timid to show open affection.
I hastily added finishing touches to the figure, rock, and flowers. Since the figure had been almost completed, the rest went quickly and easily — or so I felt after having seen Hans and Yukari.
 
* * *
 
            I had known Hans for some time because both he and I worked at the United Nations New York Headquarters as international civil servants. He was German, aged forty-two, tall and slim, with blond hair, high forehead, and grey eyes. He had a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and worked as an Economic Affairs Officer in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Secretariat, which was the administrative body of the UN. His job there was to maintain and operate a global econometric modeling system, called EGlobe.
            We had originally met in a French language class. Being at the UN, we were required to be proficient in at least two of its six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. In my case, I added French to my native English. My French was hardly adequate, though, so I was working my way through the seven-level French program.
            In level six I met Hans, who had just started the program from that level. We ate lunch often together in the cafeteria and practiced our French. His grasp of the language was much better than mine. Also, since he used computers heavily for his work, and since I had a good friend, Shem Tov Lancry, an Israeli, in the Information Technology Services Division of the Department of Management, I introduced them, so Hans was able to receive technical advice from Shem Tov. 
            I packed up my drawing materials, and we three went to the balcony above the Great Hall of the museum, where drinks and desserts were served while musicians played chamber music. We each ordered a glass of red wine.

 
Yorker Keith lives in Manhattan, New York City. He loves literature, theatre, classical music, opera, and art. He holds an MFA in creative writing from The New School. His literary works have been recognized four times in the William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition as a finalist or a semifinalist.



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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Random Lit . . . A Thousand Shatterd Memories by Connie Ann Michael

 
 
Contemporary Christian Military Romance/ Women’s Fiction

Date Published: Aug. 9th (print/POD)
Publisher: Anaiah Romance

 
Sawyer and Raven finally see a future away from the war—if they can only get through this last deployment. But when the military separates them, Raven finds it impossible to protect her, and he worries her post traumatic stress disorder will return. Soon, Raven finds out PTSD is the least of his troubles.

Sawyer is assigned to a bomb removal unit being sent into the most dangerous area in Afghanistan where she’s taken and held captive for weeks. Expecting the worst, Sawyer is ready to die for her country. But when death doesn’t come, Sawyer turns her back on her faith. believing God has left her to deal with the aftermath of her capture alone.

Devastated at the news of Sawyer’s disappearance, Raven’s commitment to her never falters, even when her injuries threaten to take her from him. To make matters worse, he’s being kept from his wife by an angry mother-in-law. Raven is determined to bring Sawyer back to him—But is it be too late? Unfaltering in his faith, Raven knows with God’s help, he will prove his love to Sawyer.

EXCERPT
© 2016 Connie Ann Michael

CHAPTER ONE
 
Sawyer wiped a hand across her forehead, interrupting the drips of sweat heading toward her chin. She settled into a shady spot on the side of the metal structure of the hospital she was currently assigned to in Qatar, Afghanistan. Sawyer balanced her laptop on her knees. Glancing down at her watch, she opened the case and logged on. Raven was supposed to be back from his patrol tonight, and they were going to attempt to video chat. Camp Grady was one of the best set ups in Afghanistan and provided consistent climate control within the tents but lacked the privacy she wanted to talk to her husband. She laughed to herself. She still couldn’t believe Raven was her husband.
 
“Hey babe,” Raven’s voice broke through the quiet of her hiding spot.
Sawyer pushed a few buttons to get the screen to show the face of the man she loved. His big smile came through at the same time she assumed her face appeared on Raven’s screen.
“Hey babe,” he said again with a sigh.
Sawyer reached out and ran her fingers down the screen, caressing his cheek.
“Can you hear me?”
“Yeah. I can.” Sawyer swallowed down the lump in her throat. “Don’t call me babe. I’m Navy.” Sawyer and Raven had gone round and round on her status as a Navy Corpsman with the Marines. Now it was a topic of levity.
“Not when it’s you and me, babe. You’re not Navy, you’re my wife.” Raven gave her a sad smile.
“You look tired.” Raven’s eyes were shadowed with fatigue, and the lines around his mouth seemed deeper.
Raven nodded. “You look beautiful.”
“I appreciate your ability to lie.”
Raven rubbed at his eyes then gave her a small smile.
“Just got back?” she asked.
Raven closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the screen. “I miss you so much.”
Sawyer wiped a tear that escaped and cleared her throat. “I miss you, too.”
Raven glanced to the side then sat back up and resumed a comfortable slouch in the chair he was sitting in. The torso of another soldier passed behind him on the screen.
“Where are you?” Sawyer shifted on the sand, getting more comfortable. If he was in the Coms center it would explain his quick change of posture. After the past few weeks of silence, being able to truly share their feelings would be difficult.
Raven glanced over his shoulder. “Coms. The internet doesn’t work anywhere else. I can’t guarantee I’ll be with you for long. Things have been worse than normal lately.”
Raven had been redeployed to Camp Dietz, the base where they’d originally met. Raven kicking her out of his unit and the inconvenience of marrying her commanding officer made it impossible to be redeployed together. But at least they were both in Afghanistan, even if they were hundreds of miles apart with bad internet.
“So, what have you been up to?” Raven glanced backward again. Suddenly a bottle of water appeared over his shoulder. “Thanks,” he told the disembodied hand before Raven’s right hand man, Thommy pushed into view.
“Hey, Doogie. Good to see you.” Thommy smiled into the screen.
“Hey.” Thommy had been with them in Dietz and after the mess they went through during their last deployment, the three of them had become close friends.
“Chief telling you about the mess we got ourselves into?” Thommy continued.
Raven punched him in the arm, and after a mumbled conversation, Thommy disappeared.
“You got into trouble?” Raven’s unit was supposed to find trouble. That was their job. They were sent in to find the worst of the worst and eliminate them.
“How are you?” Raven’s expression cleared as he put on his game face and leaned forward, plainly ignoring her inquiry.
Sawyer sighed. He’d been her commanding officer, and she knew that until he was ready, there was no getting information out of him. She pulled the computer closer. “I miss you.”
Raven rubbed the short hair over his ears. He had only recently arrived at Dietz and was almost immediately sent out on a mission. Sawyer had been deployed two months before him. Three weeks after their wedding.
“You doing okay? Staying on base? Not heading out with any teams?” Raven had made her promise to do her best to stay on the base and out of combat, but she was a corpsman and changing her job title to nurse wasn’t going well. Sawyer had suffered a tough bit of PTSD after her last deployment. The guard assigned to her while on her last mission had become a close friend and when he stepped on an IED and blew up in front of her, things got rough. Raven had helped but more so the pastor they had been seeing had allowed her to move forward and ultimately redeploy. Something Raven was not happy about.
 
“I’ve stayed on base,” she started.
“You’re going out, aren’t you?” His voice was tight. Whereas he had mastered the ability to hide his emotions, Sawyer was an open book when it came to him.
“You do. You just got back.” It was a weak argument but a valid one. It was also the only argument she’d come up with when she’d prepared for this conversation in her head.
“That really isn’t the point. I didn’t pull a gun on my neighbor after I got stateside. You need to take it slow.”
“Raven,” was all she got out before he nailed her with one of his famous cold-as-ice stares.
Sawyer took a breath and tried to approach the conversation calmly. She knew he worried and although bringing up her past wasn’t exactly fair, she knew her actions after her last trip home were hard to forget. “I’m doing fine. But this is my job, and until I fulfill my time, I have to do it. I’ll be careful. I always am, just like I need you to be.”
“I know, baby. I know. But it makes me feel better if I at least ask you to try and be careful.”
Sawyer looked at the new lines appearing around Raven’s eyes. He was always so concerned for his men’s safety. Adding her to that worry was taking a toll on him.
“I’ve been able to stay close for the last couple of weeks.” She reached out and touched the screen again. Raven placed his fingers against hers.
“I know.”
The screen flickered, and Sawyer knew she was going to lose him soon. “I love you, Moses.”
“I love you, too, Emme.” Raven kissed his fingers and touched the screen again. Sawyer did the same.
Raven and Sawyer sat silently, staring at a grainy picture on a dusty computer screen. Their time together had been so short. Their marriage one of long distance conversations behind barracks and sweating in poorly air conditioned tech centers.
“Have you talked to your mom?” Raven’s voice was quiet.
Sawyer closed her eyes and shook her head. “No.”
“Why?”
Sawyer looked into the deep brown eyes that veiled so many emotions and knew Raven was hurt by her not telling her mom she had gotten married.
“Are you ashamed? Embarrassed?” he started.
“Why would I be either of those?”
“Regretful?” he added.
“Are you?” she snapped back.
“Me?” Raven snorted a laugh. “You’re my heart. You’re my life, Emme. I want to shout from the roof tops how much I love you. And I did. I told my family. The difference is they don’t care, yours will. Why won’t you tell your mom?”
“I.” She paused. “I have always had a strained relationship with her. I want to be able to tell her with you there. I don’t want to do it on my own.”
“You need back up.”
Sawyer smiled, and he winked. “Yeah. I guess I do. It’s harder to tell me I made a mistake if the infamous Sergeant Ravenscar is standing beside me.”
“I’m a mistake?”
“No. Never. She just thinks anything I do that wasn’t her idea is a mistake. I want you with me so she can see how you could never be a mistake.”
“Then I shall stand by you, Mrs. Sergeant Ravenscar.”
“It’s still Sawyer,” she corrected him.
“Not for long. The paperwork should be through soon. The Navy just likes to do things slow. Now if you were a Marine…”
“So now I’m not a Marine?” she teased back.
Raven’s jovial mood subsided, and he looked to the side, something or someone was talking to him just to the right of the screen.
When he looked back, the expression on his face made it clear he was getting a directive to get off the computer. “I got assigned to an EOD Convoy.” Sawyer couldn’t let him go without knowing as many details of her mission as she could give him. They had promised to tell as much as they could so they could pray for each other’s safety, and she needed as much help as she could get to keep her head out in the field.
The curtain of a non-emotional Marine dropped over Raven’s face as he kept his emotions in check. “An Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team? Why do they need a corpsman? Don’t they sit in the trucks and play with robots?”
Sawyer laughed. The men on the EOD teams spent a lot of time playing with little robotic machines whose job was to disarm IED’s. Improvised Explosive Devises were the number one killers in this war with over fifteen thousand people having been killed in the last year. The team’s job was to go out and clean routes so the Army or Marines could move forward without fear of blowing up. The problem was the insurgents could replace bombs faster than the team could find them, so often times they ended up running over bombs in areas they thought they had just cleaned.
“Sergeant Holloway, he’s the commanding officer, asked me to come.” She shrugged. “Told me I was coming.”
“Do you know where?” Raven wiped at something on his side of the screen.
Sawyer knew Raven was doing his best not to explode at the prospect of her being out with a bomb patrol. Which was another reason she was thankful she couldn’t tell him where exactly she was going.
“You can’t tell me where you’re going?” he asked.
“No.”
 
“I’ll tell you where I’m going if you tell me,” he teased, his commanding officer fa├žade slipping a little.
“All I was told is we are headed to Gor Tepa on a route referred to only as Route Z.”
“That sounds safe.”
“I’ll be fine,” was all she got out before the computer fizzled, and Raven disappeared into the blackness of the screen.
Sawyer needed to see Raven’s face and looked forward to the video chat sessions, but more often than not the internet connection failed, and they were cut off without closure, leaving her feeling uncomfortable walking away. Conversations always left hanging. Words left unspoken.
Sawyer snapped the laptop closed, collected her things and headed back to the bunk she shared with a nurse. They were on opposite shifts most of the time so they rarely slept in the room at the same time. Storing her laptop in a box sworn to keep the sand out but lacking the actual ability to do so, Sawyer sat on the edge of her bed and waited for the sense of unfinished words to subside.
A courtesy knock came just before the door swung open and Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar stuck his head in. “We’re meeting in the mess hall for a briefing in five.”
“Roger that.”
Sawyer barely saw the man’s face before Omar closed the door behind him. With a sigh, she got out the ammo box where she kept her personal possessions. Inside were the paper cranes Raven made her with messages of love as well as candy and the tiny heart given to her by Tahk, her guard who had been killed during her last tour. Sawyer tucked them into her pockets as reminders that they were always with her and headed to the mess hall.
The men from EOD Platoon 432 had settled in long green lines at the tables that set parallel to each other. Sawyer had avoided making any close friends on the teams. She hadn’t been assigned a guard this time around and was frustrated about the barrier it caused between the men and her. Tahk allowed an access point to the team that was difficult to find without a senior team member on her side. Sawyer tried to tell herself it was easier if she kept her feelings in check and developing relationships made the inevitability of war that much more difficult. But keeping to herself was hard, and life with this team was lonely. Sawyer hung in the back and leaned against a wall to listen to the plan—alone.
SSG Halloway stepped up to the front of the room, waving a hand until the men quieted. “Our orders came in. We will be taking three Buffalos out with full teams.”
The Buffalos were six wheeled, mine resistant, ambush protected, armored vehicles. All the wheels and the centerline were mine resistant. The bottom of the truck was fitted with a ‘V’ shaped chassis that was supposed to keep the force of a blast away from the occupants. Each truck was fitted with a large, articulated arm used for ordinance disposal. Plainly speaking, it got rid of bombs.
“The Afghanistan National Army is going to be riding in the sweeper truck.” He pointed to a few of the men. “You won’t be taking WALL-E with you. We’ll pack them in the lead and second truck.”
WALL-E was the name the men gave the Cobham tEODor, the Navy’s technical term for a robot they used for bomb clearing. Each truck carried at least one when they went out on sweeper missions.
There were some groans from the team having to ride with the ANA. None of the men really enjoyed being paired with a group that was supposed to be taking the lead on this war but most of the time were a bunch of clowns with guns.
Halloway waited for the group to quiet down before continuing. “The Army is going to attempt to take over a town known for heavy Taliban activity, and they need the route cleared. Route Z is the heaviest bombed road in Afghanistan. There is a good chance as soon as we get the bombs off the road and past them there will be guys going in and replacing them. It’s going to be a tight mission. All eyes need to be watching and ready. We don’t want to get blown up, and we don’t want the Army coming in on hot soil after we’ve cleared it.”
Sawyer fidgeted with the zipper on her digis. When she avoided telling Raven where they were going, she hadn’t been trying to be elusive. The people of this culture didn’t name things. The military had spent the majority of their time in the country making maps trying to give the teams some direction as to where they had been and where they were going. However, Route Z seemed as scary as the name implied.
“Doogie.” Halloway nodded toward where Sawyer stood. The men turned to look in her direction, and she lifted her hand in a half salute. Sawyer had been given the nickname Doogie during her last deployment. It was an honor to be given a nickname by the Marines, but the majority of the time the nickname wasn’t meant to be nice. Hers’ was in reference to the young age when she had joined up. “She’s our corpsman. She’ll be watching out for us and the Army if needed.”
The men nodded back at her then shifted around to listen to the rest of the briefing. Sawyer had been impressed with Raven’s unit. There were some incredibly brave individuals serving under him. But this new group of men took service to a new level. The EOD’s were the ultimate bomb squad. They were trained to disarm not only explosive devices but to neutralize chemical threats and even nuclear weapons. The Navy Explosive Techs were trained to perform some of the most harrowing, dangerous work in order to keep others safe. And Sawyer was going out with them. If injuries occurred, they would be severe and most likely deadly. The pressure of her task sat heavy on her shoulders.
“We’re pulling out at zero eight hundred. Dismissed.” They had approximately thirty minutes to pull themselves together and meet on the Buffalos.
Sawyer only needed fifteen. She had learned through her first deployment to always be ready. Taking long enough to gather her ruck, a gun, and email Raven to tell him she loved him, Sawyer was the first to arrive at the large armored truck that would be her ride down the deadliest road in Afghanistan.
 
 
Connie Michael began her writing career after her two boys grew up and didn’t want to hang out with their mom anymore.  A graduate of Washington State University Connie has been a teacher for twenty-five years. Specializing in Bilingual Education she recently left her home state of Washington to begin an adventure with her best friend and husband in Montana. Currently a fifth grade teacher on the Crow Reservation, Connie can be found biking, hiking, kayaking, or just hanging out with her two dogs.

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Random Lit . . . Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger

 
Young Adult 
 
Meet ten-year-old Bones, whose playground is the Florida swamps, brimming with mystical witches, black bears, alligators and bobcats. Bones’ father, Nolay, a Miccosukee Indian, is smart and mischievous. Her Mama, practical as corn bread, can see straight into Bones’ soul.
It’s summer, and Bones is busy hunting and fishing with her best friend, Little Man. But then two Yankee real estate agents trespass on her family’s land, and Nolay scares them off with his gun. When a storm blows in and Bones and Little Man uncover something horrible at the edge of the Loo-chee swamp, the evidence of foul play points to Nolay. The only person that can help Nolay is Sheriff LeRoy, who’s as slow as pond water. Bones is determined to take matters into her own hands. If it takes a miracle, then a miracle is what she will deliver.
 
Praise for Precious Bones:

“…a tale that will already hold high interest for nature-loving readers longing for their own wild playgrounds.”—The Center for Children’s Books 

“The names of the characters alone make this a novel worth reading. How can you resist Bones, Little Man, Nolay, Soap Sally and Mr. Speed?!? Each character is as distinctive as the name they carry and the adventures they have.”—Random Acts of Reading 

“Precious Bones is a novel filled with adventure and mystery, as well as fascinating glimpses of its distinctive setting.”—Kevin Delecki, BookPage 

“I won’t be the last person to compare Mika Ashley-Hollinger’s amazing debut novel, Precious Bones to Harper Lee’s iconic To Kill A Mockingbird.”—Mindy McGinnis, author of Not a Drop to Drink 

“An intriguing debut, written lovingly to a way of life now lost.”—Booklist 

“It’s a rich stew, including hearty dollops of mystery and suspense.”—The Horn Book 

“Her voice is strong and lyrical, mixing regional syntax and dialect with lovely descriptions of the beauty she sees as she hunts, fishes, observes and explores in this mystical place.”—Kirkus Reviews 

“Like an age-appropriate To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s Bones’s interactions with well-developed, often-eccentric characters that shape this story.”—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal 
“Mika Ashley-Hollinger’s debut book is full of suspense and surprise…I love Bones’ easy-going nature and adventurous spirit. She’s ready to rush off into battle to defend herself and those she loves, no matter the dangers. And I want her pet raccoon, too! “—Jack and Jill Magazine

 
Mika Ashley-Hollinger was born and raised in the small community of Florida.  PRECIOUS BONES is written in tribute of a time and a way of life that no longer exist.
 
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