Wednesday, May 4, 2011

FIRST Wild Card Tour - Secret of the Talking Leaves

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

StoneHouse Ink; 1 edition (March 24, 2010)
***Special thanks to Chris Conrad for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Chris Conrad has spent most of his life in Oklahoma where he still lives in rural Sequoyah County. He was influenced at an early age by great children’s authors and aspired to someday write the kind of stories he loved as a child. Now he offers his own unique style, mixing his love of God with his love of writing.



SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Thirteen year old Brian is what other students call a brain. Physical challenges keep him in a wheelchair while his mind isn't challenged enough. But when a strange dream the night before a field trip becomes reality, he isn't so sure of himself. A local park he’s only visited in his sleep becomes a crime scene. A teen is found unconscious. He’s in a coma and giving no answers as to how he got there or why. Is he victim or thief? Brian’s father, an FBI agent, doesn't think the case is important but the dream and mysterious emails seem to say otherwise. Are the scriptural messages actually from God? One of his friends thinks so but the other isn't so easily convinced. Is one of the teachers at his new school a criminal? His mother is principal but how well does she know the people she works with? Can he solve the case before another crime is committed? Brian follows the clues by the facts and by faith to get to the truth.


Product Details:

List Price: $2.99
Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 232 KB
Publisher: StoneHouse Ink; 1 edition (March 24, 2010)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
Language: English
ASIN: B003E35Z5U

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Brian Banes was flying. There was no plane or futuristic jet-pack or even wings for that matter. He was simply flying among the treetops over the city. He looked down and saw one of those huge old convertibles on the street below.

Now he was in the driver’s seat of that car with the steering wheel in his hands. Trees and buildings passed by. Was he actually driving? How was that possible? His feet dangled high above the pedals. Who was talking to him? Was it Mom or Dad? No, it was that guy--that guy from...from the old television show about...

What was he saying? He couldn’t understand. It was all garbled. Something about his dog? Yes, that was it. Brian’s dog was sitting on the front end of the car like a hairy hood ornament, barking out directions.

Did ‘woof’ mean left or right?

Before he could decide, the car careened around a corner without even slowing down. He tried to control the wheel but it spun wildly and he was thrown against the door. Somehow the dog stayed glued in place but the TV guy was crushing him! His cologne was nauseating.

Wait a minute. Why would the TV guy smell like...?

Mrs. Felcher, his second grade teacher, was now the one sitting beside him. They straightened out again and she was telling him...what? He was going to be late? Late for what?

It was so hard to understand and the dog wouldn’t stop barking.

She pointed a bony finger forward. The sun’s glare from her horn-rimmed glasses was almost blinding. He looked ahead and saw the school building in the distance. But even as the car seemed to speed up the building moved farther and farther away.

He was going to be late for school! He tried to run but his legs wouldn’t move.

Suddenly he was perched on the hood of the car and the dog was driving. Mrs. Felcher said it was okay though because...

...dogs have...

...four legs.

Whirrrr, thump!

“Ow!” Did they hit a pothole? Had he fallen off the car? Why was it so dark?

The familiar red numbers on his clock/radio brought him back to reality.

3:37 a.m.

“Stupid dream,” he mumbled groggily. “I don’t even have a dog.”

Brian felt around and found the foot rests on his wheelchair and folded them up out of the way. With a little help from his legs he pulled himself up into the seat. His fingers fumbled around on the night stand for the touch lamp until the room flooded with light.

There was a quiet knocking on his open bedroom door. Chandra Cole, his physical therapist, stood there squinting, her straw colored hair looking like a lopsided haystack. She clutched her pink flannel housecoat tightly around her and tied the belt.

“I thought that sounded like a thirteen year old hitting the floor,” she rasped, helping him straighten blankets back onto the bed. “Another bad dream?”

“The usual,” he replied groggily. “Just weirdness.”

“Why didn’t the chair stop you? Wasn’t it against the bed?”

“I guess I rolled over onto the switch. I hope the noise didn’t wake up Mom and Dad.”

“I doubt it. Besides, they know if something’s wrong I’ll handle it.” She smiled weakly. “You want help getting back in or is nature calling?”

“Calling, emailing, texting, faxing...”

She gave a dismissive wave and turned to go.

“Sorry you had to get up for nothing.”

“It’s okay, kid,” she yawned. “All part of the job. Just glad you’re okay. Goodnight then.”

“G’night.”

Her slippers shuffled along the hardwood floor to her own room across the hall.

Brian belched. He could taste the pizza from dinner. No wonder he’d been having such weird dreams. They were eating so much takeout because of the craziness of moving into the new house in rural Sequoyah County. He knew no one had time to cook though. His parents had already been there a week, trying to get his mom settled into her new job as principal at his new school. He and Chandra had stayed in Tulsa until the new house was wheelchair friendly and all that. The twenty-two year old had only been with them for a few months since finishing her college courses to become a licensed nurse. She was nice, if a little odd sometimes, and he was glad she’d decided to make the move with them. Maybe when she was through getting the house squared away she could start making real meals again.

His stomach was gurgling like crazy. He’d drank too much before bedtime also. Pushing the toggle switch on the armrest, he sent the wheelchair into motion and headed for the bathroom. The familiar clicking and whirring of the electric motors helped to distance his mind from the silly dreams. But why did thinking he could run seem so natural in the dream when he’d never even walked right in real life? The muscular problems in his legs sent him from crawling, as an infant, straight into a wheelchair.

A picture of Jesus stared at him from the end of the dimly lit hallway. God only knew the answer to those kinds of questions, and so far He wasn’t talking.

As he wheeled into the bathroom a motion sensor turned on the lights.

His dad was making a huge transition as well, he considered, transferring to a new FBI office in Fort Smith, Arkansas, just across the state line. For several weeks he’d driven back and forth from Tulsa to make the switch. Maybe he could get a little more rest now.

As long as they had to move though, Brian was glad they’d decided to stay in Oklahoma. He’d be going to a school where his mom worked too, so at least he’d know one person there. After all, his old friends were a hundred miles away now.

Back in bed he tried to relax. Maybe he could get a little more sleep before it was time to get up. And maybe he wouldn’t have any more crazy pizza dreams. Maybe...if he could just…relax. Maybe he would...

...maybe...


Brian was in a parking lot. There were no cars but he could see the stripes on the pavement. Woods to the left. A small cemetery to the right behind a chain link fence. Black cows grazed beyond the tombstones.

Nothing looked familiar but somehow he knew he was facing south. Straight ahead twin wrought-iron gates blocked the only opening in a brown rock wall. A light breeze made them stir a little, creaking and moaning their resistance. Suddenly a gust forced them open with a horrible rusty groan. A large sign on the left blurred as if his eyes simply refused to read it. The view ahead was clear though; a stone walkway stretching beyond, half buried in dead leaves.

The breeze tossed his hair about and he could smell autumn. Falling leaves danced on the wind around his chair, many suspended in a sort of swirling motion. More and more joined in and gathered momentum. Soon he was in the eye of a small storm of them, weaving a colorful curtain around him.

A whisper.

What did it say? He listened more intently.

Another whisper and then another. Others blended in, stronger and louder. The whirlwind of leaves tightened, moving even faster, the voices more insistent. He could feel the pressure growing from all directions.

What were they saying? It sounded so foreign. What did they want? He couldn’t understand. The pressure was terrible!

As quickly as it had begun, it stopped. Only a faint whisper of leaves brushed across his body and a weak spiral of them played out on the asphalt between his chair and the gates. The only sounds left were from a few errant ones skittering aimlessly here and there across the pavement.

Suddenly, without knowing how, he was sitting just inside the entrance. The trees still had some leaves but there were so many more on the ground like a carpet of orange and yellow, brown and red. He knew there were various buildings to either side but they were just a blur like the sign. For some reason he could only see clearly forward. A small structure spanned the walkway in the distance. It wasn’t a building, but more like a little wooden carport covering the largest kettle he’d ever seen.

He thought he heard the whispers again. Or was it just the wind? Small gusts skipped across the tops of the leaves, twisting them up in little tufts.

Another whisper in his ear.

Instantly he was right next to the huge black iron kettle. It looked like a Halloween witch’s cauldron or something out of an old movie about cannibals.

There was the sound of running water nearby but he couldn’t see it.

A large stone building sat to the right of the walk a short distance beyond the kettle. The structure was sandstone like the wall and the walk and its windows were far too high to see inside. What could be in it? It seemed important somehow, the whole place, like maybe it was some sort of park. Yes, that was it. Manicured lawn stretched out past the building to another part of the rock wall further south.

He heard the water sounds again and started to wheel around the kettle but found he was suddenly there already. A sandstone fountain sat to his right, between the giant kettle and the building. Water bubbled over a plaque into a basin pool, the words on it swimming in the flowing water. He tried harder to read it but it only made his vision worse.

Then he noticed one of the corner blocks on the building about three feet up. There was another whisper and leaves brushed across the back of his head. At once, he was sitting directly in front of the block. It was a square stone, bright gray and smooth, so different from the rough ones around it. There were inscriptions but he couldn’t make them out. Only a symbol on the right face was visible. It looked like a diamond. In its center was the letter “G.”

What did it mean?

The walkway branched off to the right and disappeared around the building. To the left, near the main walk, sat a statue facing away from the building among some small trees. It was very dark, maybe cast iron like the kettle. No, a statue would be bronze, darkened from weathering. It looked like a man sitting on a tree stump, looking upward.

No sooner had he wished for a closer look than the breeze stirred and his chair was sitting right next to it. The turban clad head was turned away toward the eastern sky but his body faced Brian. A big thick book sat at the man’s feet and a powder horn and long stemmed clay pipe lay on top of it. He was dressed in buckskin and held another book or tablet on his lap, a quill pen poised above it. Perhaps then the horn was for ink instead of powder.

Suddenly a tight twist of leaves shot up high into the air behind the statue’s head. In that instant Brian found himself looking down into the bronze figure’s face. He was flying again, like in the pizza dream. But this was different, wasn’t it? It was so clear to all his senses! How could it not be real?

He was circling high above like one of the leaves. And he could hear the whispering voices again.

The statue’s features softened and suddenly it looked more like a real man. It seemed aware of what the voices were saying and began to write.

He couldn’t believe it. The statue was moving!

The man looked up time and again as the leaves, Brian with them, swirled around him.

The whispering grew more intense and the man’s scribbling more fervent. Brian and the leaves moved lower and began to circle faster. There were more whispers in the strange tongue, growing louder and more insistent.

Lower and closer and faster. More whispering. Around again. Lower, closer, faster. Tree limbs flying past--the building beyond--the kettle--the man writing.

He was very close now, just above the man’s head, coming around the back again. Lower, closer, faster. The voices were still like whispers but together they were so loud!

Then silence. The statue’s head snapped up into its original position, quill freezing in midair above the tablet.

Like a shot, Brian came around, only inches from the face. The center of the statue’s nearest eye became a gaping void that pulled him in against his will. Just before darkness swallowed him whole, he finally heard something he understood.

“God is watching.”




The Review:

My Ranking: 7 out of 10
Ages: 13 & up


I dove into Secret of the Talking Leaves with much anticipation, hoping for an interesting book with mystery and intrigue. I was not disappointed in those areas! By chapter 3 I was putting my brain to work, trying to place the puzzle pieces together and solve the mystery. While I did find this book extremely fictional and not realistic at all in many areas, I still was able to have my attention held and enjoyed the story. 

Brian, Amber, Dak, and Chandra were all interesting characters who I loved learning about as I read through the book. I was a bit disappointed about how little I knew about them. Even by the end of the book, I was still wondering what they looked like. Other than knowing that Amber had red hair, I was clueless as to what the characters looked like. Something that hindered me from being able to enjoy this book to it's full capacity. I was left wishing I knew more about the characters, but overall I enjoyed their unique personalities and friendships. 

The mystery in this book was a good one, but in the end I was slightly disappointed. I've always liked mysteries where I get to try to figure out who it was who did the crime and this was not one of those types of stories. Still, I took pleasure in bringing out the sleuth in me and trying to figure out the crime. I did notice a few things that actually made me chuckle. For one, Brian is a brain and his father is an FBI agent, so when his dad comes home sometimes he'll share his cases with his son to see if he has any ideas on it. Brian was involved in the one his dad was currently trying to find out. During one of Brian's field trips, the body of a teenager falls out of the ceiling -- his wrist sliced. He's in a coma, so the FBI agent is trying to figure out what's going on. He suggests that maybe he was high on something. Immediately I knew that was wrong. The boy had already been at the hospital for a substantial amount of time - enough time for them to take a blood test and know exactly what he'd been taking or drinking in the last few days. Aside from a few other glitches, this book was well written and easy to understand.

Aside from a blood dripping from the ceiling and landing on a teacher's head followed by a body falling and landing on her, there is nothing to mention as far as content. :)

All in all, while this is a short book at 100 pages, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under the age of 13, as even I occasionally had trouble keeping up with what was going on. But I look forward to more of Chris Conrad's work, hoping he might put a bit more research into them and get them into a paperback format. :)

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