Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"52 Things Kids Need From a Dad" Book Review

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:


52 Things Kids Need from a Dad

Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to David P. Bartlett - Print & Internet Publicist - of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***

MY REVIEW:
I am always interested in ways for Dads to play a bigger role in the lives of their children, but this one may be the best yet. It is arranged like a devotional, you could do one a day or one a week (52 weeks in a year you know). But they are not long and daunting, even the busiest dad can fit this into their day, and yet they are full of great ideas and wisdom to help dads connect with their kids. I personally like #5 about the file folder and #10 about spying and knowing secrets. Of course #34 about knock-knock jokes is important as is #47 about kissing his wife in the kitchen. This book would be great for any Father's Day present, birthday present or just because. Because any dad that wants to be more and maybe a little bit better for his kids will benefit from this book - as long as they read it...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Jay Payleitner is one of the top freelance Christian radio producers in the United States. He has worked with the Josh McDowell Ministry, Voice of the Martyrs, Jesus Freaks Radio, and many others. He’s also a wrestling coach and author of several books, including 40 Days to Your Best Life for Men. Jay and his wife live in Illinois, where they spend a lot time with their mostly adult children.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736927239
ISBN-13: 978-0736927239

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Kids Need Their Dad…

To Help Them Beat the Odds

Think of the top ten social crises of our time: Drug abuse. Teenage pregnancy. School shootings. Gangs. Spiritual confusion. Overcrowded prisons. AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Domestic violence. Drunk driving. And so on.

We can make the case that the most devastating rips in our social fabric would be radically reduced if dads were getting the job done at home.

Statistically, what happens when dads aren’t around?

Eighty-five percent of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home.
Children who live apart from their fathers are 4.3 times more likely to smoke cigarettes as teenagers than children growing up with their fathers in the home.
Fatherless boys and girls are twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems.
Seventy-five percent of all adolescent patients in chemical-abuse centers come from fatherless homes.
Three out of four teenage suicides occur in households where a parent has been absent.
Adolescent females between the ages of 15 and 19 years reared in homes without fathers are significantly more likely to engage in premarital sex than adolescent females reared in homes with both a mother and a father.
Sound hopeless? Just the opposite. If father absence is devastating, leading to all kinds of bad decisions and societal ills, then father presence is the solution, right?

This hard data, along with all kinds of anecdotal evidence, is rarely brought into the light. Even with all the research, too many segments of society express little regard for fatherhood. The media, school administrators, television scriptwriters, judges, church leaders, and state agencies seem to say fathers don’t matter. Or they’ve given up on fathers. Or worse, we’re told fathers are part of the problem. The result is, men are driven away from their families, fathers are disenfranchised, and dads are afraid to hug their own kids.

But the inverse is true and must be said. Men need to hear, “Dad, you matter!” “Your children need you.” “Your wife (or the mother of your children) needs you to be more involved and more invested in the daily lives of your kids.” Without strong male role models, families suffer both short- and long-term. Children make bad decisions. Communities weaken. Government agencies flounder to fix problems after the fact. Taxes go up. Our streets aren’t safe. As soon as they graduate high school, young people turn their back on Jesus. The vibrant potential of the next generation is lost—in many cases, for eternity.

An oft-quoted survey found that if a mother attends church regularly with her children, but without their father, only 2 percent of those children will become regular church attendees. But if a father attends church regularly with his children, even without their mother, an astounding 44 percent choose to become regular church attendees on their own.

Yes, dads matter. Do you want more proof?

All you have to do is ask a kid.

Takeaway

Just opening this book and reading this far proves you want to be the kind of dad your kids need. You can do it, Dad.

“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939)

"Love Finds You In Homestead, Iowa" Book Review

This week, the


Christian Fiction Blog Alliance


is introducing


Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa


Summerside Press (March 1, 2010)


by


Melanie Dobson



MY REVIEW:
I have read quite a few Love Finds You In... books and there is one common thread between all of them - they have nothing in common. Each story is set in a different town, in a different time with different characters and vastly different storylines. The beauty of this is that you may or may not like one of the books, but you pick up another one and it is a totally different scenario. Some I have liked, some have been okay and others I have truly enjoyed... like Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa. One of the things I love about this particular book is the setting, the Amana Colonies in Iowa. Living in Nebraska, I have heard about the Amana Colonies - my Grandma even bought a blanket for one of my daughters when she visited the Amana Colonies one time. But in reality, I didn't know much about them, so this book was very educational for me as well as having a very entertaining and engrossing story. The characters were wonderful and I really liked getting to know Jacob and his daughter Cassie and Liesel as she helped orient them to life in the Amanas. There was enough mystery and intrigue to keep propelling the story forward while the characters kept me wanting to read on and on. This was one of my favorite Love Finds You In... books!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Melanie Beroth Dobson is the author of the inspirational novels Together for Good (2006), Going for Broke (2007), The Black Cloister (2008), Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana (2009), Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa (2010), Refuge on Crescent Hill (2010), and The Silent Order (2010) as well as the co-author of Latte for One and Loving It! A Single Woman's Guide to Living Life to Its Fullest (2000).



Prior to launching Dobson Media Group in 1999, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family where she was responsible for the publicity of events, products, films, and TV specials. Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master's degree in communication from Regent University. She has worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for fifteen years including two years as a publicist for The Family Channel.



Melanie and her husband, Jon, met in Colorado Springs in 1997 at Vanguard Church. Jon works in the field of computer animation. Since they've been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin, and Southern California. These days they are enjoying their new home in the Pacific Northwest.



Jon and Melanie have adopted their two daughters —Karly (6) and Kinzel (5). When Melanie isn't writing or entertaining their girls, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, traveling, hiking, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.





ABOUT THE BOOK



Times are hard in 1894. Desperate for work, former banker Jacob Hirsch rides the rails west from Chicago with his four-year-old daughter, Cassie. When a life-threatening illness strands the pair in Homestead, Iowa, the local Amana villagers welcome the father and daughter into their peaceful society. Liesel, a young Amana woman, nurses Cassie back to health, and the Homestead elders offer Jacob work. But Jacobs growing interest in Liesel complicates his position in the Amanas. Will he fight to stay in the only place that feels like home, even if it means giving up the woman he loves? Or will Liesel leave her beloved community to face the outside world with Jacob and Cassie at her side?



If you would like to read the first chapter of Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa, go HERE.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible" Book Review


and the book:


Storylines: Your Map to Understanding the Bible

David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Audra Jennings - Senior Media Specialist - of The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

MY REVIEW:
When I heard about "Storylines", it was described as a way to make understanding the Bible easier. Well, for me anything that makes the Bible easier to read, relate to and understand is something I want to check out. So, I dove in. In the first chapter I was blown away. Mike and Andy made the Bible start to come alive with revelation knowledge that made me say, "Duh, why didn't I see that before???" The correlation between Jesus and Joseph and Jesus and Abraham and Isaac - that was just a "Wow Moment" for me. And it didn't stop there...

The book is broken up into 6 sections or storylines.

Jesus Storyline
Covenant Storyline
Presence Storyline
Kingdom Storyline
Salvation Storyline
Worship Storyline

Each Storyline traces that topic through the Bible and then wraps it up with a Storyline Paperchase which is designed to make you get your Bible out and follow it through the Scriptures yourself. Then there are a few discussion questions and you move on to the next Storyline. It is absolutely brilliant and I love the insight this book contains. I can think of a lot of people that will enjoy this book as much as me!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:


Mike Pilavachi is the founder and public face of the U.K.’s biggest Christian youth event, Soul Survivor (25,000 annual attendance), and senior pastor of the Soul Survivor church in Watford, North London. He is the author of Live the Life, For the Audience of One, Wasteland?: Encountering God in the Desert, and Worship, Evangelism, Justice.

Visit the Mike's MySpace.




Andy Croft is a young twenty-something who has just been awarded a First Class Theology degree from Cambridge University. He is due to be the next leader of Soul Survivor.

Visit the authors' Website.


Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434764753
ISBN-13: 978-1434764751

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


The Jesus Storyline


Years ago, when I was in my teens and Mike was having his first midlife crisis, a series of very popular picture books came out. Perhaps you remember them: They were called Where’s Waldo? The basic idea was you would look at a big picture that would tell a story; there’d be loads of characters in it and tons of stuff going on. Waldo (a little bloke in a red-and-white shirt) was hiding somewhere in the picture. Sometimes he’d be up a tree, sometimes under water, sometimes he’d be in a massive crowd, often he’d be peering out from behind a corner, and almost always he’d be hidden from plain view. The challenge was to find him hidden in the story the picture told.


Two thousand years ago Jesus said to a bunch of Pharisees, “Where’s Waldo?” But he said it like this, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.

These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40). Jesus wasn’t talking about the New Testament, because his biography hadn’t been written yet, so he must have been talking about the Old Testament. But how could he have been? Everyone knows the Old Testament was about Israel and Moses, David, Abraham, Joshua, and others. Did Jesus get this one wrong? Had he eaten a rotten fig for breakfast? Or …have we all been missing something? Could it be possible that, like Waldo in the picture books, Jesus appears hidden all over the Old Testament?


You probably already know that Jesus is all over the Bible; in the Old Testament he’s concealed, in the New Testament he’s revealed. Finding Jesus in the Old Testament is not just a game, like finding Waldo. It’s more like a treasure hunt, and it brings the story of God to life in a whole new way. Throughout the Old Testament we see strong hints, images, and prophecies about Jesus. In the New Testament those hints, images, and prophecies are unveiled; the curtain is ripped apart, from top to bottom, to reveal the star of the whole show. Let’s go on a journey together to find Jesus in the crowd of Old Testament heroes.


Noah


The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. (Gen. 6:5–8)


The human race was so messed up there was no way to straighten it out. God decided to bring a flood and wipe out every creature. There was just one problem. Noah.


Noah and God were friends, and Noah was a righteous man. To destroy every living creature would have meant the unjust of killing his friend. God longed to save Noah, and so he commanded him to build a massive ark. We’ve been to the Middle East, and in case you hadn’t realized, it’s a desert! Despite how stupid he looked, Noah obeyed God to the point of humiliation. But it meant that, when the rains hit, Noah was saved. What’s more, his whole family came with him. Why was Noah’s family saved? Were they righteous? No. Noah

was the only righteous one around, but because they were attached to him, his family got to come along!


The first hero of the Old Testament is our first signpost to Jesus. The flood didn’t solve the problem of humanity’s wickedness. God’s righteous judgment is still that humanity deserves to die in its wickedness and be cut off from him forever. However, God has found one totally righteous man, even more righteous than Noah. This righteous man obeyed God to the point of utter humiliation, dying on a cross. What’s more, all the unrighteous people who attach themselves to him are saved. After the flood a rainbow was the sign of God’s promises; today it is the cross. All who shelter in Jesus, the ark of salvation, are not wiped out but given eternal life. Sometimes when we read about the cross, it can seem mysterious—something that’s difficult to get our heads around. Discovering things like this throughout the Old Testament on one level helps us to understand it better—the patterns of salvation often reoccur. But on another level it speaks of the wonder and increases the mystery. Thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, God was carefully laying out the foundations for his master plan …


Abraham and Isaac


Several chapters later in Genesis, we come across a strange scene. In Genesis 22 we find an old man holding a knife over the chest of a young boy he’s about to sacrifice. Years ago God had promised the old man that he would have a son, and after an age of waiting, Isaac was born. The baby became a boy, and Abraham loved him dearly. It was at that point God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (Gen. 22:2).


How could God command someone to sacrifice his own son? And yet—“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …” (John 3:16). The words of John, describing God’s giving of his beloved Son, deliberately echo those of Genesis 22:2. God asked no more of Abraham than God himself was willing to give. God gave up his only Son, whom he loved, completely out of choice and love for us.


The old man obeyed God: “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey” (Gen. 22:3). Father, son, and donkey headed to the region of Moriah. When Mike and I visited Israel, we were amazed to discover that the region of Moriah is where, hundreds of years after Abraham, Jerusalem was built! And so when we read about Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey, we’re reading about another father, another son, and another donkey riding into

exactly the same area Abraham had been told to head to. In little, subtle ways—ways that we wouldn’t notice unless we looked for them—God is laying down hints in the Old Testament of the plans he has for his Son in the New Testament.


When Abraham and Isaac arrived, we read that the father placed the wood for the sacrifice on the back of his son: “Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife” (Gen. 22:6). Isaac then carried the wood for his own sacrifice up a hill in the region of Moriah. Isn’t this amazing? Centuries later,the Father placed the cross, the wood for the sacrifice, on the back of his Son. Jesus then carried the wood for his own sacrifice up a hill in the region of Moriah.


Upon reaching the top of the hill, Isaac said to Abraham, “The fire and wood are here … but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Gen. 22: 7). “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son’” (Gen. 22:8). Abraham then tied his son to the wood and was about to kill him when the Lord cried for him to stop. God told Abraham to sacrifice a ram he saw caught in a hedge. Rejoicing, Abraham took it and sacrificed it in the place of his son. “So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided’”(Gen. 22:14). Two thousand years later

on a mountain in the region of Moriah, the Lord did provide. He provided not a ram but a lamb for the offering … the Lamb of God. He is “my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). This provision of Jesus for us was something God had planned and intended from the beginning, before any of us were born. The storyline of Jesus running through the life of Abraham and Isaac shows us that even before most of the people in the Old Testament had been born, God knew what was going to happen, and he knew what it was going to cost him. He knew what you were going to cost—and then he went ahead anyway.


Joseph


So we move on to Joseph. Jesus is everywhere in his story. God’s plan from the beginning, revealed to Joseph in his dreams (Gen. 37), was that he would achieve a high status and bring blessing and salvation to many others through that ruling status. Jesus was born to rule. He

was born to be King, and because of his kingship many would find salvation.


Joseph’s brothers became jealous and did what many of us want to do with our siblings: They sold him into slavery. Joseph was sold to merchants for twenty pieces of silver. Years later Jesus was sold to the Jewish leaders for thirty pieces of silver. Just think—if only it had been the same price, it would have been a perfect parallel … what a shame … But wait! The Bible tells us that Joseph was sold for the going price of a slave in 1900 BC and Jesus for the going price of a

slave in AD 30. The price had gone up, but God had accounted for inflation!


Joseph was eventually sold to Potiphar, a high official in Egypt, and soon became his right-hand man. Mrs. Potiphar tried to seduce Joseph. She was very subtle—“Come to bed with me!” she begged. “No way, José!” Joseph replied, and when Mrs. Potiphar came in one door, he ran out the other. Jesus was tempted in the desert by the Devil. The Devil offered him all the kingdoms of the world if only Jesus would bow down and worship him. In response to the Devil’s seduction, Jesus said, “Get lost!” (or words to that effect). By not sleeping with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph resisted abusing the power his master had given him; by not “getting into bed” with the Devil, Jesus refused to abuse the power God had given him.


Mrs. Potiphar accused Joseph of a crime he did not commit. He was unjustly sentenced and thrown into the deepest dungeon. Jesus, years later, was accused of crimes he did not commit and was unjustly sentenced. While Joseph was serving his sentence, two criminals came to join him. Years later, while Jesus was serving his sentence on the cross, two criminals joined him. You can read in Genesis 40 about how Joseph, through the interpretation of a dream, spoke words of life to one of those criminals. Joseph promised he would be saved, and the criminal was later released. You can also read in Luke 23 about how, as he was dying between two criminals, Jesus spoke words of life to one. Jesus promised he would be saved, and we can be sure that criminal is now with Jesus in paradise.


Joseph was eventually released from prison. From the lowest pits of jail, he became Pharaoh’s prime minister, the highest position in Egypt. He named his second son Ephraim (meaning “fruitful”) and said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Gen. 41:52). Egypt was an alien land that was not his home. When God became man, he was born into an alien land that was not his home, and yet it was in this land of suffering that God made Jesus fruitful. He was raised up from the lowest point—death—and is now seated at the right hand of God.


Famine struck the whole area, and Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food. They were reunited with Joseph, the brother they’d sold into a life of slavery. Instead of having them killed, Joseph forgave them, assuring them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). He went on to save the lives of all his brothers, of those who had sinned against him. He brought them from a place of famine and death to one of abundant life.


The Jewish religious leaders, Pilate, and the Roman soldiers—as our representatives—accomplished what they intended in harming Jesus to the point of death on the cross. Jesus, as he was dying, cried out, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). We, the human race, meant the death of Jesus for harm, but God meant it for good. He intended it to accomplish what is now being fulfilled, a passage from certain death to abundant life, the saving of many lives.


Isn’t this incredible? Joseph was born to be a ruler, he was sold into slavery, he was severely tempted, he went through great suffering, he predicted the salvation of one he suffered with, he was raised up again by God, he forgave those who’d sinned against him, and he declared it had happened that many might be saved.


Jesus’ storyline is central to the story of the Bible, and it runs like a bullet through the story of Joseph. This is more than just an amazing biblical parallel—it carries with it a message for us today. Ever felt insecure about God’s love? Ever been a little unsure as to whether or not he’ll bring about what he’s promised? Ever messed it up and thought, “It’s been one too many; God’s probably going to quit on me this time”? We can draw deep confidence from the fact that God planned his death on the cross. The way that Joseph’s life prophesies Jesus’ shows in an incredible way that God always thought we were going to be worth it—his decision to come to earth wasn’t a last-minute afterthought. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is from “the beginning,” and Joseph’s story backs that up—he is from the beginning, and he was always going to bring about the ending. This picture is yet another guarantee to our hearts of the love God has—and has always had—for us.


Moses


Hundreds of years later the descendants of Joseph and his brothers had undergone a population explosion. They were now the people of Israel and were being used and abused as slaves by the Egyptians.


God heard the cry of those he loved, now slaves to Pharaoh, and through Moses he set out to do something about it. We read that, at the start of Exodus (chapter 3), the Lord revealed himself to Moses and commanded him to go and save the Israelites. Before he went anywhere, Moses wanted to know who this burning bush of a God was: “Who shall I say has sent me?” he asked. God replied, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14). God’s name was “I AM.”


Also, Moses was understandably a bit nervous about taking on Egypt single-handedly, and he asked God, “Who am I, that I should go?” This time God ignored his question. He didn’t say “You’re Moses, kung fu champion!” He just replied, “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12). The only thing Moses needed to know on this account was that God had his back.


So God’s rescue operation for a people who were suffering as slaves involved one man. The reason this one man was going to save anyone was because God was with him. Who was this God that was with him? I AM.


Hundreds of years later God again heard the cry of those he loved who were slaves to sin, and through Jesus he set out to do something about it. Moses had asked the God of the burning

bush who he was. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” (John 8:53). Amazingly Jesus said in response, “‘Before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him …” (8:58–59). Some of the Jews responded with outrage; they wanted to kill Jesus. Why? Because he was claiming to be God. When they asked him who he was, he told them he was I AM. The God I AM went with Moses to save a people; the God I AM came in

person to save a world. One of Jesus’ titles is Emmanuel. It means “God with us.”


Moses confronted the evil powers of Egypt, defeated them—and Pharaoh released Israel. They started the hike out of Egypt, but before long Pharaoh changed his mind; he sent everything he had after them. If we pick up the trail in Exodus 14, we find Israel trapped. In front of them lay the Red Sea, and behind them the Egyptian army was closing in. They had no options. Then God told Moses to raise his staff out over the waves of the Red Sea. Moses obeyed, and the waters parted. Through Moses’ actions a way to freedom and life opened up—Israel now had one option! They passed through the waters and passed from death to life.


In front of all of us lies death; in and around all of us is the evil of this age. Do we have any options? Miraculously God provided an option for all who are trapped. Jesus defeated the evil power of this age (Satan); he conquered sin and death. Through Jesus’ actions a way to freedom and life has opened up. We now have one option! In following Jesus we can be saved. Like the Israelites following Moses, on our journey we, too, pass through water in our crossing from

death to life: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). Ours is the water of baptism.


Moses’ and Israel’s hike through the wilderness went on for years and years. Mike and I recently went hiking down the Grand Canyon. It lasted for hours rather than years. Still, when we walked through the Grand Canyon, it was baking hot and hard work. After an hour or so, Mike started to moan … “I’m thirsty, I want some water!” He’s Greek, so he tends to exaggerate, and he started to whine, “This is the end, I’m going to die!” Throughout the hike down, Mike complained, moaned, and whined at me. First he wanted water. Then he wanted food. After he’d eaten five PowerBars, he wanted a different sort of food … and so it went …


Moses was in a similar situation in the desert with Israel. They moaned, they whined, they groaned, and they rebelled. If we pick up the story in Exodus 32, we read that the people of Israel had just built themselves another god! Despite all God’s amazing miracles they still mutinied and wanted to worship gods of their own hands. When Moses discovered this, he exclaimed in horror, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make

atonement for your sin” (Ex. 32:30).


Earlier, God, knowing what the people of Israel were up to, said to Moses, “Leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation” (Ex. 32:10).


What an offer! God told Moses to get out of the way; he was going to destroy Israel and start again with Moses’ own children. Moses had a chance to get rid of the nation that had been a pain in his backside ever since leaving Egypt, and to start his own dynasty! There were moments when, had God appeared to me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and offered to kill Mike, I would have replied, “Brilliant idea, Lord! In fact I’ll help you!”


Moses didn’t respond like that. He didn’t ask for a machine gun. Instead, after seeing Israel’s sin, he said this: “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Ex. 32:31–32).


Astonishing! Instead of offering to help God wipe out Israel, Moses asked to be wiped out in their place! God refused Moses’ offer. He had another plan. Moses’ offer was well meant, but he didn’t realize he didn’t have the right qualifications. God didn’t blot Moses out for the sake of Israel’s sin. He already had someone else in mind. About 1,400 years later it was the life of Jesus, not the life of Moses, that was blotted out to make up for sin.


Sometimes the Bible can seem a little disjointed—we can read one story and wonder if it’s got anything at all to do with the one we were reading the week before. Jesus is the center and the heart of the Bible; again here we see how the life and actions of Moses point forward to who Jesus is and what he was coming to do.


[Note: Mike would like it to be known that he was not allowed to contribute to this section, and in fact disassociates himself from the accuracy of the illustration used above … I, however, insist it’s true, and I’ve got the emotional scars to prove it.]


David



David was born in the small town of Bethlehem. Samuel the prophet declared he was chosen by God to be king of Israel. When Samuel poured the oil onto David, God anointed him for this task. Soon afterward David fought the great battle with Goliath. We find the site of the battle in 1 Samuel 17. The people of Israel were lined up against their archenemies, the Philistines. The huge Philistine champion would daily shout to all the Israelite soldiers, “C’mon then, if you think you’re tough enough!” None of Israel’s soldiers thought they were tough enough, and no one would go and fight Goliath. This went on for weeks until David the shepherd boy arrived and volunteered. He went out alone to face the enemy as the representative of his people, Israel. David won a great victory without using the weapons of the world—he refused to wear a sword or armor. Instead he used a sling, the weapon of a shepherd boy, and it was in this apparent weakness that he defeated Goliath. David declared, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s …” (1 Sam. 17:47).


Jesus was born in the same small town of Bethlehem. At Jesus’ baptism John the Baptist declared that Jesus had been chosen by God to be the Savior of the world, and the Holy Spirit was poured out on him (Luke 3:22)—Jesus was spiritually anointed for his task. Having been prepared in this way, Jesus faced the Enemy of the human race, Satan. He entered the battlefield of the desert where he encountered and withstood Satan for forty days. Three years later he went alone to the cross as the representative of the whole world. He won the victory over Satan without using the weapons of the world. Instead Jesus, the Good Shepherd, won the victory in

the weakness of the cross; it was not to be by sword or spear that the Lord would save but by laying down his life for the sheep.


David was anointed to be king of Israel. Jesus, the Christ (which means “the anointed one”), was called “The King of the Jews” at his crucifixion. Jesus was also called “the Son of David,” and people expected the Messiah to be like David. Many expected a David-type military leader who would arrive to kick the Romans’ heads in. Jesus was like David, but not in the ways that were expected.


Of all David’s psalms, Psalm 23 is the most well known, but the psalm that comes immediately before it is an incredible prophecy about the death of Jesus. It is one of the so-called “messianic

psalms” (because it points ahead to the Messiah), and it begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knew his Scriptures, and so when he cried these words on the cross, he knew he was quoting from Psalm 22. Before we go on to look at this psalm further, we suggest you put this book down, open your Bible, and read Psalm 22 for yourself. Where do you see Jesus in this psalm?


Now let’s look together:


The psalm that begins with the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” continues with many other striking references to Jesus on the cross.


David says, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: ‘He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him’” (22:6–8). The cries of scorn heaped on Jesus by those present at the crucifixion are almost identical:


In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matt. 27:41–43)


The psalm continues, “From my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Ps. 22:10). If anyone could say those words with more integrity than David, it was the son of Mary. The psalmist goes on, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death” (22:15). The phrase “my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” is simply another way of saying “I’m thirsty.” Jesus said on the cross, “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).


The next verse is translated, “Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps. 22:16). David wrote these words hundreds of years before the Roman punishment of crucifixion had even been invented.…


He continues, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (22:18). Luke tells us that at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion “… they divided up his clothes by casting lots” (Luke 23:34).


Psalm 22:22 says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” The stunning thing about this verse is that the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that Jesus said it too: “So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises’” (Heb. 2:11–12).


Perhaps most amazing of all, the psalm that started with the words that began Jesus’ crucifixion—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—ends with these five words: “for he has done it” (Ps. 22:31). Only Jesus was able to put these five words into the first person: “It is finished” (John 19:30). For he has done it—it is finished.


How amazing that David, without knowing it, should have written these words for the “Son of David,” his Lord, to speak on the cross a thousand years later!


~~~~~~~~


We have listed just a few of the references to Jesus in the Old Testament. There are many others. We encourage you to go on a treasure hunt of your own! None of this is to say that the stories in

the Old Testament don’t have a power, force, and meaning of their own—they do very much! In this chapter, however, we are only interested in tracing the storyline of Jesus through the Old Testament. It’s like going to an IMAX cinema and being given special 3–D goggles when you go in. Try watching the screen without the goggles, and the pictures are there—though slightly blurred. Once you’ve put on the 3–D goggles, there’s suddenly a whole new, sharp, remarkable

dimension that comes into view. We’ve just watched some events of the lives of only a few of the characters of the Old Testament—Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, and David—wearing our 3–D goggles; even with only this brief snapshot, some of what was concealed has been revealed. What we need to remember is that this isn’t just a clever joining of dots to make neat parallels—this is rich and glorious truth. It’s the plan of salvation for our lives laid out through the lives of the Old Testament heroes. It’s part of the mystery and wonder of God that he was able to weave the story of Jesus into the lives of his most faithful followers in the Old Testament in such an incredible way. In the same way, he is weaving the story of Jesus into our lives and our individual stories.


The Messianic Prophecies


There are also over three hundred prophecies in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As we said at the beginning of this chapter, Jesus identified himself in the Old Testament when he said to the Pharisees, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40).


At the end of the chapter, we’ve listed tons of the messianic prophecies, and we hope you’ll take the time to open your Bible and discover more of them. But for now, we’d like to look at one of

the most significant passages, found in Isaiah 53. Before this chapter Isaiah has been talking about the plight of Israel, how they have turned from their God, worshipped idols, and broken his laws by acting unjustly toward one another. The book of Isaiah begins before the exile in Babylon and then continues during the exile. Isaiah begins to speak hope to a hopeless people. He declares that God has not given up on his people and describes the coming of an anointed

one, a Messiah who will bring salvation to Israel. In chapter 53 this Messiah is described in detail. We again urge you, put down this book, open the Bible to Isaiah 53, and read it. Too much explanation of this chapter is unnecessary; it speaks clearly for itself.


In Isaiah 53:2 we notice that when God came to earth, he didn’t look like Brad Pitt. We are also told the coming king would be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (53:3). This is key, as many of the Jews were expecting a victorious and powerful leader. Verse 6 lays out the sin for which the servant of God would die, the sin of human beings choosing their own way instead of God’s. This verse reminds us that the heart of sin is going astray, choosing to live

independently from him; the choice made by Adam and Eve. Verse 7 speaks of the fact that when Jesus, the Lamb of God, was brought before his accusers, he did not defend himself. Jesus himself even quotes verse 12 at the Last Supper in Luke 22:37: “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Isaiah 53 was fulfilled hundreds of years later when Jesus, dying on the cross, “bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (53:12).


We began this chapter by saying that Jesus is concealed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New. The fact is that Jesus hasn’t been concealed very well—we’ve looked at only a few examples, yet pictures and prophecies of Jesus are all over the place!



What does all this tell us? First, Jesus Christ is the central character of the whole Bible. He does not just appear in the last scene. The person of Jesus is, if you like, the glue that holds the whole Bible together. Secondly, this tells us that Jesus was not Plan B. His birth, life, death, and resurrection were written into the script from the very beginning. Our sin and rebellion did not take God by surprise, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did not need to have an emergency

cabinet meeting in heaven to work out the rescue plan. Before creation began, God knew that he would have to become part of, and suffer with, his creation. (Take a look at Revelation 13:8.)


A wise couple counts the cost before deciding to have a baby. There is the possibility of several months of vomiting followed by hours of agony for one partner. Then years of sleepless nights for both, followed by the expenditure of ridiculous amounts of money on toys, school uniforms, etc. Then more sleepless nights as they wonder where the teenage offspring are at 2:00 a.m. and even more expenditure if they try and send them to college.


A couple who has counted the cost of all this, but who has decided to love deeply and with commitment, decides to pay the price. God counted the cost and decided to pay the price. From the beginning he said we were worth it. From the beginning he said you were worth it. The whole of the Bible, the Word of God, is a revelation of Jesus, the Word made flesh.


A few years ago a friend of ours proposed to his girlfriend. He went all out. The day before the proposal he went into the countryside and laid an elaborate trail of messages. It began with a note hidden in the branch of a tree. The note was a love letter but also directions and clues as to where the next note was. She soon found, under a rock, another love letter with a clue as to where the next was hidden. Then there was another, inside a bottle concealed by a hedge. This went on for hours until she came to the final love letter. With this love letter, buried in the earth, was a box. When she opened the box, she saw the engagement ring, and he was already kneeling. The fact that he had gone to such a huge effort and carefully laid this elaborate trail was all to show her just how much he desired and loved her. Most women will never forget their wedding day; this woman will never forget the day he proposed. It was spectacular. He planned it down to the last detail; he left the clues everywhere, and it meant the world to her.


In the same way, we, as the bride of Christ (and we know this can seem corny), should be rejoicing and know ourselves to be much loved because our God has laid the paper trail throughout the Old Testament. He has hidden the clues of his love and amazing salvation.

It is our prayer that as you’ve read this chapter you have gone on a journey of discovery, not simply of Jesus, but of how deep God’s love is for us—of how he loved you before you were even conceived.


Jesus Storyline Paperchase:


– John 5:39–40 (Jesus asks, “Where’s Waldo?”)


Pictures in the lives of the Old Testament characters

– Genesis 6–9 (Noah)

– Genesis 22 (Abraham and Isaac)

– Genesis 37–50 (Joseph)

– Exodus 3, 14, 32 (Moses)

– 1 Samuel 17; Psalm 22 (David)


Messianic prophecies

As we said before, there are over three hundred prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in the New Testament. To help you get started discovering the Jesus storyline throughout Scripture, we’ve listed a few of them for you, and we pray that God will reveal wonderful things to you as you study!


1. The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem


Micah 5:2–5a

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.


2. He will be King


Isaiah 9:6–7

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.


Daniel 7:13–14

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was

given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.


Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.


3. He will be a descendant of David/family lineage


2 Samuel 7:12–16

When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the

one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.


Psalm 132:11

The LORD swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne …”


Jeremiah 23:5–6

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our

Righteousness”


Jeremiah 33:15

In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.


Isaiah 11:1

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.


Numbers 24:17

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth.


4. He will be born of a virgin


Isaiah 7:14

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.


5. He will be a priest


Zechariah 6:11–13

Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD. It is he who will build the temple of the LORD, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.”


Psalm 110:4

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”


6. He will be Lord


Psalm 110:1

The LORD says to my LORD: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”


7. He will be God


Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


Jeremiah 23:6

This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.


8. He will bring salvation


Isaiah 49:6

He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”


Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.


9. He will atone for sins


Isaiah 53:4–6

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for

our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


Isaiah 53:7–8

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.


Isaiah 53:10–12

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.


10. He will heal the sick/preach the good news


Isaiah 61:1 (and whole chapter)

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners …


Isaiah 35:5–6

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.


11. He will teach in parables


Psalm 78:2

I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old …


12. He will be a light to the Gentiles


Isaiah 42:6

I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles …


Isaiah 49:6

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.


13. He will enter Jerusalem riding a donkey


Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of

a donkey.


14. He will be rejected/mocked/suffer and die


Isaiah 53:1–3 (and verses 4–12)

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Psalm 118:22

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.


Psalm 22:7–8

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”


15. His enemies will pierce his hands and feet, divide his clothes among themselves, and cast dice for his garments; and he will be served by future generations


Psalm 22:16–18

Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments

among them and cast lots for my clothing.


Psalm 22:30

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.


16. He will be betrayed by a friend


Psalm 41:9

Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.


17. He will be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver


Zechariah 11:12

I told them, “If you think it best, give me my pay; but if not, keep it.” So they paid me thirty pieces of silver.


18. The thirty pieces of silver will be thrown to the potter.


Zechariah 11:13

And the LORD said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the handsome

price at which they priced me! So I took the thirty pieces of silver

and threw them into the house of the LORD to the potter.


19. He will be beaten, mocked, and spat upon


Isaiah 50:6

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.


20. His bones will not be broken


Psalm 34:19–20

A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.


21. His side will be pierced


Zechariah 12:10

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him

as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.


22. He will be raised from the dead


Isaiah 53:8–12

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.


Psalm 16:10

… because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.


Psalm 49:15

But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.


23. He will ascend to heaven


Psalm 68:18

When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious—that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.


Discussion Questions:

• Are you surprised at the extent to which the Old Testament points to Jesus? If so, why? If not, then why aren’t you?

• What does this tell us about the way that the Old Testament links to the New Testament?

• What practical relevance does this knowledge—that Jesus’ life was foretold in so many miraculous ways—have?


©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Storylines by Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Alexis and the Sacramento Surprise" Review

Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Alexis and the Sacramento Surprise (Camp Club Girls 4)

Barbour Books (March 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Publishing, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***

MY REVIEW:
Book #4 in this series and it is just cementing what I have seen so far, this is a great series for young girls - to stimulate their imaginations and a love of reading. I have to admit that with this book I figured out the mystery early on, but its not written for me, its written for my daughter. With that said, this is a fun book. Alexis is bored and Kate comes to visit. Together they work to help Miss Maria save her nature park from closing, business is not good and the money isn't coming in to keep the doors open. Now Miss Maria has taken a big step and set up a huge animatronic dinosaur display throughout the park with the hopes that it will attract new park visitors. But then the dinosaurs start moving, really moving - as in everyday the dinosaurs are in a different place, dinosaur footprints are everywhere and the dinosaurs are attempting to get out of the park. Are the dinosaurs coming alive? Will they hurt the park or help it? Who is the reporter that won't leave them alone? Can Alexis and Kate unravel it all? Great addition to the series.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




Erica Rodgers lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and two children. She loves reading, singing in front of her bathroom mirror, and being outside. She currently writes juvenile and young adult fiction.



Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $5.97
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602602700
ISBN-13: 978-1602602700

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


A Problem at the Park


SLAM!

Alexis Howell jolted up in bed. She sat for a moment while her shocked heart slowed down.

Who on earth is banging doors this early in the morning? She thought. It’s only—

She looked at the clock on her wall.

“Nine thirty!” Alexis exclaimed.

She knew she had set her alarm for eight o’clock, but she reached over and saw that someone had unplugged it. Alexis threw the covers off and flew out of bed. Why did her little brothers always mess with her on important days? She’d be late!

She yanked on a pair of shorts, slipped on a pair of flip-flops, and scurried toward the door. Alexis passed her desk and reached out, but her hand closed on thin air.

“Where’s my paper?” she yelled.

“You mean this one?” her brother asked. He was standing at the top of the stairs waving a paper airplane. The boys were twins, and at first glance she sometimes couldn’t tell them apart, which made them even more annoying.

“You made it into an airplane?” cried Alexis. “Give it to me!”

“You should have said please,” her brother said. He drew his arm back and flung the airplane down the stairs.

“No!” cried Alexis. She bounded toward the stairs.

She could see the important paper circling toward the living room. Here, like everywhere else in her house, were countless stacks of paper. Her mother and father were both lawyers. They worked in the same office, and since that office was being renovated, all of their work had migrated to the Howell house. If that tiny paper airplane landed in the middle of that mess, she would never find it!

Alexis leaped down the first three stairs. On the fourth, however, her foot landed on a remote-control race car and flew out from beneath her. Alexis crashed down the rest of the stairs and slammed into the closest pile of files. It was a paper explosion.

“What on earth?” cried Mrs. Howell. She ran in from the kitchen and found Alexis knee deep in paper, searching. More paper still fell like rain from the ceiling.

“Oh no!” said Alexis. “Where is it? Where is it!”

“Calm down, Alexis,” said Mrs. Howell. “Where is what?”

“The e-mails! I printed out Kate’s e-mail and wrote her flight information on the back. If I can’t find it, we won’t know when to get her! And I’m running late!”

Her mom placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Calm down,” she said. “We have plenty of time. Here, I’ll help.” Alexis’s mom began stacking her files. In no time she uncovered a small, crumpled airplane. Alexis flattened it out and took a deep breath.

“Thanks, Mom.” Alexis read the page again just to be sure it was the right paper airplane.


Camp Club Update

From: Alexis Howell

Hey girls! How is everyone? I’m great, but things have been boring since I got home from camp. I have two more weeks until cheerleading starts, so I’m at home with my brothers way too often! The only investigating I’ve done lately involves a missing Spiderman sock and the cat from next door. Isn’t that sad?

Oh! I almost forgot! A lady at my church could use your prayers. Her name is Miss Maria, and she runs a nature park outside the city. It’s a great place to see the local plants and animals, but lately not many people have been visiting. If Miss Maria can’t get some big business she’s going to have to close the park. The park is all she has. It would be awful if she had to sell it. She rented some fake dinosaurs that look real and really move, like the animals at Disneyland. Maybe this will bring more business! Pray that it does!

Kisses, Alex


Alex,

It was so good to get your update! I’m sorry to hear about Miss Maria. Is she really getting mechanical dinosaurs? That is so awesome! Are you up for a visitor? Sounds like you could use a little excitement, and I can get there easily. My grandpa is a pilot and gets me great deals to fly all over the country. That really comes in handy when I get the urge to visit California! LOL!

I would love to see you, and besides, I’ve never seen animatronics that close up before! Do you think Miss Maria would let me touch them? Let me know what your mom says!

Love, Kate


Alexis must have read Kate’s e-mail forty-three times, but her heart was still racing. She had thought she wouldn’t see any of the other Camp Club Girls until next summer, but in less than an hour Kate would be there! Alexis was sure this week would be amazing. How could it not be? They would find some crazy case to solve; maybe a stolen piece of art, or a break-in at the Governor’s Mansion. Whatever they did would be ten times better than doing nothing—as she had done for the last month.

On her way to the kitchen Alexis poked her head into the bathroom to glance in the mirror. She pulled her loose brown curls into a quick ponytail and wiped the sleep from her eyes. They were an electric blue, and Alexis knew they clashed with her hair, but she liked being a little different.

She stepped back and scrunched her face. If only she could make her freckles disappear! They stood out on her pale skin like spots on a snow leopard, and she could never decide if she liked them or not. She had tried once to cover them with her mom’s makeup, but it had been the wrong color, and waterproof so she couldn’t remove it easily with water. She hadn’t known that her mother had special make-up remover. That day she had gone to school looking like a pumpkin.

Oh well. Sometimes she was proud of her freckles. They measured how good her summer had been. The more fun she had in the sun, the darker they got.

“Lots of fun in the sun this year, I guess,” she said, then she spun out of the bathroom. Her toasted blueberry waffles were waiting for her in the kitchen.

“Thanks, Mom,” Alexis said as she ate.

“You’re welcome, but do you really need to say it with your mouth full?”

Alexis swallowed. “Sorry.”

Her twin brothers, who were seven, had freckles just like Alexis but had also inherited the red hair from her mother’s side of the family. The boys finished eating and began playing hide-and-seek among the towering files in the living room. Alexis ignored the possibility of disaster and ate quickly. She was counting down the minutes until she would see Kate at the airport.

Twenty minutes until they left.

Forty minutes until they parked.

Forty-five minutes until—

The television caught her eye. She usually ignored the news, but the anchorwoman with big hair was showing a shot of her friend, Miss Maria, standing in front of the nature park. Alexis grabbed the remote and turned up the volume just in time to hear the introduction to the story.

“Let’s go to Channel 13 reporter Thad Swotter for more about this story.”

“Thank you, Nicky,” said the news man. He flashed the camera a cheesy smile. “Yesterday one more company refused to sponsor Aspen Heights Conservation Park. That makes them number 10 on the list of people who have denied the park money this year. You may ask, Thad, who’s counting? And I would say no one—except the park’s owner.”

Thad Swotter laughed into the camera, his mouth still stretched into a wide, fake smile.

“As a last-ditch effort to revive the park,” he continued, “Maria Santos has scattered a stampede of mechanical dinosaurs throughout the park. The exhibit opens to the public today and will be there through the end of this month.”

“Well, Thad,” said the woman with the big hair, “do you think this will bring in more visitors?”

“I know Miss Santos hopes so,” said the reporter. “It looks like she’s spent her life’s savings on the project. It certainly is creative, but I think it will take more than a bunch of toy dinosaurs to keep that park from becoming extinct!”

“Thanks, Thad. Now over to Chris for last night’s sports report.”

Alexis had forgotten about her waffles. None of her friends had ever been on the news before, but she wasn’t excited. She was worried. Had Miss Maria really spent the last of her savings on those dinosaurs? If so, things must be pretty bad.

Alexis whipped out her bright pink notebook and scribbled:

Mission: find a way to help Miss Maria.

Step One: Visit park with Kate and ask how we can help.

Going to the park was a great idea. It seemed like the perfect place to find an adventure. Kate really wanted to see the dinosaurs, and maybe they could help Miss Maria while they were there. Alexis shoved her notebook into her pink camouflage backpack. She never left home without it. Taking notes was one of the most important things an investigator could do, and Alexis considered herself an investigator. After all, the Camp Club Girls were regularly finding cases to solve.

Half an hour later Alexis and her mom were at the airport, waiting for Kate to pop through the exit gate of the security checkpoint. Mrs. Howell said that she used to be able to meet people at the door of the plane. Alexis couldn’t imagine that. For as long as she could remember she had waited for visitors here—next to the gift shop, and at a safe distance from the burly security guards. It would have been fun to meet Kate at her gate—they would already be having a blast. But Alexis was stuck waiting near a rack of over-priced California coffee mugs.

The first thing Alexis noticed was Kate’s new pair of glasses flashing through the crowd. They were bright green and came to a point at the sides. They made Alexis think of the Riddler, one of the best Batman villains. She laughed at the thought and met her friend with a hug.

“It’s so good to see you!” said Alexis. “How was your flight?”

“Long, and they wouldn’t let Biscuit sit with me! He had to go under the plane! Do you have any idea how cold it gets down there?”

Alexis caught her breath and stopped abruptly. She’d forgotten about Biscuit! How many times when the boys begged for a dog had Mrs. Howell firmly told them their house, especially now, with all its stacks of paper, was no place for a dog! Alexis suspected the real issue was that her mom didn’t like dogs. At all. She frowned when people walking their dogs didn’t clean up their droppings in the yard. She’d also opposed a neighborhood park being turned into a dog park.

What will Mom do! Alexis thought. Will she make Kate send Biscuit back home? Will she make Biscuit stay in the garage? But then Biscuit will cry all night.

“Alexis!” Mrs. Howell called. Kate realized that her mother and friend were far ahead of her. She glanced at her mother’s face. Mrs. Howell looked cheerful and friendly. Apparently she either hadn’t heard Kate’s words clearly or didn’t know that Biscuit was a dog.

Lord, please help Mom be nice about Biscuit! Alexis prayed silently.

Alexis’s mom led the girls to the baggage claim. They picked up a neat little suitcase and a not-so-neat black and white puppy. At the sight of Biscuit, Mrs. Howell’s smile faltered.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” said Alexis. “Biscuit can stay in my room—away from your files.” Mrs. Howell said that she wasn’t worried, but her face relaxed a bit. Alexis knew that she had been thinking of the endless stacks of paper that could easily become chew toys and chaos.

Thank You, God! Alexis mentally murmured. She knew if Mom didn’t say anything now, she never would. Now, if only Alexis and Kate could make sure Biscuit didn’t get in Mom’s way or cause trouble!

“We’re going straight to the park,” Alexis said to Kate as they arrived at the family’s green Durango. They buckled themselves into the back seat, and Mrs. Howell dug around in her purse for some cash to pay for parking.

“The dinosaur exhibit opens today, so tons of people should be there,” Alexis added as her mom pulled onto the highway.

Alexis was wrong. A half-hour later Mrs. Howell drove through the two towering redwoods at the entrance to Aspen Heights and frowned. Theirs was only the second car in the parking lot.

“I don’t understand!” said Alexis. “Where is everyone? It was on the news and everything!”

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” said her mother. “I’m sure more people will come. It’s not even lunchtime yet.”

Lunchtime came and went, though, and only a handful of people were enjoying the park. Alexis and Kate walked the shade-speckled trails with Biscuit on his leash.

“Wow!” said Kate. “There are so many plants here!”

“I know,” said Alexis. “Miss Maria tries to keep a little of everything. She especially likes the endangered ones.”

“Oh look! Another dinosaur!” Kate ran up to a triceratops that looked like it was eating the fuzzy leaves of a mule ear. A miniature triceratops was feet away near an evergreen bush. Alexis figured it must be the baby.

Miss Marie had certainly arranged the dinosaurs well. Alexis and Kate had to look hard to see the electrical cords and power boxes hidden among the plants, feeding power to the animatrons.

Alexis had never been easily able to imagine what dinosaurs looked like. But these animatrons were full-sized. They had been meticulously fashioned to resemble the original animals as closely as possible. Alexis began to understand the fascination some people felt for the extinct creatures.

“They’re a lot different than in the Jurassic Park movies,” Alexis noted. “I thought they’d be taller than this. Some of them aren’t too much bigger than a large man.”

Kate laughed. “Alexis, you’re the one from California! You should be the first to know that movies aren’t always true to life!”

Alex grinned. “Actually, most of the movie stuff goes on around Los Angeles, and that’s quite a ways down the coast. We see movie crews around shooting sometimes. But other than that, we don’t have much more to do with the entertainment industry than you probably do in Philadelphia.”

“Well, most of the dinosaurs were actually probably smaller than the ones in those movies. And sometimes the movies weren’t accurate in recreating the dinosaurs.

“Like these velociraptors,” Kate said, pointing at the herd of creatures with their waving arms. “See how they’re kind of feathery looking? This is more accurate than the portrayals that show them with scaly, lizard-like skin. Just a couple of years ago some paleontologists found a preserved raptor forearm in Mongolia that proved it had feathers.”

“How in the world do you know all that?” Alexis asked.

“Discovery Channel,” Kate said with a grin. “And a teacher who spends her summer looking for dinosaur footprints!”

The girls walked along the pathway to the next creature, a dromaeosaurus lurking near a nest of eggs that looked like they came from a much larger beast.

“This one is even better than the raptor!” said Kate. “Look! Its eyes blink!”

“Actually, Kate, I think it’s winking! The other eye is stuck!”

The girls’ laughter was cut short. They jumped in alarm as another dinosaur nearby, a dilophosaurus, raised its head and bellowed. As the animatron swung its head around, Alex gasped.

“It spit at me!” she cried. “I’ve been assaulted by dinosaur spit! That must have sent out a gallon of water, and all on me! My shirt is soaked!”

Kate clutched her sides, laughing. “Well, at least they used water instead of adding more component to make the expectorant more realistic!”

“What?” Alexis asked.

“At least they didn’t make it slimy and mucusy like real spit might have been!”

“Oh, I’m sorry I asked,” Alex said. “Wait a minute while I throw up at that thought—and it wouldn’t be water, either!”

The rest of the animatron trail passed uneventfully. More bellows and eye blinks and movements, but thankfully, no more assaults by spitting dinosaurs.

As Alex’s shirt started to dry in the hot sun, the girls started giggling again about the spitting dinosaur.

“Sounds like a rock band,” Alex said. “The Spitting Dinosaurs.”

“Yeah, or maybe a little kids’ T-ball team!” Kate added.

The girls laughed all the way back to the visitors’ center. The entrance from the walking trails looked like an old log cabin with a green roof. That led into another larger building with the same log design. The larger building housed more exhibits and displays about nature and animals.

Alexis noticed that more cars were now in the parking lot, and her smile stretched even wider. It would be horrible if the dinosaurs turned out to be a waste of Miss Maria’s money.

When they walked into the visitors’ center, a lanky teenager greeted them from behind the desk.

“Hey, Alex, who’s your friend?” he called out.

“Hi, Jerry. This is Kate.” Jerry was tall and a little thin, as if the summer between eighth and ninth grade had stretched him out. His dark hair had light streaks from spending plenty of time in the sun. Between that, his flip-flops, and his tan, he looked as if he’d stepped right out of a surfing movie.

“Hi, Kate,” said Jerry. “It’s good to meet you!”

“You, too,” said Kate, looking at her shoes shyly.

Bam! The door to the visitors’ center flew open and Miss Maria stormed in.

“That news man from Channel 13 just got here,” she said. “Try to ignore him.” She stopped to hug Alexis with her wiry, suntanned arms and shook hands with Kate.

“But Miss Maria,” said Jerry, “don’t you want to be on the news? It might get more people to come to the park.”

“Yes, it might, but that young reporter isn’t very pleasant.” Miss Maria tucked a piece of short salt-and-pepper hair behind her ear. “More than toy dinosaurs, huh?”

Miss Maria grumbled to herself until a visitor stuck his head through the open door and called to her.

“Hey, Maria! Good job with the triceratops and raptor footprints. They’re so realistic! And I’m glad you put a raptor by the fountain. He looks good there. I’ll be back with my family, and I’ll encourage my students to come!”

Miss Maria thanked the man, who introduced himself as a biology professor from one of the local colleges. “But I’ve always longed to be a paleontologist!” he confessed.

As the professor waved good-bye, Alexis noticed that Miss Maria didn’t look too happy.

“He liked the dinosaurs!” Alexis said. “What’s wrong, Miss Maria? Didn’t you hear? He’s bringing his whole family! And he’s sending his students over!”

Miss Maria looked out the window and tapped a finger on the sill.

“Yes, I heard him,” said Miss Maria. “The question is, did you? He said he liked the footprints—what footprints is he talking about? Alexis, did you and your friend notice any footprints this morning?”

Alexis shook her head. “But we weren’t looking that closely,” she said.

“And there shouldn’t be a raptor near the fountain at all,” said Maria. “I put them all in the dogwood grove.”

“Someone must have moved him,” said Alexis.

“But why would they do that?” asked Kate.

“Why would anyone dig up my pansies, or carve their initials in a hundred year-old redwood tree?” said Maria. “Sometimes they do it because they have no respect for God’s creation. Sometimes they do it to cause trouble. And sometimes they do it to show off to their friends. Who knows why else they do it! But moving around some of those dinosaurs isn’t easy, and they’re liable to mess up the wires—to even get electrocuted. Let’s go take a look.”

Miss Maria had placed the six raptors together in a little herd. Sure enough, when they rounded the corner to the dogwood grove, the smallest one was missing. Little footprints led away through the trees. They had three toes, like a bird had made them, with two of the toes being longer than the third. The group followed the tracks along the trail until they reached the fountain. Then they saw him.

The diminutive dinosaur was posed on the edge of the fountain. Fortunately, he was one of the models that wasn’t animated or electric. He was about two feet tall and bright green. His long tail kept him balanced on his back legs as he leaned toward the water. He looked as if he’d simply left the herd to get a drink.

“Weird!” said Jerry.

“Yeah,” Alexis agreed.

She walked carefully around the fountain. She and Alexis had been laughing too hard earlier to notice the footprints if they’d been there. And this raptor hadn’t stood out when they’d seen it earlier—they didn’t know Miss Maria hadn’t put it by the water. Her mind kicked into overdrive just like it always did when she found something strange or out of place.

How did he get there? She wondered. If someone moved him, why are there only dinosaur footprints in the mud? Shouldn’t there have been human prints, too? Alexis pulled her notebook out of her backpack and instinctively began writing things down.

“Interesting, and irritating,” said Miss Maria. She scooped up the raptor and walked back toward the path holding him beneath her elbow. “You all go back to the visitors’ center to greet people as they arrive,” she said. “I’m going to go check around.”

When they reached the center, Jerry’s younger sister, Megan Smith, ran out to greet them. She was going into the seventh grade, like Alexis, and looked just like her brother, only with longer hair.

“Hi, guys!” Megan said. She pointed toward the parking lot. “Did you see the news crew?”

“Yeah,” said Alexis.

“Maria wants us to stay away from them,” said Jerry. Was Alexis imagining it, or was Jerry irritated?

“Oops. . .,” said Megan. “I gave the guy with the funny hair a tour. He said he was interested in seeing all of the dinosaurs.”

“That’s okay, Meg,” said Alexis. “A tour couldn’t have done any harm. Maybe he liked the park enough to do a big story for the evening news.”

Kate pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose and pointed toward the parking lot.

“I wonder why he’s coming back,” she said.

Sure enough, the reporter was striding across the parking lot. The wind tossed his bright blue tie around and lifted his hair up at an odd angle. Alexis wondered if he was wearing a wig. She would have thought he was too young for that, but then again, she also knew teachers and men at church who were way younger than her dad and hardly had any hair.

“Hi, kids!” he said. “I’m Thad. Thad Swotter—investigative reporter for Channel 13.”

Not quite as impressive as he is on TV, thought Alexis.

“Some place you guys have here,” Swotter said, looking around. His tone reminded Alexis of how her father greeted her great-aunt Gertrude. They visited her in Phoenix sometimes for Thanksgiving. He always said he was glad to be there, but Alexis didn’t think he meant it.

“Miss Maria has worked very hard to share California’s indigenous plants with our community,” said Alexis. Thad Swotter smiled, and Alexis thought his perfect teeth might be a little big for his mouth.

“Indigenous, huh?” said Swotter. “That’s quite a big word for such a little girl. You know, I was sure I saw some specimens that were definitely not native to California.”

“Well, yes,” said Megan. “On the tour I showed you the olive and the fig tree. Miss Maria works very hard to keep those alive through the winter. She likes to give people glimpses of other parts of the country, and even the world, too.”

“Yes, I remember,” said Swotter. “And the thorns were creepy. I’m glad we don’t really have those in the foothills of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains!”

“Thorns?” asked Kate.

“Yes,” said Alexis. “Miss Maria’s favorite plant is the Christ’s-thorn in her greenhouse. It’s planted next to a replica of the crown of thorns Jesus wore.”

“Cool!”

“Cool it may be,” said the reporter. “But I don’t see how those thorns have anything to do with us. They’re out of place.”

“That’s not true,” said Megan. “God created all of it, so everything belongs.”

“God created?” Swotter lifted his eyebrows in amusement. “You kids are almost as bad as the bat that runs this place!”

Alexis reared up, ready to defend Miss Maria, but she took a deep breath instead. She knew it would be disrespectful to argue with Mr. Swotter. She even resisted the urge to roll her eyes—which was not easy when she was annoyed.

“This is exactly why nobody comes here!” Swotter laughed. “No one wants to come to a park to get preached at!”

“No one’s preaching, sir,” said Jerry respectfully. “People don’t have to believe in God or Jesus to appreciate the plants. If it really bothers them, they can stick to the other parts of the park.”

“They could,” said Swotter, “but it’d be easier for them not to come at all. Look, kids, California has enough theme parks. If I want to hear a fairy tale, I’ll go to Disneyland.” He snickered again and walked off to examine a clump of poppies.

“He’s rude,” said Kate. “Good thing he doesn’t act that rude on TV.”

“He practically does,” said Alexis. She looked around the empty park entrance. Where was Miss Maria? She had been gone for a long time.

“Those footprints were weird, weren’t they?” Jerry laughed. “It’s like the dinosaurs just woke up and decided to explore the park!”

Thad Swotter stood up and scribbled furiously in his notebook. He headed toward his van, almost stomping on the poppies as he went. Alexis heard him yell something at his cameraman, who had fallen asleep on the steering wheel.

“What’s up with him?” asked Megan.

“Maybe he’s late,” said Alexis. The group turned back toward the visitors’ center. “I think we should check on Miss Maria.” Before anyone could agree with her, a scream ripped through the trees.

Then all was silent.

“It came from over there.” Jerry pointed toward the trail that led to the triceratops.

“Oh no! Miss Maria!” Alexis tore off through the trees and the others followed.

When they came around the last corner, Alexis almost screamed herself. Miss Maria was lying on her back in the mud, next to the mother triceratops. She wasn’t moving.

Her large eyes stared unblinking into the cloudless sky.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

"McKenzie's Montana Mystery" Review

Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


McKenzie’s Montana Mystery (Camp Club Girls 3)

Barbour Books (March 1, 2010)

***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Publishing, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***

MY REVIEW -
My daughter was delighted when this package arrived and she realized that I had received the next books in the Camp Club Girls series. She and I both enjoyed the first two books in the series and we anxious to see where the series would take the girls this time. In book #3 we go to McKenzie's home in Montana and Bailey joins her as they prepare for a rodeo. Miss Emma is their trainer, they help her during the day with her rodeo camp and then in the afternoon work on getting ready for the rodeo. The problem is that Miss Emma's prize horse DiamondGirl has disappeared. The girls are determined to help find her before the rodeo. Was DiamondGirl stolen, did she take off, where is she? Can the girls follow the clues before its too late? Good story and I love the characters of the 6 girls, it is fun following them through these stories.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Shari Barr lives on a farm in southwest Iowa with her husband and teenage son and daughter. She writes inspirational fiction as a mission to spread the gospel while creating Christian role models for children. She has also published two non-fiction books as well as numerous articles for adults.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $5.97
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1602602697
ISBN-13: 978-1602602694

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


A Surprise for McKenzie!

Chapter 1


Aaaaaahhhh!

McKenzie screamed and clutched the reins with sweaty palms. She tugged firmly, trying to control her horse.

Please, God, help me, she prayed as Sahara bolted down the arena.

McKenzie’s heart pounded and her auburn hair whipped behind her.

Something’s wrong! she thought.

She leaned forward and pulled the reins with all her strength. The tightness she usually felt in the reins was missing. She had no control over her horse! Sahara raced straight toward the barrel in the middle of the arena.

“McKenzie!” a voice screamed from the sidelines. “Hold on.”

The reins slipped between her fingers. McKenzie started to slide from the saddle. She grasped the saddle horn, but Sahara’s galloping bounced her up and down until she could hold on no longer.

McKenzie hit the ground with a thud as thundering hooves barely missed her. She laid with her face on the ground. Sahara raced by and finally slowed to a trot.

“McKenzie! Are you okay?” A pair of cowboy boots appeared in front of her face.

Rolling over, McKenzie pushed herself into a sitting position. She coughed from the dust Sahara had stirred up and looked into the eyes of Emma Wilson, her riding instructor. “I-I don’t know yet,” she stammered as she stretched her legs.

She felt a strong hand support the back of her head. Turning, she saw Emma’s hired hand, Derek, holding up two fingers. “How many?” he asked.

“Four,” McKenzie answered.

Emma and Derek stared at her. No one said anything for a minute.

“But two fingers are bent over,” she added.

After a second, Derek’s face broke into a grin. He unbuckled her riding helmet and slipped it off her head.

“She’s okay,” a familiar voice announced. The girl with a fringe of black

bangs fluttering on her olive skin popped a red gummy worm into her mouth.

“Bailey! What are you doing here?” McKenzie screeched as the girl approached her. “Hey, can I have one of those?”

“Yep, she’s definitely okay,” Bailey said as she dangled a green and orange worm in front of McKenzie.

McKenzie grabbed the worm and pulled her legs forward, trying to stand up. But Emma placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “Not so fast. Sit for a minute.”

“What happened anyway?” McKenzie watched as her horse sauntered back across the arena and nuzzled her face. “I had no control over Sahara. I just couldn’t hold on.”

Derek reached his hand out to the chocolate brown mare. “Here’s the problem,” he said as his fingers touched a dangling strap. “Her bridle is broken.”

McKenzie tried again to stand. Emma and Derek each put a hand beneath her arms and helped her to her feet. Feeling slightly light-headed, she stepped forward and grabbed Bailey in a tight hug.

“So, how did you get here?” McKenzie asked.

“When you told me you were coming to Sunshine Stables to train for the rodeo and help with Kids’ Camp, I convinced Mom and Dad to let me fly out with Uncle Troy on a business trip. He rented a car and drove me out from the airport. He didn’t have time to stick around, so he’s gone already.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” McKenzie asked.

“Well, I signed up for the camp, since I’m not that good on horses. When Miss Wilson found out we were friends, she invited me to stay here, but she wanted to surprise you. Then after camp, she’s going to train both of us for the rodeo.” Bailey’s dark eyes flashed.

“Oh, Emma, this is the best surprise ever!” McKenzie turned to her instructor.

“Think of it as a thank-you for coming to Kids’ Camp on such short notice,” Emma said with a smile. “I didn’t expect so many kids to sign up. You’ll be a big help with the younger ones. But, let’s get you up to the house to sit for a minute. If you can walk, that is.”

“I’m fine,” McKenzie assured Emma as she brushed dirt from her face with the sleeve of her t-shirt. “I’d better take care of Sahara first, though.”

“I’ll do that,” Derek said as he grabbed Sahara’s halter. “I’ll take her to the stable and find her a new bridle. You go on to the house.”

Emma and the girls walked to the large, white farmhouse. A sign reading “Sunshine Stables” stood in the front yard. Several sheds and a huge red barn stood beyond the house. The riding arena was next to a matching red stable. A dozen or so horses grazed in the lush, green pasture.

McKenzie sighed with contentment. She had met Bailey at Camp Discovery, where they had shared a cabin with four other campers. The six girls, or the Camp Club Girls, as they called themselves, had become fast friends by solving a mystery together. Though they all lived in different parts of the country, they had kept in touch and gone on to solve another mystery together. Bailey was the youngest of the group at nine years old, four years younger than McKenzie.

The girls stepped onto the huge porch that wrapped around the house. They dropped onto the porch swing while Emma slipped inside. Emma quickly returned with cold drinks.

“Emma, this is so perfect.” McKenzie reached out to pet Buckeye, Emma’s brown and white terrier. “This will be so fun having Bailey here. Now, we can work on barrel racing together.”

“Don’t forget you have to save time for the Junior Miss Rodeo Queen contest, too,” Emma said as she ran her fingers through her short blond hair.

McKenzie groaned. She wasn’t sure she wanted to compete in the contest. Emma had competed when she was younger and had told McKenzie’s mom what a wonderful experience it had been. Now, Mom had talked McKenzie into competing. McKenzie didn’t like the thought of wearing fancy riding clothes for the contest. And she especially dreaded the thought of standing on stage in front of hundreds of people.

McKenzie got slightly nervous in riding competitions, but just thinking about the queen contest made her want to throw up.

“Are your parents coming for the rodeo and the queen contest?” Bailey scratched Buckeye’s ears.

“Yes, they’ll be here,” McKenzie answered, sipping her lemonade. “My family doesn’t live too far away. I usually come over here and train a couple of days a week. But, now that I’m helping with Kids Camp, I get to stay here until the rodeo next week. I’ll have a lot of extra time to train.”

After the girls finished their lemonade, Emma asked McKenzie to show Bailey their bedroom. The girls stepped inside the front door where Bailey had left her bags. She grabbed her pink and green striped pillow and tucked it under her arm along with a monster-sized black and white panda. McKenzie grabbed the two bags and led the way upstairs to their bedroom. A set of bunk beds stood against one wall.

McKenzie turned to her friend. “I knew you were hoping to visit, but I didn’t think you’d be able to come.”

“I didn’t either.” Bailey dropped her pillow and panda on the floor. “When Uncle Troy found out about his trip, Mom and Dad decided at the last minute that I could come along.”

“We’ll have a blast.” McKenzie pointed to Bailey’s bags. “Do you have cowboy boots in there somewhere? And, you might want to change into jeans so we can go horseback riding as soon as Derek finds a new bridle for Sahara.”

Bailey changed her clothes. Then the girls headed back downstairs and went outside with Emma.

“I’ll help you saddle your horses,” Emma said as she led the way across the yard. “Bailey, you can ride the Shetland pony, Applejack. Then you two can go for a ride while I work. How does that sound?”

“Great.” McKenzie said. “When do we need to be back for chores?”

“About an hour or so.” Emma said as they walked through the stable to Applejack’s stall.

First Emma helped saddle the horse for Bailey, while McKenzie put the bridle on. Emma grabbed a riding helmet for the younger girl and led Applejack out of the stable.

Derek met them at the doorway holding Sahara, who was fitted with a new bridle. Derek was Emma’s newest stable hand. He had only been working at Sunshine Stables for two months. Even though Derek was an adult, he reminded McKenzie of her eight-year-old brother, Evan. Both were always full of mischief.

“You look better than you did a while ago,” Derek told McKenzie. “You’re not even limping.”

“Nope. I told you I was fine.” She patted Sahara’s neck.

“McKenzie, why don’t you introduce your friend to Derek? I didn’t have a chance to do that when you were taking your wild ride,” Emma teased.

McKenzie pulled Bailey to her side. “Bailey Chang, meet Derek McGrady. Bailey lives in Peoria, Illinois.”

“Nice to meet you, Bailey. You ready to hop on Applejack? He’s ready for you.” He grabbed the horse’s reins and opened the gate.

McKenzie followed with Sahara. She placed her boot in the stirrup and swung herself up onto the saddle. Then with ease, Bailey hopped onto Applejack’s back.

“Your mom said you’ve done quite a bit of riding, Bailey. Is that right?” Emma asked as she closed the gate behind them.

“Yes. But I’m not as good as McKenzie.” Bailey swept her long bangs away from her forehead and slipped on her helmet. “I’ve done some racing at county fairs but never a rodeo.”

“You’re a lot younger than she is. You have plenty of time to improve.” Emma smiled at Bailey.

“Is it okay if we ride to Old Towne?” McKenzie put her helmet on and fastened the chinstrap.

“Sure. You have your cell phone with you, right?” Emma asked. “After you look around for awhile, head back for chores. Both of you can help with Diamond Girl when she comes in from pasture.”

Diamond Girl was Sunshine Stable’s most famous horse. She was Emma’s prize horse and a rodeo winner. For the last three years, Emma had ridden Diamond Girl in the barrel-racing competition, and each year Emma brought home the first-place trophy. McKenzie couldn’t wait to show Diamond Girl to Bailey.

Eager for a ride, the girls waved to Emma and Derek and headed for the dirt track behind the house. A warm summer breeze rustled the pine trees lining the trail.

“What is Old Towne?” Bailey asked as her horse plodded beside McKenzie’s.

“It’s a bunch of Old West buildings. There’s an old-time Main Street with a general store, post office, and stuff like that. But it’s more like a ghost town now. It belongs to Sunshine Stables and is open during June, July, and the first week of August. It’s closed now for the season. But we can still go look around.” McKenzie shielded her eyes against the sun and peered into the distance.

Pointing her finger, she continued, “See that old wooden windmill way out there? That’s Old Towne.”

“It looks kind of creepy.” Bailey wrinkled her nose.

“You know, there is a spooky story about Old Towne.” McKenzie flicked her reins at Sahara who had stopped to munch some grass. “A long time ago, a mysterious rider was seen riding out there at dusk. Some people say it was a ghost rider.”

Bailey looked quizzically at McKenzie. “Is that for real?”

McKenzie chuckled. “That’s what they say.”

“Has anybody seen the ghost rider lately?” Bailey nudged Applejack forward.

“I haven’t heard anything about it. Emma said the ghost rider story started years before she bought Sunshine Stables. She says someone just made it up to get visitors to come to Old Towne. It worked. Old Towne used to rake in the money. People paid to ride horses from the stables, hoping to see the ghost rider.”

“That’s spooky. A fun kind of spooky, that is,” Bailey said as she leaned over and scratched Applejack’s neck.

“Well, let’s go check the place out. I’ve never been here after it was closed for the season.”

McKenzie nudged Sahara with her heels. The girls galloped down the trail. The horses’ hooves stirred up little puffs of dust.

“Here we are,” McKenzie said as she arrived at the top of a small hill. She halted Sahara and waited for Bailey to catch up.

“Wow! This is neater than I thought it would be!” Bailey exclaimed, her eyes wide.

The girls continued down the trail leading to Main Street. Old storefronts lined both sides of the dirt street. A weathered school building and a church were nestled on a grassy lawn at the edge of town, away from the other buildings.

“Let’s tie our horses at the hitching post and look around.” McKenzie hung her helmet on the post and fluffed her sweaty curls.

After tying both horses, the girls stepped on the wooden sidewalk. Bailey ran ahead, her boots thumping loudly on the wood. She stopped and peered through a streaked windowpane. A tall red and white barber pole stood beside it.

“I can just imagine a cowboy sitting in there getting his hair cut,” Bailey said with a giggle.

“Yeah and then he could head across the street to the general store for a piece of beef jerky and a new pair of chaps.” McKenzie stuck her thumbs in her belt loops and walked bow-legged across the street.

Bailey laughed and raced to catch up with McKenzie. She stopped suddenly in the middle of the street and looked at the dusty ground. “Hey, did cowboys eat candy bars?”

McKenzie picked up the wrapper and shoved it in her pocket. “Maybe the ghost likes the candy. Whooo-ooooh!” McKenzie wailed eerily.

The girls headed to the general store and peered through the window. McKenzie pointed out different items in the darkness. They saw old wooden rakes, hand plows, and row after row of tin cans on the shelves. A headless mannequin wore a long, lacy white dress and a pair of men’s bib overalls hung from a hanger.

Both girls jumped when McKenzie’s cell phone rang. She pulled the phone from her pocket, answered, and listened to the caller for a minute. Then she quickly said “Okay. ’Bye,” and flipped the phone shut.

“That was Emma,” she said. “She wants us to hurry home. Diamond Girl is missing!”