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!
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.
List Price: $5.97
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (March 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
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!”
I love this series!!