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Missy Stark is a 12 year old semi-orphan spending the summer helping at a rustic lodge resort. When a proposed highway project is slated to cut through the property and close the resort, Missy and her new friend, Kevin, explore the lodge, the woods and the caves beneath the lake, racing to find the secret that saves the lodge.
In this first book of the Big Pine Lodge series, Missy meets Kevin when she stays the summer at her great-grandfather's rustic lodge. Their exploration takes them on a quest filled with surprising twists, high tech gizmos, clever riddles and scary stuff. Can they solve the riddles, follow the clues and save the place from destruction? Or are they being used by someone smarter who needs help to reveal The Secret in the Hidden Cave?
This plot-driven story is for kids ages 8 to 12 who are good readers and who enjoy real adventure and action. The characters develop and there is more action and fun in the sequels: Mystery's Grave and Bullies and Bears.
The key. It was suddenly very clear that the key in Missy’s back pocket wasn’t an ordinary key. The rock ledge that she and Jessica were on, wide enough for several more people but still high enough to make their stomachs jittery, wasn’t an ordinary ledge either. The rock ledge seemed artificially formed, although from a distance it would be impossible to detect that. All of the gouges and pockmarks were actually impressions of different keys: large keys, small keys, thin keys, and thick keys. Some indentations were deep, some were shallow, and all were spaced unevenly over the entire false rock face.
“Give me the key, Missy,” Jessica panted, still out of breath from their climb, “this has to be the way in. We’ll be able to save Kevin and get out of here before they know we’re missing.”
Missy carefully took the key out of her pocket, this was not the place to be accidentally dropping things, and handed it to Jessica who reached as high as she could to compare the key to the top left impression.
“What do you think will happen if it fits?” Missy whispered. “Think it will just magically open?”
“It’s worth a try.” Jessica had dismissed the first several impressions and was slowly moving her hand down the rock, comparing the tiny indentations with the strange pattern of the key. She held the key between her thumb and first finger so she could find the match just as if she were doing another 500-piece puzzle, looking for the partner to the piece in her hand. “This is going to take a while. There must be a thousand possibilities here.”
Suddenly both girls froze as they heard a rustling in the underbrush twenty or thirty feet below them. Missy needed to swat a mosquito but was afraid to move. Perched where they were they knew that from below they were invisible but their voices would give them away. Had they been whispering too loudly? The mosquito that had been buzzing Missy’s face had now moved to her knee and landed. She glanced down and saw the tiny insect glistening gold in the afternoon sunlight. She stared. The mosquito really was golden and it was not about to bite her but instead it seemed to be leading her to look to the last key mark near her foot.
“Pssssst,” Missy motioned to Jessica and pointed out the key mark where the false rock met the ground. Jessica passed her the key and held her breath. There was another sound below, a sort of “humph”, like someone clearing his throat. Missy bent down, crossed her fingers on her left hand and pressed the key hard into the rock outline with her right hand.
There was a whooshy sound, an inhuman sigh, and the false rock started to slowly open. But it was pushing outward and Missy had nowhere to step to from her crouching position. She started to stand and move toward Jessica who was stretching out her hand. The rock door was pushing out and slowly upwards, too, but she wasn’t sure if she could reach Jessica or duck under the opening before it pushed her off the ledge. What a stupid place to put the keyhole, she thought, there should be a better entrance! She decided to try to cling to the bottom of the rock door as it swung out and up. She grabbed at the indentations; some were deep enough to provide a handhold. Her left hand seemed to have a good hold but her right hand scraped down and dislodged the key. Instinct made her grab for it before it fell forever lost below.
Jessica gasped, “Look out, Missy!” Missy was losing her balance even though the door was no longer pushing outward only upward.
There was a loud mechanical grumble below them in the underbrush as well as a hoarse voice, definitely human, rasping: “Gotcha!”
Missy had heard stories about people whose whole lives flashed before their eyes when they thought they were about to die. Time seemed to slow way down but it wasn’t her whole life that flashed before her. She thought of March. Last March, when this unbelievable adventure had begun…
Review by Cindy C. Bennett
12-year-old Missy is sent to spend the summer with a just-discovered great-grandfather at Big Pine Lodge. There she befriends Kevin, son of the caretakers, and Jessica, vacationing there with her family. The three of them set out to discover the secret of the caves, and unwittingly discover a plot by some greedy adults who want to build a highway through the property. Using their wits and clues dropped by Missy's great-grandfather, will they be able to discover the secrets that will save Big Pine Lodge? You'll actually very much enjoy the ride as you find out.
Debra Chapoton has written a story that will strongly appeal to the pre-teen set, giving them a trio of very relatable 12-year-olds, in a set of believable circumstances as they have fun while solving the mystery. The setting is very alluring (I'd like to go to Big Pine Lodge myself) and the story keeps you involved at all times. And for anyone who's ever lost someone they love, they will thoroughly enjoy Missy's re-discovery of her father and his childhood lived at Big Pine Lodge years earlier.
I highly recommend this book to be read by pre-teens, and to be shared by their parents, as well.
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