"Westward, Ho!" Is there anyone else who remembers that cry from the westerns at the movies and on TV? Well, Sunny does, and she's served up a new cowboy story that takes place on a wagon
American History lessons on westward expansion. This 2,200 mile trail began in Independence, Missouri and took pioneers and adventurers west across what is now Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and on to Oregon. The years I taught 5th grade, I used a "Choose Your Own Adventure" unit (not the computer game) where the kids had to make crucial decisions as they traveled west along the trail. They had to keep a journal, and write about what happened on the long trip. They thoroughly enjoyed this experience, just as I know that you will enjoy this new book by Leigh Smith.
Title: Finding Love at the Trail's End
Author: Leigh Smith
Number of Pages: 146
Themes: Exploring New Territory, Growing into Love, Dealing with Death, Finding Your Way Home
Setting: West along the Oregon Trail, Homesteader's Ranch near Fort Laramie in what was the Wyoming Territory.
- Lily Rose Cochrane - a young girl struggling to run a mercantile on her own in the town of Sweet Grass after the death of her mother. Her father is wallowing in grief and alcohol. She is looking more for an escape from this life than in finding love.
- Johnny Billings - a young scout for Captain Lansing's wagon train. He is looking for adventure and opportunity - not a wife. His own parents died years before on just such a trip. As soon as he meets Lily, he is interested, but she is a bit of a hellcat.
- Billy and Beth Hanson - an old friend of Johnny's who is also traveling back to Fort Laramie to buy a place of his own. He joins Johnny and Lily Rose on their return journey to the Duncan's ranch, and his family soon joins him. His wife, Beth, and Lily Rose become close friends.
- Matt and Mary Duncan - Matt owns and works The Whispering Pines Ranch near Fort Laramie. His grown son, Jessie, and Jessie's young wife, Callie, also live with them. Matt and Jessie rescue Lily Rose from a dangerous situation more than once in this book. He encourages Johnny to settle and buy some land.
- Martha Carruthers - runs the boarding house in Greystone. When Lily Rose decides to make a fresh start, she works there for a while. Martha becomes a mother figure to Lily.
- Mystery Man - a man from Johnny's past becomes a key character late in the story. I just can't bear to spoil some of the compelling events that accompany his appearance.
The scope of the settings in this book is as enormous as the Western Expansion itself, and the author has put so much effort into the
Not your standard main characters either. Johnny Billings was not an educated cowboy with a big ranch. He was not wealthy and not gorgeous. Just a hard-working, poor cowboy. Lily Rose was not your generic heroine. She was not only hot-tempered, independent, and spunky, she was downright nasty and selfish at first. In fact I couldn't even like this character when she was introduced. It doesn't take Johnny long to spank her silly in front of the townspeople of Sweet Grass. They even cheer him on. While Johnny is wondering whether he shouldn't just walk away from this wild girl, Lily Rose soon realizes Johnny could be her ticket out of town and away from her alcoholic father.
Even though Johnny wants her to wait for him, Lily Rose disobeys him and, using supplies from the mercantile, barters her passage in one of the covered wagons leaving town. It is Captain Lansing who marries them out on the trail. Spankings are plentiful as Lily Rose learns to submit to her new husband. Using the colors of the two flowers in her name, Johnny tells her, "Besides I want to look at the lily white ass I'm about to turn the color of a bright red rose."
When Johnny finally buys a wagon from Matt Duncan, he decides that some day he and Lily Rose will return to buy some land. He plans to settle near the Duncan family and work for Matt. When the newlyweds make love in their new wagon, it is the first time Lily Rose sees her man naked. "She sighed at the thought that he was hers and realized she had come to love him..." It seemed to me that sex was when Lily Rose really started to show a softer side. She was becoming a woman in more than one way.
Once the young couple reaches Ft. Bridger, a bit beyond Independence Rock, Johnny bids good-bye to Capt. Lansing, and they begin the trip back to Whispering Pines Ranch. They are accompanied by Billy Hanson who also plans to work for Matt Duncan and to build a home so that his wife, Beth, and their children can join him. On the way, Lily Rose wanders away from the wagon and is attacked by a lone miner. After rescuing her, Johnny tells her, "I don't think I could have lived with myself if anythin' happened to you, Lily Rose. You are my heart." I just loved that.
YOU ARE MY HEART.
Am thanking the author for including the prettiest metaphor I have heard in a long time. What a perfect way to say, "I love you."
Once Johnny and Lily Rose build their first little home on the ranch, it looks like they have also built stability into their young marriage. Matt and Mary Duncan welcome them both and become the wiser, older generation that serve as an extended family and example to Johnny and Lily Rose.
As one of Dickens' ghosts says, "My time grows short." Just when you are ready for the sun to set slowly in the west on this unique love story, everything turns upside down. I definitely don't want to reveal any of the surprises that Sunny has built into this book, but I will tell you honestly, it was the first time I have had tears in my eyes while reading this genre. So, this is Ella signing off and advising you to reach for the newest Leigh Smith novel and enjoy.