It has been my privilege to read and review the first two books in the Trails of Reba Cahill series by Janet Chester Bly. While the author requested my honest review only on the second in the series, Down Squash Blossom Road, I went ahead and read the first one as well, Wind in the Wires. And boy am I glad I did!
Both books are a fun Western ride covering lots of ground: attempted murder, family secrets, myriad characters (including some strong women and a few outrageous villains), a mysterious Squash Blossom necklace, and an offbeat road trip involving a Model T, a horse, and practically an entire town along for the ride. Read the books in order so you don’t miss out on all the adventure that flows smoothly between the two books. I’m sure the third book in this trilogy will prove to be just as impressive!
Wind in the Wires is the beginning of the series called Trails of Reba Cahill. Reba works the Cahill ranch in Road’s End, Idaho, alongside her Grandma Pearl, but there’s more to running a ranch than birthing calves and riding horses. This story dives right into chaos and upheaval, setting the stage for the rest of the book. The neighboring ranch is owned by Champ Runcie and family, and this blowhard has been nothing but a thorn in the Cahill side. Unfortunately, the Cahills and the Runcies are forever linked in more ways than one, as Reba eventually discovers.
The drama starts on page one and escalates quickly, with blood and mud, a funeral service in a makeshift church that’s really a barn, accidents that are anything but, secrets and lies, and bad guys, of course. Fortunately, the story has a few quirky characters and scenes to offset all that drama with a bit of humor. In fact, the entire story is a good balance of seriousness, spiritualism, and humor.
Even though Reba wants to find a husband who will love her and help her with the ranch, she’s a strong, independent woman who does whatever it takes to keep her ranch going. She is definitely flawed and has a fiery temper, but she knows her limitations, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and put in a hard day’s work.
This story does have a lot of characters to keep track of, but they are interesting and important. The main characters hold the story together as their lives and actions intertwine, and the peripheral characters provide a human backdrop that is both realistic and varied. It doesn’t take long to settle in and get to know these people, and it doesn’t take long to immerse yourself in the goings on in Road’s End, a small community nestled in the beautiful Idaho landscape.
I love when old Seth Stroud takes his Model T (newly painted purple) on a modified Great American Road Trip to find closure as his long and fulfilling life nears its natural end. The trip quickly turns into a slow-moving caravan of practically everyone in town itching for adventure or just wanting to be part of the fun. That Model T is a character in its own right, headstrong and mulish, to be sure.
The story does have a serious tone throughout, however, as Reba discovers the truth about her birth and her mother and her family, and this discovery sets the wheels in motion toward that long road trip and toward the next book in the series, Down Squash Blossom Road. Through misunderstandings, secrets, lies, and mistakes, Reba finds out the hard way the meaning of family, and she finds out trust and forgiveness can be extremely difficult but not impossible. As Seth sets out on his quest for closure, and Reba sets out with him to attain answers and explanations, they both find danger and treachery along the way.
The pace is lightning quick, and the main characters are well developed, with enough diversity to keep the story interesting. Wind in the Wires is a unique and modern Western with strong characters, evil villains, good friends, and a temperamental horse named Johnny Poe.
“I don’t know which body parts will give out first, so I try to exercise them all. I’d rather die of pulmonary embolism than boredom.” ~ chapter 8
“It’s the possibility of danger that makes a place interesting.” ~ chapter 11
“Lies are so easy to tell and such hard work to maintain.” ~ chapter 13
Down Squash Blossom Road picks up where Wind in the Wires left off. Reba is back at her ranch in Road’s End but not for long. In Wind in the Wires, Reba goes on that long trip to find her mom, Hanna Jo, and finally get some answers. Instead, she finds more questions, a mother who is more complicated than Reba bargained for, and a whole lot more trouble from Champ Runcie.
In the first book, Seth gives Reba a beautiful Squash Blossom necklace that has a murky past and proves to be a catalyst for several events that continue into this second in the series. In Down Squash Blossom Road, Reba sets out with Grandma Pearl (with that mysterious and coveted necklace in tow) on another road trip to bring Reba’s mother back home, but Hanna Jo has other plans.
While many events are a bit humorous, the entire story has a sinister tone. This book takes a side trip into Reba’s friend Ginny’s life. While it may seem at first glance like a tangent to spend a lot of time with Ginny and her chaotic, drama-filled family, everything does come together explosively, with a murder, revelations, a kidnapping, and family mayhem all over the place. Several characters link Ginny’s family drama with Reba’s, and the reader is taken on a wild Western ride full of even more secrets and lies and, of course, the same bad guy who just won’t quit.
The writing is extremely crisp, and the story races along to a sweet ending. Has Reba finally looked beyond a certain person’s seemingly unsuitability to consider him a love interest who will also love ranching as much as she does? Has Hanna Jo, Reba’s mother, finally come to terms with her past and is now ready to come home? Does Reba confront Champ Runcie about his threats and his bullying and reveal all she knows about his malevolent past and his true relationship to her and her family? Has Seth found love in his twilight years when he wasn’t even looking for it? Are Squash Blossoms not only beautiful but edible as well?
I’ll never tell.
For readers who might have difficulty keeping up with all the characters, the author has included a handy list at the end with names and descriptions. However, by the end of the story, you will feel like you really know these people. The main characters are fully dimensional and unique enough that you won’t really need the guide after all.
Based on the loose ends at the end of Down Squash Blossom Road, the third in the series promises to be just as electrifying and intriguing. I can’t wait to find out what other adventures and fracas Reba rustles up and becomes entangled in at the Cahill ranch in Road’s End, Idaho.
“Being unhappy can become a habit if you’re not careful.”
“Sometimes the success of business is to mind your own.”
“Sometimes you don’t know the importance of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
Thank you to Janet Chester Bly for providing me with a copy of Down Squash Blossom Road in exchange for my honest review.
What do you think?