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Nicki Ehrlich
Zephyr Trails
The fine line between friends and enemies blurs as Ellis Cady sets out to reach the new frontier of post-Civil War America. After waiting out winter at the Cady ranch in southern Missouri, hope blooms in the Spring of 1866. Ellis receives news of a mysterious man arriving in St. Louis. Will she find her father alive and well, or finally put his memory to rest? Grasping at the illusive promise of her father’s whereabouts, Ellis is distracted by the intrepid trick rider, Jimmie, a woman who rides with Levi Jack’s Wild West Exhibition. Then, talk of reinstating a messenger service akin to the Pony Express rekindles a faded dream. Since the war’s devastation, important letters and messages still need to get through a Western landscape governed by Indians and outlaws. When an untimely epidemic threatens, Ellis finds herself back in the saddle, a young woman and her horse on a perilous trail.
Ehrlich’s Civil War trilogy resumes with this second offering, after Ellis River, following Ellis Cady’s travels through post-Civil War America as she relentlessly searches for her missing father. Living on Cady Ranch in Missouri with her uncle and aunt, Ellis is happy to be with family but hasn’t yet settled in—and she yearns for answers about her father’s fate after the war. When she discovers a mysterious man in St. Louis is claiming to be him, Ellis’s hope is ignited, propelling her on a journey teeming with suspense and discovery.

More than just a story of a young woman’s search for her father, Ehrlich’s richly woven tale is an homage to Ellis’s search for herself. Her quest for answers leads her to an array of intriguing characters—both friends and foes—who play crucial roles in her future. Lucas Bilford, Ellis’s friend and publisher, pops in throughout the story, steadily standing by Ellis as she seeks the truth, while Jimmie—a rider with Levi Jack’s Wild West Exhibition—impresses Ellis with her passion for horses, a cause close to Ellis’s heart. When the two sign up with cunning business owner Hank Russel in hopes of delivering mail for the Zephyr Post, Ellis’s story transforms into an exhilarating, high-risk crusade.

Ehrlich’s nuanced characters set this novel apart, from the Indigenous Libby, Ellis’s best friend and half-Cherokee woman who wrangles on Ellis’s family ranch, to Joe, a Cherokee man working for the Wild West show, forced to play act battles to feed his family. Ehrlich hints at gripping backstories for the main players, like Libby’s history assisting with the Underground Railroad, lending the novel important historical context, and Ellis’s emotional struggles during the postwar era will resonate. This is a sensitive rendering of the trauma that comes with family separation and loss, portrayed through the eyes of a resilient, compelling female lead.

Takeaway: Young woman searches for her father in post-Civil War America.

Comparable Titles: Martha Hall Kelly’s Sunflower Sisters, Shaunna Edwards and Alyson Richman’s The Thread Collectors.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A