Emshwiller, known for her fantasy fictions (The Start of the End of It All, 1991, etc.), changes course here, heading due west with a stirring account of a family's life in California at the beginning of this century. Lotti, now 14, was 6 years old when her single, secretive mother, Oriana, hired Beal Ledoyt to work on ditches around their property. One thing quickly led to another: Oriana and Ledoyt married and were so happy in each other's company that Lotti might as well have disappeared. Then came more babies, more proof to Lotti that they didn't need her. It wasn't that anybody actually treated her badly. Her stepfather adopted her and saved her life more than once. He taught her about horses, and he gave her the journal that she uses for drawing and writing down everything that's important to her. But she still won't forgive him for his crime: marrying her mother and changing things when he came into their life. So Lotti works on a plan for revenge, a plan that will finally make everyone focus on her. But this isn't only Lotti's story. Oriana and Ledoyt--two characters who transcend easy sterotypes of the lady and the cowboy--tell us their versions as well. Wiry, bucktoothed Ledoyt with his scarred hands and gentle heart is especially memorable, and the depths of Oriana's love for him are utterly believable. That's why when Lotti puts her final plan into action and unleashes a series of tragedies, it's hard to forgive her--harder apparently for the reader than for members of her own family, who repeatedly assure her she's not to blame. This seems a false note in a novel that's otherwise a strong and deeply felt ballad of the Old West. A rich, old-fashioned family story--so real, for the most part, that you can almost smell the horses.