book reviews

Great Westerns from Authors New to Me

johnstone westernsAs readers of my blog know, I’m kind of nuts about Westerns. I like strong heroes that push the edge of what’s possible to do. I want them moral but flawed, powerful but earnest, not afraid to put themselves in danger and take responsibility, with a bias for action–no SODSDIs allowed (Some Other Dude Should Do It). While my preferred genre for years was thrillers, I find the same qualities in well-written Westerns. The folks who took on the Western frontier with its lawlessness, evil, angry American Indians, and life without a net grab my imagination.

I understand if this isn’t your thing so feel free to leave if you want to. Here’s a three count–

three…two…one…too late.

I have three more great westerns to share with you:

  • Silverhills — a troubled young woman flees a frightening past, hoping to find a new home in the growing West
  • Rage for Vengeance — Chet Byrnes was hired to do a job and no thieves, rustlers, or assorted bad guys will stop him from getting the stage through
  • Blood at Sundown — the bloody world of a male-female team of hard-charging, fast-shooting bounty hunters


by Sandra Cox


Sandra Cox’s Silverhill (2017) is a Western Romance that will soak you in the atmosphere of the Old West while you fall in love with the complicated characters that inhabit this Texas ranch. Brandon Wade is taking his longhorns to market over the Chisholm Trail when a young cowboy catches up to the drive and asks for a job. He’s scrawny, slender, and looks nothing like someone who can wrangle cows but Wade gives the boy a chance.  He turns out to be talented, hard-working, and an asset to the crew. And, by the end of the drive, Wade finds out he is a she, named Alex O’Malley, running from her past, escaping to the West as so many others have done before her to find a fresh start.

Falling for the handsome, assured Brandon Wade, despite his womanizing past and the danger chasing her, was not part of Alex’s plan so when he invites her to work at his ranch until the next cattle drive, she accepts. Where both had hoped this time together would bring them closer, they end up fighting all the time. She doesn’t trust him enough to share her dangerous secrets and every time he tries to ask what bothers her, they end up yelling. The relationship  seems doomed until her violent past catches up and she no longer has to worry about keeping secrets from the man she has fallen in love with. Now, she just has to stay alive.

This story is richly drawn, complexly plotted, with a twist every time the reader thinks s/he’s figured things out. It’s a delight to read. Though Cox has made no mention of another in the series, I sure hope there will be.

Rage for Vengeance

by Dusty Richards


In Dusty Richards’ Rage for Vengeance (Pinnacle 2018), twelfth in the popular The Byrnes Family Ranch series, US Marshall Chet Byrnes has been hired to build a stageline from Gallup to the Colorado River. The story starts with Chet and his sidekick Cole being ambushed as they travel the roadway for the new stage. Someone wants them dead but at that point, they don’t know why.  Chet thinks it might be a competitor to the stageline, someone who could lose business or wants the business, but nothing is obvious. He tracks one of the would-be killers to a dandy gambler who is as clever with murder as he is with gambling. For those who have read the earlier stories in this series, they know Chet is not one to give up or run from a challenge and he doesn’t here. He has promised the owner of the stageline that it will go through and nothing short of Chet’s death will prevent that from happening.

This story as with other great Westerns I’ve read rings with authenticity about a time long gone when the West was untamed and law (as in Sheriffs and Marshalls) was simply a gleam in someone’s eye. Everything about this one seemed genuine from the tools used to problems people faced and the steps they took to solve them. Besides that, Rage for Vengeance is a how-to on setting up a stageline. Who knew it was so complicated?

My only complaint with this book is the number of people introduced early in the story. Wow. I’d estimate a bazillion in the first 20% of the book. My head was spinning trying to figure out which names I should remember, who were recurring series characters, and who I could gloss over. Thank goodness I read this digitally because I could search characters who popped into scenes and see what I should have remembered from earlier parts of the story. In the book’s defense, I assume that many of these are part of the ongoing cast of characters and will be well-known to those conversant in the prior eleven books. I did like most of the characters. They were real people with clever tie-ins to events. But probably what I like best is the authenticity of building the Old West.

One issue I wasn’t sure of: Dusty Richards died in April 2018 so I’m not sure if he wrote this prior to his death or if it was written by a ghostwriter (as has become popular with successful series, like Hercule Poirot and Tom Clancy). Overall, highly recommended for those who love character-driven murder mysteries and tales of the old West.

–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review

Blood at Sundown

by Peter Brandvold


Lou Prophet and Louisa Bonaventure (the Vengeance Queen), the stars of Peter Brandvold’s Blood at Sundown (Penguin Random House 2018), Book 2 of Lou Prophet Bounty Hunter series, are a two-person bounty hunting team known for their ability to catch the worst of the worst and survive shootouts no one else would. In this story, they are after a gang of fourteen killers who collectively are worth a lot of money. Lou wants to take them alive because they’re worth more that way (spoiler: that rarely happens) and Louisa just wants their deviant selves removed from the planet. To chase this gang takes them to the wintertime freezing conditions of the Dakota territory. On the first round, they kill ten of them. Since the remaining four went two separate directions, Lou and Louisa split up, each with five bodies draped over horses, each following one of the trails. The rest of the story deals with how they track down the remaining four, what they must do (pretty much anything) to capture/kill them, and how many more bodies they collect along the way (spoiler: It’s more than the fourteen killers).

Brandvold is a clever writer in a realistic historical genre:

“… pull off my moccasins, my toes are going to come rollin’ out of my socks like dice off a craps table.”

“When he was nearly to where Louisa’s pinto and his own horse, the appropriately named Mean and Ugly …”
“… tied to his head with his spruce-green muffler, covering his ears so they wouldn’t freeze, turn black, and fall off.”
“,,,he could feel the temperature plummeting like a bucket down an empty well.”

Plus, there is no doubt to the reader that Brandvold knows a lot about the Old West:

“… freight the stout-wheeled, high-sided Murphys had once carried, leaving the roadhouse sitting high and dry, so to speak, likely patronized by only the occasional cowpuncher off area ranches, woodcutters, and market hunters, maybe the rare cavalry patrol out of Fort Totten near Devil’s Lake. Now and then a begging Indian—a Sisseton, Wahpeton, or Cut-Head Sioux—too proud or restless to be confined to the agency, probably hoofed it by here on a broom-tailed cayuse with painted rings around its eyes, pausing for a free cup of whiskey and a plate of beans.”

The author’s voice is quick and clever with just enough humor to keep it a grisly story fun. Be forewarned. There is a lot of blood and gore, fighting and death, with numerous scenes featuring the guns and rifles and shotguns of that era and details of how those weapons won the day. This is highly recommended for those who love the Western genre and don’t mind that it isn’t sugar-coated for today’s more delicate readers.

–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review

–A note about my reviews: I only post reviews about books I liked so don’t be surprised to see lots of 4/5 and 5/5. If I don’t like the book, I won’t spend time writing about it.

View all my reviews

More Westerns

4 Great Western Reads from NetGalley

3 Great Westerns

6 Tips for Western Fiction Writers

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, The Quest for Home, Fall 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.


77 thoughts on “Great Westerns from Authors New to Me

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  5. Silver Hills sounds like a really great read! I like the idea of Alex proving herself as a hard worker and needed member of the team BEFORE finding out that she’s a girl. Her ability to rope in this used to be womanizer sounds fascinating and the makings of a great romance. Yay to Sandra Cox! Hugs, RO

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. It’s funny – I totally enjoy watching western movies but have never read one, at least not that I can remember. Really should give it a try though, so thanks for the recommendations, Jacqui!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lots of Western inspiration here. Not my cuppa tea, but my dad enjoys watching westerns and reading historical fiction, so I’m wondering whether he’d like westerns to read… The last one sounds particularly intriguing, I quite like the idea of gentle humour being interwoven (“pull off my moccasins, my toes are going to come rollin’ out of my socks like dice off a craps table” – that made me chuckle!) I’ll make a note of these and see if I can pick them up for my father, so thanks Jacqui! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. One of my mentors (sadly, now deceased) was a prolific western writer. He wrote well over one hundred books, won multiple Spur Awards, and a movie was made of one of his novels (he died around the time it came out). This isn’t a genre that I enjoy reading or writing, although I’ve done both, and I always think of him when I do either. One of his “students” (Pamela Foster) writes beautiful westerns. (Honestly, she writes beautifully in any genre.) Her novel RIDGELINE is a marvelous example of the western genre meeting literary prose. It’s one of the finest works I’ve read.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’ve never had the chance to read the Western genre, and it’s always lovely to hear about it through your blog. Maybe one day I will. I’ve always associated the genre with male protagonists, and it’s lovely to see in Silverhills and Blood at Sundown that there are female characters featured quite prominently.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve had a passion for westerns from my teen years, and have written a ton of short stories and one full length western novel (back in the day). I’d still love to do something with the novel eventually. it’s a genre I’ve always loved and I am always on the lookout for a new book to add. Thanks for the reviews. Sandra Cox is an old friend and I had no idea about Silverhills. I’ll have to look it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jacqui, how did I know you like heroes? Seems like plenty of them in these books. Very interesting, your note about popular authors being mimicked (another word would describe this better) by ghost writers after their death – keeping the legends strong – or the money flowing? Hm.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jacqui, thanks for the great review and for featuring it on your blog. Much appreciated. I also appreciate being pointed in the direction of other Western reads. I’m heading to check out the 6 tips for Western writers now:) Thanks again. You rock.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve kind of gone in the opposite direction, Jacquie. I loved reading westerns when I was younger… my 20s and up. Then I moved onto fantasies. Now I’ve turned to suspense/thrillers as my preferred genre. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Jaqui, you really make these books come alive and yes, I have noticed that you
    like westerns. 😊. I used to watch westerns a lot as young and had a number of
    heroes. It seems that what you read and watch changes, like food. You vary your diet.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember years ago wondering who would ever read westerns! I am excited that one of the Netgalley publishers of Westerns has pre-approved me for my favorite author. I’ll have lots more reviews comin’!


  16. You like westerns, Jacqui!!?? 😀😀 Only kidding! I find over time that the genres of books I read changes and I might well gravitate to westerns at some stage … your excellent compelling reviews draw me in!

    Liked by 1 person

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