book reviews

Love Westerns? Here are 8 More for Your TBR Pile

I’m trying to expand from Westerns but NetGalley has eight more I couldn’t resist:

  1. The Backstabbers–A Stagecoach team ends up in lots of trouble just trying to get their passengers from here to there
  2. Rope Burn–Ace and Chance Jensen are almost hung, end up on a prison road crew and save a girl’s life. How could that cause trouble?
  3. A Hill of Beans–when Mac takes on the job of chuck wagon cook for a  trail drive, he gets more than he bargained for
  4. Killer Take All--Duff MacCallister, a western rancher, becomes the one guy who can stop the dastardly actions of the railroad tycoons
  5. Get out of Town–Step 1–take a clans murdered son right up to their doorstep; Step 2–see what these murderous rogues do next
  6. Montana Territory–One of the Army’s best trackers won’t quit until murderers are brought to justice
  7. Bury the Hatchet--can Trammel forgive his friend Hagen if it saves both of their lives?
  8. Stand Up and Die–when the Jackals agree to herd a band of wild horses to a ranch, things get very complicated.
–received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review
–a note about my reviews: I only review books I enjoyed. I need to be inspired to write. That’s why so many of my reviews are 4/5 or 5/5

The Backstabbers

by William and J.A. Johnstone


In the Johnstone’s The Backstabbers (Pinnacle 2020), Book 2 in the Red Ryan Western series, Red Ryan and Patrick “Buttons” Muldoon are on a stagecoach run for the Abe Patterson & Son Stage and Express Company to pick up a customer in a small town. They do this sort of thing occasionally to add to their company’s revenue but this time, when they show up at the assigned location, the town is deserted. Almost. After much searching, they find a man who leads them to their passenger–which turns out to be a coffin. They will be paid an exorbitant fee to take the coffin to a distant ranch. Then, they get their money and leave. Trouble is, outlaws try to steal the coffin on the way and are only prevented from doing so by a female shootist who is aggressive, a great shot, and arrives in the nick of time. She leads them to the ranch–operated entirely by women–and they are asked (for a bigger fee) to now take the ranch owner to another distant location.

From that point on, nothing is normal and Red and Buttons wonder if they’ll survive long enough to spend all the money they just earned.

Why 5/5? Besides being the usual great writing from the Johnstone authors, the originality of the story, the authenticity of the characters and setting, I haven’t read many Westerns about a stagecoach driver. I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Rope Burn

by William and J.A. Johnstone


In the Johnstone’s fifth in the Those Jensen Boys! series, Rope Burn (Pinnacle 2020), brothers, Ace and Chance Jensen are unwinding after completing a ranching job, having a good time before looking for their next job. Though they realize they should mind their own business, when a barmaid is bothered by a big thug, they end up killing the thug in self-defense. That ends them up in jail, almost hanged, and saved only to be put on an Army work crew. It doesn’t take long for them to realize there is nothing lawful about their arrest, conviction, and escape from hanging. The problem is, what do they do about it?

Well, this is the Jensen Boys, nephews to the infamous Smoke Jensen as well as Luke Jensen, and adopted relatives to the equally-famous Preacher and Matt Jensen. Ace and Chance come from a long line of problem-solvers who never quit, especially in a battle between right and wrong. Without giving things away, things definitely get a lot worse before the better starts but then it does and it’s a wild ride. As usual, the story includes all the best characteristics of good Westerns–bad lawmen, Indians, beautiful women, and surviving the unsurvivable.

I haven’t read the Jensen Boys series before but not for any reason. Pretty much I just didn’t get to it. Now I have to read all of them.

A Hill of Beans

by William and J.A. Johnston


Usually westerns about cattle drives follow a similar path. Rustlers attack the drive, kill a few good cowboys, and the rest want revenge. A Hill of Beans (Pinnacle Books 2020), Book 3 in the Chuckwagon Trail series,starts like that but in true Johnstone fashion, doesn’t take long to diverge. These particular rustlers decide to steal cattle by causing a stampede and have the misfortune of sending the frenzied cows right through the middle of Dewey “Mac” Mackenzie’s campground. He not only helps to stop the stampede but then goes after the rustlers and retrieves the stolen cows. When the trail drive’s cook gets injured, Mac–who says he is between drives–is hired to cook which is what he likes to do anyway. That’s all in the first few pages (well, more than few–20% maybe) and the action is just starting. Mac and the boss’s son save a man from hanging when they go into town for supplies which is where the real problems start.

Mac is an interesting character, not at all the typical western hero. He’s a quick thinker, committed to helping others, fun to be around, talented with a frying pan, and has secrets he’s not telling that could change everything. Of course the owner of the new crew has his own secrets. I spent most of the book trying to figure out what all of those were and whose were worse.

This, like most books by these authors, is atmospheric, steeped in old west authenticity, and a fun read. If you like Westerns, you’ll enjoy it.

Killer Take All

by William and J.A. Johnstone


Duff MacCAllister is an unlikely Scotsman-turned rancher and star of the the Johnstone’s MacCallister series. In Killer Take All (Pinnacle Books 2020), Book 10 of the series, Duff has happily settled into the Western town of Chugwater herding cows and trying to talk the girl of his dreams into marrying him. When the railroad decides to come to their town, he along with everyone else is excited at the business, the population growth, and what it means for their connectivity to the rest of the world. Then the railroad starts to take advantage of their goodness with legal terms like ’eminent domain’ (which may or may not apply) and by driving ranchers off the land they’ve lived on their entire lives.

That’s when Duff gets involved. He’s not a rabble-rouser but he has a moral compass that spikes when injustice appears. What he finds out is nothing that he expected.

The Johnstone’s write excellent stories about the life and times of the Old West. This isn’t a series I’ve read before but I’m pretty excited that this book is #10 because it means I have 9 more great books to read. If you like westerns, you’ll like this.

Get Out of Town

by Terrence McCauley


Terrence McCauley’s Get Out of Town (Pinnacle Books 2020) starts with a mystery. Why is U.S. Marshall Aaron Mackey taking a dead outlaw to the rogue’s hometown to be buried, where his family will doubtless seek revenge no matter how evil their kin is and now, they’ll know exactly who to go after? It’s like Mackey wants to make them furious. Those who know Mackey understand he has a plan and it is going exactly as he’d hoped. Where others might fear butting heads with a ruthless family that owns the town and has more relatives than rabbits have kits, all willing to die to avenge their murdered kin, Mackey eagerly steps into the snake pit.

And it only gets more interesting from here. This is a great story by an author I’ve never read before but am sorry I missed. Highly recommended for lovers of the western genre.

Montana Territory

by Charles West


In this third of Charles West’s John Hawk Westerns series, Montana Territory (Pinnacle 2020), John Hawk is fired from his army scouting job over a disagreement with a petty small minded officer about tracking. The officer dislikes Hawk anyway so not much chance he’d ever agree with him. Maybe because Hawk was raised by Indians, maybe something else. Whatever the reason, Hawk doesn’t mind too much because it gives him time to fix his cabin up before winter sets in, do things he’s been meaning to do but hasn’t had time. He’s one of the Army’s best trackers so is always working. ‘Being fired’ doesn’t last long. A different army officer, this one a friend, begs Hawk to return when the fort commander’s son disappears with a group of Quakers travelling to set up a new church. That happened weeks ago but Hawk takes on the job anyway, as a personal favor. He quickly finds that most of the group was slaughtered, maybe by Indians, and their money stolen. A small group escaped and points Hawk the right direction. When tracking the murderers takes too long, the Army pulls the plug but Hawk isn’t willing to. If he does, who will bring justice to these well-meaning peaceful folk?

A fast-moving plot, good character development, an appealing theme, all wrapped around an excellent main character–John Hawk. Overall, another great Western you will enjoy.

Bury the Hatchet

by William and J.A. Johnstone


Johnstone’s Bury the Hatchet (Pinnacle 2020), second in the Buck Trammel Westerns series, picks up where the last left off. Buck, West Point graduate, former Pinkerton agent, former bouncer in a saloon, is ow Sheriff in the town “owned” by his ex-best-friend’s father. He sets out to do the job right and bring order and justice to a town sadly lacking in both. Unfortunately, that crosses legal paths with is former friend, Adam Hagen, now boss of the town’s illicit opium den. Trammel is furious and forswears him as a friend until their mutual past comes back to threaten their present. A wealthy man, father to a son Trammel and Hagen killed in a fair fight before arriving at this town decides to seek revenge for the boy’s death. He hires the Pinkerton Agency where Trammel used to work to bring the boy justice by killing Trammel and Hagen.

An interesting part of this book beyond the clever characters and the tricky plot is the erudite wisdom that Trammel relies on to guide his actions. Look at these:

“Without knowledge, skill cannot be focused. Without skill, strength cannot be brought to bear. And without strength, knowledge cannot be applied.”
“Heaven will not brook two suns, nor the earth two masters.”

“…when modern answers fail us, a wise man must turn to antiquity for guidance.”

As an armchair philosopher, I loved these.

Despite continuing the plot laid out earlier in the series, the book can be read as a standalone without losing anything. As usual, it is drenched in the old west, giving readers a feel for how life was lived over a hundred years ago.

Stand Up and Die

by William and J.A. Johnstone


William Johnston’s Stand Up and Die (Pinnacle 2020), Book 2 in the Jackals series, starts in perfect Western fashion. A shootout in a whore house, a Marshall killed while a prisoner escapes, and an Indian fighting a white man in a vicious battle. It doesn’t get any better if you love Westerns. These events left no doubt that the three western gunslingers–known informally as the Jackals–were mighty talented fighters with unbendable moral cores. These events convinced the Jackals to join forces herding a band of wild mustangs to a ranch where they would be tamed and sold. That doesn’t sound too hard but turns out, one of the partners in the ranch is a teenage Indian whose father wants him back. One of the Jackals is bringing two prisoners who must be dropped off at a sheriffs along the way. And, a clan of angry killers wants to kills another of the jackals–and is happy to include anyone with him–to revenge the hanging of their cousin. Oh, and then there’s Annie. This is a good read and a wild ride to the very end.

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 Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. 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 NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021. 

54 thoughts on “Love Westerns? Here are 8 More for Your TBR Pile

    • It’s a riveting story. It reminded me that back then, there wasn’t always appreciation for putting your life on the line, almost getting killed. You had a job to do and the applause started only when it was done, right. I could get used to that.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for the great reviews, Jacqui. I haven’t read any westerns in a while. I want to read Sandra’s book. Since it looks like I’m going to be self-isolated for a while, I’ll have time to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve watched many western movies, with my dad, now with Hubby, but I haven’t read western novels when it comes to line up the task at hand and getting some reading done. Great reviews of the books and some plots are clever!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Seems like you really love your westerns, Jacqui. I like Westerns but they aren’t my go-to genre. That said I find it fascinating how there usually is some kind of death or murder involved and it never makes the storyline boring 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Jacqui – they sound fun … I remember back in the day – i.e.. young … when I read back to back and constantly … now I seem to want to read other genres – mostly historical or educative … but there’ll come a time when I need to crash out and just read – so your list could come in handy. Thanks – take care – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s nice to see the Western is alive and well. As a boy in the eighties, I always thought of Westerns as old-fashioned and boring. But in the ’90s, when I was a teenager, the genre experienced a cinematic renaissance — Dances with Wolves (1990) and Unforgiven (1992) and Tombstone (1993) — that really resonated with me; I was old enough at that point to appreciate their moral and thematic complexity. I haven’t read as many as I’d like, but this is a great place to start — so thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Westerns are big here where I live in West Texas. Did you know the cattle drives lasted only eighteen years? Yet, moving cows north make up most of Texas legends. Not all of Texas is dusty dry. Every real Texan I know is a storyteller. So if you come ask them to tell you their favorite story of Texas. Be prepared to sit a spell. Ya’ll come see us.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for sharing!!.. not really into westerns myself… however, should one serve a dish of The Hound Of The Baskervilles with a touch of Holmes or Hercule Poirot and finished off with a bit of Cat In The Hat or Winnie the Pooh, one might get my attention… of course, I am always a fan of a HEA.. 🙂

    Hope all is well in your part of the universe and until we meet again..

    May the dreams you hold dearest
    Be those which come true
    May the kindness you spread
    Keep returning to you
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

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