book reviews

NetGalley Still Has the Best Westerns

I’m trying to expand from Westerns but I’m constantly pulled back by the characters. Read Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code and tell me you wouldn’t want to ‘ride the trail’ with this fella for at least the length of a book:

The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him. He must always tell the truth. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas. He must help people in distress. He must be a good worker. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Credit for this to Herb over at The Haps With Herb. If you haven’t read his posts, you are missing out.

Here are more NetGalley Westerns I couldn’t resist:

  1. Ambush Before Sunrise–set in today’s western ranch with all the Old West plot points
  2. Shootout at Sugar Creek–an old west thriller in the writing style of Mickey Spillane
  3. Lost Mountain Pass–Trust has never lost someone he’s guarding but the Judge–that’s a challenge, for all the wrong reasons.
  4. The Trainwreckers--don’t mess with Sam Pritchard’s family
  5. A Thousand Texas Longhorns--a different way to tell the story of a cattle drive
–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

Ambush Before Sunrise

by B.J. Daniels


In Ambush Before Sunrise (Harlequin 2020), JoRay “Jinx” McCallahan must take over running her family ranch when her father dies. She hopes her new husband, T.D. Sharp, will help her to do this but he ends up to be lazy, uninspired, and a gambler. She files for divorce and he fights her every step of the way including making it impossible for her to hire wranglers to move her herd to their summer range. She manages to hire the nephews of her mothers friend, Angus and Birk as well as their cousin, Emily. When TD sees his plan foiled (to prevent her from the drive), he tries something else, and this more deadly.

Overall, this is a good story with a nice balance of western ranching and budding romance. The problems in today’s ranch are similar to those you’d find in the old west including horses, cows, stampedes, a chuck wagon, bad guys with guns, a black bear, and broken hearts. My only complaint might be that the writing gets a bit repetitive in some parts, sharing backstory, but not so much I didn’t keep reading!

Shootout at Sugar Creek

by Max Collins and Mickey Spillane


In Shootout at Sugar Creek, 6th of the Caleb York series (Kensington Books 2021), County Sheriff–and de facto Marshal–of Trinidad New Mexico finds himself in yet another death-defying battle not of his own making. His background includes lots of killing–almost all of men who deserved it–but many which would have left him dead if he’d been just a bit less observant of his surroundings or slower with his gun. Now, he thinks he has found a town to settle into as Sheriff, make sure life is safe for the residents and the female rancher he hopes to one day marry. That is, until another female rancher comes to town, buys up properties bankrupted by the Big Die (a time in Old West history where the winter cold and snow was so fierce, it killed off many of the cattle). When she sets her sights on the ranch owned by Caleb’s girlfriend, Willa, neither will give in and a range war threatens. As town sheriff, Caleb is sworn to uphold the law and in this case, knows he must even though the woman he loves is on the opposite side. How does he serve justice and still keep Willa’s love?

Before anything gets better, it gets a whole lot worse.

Max Collins wrote this story from notes left before Mickey Spillane died in 2006. As I read, I caught tantalizing whiffs of the unique style and intriguing twists of all Spillane stories. It is one of many Collins has written based on the prodigious outlines Spillane created and has everything you want in a good ol’ western story.

Lost Mountain Pass

by Larry Sweazy


in Larry Sweazy’s Book One of the Trusty Dawson US Deputy Marshall series, Lost Mountain Pass, Trusty Dawson is a US Deputy Marshall with a long history of law enforcement prior to the US Marshalls. He’s good with his guns and always trusted with the most challenging jobs. One of his claims is that he’s never lost someone he was guarding. But this last one, guarding the judge who convicted three villainous brothers to hang, might be the one that changes all that (no spoilers). Not only does Trusty end up ferrying the hated daughter of these three brothers to a new beginning but unknown to him, someone who hates him more than they love justice has placed a bounty on his head that is attracting a passel of bounty hunters:

“Don’t matter who set the bounty. You stirred up a twister of hate for one reason or another.”

I won’t tell you much more because you need a few surprises in this Western saga but there were some items that bothered me. One: In most westerns, the cowboys love their horses, consider them a best friend. Not Trusty. He recognizes the importance of a horse to his livelihood as a Marshall but that’s it. To him, a good horse is replaceable with another good horse. This is not a problem with the story. It’s simply my disappointment with the main character who I had hoped to love. Where I had a problem with the story was the second item: Sweazy adds a lot of review to the story, reminding me what happened and why, which slows the action. Westerns are known for their bias for action and non-stop excitement. All this reflection made me want to jump ahead. That’s where it lost a star.

Overall, a good enough story but I’m not sure I’ll read Book 2.

The Trainwreckers

by Sean Lynch


The Trainwreckers by Sean Lynch, Book 4 of the Guns of Samuel Pritchard series (Pinnacle 2021) takes places in the late 1800s, a time when railroads were America’s mode of long distance transportation and competing companies vied for business. In this case, it’s in Missouri. When the local mayors band together to talk as a group to the two competing railroads, believing they are stronger as a group, the train taking them to the headquarters of one of the two businesses is attacked, derailed and all but one of the mayors is killed. The survivor, Ditch Clemson, the mayor of Atherton, almost dies and does lose a leg but not his courage. Turns out, he is the best friend of Atherton town Marshal and Missouri’s Jackson County Sheriff Samuel Pritchard. No surprise, he takes this attack personally. Though the railroads try to convince him that this was the doing of outlaws, Pritchard doesn’t believe that and sets out to prove it.

Good lines that remind me why I love the clear morals and honesty that percolate throughout every good Western:

“We’re all with you.” “Thank you,” Ditch said solemnly. “No thanks are needed,” the judge said. “It’s what men do.”

“Just don’t forget to return and give me that statement.” “I won’t,” Pritchard said. “I done gave you my word.” 

I’ve read other books in this series (click here for two reviews) and find this one an excellent next saga, fully as enjoyable and engaging as Lynch’s previous novels. I’ll keep reading this series.

A Thousand Texas Longhorns

by Johnny Boggs


In Johnny Bogg’s A Thousand Texas Longhorns (Pinnacle 2020), Nelson Story, sometimes entrepreneur, sometimes miner, always a risk-taker, decides that a lot of money can be made moving Texas longhorns north. He’s warned of the difficulties, challenges, and impossibility of this task but all that only makes him more determined to do it. With the help of former enemy, Mason Boone, who’s run out of options in his own life, they set out to prove everyone wrong.

Johnny Boggs has a reputation for gritty, realistic stories of the Old West and in this one, he doesn’t disappoint. There is so much late 1800’s atmosphere in this story, you could drown in it. I say that as a compliment. The characters are authentic. The story’s day-to-day activities are so believable, I almost got bored reading about them. Life was boring back then. To tell the story accurately, Boggs includes a lot of subplots, all leading eventually to the main plot, like tributaries that dump into the main river. They’re all interesting but don’t expect a focused story with one goal, at least not for a while.

Overall, this is a good story with strong writing and unique characters that tell what happened in the old west.


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.