book reviews

What is a Western? And Why?

Those who follow my blog know I’m pretty addicted to Westerns. Thanks to blogging friend, Herb Thiel, who blogs over at The Haps With Herb (I’ve mentioned him before so he’ll be familiar to you), I can tell you I’m not the only one. His friend, A.J. McGregor (great last name) who blogs over at The Lonely Meatball also writes children’s poetry and wrote this about cowboys (reposted with his permission):

I Want To Be a Cowboy

I want to be a cowboy.
I think it would be fun.
I’d get to ride a big horse.
I’d get to tote a gun.

I’d get to wear a big hat.
I’d buy one that is black,
and there’d be a leather vest
covering my back.

I’d spend my days relaxing,
just riding on my horse.
I’d look just like a hero
and act like one, of course.

But this will never happen.
There is no way, no how.
The trouble is I’m terrified
of each and every cow.

He also posted this from Gene Autry (the poster boy for cowboys) that tells why I love the character:

Gene Autry’s Cowboy 10 Commandments

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

Now you understand my love of the cowboy character, right? Here are a few I have read recently:

  1. Dark Sunrise–US Marshall Aaron Mackey is exactly who you want in your corner when there’s trouble
  2. The Ghost Rifle–a special rifle forges a man’s future
  3. American Odyssey--the sequel to Ghost Rifle
–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 Dark Sunrise

by Terrence McCauley

In Terrence McCauley’s The Dark Sunrise (Pinnacle 2020), U.S. Marshall Aaron Mackey’s life seems to be finally working out. He’s cleaned up his hometown, Dover Station. He’s getting married to the woman of his dreams. His father (who he hasn’t always been close to but finally is) is elected Mayor of Dover Station. That–of course–is when everything goes wrong, and horrifically. But the worst is when an old nemesis he thought he’d put away manages to escape incarceration and comes back to take vengeance on Mackey. Luckily, Mackey has a moral center that never wavers, a core that is as strong as a continent’s craton, and friends who stand by him.

This is another entry in the Aaron Mackey Western series, each book better than the last. While they can be read in order, they easily stand alone. Highly recommended for those who love this genre.

The Ghost Rifle

by Max McCoy


Max McCoy’s Ghost Rifle (Pinnacle 2021), Book 1 of A Ghost Rifle Western, seems at first a simple story. Jack Picaro comes to America to make his fortune but accidentally kills his best friend. He flees because he thinks no one will believe him, changes his name, and moves westward working on a ferry boat. It is attacked by Indians. They kill the ferry boat’s crew and steal Picaro’s gun. It’s not just any gun. He forged it, spent hours making it better than any other gun of its time. A ghost gun. He must retrieve it.

This journey to reclaim his gun is a sort of adult coming of age story, about figuring out one’s responsibilities, what’s important in life. For example, early on the journey, he kills a Buffalo cow because he’s hungry, eats one meal from it and leaves the rest to rot. The author touches–though lightly–on the waste of the animal’s life. Later, he defaces a holy Indian place by scratching his name into its stone walls. Again, as with the buffalo, he doesn’t understand the fullness of his actions.

These pieces are what bothered me about the book. I sensed the author had Picaro perform these actions so he could grow from learning how he should have acted but that isn’t clearly delineated. I would have enjoyed the story more and felt the animal’s life well-spent if this western man had learned from it. But this is only the first book of the series. The author tantalizes readers at the end as Jack is tracked down by two children he sired without even knowing it. I can’t help but think I will feel differently about the series once I’ve read the next.

Overall, this is an interesting story not like many other Westerns I’ve read.

American Odyssey

by Max McCoy


Max McCoy’s American Odyssey (Pinnacle 2022), Book 2 of 3 in the Ghost Rifle Western series, picks up ten years after Jack Picaro loses his almost-magical Ghost Rifle. At this point, he is living with his devoted and beloved Indian wife in the mountains and off the land. What little money they require, he makes by fixing rifles for people, but it has been a long time since the last job and they are running out of staples. He agrees to help the Army find some lost troopers which he manages to do quickly. And that is where the problems begin for both Jack and me as a reader.

This book, more than the prior one deals with enough mysticism to make me wonder how it fits into the story I thought I knew. I know–a Ghost Rifle with magical properties does make you think supernatural plotlines, but this book pushes that to extremes not present in Book 1. There’s a trip to the underworld, with the help of magic potions, to make a deal with the spirits for the lives of the soldiers Jack has been sent to rescue. Trying to make sense of these diversions, it took me a while to get into the story. This was also true of Book 1, but in this case, the plot never quite snared me. Much confused me and I had trouble following the plot. It felt more like a new story than the continuation of a familiar one. McCoy is a Silver Spur award winner so I suspect his plan is to make everything clear by the end of Book 3.

Which I’m not sure I’ll read.

If you’ve read this, I’d love to hear your take on it. Did I miss important details?


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.

89 thoughts on “What is a Western? And Why?

  1. Pingback: More Westerns Reviews … |

  2. I did not expect this post be to what it is, but it is honestly such a fun interpretation of what a western is! I love the list of Cowboy Commandments; your list of reading recommendations puts forth the best mix of all ten rules. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoy westerns, though I’m not an avid reader of them. “The Ghost Rifle” looks interesting, I think I’ll check this series out. Sorry to hear the third book didn’t fit with the others. Fun poem by McGregor! Thanks for sharing your reviews and the introduction to a new author (for me). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing!!.. I do enjoy westerns and many in the real old west (man and woman) had to step forward and act with courage to survive, etc.. but I believe that one doesn’t have to be a cowboy to be a hero.. “Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” ( Brodi Ashton)… 🙂

    Until we meet again…
    May love and laughter light your days,
    and warm your heart and home.
    May good and faithful friends be yours,
    wherever you may roam.
    May peace and plenty bless your world
    with joy that long endures.
    May all life’s passing seasons
    bring the best to you and yours!
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I loved cowboy movies when I was a little girl–Roy Rogers, Rex Allen. I was very jealous of Dale Evans! Gene was okay but not as handsome as Roy and Rex LOL. Love the list of cowboy characteristics. I’m swiping that! I never really read cowboy stories until I read the Westerns by Sandra Cox. Her tales generated more interest in the genre for me. So well done. Thanks to you for sharing the reviews and to the commenters who suggested more westerns! YeeHaw!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cowboy character—perfect description. One gets the sense that most cowboys monitored themselves through their values.

    The Lonely Meatball—that sounds like somebody I’d like to hang out with. I’ve got to check that blog out.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the children’s poem and Gene Autry’s Cowboy 10 Commandments. Excellent quotes, Jacqui! My dad loved cowboy movies and I remember going to see all the cowboy movies with him. Hubby watched the old cowboy movies every now and then. Gene Autry’s codes give me more insights into how they act. Great reviews, Jacqui!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Ooh, I love this. Are you familiar with cozy mysteries and why people read them? I am a cozy fan. I like that the good guys win in the end, and it’s comforting to know that good is rewarded, evil punished. Do Westerns give you that sense of “all is right in the world”?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I love Gene Autry’s cowboy code. We could certainly do well to live by that code today. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on these books, Jacqui! If you like a little romance thrown into westerns, may I suggest you check out my sister, Linda Broday’s, books.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve always loved stories of the old west, both in movies and TV, and books. Your reviews have me wanting to pick one up again (It’s been a while). I always thought of cowboys as the equivalent of knights, only on the western frontier 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I live in Lubbock, Texas the center of cotton, corn, cattle and real cowboys. The Cowboy Ten Commandments still hold true. I want to recommend a local cowboy Taylor Moore. He came to our writer group last weekend and gave a talk about his life as a writer and his new book, “Down Range”. He has an agent for his book which is in the process of being made into a movie. He has two more books in process. Check out his website. I am listening to the audiobook and its authentic Texan.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. My dad and both grandfathers loved to watch westerns. I resisted them for a long time, but now I’ve come around. I still don’t read them, but I think I’m going to start. (I told you, Yellowstone has converted me. 🤠 )


  13. Pingback: What is a Western? And Why? — – uwerolandgross

  14. My dad was a cowboy and a huge fan of Gene Autry. He followed those rules all his life and passed them on to us. He didn’t carry a gun, but that isn’t what makes a cowboy. My daughter read the Cowboy’s Prayer at his funeral. I love that you enjoy reading westerns.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Jacqui – I loved watching Westerns … while the list of character requirements should be posted everywhere for humanity in general. I was only introduced to the Louis L’Amour books a few years ago – and am hooked … they teach a lot about so many things – particularly other aspects in other countries … great educational reads. I’d rather read other things now – but am still entranced by Westerns – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This is my favorite quote from Louis L’Amour, author of over 100 books, emphasizing you don’t have to use course language to sell books.

    “I’ve written all these stories without any pornography, without any obscenity. I grew up among sailors and miners and lumberjacks and the roughest kind men in the world, but I never found it necessary to use all that in the stories. I can make them real without that. I think much of that kind of writing is a coverup for lack of real skill.”

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Love them too. Devoured them in my teens. Hope to go back to them at some point soon. My fav cowboy character is ‘Sudden’ created by Oliver Strange. He answers to all the 10 characteristics listed in the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I agree about westerns, I found my way back to them through Sandra’s stories. Great reviews, too bad the one series disappointed, but the other sounds good 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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