book reviews

More Great Westerns from NetGalley

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

  1. Smoke Wagon–Clyde is the one they call in the untamed West for desperate situations, but even this is more than he bargained for
  2. Blood on the Trail–Halstead’s first job as Deputy US Marshall–and it’s a zinger
  3. Dark Night in Big Rock–Smoke Jensen’s kids take center stage in this one and it is excellent
  4. The Jensen Brand–first in a series that focuses on Smoke Jensen’s ranch and kids
  5. The Devil’s Crossing–another chapter in the Preacher series with everything you expect out of this iconic series
  6. When the Shooting Starts–danger hits close to home when renegade Indians attack Sugarloaf and Big Rock
–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

Smoke Wagon

by Brett Cogburn


In Brett Cogburn’s Smoke Wagon (Pinnacle Books 2021), Book 1 in the Morgan Clyde Western series, Morgan Clyde has a reputation as a fearless gunslinger with a bias for justice enhanced by a maverick streak. He’s usually hired by desperate people to clean up lawless situations, willing to look the other way to justify the ends. That’s what brings him to Ironhead Station, a settlement in Indian Territory that is not yet under the jurisdiction of any US laws. As the current last stop on a railroad being built, the developers can’t get any farther until the lawlessness that prevents the track’s completion is removed. Morgan is brought in to do just that, no questions asked, at least enough that the railroad can complete its work and move on to the next undeveloped stop. Though Clyde has done this sort of impossible work often in the past, this particular job turns out to be one of his most difficult yet.

The story is steeped in the gritty details of the Old West with a peek at the dirty underside and the tough men who made the railroad expansion across America happen. It is action packed and realistic, but a touch dark as far as the people who populate this world and the borderline illegal actions of even those who try to tame the monster.

Blood on the Trail

by Terrence McCauley

In Terrence McCauley’s Blood on the Trail (Pinnacle Books 2022), first in the Jeremiah Halstead Western series, young Jeremiah Halstead is a new Deputy United States Marshall, tasked with bringing in the ten-member+ Hudson Gang, a brutal determined band of stone-cold killers who has been terrorizing citizens across Montana and farther. As the son of famed Sin Halstead, known for his grit, determination, and sense of justice, Jeremiah’s reputation precedes him everywhere he goes. In a violent shootout between the gang and Jeremiah, he kills three of them and captures the leader. He plans to take him to the US Marshal HQ in Helena, but stops in the small town of Silver Cloud where he is told by his boss, the US Marshall, to wait for instructions. Waiting turns into a vicious battle where Halstead isn’t sure who is on his side or against him.

This is a well-told story with excellent characters I look forward to enjoying in future stories. Highly recommended

Dark Night in Big Rock

by William Johnstone et al

All of the original Smoke Jensen books are excellent. So often, when an author tries to move from the original character to their relatives or kids, it loses the momentum of the original. I’m happy to say, that isn’t the case here. Dark Night in Big Rock (Pinnacle Books 2022), Book 5 of the Jensen Brand, deals with Smoke’s two twin children, Louis, a newly graduated lawyer who’s returned to Big Rock to set up a practice, and Denny, the heir apparent to Smoke’s ranch, Sugarloaf. Louis is eager for new clients, but doesn’t want to rely on his famous father’s law work or his friends. He becomes involved with two men with ranches that border each other who are fighting over their property lines. Louis is not a seasoned lawyer but feels by applying his prodigious and Harvard-honed mental power, he can unravel the mystery of who owns what before a full-blown range war breaks out. You’ll have to read this book to see if he manages to do that before too many innocent folks are killed.

This is a typical excellent Johnstone Old West book–fast, feel-good, and with characters you like. And, if you like a little romance in your Western, you’ll find that here, too.  Highly recommended for those who love a good Western.

The Jensen Brand

by William W. Johnstone et al

In The Jensen Brand (Pinnacle Books 2017), Book 1 of the William Johnstone series by the same name, Denise ‘Denny’ Jensen and her twin brother, Louis, return from Europe where they lived while treating Louis’ chronic illnesses. They now both want to live permanently on their fathers ranch, Sugarloaf, and become involved in the family business, Louis as an attorney and Denny as the one who replaces her father running the ranch when he chooses to retire. They aren’t home long with a band of owl hoots with a grudge against Smoke steal his cattle and declare war on his ranch. Though barely twenty, Denny goes undercover as a member of the gang to find out their plans and warn her father. To her surprise, Deputy US Marshall Bryce Rogers has the same idea. The two of them partner up to figure out how to stop what could be a deadly attack against the ranch Denny has called home her entire life. No surprise, they  also find there might be an unexpected romance there also (If you’ve read later books in the Jensen series, you know where this ends up).

Another excellent story in the Jensen family saga.

The Devil’s Crossing

by William Johnstone et al

I can’t overstate the excitement I felt when I discovered more books about Preacher, William Johnstone’s original Mountain Man and my introduction years ago to that sturdy, stalwart, invincible, never-quit icon of the American Rockies. Johnstone’s character, Preacher, possesses at organic knowledge of survival that has nothing to do with money, possessions, or who you know and everything to do with what is inside you. Preacher’s honesty and earnestness, his love of nature makes him one to ‘ride the river with’.

In this Book 4 of the Preacher and MacCalister series (Pinnacle 2022), a separate series from the many other Preacher Mountain Man series,, Preacher is well-established as the knowledgeable man of the mountains, but he still lives a simples, straight-forward life based on doing what should be done. When wagon trains are being ambushed by outlaws at a particularly difficult pass along the Oregon Trail–Devil’s Crossing–Preacher agrees to join a wagon train to stop the bandits who have taken so many lives and dreams. Preacher brings a few of his mountain man friends with him, most notably the impossible-to-defeat Jamie MacAllister. The story has everything you always love about Preacher novels–action, justice, a little flirting, a lot of victories, and at least one surprise Preacher never saw coming. Highly recommended to those who love lots of action and winning in their Westerns.

When the Shooting Starts

by William Johnstone

Smoke Jensen is one of the many long-standing series in the Jensen Family Universe that includes Smoke, his children, his relatives, and Smoke’s adopted father, Preacher. Smoke has a long and storied career starting as mountain man raised by Preacher, moving on to soldier, renegade, somewhat-outlaw, ending as an law abiding ranch owner who is a pillar of Big Rock, the town he started. When the Shoot Starts, Book 4 of the Smoke Jensen Westerns, takes place soon after Smoke established his ranch Sugarloaf and married Sally, but before his children. An Indian war chief Black Drum escapes from the reservation and swears to destroy the white man who has destroyed his legacy. The more successful he is at this gruesome task, the more Indians join his group until it numbers close to one hundred. At that point, Black Drum decides that Sugarloaf and Big Rock are good places to make his stand. Smoke Jensen disagrees. The story is complicated when outlaws who masquerade as the Army to defend Big Rock from the Indians make it hard to tell the good guys from the bad. Another excellent Smoke Jensen book. If you love this Universe, you won’t want to miss it.

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, Fall 2022.

61 thoughts on “More Great Westerns from NetGalley

  1. -grin- I have to ask, what’s the appeal in the genre? I know that’s a stupid question in a way because we all like what we like, but I would have expected you to be into thrillers or maybe historical novels or fantasy?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Jacqui, whenever I read your reviews of Westerns (and you are just about the only blogger/reviewer I know who reads Westerns), I am always surprised by how total lawless the societies were at that time in the USA. So different from South Africa which had similar circumstances in many ways, but the Afrikaners were very God-fearing and law abiding.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Old West was God-fearing and law abiding, but there were gangs of outlaws that roamed causing endless havoc. Towns sprang up out of nothing and often didn’t have Sheriffs or Marshalls which made them prey to outlaws. Often, it was the ordinary people who maintained order. It may explain America’s 2nd Amendment, the right to bear arms. We needed them?

      Liked by 2 people

        • America expanded so fast–consider how much land all manner of immigrants took over in a very short period of time. It was hard to keep up with it from a law and order perspective. US Marshals were the first step, and then local strength like the Texas Rangers, but it was a challenge. I think overall America was served well by the maverick spirit and independent attitude of those who saw opportunity in the Western lands.

          Australia was started by convicts. I had always thought they shared much of America’s independent spirit?


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