book reviews

Modern Westerns I Loved

I love Westerns. Thanks to some very talented writers, I have begun reading more modern-day Westerns, stories that include all of the down-to-earth, morality of old Westerns but set in the Today. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed:

  1. Saddled Hearts–can Sage’s ability to talk to the dead help Colt avoid the false murder charges?
  2. Secrets in the Blood–why does a talented male hide himself in a dead end job?
  3. Storm Watch--Joe stumbles on a murder and–as has become his mode–can’t walk away until he finds the killer.
–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

Saddled Hearts

by Jan Sikes

In Jan Sike’s newest novel, Saddled Hearts (The Wild Rose Press 2022), Book 3 of The White Rune series, horse-lover and ranch owner Colt Layne is struggling with memories. At the suggestion of friends, he makes an appointment with Sage Coventry, a woman gifted with the ability to talk to the dead. What she tells him is too close to truth to be guesses, but it isn’t until Colt is framed for murder that he returns to Sage, this time seeking clues to the real killer that only his dead grandfather can provide.

At first blush, Saddled Hearts could be mistaken for a typical modern Western romance. Boy and girl meet, both with baggage they must work through before falling in love, all in the shadow of a working horse ranch. I actually love that plot, but what made this book impossible to put down was the clever layering of the background events that buttress the plot. Colt’s rescued horses need him and I didn’t want a false murder charge to take him away from them. It stressed me when his problems worsened and gladdened when they were tempered by his developing romance. Sage Coventry is a single mother and owner of a business she has built to help others. It could be tempting for an author to allow supernatural abilities to become the crutch for problem solving, but in Saddled Hearts, they were only part of the solution, the rest coming from Colt’s strong internal core.

Another piece I really like is Sage’s perception of herself. Colt sees her as a beautiful angel, but Sage considers herself average and maybe slightly overweight. As readers, we’re left not knowing which is truth, and in the end, not caring because it doesn’t matter when compared to her selfless actions and her own internal core. That’s unusual where stories often focus on appearances and makes a strong statement for why I’m still thinking about this novel long after I’ve finished it. To be honest, every Jan Sikes book I’ve read is sticky. Check out my reviews of Mountain Laurel Christmas and Satin and Cinders.

Recommended for those who like dramatic romantic stories with a happy ending.

Secrets in the Blood

by Unity Hayes

In Unity Hayes debut novel, Secrets in the Blood (2013), Cassie has resolved herself to a satisfying albeit celibate life running an Old West entertainment park with people she considers family. She occasional wonders if that is enough when a tall, handsome, mysterious man–named simply West–shows up looking for a job. He accepts the offer as the park handyman, doesn’t argue about the low pay, and moves into the barracks provided for employees because the park is a bit of a drive from town. He does his job well and soon becomes the object of every female’s attention, but he only sees Cassie. As they begin to explore what that could mean, West’s background catches up. He tries to hide what that means, but things like the hideous scars on his back and the unexpected appearance of a brother he hasn’t seen in a decade make it impossible.

Hayes, aka Kymber Hawke, does an excellent job building suspense in this story, telling readers only bits of background at a time and often without context. I wanted more, but worried what I’d find. I liked West but wasn’t sure he was the good guy he seemed. What had he done that forced this talented, self-sufficient male into a dead end job with little contact beyond the park?

This delightful story includes danger, intrigue, and murder and never stopped surprising me. The pacing was perfect, the characters believable. I couldn’t help but think there would be a sequel, though it’s been almost ten years. Maybe not! I highly recommend this to anyone interested in an unusual setting with tantalizing breadcrumbs that lead to the exciting climax.

Storm Watch

by CJ Box


In CJ Box’s Storm Watch (GP Putnam’s Sons 2023), twenty-third book in the Joe Pickett series, Joe as usual gets caught up in a murder not officially part of his game warden duties and one he is warned to back away from. As is a recurring theme, Joe has to pull the threads to the why and how, regardless of the warnings he gets from bosses and colleagues. In this case, a man has been shoved into the blades of a powerful fan that shears off half his head. When Joe tries to pass what must be a murder on to local authorities, they find no man, no blood, and no evidence of a murder at the scene. They want to let it go, but Joe has pictures and can’t walk away. The more he digs into it, the more confusing it is. With no help from law enforcement colleagues or Wyoming political leadership, he enlists the support of his wife to research background and falconer friend Nate Romanowski to go undercover in a subversive group called the Sovereign nation.

On top of trying to track down this murderer, Joe is trying to stop a group that is collecting antlers from elk before they’re ready to shed them (how they do this is appalling).

Throughout the story are forays into Wyoming’s glorious mountain vistas of brilliant snow, a rural world barely touched by civilization and communities.

If you have enjoyed Joe Pickett novels in the past, you’ll like this one too. I’ve read all of them and plan to ready everything Box writes, so why a 4/5 rating? Not quite sure. One metric I use is can I put it down or does it call to me while I try to complete my daily tasks. This one, I did manage to set aside.

–I received an ARC copy of this book from NetGalley in return for my honest review

Copyright ©2023 – All rights reserved.

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, Savage Land Winter 2024.


115 thoughts on “Modern Westerns I Loved

    • Jan’s book is fast-moving, engaging, and fun, with just the right touch of romance. I think you’d like it.

      I have 6 more stops on the extended tour–through April. Then, I’ll offer reflections. I will also be curious what everyone thought of such a long tour. Did the articles keep them from getting bored? We’ll see!


  1. Very interesting recommendations! Saddled Hearts has a quasi-Devil and Miss Sarah feel to it with the supernatural angle. As for Secrets in the Blood, I did not know that was Kymber Hawke’s pen name. Storm Watch is irresistible to an old Hec Ramsey fan like me.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Congratulations to Unity on her debut release AND a great review. That’s awesome!

    Also a huge shout out to Jan Sikes for Saddled Hearts. I loved the whole series, but this book was my personal favorite. A well deserved review.

    I’ve read CJ Box before, but not this novel. A great “round up” Jacqui! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I read (and loved) Saddled Hearts, and I’ve heard good things about Secrets in the Blood. I’ve been hearing about C. J. Box and his series, but I’ve never read his books. Having just finished the 19th book in William Kent Kruger’s Cork O’Connor series, I’m tempted to try this one.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’ve read two out of the three, Jacqui – Saddled Hearts and Secrets in the Blood. Both were highly entertaining. Congrats to Jan and Kymber. You’ve turned me into a western reader. I haven’t read Storm Watch, but I just watched season 1 of “Joe Picket” on television and I think it was based on this book. It was great. I might pick up some of Cox’s books before season 2. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Is Saddled Heart set in the present or in the past? As a historian of the role religion played in the American West, I was always surprised at how entrenched the occult and “spiritualism” was in the West, especially in mining camps. (one estimate that as many as 5% of the miners were involved in such movements. But in the few western fiction I’ve read, I haven’t seen anyone pick up on this.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Hi Jacqui – tv westerns = yes … I don’t read these kind of books. But I can’t lose my Louis L’Amour ‘Walking Drum’ – which is one of his historical fiction … so no … I’d rather read other things, as you know. Cheers and have a good weekend – Hilary

    Liked by 3 people

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