7 Westerns that are Amazingly Good

If you like reading about or need to create characters who are strong and passionate, who value justice over anything else, who respect the difference between right and wrong, who live by their wits and their ability to think problems through to successful conclusions, you might consider reading westerns. That is their core. A book in the western genre without these traits just wouldn’t make it.

So no surprise that during the lockdown, I powered through a bunch of Westerns. With their hard-driving heroes who tolerated lots of problems both from nature and man, they seem particularly suited to the angst I felt. Here’s a long list of books I read in this genre during April-May 2020:

  1. Rising Fire–a new generation of Jensen’s get themselves in trouble–just like their parents
  2. Die with the Outlaws–Matt Jensen agrees to help a friend of a friend herd horses to markets; that’s harder than it sounds
  3. They Came to Kill–Preacher and Jamie MacCalister help the transcontinental railroad clear the way for their tracks
  4. North of Laramie–Buck Trammel, former NY cop and former Pinkerton and current bouncer at the Gilded Lily, find trouble
  5. Pray for Death–Will Trammel finds out that a quick job to complete prior to his wedding day isn’t
  6. Buzzard’s Bluff–what does a long-time US Marshall do for excitement? Run a saloon in a small town.
  7. Ambush Before Sunrise–set in today’s western ranch with all the Old West plot points
–all 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

Rising Fire

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

In Book 3 of the Jensen Brand series, Rising Fire (Pinnacle Books 2020), Smoke Jensen’s son and daughter are in Europe where the doctor’s who keep his son’s illnesses in check can take better care of him. While taking a tour of the civilized centers of the various countries, Smoke’s daughter, Denny, falls in love with a Count who unfortunately turns out to be after her money. She finds out just in time, dumps him, and returns to the family ranch in Colorado. Fast forward ten years and to Denny’s surprise, the Count steps off the train in her town. Hoodlums try to gun him down and Denny saves his life before realizing this is the cad she once loved and now wants nothing to do with. He pretends his presence there is simply coincidence but Denny is suspicious, especially when he again acts as though he wants to court her which makes the US Marshall who quietly loves Denny pretty annoyed. It gets a lot more complicated from there. Lies are told. Innocents are accused of crimes. People are killed. And out of it all, a new love is born.

Another great story for the Jensen ecosystem. I love this series.


Die with the Outlaws

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

In Die with the Outlaws (Pinnacle 2020), Book 11 in the Matt Jensen/Last Mountain Man series, Matt Jensen, the adopted son of Smoke Jensen, is an itinerant wanderer, cowboy, former-Mountain-Man, and reliable friend to those he cares about. He’s a hard worker but simply can’t make himself put down roots. When a friend of a friend needs to get a herd of horses to market, Matt agrees to help. He is between jobs and this is just the type of job that appeals to him. It should be quick, easy, and safe, except it turns out to be none of those. To get the horses to market he must first stop the rustlers trying to steal them and fix the town law that isn’t fixing the problem. Really, not that hard for a Jensen.

Though not Smoke Jensen’s blood, Matt Jensen in every way is the hard driving strong willed talented member of the Jensen family. He can’t turn his back on injustice and will always be there for a friend in need. His adventures always make for great reading. Highly recommended for fans of the Western genre.


They Came to Kill

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

I love Preacher stories. He was my introduction to the survivalist world of the old west’s mountain men, Americas hardy never-quit folks who lived off the land, got along with the Indians, and respected a life that was one with their surroundings. The mountain man called Preacher does that better than anyone. Preacher’s friend, Jamie MacCalister needs the old mountain man’s help. Jamie is as much a legend as Preacher:

“There’s no better fighting man west of the Mississippi. . . or east of there, either, for that matter. Jamie Ian MacCallister is one of the best-known frontiersmen in the nation, spoken of in the same breath as Kit Carson and Jim Bridger.”

The army wants Jamie to help them build the transcontinental railroad through the Apache-infested west. He agrees and puts together a team of tough folks–mostly mountain men and including Preacher–to do the job. Jamie knows that for one General, this is about more than the railroad. His son disappeared on a scouting expedition in that area and he fears he’s been taken by the Apaches. He knows if his son is still alive–however unlikely–MacCalister is the General’s best chance to bring his son home.

And so starts one of the best of this series. As usual, it’s filled with bits of old west wisdom:

“An unloaded gun might as well be a hammer, except you can’t drive a nail as well with it.”

“Santa Fe The streets, or so the old saying went, were laid out by a drunkard on a blind mule.”

“They were a nomadic people but didn’t travel much by horseback. He had been told by an old-timer that the Apaches trusted their own legs not to give out more than they trusted those of horses. They could run all day when they needed to.”

If you are a Preacher fan, or a Jamie MacCalister devotee, you’ll love this book.


North of Laramie

by William Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

The Johnstone ecosystem of western heroes is vast, deep, and ever growing. I’ve read quite a few of the standalone and series but here is another new one. North of Laramie (Pinnacle 2020), first in the Buck Trammel Westerns series promises to be an excellent addition. Buck Trammel is a down in his luck former New York cop, former Pinkerton detective who ends up a bouncer at a small-time saloon called the Gilded Lilly. That changes when he defends a gambler accused of cheating and ends up killing two sons of a local big shot rancher. To this enraged father, it doesn’t matter that the gambler wasn’t cheating or that his sons pulled their guns first or that Trammel just defended himself. He just wants revenge. Trammel flees town, taking the gambler with him–otherwise, he would be killed. The two form an unlikely partnership that works well enough that they survive and make a fresh start. Well, at least for a while.

Another great story from the clever minds of the Johnstone crew. Keep em coming.


Pray for Death

by the Johnstones

5/5

In Pray for Death (Pinnacle 2020), Book 6 of the Will Tanner Westerns series, Will Tanner, US Marshall, is supposed to get married on Christmas. He loves his fiancee but planning this wedding is like pulling porcupine quills out of his foot so he jumps at the chance to help an Indian policeman, Jim Little Eagle, with ruffians who are shooting up his Nations-based town. It doesn’t take long to stop them–

“There was not enough intelligence between the two drifters to fill a whiskey glass.”

…but these two are part of a larger group that are themselves part of a town–Muddy Boggy Creek–created by not far from the Nations with the express purpose of supplying the Indians with liquor and owl hoots with a safe place to stay when pursued by the law. Will realizes he must clean out this town–the source of the problem–or he won’t have solved anything. That will take longer but Will is sure he can take care of it before his Big Day (well, pretty sure) and that’s what he sets out to do. Being Will Tanner, he won’t quit until he succeeds and he always has clever ways to face problems.

The first sentence of this book sets it firmly in the old west genre I love. Read this:

“Jim Little Eagle reined his paint gelding to a halt on the bank of Muddy Boggy Creek about fifty yards upstream of the log building bearing the crudely lettered sign that identified it as MAMA’S KITCHEN.”

This is another in the excellent Johnstone Old West saga. I am so happy it is a series.


Buzzard’s Bluff

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

In the Johnstone’s Buzzard’s Bluff, part of their newest series, Ben Savage Saloon Ranger, Ben Savage is an excellent US Marshall, has been for twelve years, but when he inherits a saloon from a fellow retired US Marshall, he decides to travel to the small town of Buzzard’s Bluff, check out the saloon, and see if it is time to settle down. With the unlikely name of Buzzards Bluff, he takes over managing the Lost Coyote Saloon, making the current female manager a 50/50 partner. He quickly ends up in a battle with the other saloon on town for supremacy. This isn’t what Ben wants. His desire is to simply run a good business that is good for the town, but this other saloon has a different goal: to drive the Lost Coyote out of business.

This is another excellent Western you won’t want to miss from the Johnstone’s.


Ambush Before Sunrise

by B.J. Daniels

4/5

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!


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 Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. 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, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. 

Great Westerns from NetGalley

If you like thrillers but can’t quite get behind the world-ending apocalyptic plot points–would like something a little more down-to-earth–you very well may like Westerns. I do and thankfully, Netgalley is happy to feed my addiction with free books. Here are the last ones I read:

  1. Frontier America — Preacher, the most famous mountain man in literary fiction has another adventure you don’t want to miss
  2. Defenders of the Texas Frontier — watch the birth of the West and the Texas Rangers through the eyes on one who was there
–all 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

Frontier America

by William Johnstone
5/5
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In William and J.A. Johnstone’s latest in the Preacher series, Frontier America (Pinnacle 2019), Preacher is between dramas and takes this downtime to visit his son Hawk-that-Soars and his family in the Crow camp where they live. What Preacher doesn’t know is that his good mountain man friend, Scottish clan rancher Jamie Ian MacCallister, is also headed toward this Crow camp also. His purpose is as a guide, helping the Army find the Crow leader so they can negotiate a treaty with the Indians that would allow settlers to pass through this wilderness in safety on their way to Oregon. Even before the two sides meet, neither trusts the other. The young Crow warriors want to kill all Whites before they destroy the Indian hunting grounds. The Whites think Indians are ignorant savages with no right to the land where settlers want to live. The problem only gets worse when an old Blackfoot enemy of Preachers decides this is the right time to settle her score with the mountain man.
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If you’ve read previous Preacher books, you’ll be pleased that the massive Indian warrior and friend of Preacher, Big Thunder, is part of this story. I love this series. If I could give it more than 5/5, I would.

Defender of the Texas Frontier

by David Gross
5/5

In David Gross’ Defender of the Texas Frontier (iUniverse 2019), John Coffee Hays arrives on the Western frontier with his cousin, both looking for a chance to defend the new republic by fighting the Spanish, the Mexicans, or even the Indians–as long as they can be part of the wild freedom offered in this untamed part of the continent.

“…looking for action to satisfy our need for an adrenalin rush. We appeared to be anything but a disciplined militia unit. Each one of us was dressed in his own style…”

Before they finish, they are molded into a seminal part of the original fearless Texas Rangers., the toughest lawmen in American history and the scourge of criminals everywhere. Through the life of Hays, we learn authentic details about what went into making the west a lawful part of the young United States. Here are some examples of the detail and research Gross includes in his tale:

“…One of the most notorious Comanche war chiefs was known as Cuerno Verde, or Green Horn, of the Kotosoteka band. De Ansa gathered an army of nearly 350 regulars and about 250 Indian allies and then set off to find Green Horn.”

“President Sam Houston faced a continuous financial crisis. He disbanded the militia and allowed funding for the ranging companies to lapse. He was doing his best to keep the Republic solvent.”

“Another skill, imitating the tactics of the Comanche, was to learn to hang from the side of a mount and fire a pistol under the horse’s neck with accuracy.”

If I had to rename the genre of this story. I’d call it very creative nonfiction. Though using fictional characters to tell the overall story of building the West, there is more history than the traditional western with more in-depth detail, sometimes multiple pages detailing the historic backstory. This is a must-read for anyone with a real interest in the 1830-40’s, a period of history when America was extremely new and not sure it could survive, when our enemies were on our own continent and we didn’t always beat them. Enjoyable and informative.

View all my reviews

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6 Westerns by One of the Greats

4 Great Western Reads from NetGalley


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 Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. 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, The Quest for Home, Fall 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning