“Of course, women don’t like Westerns.”
This statement from a stranger probably triggered one of my more embarrassing social interactions in college.
I don’t know about wherever you went to school, but at my undergraduate college, it wasn’t unusual to find yourself at a cafeteria table of mostly strangers. The following incident was relatively early in my college career, before I realized the importance of coordinating meal schedules with friends and arriving early so that I could avoid the awkwardness of small chat with strangers.
But on this particular day, I didn’t know any better and had found myself in this situation and, as an introvert, I responded by developing a laser-like focus on my plate and ignoring everyone else at the table. I was jarred out of this protective social cocoon when I overheard someone confidently proclaim that “Of course, women don’t like Westerns.”
Now, as a woman who happens to immensely enjoy Westerns–indeed, some of my favorite books, movies, and television shows are Westerns–that broad generalization really infuriated me. And without giving it much further thought or even clarifying context or anything else, I immediately blurted out an unintentionally very confrontational, “Well, I like Westerns!”
And even though my attempt to articulate my love for Westerns in that instance was dismal, I still stand by the sentiment.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of mediocre and even bad Westerns out there, but I do love a good Western! I love reading nonfiction about the Old West, and I love a good historical novel set at the same time period.
But, admittedly, the popular genre of Western romances, or as we’re dubbing it for this month “Rugged Romances,” is a genre I have never read anything in. The kinds of Westerns I favor tend to feature a lot more corpses than happy endings.
So, in the spirit of celebrating oddly-specific genres and, ahem, exploring new reading frontiers, here’s a round-up of books in this genre. As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information.
“If you enjoy a straightforward romance:
Set in Arizona in 1903, this Western romance focuses on Arizona Ranger Sam O’Ballivan, who arrives in the rustler-ridden border town of Haven. He is undercover, though, so everyone else just thinks he is the new school teacher. Beyond the challenges of investigating crimes and wrangling unruly schoolchildren, he also meets the local postmistress, Maddie, who both intrigues and frustrates him. As you can imagine, complications ensue.
Recommended for those who enjoy Elizabeth Lowell, Janet Dailey, Jodi Thomas, and Robyn Carr.
Gwen Gallatin has had a hard life. Orphaned and widowed, she has taken responsibility for her younger sisters, as well as her family’s hotel business in rough 1870s Montana. One day, a visitor named Hank appears, claiming a connection to her deceased husband. Gwen is torn between attraction and suspicion in this Christian western romance. This book is part of a series, with subsequent books following the younger sisters through their adventures, romantic and otherwise.
Recommended for those who enjoy Gilbert and Lynn Morris, Janette Oke, Carol Cox, and Tamera Alexander.
Hank Larson’s arrival in a tiny 1870s Texas town does not go according to plan. He moved there to run the newspaper, but he has the misfortune of being mistaken for a hero when he accidentally halts a bank robbery in progress. Don’t you hate when that happens to you? Despite his protests, Hank is quickly named sheriff and tasked with finding the robber who got away. The whole sheriff gig is pretty unappealing to Hank to begin with, but this mission is especially distasteful since it puts him at odds with the outlaw’s lovely sister.
Recommended for those who enjoy Kaki Warner.
In post-Civil war Texas, Bethanie Lane escapes a miserable family situation by convincing Texas Ranger Josh Weston to take her from San Antonio to Fort Worth. Along the way, they fall in love, but after arriving in Fort Worth, she soon realizes that her dreams of their future together are not meant to be. Playing out over years, this standalone book counts just as much as a family saga as a romance and should appeal to readers who enjoy both.
“Recommended for those who enjoy Linda Lael Miller, Robyn Carr, and Carolyn Brown.
Janet Dailey’s This Calder Range (1982)
Janet Dailey is one of the most popular and widely-known writers in this genre, so it’s only fair to profile the book that kicked off the series she is best known for–her multi-generational chronicle of the daring Calder family. In this first installment, the story is probably more of a domestic drama than a traditional romance as it follows Chase Calder and his bride Lorna as they relocate from Texas to Montana in the 1870s to establish a ranch.
Recommended for those who enjoy Linda Lael Miller and Susan Wiggs
Probably more fairly categorized as a prairie story than a Western, this book is another first in a popular series that follows multiple generations of a family. A marriage of convenience starts it all as a recent widow and a widower with a small child agree to marry, at least until the spring, when he promises her a ticket back East. But when the time comes, will she change her mind?
Recommended for those who enjoy Tracie Peterson, Lori Wick, Catherine Palmer, and Kim Vogel Sawyer.
“Don’t like historical fiction? You can still enjoy the Wild West within the comfort of a modern setting. Nora Roberts’s Montana Sky is a genre-bending Western romantic suspense thriller. In modern-day Montana, three very different half-sisters live on their late father’s ranch, as requested by his will. All 3 of the sisters find romance, but they might also find more danger than they bargained for when a killer strikes and shows no sign of stopping.
Recommended for those who enjoy Suzanne Brockmann, Eileen Gouge, and Elizabeth Lowell.
If you prefer literary Westerns with a dash of romance:
“I actually read this book a few years ago, when Carol Ann suggested it to me. I enjoyed it very much and for years was confused when people would mention Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and its Jacobean Scottish settings. I was always like, “I thought that book was set in Canada and not part of a series. . . . ?”
Now that I know the difference, I can assert that this story is indeed set in 1903 Canada and not part of a series. Much more of a psychological literary adventure with some romance thrown in, this book follows Mary Boulton on a desperate trek through Canada’s western mountains in the dead of winter. She is fleeing her late husband’s vengeance-bent brothers after she was “widowed by her own hand,” and it is a quest she is ill-prepared for, though she quickly proves resourceful.
Adamson was a poet before writing this book, and she combines lyrical writing with historical fiction in a way that reminded me some of Paulette Jiles. (Or rather reminded me of Adamson when I finally got around to reading Jiles last year.)
Recommended for those who enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses and Larry McMurtry’s Sin Killer.
How many women do you know who like Westerns? What are your favorite Westerns? What are your favorite romances? Tell us in the comments!