Vengeance Valley

>by Richard S. Wheeler

Even though Vengeance Valley is labeled as a Western, it goes beyond the genre.  There is the political deception in running the town and keeping the gold. The characters are well developed and become your friends or enemies.  Then of course there is an unlikely love story to round it off. 

A town has  grown around a silver mine in the middle of nowhere.  The next closest town is a hard 5 miles away and 3,000 feet down the mountain.  Needless to say this group of people were committed to their little town. Hard Luck Yancey, gave the town it’s name.  He was called Hard Luck because three times his fortunes had been lost to other schemeing men.  In this case Alfred Noble, who really wasn’t, had legally taken Yancey’s mine away.  One thing that set the town of Yancey apart from other mining towns was that it had a hospital with nurses and a doctor.  Sister Carmela, known as Sister Drill Sergeant, ran the hospital along with Doc Borden.  The only reason Doc is there is because he wants to practise medicine, but no civilized hospital would have him.  Then we have Adelaide, widow and now owner of the Clover Club.  She just wants to make her late husbands business prosper.  The silver mine is failing and Noble knows there is gold under the hospital.  Getting Sister Drill Sergeant to move the hospital is impossible, yet Mr. Noble is determined to take it out from under them.  Catastrophe happens, no water, no town.  But Yancey has a plan to get his fortune back.



Buck Brannaman spends his life traveling throughout the U.S. teaching people to communicate with their horses.  A consultant on The Horse Whisperer, Brannaman has a quiet way of calming horses and showing them what is expected of them.  In the inspiring documentary Buck we get to follow his story as he grows from an abused child to a man who’s lessons touch the lives of horses and the people who ride them.

Classic and Award-Winning Westerns

>by Susan Withee
Adult Services Manager

    Every month, the librarians of Manhattan Public Library’s Adult Services Department read and discuss books from a different chosen fiction genre or subject area.  We do this in order to keep informed about good books to recommend to our readers and also to challenge ourselves to read outside our usual preferences.  This month we tackled Westerns, and for most of us it’s been a departure and a pleasant surprise.       
    Genre fiction is considered to be written according to a roughly recognizable formula.  The most popular fiction genres are mysteries, science fiction, fantasies, romances, and Westerns.  Traditionally, Westerns have been short adventure novels of the legendary Old West (not necessarily factually accurate Western history), taking place on the moving edge of the American frontier throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.  They offer a simple writing style and straightforward plot featuring lots of action and strong and self-reliant heroes (or heroines) who are engaged in the timeless conflicts of good vs. evil, man against nature, culture vs. culture.  Westerns have made the transition to film with great success and have been updated and re-interpreted into stories of superheroes and Star Wars’ space cowboys.  
    Just as mysteries have come a long way from Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to Jeffry Lindsay’s Dexter Morgan, Westerns have come a long way from the early novels of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour.  Today’s Westerns offer a wider spectrum of settings, characters, and time frames, and also more depth and moral ambiguity in their plots.  In spite of the concept of formula fiction, there are endless permutations to the formula and literary quality is often superb.  Reading a good Western can be an engrossing, enjoyable, and satisfying experience.        
    If you’re not already a Western fan and want to give one a try, a great source for book suggestions is the list of nominees and winners of the Spur Award, annual prize of the Western Writers of America.  In addition to such classics of print and film as The Virginian by Owen Wister, The Ox-bow Incident by Walter Clark, Shane by Jack Schaefer, and True Grit by Charles Portis, you’ll find recent winners and best-sellers like:    

  • Last Train from Cuernavaca by Lucia St. Clair Robson, winner of a 2011 Spur Award and a rare woman-authored, female-protagonist Western; 
  • Summer of Pearls by Mike Blakely, featuring a riverboat community and the Great Caddo Lake Pearl Rush of 1874; 
  • Far Bright Star by Robert Olmstead, described by the Dallas Morning News as a “thinking reader’s Western”;
  • Bound for the Promise-Land by Troy D. Smith, the saga of Alfred Mann, a freed slave, Civil War soldier, Buffalo Soldier, and Medal of Honor winner, and his quest to rise above ignorance and intolerance; 
  • Masterson by Richard S. Wheeler, a “sprightly romp” (Publisher’s Weekly), featuring legendary gunfighter Bat Masterson as an aging, hard-drinking curmudgeon intent on revisiting the locales of his past adventures with his young common-law wife Emma;
  • Valdez Is Coming or 3:10 to Yuma by Elmore Leonard and The Undertaker’s Wife or The Branch and Scaffold by Loren Estleman, both prolific writers of bestselling contemporary fiction as well.

    Other titles to look for:  Stranger in Thunder Basin or Trouble at the Redstone by John D. Nesbitt; The Hanging Judge by Lyle Brandt; Vengeance Valley by Richard S. Wheeler; The Way of the Coyote by Elmer Kelton; The Trespassers by Andrew J. Fenady; A Cold Place in Hell by William Blinn; Dreams Beneath Your Feet by Win Blevins; Killstraight or Camp Ford by Johnny D. Boggs; The Sergeant’s Lady by Miles Swarthout.                          
    For readers wanting books with a woman’s perspective on the Western experience, try winners of the Willa Award, an annual prize given by the writers’ group “Women Writing the West,” named in honor of author Willa Cather (O Pioneers, My Antonia).  Look for popular authors Sandra Dallas, Jane Kirkpatrick, Molly Gloss, Cindy Bonner, Jeanne Williams, Jo-Ann Mapson, Jana Richman, Bess Streeter Aldrich, Pamela Nowak, Loula Grace Erdman, Elizabeth Crook, Augusta Locke, Nancy E. Turner, Sandi Ault, and Kim Wiese, to name just a few. 

A Bit of Western Romance


Although I’ve been an urban dweller for awhile now, I was raised in a rodeo town, so I must confess that Wranglers and cowboy boots still make my heart flutter. In honor of Country Stampede, I would like to share a few of my favorite cowboy romances with you. Whether you enjoy them in a lawn chair waiting for the show to start or curled up in the comfort of air conditioning, they are sure to inspire both sighs and an urge to do some boot-scooting.

My Give a Damn’s Busted by Carolyn Brown
Larissa is the happy owner of a thriving small-town honky tonk when Hank Wells walks up to her bar. He tells her he’s helping his dad on a near-by ranch, but that’s not the entire story. Sparks fly but his hidden agenda will damper them right quick.

Montana Legacy
by R.C. Ryan
Jessie McCord is less than enthusiastic to welcome home his two estranged cousins for his grandfather’s funeral. He’s the one who stayed behind to do all the work on the family ranch and their lively banter is not appreciated. The situation is worsened when the girl who broke his heart as a teenager comes back to town. This story about family and love with a dash of suspense is sure to warm the heart.

Never Love a Lawman by Jo Goodman
This one will take you back to the old west. Rachel Bailey escapes to a small Colorado mining town for refuge only to find out that her benefactor has manipulated her into a choice between marrying a virtual stranger or threatening the livelihood of the entire town. You know where the story leads from here, but Goodman will surprise you with complex characters and an engaging plot.

Cowboys Never Cry by Tina Welling


Supporting herself at seasonal jobs after the death of her husband, Cassie Danner finds employment as a cook at the Cross Wave Guest and Cattle Ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. As she struggles for her independence and to overcome her grief, she connects with Robbin McKeag, actor, ranch owner and cowboy who struggles with his own past demons. Supported by a cast of interesting characters, the couple strives to overcome obstacles to their relationship. Cowboys Never Cry is filled with witty dialogue, warmth and humor. The characters are believable and ones that the reader grows to care about. The grandeur of the mountain landscape is richly described–this is a story to savor and enjoy!

High Country Bride by Linda Lael Miller


Angus McKettrick has worked hard all his life, raising himself from poverty to the owner of one of the largest ranches in the Arizona Territory, only to raise the three sorriest sons around. Rafe, Kade, and Jeb work the ranch as little as possible, spending the majority of their time drinking, fighting, and carousing. Deciding that something must be done, Angus declares that the first to get married and produce offspring will get the ranch, producing a mad scramble of activity. Rafe takes action by ordering a bride through the mail.

Emmeline Harding has had a loving if lonely life as the neice of a madame in Kansas City. She has somehow managed to be raised as a respectable lady while surrounded by a life of sin. As she gets older, however, that sin starts to come closer and she suddenly finds it necessary to get out of town as soon as possible.

Rafe is a rascal who loves to fight more than anything and Emmeline is a sweet girl who is determined to make this marriage work, even if that means keeping a few details from her past secret from Rafe. In High Country Bride, Miller creates a story filled with drama, humor, and love.

A Hopeful Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer

> How does a woman from back East prepare for living in the wild west with all it’s hardness? Why, through Hattie Wyatt’s Herdsman School of course. Women come to find a husband, but first they have to measure up to become a bride of one of Barnett’s ranchers. Aunt Hattie makes sure they do, with hands-on training in skills such as milking a cow, branding a calf, riding a horse and cooking up a mess of grub for hungry ranch hands. Of course it wasn’t Tressa Neill’s idea to go west. With her parents gone and her Aunt and Uncle not wanting her, what other choice did she have? But maybe it will be worth it if Abel Samms will take notice of her. He already has enough trouble with cattle rustlers and wants nothing to do with the group of potential brides his neighbor brought to town. A Hopeful Heart includes humor, mystery and romance you won’t want to miss.

Fancy Pants by Cathy Marie Hake


Lady Sydney Hathwell is stranded in America when her father dies and she discovers that the fiance he intended for her is a horrible man. She contacts an uncle in Texas and he invites her to stay with him, but assumes she is a nephew rather than a neice and makes it clear that he prefers it that way. She dons mens clothes and heads for Texas, only to be greeted by the cranky (but, of course, handsome) Tim Creighton who can’t believe he’s forced to deal with this whimpy fop. This is a light and amusing inspirational romance.

Dream Wheels by Richard Wagamese


I’m still not sure why I picked up this book, but I’m very glad I did. I tend to avoid books having to do with bull riding and I often find that Native American literature tends to be way too deep for my scrawny little brain, but somehow Dream Wheels made it into my house and actually moved to the top of my book pile.

Rodeo cowboy Joe Willie Wolfchild suffers a devastating accident three second into the ride that would have made him a champion. His family takes him to the ranch to heal his body and the anger of having lost everything that was meaningful for him. Meanwhile, Aiden and Claire are struggling along in the city. Claire has tried her best mothering Aiden, but with a string of bad boyfriends and no confidence to try to make it on her own, things haven’t turned out like she had hoped. Aiden ends up in prison where a sympathetic cop presents the idea of Claire and Aiden spending some time on his friends’ ranch to try to pull their lives together. The two families come together with wariness, pain, anger, regret, and just enough hope to get by. Joe Willie and Aiden challenge each other and learn from each other, pulling each other out of the dark places they have gone.

Dream Wheels had me caught within a few pages. Wagamese has the ability to not just describe the events, but also share how they feel. When Joe Willie rode the bull for the last time, I could almost taste the dirt and hear how the sounds of the crowd faded away until he was focused on the feel of the bull on his tailbone and the rope around his glove. The author doesn’t leave out any of the grit and ugliness of the anger these two young men face, enabling him to venture into the heart of relationships and spirituality without crossing the line into schmaltzy sentimentalism. Dream Wheels is a truly beautiful story.