You know, I didn't even think I liked Western romances until one day, I picked one up and realized I did. Like all genres, Western romances have their goods and their bads, and my favorite ones are all about the joys of living off the land, filled with action and adventure, and the uncertainties of settling a new place.
I grew up playing the Harvest Moon franchise (which recently split, and is now being published as Story of Seasons), and ever since I bought my Nintendo Switch at the start of quarantine, I've been obsessively playing Stardew Valley. As I unlock more and more cut scenes with the characters, it's making me realize that the best farming sim games out there share a lot of traits with the best Western romances out there: living in harmony with nature, being kind to animals, and learning that sometimes that a hardened and prickly exterior houses the most tender of hearts.
So with that being said, here are nine romances I think you'll enjoy if you have a soft spot for farming sims and are asking yourself, "What next?" after marrying every single villager for the seventeenth time.
This romance has a cute cover and it's also super good. The heroine, Sunny, lives with her three sisters on her father's ranch. This greedy landowner is trying to steal it from her, and when she's at the bank trying to settle things out, someone opens fire on her and the hero, Ash, takes the bullet for her. The story is a little dark for a Zebra romance, with the hero suffering temporary paralysis and the heroine's father getting murdered, but at the core of the story is a love of the land and the closeness of family.
This was a BR I did with a number of my friends on Goodreads because the ebook, as of my writing this, is FREE. BAD COMPANY is the story of a woman named Trixianna who moves to a Kansas town after a falling out with her relatives, where she lives her best life baking pies-- until the sheriff, thinking she's secretly an evil bank robber-- attempts to arrest her, only to get shot in the arm by the heroine in self-defense. Faster than you can say "I Shot the Sheriff," the book devolves into a campy series of plotlines involving quirky townsfolk and mistaken identities that's vaguely reminiscent of that 1970s classic, Goin' South (Jack Nicholson's best movie if you ask me, which you totally didn't).
Picture Don Bluth's Anastasia, but with an Old West stepbrother romance bent. Mary, the heroine, was kidnapped in a Native American raid, only to be sent to a convent. Later, this rich Western family gets word of her and what she looks like, and thinks she must be their missing daughter. Mary, freshly rechristened Anna, goes to the ranch where the family matriarch, LaDextra (THE NAME), welcomes her with open arms. The stepbrother, Brit, is a little more skeptical. Definitely a fun read if you're a fan of the "long lost heiress" and "enemies to lovers" tropes.
Honestly this is probably my favorite Beverly Jenkins romance. It's got a pretty similar plot to WILD TEXAS FLAME, with the heroine determined to hold on to her land at any cost. When she meets the H, she's at a literal stand-off with the men who are determined to pressure her into selling her land at any costs. It's action-packed and features a strong and capable heroine who doesn't take any shit from anyone, and a strong hero who, rather than being threatened by this, ends up falling head over heels.
In this book, a woman answers a query to become a housekeeper on a ranch and ends up finding love. But more than that, it's also a romance about racial identity, what it means to "pass," and so much more. I think this might have been my first romance by Ms. Bev, and it ended up hooking me. I've read about 60% of her backlist at this point and it's my goal to one day get them in the original paperbacks. If you enjoy learning about Black History with a side of Old West swoon, she's going to be your jam.
I compared another book on this list to Goin' South, but this one is even more like it. Three women are accused of murdering a man (who deserves it) and end up being kicked out of their wagon train, leaving them at the mercy of the elements-- and even more abusers. When they kill another man, they end up being tried for murder, only to be auctioned off as brides in a town that doesn't have enough women. This is a beautiful marriage of convenience story that features lavish descriptions of farming and the deep affection that can arise between two similar lost souls.
This is a crazy bodice-ripper of a romance and definitely not for the faint of heart (even though it's not as bad as most). The heroine, Rue, is the daughter of a prostitute and lives with an abusive stepfather who wants to sell her into slavery. When she appeals to her grandparents for help, their idea of helping is arranging a shotgun wedding between her and the hero, who thought he was just looking for an assistant on his ranch (HAHA, sucker). Even though this book is long AF, there's no shortage of action, and I'd recommend it to people who don't mind their romances with a side of un-PC.
Heads up that this is probably the most problematic book on this list but I loved it anyway because of the enemies-to-lovers romance between Molly and Sam. They're two rival loggers living on adjacent land, and the tension between them and their family's interlocked histories was just A+++.
Carrie is a spoiled heroine who ends up selling herself into a mail order bride program because she's feeling the wanderlust and because she thinks one of the guys is hot. In fact, she actually steals him from her friend, because she's a bit of a straight-up bitch that way lol. Joshua, the hero in question, is less than pleased when he finds out the woman he expected to help him with the land is actually a spoiled and coddled heiress who intends to pay herself out of any trouble she finds herself in. The heroine is pretty unlikable in the beginning, but I felt like she had a really satisfying character arc, which is why Jude Deveraux is probably one of my favorite guilty pleasure reads.
Probably one of my favorite Western romances of all time, FIREFLY is the beautiful slow-burn romance between Del, an alcoholic doctor who never recovered emotionally from the loss of his first wife, and Julie, the unloved and unwanted daughter of an emotionally abusive family engaged to a total cad. She helps him get on his feet and he helps her believe in herself, and their relationship is one of personal, as well as emotional, growth. I love this book so much, and the large cast of characters is as much a part of the story as the hero and heroine. Everyone I've recommended this book to has really enjoyed it, and it saddens me that more people haven't heard about it.
What's your favorite Western romance? And do you prefer Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon?