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Monday, June 20, 2022

Book Review Hardland

Award-winning author Ashley Sweeney's newest book “Hardland” is a stunner. The reader is swept right into the story of Ruby Fortune, once billed as Girl Wonder on the Wild West Circuit. The story is written in a bold and straightforward narrative. Ruby Fortune's saga begins in her hometown of Jericho, a fictional mining town in Arizona Territory north of Tucson in 1899. The time period is well researched with authentic details. Crisp, descriptive sentences filled with rich sensory details of the Arizona Sonoran Desert and its harsh landscape are a takeaway for the reader. Sweeney carefully inserted backstories whenever needed for readers to understand motives and past experiences. The well-crafted story moves at a good pace keeping me engaged and wanting more. I was able to finish the book in one day. It's the kind of historical fiction I enjoy, one that's firmly grounded in the past but still feels like it resonates today with its powerful messages.

As a mother with four children, Ruby has been in an abusive relationship with Willie Fortune for years. She is pushed to the brink by his physical and verbal abuse. If navigating the hardships of frontier life weren't enough, Ruby struggles against thinly disguised misogyny, societal norms, and economic challenges. And she is a force to be reckoned with. Upon witnessing Willie's abuse of the children, Ruby takes it upon herself to confront him possibly endangering her life. She begins to see clearly one bullet as a way out. She knows what she needs to do for survival carving out a life for herself and her sons. She begins by opening up a roadside inn to make ends meet. I enjoyed the development of the character Wink who added a new dimension to the storyline. He was a free-spirited poet whose recitation of Shakespearean quotes showed the timeless appeal of these literary gems in daily life. Wink acts as a catalyst in the storyline by reaching out to Sam, who was traumatized by witnessing his father's death.

Ruby's story is a testimonial to human endurance, resilience, and love. She embodies the tough spirit of millions of women who have found their voices giving them the courage to speak up about abusive relationships and making them stronger. It's interesting to note physical, sexual, verbal/emotional, and mental/psychological abuses are themes not usually dealt with in western literature during this time period. Sweeney brings these themes to the forefront with her “Hardland” storyline. She gives them a voice. It's a very discussable book and would be a perfect choice for a book club discussion.

Ashley E Sweeney is the award-winning author of "Eliza Waite" and "Answer Creek," both winning numerous awards including the Nancy Pearl Book Award and New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Hardland is her third novel. A native New Yorker and graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, she now spends winters in Tucson and summers in the Pacific Northwest. She is at work on her fourth novel, set on the American Plains during the Great Depression. Ashley is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, Pacific Northwest Authors Association, Arizona Authors Asso
ciation, Historical Novel Society, and Story Circle Network.

Check out Sweeney's website for more details on her books and upcoming events. 

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