From the very first sentence in this gripping novel, “God created the heavens and earth, or so I’ve been told,” Ms. Sweeney immediately pulls the reader into Ruby Fortune’s tumultuous life, and one can’t help being curious about what lies ahead in this powerful tale of an abused yet resilient young woman. 

It’s 1899 in Arizona Territory and life for Ruby Fortune, Girl Wonder on the Wild West circuit is like riding an eight-minute bull in a one-woman rodeo. One minute she’s hanging on and riding high; the next, life punches her in the gut and throws her to the ground, leaving her bloodied with more questions than answers.

But Ruby Fortune is made of pure grit and determination no matter what hard knocks life throws her way. She’s a true survivor. Clever. A lover of life. Overcoming more than any woman should have to endure. Despite tragic losses, Ruby has had enough and will protect those close to her heart by taking matters into her own hands. 

Widowed with four sons to raise, she carves out an existence, albeit a hard one, in the town she’s known since birth. Overcoming addiction to the demon laudanum and experiencing the heartbreak of emotional and physical abuse from a philandering husband, this novel shows the courage, strength, and survival instincts of one woman, young, alone, and longing for real love.  

Knowing the gifted writing Ashley E. Sweeney has offered in her past works, this gripping and fast-paced novel is, in my opinion, one of her best. 

Sweeney’s research on women’s struggles during the time period is evident. Her lively supporting characters and descriptive scenes of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert add depth to an already beautifully written story. From her portrayals of the fictitious town of Jericho to the surrounding stark desert hills, she draws the reader into being a part of Ruby’s saga. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by this talented writer. “Hardland” available September 13, 2022, from She Writes Press is a novel to add to your Must Be Read List.” I didn’t want to put it down and read it in 2 evenings. Available on Amazon and at your favorite independent bookstore

Multi award-winning author Ashley E. Sweeney will release her third novel, Hardland, in Fall ’22. Her first two novels, Eliza Waite and Answer Creek, have won a total of 11 awards, including the Nancy Pearl Book Award and New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. Sweeney, a native New Yorker and graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, spends winters in Tucson and summers in the Pacific Northwest. Hardland is her third novel and she is at work on a fourth, also set in the Southwest.



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