Days of Hope, Miles of Misery

Love and Loss on the Oregon Trail

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
442 Pages
Reviewed on 09/30/2020
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Author Biography

Inspiration for this book: The westward movement is one of the most momentous and challenging periods of American history.

Fred Dickey lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea in San Diego County, California, and until recently was a special columnist and in-depth contributing writer for the UT (Union-Tribune) newspaper in San Diego.

He has served as Sunday Editor, the San Jose Mercury News; Executive Editor, The Anchorage Times; Editor, the Oakland Tribune; and as an editorial manager of the San Diego Union. He was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

He has been a published novelist, and a prolific magazine writer.
One book was published in 6 languages.
He is a former president of the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, and a former President of the Alaska Press Association.

He grew up in DeKalb, Illinois and graduated from Northern Illinois University (B.S.) and Norwich University (M.A.).

Fred travels the world, and is a ceaseless California explorer. He is interested in history, especially the Civil War era, California history, and the Oregon Trail era.

    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

Days of Hope, Miles of Misery: Love and Loss on the Oregon Trail is a work of fiction in the history, drama and realistic sub-genres, and was penned by author Fred Dickey. Written for adult audiences, the work contains some scenes of violence and moderate profanity and sexual references. As the subtitle suggests, the work is set during the pioneering time of the mid-nineteenth century when brave folk set out to carve their destinies via the harrowing journey of the Oregon Trail. We follow many lives as they intertwine, but most notably that of doctor Hannah Blanc and mountain man Nimrod Lee. As the pair struggles with their own demons, their union brings about yet more complexity and strife.

Author Fred Dickey has crafted a really interesting novel with plenty of historical flavor, setting out the harsh realities of this time period, but also its many rewards and triumphs for true hard work. It was clear to see that the author engaged in heavy research for the piece, as every page is packed with intricate historical details. This treatment also extends into the dialogue and atmosphere of the story, which felt authentically voiced and never too modernized, and yet it was penned in a style very accessible for modern audiences to grasp. This is in part due to the trailblazing Hannah, who is ahead of her time and makes an excellent central focal point for the tale. Overall, I would highly recommend Days of Hope, Miles of Misery: Love and Loss on the Oregon Trail as an accomplished work of historical fiction.

Rabia Tanveer

Days of Hope, Miles of Misery: Love and Loss on the Oregon Trail by Fred Dickey is a story of the trials and tribulations of two people who come to realize that life is worth living if you have a purpose. Hannah was the only child of a second-generation German immigrant trader but she had high aspirations for her life. She wanted to be a doctor, even if it wasn’t what a lady was supposed to be. So, she became who she wanted to be. Men around her were afraid of educated women, but she met Abel. She had him and then lost him. Now alone and a mother of two, she was on a journey when she met Nimrod. He was a mountain man, someone she had nothing in common with but there was something about him that drew her to him. He was driven by guilt on the same journey and was as mysterious as the trail. What drew them together? Why was Nimrod on the wagon train?

The narrative of Days of Hope, Miles of Misery: Love and Loss on the Oregon Trail was smooth, it was fluid and it was incredibly well-paced. I enjoyed how Fred Dickey introduced each character, set the tone of the story to suit the character, and made sure the reader was engrossed in the story. Nimrod’s story and his dialogues drew me in, made me enjoy the story more, and allowed me to be immersed in it. Hannah’s story was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Their story and their connection were solid. They were mysterious in the beginning, but their connection was evident from the start. I loved the chemistry between them and how they took their time with their relationship. This brilliant and very entertaining novel had my attention from the beginning and urged me to take my time with it. I loved this!

Viga Boland

Until I read Days of Hope, Miles of Misery: Love and Loss on the Oregon Trail by Fred Dickey, my familiarity with wagon trains and early American pioneers was limited to Hollywood movies full of cowboys, Indians, horses, cows, bonneted ladies, scruffy undernourished children, dusty dangerous trails and death. The visuals were great, but Fred Dickey’s account is just so much more realistic, memorable, and emotionally moving. While centered on the growing romantic relationship between the male and female protagonists, Nimrod Lee and Hannah Blanc, Dickey’s wagon train journey to California gives equal importance to many minor characters and situations, both good and bad. This historical novel, in many ways, is a cluster of vignettes. We engage emotionally with a child chasing a ball into quicksand or frozen with fear in front of a rattlesnake. We bristle at episodes of domestic violence and rage at a stepfather who sexually abuses his step-daughter. We sympathize with families who regret the decision to search for greener grasses; and we feel their fear when a group of arrow-toting, face-painted Indians confront the wagon train.

This is no longer the glorified stuff of Hollywood films. Thanks to Dickey’s extensive research and his creative ability to make the settings, plot, and characters come alive, this is life as it really was. Yes, there is a hero, Nimrod, a man plagued by guilt. He is on a mission, but as the wagon train’s guide, he brings order to chaos, sense to nonsense, and kills only those who deserve it in order to save others. And what would a story about such a hero be without an equally impressive, strong female? That female is Hannah, a woman not content to just be some man’s wife. She’s is the pioneer version of a liberated woman, one who studied to be a doctor at a time when men weren’t receptive to female practitioners. These two protagonists are perfect for each other and readers relish the time they take discovering that fact.

Days of Hope, Miles of Misery: Love and Loss on the Oregon Trail is rich in descriptive detail, especially of the settings, the clothing worn, the sanitary or unsanitary conditions, the pastimes enjoyed by the members of the wagon train and so much more. Dialogue is plentiful, and given the length of the book, helps speed up the reading pace, but without sacrificing the realism of likely dialects and colloquialisms. Thus, not only descriptive settings but conversations contribute to the realities this novel explores. There are so many things one could say about this excellent historical novel but, truly, the only thing left to say is read it and come away feeling like you, too, were one of the pioneers on that wagon train along the Oregon Trail.

Susan (Amazon purchase)

Epic journeys feed the imagination. Every generation is captivated by the call of far reaching adventure and perhaps more so, an escape from the predictable.

A very real and uniquely American journey was set upon by hundreds of thousands of hopefuls in the mid-1800’s, indeed, to this day there are wagon wheel ruts visible along parts of the Oregon Trail. These travelers were not hardened soldiers or skilled mountaineers trekking to the Pacific Ocean; some were hopeful entrepreneurs, others were village outcasts or miscreants on the lam, but mostly they were families; husbands dreaming of opportunities for more, and their wives holding children in their arms and trepidation in their bellies. This author, Fred Dickey, has captured their courage and their vulnerabilities, their acts of selflessness and their errors…errors that were never without ripples of consequence.

The disparate, mostly ragtag occupants of twenty-eight covered wagons converge in Missouri and begin learning to work with one another as they collect, store, and plan strategically for the five months to come. Shadrach Penney, though a natural leader, knows they need an expertise he and the other men of the governing committee just don’t have. Nimrod Lee, honed from years of living in the wilderness has the knowledge they will need to survive. Hiring Nimrod as their guide is the first critical decision the committee makes. Recognizing the medical competence and grit of Hannah Spencer is the second. Prejudices serve no one in this raw setting; roles meld and boundaries blur as men and women shed their social status and rise to the demands they cannot circumvent with condescension or posturing. This chance community soon hitches up their oxen and catapults into a rolling, roiling microcosm of humanity. We are swept up with them, navigating a five month, two thousand mile walk by man and beast that tests every emotion and scrapes each character down to the proverbial bone. Egos clash, fear cripples, and Mother Nature strikes without compassion. Survival may be the goal that keeps them on their feet but each man, woman and child that sees the promised land as they crest the last hill will be shouldering scant remaining belongings and carrying more than a few ghosts that will accompany them into their future. As readers, we must reluctantly bid farewell to them but their energy and some of their ghosts remain with us and we find ourselves desiring a sequel to unfold..