Hard Times

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
224 Pages
Reviewed on 04/07/2019
Buy on Amazon

Author Biography

John grew up on a ranch in southern Idaho. He received a Bachelor of University Studies Degree with an emphasis in English and Biology from Idaho State University and a Master’s Degree in Entomology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He spent most of his adult life working as a wildlife biologist and wildland firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho and New Mexico. His interest in writing goes back to when he wrote his first one page story at age nine. Since that time he has published four fiction stories, three non-fiction articles concerning western history and six novels in the Western and Historical Fiction genres. His writing has earned him a number of awards, most notably the Will Rogers Medallion.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jane Finch for Readers' Favorite

Hard Times by John Hansen tells the story of Phil and Martha Caldwell as they seek a better life for themselves. In a story set in the 1930s, Phil persuades his reluctant wife to move from Lincoln, Nebraska to a 320-acre homestead in the wilds of Montana. Martha is happy with her life in town, but Phil dreams of owning his own farm and being his own boss. Whilst cleaning out a well, Phil finds himself in peril when Martha mysteriously disappears, and it is only when his neighbour rescues him the following day that Phil is able to search for his wife. Add to this the unpredictable weather in Montana which destroys his crops, and Phil finds himself alone and his dreams shattered. He finds he has to sink to depths he never imagined in order to make enough money to pay the bank, threatening not only his livelihood, but his very life. And then everything takes a turn for the worse.

The author, John Hansen, has written a compelling story that lovers of this type of fiction will really enjoy. Man battling nature, and man battling man, this story grips from page one. The voice of the book is appropriate to the era, and is nicely written with a pace that is consistent and with a story line that does not disappoint. For readers that enjoy adventures, this is one that won’t easily be forgotten. Well done to John Hansen for crafting a story that goes to the heart of those who have dreams for a better future, whatever the cost.

Ruffina Oserio

For fans of historical fiction with hints of adventure, Hard Times by John Hansen makes for a great read. The year is 1929 and the opening pages indicate that times are difficult. And if times are hard for everyone, Phil Caldwell feels it even more because he has no achievements to his name, but all that is about to change because Phil is about to leave behind his difficult life in pursuit of greener pastures. In spite of his wife Martha’s advice to the contrary, Phil is determined to leave Lincoln, Nebraska, for the plains of eastern Montana in pursuit of his share of 320 acres of land distributed by the government and the railroad. So, Phil sets out for a new haven, hoping for a land of rich soil and good crops. However, things don’t always turn out the way we plan them or the way we would want them to be. Follow this adventure to discover a man pitted against uncertainty and adversity.

Hard Times is a wonderful read and, from the start, I felt like I knew Phil. One gets the strong impression that he is a man with practical intelligence, and his background comes out in the way he talks. Hard Times allows the unique accents of the characters to come out through the narrative, building dialogues that reflect their milieu and culture, perhaps the historic moment in which the narrative takes place. The setting is beautiful, with colorful landscapes and images that readers can easily see with their mind’s eye, social commentaries that transport readers to an era in US history to relive the challenges people faced daily. This is a narrative with great historical underpinnings and it reflects a strong narrative voice and characters that readers will like in spite of their poor judgments and recklessness. I love characters that are deeply flawed and human, and John Hansen knows how to create them.

Amanda Rofe

Hard Times by John Hansen is a fictional novel about the struggles of a man called Phil Caldwell who lived during the 1920s, the era of Prohibition. He takes his wife from a relatively comfortable life in Nebraska to stake a claim on a homestead in an isolated rural area in Montana. The government promises a railroad connection, good land, and soil which will produce rich pickings. However, not all goes to plan. Life is difficult and poverty is always nipping at his heels. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, Caldwell's crop is destroyed, rendering him vulnerable to eviction. He is tempted to turn to illegal means to raise the money to keep his homestead. He is also tempted, in other ways, by the local school teacher.

John Hansen writes an atmospheric novel depicting the harsh realities of life in rural Montana during the early part of the 20th century. The beginning is full of suspense and I felt a tangible sense of fear for the couple. A shocking mystery concerning his wife and a threat to his life are two of the dangers he encounters. The riddle surrounding his wife was a thrilling plot line that ran throughout the story and was extremely engaging. Hard Times is a book about survival, betrayal, love and difficult choices. The book perfectly described how families were forced to engage in illegal activities to enable them to keep a roof over their heads and bread on the table during Prohibition. I really enjoyed this story and look forward to reading more from this author in the future.