TBR Day. Conor's Way / Laura Lee Guhrke. 1996


Back in the early 2000's, when I began lurking at the old AAR boards, I heard talk of this book. And according to Amazon, I apparently broke down and purchased a copy for myself via Marketplace in 2004 for a "mere" $4.75. Today a used print copy goes for about $25. I don't know why I waited so long to read it. I'd keep seeing references to how good it is, especially from KristieJ who has been nagging our TBR hostess to read it forever. I think I was saving it for a day when I knew I needed to read a really good book. But when I saw that this month's theme was "Recommended Read" it was clear that this was the book I had to read.

I was really, really stupid to wait 8 years to read this.

Frankly, I should just end this review with that statement. I am writing this Tuesday evening. Earlier today I saw on Twitter that at least 2 other TBR participants are reviewing this for today as well. And they'll probably do a better job at it than me. But this book deserves lots of love.

This American historical takes place in 1871 in Louisiana. Clearly, the Reconstruction South is not at all a romantic setting, but Guhrke uses the history of that time and place with a light and deft hand to bring two characters to life in a wonderfully nuanced way. Olivia Maitland is a 29-year old woman, the only surviving member of her family. Her brothers had been killed at Gettysburg and her parents are now dead. She owns the remains of a plantation; the freed slaves are long gone, her hired hand has passed away, and she has 3 young girls she's raising--the orphaned daughters of her childhood friend. Olivia needs a man to help her out.

Conor Branigan is also the only surviving member of his family. Evicted from their home in Ireland when Conor was 11, Conor's sisters died from starvation and Conor himself eventually joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood. After he's arrested for smuggling guns, he's imprisoned, tortured, and eventually let out. He winds up in America and travels a circuit as a prize-fighter. The book opens with Conor at a fight in Louisiana where he refuses to throw the fight in favor of his opponent. This earns him a severe beating and he's left on the road for dead. It's here that Olivia finds him and she takes him home and nurses him back to health.

When Olivia was looking for a man to hire to help around her farm, Conor was not what she had in mind. A former prisoner with a history of violence, Conor is not the sort of person Olivia wants anywhere near herself or her girls. As Conor recovers, he begins to help out around the farm and agrees to stay through Olivia's peach harvest. The bulk of the book is the growing relationship between Olivia and Conor. Olivia and her girls represent everything that Conor ever hoped to have, yet now does not feel that he deserves. He insists that he is not there to stay. And Olivia is too pragmatic after all she's been through to expect that she can change his mind.

There's also a subplot here involving one Vernon Tyler, a wealthy man who was once the overseer on Olivia's plantation and a suitor for her hand. Olivia's father wouldn't allow Vernon to court his daughter and now, after the war, thanks to Vernon's wealthy Yankee father-in-law, Vernon wants to build a railroad through that part of the country. All that stands in his way is Olivia's land and she won't sell. Olivia naively thinks her "no" is enough, but Conor knows all too well that Vernon will do whatever it takes to get that land. Conor is torn between his need to protect Olivia and his need to be on the move again.

The romance here is beautifully done; it grows throughout the course of the book. There are some flashbacks to Conor's past in Ireland, but they are brief and to the point. They barely distract from the main narrative, instead giving us insight into who Conor has become--a bitter, angry man. He views the South's destruction during the war as justice since he can relate to the inhumane treatment former slaves once received. Olivia could have been an equally bitter woman. She may still have her home, but it's falling apart around her and she is on the verge of losing everything. But she goes through each day with purpose and dignity. She strikes a balance between missing the luxuries of her former way of life and and recognizing it was wrong. She loves her daughters as if she'd given birth to them and soon loves Conor as well. It's up to him to accept that love and choose to reciprocate.

The book is well-crafted. Guhrke lightly weaves in the history without hitting us over the head with it. As I said, the flashbacks are brief and to the point. I got a strong sense of place and the characters--all was believable. I loved the emotional quality to the book; this is actually something that I've always admired about Guhrke's writing. She manages to reveal her characters to us little by little and the journey made it very hard to put the book down. All I wanted to do was read it.

Let me repeat: I was really, really stupid to wait 8 years to read this.

So Kristie, if you're reading this, you are absolutely right about this one. I hope this redeems me to some small degree as I was one of the few who just never felt the love for Broken Wing.

Finally, if you want to read the book but don't have an e-reader, leave a comment. I'm buying myself an e-copy for my Kindle and I'll hold a drawing--the winner gets my used paper copy. It's well-worn, but all the pages are here. I'll draw a name on Sunday night. I'm willing to mail world-wide. Just promise me you won't wait 8 years to read it.

Comments

  1. Ohhh, it's Conor's Way Day! KristieJ must be in heaven, lol! Did you see Nath and Leslie's review? They read this too. Of course now I MUST read it. Hopefully it won't take me 8 years to get to it. :)

    I love an Irish hero with a past -- they always turn out to be the best. And the post Civil War southern setting is a draw for me too. Yeap... it's going on my list. *g*

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    1. Yes, you must read it, Hils! Do you want to be in my drawing?

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  2. Great review, Phyl! I'm glad our views are similar about this book :) Love your review as well, because I think it conveys the feel of the book - serene :) This was a great book and I wish there'd be more like this one out there.

    Oh, I'm thinking to buy an e-copy too... it's only 0.99$!! but I'm definitively keeping my printed copy too :)

    ps - I don't know why, but it won't let me choose the google account...

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    1. Thanks, Nath! I appreciate it. And I enjoyed your joint review, too. That was fun. Also, it looks like your google account did work. Maybe there was a hiccup.

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  3. I had no idea the Conor's Way bandwagon was going to be quite so crowded today! And yet not a lot of diverging opinion. Someone should track what this does to sales.

    Lovely review, Phyl. Thanks!

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    1. Sonomalass, I wondered too if all of our reviews might spark a spike in sales! It's nice to see these older books more available to people.

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  4. I adore your generosity. After reading all of these reviews I am convinced that I've really missed out on Guhrke books. Thanks to all y'all, I couldn't possibly wait eight years to read it!

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    1. Good luck, Kate! And Guhrke does have some real gems in her backlist. Hope you get to enjoy them all!

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    2. Thankfully I've found *one* in my library's catalogue. There's a start!

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  5. I am reading this *g* and I'm so glad you loved it - and though you never needed redeeming for not loving Broken Wing as much as myself and others *g*, if you did, this would do it.
    I remember being so sad when the author moved to Avon as that publisher seems to stick with England only settings and I realized that the chances of another American set book from this author were slim to none and I do so love the books she wrote in this setting. I don't know if you've read Breathless yet, but it's Wendy's all time favourite book - and for a good reason. I highly recommend it too since you loved this one so much. The hero isn't a tortured one like poor Conor though, which is probably why I preferred Conor's Way just a tiny bit more.
    And now I'm going to have to reread it soon myself as it's been a while now since the last time :-) But all these reviews have me wanting a reread of this one.

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    1. Kristie, I did read Breathless, and it is wonderful. I bought it and Conor's Way at the same time. I was thinking I'd go back and re-read that one. Thanks for doing such an awesome job of pimping CW all these years!

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  6. Wonderful review Phyl! Totally agree - this was a beautifully written story. I had the print copy in my TBR pile for a few years and bought the ebook too. So glad I finally read it!

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    1. Thanks Leslie! I'm glad to have the ebook to carry around so I can re-read it whenever I want. I know I will.

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  7. Another stellar review! SO glad everyone enjoyed this one... in fact, I already bought it! So no need to enter me in your generous giveaway, Phyl. I promise I won't wait 8 years to read it! ; )

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    1. Good! I expect to hear your thoughts on it soon.

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  8. I too probably had this book lying around for 8 years, although Kristie has only been nagging me for the last 4 or 5 :) I tracked it down after I read and loved Breathless, which I probably read around 2000 or 2001? I do know it took me a while to track down a copy - because I just refuse on principle to pay more than $10 for a used mmpb - even if I desperately want to get my hands on a book :)

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    1. I'm with you--I usually won't go over $5 for a used mmpb. Although back when I was acquiring Mary Balogh's backlist I payed some pretty obscene prices. She's the only author I've done that for though.

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  9. Did I see correctly that Hilcia bought an ecopy? And Kate, you found one at the library? And I think everyone else who left a comment here already has it or read it. Let me know if you still want me to draw a name. I can pass it on to some friends here, too.

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