Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TBR Challenge 2012: Luck O' The Irish

The Book: Conor's Way by Laura Lee Guhrke

The Particulars: Historical romance, Harper Monogram, 1996, out of print and going for exorbitant prices used (in paper) - but oh happy day!  It's now available in digital and the author is currently offering it to readers for the ridiculously awesome price of 99 cents. (ETA 2/19/12: Looks like the 99 cent price offer is now kaput).

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?Breathless by Laura Lee Guhrke is (to date) my favorite romance novel of all time.  Period.  After I read that book and loved it, I set about finding her backlist.  At the time finding that backlist required nothing short of offering up one of my organs on the black market (I'm kidding, but seriously - it took me a hella long time).  When KristieJ found out I had this book, and it had been languishing in my TBR for years - she started nagging her campaign of terror to get me to finally read the damn thing.  And it only took her about four years.  It's not you Kristie - it's me.  I am not a normal person.

The Review:  For those of you who know nothing about KristieJ - let me give you a quick lesson.  Kristie is a very hero-centric romance reader.  She also is a complete, unrepentant sucker for wounded heroes.  The more screwed up they are, the more she loves them.  Conor's Way is textbook KristieJ cat nip.  Conor Branigan is about as tortured as they come, and wouldn't you know it?  He's Irish.  It's a shock I was able to resist this book for so long.

Since coming to America, Conor has been making a living as a boxer.  It allows him to keep moving, gives him a certain measure of freedom, and glory be - he's actually pretty good at it.  However his luck runs out one night in a backwater Louisiana town.  He's asked to take the fall when the numbers come in and it's discovered the promoter will lose money if Conor wins.  Being...well, Irish - Conor doesn't take the fall and gets the snot kicked out of him by hired goons for his insolence.

Olivia Maitland is desperate to save her family farm.  Her mother dead, her brothers taken by Gettysburg, and her drunken father finally succumbing thanks to a fall from a ladder, it's all she and her three adopted daughters have left.  She's been advertising for a farm hand, but has had no luck since all she has to offer is room and board.  She needs to bring in her peach crop if she has any hope of staying afloat.  The problem is she can't do it all by herself, and the villain of the story is pressuring her to sell.  He wants to build a railroad, and her orchard is inconveniently in the way.  But Olivia cannot bear the thought.  So she prays to God to send her a man.  What she gets?  A beaten-nearly-to-death Conor Branigan lying in the middle of a country road.  She probably should have been more specific with God.....

This is one of those books where it's All About The Hero.  Conor is, simply, one of the more memorable heroes I've read about in a long time.  Also, I'll be honest - I was pretty much sunk the moment Guhrke starts giving us the back-story.  The minute the "Irish stuff" started creeping in - Conor surviving the famine (barely), his Fenian ties, his stint in prison - I was sunk.  Blame it on the four years I spent as an impressionable college undergrad slogging my way through the "high points" of British/Irish relations in the 19th century.  This was good stuff.  Really compelling, and it didn't hurt that Guhrke did her research.

When you have a character like Conor it's easy for the rest of cast to get a little lost.  That does happen somewhat here.  Conor is like a Black Hole Of Swooning Awesomeness.  However, Olivia does hold her own fairly well.  She's firmly on the shelf, pushing thirty and never been kissed.  What potential beaux her drunken father didn't run off, the Civil War dealt with.  After the war, what men returned home took one look around and promptly headed west thinking that surely had to be better.  She's lonely, but she has the girls.  She doesn't really know what she's missing until Conor shows up, and her various female parts kick into overdrive.

The fly in the ointment besides Conor's desire for "freedom," his haunted past, and his belief that he's "no good," is the villain.  The man who wants Olivia's land?  Yeah, the very boxing promoter that Conor ticked off.  And now Conor is sitting on the land that he's been trying to push Olivia off of for four years.  Why has it taken so long?  Well, she keeps saying no, and their shared past together has had him hesitant (until now) to up the ante.

It's hard for me to convey in words how great I thought this story was.  Sometimes with wounded heroes I can lose patience as a reader.  I want to smack them upside the head and holler, "Oh get over it already!"  But it's hard to do that with Conor.  Probably because I know the history.  Also the author gives you just enough horrifying detail to make your skin crawl (also to want to punch the next English Duke in the face that wanders into Romancelandia).  Olivia is a nice enough girl, but she doesn't really fully step up to the plate for me until the second half.  There's nothing ever "wrong" with her, just that being in Conor's orbit can be a tough act to follow.  The three orphan girls that live with Olivia?  Add just enough to the story to keep pricking at Conor's conscience, and slowly transform him into a man that finally has to admit he truly does give a damn.

This is a post Civil War story (1871) set in a the Deep South, and I know some readers who will not touch these with a 50 foot pole.  Guhrke avoids a huge discussion on slavery and the southern "way of life" - but details it just enough to explore Olivia's character.  How she feels isolated, alone, and, to a certain extent, cheated. It also exposes the lies and myths she was raised on.  The moment the slaves leave she knows - the white grown-ups were wrong.  Blacks weren't slaves because they "liked" it.

The way this book ends is very interesting.  There is a bit of grand-standing, a few fireworks, but it's never overblown.  And pushing the buttons behind the curtain?  Let's just say this story has it's own Wizard of Oz.  It's really clever, with subtle manipulations and games being played backstage.

There's a lot to like here.  It's not my favorite of Guhrke's early work (nothing can replace Breathless, and To Dream Again is nearly as splendid), but that's sort of like saying chocolate ice cream is somehow inferior to chocolate cake.  Heck, we're still talking chocolate!  I'm glad I finally read this.  I'm glad Kristie is relentless and kept after me every single year I would see her at RWA ("Have you read Conor's Way yet Wendy?"  "Uh, no."  "Wendy, Wendy, Wendy!").  I didn't want to put it down.  I started to resent the fact that I have to work for a living (damn Greek tycoons, I'm certainly as good as any of those Harlequin Presents heroines!) and couldn't devote a large block of time to doing nothing but inhaling this story.  It's lovely and I want to read it all over again.

Final Grade = A

Sidenote: And lest you think poor KristieJ is done nagging scolding me about books unread in my TBR?  Never fear.  I've still got Jackson Rule lying around here somewhere.....

20 comments:

Hilcia said...

Okay,so it was a conspiracy. LOL! Great to know it's loved across the board. *g*

azteclady said...

I refuse to be suckered into another...


damn, who am I kidding? *sigh*




Also: Jackson Rule? You have Jackson Rule and haven't read it yet? Wendy!!!!

nath said...

Love, love your review Wendy!! And yay, an A!!! :) Kristie sure is going to be happy :)

I was one of those who dreaded reading this book because of the post Civil War period, but Ms Guhrke really did a great job.

And ooooh, Conor!! Such a great character! and once again, Ms Guhrke did a great job giving us his background story. I really liked that. And LOL, you're right, Conor is Kristie's catnip! :) I also liked how he warmed up to the girls.

I have a hard copy, but I'm definitively buying the ebook for 0.99$ :)

By the way, Jackson Rule is another very good book :)

And Hils, yes, it is a conspiracy. And you know how's the mastermind behind it LOL.

Phyl said...

It's funny, when I looked up my Amazon order for Conor's Way, I discovered that I had purchased Breathless as part of the same order. That one I read right away--and loved it too. Coincidentally, I read To Dream Again at Thanksgiving. I still like her books, but I wish she was writing more books like these 3.

Really enjoying this months TBR! Thanks, Wendy.

SonomaLass said...

I guess I have to read Breathless now?

This Conor's Way bandwagon experience has been so much fun -- we should think about doing an occasional TBR gang read, maybe in addition to the monthly challenge? We could take a poll and find out what books are sitting in a lot of TBRs, and start picking them off as a group.

Or, you know, we could just let Kristie pick for us....

Kate said...

I'm glad to have read this. I've never read any Guhrke (...gulp...) but have heard so much good about her books. I wonder if I can find paper copies without selling kidneys? I am still hopelessly without digital.

Kristie (J) said...

I think it's a hoot that so many just happened to pick this one for the reader recommend challenge. And I'm tickled pink that everyone that read it loved it as much as I do!!. Now you know why I've been on your case for so many year *laughing* and Wendy, Wendy, Wendying you (notice how I made a verb out of your name?)

And an A!! Wow - I am impressed since I know you are a much tougher one to please than me :-) And that leaves one less book I can hound you on - but not to worry - I shall find others!

And SonomaLass - I love the idea of a group read!! I even know which genre and which book *evil grin* And yes - do read Breathless. The heroine is A LIBRARIAN - thus our Wendy's favourite book

AnimeJune said...

Ahhhh, I do love Laura Lee Guhrke. My personal favourite is "His Every Kiss," with the tortured musician hero with tinnitus!

I do like tortured heroes to a certain extent, but only if they're interesting. There's a thin line between brooding and sadsack - the guys who just dig in their heels and refuse all happiness because OH their BIG BAD PAST.

Kathryn said...

A few years ago, soon after I started reading romance, I copied Kristie J's keeper list and started slowly reading/collecting her favorites. She has yet to let me down. I found Conor's Way in a clearance bin in 2010 - now ya'll have convinced me to pull it to the top of the TBR stash. It's been fun to see so many reviews of the same book today.

Gotta say I'm still a holdout on North & South though.

Amber said...

I've never read any of LLG's American set historicals. I love most of her other books, though. Even the ones others aren't so fond of. There's just something about her voice and her characters that gets to me.

Leslie said...

The Kristie influence is truly amazing! This was such a wonderful story with everything I love in a romance.

Funny you mention Jackson Rule. It's been on my TBR pile for a while now. Want to guess who got me to hunt it down? LOL

Christine said...

Wonderful review, Wendy. I'll be clicking that BUY NOW button in just a few minutes. Hopefully it won't take ME 4 years to get to it! haha!

I like the idea of a group read, too!

Wendy said...

Hilcia: I HAD to read this book. If I didn't Kristie would have ceased to talk to me! LOL

AL: I should just turn Kristie loose in my TBR and have her pull out the books that I should read first. Seriously, I might have a small problem....

Nath: I need to go and read your buddy review still. Even though you graded it a tinch lower than I did, I think we agree on some things....

Phyl: I won't tell you how many of her Avon books I have languishing in the TBR. It's rather epic.

SonomaLass: LOL! I just need Kristie to completely reorganization my TBR. A group read would be fun. Something to think about....

Wendy said...

Kate: If you haven't already, check out Phyl's blog (she commented above, so just click on her linked name) and she's giving away her paper copy!

KrisiteJ: I was happy to see we found another book we can both agree on :) You didn't like that Molly O'Keefe Super I LOVED, and I slapped both Broken Wing and Dreaming Of You with C's. But honestly, we do agree a lot more often than we disagree :)

AnimeJune: This was an instance where the brooding hero worked for me because I bought into his past. Knowing enough of the history, I didn't feel like it was overblown or over the top.

Kathryn: OMG! A clearance bin!!! I can't remember now where I found my copy - but I *think* I got it through a book swapping group I used to belong to. Or else I stumbled across a really cheap copy on eBay....

Amber: She had a couple of American-set books early on. This one and Breathless. To Dream Again is Victorian England (also VERY good) and The Seduction is France? I think? I still have to read that one.

Leslie: I bought Jackson Rule YEARS ago when it was reprinted. Yeah, still need to read it....

Christine: My book hording is truly shameful. I've had some unread books for 5+ years. It's....not good.

Phyl said...

I just wanted to come back and second SonomaLass' suggestion that we do a TBR group read again sometime. This accidental one was fun.

And you gave Dreaming of You a C? Harsh. :-)

Amy said...

Finally got mine up! Whew, lost track of time for, oh, about 5 days.

Kelly in Hockeytown said...

I need a better analogy. I tolerate chocolate cake and I abhor chocolate ice cream. :)

Wendy said...

Re: DoY - I had heroine issues. Also the Evil Other Woman trope tends to annoy me these days. A case where I should have read the book sooner in my romance reading addiction because it probably would have been a keeper.

Wendy said...

Better late than never! It's all about making that small measure of progress on the TBR......

Wendy said...

Between either the Red Wings winning Stanley or the Tigers winning World Series? Because either one of those would be awesome ;)