In a short few words - I loved this book!
I have never read the Thoenes (pronounced Tay-Nee) before, but needless to say, I already have the next three books in The Galway Chronicles coming to my local library.
Only the River Runs Free is aptly titled, for no one, not even the land of Ireland itself, is free in this book. Joseph Conrad Burke is a lost man. Cheated out of his inheritance as the Burke after his father was murdered, he has lived a silent, hidden life apart from his native Ballynockanor. He has also, as would be expected, been waiting for an opportunity to right old wrongs, to free himself from his past, and to step into the role he was destined to fill.
The Donovans are a proud, Irish family. A tragic fire several years ago took the life of Mrs. Donovan, her youngest child, and her oldest child Kate's young husband. Mr. Donovan, still heartbroken, is bound to the bottle, while Kate, scarred from the fire which still holds her heart in bondage, believes her beauty has been marred and she will never be loved again.
She is still beautiful, however, to Joseph, who is beginning to question his call to the priesthood.
This is more than Joseph and Kate's story, however, and the other Donovans are just as engaging. The setting is well-done and almost a character in itself. You will smell the green of Ireland. You will feel the land kick against English suppression. The Thoenes do a great job of meshing the political and religious issues into the plot without overwhelming the reader with details. While the characters are finding their way to freedom, so are the Irish people.
I will also put a plug in for the Catholic faith of the Irish. I was wary of reading the book simply because non-Catholic authors, especially Evangelicals, tend to 1) misunderstand and misrepresent the Catholic faith in such books, and/or 2) make the book about Catholics somehow coming to the knowledge that the Catholic church is "wrong," and therefore they become Protestants.
Neither was the case with this book, although I have no idea what church the Thoenes worship in. The Catholicism was spot on, especially considering this book takes place BEFORE Vatican II. The Catholics are flawed, they make bad choices, they go to confession, they seek Father O'Bannon's aid, they go to Holy Mass, they respect Mary, they have rosaries, the women veil when they go to church, and dying characters are given Last Rites. The faith of these people clearly defines and outlines their life, just as it did in Catholic Ireland a hundred and more years ago.