Book Review: "The Linen Queen" by Patricia Falvey

Summary from Abandoned by her father and neglected by her self-centered, unstable mother, Sheila McGee cannot wait to escape the drudgery of her mill village life in Northern Ireland. Her classic Irish beauty helps her win the 1941 Linen Queen competition, and the prize money that goes with it finally gives her the opportunity she's been dreaming of. But Sheila does not count on the impact of the Belfast blitz which brings World War II to her doorstep. Now even her good looks are useless in the face of travel restrictions, and her earlier resolve is eroded by her ma's fear of being left alone.

When American troops set up base in her village, some see them as occupiers but Sheila sees them as saviors--one of them may be her ticket out. Despite objections from her childhood friend, Gavin O'Rourke, she sets her sights on an attractive Jewish-American army officer named Joel Solomon, but her plans are interrupted by the arrival of a street-wise young evacuee from Belfast.

Frustrated, Sheila fights to hold on to her dream but slowly her priorities change as the people of Northern Ireland put old divisions aside and bond together in a common purpose to fight the Germans. Sheila's affection for Joel grows as she and Gavin are driven farther apart. As the war moves steadily closer to those she has grown to love, Sheila confronts more abandonment and loss, and finds true strength, compassion, and a meaning for life outside of herself.

Before reading this book, you should be prepared to get swept away into the story. I didn't realize that this was going to happen before reading so I was totally unprepared for the majestic story that awaited me through these pages. You'll travel to Ireland and meet a young woman named Sheila who works in a factory right before the breakout of World War II. She wins a beauty competition and receives the title of The Linen Queen. This sets off several years of adventures in her life starting with her winning this title.

I started off the story not really like Sheila but as the book progressed I became more sympathetic towards her. Her life is rough and she's pretty much in a dead end situation. Sheila's relationship with her mother is severely dysfunctional and it's very sad that she has to put up with it the way she does. There are some women that are just not cut out to be mothers and hers is one of them. What makes it sad is that there are so many people today who have suffered because of relationships like this. Sheila is able to break out of this cycle and move on but sadly there are many others that cannot break away and disastrous results happen because of this. There were times when I wanted to slap that woman as well as her other relatives. What they did to the young girl who lived with them was disgusting and absolutely despicable.

The romantic relationships in her life are rather hopeful and sad at the same time. I really enjoyed reading about her relationship with the young American Joel as well as her long time friendship with Gavin. It's not really about picking sides but I enjoyed reading how different the two men are and what Sheila does for both of them.

I found the view of what was happening to the Jews to be very interesting. I never really thought about it much but it's brought up that most people did not know why exactly their country was fighting against Germany. When it's mentioned about what's going on with the Holocaust and what Hitler is doing, there are people that don't seem that concerned or figure that it's not their problem. It feels a little shocking to hear people talking so flippantly about the Holocaust but at the same time, they weren't getting the news like we do now so they really had very little info about what was happening.

While I really liked the story, there was one small detail that I did not enjoy. I usually have no problems reading profanity in books. While I don't like excessive swearing, I honestly don't pay much attention to it in books especially if it plays a part in the story. What I do draw the line at is seeing Jesus's name used in vain. Since I am a Christian, I just do not prefer seeing his name constantly being used as a swear word. This was used several times in the book and it was a bit jarring especially since the characters are supposed to be practicing Catholics. This might be my faith getting in the way of my objectiveness but I really found it distressing to keep seeing it used over and over again.

Other than this, I really did enjoy the story. I honestly felt like I was in 1940s Ireland during the war. Falvey really makes the scenery and characters come alive through her words. I haven't read her previous book, The Yellow House, yet but after finishing this one, I know I need to add it to my TBR pile.

The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey is published by Center Street (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher


  1. I don't like a lot of swearing either but can overlook it in a book unless it's used way too much. I love Ireland as a setting, so I'm anxious to read this.


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