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I would not get over it.  It was a small betrayal, I know, but it is the first betrayal that hurts the most.  It is the first betrayal that slays innocence and leaves a scar that is never forgotten.

(from The Yellow House, page 146)

The Yellow House is a beautifully written novel about a young girl coming of age during World War I and the Irish War of Independence.  Patrica Falvey first grabbed my attention with her second novel, The Linen Queen, set during World War II, but this, her debut novel, was even better.  Falvey isn’t a rambling, Frank Delaney-style storyteller, but she weaves a tale of Ireland’s history and struggles that is every bit as captivating.

Eileen O’Neill spent her childhood listening to her da’s stories about the great warrior O’Neills, and with her fiery red hair, quick temper, and sharp tongue, she is determined to follow in their footsteps.  Her great-grandfather, revered with an empty chair by the fire, won the family home from the wealthy Sheridan family during a card game.  When she is 8 years old, her da, much to the chagrin of her mother, spends their scant funds on cans of yellow paint — creating the Yellow House that will both drive and haunt Eileen for years to come.

The death of her younger sister sparks a chain of events that tears the O’Neill family apart.  Eileen is just a teenager when she is left alone with her youngest sibling to make her way in the world.  Forced out of the Yellow House, Eileen takes a job at the Sheridan family’s mill, vowing to one day buy back the house of her happiest memories and reunite her family.

The issue of Home Rule pits the nationalist Catholics (like the O’Neills) against the unionist Protestants, and Eileen is at the center of the animosity in the northern province of Ulster.  World War I detracts attention from the matter, but as soon as that war ends, another begins.  Eileen must deal with discrimination against Catholics in Ulster and is lucky to be employed by the Sheridans, who are Quakers who haven’t taken sides (though inside the mill, it’s a different story).  And after what transpired during her last night in the Yellow House, it’s no surprise that Eileen gets swept up in the Cause.

Just as Ireland is torn between independence and British rule, Eileen is torn between two men.  James Conlon, an IRA fighter under Michael Collins, is just as hot-headed as Eileen.  Owen Sheridan, meanwhile, is an officer in the British Army who opposes the violence and hopes to temper it.  James is passionate and selfish, having been coddled by his mother his entire life.  Owen is gentle and contemplative, having seen more than enough violence in The Great War.

Falvey’s characters really came to life for me.  All of them are flawed and hurting, and just as Ireland changed and grew over the years, so did they.  I think that’s what I love best about historical novels that cover a long stretch of time.  The Yellow House is set between 1905 and 1924, a tumultuous period in Ireland’s history.  Eileen gets caught up in the chaos, and through James and Owen, sees both sides of the fight.  How can she not be affected?  Even when I disagreed with Eileen’s actions (which was often), I could see where she was coming from.  Her family was torn apart, loyalties were being tested.  The Yellow House became a symbol of unity, peace, and happiness, so how could I fault her for not abandoning the dream?

The Yellow House covers so much ground; Falvey touches upon politics, war, religion, working conditions in the mills, gender roles, mental illness, and of course, family and secrets.  She does an excellent job explaining the complicated politics of Ireland before and after the treaty that created Northern Ireland and the violence that ensued.  (I probably would have enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way more had I read this book first.)  Even the love triangle was handled in such a way that, while predictable, it didn’t overshadow the history.  For its brave but blemished heroine and for personalizing Ireland’s struggle, The Yellow House is another novel that definitely will be on my list of favorite books read this year.

Book 7 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Book 14 for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Yellow House from Hachette Book Group for review purposes. Yep, working my way through old review copies. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Carrie from Books and Movies hosted a read-along of The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey during the month of March.  This final discussion focuses on pages 239 to the end, the sections titled “Secrets, 1922,” “Choices, 1922,” “Home, 1922,” and “Epilogue, 1924.”  (Check out my responses to the discussions on Part 1/Part 2 and Part 3.)

Beware of spoilers!  Please note that I will be posting a spoiler-free review next week!

Here are my responses to Carrie’s questions:

Were you as angry as I was when Eileen slept with James while pregnant with Owen’s baby, in order to pass the baby off as his?

I wasn’t angry with Eileen, just sad.  To be honest, I fell in love with Owen myself, so I was sad that they couldn’t easily be together, and I was especially sad that she was willing to deny Owen his child.  However, I understood why Eileen felt she needed to do it.  First, she was married to James, and who knows how he would take the news?  Second, she would be ridiculed at the mill when everyone found out that she was carrying another man’s baby.  On top of all that, Owen and James were on different sides of the fighting, and lives could be in danger.

Was Owen’s reaction to that justified, in your opinion?

Of course!

Did you understand why Eileen was so torn about reporting what she knew about James’ plans for the mill?

Yes.  She still felt a certain loyalty to James, though I don’t necessarily understand that, yet she didn’t want innocent people to die or lose their livelihoods.  However, why it took so long for her to make the right decision was a bit baffling.  I didn’t think she’d wait until the crime was in progress.

What about her hesitancy to marry Owen?

I understood why she wouldn’t want to jump into marriage again.  She’d gone through so much in her life already, and she needed time to process it all.  I’m just glad that Owen was so understanding!

What did you think of how things ended for the following characters: Frankie, Lizzie, Terrence, Fergus, and, of course, James?

I though Fergus acted cowardly, though I could understand how conflicted he was.  I was sad for Frankie, but I think in the end, he was happier.  I was sad for Terrence, too, because he’d lost so much as well, and whether he’d get a second chance was uncertain.  I felt bad that Lizzie had lost so much, but I felt she had a happy ending.  James…I felt like he got what he deserved, but his last meeting with Eileen was touching.  I didn’t expect that from him.  It almost made me feel sorry for him.

Were you satisfied with the way things ended for Eileen’s mom?

I thought Falvey ended her story realistically.  At least there was some promise on that front.

And, lastly, were you happy with how things ended for Eileen?

Yes.  She was at a point where she was content and could imagine herself being happy.  Her dream had come as true as it could, and that was satisfying for me.

I’d like to thank Carrie for organizing the read-along, and I hope you all check out my review next week! Have you read The Yellow House?  What did you think?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Carrie from Books and Movies is hosting a read-along of The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey during the month of March.  This week’s discussion focuses on pages 165-238, the sections titled “Truce, 1920-1921″ and “Passion, 1921.”  (My answers to the previous discussion questions are here.)

Beware of spoilers!

My overall impressions of the book so far:

Och, what a page turner!  I have so much going on right now that the slower pace of the read-along schedule works for me, but it’s so hard to put the book down.  It really is a good book to savor and contemplate, but it’s so tempting to drop everything and read to the end.  At least the suspense won’t kill me for too much longer, as the final discussion is next week.

I absolutely love Falvey’s writing and especially her handling of Irish history.  There’s no rambling Frank Delaney-style storytelling (which I love), but the way the story is unfolding totally fits Eileen’s character.  And speaking of characters, Falvey’s are so complex and vivid that they feel real to me.  I loved her most recent novel, The Linen Queen, but so far, The Yellow House is even better!

Carrie asked the read-along participants to post some questions this time around.  Serena asks, do you think Owen has a right to ask Eileen for something in return for his kindness, and do you think he goes too far asking her to give up her role in the Troubles and commit to volunteer work?

Well, considering that he’s gone out of his way to keep Eileen in her job and she’s asking him to go out of his way to help her (and she so desperately needs said job), I think he has a right to ask for something in return.  After all, she doesn’t have to agree.  And based on what the gossipers think, he could have asked for something worse (though she might not have thought about it that way, ha!).  I think Owen being older and having seen the horrors of war gives him an advantage over Eileen in terms of growing up.  I think he knows Eileen is hurt and angry and can’t see beyond that now, and I also think her work for the Cause was too much on the sidelines for her to know the horrors of war.  Owen knows that when he makes Eileen work at the hospital, she’s going to see things that will make her think, that will cause her some pain, but that will eventually help her grow up.  (Oh, and it was also necessary for her to be at the hospital so that she could uncover the truth about Lizzie.)

Serena also wants to know, do you think Owen is right that confronting the past can help us heal? Do you think it will help Eileen?

I think he has a point, that you really have to face your troubles head on for you to move past them.  Will it help Eileen?  One can hope, but we need to get James out of the way permanently first!

Here are some questions of my own:

Do you think Frank is justified in abandoning his family and in the treatment of his sister?

I don’t dislike Frank as much as I do James, but he’s another one who makes me angry.  I can see how the revelation of his parentage would hurt him deeply, but at the same time, the man who raised him was nothing but good to him, and Eileen, even understanding as a child that he was angry, distant, and brooding and didn’t care for her much, continually reaches out to him because he’s family.  I think he has a lot of growing up to do and should have done it by now, but there are some deep wounds in the O’Neill family that will take time to heal, if they even can be repaired.

Do you think finding Lizzie will help Eileen’s mom to heal?

I hope I’m wrong, but I think she’s too far gone for that.  If seeing Lizzie alive would just cause her to come out of her shell, I would be so angry for Eileen and Paddy and Frank.  They are her children, too…and yet, mental illness is a scary, complex thing.  I feel so bad for Eileen every time she visits her mom and effectively gets the cold shoulder.  I still am trying to understand how she went from the strong I-mean-business woman in the bank to a mess in the blink of an eye.

What do you think about Owen buying the Yellow House?

Given that much has been made about how the O’Neill ancestors “stole” the house from the Sheridans and now the O’Neills have fallen apart, I found that totally predictable.  And yet the romantic in me was happy, because Owen understands Eileen’s dream and had similar hopes for the Yellow House.  I’m still holding out for the sappy ending in which they are happy together in that house.  There’s so much about their relationship that reminds me of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

Have you read The Yellow House?  What did you think?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Carrie from Books and Movies is hosting a read-along of The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey during the month of March.  Since I loved The Linen Queen by Falvey, I really wanted to read this book.  I started a bit late, but I’ve caught up now.  Here are my responses to the first two sets of discussion questions. 

Beware of spoilers!

The Part 1 discussion was held on March 9 and covered the first two sections of the book, “Glenlea, County Armagh 1905″ and “Queensbrook Linen Mill 1913,” pages 1-90.

What do you think of the writing?

I love Falvey’s writing.  You can tell she’s from Northern Ireland and Ireland and is familiar with the culture, the history, the legends, and the politics.  I especially love and appreciate how Falvey explains the politics of the time, the fight for Home Rule that begins just as World War I is heating up, and how it leads to the Irish War of Independence.  I wish I would have read The Yellow House before reading Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long Long Way because he just assumes the reader already knows what was brewing in Ireland at the time.  Best of all, Falvey’s explanations fit the narrative, so it doesn’t feel like she’s breaking away from the story to give a history lesson.

What do you think of Eileen’s parents?

What a sad situation!  It’s obvious that they love each other, but Eileen’s mother is more sensible and practical, while her father is hung up on the stories of his warrior ancestors and is laid back when it comes to running the farm and supporting his family.  The scene in the bank when Mary is determined to pay off the mortgage that her husband took out makes her seem like such a strong woman, so it was surprising to me that she fell apart and withdrew from life when Lizzie died, especially when she had two other children who needed her.

It seems that the book is heading in a romantic direction when it comes to Eileen and Owen Sheridan. What do you think of this potential romance?

There’s something about Owen that I like.  Though at this point it seems like it’ll take awhile for their romance to come about, mainly because he’s going off to war and she’s perceived as not being good enough for the son of the mill owner.  Of course, Owen doesn’t seem to care about that, as he goes out of his way to make conditions in the mill better after hearing Eileen’s complaints.  I can’t wait to see where the story goes!

As we closed the second section, the world is on the brink of the First World War, and Ireland is being torn apart by the fight for Home Rule. Have you learned anything about Ireland or the world at this time period that was new to you?

I first heard the term Home Rule in Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way, but I had no idea what it was all about.  Ireland’s politics was pretty complicated at the time, but Falvey does a good job giving readers a basic understanding of the politics.

******

The Part 2 discussion was posted today and covers the next two sections, “War 1914-1918″ and “Insurrection 1919-1920,” pages 91-164.

Were you surprised by the turn the romantic storyline took?

Not really, because I didn’t think Eileen getting together with Owen was going to happen quickly or easily.  There has to be another man involved!  I just didn’t expect her to marry James.  That part did surprise me a bit.

What do you think of James? Is his treatment of his family – all in the name of the cause – justified?

I didn’t like James from the start.  Eileen should have known not to get involved with him when she tried to sit in his chair when he wasn’t even living with his mom and his mom wouldn’t let Eileen sit there because it’s his chair.  Never mind the fact that his brother, Fergus, has to sleep outside because the sainted James needs his own room when he comes home from the war.  And he doesn’t care enough to have his brother brought back inside!  And don’t even get me started about how he ignored Eileen’s choice of name for their daughter and let his crazy mother name her at the baptism.  His actions toward his family are not justified; he’s just a spoiled child who has been coddled by his mother and never had to think or worry about the needs of anyone else.  Is he really in it for the cause or for the action?

What do you think of Eileen’s reaction to James’ final betrayal – the emptying of her savings account?

I wasn’t surprised by how broken up she was about it, especially considering her mother’s breakdown.  She’d worked so hard to overcome all of the blows dealt to her family, pinning all of her hopes and dreams on buying back the Yellow House, and now that dream is gone.  What does she have left?  Her family is torn apart, she hasn’t really bonded with her daughter, her mother-in-law is a monster, and she obviously can’t count on her husband.  I felt so sad for Eileen, yet she shouldn’t really be surprised given what she knows about her husband.

How do you think the author is handling the intricacies of the political situation?

I like that Falvey shows both sides of the battle.  Even on the side fighting for Home Rule, there are varying levels of support and involvement.  No war is ever black and white, and Falvey highlights the shades of gray with Owen representing the side of the British.  Eileen being torn between James and Owen represents how the country is torn, and some people aren’t sure what side to take.

Have you read The Yellow House?  What did you think?

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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As I walked slowly home in the wet darkness I tried desperately to warm the cold thing that coiled inside me.  I clutched the envelope that held the two hundred pounds.  I had wanted this prize more than anything else in the world, but I had not realized the price I would have to pay for it.  I was special now — set apart from family, friends, and neighbors by status and envy.  I realized that tonight I had not just won a title, a tiara, and money.  The real prize was my discovery of the raw power of beauty.

(from The Linen Queen, page 37 in the ARC)

Set in Northern Ireland during World War II, The Linen Queen is the story of Sheila McGee, a young woman helping to support her mentally unstable mother and desperately seeking a way out of her life.  Sheila has worked in the Queensbrook Mill as a spinner since she was 14, and when the novel opens in 1941, she is 18 and finally eligible to compete in the Linen Queen pageant.  Unfortunately, Sheila has a reputation for being a flirt, and much to the chagrin of the self-righteous Mrs. McAteer, sister of the mill’s owner, she wins the title of Linen Queen and the two hundred pounds in prize money that she believes is her ticket out of the village.

However, the war has come to Northern Ireland, and Sheila’s life is forever changed after the Belfast Blitz.  The aunt and uncle with whom Sheila and her mother live take in a young evacuee, Grainne, for the extra money.  Her best friend, Gavin, expresses feelings for her that she’s not ready to acknowledge, and his connections to the Irish Republican Army strain their relationship.  Moreover, American troops move into the area, and Sheila and her friends are caught up in all the excitement.  She goes out dancing, drinking, and flirting — behavior that could cost her the Linen Queen title and her job given that Mrs. McAteer and her daughter, Mary, always have their eyes on her.  Then Sheila meets Captain Joel Solomon, a Jewish-American army officer, forging a strong bond with him and at the same time thinking that he can whisk her away from her troubles.

In The Linen Queen, Patricia Falvey writes about tensions in Ireland between those who support the British and those who do not, the struggles of the poor mill workers, the Catholic Church and its harsh stance when it comes to women with less-than-favorable reputations, and life during World War II amid bombing raids and rationing.  But more than anything, Falvey writes about the transformative power of relationships, with Sheila’s troubled relationship with her mother, her compassion for Grainne, and her love for both Joel and Gavin helping her shed the selfishness that has defined her and allowing her to see her true value.

Sheila is not an easy character to like.  She’s self-centered and whines a lot about her troubles.  However, I could understand her actions, given that she feels abandoned by everyone she loves, from her father, who sails away and never returns, to her friends, who snub her when she wins the Linen Queen competition.  Falvey did a good job showing Sheila’s evolution from the beginning of the novel through D-Day, as she deals with love and loss.

I enjoyed Falvey’s writing style and found it difficult to put the book down, but I couldn’t help noticing the clichés, particularly with the Irish characters.  It seems that every book I’ve read that is set in Ireland has a host of characters who are poor, drunk, or Catholics on the moral high horse.  It didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the book, but it made me wonder if there are other novels out there that show a different side of the Irish experience.

The Linen Queen has a little something for everyone.  It’s a love story and a war story, a story of heartache and loss, and a story of relationships and growth.  I enjoyed reading about Irish superstitions and ghosts, and Falvey beautifully describes life on the Irish coast.  I highly recommended it fans of historical fiction set in Ireland and those interested in life during wartime.

Courtesy of Hachette Book Group, I am giving away a copy of The Linen Queen.  To enter, simply leave a comment with your e-mail address telling me what interests you about this book and/or your favorite book set in Ireland.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, this giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada addresses only, no P.O. boxes.  This giveaway ends Sunday, March 20, 2011, at 11:59 pm EST.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Linen Queen from Hachette for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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