Review: I’d first like to thank TLC Book Tours for having me be a part of the blog tour, and second Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for sending me the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I’ve always liked books set in insane asylums. Call me crazy! Okay, I just couldn’t resist saying that. Why do I like them? Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown. Maybe it’s because insane asylums are usually creepy, dreadful, and filled with ghosts who wander the hallways. Maybe I’ve watched too many horror films.
BLUE ASYLUM by Kathy Hepinstall is definitely not creepy or filled with ghosts, unless you consider ghosts of the past who haunt the inhabitants of the Sanibel Lunatic Asylum. From the protagonist, Iris Dunleavy, to the head of the facility, Dr. Cowell, everyone has a secret and a story to tell.
Set during the Civil War, BLUE ASYLUM is about Iris, a plantation wife and strong-willed heroine who stands by her convictions and her beliefs, especially when it comes to civil rights. Iris is a reminder how we need more heroines like her today.
Yet, she tries to remain a devoted wife and daughter. She’s proud of her upbringing by her minister father and loving mother who only want what’s best for her. They taught Iris to know right from wrong. A trait she maintains throughout the novel.
So, when she stands up to her husband for mistreating and allowing the abuse of their slaves who work on their tobacco farm, she’s accused of being a lunatic. Her husband ships her off to Sanibel to be treated by Dr. Cowell. How dare she behave in such a manner! She needs to be cured of her insubordination. Iris isn’t insane and we all know this. That is, except for Dr. Cowell who thinks women who partake in the suffrage movement need to be put in the looney bin. He disagrees with slavery, but women should know their place. Really, what’s wrong with these men?
But I love how Iris, come hell or high water, stands up for herself and the other inmates at Sanibel. Dr. Cowell has never met anyone like Iris. She keeps her head held high and her pride intact. But then she meets Ambrose Weller, a war vet, with post traumatic stress disorder. He’s handsome, kind, intelligent and wise. With Iris’s help, Ambrose starts to see through his nightmares to a better future. But is it too late?
I was happy when Iris and Ambrose connected. They found each other at a moment in their lives when they both needed a friend. I thought, yeah, forget that creep back home! But life doesn’t always turn out how we plan.
Each of the characters, whether it’s the main ones or the residents of Sanibel, are all lovingly crafted. The story is told from various viewpoints — Iris, Ambrose, Dr. Cowell and his teenage son, Wendell.
Iris was by far my favorite character, but I really liked Wendell, especially his curiosity and the fact that he thinks he’s slowly going insane. Who wouldn’t? You live at insane asylum, kid and have a wacky mother. Oh, yes, Wendell’s mother, Mary, always has a migraine headache. She is constantly bothering her husband and is addicted to laudanum.
Another favorite character of mine is a patient who swallows just about everything. Yet she doles out sage advice. At first, I didn’t like Dr. Cowell or the nurses at the Sanibel. He treats his patients as if they are specimens under a microscope and not people. He even goes so far as to give them a water treatment — which is shear punishment. The scene were Iris receives this treatment is not only torture for her, but for the reader.
Cowell has his own demons and battles with his own growing feelings toward Iris. But the advice Cowell gives Iris at the end of the novel is its theme and heart: “I suppose it’s human to believe you can help the ones you love.”
All the characters are colorful, but vulnerable in their own way. Hepinstall’s eloquent narrative makes the reader feel like they really are at an insane asylum. She delves into the human condition with careful ease and grace. Iris and Ambrose both experience powerful flashbacks in the novel which slowly peel away the layers of the story and how each of them came to be locked away.
BLUE ASYLUM is romantic, utterly heartbreaking and suspenseful. I could not put this down, and neither will you!
I’m giving BLUE ASYLUM 5 “Relaxing with a Good Book” retro pictures for being a novel not to be missed!
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