Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Blue Asylum

Media Type: Print Book (ARC)
Title: Blue Asylum
Author: Kathy Hepinstall
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages: Hardcover; 288
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Source: Publisher / TLC Book Tours
Genre: Historical Fiction

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who enjoy light historical fiction with a great storyline.

Add it on: Goodreads / Shelfari / Amazon / B&N
Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property.

On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents--- some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris?

The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded "water treatment." She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home?

Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom.

Blue Asylum is a story about standing up for yourself, and being punished for it. Iris Dunleavy is a woman who simply wants to speak her mind. The wife of a plantation owner, she finds herself aghast at the treatment of the slaves. In a mad attempt to do something to help, poor Iris finds herself in a "modern" asylum. What Kathy Hepinstall has created here is a heart wrenching story about a misunderstood woman, who just wants to be heard.

The characters in this story are colorful, vivid and very enjoyable to follow. Iris especially is one witty and wonderful woman. Her views on the world are strong and well thought out. As her story unfolded, I began to wonder precisely why she was in the asylum at all. Hepinstall paces the story beautifully though, and bread crumbs are laid out to show the past that is haunting Iris' existence. However it isn't only Iris who shines off the page. Each inhabitant of the asylum has their own quirks, their own personality, and I found myself intrigued by them. It makes for a very immersing read.

Blue Asylum is all about healing, misunderstandings, and, underneath everything else, blind hope. It is easy to see how women were mistreated during this time period. Still, the more I read the more I felt myself feeling just like Iris. There are moments when the line between sanity and madness really does blur. What I can definitely say is that this is a piece of historical fiction that is well done. It drew me in, and before I knew it I was turning the last page.

At the end I was still left with some pressing questions, which I'll admit irked me a bit. Overall though Blue Asylum was a very enjoyable and quick read. Fans of Historical Fiction will find a lot to love between these pages. The vivid characters themselves are enough to draw the reader in, and keep them there until the end. If there is more out there from Kathy Hepinstall, I'd love to read it! This may be my new favorite genre.

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.


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