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Blue Asylum [Kindle Edition]

Kathy Hepinstall
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter to Readers from Kathy Hepinstall

Dear Amazon Readers,
They say madness is a double-edged sword. It can cause you great misunderstanding, institutionalization, and even physical torture. But it’s so handy when you fall in love. In Blue Asylum, Iris Dunleavy and Ambrose Weller find themselves suffering from each of these effects of madness--misunderstood, sequestered in a sanitarium, and subjected to cruel treatment. And yet they still manage to fall, madly, in love.

Speaking of love, I have to say I love these characters. I want the best for them. I hesitate to cause them pain, even for their own good. I've never had children, but they are like children to me. They are real. They exist despite the fact that they never did, and when I hear their names I feel a chord of recognition.

Iris. I think of a headstrong woman who believes she can control the fate of those she loves.

Ambrose. The name literally feels blue--ironically, the color of the uniform he fought against.

Wendell, the boy who decides to help Ambrose and Iris escape the insane asylum, gives me a worried smile.

And Dr. Cowell's earnest and desolate pomposity makes me want to surrender to him what he can never have, or reach inside him and remove that craving impulse to matter somehow.

I researched and started writing Blue Asylum on the island of Sanibel. It's a strange and largely wild place, pristine and ominous, flat blue-green water and breezes and crocodiles. In 1864, the year Blue Asylum takes place, it must have been even more beautiful, dangerous, unpredictable. It's a good place for a story, I think, and a good place for my characters to grow up.

I hope you enjoy the madness and passion of my characters. Maybe you'll even see--a little, at least--of it in yourself.

Many regards,
Kathy Hepinstall


"What sets Blue Asylum apart is Hepinstall’s luscious prose and the tension within each character that keeps the reader maddeningly off balance...Hepinstall makes inspired use of the Civil War as a means to explore notions of freedom, courage and, especially, opposing principals that both prevent and create change. Battle scenes, glimpsed briefly in Ambrose’s excruciating flashbacks, deliver knockout punches of quiet horror all the more affecting for their subtlety."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"A fine novel embroidered with rich imagery."
Kirkus Reviews

"Features excellent pacing and strong character development that animate not only the inmates at the Sanibel Asylum but the characters from the preasylum lives of Iris and Ambrose. A first-rate choice for fans of intelligent historical romances."
Library Journal, starred review

"Hepinstall exquisitely illustrates the fate of societal outsiders in this richly compelling Civil War–era tale of the former mistress of a Virginia plantation, now confined to a beautiful island asylum, and her burgeoning love for a traumatized Confederate soldier... Deftly interweaving past and present, Hepinstall sets the struggles of her characters against the rigidity of a traditional Southern society and the brutality of war in an absorbing story that explores both the rewards and perils of love, pride, and sanity itself."
Publishers Weekly

"A deep sense of the natural world, often-lyrical prose, and some touches of southern Gothic help carry along this tale of obsession and redemption."

"With Blue Asylum, Kathy Hepinstall presents the reader with the rare and delicious quandary of whether to race through and find out what happens to her characters or to linger over her vivid, beautifully crafted sentences. For me, the only resolution was to read it twice."
—Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke

"Blue Asylum is a gripping story of love and madness in the midst of the Civil War—I couldn’t put it down!"
—Kathleen Grissom, author of The Kitchen House

"Blue Asylum casts a spell that keeps the reader turning pages as if in a trance. The language is lyrical but the plot is taut and compelling. The horrors of the Civil War are made real and specific in the story of the wounded soldier and the persecuted wife who find love and hope in the unlikely setting of a supposedly enlightened insane asylum on an isolated island in the Deep South. Kathy Hepinstall is a master storyteller in full command of her craft."
—Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, author of A Woman of Independent Means

Product Details

  • File Size: 2390 KB
  • Print Length: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005LVR754
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,820 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and Clever April 10, 2012
Blue Asylum wasn't what I expected, and I really enjoy that in a book. Iris Dunleavy is sent to an asylum for daring to have her own opinion during the Civil War, but she never becomes a helpless victim. She speaks her mind calmly and intelligently, even when nobody listens. The entire story is fresh, from the upscale Sanibel Asylum located on a tropical island, off the coast of Florida, to the individual patients whose issues are manifested in diverse and unexpected ways. What I'd expected was the stereotypical madhouse saga, and it was absolutely not that. Instead of the usual cast of cruel staff, there was a misguided doctor employing what he considered a state-of-the-art cure. I adored that the cast of characters, both inside and outside the asylum all harbored their own issues. The characters all felt very real, and I read the entire novel at once, sitting in the bed with a flashlight, because I had to know what became of everyone. This is the first Kathy Hepinstall book I've read, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Asylum Read April 10, 2012
By Celine
If a book has an asylum in it, I'm always game. But this one was a surprise; Blue Asylum has so much to offer.

In the time of the war between the South and the North, wife of a Southern slaveholder is sent to an asylum. Here she meets a cast of characters including the self-proclaimed crazy son of the psychiatrist, a woman that swallows small objects and a soldier that uses the colour blue to keep his war traumas at bay. But Iris doesn't believe she's mad; and there is only one thing on her mind. Freedom.

Ms Hepinstall writes with a dreamlike quality that fits wonderfully in this story. The way she describes the island where the asylum is located, to the sea and the creatures. It was beautiful. If it weren't for the asylum, I would have loved to live there.

Now as for the asylum itself, it was like a fresh breeze into the genre. Usually asylums are bleak places, with small empty rooms with only a metal bed. A place where behind a pretty façade there are horrible things going on. But none such thing in Sanibel Asylum. The place is light and breezy. The rooms have comfortable beds and paintings on the wall. The patients can have walks on the beach and a weekly swim in the sea. They dine together with the psychiatrists family and eat the same fine food. I loved the contrast between the beautiful asylum which is a prison, and the freedom outside where there is a war going on.

The story is about so much more than a woman fighting for her freedom. There are so many underlying themes such as faith, war, slavery, family, destiny and of course love. What made Blue Asylum a five-star read for me is that even though it contains so many heavy themes, it never gets preachy. There is no narrator telling you "This is the way it should be".
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A blue sort of book. July 26, 2012
As a disclaimer, I'm not a history buff and I have not read this to be analytical of the authors level of research for end-of-Civil-War era information. Quite honestly, I read it just to read it, and I reviewed it as I would any other novel. Therefore, this should not be seen as a literal review of a Historical Fiction, but rather as a review of a general work of fiction.

While Ms. Hepinstall's writing was engaging and the story compelling, I feel as though a lack of information and detail may have detracted enough from the story that I was unable to really fall in love with any of the characters, and as such was unable to invest a lot of emotion in their plights.

That said, I did read to the end and I -was- interested. This simple fact is, I think, thanks simply to the writing of the author; she really does have a way with words and her weaving of the plot could have produced so very much if only she'd gone into a little more depth. I'd have liked to have been able to see more of the reasoning behind the "love" portrayed and I'd have also really enjoyed knowing what exactly it was that drew so many people to our protagonist.

All in all, it was a good book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lovely cover, story not so much July 24, 2012
I was dying to get my hands on this book so when it came in at the local library I was ecstatic. I love Victorian Era novels and I thought this was something I was going to love.

While the novel is a decent read it didn't grab my attention as I had hoped. I found the historical details lacking. There is one time that Iris is in a hotel with a bathroom attached? I found that rather odd given the time period. Perhaps I am wrong, but typically hotel rooms did not come with bathrooms as our modern day ones do. The war is raging, but it wasn't mentioned enough for my liking. I would have liked to hear about some 19th century techniques used in an asylum other than the water torture.

Things that are repeated way too frequently: Blue. Kiss and laudanum. Blue is the color to sooth the lunatics and was said over and over and over again. After Iris received her kiss it was the beginning topic for the next three chapters. YAWN. And it seemed everyone was taking laudanum, which was very common, but I felt it was used too frequently.

The romance was horrible. I didn't feel like there was a build up, in fact it felt to me loneliness breeds love. It didn't feel like Iris was in love but she needed a distraction and Ambrose was somewhat normal, so why not cling to him.

The book is written in third person, which I don't mind and I actually like. However, what I did not like was that the story skipped around. First it is Iris' story then Ambrose then the doctor then we have Wendell the doctor's son. Sometimes thrown into the mix is the doctor's wife. It was too much. I felt like I was jumping around.

As others have mentioned the ending left me with more questions. It wasn't a bad one. It just fell flat.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Blue Asylum
Blue Asylum tells the story of Iris Dunleavy a plantation owner's wife who is sent to Sanibel Asylum a kind of retreat for the insane in the years of the Civil War. Read more
Published 11 days ago by butterflywriter
5.0 out of 5 stars Very unique
I rarely give five star reviews, but this book is a hit with me. The writing is creative, descriptive, mysterious, and emotional. Read more
Published 12 days ago by P. Bell
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great read. Highly recommended.
Published 24 days ago by Jan G
3.0 out of 5 stars Just okay, not thrilling
This book was not what I expected. I expected a story about an insane asylum filled with disturbed patients and evil staff members. Read more
Published 24 days ago by Cynthia Parten
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Unusual plot
Published 1 month ago by Rosalyn Gerard
1.0 out of 5 stars I did not enjoy this book
I did not enjoy this book. Blue Asylum was not what I expected. I expected quite a few people being rescued from the asylum and reintroduced to society during the civil war. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jeanne
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
It was a little different twist on love story plots. It was ok did have a surprise ending
Published 2 months ago by alice Coe
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book that takes you back in time.
This immediately made it onto my favorite books list. You feel like you are right there with the main character and you don't want to step away from her. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Kamela K. McArthur
5.0 out of 5 stars Liked it
I enjoyed this book. Kept me thinking!
Published 4 months ago by Misty
2.0 out of 5 stars Very Weird Creative Writing
This was my first book that I’d read by this author.
Her creating writing was too weird for me. “The circle of life” descriptions didn’t add any value to the story. For ex. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Geowonderland
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