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Blue Asylum Hardcover – April 10, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 226 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547712073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547712079
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (226 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,107,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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