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Showing 1-10 of 146 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 235 reviews
on September 27, 2013
I guess it's kind of fitting that a book about mental instability left me confused...

The book started out really good; interesting characters, solid narration and atmosphere. But then about halfway through it sort of fizzled out for me. I was baffled by the lack of purpose in any of the characters. As someone else mentioned the doctor was by far the most interesting character, but he also kind of reached a stagnant point. Any passage about the doctor's son was baffling (though amusing).

I guess the point of the book was so unclear to me that it prevented me from enjoying it or taking anything away from what I'd read. After their escape, Ambrose and what's-her-name linger in a not-so-distant town, which for me right then didn't cut it; why would they hang around? No sane person would do that when they know someone is going to pursue them. And if someone tries to argue, "Well, that's the point, they aren't sane," my reply is, "Oh really? Because one of them is..."

The love story fell flat, too. There was barely any build-up and absolutely no purpose for either one of them falling in love with the other. It's not shown, it's not even cheaply explained to us; it just is and that's supposed to be good enough? Hmm....Again, lacking. This book is lacking, in very necessary points. I wouldn't recommend buying this book; check it out from your local library instead.
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on January 7, 2015
This book was not what I expected. I expected a story about an insane asylum filled with disturbed patients and evil staff members. Yes, there were a few staff members that were truly evil. But the doctor who ran the place was simply misguided. I hated that he assumed all women were crazy and hysterical and he was so able to dismiss them. But I had to remind myself the time period in which this book took place. During the time of the Civil War, just about everyone (women included) thought women were inferior. I appreciated the author's description from the doctor's POV because it allowed me to really understand his thoughts and motives. He truly thought he was helping these women and he was confused when Iris accused him of torture from the "water treatment." I liked Iris and the fact that she was calm, steady, and intelligent. She tried to keep her emotions in check, mainly because she knew the men around her would use them against her.

Even thought I liked the premise, I still found myself struggling to connect with the books and the characters fully. I am not sure if it was the pacing or the fact that there was so much going on in the book. The author told different chapters from a lot of characters' POV: there was Iris, the doctor, Ambrose (the patient Iris falls in love with), Wendell (the doctor's son), and Mary (the doctor's wife). There were also times when the author would focus on some small detail of something happening at the asylum, but she would also tell what some of the patients were thinking about it. It just added to my confusion and lack of emotion towards the characters. It was hard to care fully about characters that I didn't even really have a chance to get to know. The ending also struck me as a little too convenient and neat. There were still a lot of unanswered questions.

In the end, I thought the book was just okay. It wasn't one that I just couldn't put down.
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I saw this book on Amazon, put it on my wish list, eventually ordered it. It has been awhile since I finished reading. I didn't love the book, but did appreciate much about it. For me, the most frustrating part of the book was how Iris was not listened to. Her husband had all the authority; and she was expected to agree and submit to him. It's an antiquated notion, one thankfully fading into the past in the U.S.A. Flashbacks detail Iris' conviction, her abhorrence of the treatment of slaves and her attempt to flee. We tune into her life as she arrives on Sanibel Island mental asylum. The beauty of the island contrasts the pain of the residents within. The supporting characters are interesting such as the woman who likes to swallow rings, the doctor's son Wendell who rescues a lamb from its fate as dinner, the chef who is friends with Wendell, and the doctor's wife who seems married to her position as the head doctor's wife as much as she is the doctor as a man. Even though the doctor is not evil, he is as out-of-touch as any of his patients. The romance between Ambrose and Iris is an odd mix. Ambrose is haunted by the death of a soldier to whom he had a strong attachment. The military justice was swift and brutal, much like the trial that institutionalizes Iris. Hepinstall builds up hopes, only to see them dashed. The themes in the book make the story current. We still see inequities for women. People are still not listened to. And soldiers still come home from war broken and haunted, many wishing to end their suffering no matter how extreme the remedy. While not an easy book, it is rewarding. Enjoy!
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on February 27, 2016
This turned out to be one of my favorite historical novels I loved this dark story of Iris's journey, the setting within the Civil War, the development of the characters. Who knew there was a genre called "gothic romance?" I will likely re-read this novel ... because I love reading historical novels and writing historical stories. Wonderful idea to put an asylum on Sanibel Island. Her descriptions of the local, the sea, even the barred hospital took me right there to the midst of the humidity and sea breezes. Free while oppressed. As much as I enjoyed this tall, dark tale, what I loved most about this book was the language, the way Ms. Hepinstall wove her words to create a vision, an emotion. It often made me catch my breath. I look forward to this author's next novel! I hope there will another one!! I have ordered all of her past historical novels!
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on November 15, 2013
I read this book in one night, propelled by the story of so many souls, each trapped in their own asylum. Like many women in the 19th century, Iris Dunleavy escapes her brutal husband only to be locked up in a madhouse, at his command. Taken to the Betty Ford clinic of their times, she is trapped in a place where the borders between inmates and keepers are blurred. Each person is battling demons, and walking that fine line separating the sane from the insane. Though it is located in paradise, the many predators make it as unsafe as the outside world they are being insulated from. Wendell struggles with his mind, wondering if he is as sick as the inmates of his father's sanatorium. Neglected by his distant father, and smothered by his unhappy mother, he must find his own way, as well as his own mind using the inmates as his yardstick. Dr. Cowell struggles with his self righteousness, his closed mindedness a type of sickness. Ambrose, the world weary veteran running away from a secret that deprives him of his slender hold on reality. Each one is caught in Iris's hurricane, and their interaction with her helps them to fully understand who they really are. Great book, with a wonderful twist in the end, that makes us ask who are we to judge the actions of the next man and decide who is right? Great read, great prose, great job.
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on February 13, 2013
BLUE ASYLUM by Kathy Hepinstall was recommended to me by "whatshouldIreadnext.com" I entered a couple of books I like, and this book popped up as a recommendation. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Hepinstall offers up dynamic characters in a hellish paradise. Her prose captures details of character and mood. The suspense is foreshadowed, and the tension builds.

In BLUE ASYLUM Iris Dunleavy arrives on an island off Florida. She is to be committed to an insane asylum, for she does not obey her husband's wishes and defiantly follows her own conscience, especially when it comes to the issue of slavery. Iris cannot bear the punishment of slaves on the plantation, nor forgive her husband's lack of compassion for the slaves' families and dignities. The Civil War is ending, but Iris still sees the horrors of slavery around her. With the help of the local judge, she is found insane and sent away.

The island sounds like paradise. Wide sandy beaches, palm trees in the breeze, the bluest water, all of this is far beyond any beauty she has seen before. The staff on the island, the guards and nurses and doctor, are monsters of power and control. Iris's instinct is to rebel against these figure-heads, who do not seem to care for their work. She feels the worst has already happened to her. She does not know yet about the water treatment, although it is threatened quickly. Iris is too smart for Dr. Cowell's liking, and too pretty as well.

The doctor's son Wendell tells her of the swampland that surrounds the institution's grounds: alligators, snakes, mosquitoes and midges to bite a person to madness.

Iris bides her time. She meets another patient, someone she believes is not insane. They play checkers. They share stories. The authorities warn them against this "dangerous" behavior

As the year progresses, Iris becomes more determined to escape. She will need luck and help. Where can she turn for either?

While providing character, setting, and suspense, it is the details of Hepinstall's writing that drew me in. Iris wears a dress "to special for just any night in an insane asylum." "Moonlight came in ribbons" and "the slightest provocation would set off a tree-bursting, magma spewing, star-crumbling explosion." Hepinstall fills the work with imagined details in a way that flows naturally and allows the details to provide insight into mood and character.

This is a beautifully written book about a seemingly hopeless time and a seemingly hopeless conflict. BLUE ASYLUM goes on my "best reads" this year (2013) even though I am late to have found it. (It was published in April 2012). I bought the Kindle version. The editing and formatting also provided a smooth read.
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on March 28, 2014
I absolutely loved this book! I was originally drawn to it on the basis that the novel is set in the Civil War. While it is set in that time period, the book has many various characters who interact with each other but are seperate based on their own personal stories. While Iris is set to the asylum based on a court finding her to be insane, she runs into many people who have their own backgrounds that make up one large picture. The doctor, who believes that everone can be cured, his son who thinks he really is going crazy, Ambrose who is a Civil War soldier, can't seem to get past his flashbacks from the war and the other patients who are all dealing with their own personality quirks of sorts. While Iris is bound and determined to escape, she feels that by taking Ambrose with her, she can take care of him and love him. Unfortunately, her belief is that this will help carry them through their journey together outside the asylum walls.

While I will not say how the booke ends, this was one that I could not put down. While each character has their own issues, they all tie in together in one way or another. The book did not end the way that I would have liked to have seen it (the characers living happily ever after), the fate that the author has given them is very appropriate for the storyline that is presented here. In the end, they must all come to terms with the hand life has given them. Overall, I loved the book and felt it was well written, thought out and an interesting read. At the end of the day, everyone must find their own sense of happiness and that is what the author has done.
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on November 19, 2012
This was a first time read for my by Kathy Hepinstall. It won't be my last. This story is part historical fiction; set in Civil War time, part love story and part self-help. The reader is introduced to a handful of characters who all come together at Sanibel Island where the Blue Asylum is located. Hepinstall's use of imagery of the island makes you feel like you have arrived and you almost can feel the sand under your feet, experience the blue ocean and taste the salt in the air. Beyond the beauty however, lies a tale of personal agony, a variety of mental illness and broken people all sent here to be cured, healed and in some cases to be simply forgotten.

The author delivers us interesting characters with complex diagnoses. We first meet Iris who gets sent to the island after a trial initiated by her husband declares her insane. We meet the infamous Dr. Cowell who heads the asylum and his wife and son who also reside there. He has a strong ego and believes he can cure the most insane with his style of treatments which consists of drugging, restraining and water torture. The irony with the Cowell family is that each of these characters over time, reveals their own mental flaws which could have made them patients themselves.

We meet Ambrose, who is a victim soldier of the Civil War suffering from PTSD over the death of his friend Seth, Lydia who has been sent to the asylum for speaking against her husband and expressing opinions over the government who now has a penchant for swallowing non-food items and some others who have various mental frailties.

The story brings to the surface how much of a stronghold men had over women, how the world viewed and treated mental weaknesses and how important our civil liberties are to us in the United States. It begs the question, can some mental illness be cured by just giving and receiving enough love, forgiveness and acceptance?

Although I had several unanswered questions when the book ended, I was able to draw some of my own conclusions. This book has sparked a lot of great dialogue within my Book Club members. Give it a try!
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on March 14, 2014
This isn't the type of book I usually pick out, but someone recommended it to me and it sounded interesting. The story deserved a 3, the writing deserves a 5. Though I can't say that the story wasn't interesting and wonderful, I felt like there was something big coming just around the corner…and it never really happened! Or at least when it DID happen it was a let down. There's a beautiful story here, and the author starts the story at the asylum and brings up the memories of particular characters in really great ways. Those back stories were sometimes better than the story that was presently unfolding in the book. However, the author really keeps you reading by building up the plot. I found the end try abrupt but I did like the overall story, even though it left a bit to be desired. The writing was just phenomenal. The way the author wove words was artful, and I think that the book is definitely worth reading just for that.
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on March 1, 2015
I really enjoyed the story of Iris and her struggles, affected and informed by the Civil War as it drew to a close. I'm a fan of novels set in this time frame, but while I enjoyed the author's great attention to historical reference, it was her secondary characters that I enjoyed the most. the patients, the matron, and the precocious Wendell, a fourteen year old boy who makes all the difference to the story. It was Wendell's life lessons that I enjoyed the most.

Thus isn't a big book, but well written with lovely language. Kathy Hepinstall has a great way with words, has you reading sentences over again just because they're so well articulated. I highly recommend this great read.
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