Thursday, January 8, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Blue Asylum

This is a book review for Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall. I am using this book for my TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader.

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? 

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. I give this book a 3/5.


  1. My thoughts were pretty similar to yours on Blue Asylum. It was interesting to read how the mentally ill were cared for {and those stuck in the asylum who were not mentally ill}. It could have been such a compelling read but kind of fell flat. btw, a complete separate thought ~ I really like your background! It's so bright and colorful and almost looks like modern art!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by Stacy! Yeah Blue Asylum could have been done so much better, but it was just eh. And thanks for the nice words about my background. Believe it or not, the background is a picture I took at an old bookstore in Venice, Italy. :)