Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

Color me a litle wackadoodle… but ever since One Flew Over The Coocoo’s Nest, I have had a little thing for books and movies centered around insane asylums.  And if you also are drawn to such topics… you know they are few and far between.  Nobody…. quite literally…

wants to go there.

Well, until now.  When Iris Dunleavy during Civil War time is convicted of madness for being willfull (and yes, I should watch my back!), she is sent to Sanibel Asylum – not a nice little r and r at a local country club, nope… a full fledge asylum with a plethora of interesting, and colorful, characters. 

The plan is that Iris is to work the program and be restored to the obedient woman her hubby thinks she should be and then she will also be restored to her wifely duties.  Iris of course knows she is not mad, simply strong willed and standing up for her rights.  However… mad may be preferable to her life she had…

And then there is Ambrose Weller, a war-haunted Confederate soldier who is calmed only by the color blue.  Iris finds herself drawn to him and as she plans a way out of this dreadful place she ponders if she could possibly make a break for two, bringing Ambrose along with her to a life she knows nothing of…

I have been reading a few lighter more “summery” reads as of late and Blue Asylum is quite a bit different from that genre.  Quite truly Historical Fiction Blue Asylum is a book with a back bone, and that backbone is named Iris Dunleavy.

I was happy to meet the strong and witty Iris within the pages of this book.  She is just the type of female character that keeps me turning pages.  Having heard how well Kathy Hepinstall writes, this brilliant protagonist did not surprise me… however, what did, was the surrounding characters who also felt three-dimensional, and actually made me feel for them.  I like that.


A cast of fun characters burst forth from Hepinstalls mind – a woman who like to swallow things… really anything… rings, whatever.  Another who believes her husband is beside her as she talks to him and walks with him day in and day out…  another, a man whose feet are too heavy to move… and of course Ambrose, who is haunted by a war that only the color blue seems to sooth…

What I really enjoyed is how Iris interacted and even helped each person in a way.

a little bit historical… a little bit romance… for me a pleasant mix that left me thinking after that final page was closed.

Little bonus for Asylum enthusiasts…. I found this site for famous Asylums

Thank you TLC for sending me this review copy

that kept me reading and cheering Iris on!

About Sheila (Book Journey)

Bookaholic * Audio Book Fan *Bike Rider *Rollerblader *Adventure Seeker *Runner*Coffee lover *Fitness Fan * Movie junkie

Posted on May 23, 2012, in Book Review and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. I adore books about asylums, and you’re right, there simply aren’t that many. Have you read “Love in the Asylum” by Lisa Carey? I think you’d like it.

    I’ll be sure to add “Blue Asylum” to my list. Thanks, Sheila!

  2. I would have definitely been sent to an asylum…probably by the age of 12. lol great review.

    • LOL – yeah Lauren! I have also decided I would have been tried as a witch during the Salem Witch trials too as from my reading those women were just strong willed women as well 😀

  3. Oh, I enjoy books about madness, too, especially when that “madness” is having a backbone and not being obedient. Then I want to root for those characters. This one is definitely going on my list.

  4. I’ve got this book on my stacks and look forward to it after reading your review.

  5. I also really like books about asylums – very fascinating!

    Hope you are well. 🙂 I have been a bad blogger lately and wanted to stop in and say hi!

  6. I am not a fan of asylums but I was really intrigued by this book and bought it after reading a sample. Excellent review! I am glad to hear that you liked it. I think Iris sounds like a character I’d enjoy reading about.

  7. Sounds interesting! Wouldn’t it be horrible to be put in one of those against your will for the wrong reasons when nothing is really wrong with you???


    • Yes! When I read about the Salem Witch Trials….. hmmm… what was that authors name….. they were also strong willed women who were through to be witches because they were not meek and obedient. WOWZA,

  8. Asylum stories depress me. I always wonder whether some other alternative could have been found. Also asylum stories set upto the early 20th century are generally very forbidding and frightening as asylums were not handled by anyone enlightened either.

    • I am sure other alternatives could be found, it just seems that at the time, for whatever reason they thought this was the solution for anyone who seemed a little out of the ordinary, or to the standards others expected.
      Asylums (that link I put at the bottom of my review) really were frightening and the history of them amazes me…. you are right Mystica, frightening times! 🙂

  9. I love Iris and Blue Asylum! I posted a review yesterday. Hepinstall’s writing is lyrical and her characters are people you would recognize if you met them on the street. Everyone should read this, cheer on the heroine, and get to know 12 year old Wendell, the doctor’s son.

  10. I think I want to read this now. I”m actually reading my first book set in an asylum, I actually started it last night. It’s a murder mystery written back in the 30s

  11. I’d already had my eye on this book, but after reading your review, I know I must get my hands on a copy!

  12. I read a book set partially in the Bethlem asylum in England, which was the root of the word “bedlam” … it was pretty horrible, but utterly fascinating.

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one. Thanks for being on the tour Sheila!

  13. LOL I love that description Heather “pretty horrible, but utterly fascinating”

  14. This is a horrifying but favoured reading topic of mine lol. Blue Asylum is going on my wishlist, thanks to your review Sheila although it does sound a little lighter than some I’ve read. If you want something darker try Women of Magdalene by Rosemary Poole Carter
    I’m off to check out the link to famous asylums 🙂

  15. I just loved this book, from the writing to the characters to the ending. It really touched me. I’m also attracted to books about mental illness probably because of my work. Great review!

  16. boardinginmyforties

    Sounds like one I will be adding to my list. Every since my Abnormal Psych professor in college regaled us with stories from his time spent working an an asylum, I have been fascinated with them!

  17. I loved loved loved Ambrose!!! But I am not so sure about Iris!! I know, I am weird. I thought she was a resourceful, resilient main character – I just wasn’t so sure about the all the choices she made.

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