The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

Tag Archives: Civil War

Blue Asylum


Typically a civil war novel depicts the destruction to land and family. Blue Asylum (A)  by Kathy Hepinstall focuses on the suffering of body, mind and soul.

Iris Dunleavy was raised in a quiet southern town. Her life seemed boring and uneventful and a local romance would offer her more of the same. One day a successful plantation owner visits and within a short period of time convinces her and her family that they should marry. She believes she has made a good choice but the honeymoon is quickly over. Joining a group of plantation slaves in their attempt to escape is her only way out. They are killed; she is captured and sentenced to an insane asylum on Sanibel Island in Florida.

There are many “lunatics” at the asylum. She isn’t one of them and believes she can convince Dr. Cowell that she doesn’t belong there. He is certain he can help her and restore her to her rightful place beside her husband.

Ambrose Weller, a patient suffering with his own demons becomes her friend, confidante and eventually her lover. Together with the help of Wendell, the doctor’s son, they hatch a plan for escape.

Hepinstall delivers a powerful story in Blue Asylum with characters that are vulnerable and captivating. There is clearly a fine line between sanity and madness. Can lunacy be cured? Is loving someone enough to make it happen or is thinking this madness too?

Blue Asylum is uniquely different than other novels in this genre. The telling of the story is compelling and thought provoking. I know that you will want to read it too. This is the perfect book for further discussion.



Based on reviews, I was eager to read Neverhome (B) by Laird Hunt. I always enjoy reading novels set during the Civil War. Neverhome approaches the topic very differently than any other I have read.

Hunt’s character Constance “Ash” Thompson is drawn from the real life of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman who disguised herself as a man (Lyons Wakeman) and fought for the Union during the war. Though Ash is fictitious the realities of battle are graphically authentic.

Constance left her farm in Indiana to fight the battle that her weak husband, Bartholomew, could not. She is the narrator of the story that takes her to battle and beyond. By the end of Part I she says, “…. into the start of my hell.” What follows is harrowing and hellish. It is where she begins to unravel and it becomes extremely difficult deciding what is reality and what is a dream.

A quote from Paul Auster, written on the book jacket says, “Its sentences seem to rise up from the earth itself”. While I agree that the prose is earthy and raw, I found it at times difficult to read and understand. I often read sentences two or three times trying to decipher them.

I would love to say for everyone to read Neverhome but it definitely is not for everyone. Neverhome is for those that like to read the naked truth about war and the lives it touches. I often read before going to bed. Neverhome is not a bedtime story. It is, however, worth reading. Forevermore books I read set in this time period will be colored by the thoughts and images of Neverhome.

My Antebellum Phase

This week I seemed to be in an “Antebellum Phase” and read two novels from that time period.  The first, The Rebel Wife (B) by Taylor M. Polites has the reader caught up in the politics that affected both white and black people after the Civil War.  Augusta Branson’s husband of ten years has just died.  Soon she will learn that the fortune that she thought she had is gone.  Her husband was involved in many activities before and during their marriage that are a complete surprise to Gus.  She pretty much lived in a well do to environment focusing on her needs.  She didn’t love her husband and was forced into marrying him by her mother and Uncle.  That very Uncle, Judge, has been anything but fair and honest.  As Gus tries to save herself and her household from disease and poverty, she learns about her own strength and determination.

The Healing (B) by Jonathan Odell was the second book I read.  Granada was born a slave but shares the birthday of the master’s daughter Becky.  Becky dies at age 12 from cholera.  In order to comfort and save the mind of the mistress, Granada is given to her.  She is raised under the guidance of Aunt Sylvie the house slave and local healer.  Sylvie passes on her healing powers to Granada.   She is split between the world of slavery and the life of a white girl. As Granada narrates her story we learn how both impact her future.

The Civil War in historical fiction appeals to me the most.  I wouldn’t consider either of these books to be favorites but each well depicts the time frame.  Polites, in The Rebel Wife, did extensive research and incorporated reliable and accurate information in his novel. I learned a lot about the politics of antebellum and the life of the freed slave post emancipation.  The Healing was fun to read and satisfied my historical fiction craving.  I’d recommend both but not maybe in the same week.  I, now, seem to be stuck in the late 1800s 🙂