Woman 99

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Woman 99 is a brilliant exploration into female insanity, and the horrific conditions in which thousands of women lived during the 1800s (and beyond). Set in a fictional asylum, the author notes at the end that every method of "treatment" described is indeed one that was actually used at some point in history, and this knowledge lends an even stronger sense of unease to the reader. 

I have a macabre interest in this period, particularly the exploration of female insanity, and how so-called experts were quick to dismiss very real problems in women, from post-natal depression to simple sadness at their lot in life. Women had very little choices back then, and it is glaringly obvious now that this played a huge part in how women felt. If you're unaware of the era, Woman 99 is an excellent way to begin. It is rather tame in comparison to other books set in this period - that is to say, it does not describe some of the more horrific treatments (or abuse) in great detail - and it is allows the reader a deep understanding of how Charlotte Smith and her fellow characters felt at the time, and what they were up against. Forced marriages to brutish men, shame for seeking sexual pleasure, even being discouraged from reading too much, and a variety of other things that some modern women may take for granted. Although, the echoes of these societal expectations are still very much felt today. 

In short, Woman 99 is a thrilling novel, and kept me hooked from beginning to end. The deeper themes are handled very well, and the characters are all fleshed-out and engaging.
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I enjoyed this book from the first page and was instantly captivated by the story. Woman 99 honors the women of the past, born into a world that denied them basic human rights but underestimated their strength. This is a fascinating story of a woman trying to free her sister, who has been committed to an insane asylum in the late 1800's. It’s time when women could be put into insane asylums for many reasons, none of which had to be a mental illness. It explains perfectly what it is to become a number, no longer a human, but part of the institution. I got emotionally involved with all of the characters, and was pulled into the plot effortlessly until the very end. Great work. I highly recommend this one. I received this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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Charlotte Smith‘s sister, Phoebe, has always been subject to rages of temper and bouts of giddiness.  Charlotte has always considered that a facet of her personality and is utterly shocked when her parents choose to send Phoebe off to the secretly infamous Goldengrove asylum as Charlotte’s wedding approaches – something Charlotte blames herself for.

Charlotte adores her sister and cannot envision life without her.  Though she’s been trained to be a proper society miss, the daughter of a shipping magnate who’s been betrothed to a loathsome man at her family’s behest, she’s dissatisfied with the world around her, and is exhausted by having to be quiet, good and reserved.  So she decides it’s her duty to rescue Phoebe from Goldengrove, which she effects by faking a suicide attempt.  Convinced she can use her father’s name and influence to rescue her sister from the clutches of the asylum, she learns the ropes but finds herself mired in its social strictures instead.  As she climbs her way up the ladder of authority, searching all the while for the elusive Phoebe, she remembers her love affair with the handsome Henry – the man she’s truly in love with, the brother of her fiancé.  Thoughts of him give her the mental strength to carry on.  Like her heroine, Nellie Bly, Charlotte is going to have to use her wits, her strength and keep her hopes and faith paramount if she wants to find Phoebe.

Shannon Dyer and Lisa Fernandes read Woman 99, and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.

Lisa: This book was fabulously entertaining and very well researched, but I did have a bit of a problem with the way the story was told.  How did you like it, Shannon?

Shannon: I didn’t find the actual storytelling to be a problem. I love the idea of someone going undercover, so to speak, so I was fascinated by Charlotte's journey inside the institution. I was hooked into the story pretty quickly, and I honestly hated to put the book down. What did you find troubling?

Lisa: I didn’t find it troubling exactly, but I did find the telling a bit pat.  Charlotte was interestingly complex.  On one hand, she seemed to be using her sister’s imprisonment as an excuse for rebellion and adventure; on the other hand, she was truly dedicated to Phoebe and protecting her, sacrificing herself to an almost alarming level in the name of their love. How did you feel about her?

Shannon: I found Charlotte pretty easy to relate to for the most part. I'm not sure she always made the best decisions, but her heart was definitely in the right place which counts for a lot with me. She could sometimes be a bit too idealistic, but I'm guessing that had a lot to do with her privileged upbringing.

Lisa: This is primarily a story about sisterhood, and Phoebe is just as complex as Charlotte.  What did you think of her?

Shannon: Phoebe is a character I wish I could have known better. We see her almost exclusively through Charlotte's lens, so I found it difficult to get a firm grip on what kind of person she actually was.

Lisa: That’s interesting; I think Charlotte had a tendency to see Phoebe as helpless because of her (unnamed) bipolar disorder, which should have provided more conflict – while Phoebe saw herself as anything but helpless, anything but a victim.  Moving on, Charlotte’s love for her true love, Henry Stilwell, is interestingly expressed (She wants to touch his beard).  How did you feel about Henry’s relationship with Charlotte?  Would it be any better than the horrible one that might have been with George?

Shannon: It's obvious from the very beginning that Charlotte adores Henry, but there were times I found myself wondering if she actually loved him, or if she was in love with the idea of love in general. I definitely think life with Henry would be preferable to life as George's wife, since George obviously had some issues that run deep.

Lisa: I think a choice Henry made at the very end spoke to his character, but there really was a sense that Charlotte might not be as compatible with him as she thinks. Speaking of which, the speed at which Charlotte reaches an epiphany about her social position and class distinction felt rather speedy – perhaps because she was already aware of the differences between the classes and sexes very early in the book. In fact, the pacing overall was a problem at times for me.  The book also makes some rather pat observations about the pre-feminist world that has ensnared these women and dumped them in the asylum.  What do you think about how the book delivered its message?

Shannon: I would have liked Charlotte to take more time coming to what is, in my opinion, the most important part of the book's message. It's clear she led a pretty sheltered life up to this point, so I struggled a bit to understand how she could have such a deep understanding of issues of social class. She does slip up a time or two, but she realizes her mistake quickly and recovers well. I'm just not sure how realistic that kind of social awareness would have been for someone in Charlotte's position.

Lisa: The girls’ mother’s intensely personal losses have left her obsessed with keeping her daughters safe, something that I found to be highly relatable; naturally this resulted in the girls feeling stifled and rebelling.  What did you think of her, what little we saw of her?

Shannon: Mrs. Smith is one of those mothers who tries way too hard to keep her daughters from any harm. I can understand a mother wanting to do this, but Mrs. Smith took it to the extreme. She was also far too focused on what her friends and neighbors would think about various things, something that drastically impeded her ability to be a good and supportive mother.

Lisa: There are heavy allusions to Greek mythology woven throughout the text. What did you think of that?

Shannon: I've always been fascinated by mythology, and the Greeks are especially interesting. The idea of naming the various hospital wards after the nine muses was great. Of course, the treatments that went on in those wards was not so great, but that's a completely different subject.

Lisa: The other women in the asylum are just as different as Charlotte and Phoebe.  Did you like any of the inmates?  Feel any sympathy for the asylum workers?

Shannon: I found myself drawn most to Esme and Jubilee. Both are courageous, but in very different ways. Jubilee is loud and brash, while Esme seems content to keep to the shadows.

Lisa: Jubilee was my favorite too!  So, what’s your final grade?  I’m giving this a B-; involving, engrossing character work, impeccable research, beautiful statements about love and sisterhood – but the big messages of the book have been done before, and better.

Shannon: I'm going higher than you with a B+. I flew through this book and was never bored, but Charlotte's idealism and the underdeveloped nature of the romantic elements keep this from DIK territory. I'm definitely interested in seeing what else this author has to offer.

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Charlotte and Phoebe Smith had a privileged upbringing in Nobb Hill in San Francisco. Their Mother planned their lives and had high hopes for both girls - hopes that they would marry well. But Phoebe began exhibiting "behaviors" these bouts of mania that were harder and harder to control until one day her parents have her committed to Goldengrove, an asylum for women... madwomen. Women who may in fact be mentally ill as well as women who did not comply with the norms of society, women who were indigent, women who were placed there by husbands who wanted to replace them, women who had no choice or say in their lives. 

Charlotte reflects on their childhood and all the times her sister has saved her and decides that she must return the favor. So, she comes up with a plan to have herself committed. She thinks she will be able to get into the asylum and leave with her sister. Oh, if things were only that easy. Once committed, she becomes woman 99, stripped of her identity and known as a number. There she learns that getting her sister out won’t be easy, life in the asylum is difficult and the women are subjected to horrific forms of treatment, and that those in charge will not be willing to let them just walk out the front doors.

This book started out very slow for me and I was a little worried. Then Charlotte was committed, and things picked up for me. The Author did a great deal of research and talks about it in her notes at the end. She has her characters receiving the "treatments" that were given at those times in asylums (pulling out of teeth, water treatment, etc.). They are scary and horrific. These treatments really happened and makes one wonder, how much happened as a result of abuse of power vs. the belief those cures would work…hmm. The book also shows how women were treated in terms of being able to marry who they wanted and how little say and power that they had over their lives. 

This book also showcases strength, determination, love and courage. I found the book to be well-written and I appreciated the research that went into writing this book. Slow to start, it pulled me in and me caring and worrying about the women in the asylum - not just the sisters. I found this to be a solid thought provoking read.

Thank you to Source Books Landmark and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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Wow!!! This book is a very superbly written courtroom drama that will evoke feelings of empathy and leave you spinning. Trust me, this is one you don't want to miss—it's going to be huge! Thank you so much to NetGalley for providing me with an Advanced Readers Copy.
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I think it’s a mistake to market this book as a historical thriller – I found it to be much more slightly edgy historical women’s fiction. I enjoyed it and it’s subject matter, but felt that it was a probably a mild account of an asylum and more paced like historical fiction
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Woman 99 by Greer Macallister was an engaging quick read. I will be recommending this novel and hope to read more from this author in the future. Thank you for the opportunity.
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It’s hard to believe that women could be treated this way . But it’s historically true. Well drawn and sympathetic characters being this story to a full and satisfying read.
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Historical fiction done well, in a novel in the late 1880’s outside of San Francisco.  Charlotte does not want to marry the man her parents have chosen, mostly for a business deal.  Her sister Phoebe after defending her,gets sent to an asylum which houses both those truly in need, but also those inconvenient women their families want to hide away,those with ambition, or refusing to go along with plans established for them.  Charlotte finds a way to enter the asylum to find her sister and lead her out.  It was hard to put down as the harrowing descriptions of life for these women was told.  Recommended.
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A bit slow at first but once the characters are fleshed out, the plot picks up. Charlotte gets herself committed to a private insane asylum where her mentally ill sister is. The conditions are questionable to poor. To thicken the plot, Charlotte' s parents hope to marry her to the older son of the family who owns the asylum. Charlotte pines for the younger son.  Charlotte digs into her reserve of strength to get put in the asylum, but can she get out. Filled with the abuses of the time but also necessity of legitimate care, the Author creates a story that will stay with you.

Copy provided by the Publisher and NetGalley
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Fittingly, as Charlotte sank deeper and deeper into the asylum, this book tightened it's grasp on me -- until we reached the conclusion, which was the most satisfying ending I've read in a while.
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A historical fiction story of two sisters, one of which struggles with mental illness.  In the 1800-1900's women could be put into insane asylums for a multitude of reasons, none of which had to be a mental illness.  Treatments were varied and often harsh.  This story is one woman's plight to find and help her beloved older sister.   Well-written, highly recommend to readers of historical fiction.
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This was a thoroughly satisfying novel, from the first page to the last. I got emotionally involved with ALL of the characters, and the plot pulled me through each chapter effortlessly until the very end. It is a historical novel in the sense that we learn a lot about what life was like for women in the Gilded Age, and specifically about what mental asylums were like (horrific conditions, be forewarned).  In another sense, this is a brilliant story of how we can affect change, both in our personal lives as well as in the larger realm of society and culture.  It is also a story of vivid female courage and inner strength.  Highly recommend!

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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This is a story about one sister trying to free the other from an insane asylum in the late 1800's. This wasn't my favorite, but it was very well written for story line. Thank you Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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After reading Macallister's first book, Girl in Disguise, I was excited to try this one. This is a fascinating story of a woman trying to free her sister, who has been committed to an insane asylum near San Francisco in the late 1800's. I love the fierce female characters in this book, and how they act to save themselves from  society's expectations and cruelty. This is great historical fiction and I can't wait to see what the author writes next.
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Following in the vein of trailblazers like Margaret Atwood, this amazing novel by Greer McAllister is sure to become an instant classic.
Set in regency era England, it follows two sisters that end up in an insane asylum, and chronicles their struggles within. 
It's a chilling work, with correlations to the famous Asylums work by Goffman, it perfectly encapsulates what it is to become a number - no longer a human, but part of the institution.
The protagonist struggles with loss of self in the face of such a harsh and unremitting institution, and has to forcibly remind herself of her own personhood., whilst facing some harsh truths about the women that are incarcerated. 
It's truly absorbing - I read it in one hit, and was left both wanting more and happy with the character and plot arc and how the book ended. 
Most interestingly, I was very happy to read the authors note, where she acknowledges the book that inspired the novel, about the real stories and testimonies of women that were inside such institutions. She says it is haunting and chilling reading, and I feel she perfectly emulated that in her book, and made me want to see out her source material for my own reading also. 
Highly recommended.
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"Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness." (Allen Ginsberg)

Perhaps defining "madness" was as elusive in 1888 as it is in today's complicated world that seems to hand you a particular roadmap from birth and beyond.

Charlotte Smith has been raised within the elite finery of Nob Hill in this affluent section of San Francisco. She and her sister, Phoebe, serve as mere pawns on their mother's gameboard that will assure them fine marriages of convenience. Phoebe has never danced to the music heard only by her mother's ear. Phoebe's rhythm entails quite anti-social behavior and sporatic reactions to the confining cadence of the day.

And it is because of this that Phoebe will find herself whisked away by force one evening. Next stop: Goldengrove, an asylum for women who find themselves off course from that aforementioned life roadmap. "Madwomen" come from all walks of life. According to the doctors there, mental illness takes a seat at the table of the rich and the poor. Perhaps a little fresh air in Napa Valley is all they need. But gentle conditions are far from what transpires at Goldengrove.

Our girl Charlotte is devastated to find out what happened to her sister. We'll begin to see the naivete surrounding her as she wishes to replicate the research done by the famous female journalist, Nellie Bly, who feigned mental illness and wrote about her experiences in an asylum. All she has to do is get herself committed and bring back ol' Phoebe. Not so fast, Innocent Dear Heart.

Greer Macallister has done a fine job with her research on the historical methods of treating mental illness, especially in women. All identity is lost and women are relegated to a chalked number on the back of their dresses.........hence Woman 99. And finding yourself in the confines of an asylum was not based on idle threats. Husbands committed wives because of new love interests. Elimination of roadblocks to financial gains was another reason. Questioning a man's authority could get you a front row seat in the asylum of his choice.

Well written, painfully honest, and filled with underlining era threads, Woman 99 is quite the read. I shudder to think what my own number would have been.

I received a copy of Woman 99 through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and Greer Macallister for the opportunity.
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