Woman 99

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

This was a somewhat enjoyable read, but I found the plot a bit unrealistic in parts. The protagonist seems really silly and immature. She plans to get her sister out of a mental asylum by sneaking in as a patient, and then revealing her real name once she has her sister, and they will be happily released together. Like, seriously, this is your plan? There are also other parts that just didn’t add up to me, and some coincidental events that didn’t seem realistic.

I found the beginning dragged, and it didn’t pick up the pace until halfway through. However, the author has obviously done a lot of research into mental asylums from this era, and the insight into this topic was very fascinating. Also, the relationships between the characters did feel genuine, which I always think are the foundations of a good story, so this saved it for me.
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This book’s description immediately resonated with me. I love all things turn of the century, plus I also love reading about early science and medicine.

One day, one of my fellow book blogger friend and I were discussing how much we wanted to read this book. In the end she emailed the publicist for this book and shamelessly begged for an ARC for the both of us.

Which we were so happy to receive! This book was high on my list of TBR and I was eager to get to reading. As soon as it arrived I set aside all my other books just so I could start this one first. Not only if the cover gorgeous and intriguing, but the plot was one that I couldn’t get out of my head no matter how hard I tried.


A vivid historical thriller about a young woman whose quest to free her sister from an infamous insane asylum risks her sanity, her safety and her life

Charlotte Smith’s future is planned to the last detail, and so was her sister’s – until Phoebe became a disruption. When their parents commit Phoebe to a notorious asylum, Charlotte knows there’s more to the story than madness.

Shedding her identity to become an anonymous inmate, “Woman Ninety-Nine,” Charlotte uncovers dangerous secrets. Insanity isn’t the only reason her fellow inmates were put away – and those in power will do anything to keep the truth, or Charlotte, from getting out (summary from Goodreads).


So this is a tough one for me to review. On one hand I absolutely loved it and was eager to sit up and read it late into the night, but on the other hand there were a lot of things that I didn’t think worked for me.

Let’s start with what worked. The setting and plot were exceptional. I loved reading about the asylum and the ‘patients’ that were there. It felt a little along the lines of Orange is the New Black. We get little details and glimpse into their lives and backstory which was captivating. I also thought Charlotte’s character arch and evolution were spot on and interesting.

But then there were some little things that I couldn’t help but be distracted by. One of the things was while there patient backstories were interesting, we only just scratched the surface. Same with the asylum and the treatment and condition of the patients, we got a hint but I think the author stopped at a taste instead of indulging the reader with a deeper examination of the setting.

This setting and the overall story begged to be longer and deeper. I loved the story and premise itself, but there was part of me that was expecting more. The six week time period seemed too rushed to bridge profound change in the characters. Had it been more along the lines of six months, I think that would have done a lot for not just the plot but the principle characters as well.

That said, I still enjoyed the book and found that it was a very worthwhile read and I would easily recommend it to fans of historical fiction and suspense. I just think that the author needed to take the plunge with this one and dive deeper in the plot, we only just scratched the surface.

Book Info and Rating

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: March 5th 2019 by Sourcebooks Landmark
ISBN 1492665339
Free review copy provided by publisher, Source Books, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
Rating: 4 stars
Genre: historical fiction, suspense
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Many thanks to SourceBooks and Netgalley for the chance to read and review this novel!

As soon as I saw this cover and read the synopsis of Woman 99, I had to have it. I love "crazy" characters or those who think outside of the box. The idea of a book set in an asylum was something I've never read before but was eager to get into, especially a historical novel which drew from horrifying real-world experiences. I also love the idea of people being wrongly imprisoned and attempting to escape their circumstances. In every way, this novel seemed like everything I was looking for. 

Unfortunately, Woman 99 lacked the depth I was seeking. The characters felt one dimensional and I wasn't able to relate to them on a personal level or feel any emotion toward their struggles. The story felt incredibly long and tedious. I expected much more action and mystery from this book, but it just wasn't there. Important parts of the storyline were glazed over, while mundane details were explained in grand detail. I felt as if this made the story feel endless. Still, I wanted to stick it out because I felt as if I was missing something. There was a sense of foreboding as if an unexpected twist was about to jump off the pages. As I inched toward the ending, I knew that moment wasn't going to come. Things were wrapped up nicely, without loose ends, but the excitement was missing. The main thing I didn't like was that while the characters seemed to believe they solved the main theme of injustice, I felt as if it was swept under the rug for the sake of financial security. The characters were extremely lenient and I found that to be incredibly disappointing.

Thankfully this was not a completely terrible reading experience. I was impressed by the author's ability to make all woman from different walks of life band together in a show of strength. There was an intense theme of sisterhood in this novel that I relished in, not only between the two sisters at the helm of the story but with the majority of the characters, whether they liked one another or not. I liked the idea of adversity bringing the characters together, uniting them towards a common goal.

I also was interested in learning about the different forms of "rehabilitation" asylums practices in the late 1800s and early 1900s throughout the world. The ideas seemed remarkably backward and disturbing. It was wholly appropriate when Charlotte mentioned the asylum itself making the women crazy, not the other way around. 

My hopes for this novel may have been too high, leaving me disappointed by my unmet expectations. I know plenty of other readers loved reading this story, so please, don't let my opinions discourage you from reading if you're interested in Woman 99.
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I'll get right to it!  This was a five star book for me!! ...and I don't give out stars freely.  I was captivated from the first page and could barely put it down! I thought this was a very unique premise and Greer Macallister had me riveted with her vivid descriptions of the treatment of the women at Goldengrove, a Progressive Home for the Curable Insane.  All of the characters were well thought out and every event pertinent to the telling of the story.  This quick paced story had several surprising twists and turns and even a little bit of love!  

In 1888, Charlotte risks everything to rescue her sister, who has been committed to the infamous Goldengrove Asylum by their parents.  Charlotte manages to get herself committed to the asylum under an assumed identity, a la Nellie Bly.  As she looks for her sister she discovers women who have been committed out of convenience and not medical necessity.  She also discovers cruelly imposed treatments and wretched behaviors of the staff.  Will she find her sister?  Will they find a way out?
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4 solid stars Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for allowing me to read and review this ARC. Published March 5, 2019

Another great story from one of my favorite authors. Macallister has a flare for writing, like the tension in the air when a thunderstorm is brewing. With a practiced pen she brings you right into the story. Reading one of her books is like flowing through well worn grooves, expecting the best and knowing you will get it.

Two, well to do, sisters on the adventure of their lives. One sister committed to an asylum by family, the other entering of her own free will. Similar to the non fiction book Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly, this book gives a lot of detail about the treatment practices in this time period and the non-medical reasons women were institutionalized. Subjected to various forms of confinement, both solitary confinement and confinement to various man-made contraptions these women were always in peril. The asylum, and the treatment therein, made a grueling, but vivid background for this novel.

This book being fiction, some truths are recorded, and some liberties were taken. However in her Author's Notes, Macallister summed up what was true and what she brought to the story.
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WOW what a storyline..... Charlotte's wealthy parents have her sister Phoebe commented into the infamous Goldengrove Asylum. Charlotte knows that there is more to the story and decides to throw away her freedom and privilege and becomes woman 99.
This historical thriller was so good! The concept of woman beginning committed to an insane asylum for the wrong reasons is just jaw dropping. 
I look forward to read more from Greer!
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Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC. While I did find the premise interesting and a topic I was not aware of I found this novel to bore me in the middle.  The author did a nice job setting up the story.  However, I thought she spent too much time focused on each secondary character and too much filler.  I felt as if the book really picked up around 60% through.  I enjoyed it once it picked up all the way to the ending.
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This was a fantastic read showcasing the wonderful genre of Historical Fiction. We see a different setting in Woman 99 and I can't tell you how hard it was to put this novel down!
Great character list that pulled the story together. There were some I loved, some I loathed and some I just wanted to cry over. A wonderful story of love, lost, uncertainty and the will to survive!
Thank you NetGalley and Thank you Greer Macallister.
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This was an excellent historical fiction story. I liked seeing the growth of the main character Charlotte through the story. It was eye opening and heartbreaking to read about early mental illness treatment. Thank you NetGalley for the copy to review.
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I loved Woman 99 so much!! Mixed with historical fiction and suspense. Two of my favorite genres!! I found this family drama to suck me in right away, wanting to discover the mystery. My first by Greer Macallister. Thank you netgalley and Sourcebooks!
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“Though I had leapt into the water of the Bay not intending to die, it easily could have been my fate. Intending a thing had nothing to do with whether it came to pass.”

What an interesting story this turned out to be. I have always been drawn to the history of mental asylums and Greer Macallister has woven a lot of historical detail into this novel, particularly regarding the state of mental asylums, the type of treatments, the powerlessness of women and the ease with which they could be committed to an institution, most often with no options for release. This is one area of history where there is little light, it’s all saturating darkness and misery.

“Her official diagnosis was mania brought on by emotional turmoil. I hadn’t expected to see that. My gut clenched. Me. I was the turmoil.”

When Charlotte Smith’s sister, Phoebe, is committed to a mental asylum by their parents, she is left bereft, desperately missing her sister and also consumed with a misplaced guilt. She decides to deceive her parents and instead of visiting an aunt for six weeks of respite, she travels into the city and then walks off a jetty, plunging herself into the Bay of San Francisco. Her intent is to be committed to the same asylum as her sister so she can tell the staff there that her sister is not crazy and needs to be released into Charlotte’s care and returned home. 

Now, I had some real issues with this premise and as a consequence, it was touch and go for me at the beginning of this novel. I’m going to raise them here, not to be nit-picking, but to highlight that despite these flaws, it really is worth continuing with the novel (I’m serious, I was almost going to stop reading, the plot seemed so full of holes and obvious coincidences). Now, Charlotte could have drowned (which she later acknowledges), and she could have also been committed to a different institution, a state run one (there is mention of these throughout the text, some of which were closer to San Francisco than the one she ended up in). Then there’s the absolute naivety of thinking you can be committed to a mental asylum for attempted suicide and then just announce you are actually well and you’d like to take your sister home please. Thankfully, Charlotte realised the flaws in her plan reasonably early on in her stay at the asylum, which redeemed this aspect of the story for me. Yet, she still remained to a certain degree in a state of denial over the extent of Phoebe’s illness. At the start of the novel, her memories gloss over Phoebe’s behaviours and erratic moods, yet the longer Charlotte remained in the asylum herself, the more realistic her memories became. I liked how the author did this, like a dawning of realisation that may never have come to Charlotte had she not to a certain degree, ‘walked in her sister’s shoes’. Likewise, the folly of her plan rests heavily on Charlotte as the novel progresses, her time within the asylum stretching out, as every plan she concocts to leave gets foiled. Charlotte’s experiences were a real eye opener to the utter powerlessness of women in the 19th century (and in the centuries prior). Property of their parents only to be transferred across as the property of a husband. Tied up with these notions of women as property was the sad fact that not all of the women committed to the asylum were suffering from a mental illness. Many were just inconvenient to a parent or a husband, yet they were subjected to the same experimental and often cruel ‘treatments’ alongside the women who were actually mentally ill.

“I might never get out. It was time to admit it. I had set and sprung my own trap.”

While this novel is firmly historical fiction, it does morph into a thriller of sorts, as conditions within the asylum deteriorate and the women become restless with starvation and endless mistreatment. Disruptions break out and as staff are laid off and the remaining ones are stretched beyond their limits, plans are hatched for escape. When Charlotte makes a horrifying connection between one of the patients and her own outside life, rescuing Phoebe no longer remains her sole focus. So, what began as a little flimsy (for me) morphed into a solid storyline that was highly absorbing, deeply sad, and slightly horrific. All the essential ingredients! Oh, to have been a woman before the 20th century – you wouldn’t go back in time for quids. 

“A woman’s mind is a powerful weapon. She had used hers quite brilliantly.”

Thanks is extended to Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Woman 99 for review.
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This book was good enough to keep me interested from start to finish but without punding heart and sleepless nights.

It explores treatment of women in asylums and reasons they were sent there in XIX century really well and it's huge advantage of this novel.

The next one are good characters, and not only our main protagonist Charlotte, but also her fellow inmates like Nora, Martha or Celine.

I didn't like much the romantic plot, but I rarely care for romances in books. 

Anyway I rooted for Charlotte, her sister and her friends all the hime, hoping the story will end well.

I would recommend this book for fans of historical fiction and strong female characters.
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I voluntarily requested and read an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley.  I state this up front because it is the main reason why I kept reading despite feeling a total lack of bonding with the main character from the start.  Charlotte was presented as sheltered, pampered, and totally unaware of the realities of life beyond Nob Hill.  Her expectation (based on a true life account of journalist Nellie Bly) that she could infiltrate a mental asylum, find her sister, reveal herself to be sane, and walk out triumphantly with her sister was poorly conceived and unrealistic.
Nevertheless, the author's world building drew me in and kept me reading.  She introduced and fleshed out additional characters who made me care about them and want to see how their stories played out in the plot.
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A story of the bond between sisters that takes one far from their comfortable home in San Francisco to the darkness of an asylum to rescue the other. Woman 99 quickly caught my attention as protagonist Charlotte creates an elaborate plan to rescue her older sister, Phoebe, from Goldengrove Asylum. Once she's inside, Charlotte learns of the conditions that inmates face while also grappling with the reasons as to why women find themselves inside. 

Although it did have a bit of a slow burn in the beginning of the story, I really became swept away in the world that the author creates. But I did have to do so with a bit of disbelief as I found some of the scenarios could have only worked out as they did because this is a work of fiction. Yet, when I came to the author's note, I realized Charlotte's experience actually was inspired by a factual event involving American journalist, Nellie Bly. So I guess truth is more surprising than fiction. 

A book to look out for as it hits bookstores today(March 5th)!
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Charlotte and Phoebe are high society sisters in San Francisco. Phoebe just does not quite fit the mold. She has outbursts and long bouts of depression. Her parents send her to a famous asylum to recover. Charlotte takes it into her own hands to save her. Charlotte pretends to be insane to enter the asylum and find her sister. This, of course, turns into more than she bargained for.

Charlotte is a lot tougher than she looks. She has a determination not many women have. Not sure I could have snuck into an asylum to save anyone. She encounters many different and unique women. Some offer help and some hinder. But, Charlotte is not a quitter and she has to use her intelligence to overcome many obstacles. There were places where I expected her to do something different than she did. So, she kept me guessing.

I fluctuated between 4 and 5 stars. This story starts slow and is a bit wordy. But, as the tale moves along….I could not put it down. The history surrounding the asylum really creates a story which is unstoppable. And boy, the treatments they went through had me spellbound. Give me a story about a hospital, asylum or old house and I am hooked.

I received this novel from Sourcebooks via Netgalley for a honest review.
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I received this from netgalley.com in exchange for a review. 

Charlotte Smith's wealthy parents commit her beloved sister Phoebe to the infamous Goldengrove Asylum. Charlotte knows there's more to the story than madness, she risks everything and follows her sister inside.

Nicely told and well written story of sisterly love, the injustices of the time and redemption. Some great quotable quotes. "A woman's mind is a powerful weapon. She had better use hers brilliantly". Good book. 

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Woman 99 is a fascinating look at mental health "care" in the 1800s. I particularly love the San Francisco Bay area setting, and the careful and authentic historical details. In addition to being a riveting thriller and an endearing story of sisterly love and courage, the texture of time and place is exceptional.
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In this newly-released historical fiction, Macallister tells the story of women who, in the late 1800s in the San Francisco/Bay Area, were involuntarily sent to a mental institution coined as the "cure for the curable insane."  However, we quickly learn that the institution is wrought with abuse, torture, malnourishment and beyond forced upon women who, in many cases, were not mentally ill, but rather "inconvenient."  Having recently read "The Home For Unwanted Girls" (Joanna Goodman), I found it hard not to compare the two.  In this novel, Macallister does a wonderful job describing the environment and how life was at the time, the views of women and the expectations placed upon them. However, like other readers, I found the first half of the novel a bit slow and lacking character development.  We don't find out much about the relationship between the sisters until after Charlotte put her plan in action-that is, to be sent to the mental hospital to rescue/retrieve her sister, who had been sent there by their parents.  The second half of the book gets better and I found myself burning through the pages to find out what happens to the girls--both the sisters and the other patients Charlotte befriends, in a way.  But something about the ending didn't sit well with me. It tied up too neatly.  And I found myself wondering, "Well, how would I have wanted the book to end?" We get all the answers we want, the girls end up fine, romance wins in the end.  I don't know what other ending would have been better, but for some reason it just felt too tidy. 

On balance, it was a good read, clearly well-researched and enjoyable.  But I'm not certain it's one I'll  be recommending to my friends and fellow book club members as a "must-read" in 2019.  Joanna Goodman's "Home for Unwanted Girls" was a much more compelling read and this one pales a bit by comparison.  

A 3.5 star rating for me.  I hope to see more of what this author produces!
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Woman 99 by Greer Macallister

Charlotte Smith is a young woman who has always tried to please her parents. It is 1888 and women really don’t have a lot of rights. She is interested in a young man but when her parents affiance her to his older brother and then her sister is sent to a mental institution and she wants to get her back...well...she takes matters into her own hand and does what she has to to get into the asylum. And, what an eye opener it was. While there she seeks her sister, meets women she realizes are not really insane, sees injustices, makes some friends and then when she is ready to leave realizes it might not be as easy to do so as she thought it would be. 

This is an intriguing story with twists and turns while giving an insight into the dark days of institutionalization of “lunatics”. Once inside they had no rights or recourse and often they were dumped there by family or society who didn’t understand them or want to deal with them any more. I sometimes wish that the person giving the treatment could experience it first hand but...that is not likely going to happen. 

Did I enjoy this book? Yes
Would I read another book by this author? Yes

Thank you to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for the ARC  - this is my honest review. 

4.5 Stars
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Excellent historical fiction from Greer Macallister. 

Two society born sisters, Phoebe and Charlotte, neither who are happy, despite having everything they could ever want - aside from freedom. Charlotte is engaged to be married to a man she doesn't love. Phoebe is outspoken and what is now known as bi-polar. Their parents put Phoebe away in a mental institution, and Charlotte is determined to free her. 

Taking a cue from Nelly Bly, Charlotte 'sneaks' into the asylum, but is heartbroken by what she finds. Many of the residents are not 'mad', they just don't 'fit' in their families or in 'society'. Either way, Charlotte's quest to get in was much easier than getting her, and Phoebe, out.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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