About the Book:
In the shadows of New York City lies forbidden North Brother Island, where the remains of a shuttered hospital hide the haunting memories of century-old quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned by contagions and the doctors who torment her.
When Finn, a young urban explorer, arrives on the island and glimpses the enigmatic woman through the foliage, intrigue turns to obsession as he seeks to uncover her past–and his own family’s dark secrets. By unraveling these mysteries, will he be able to save Cora? Will Cora meet the same tragic ending as the thousands who’ve already perished on the island?
The Vines intertwines North Brother Island’s horrific and elusive history with a captivating tale of love, betrayal, survival, and loss.
Release Date: March 23, 2021
Letter from the Author:
I hope this letter finds you and your family healthy and well during this challenging time.
Like far too many coronavirus patients, I’ve spent dozens of nights hospitalized. While in the ICU, on oxygen therapy, I feared that my lungs would fail me before daybreak. I know how it feels to struggle for air, and the terror that comes with that. –Not as a result of contracting the virus, but rather, because of a leukemia diagnosis that caused pooling of blood in my lungs. As a result of my past trauma, I have deep empathy for those who’ve experienced severe complications from COVID-19, and for those who’ve lost loved ones.
Despite being nine years out from my diagnosis, I still grapple daily with my fears and anxieties. When details were first emerging from China of a novel virus that causes acute respiratory syndrome, the notion of a new threat to my—or a family member’s—lungs, triggered my PTSD.
The first symptom of my cancer was the death of our baby at twenty weeks gestation. While inpatient, I lay awake each night, weeping over her loss and for the eighteen-month-old I was forbidden to see because her germs could kill me. Frequently, I asked for opiates to numb the emotional as much as the physical pain. Daily, I received blood transfusions. Throughout, I experienced 105-degree fevers, dangerously high blood pressure, hemorrhaging of the eye, a full-body hive outbreak, migraines, vomiting, and severe bone pain. During this period, I spent a total of two hours with my toddler. By the time I returned home, she’d stopped asking for me.
If someone in my family contracted this new virus, it could be similiarly traumatic, I’d reasoned in January 2020. So I ordered four re-usable N-95 masks, hand sanitizer, and surgical gloves. At the time, the
outbreak was contained to Wuhan, and my family was amused by my purchases. In early February, my mother humored me by tagging along on a trip to Costco so she could push my second cart.
My “prepping” was not solely driven by the emotional scars of my cancer ordeal. Additionally, I feared this virus before doing so became rational because I’d spent several years researching and imagining contagions, quarantines, and elusive treatments while writing The Vines.
For the three years of treatment that followed my leukemia diagnosis, much of my writing was for my cancer blog, focusing on the themes of disease, fear of death, isolation, loss of a child, infertility. But also: survival, courage, healing, and hope. Through that process, the heroine of The Vines—and her foil—were born. Before these two strong women, however, came the setting:
Death. Decay. Despair. Those were my first impressions of the abandoned campus on North Brother Island. Diving into research, I learned that North Brother Island’s past was, in fact, rife with misery. The haunting online images of Riverside Hospital, originally a contagion hospital and later an experimental heroin rehab clinic, provided gut-wrenching context to the grisly historical essays.
I decided that a novel set there should incorporate Riverside’s 125+ year evolution, its actual inhabitants, and the details captured by on-line photographs and Christopher Payne’s non-fiction book, North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City, for which I attended the standing-room-only book signing. After meticulously cataloguing every map, image, and historical detail available, I took a deep breath and began structuring an epic tale that I truly believed I’d earned the right to tell.
Now, as I look at my nearly empty “emergency supply closet” and the still alarming headlines, the fact that the novel I’d written pre-COVID feels like it had been created with the benefit of hindsight is incredibly unnerving. Hopefully, this crisis will soon be behind us all, and the conclusion to my planned series, which begins with The Vines, will be read during a time when the anxieties of today feel like a distant memory.
Thank you so much for your interest in my debut novel.
Warm regards, Shelley Nolden
Shelley Nolden has written a historical fiction story that incorporates suspense, mystery and thrills. This intense book is set on North Brother Island which is an actual place located in New York City. The author has meticulously researched the setting, as well as a real former hospital that actually existed at one time on the island.
If you a fan of medical mysteries and psychological thrillers, you will love this book. The story alternates between the past and 2008, and relates to the hospital that was used in the past to house contagious patients, and later as a hospital for drug addicts. The author has exquisitely researched the history of plagues and contagious diseases and her hard work really shows on the pages of this chilling novel.
The book begins with Finn who is fascinated by the island and is shocked to stumble across a woman who we later learn is named Cora. How has she survived in her own on this remote, hidden island? Finn’s ancestors were doctors on the island, and eventually, he and Cora’s pasts collide together as the full story of the island and the people who lived there is revealed.
There are lots of chillingly evil characters and some very graphic scenes involving medical and biological testing. It is amazing that the author has written such a timely story during this time of a pandemic and her Reader Letter is simply astounding! She brings a unique insight to this thought-provoking mystery.
Most of the main characters are fictional but there are also many real-life figures woven into the story. Typhoid Mary even makes an appearance! There are also real historical events described in this book. It definitely ends on a cliff-hanger and I can’t wait to see where this very unusual story goes in the future!
(Thank you the author for the advanced review copy provided in exchange for an honest review.)
About the Author:
A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Shelley Nolden is an entrepreneur and writer, now residing in Wisconsin. Previously, she lived in the New York City area, where she first learned of North Brother Island. At the age of 31, Shelley was diagnosed with leukemia and completed treatment three years later. The sense of isolation and fear she experienced during her cancer ordeal influenced her debut novel, THE VINES.
About the Editor:
Benee Knauer was the developmental editor for THE VINES. Her other projects include editing Sarah Pekkanen’s and Greer Hendrick’s New York Times bestsellers, The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl (a #1 New York Times bestseller) and writing and adapting the just released and critically acclaimed When They Call You A Terrorist (the YA version).