The Vines by Shelley Nolden – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Shelley Nolden who is celebrating her debut thriller The Vines. Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of THE VINES, along with a mug that features a unique map of North Brother Island, a tea bag and bookmark (US only).

A Letter from the Author
December 2020

Dear Reader,

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 similarly 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.

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Shelley Nolden

In the shadows of New York City’s North Brother Island stand the remains of a shuttered hospital and the haunting memories of quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned there 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. Nolden skillfully intertwines North Brother Island’s horrific and elusive history with a captivating tale of love, betrayal, survival, and loss.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The forest was too still; he was being watched.

He tasted blood and realized he’d bitten his tongue. Another scalpel could whiz through the air, this time landing in an eye or the back of his head. Unlike all those who’d been incinerated or transported to Potter’s Field on Hart Island, his body would rot where it landed.

If Finn had respected his father’s ruling that North Brother had become too risky, he wouldn’t now be defenseless and alone, about to die on a deserted island surrounded by eight million people.

The faint hum of traffic underscored the proximity of help; so close, yet so far.

He knew his best option was to flee. Surveying the greenery, he spotted the tennis court fence that marked his escape route. Yet he didn’t bolt.

Either his invisible enemies were defending the woman, or they wanted to kill her, too. Assuming they hadn’t already sliced her throat, Finn and she, together, might be able to make it to his kayak. The currents would quickly carry them beyond the range of those blades.

With the daylight, a patrol might notice them leaving, but he’d gladly take an illegal trespassing charge over death.

A pokeberry plant blocked his view of the decaying bathroom. He eased aside a long, thin cluster of dark berries, revealing only more vegetation. He would have to get closer.

Shifting his pack onto his back, he realized that he’d dropped his sketchbook and turned to reach for it.

The air trilled.

A third scalpel—this one from above—stabbed the moleskin cover. Protecting his face with his hands, he looked up.

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 worked on Wall Street and 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 spellbinding debut novel, THE VINES.

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Buy the book at Amazon or Indiebound.


  1. Debra Guyette says

    Thanks for the amazing post. You must be a very strong woman. My heart goes out to you and I hope you continue. I am looking forward to reading your novel.

  2. Lauren Clark says

    Wow, what an incredible letter. I am glad to see on your Facebook that you got a COVID-19 vaccine.

  3. Nell Reamer says

    All I can say is wow! You have been through so much and it truly amazes me that you were able to turn this around and put it into words for us to read. I am really looking forward to reading, The Vines!

  4. Lindsay Capowich says

    I am so sorry to hear this story. I’m sure it made you much stronger. I have a feeling this book is going to be phenomenal! I cannot wait to read it! Stay healthy!

  5. Tracy Wirick says

    Wow what a brave and courageous soul you are. I don’t know if I could’ve gotten through all of that. I’m so sorry. So thankful you made it through and I’m extremely honored and looking forward to reading your book.

  6. Diana Hardt says

    It sounds like a really interesting book. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Susanna Klein says

    Thank you for sharing your story and I’m so glad you were able to battle back from your diagnosis. What an inspiration. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  8. Mary M Brown says

    I can see through your letter here the striking resemblance to Cora. No wonder such a strong character, built from the mind of such a strong woman. Wonderful book, looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

  9. Beth Vollbach says

    You write so succinctly about your cancer ordeal and it’s after effects. I, too, suffered a trauma, although unlike yours. The car I was driving was hit by a drunk driver back in 1977. I was in a coma for two months after that and have suffered the after effects ever cents.

    THE VINES Sounds like a book I’d like to read and review. So I hope to win a copy. I post my reviews to various Internet sites such as,,,,, and

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