Tag Archives: Scottish Islands

THE ISLAND HOUSE …by Posie Graeme-Evans (2012)


I adore Scottish Island fiction and I was fortunate to find this novel at my local library. This is a dual-timeline story where both narratives center around a Scottish Island called Findnar (a fictional island) In the modern tale, the reader is introduced to young grad student named Freya Dane, who has just inherited an Island from her recently-deceased archeologist father. Freya had been estranged from her father for many years but she is also an archeologist and she is curious to learn more about his research – and maybe more about him.

The narrative switches back and forth between Freya’s story and the story of Signy – a Pictish girl in 800A.D. The time period is significant because it was a time of conflict between the Vikings, the Picts, and the newly arrived Christian community.  Signy’s entire family is slaughtered in a Viking raid and she taken in by the Christian community survivors. She also falls in love with an injured Viking youth left behind by the raiders. This story-line is interesting and  I’m thinking that the appeal should be quite timely; especially since tv shows like “The Last Kingdom” and “Game of Thrones”  have popularized hairy, tattooed men with swords, and clubs, and berserker warriors. Fun stuff.

Signy’s story is really quite interesting but I have to admit that I found Freya’s story dull . And her romance – yawn.

THE ISLAND HOUSE   Atria Paperback   2012   448 pages





























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THE ICE TWINS by S. K. Tremayne

Scottish Island Fictionice twins

“It is a traumatized yet beautiful landscape” p. 70

The Scottish Island in this novel is the perfect choice for a creepy thriller like “The Ice Twins”. Allow me to do a checklist; remote–yes, isolated– very,  unpredictable weather–you bet, unreliable communication–no wifi or cell service on this island. If that’s not enough- well, the locals call this Island a “thin place”, somewhere between our world and the next.  And this particular Island has been uninhabited for two decades, so throw in a dilapidated old house with lots of drafts and a vermin problem and this is the setting for this chilling thriller.

The “just-barely-functioning” Moorcroft family have quit London and  decided to take up residence on this Island off the coast of Skye, after the father (Angus) inherited the land from his Grandmother.  They have had a bad couple of years (understatement). It has been just over a year since one of their identical twin daughters died in an accident and the surviving twin, Kirstey (or is it Lydia) has been experiencing behavioural problems. Angus was fired from his job and Sarah (mother) is overwhelmed with grief and guilt. There is also a problem involving the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Somehow, moving to this spooky island is going to help? Is there method to this madness?

The story is told by alternating the points of view between Angus and Sarah. Personally, I was surprised by some of the twists and turns. The author manages to use the eerie setting  to great advantage and some of the characters are soooo… creepy.

The author is a travel writer and this Island is based on an island he visited in his youth. There are photos that accompany the text and I can only assume that they are from this same island; Eilean Sionnach. I like the photos – they’re a nice touch.

THE ICE TWINS by S. k. Tremayne

Grand Central Publishing, 2015



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THE ISLAND HARP by Jeanne Williams…..(St. Martin’s Press, 1991)

Scottish Island Fictionisland harp

The year is 1844 and Mairi and her family live a simple but satisfying life on the Island of Lewis in the Hebrides. They raise sheep, weave their tweed fabrics, farm, fish, and send their young men to fight in the English Queen’s army; all this to ensure their rents are paid to the factor and that they may remain on the land. But sheep are a more profitable use of the land than humans so they are deceived and men are sent to turn-out the villagers and burn their homes and processions. Mairi’s beloved grandfather is killed during this attack, although his prized harp is rescued.  The villagers are still dazed by what has happened when an Englishman, who has been renting a nearby estate, stumbles upon them and offers some temporary shelter. It is during this time of “the clearances” that many islanders will immigrate to North America or Australia but Mairi is determined to remain on the land of her ancestors.

Now allow me this awkward digression while I reminisce about a 60’s American tv show called “Green Acres” and trust me that I will eventually make a point about this. This is a very basic outline——-In this comedy sitcom, a successful Park Avenue lawyer leaves city life behind and purchases a farm (a fixer-upper in the extreme) and moves there with his socialite wife. On many occasions throughout the show, people ask this fellow (Mr. Douglas) why he chose to become a farmer. And he answers them. He usually delves into a speech about the farmers being the backbone of the country …. and ancestors turning to the earth……planting small seeds in the ground and watching plants shoot  into the air…..growing food and breathing fresh air…..and blah blah blah. During these speeches, the audience can hear a fife in the background playing a patriotic tune—usually Yankee Doodle or something.  Now here is where I make my connection, you see Mairi liked to give these impassioned speeches about her ancestors living on this land…the land and the music are a part of her….in her veins and body….and the unfairness of the English taking their land…and so on, and so on.  At this point I probably should have heard bag pipes or something in my head, but noooo—I had Pocahontas singing away. Weird right!  You think you own whatever land you land on, The earth is just a dead thing you can claim, But I know every rock and tree and creature, Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.  You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you…..”Colors of the Wind”
 Mairi gives alot of speeches and the reader is privy to her thoughts. Yeah so I spent a great deal of this book with Pocahonas singing in my head. It was like “don’t think of pink elephants” if you catch my meaning. I must say that “Colors of the Wind” is appropriate.

The Islanders have to deal with nonhuman problems as well –the potato famine, harsh weather, and angry seas. There is more to Mairi’s story but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory. I read some reviews before I read this book and some people found Mairi a little too headstrong but I liked her and I liked the book. Oh and there is a love story as well.

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February 6, 2015 · 12:39 am

THE SEA HOUSE…….by Elisabeth Gifford (St. Martin’s Press, 2013)

Capturesea houseScottish Island Fiction;

(Originally published as SECRETS OF THE SEA HOUSE)

I am enthralled with Scottish Island Fiction, and consequently, I am always trying to scope out a new book to feed my reading obsession. I’ve found one! THE SEA HOUSE is a dual narrative novel; a writing style that appears to be very popular of late.  I think of the authors Kate Morton, Lauren Wellig, Erin Hart, Susanna Kearsley, Diane Setterfield, Titiana de Rosnay and Ciji Ware (to name but a few) and their novels that feature the past and present intertwined. In “The Sea House” it is a house on the Isle of Harris that provides the link between the two narratives, and naturally it is a house by the sea.

The modern story begins in 1991, as a young married couple are attempting to renovate a dilapidated old house, with the hope they can run it as a Bed and Breakfast. As they lift the rotting floor boards in “the sea room” they make a gruesome discovery—the skeleton of a human baby with peculiar “fused leg bones”.  The police take the remains away but they can offer little information on this infant or why she was buried in such a manner. The wife, Ruth,  soon finds that she is beyond  curious about the baby and her research uncovers “a Reverend Alexander Ferguson” would have resided in the house during the approximate time-frame of the child’s death.

In 1860, Reverend Alexander Ferguson, is living in the sea house (it is the manse at the time); he tends to his parishioners but he also has a keen interest in Darwin’s work and an educational background in Scientific studies. Conflicting interests?–not for him, he has an answer for that. It is during this  time period  that the cruel Island clearances are taking place. Lord Marston is a despicable character whose greed and selfishness know no bounds as he ships the Island inhabitants off to other countries in filthy ships where death is a constant reality— all because sheep are a more profitable use of land than people.

This novel is heavily populated with the folklore stories of selkies,  mermen and mermaids (and some pretty darn interesting suppositions.)

On a personal note–I found myself caring about the 1860 characters (flaws and all) more than the modern Characters (and their flaws). By the end of the novel I thought I should have had more understanding for Ruth (maybe I did), but I just didn’t warm up to her. But I didn’t dislike her either–I was just sort of ambivalent.

This novel is delightful, insightful, interesting and enjoyable.

A great example of Scottish Island Fiction.

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PERSONALITY ……..by Andrew O’Hagan (Harcourt, 2003)




Scottish Island Fiction

Personality :

1. The set of emotional qualities, ways of behaving etc., that makes a person different from other people

2. A person of importance, prominence, renown, or notoriety, “a television Personality”

(from Merriam Webster online dictionary)


This is a fictional account of the rise and eventual fall of a child singing sensation in the 1970’s.The title of the book “personality” is both meaningful and appropriate. As this young girl becomes more of a “show biz personality” her own individual personality becomes absorbed by the expectations of the people around her. She is  surrounded by managers, talent scouts,  family, obsessive fans, and entertainers who all want to have a piece of her. She suffers clinical depression and anorexia nervosa (a condition that was still misunderstood in the 1970’s) and requires repeated hospitalizations.

At the center of this story is 13-year-old Maria Tambini—-“the little girl with the big voice”—- who, as this story opens, is already well-known, in her hometown, as a great talent. She is a 13-year-old Scottish/Italian girl who has spent her entire life in Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. Maria’s mother has ambitions for her only child  and when a talent scout arranges for her to appear on “Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green” her family and the entire Island are overjoyed for “their girl”   (“Opportunity Knocks” was a real British tv show fronted by an oily character, Hughie Green — sound familiar Simon Cowell X Factor) The British public were crazy for her. Her story is told from the different perspectives of the people surrounding her; family, managers, friends, Hughie Green, and even her stalker fan. In one chapter we see the revealing letters written between Maria and her childhood best friend, Kalpana.  Kalpana’s letters talk of school, boys and other preteen girl stuff ( and she complains that Maria almost never writes back), but Maria doesn’t write about much more than her make-up routine.

Her own reputation overwhelms and undermines her. At 13, she is beginning to develop a woman’s body but she is under pressure to be THE LITTLE GIRL with the big voice.  She is way out of her depth—this is a girl who had never seen a traffic light until she was thirteen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this fiction novel has to be based on the real-life story of Lena Zavaroni. Lena was a Scottish girl of Italian heritage raised in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute who became a singing sensation in the 1970’s. She was known as “the little girl with the big voice”.  I am Canadian and I have to admit that I was not very familiar with her story until I researched it a little after reading this book. My understanding is that she was huge in Britain. I went on you-tube where I was able to catch some of her performances and wow—she could really belt out a tune. (Think Judy Garland, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand) On you-tube I saw a performance where she appeared on “THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON” and I swear I saw that episode forty years ago. I would have been about fifteen and I sometimes stayed up late to watch Johnny—but there was something familiar–like it was there in the back closet of my mind. (Of course sometimes I can’t remember yesterday so maybe I am dreaming this) Lena’s story has a sad ending. When she was thirty- five she begged doctors to perform brain surgery to alleviate the symptoms of her depression. She died of pneumonia a few weeks later. She was said to be seventy pounds at the time of her death. There was an inquest

This is beginning to be a familiar story “child star unable to cope with life as an adult”  This novel provides possible insight.


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World War One Fiction set on Scottish Islands.

LETTERS FROM SKYE…..by Jessica Brockmole (Ballantine books, 2013) Wonderful novel told entirely through letters (epistolary style) encouraging comparisons to THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY…by Mary Ann Shaffer.  In the  Spring of 1912 an American college student is lying in bed recovering from a dorm prank gone wrong. A friend gives him a small volume of poetry. On a whim he sends the author (Elspeth) a fan letter, and she replies from her home on the Scottish Island of Skye.  They correspond  back and forth, sharing their dreams and disappointments. I have reviewed this book in greater detail in an earlier posting but I will say that the plot takes them through World War One and beyond. There is also a second narrative involving Elspeth’s daughter and a World War 2 romance. I loved this novel!

THE ROAD DANCE……by John MacKay (Luath Press, 2002). The road dance in the title was an event held to say good-bye to the first boys to leave the Island (Lewis)  for WWI. The author is a Scottish journalist/tv personality who spent his childhood summers on Lewis with his Grandmother. The book is published by a Scottish independent publisher but please do NOT read the back cover…all the major plot points are revealed in the blurb on the back cover. This book is beautifully written and very sad. A quote….”Sending their young men off to war had been a sad ritual for so long for the people of the island, and the dust of many of these boys blew across the historic battlefields of Europe and beyond. Yet again the King had called from far away, and the young bloods had rallied to the cry. And when the steel had clashed and the guns had roared and the victory had been won, those who were left would return home and be forgotten again. The Islanders knew this and yet they always marched.  It was God’s will some said” (page 71)  I have reviewed this book with more detail in a past post.

The sinking of the Iolaire was mentioned in  Peter May’s Lewis Trilogy ( sorry but I can’t remember which book) but one of the characters discovers that he is related to the Iolaire hero and it has a profound effect on his life.


letterroad dance

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Scottish Islands during World War 1

IolaireI am drawn to novels set on Scottish Islands; for years now I have tried  to get my hands on any and every novel featuring a Scottish Island setting.  Skye, Orkney, Lewis and Harris, Iona, Shetland, Barra,—well it could be a long list because there are over 90 inhabited Islands (although in some  cases the population may consist of a single caretaker or family). Of course two famous writers (Ann Cleeves and Peter May) have made it easier, each by setting a series on a Scottish Island.   I have reviewed many of these novels in greater detail in past blogs (and explained some of the reasons why they attracted me).

And….I have been presenting an overview of some  impressive World War 1 novels in my past few blogs and now I am going to continue with the war theme and add the Scottish Island theme. I hope my next few blogs might offer some choices and possibilities to readers who enjoy this type of fiction.

I have stated that my main interest is fiction–well this blog is about fiction—BUT right now, in this posting, I am going to indulge in some NON-fiction. I think the narrative I am about to present will give the reader some perspective with respect to the Islanders’ involvement in World War 1.  So I will break with form to tell…..

The Heartbreaking and True story of the HMY Iolaire,

The young men of Isle of Lewis had a long record of coming to the aid of king and country, and true to form, during World War One, Lewis contributed 6,200 servicemen to the cause, and that  from a population of 30,000.  When the  guns  went  quiet after the armistice had been signed….1,000 Lewis men had succumbed to the war. One thousand young men would never come home.  Six weeks after the armistice, Lewis servicemen (survivors of a hell on earth), were still being demobbed and preparing to return home to their Island . On New Years Eve, 9:30 p.m., the HMY Iolaire (Gaelic for Eagle) left the Kyle of Lochalsh and  set sail for Stornaway Harbour on the Isle of Lewis. These men had survived the obscenities of war….and they were going home. Families on Lewis were preparing to have their sons/fathers/brothers/cousins/husbands/sweethearts home for the new year. The ship had a maximum capacity for 100 persons yet 280 men were onboard that night. Just outside Stornaway harbour, the Iolaire hit a rocky outcropping known as “The Beasts of Holm” These rocks had long been known as challenging to navigate (even in daylight with a familiar crew….and even today). On January 1, 1919 the Iolaire sank. Many men drowned immediately with their heavy boots and full uniforms weighing them down and others were able to hang on to the masts for hours. Of the seven men gripping the masts, only one was able to hold on until rescued. And there was a hero……  A man named John F. McLeod managed to swim ashore with a rope. He secured it to a rock on the shore and it is believed that 40 men were saved by using this life line.  In the final count 205 men of the 280 onboard perished in the sea that night…….174 Lewis men,  7 Harris men and the rest were crew.  The entire Island was in mourning.

The first time I heard this story it was like a kick in the gut. They survived the war, only to die within sight of their home.

My next blog will feature Scottish Island fiction set during the First World War. I hope my readers can understand why I chose to  reveal this true story before I began the next stage of my WWI fiction blogs.








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“Naming The Bones” …… by Louise Welsh (2010, HarperCollins )

naming the bonesMore Scottish Island Fiction

I would like to begin by presenting a quote that appears on the inside flap of this novel.

“Dr. Murray Watson is a disenchanted academic whose research is going nowhere, a lover of poetry and a failure in love, a drinker with a problematic personal life.  The object of his study is Archie Lunan, a young poet, the brightest of his generations, whose death thirty years prior is shrouded in mystery.” (from inside flap).

This particular description did not have me chomping at the bit to read this book.  I read several reviews because I really wanted to want to read this book but so many of them pointed out that his book would really appeal to academic types who would find the conflicts and politics very familiar. Not me again (I barely got through my undergraduate degree maybe 35 years ago but I was never cut out for higher academics.)  I have friends and even a brother who is a lecturing PhD. so I am aware of the “publish or perish” pressure but I was still  not convinced that I wanted to read this book.  In the end it was the mystery surrounding the death of the poet that intrigued me enough to read this book.  I sincerely think it peaked my interest because it sounds so similar to the mystery surrounding a famous Canadian painter named Tom Thomson.  I will explain more about Tom Thomson near the end of this post.

I will admit that this novel really picked up for me when Dr. Watson made the trip to the Scottish Island of Lismore (a real Island) in an attempt to unravel the puzzle of Lunan’s death.  I found it much more interesting at this point and in the end I felt it was a satisfying read.

Tom Thomson; I am Canadian and I am familiar with the story of Tom Thomson (August  1877-July 8, 1917)but it is almost impossible for me to gauge how well-known his story is outside of Canada. But here goes….Tom Thomson was a painter who  was renowned for his nature studies in oils. He was heavily influenced by a group of painters who  would become know as “The Group of Seven” but he was never a member since he died before the group was officially formed.  In 2009 a Thomson painting sold for 2.75 million cd dollars making Thomson one of that vast group of painters whose real financial success came after his death.  He spent most of his last years living in a cabin in Algonquin park where he painted year round.  I should explain at this point that Algonquin park is a huge provincial park; over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometers of streams, it is about 1/4 the size of Belgium.  One day Tom went fishing but he didn’t come back.  His body was found eight days later with fishing line wrapped around his ankles. The official cause of death was accidental drowning.  But since his death almost 100 years ago there have been no shortage of researchers and journalists who have vowed to discover “the truth’ .  And so, depending on what you chose to read or believe, Tom’s death was a murder, a suicide or an accident and there may or may not have been a pregnant young lady involved.  Also his body may or may not have been moved from its original grave. Still a mystery

I am afraid that I have written more about Tom Thomson then I have about the book but hey I did warn you that the book made me think of Tom Thomson.

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LETTERS FROM SKYE…..by Jessica Brockmole (Ballantine books, 2013)


In the spring of 1912 an American college student is recovering in a hospital bed after he was injured during a dormitory prank gone wrong. A friend gives him a small volume of poetry  and on a whim he sends the author (Elspeth)a fan letter. Within a month the lady poet writes him a letter describing the excitement his letter generated in the small post office near her croft on the Island of Skye in Scotland. Her first fan letter . They correspond back and forth  as they share their dreams and disappointments until one day he reveals his plans to visit the U.K. and he asks her to meet him. There are  problems; she has never left her island (she has a crippling fear of water), and she is a married woman. This narrative continues throughout WWl.

The novel has a second narrative which begins in 1940 as Elspeth’s daughter Margaret has fallen for a R.A.F. pilot.  Margaret is confused over Elspeth’s reluctance to see her daughter marry during war-time.

This entire novel is told through letters and it is not surprising that it is constantly being compared to “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” by Mary Anne Schaffer.  My library website offers space for people to comment on books that they have read and EVERYONE made that comparison with this novel. I recently read that the epistolary narrative was extremely popular in the 18th century and then its popularity declined. Perhaps it is coming back.

The title kind of gives it away but the main character was born and raised on a remote area of Skye. We see a little of the Island life –her father and brothers are fishermen and she discusses the beauty of her island and the work involved in a croft but I would say that this novel is not centered on island life BUT it still gets to be in my Scottish Island series!!!

I enjoyed this book and found it quick to read.


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THE ROAD DANCE …….by John MacKay (Luath Press, 2002)


“The Road Dance” is the first of three novels written by Scottish journalist/t.v. broadcaster John Mackay and published by Luath Press; an independent book publisher based in Scotland.

“John MacKay was born in Glasgow of Hebridean parents. His childhood summers were spent at his Grandmother’s home in Carloway on the Isle of Lewis. The Road Dance draws heavily on the influences of that background” (quote from insert in The Road Dance).

The first thing I want to say about this book is that it is beautifully written but very sad. Tragic. I would not want to read it if I were feeling melancholy. The novel begins at the onset of World War 1 which ,of course,was a very difficult time in the world’s history. The road dance in the title was an event held to say good-bye to the first boys  to leave the island (Lewis) for the war. (wasn’t it all supposed to be over by Christmas?)  Island life was already difficult and their departure added weight to an already heavy burden.

  A quote from this novel….”This community had suffered tragedy more than most. Death hovered in the wind; it rode the waves that smashed the rocks and seeped through the earth to ruin the crops.  It stalked the young and the old.  Its visits were accepted with a fortitude built on the faith that each soul would find peace  at the feet of the Lord for time everlasting.” (p. 83)  This speaks of the great strength and resilience of the islanders but I had trouble dealing with all the sadness. Be prepared to weep.  This novel succeeds in extracting the raw emotions of the reader but this reader was just overwhelmed. I think I am trying to say that the problem (if it can be called that) is probably with this reader and not the novel.

A little advice……DO NOT READ THE BACK COVER.  If that seems as though I am yelling than good…because I am!  Almost all the major plot points in this novel are revealed in the blurb on the back cover. Why????

I have read the author’s other two novels and I hope to discuss them in future blogs (Definitely not as sad)

HEARTLAND  by John MacKay       (Luath Press, 2004)

LAST OF THE LINE  by John Mackay   (Luath Press, 2006)

I have decided to add another quote from this book because it is so revealing; “Sending their young men off to war had been a sad ritual for so long for the people of the island, and the dust of many of these boys blew across the historic battlefields of Europe and beyond. Yet again the King had called from far away, and the young bloods had rallied to the cry.  And when the steel had clashed and the guns had roared and the victory had been won, those who were left would return home to be forgotten again. The Islanders knew this and yet they always marched.  It was God’s will some said” (page 71)

All this gut-wrenching emotion and the H.M.S Iolaire is not even mentioned until the second book.

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