Audiobook Review: The Highland Hens by Judy Leigh

Title: The Highland Hens
Author: Judy Leigh
Narrator: Phyllida Nash
Publisher: Boldwood Books
Publication date: August 4, 2022
Print length: 352 pages
Audio length: 11 hours 4 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Rating: 3 out of 5.

In the imposing Glen Carrick House overlooking Scotland’s famous Loch Ness, lives eighty-eight-year-old Mimi McKinlay, cared for by her three adult sons. Hamish has inherited his mother’s musical talents, Fin is the responsible brother, and Angus has the complicated and brooding personality to match his dashing good looks.

But what all the brothers share is a concern that their beloved mother is living in her memories of her days on stage, while letting her present days pass her by.

Jess Oliver is at a turning point. Amicably divorced after years of being married, this trip to the Highlands is a first taste of independence. It isn’t long before the beauty and hospitality of Scotland captures her heart.

When Mimi and Jess’s paths cross, a friendship is formed that will change both women’s lives. And as together they find ways to look forward instead of to the past, long forgotten dreams are within reach, and every new day is fresh with possibilities.

I read my first Judy Leigh book last year, after seeing so many bloggers rave about her. That book was Heading Over the Hill, which I found delightful. Quirky, lovable characters, mature love, great friendships — so much fun!

Naturally, I was eager to experience more, so when I saw that her 2022 release was set in the Scottish Highlands, it seemed like a natural choice for me.

In The Highland Hens, while there are many characters, life revolves around Mimi McKinlay (stage name Mimi Solitaire), a spritely, spirited 88-year-old who spends her days glorying in memories of her life on the London stage. Wearing high heels and feathered headdresses, Mimi can still belt out showtunes and kick up her heels for a chorus-line number. But Mimi is getting frailer, and her eccentricities have driven away the family’s housekeeper.

Mimi’s three sons adore their mother, are committed to keeping her safe and comfortable in her own home, and are getting a bit frantic. They advertise for a companion, and that’s where Jess Oliver enters their lives.

Jess, a divorced 59-year-old, is vacationing in the Highlands while her cottage is being renovated. But when she hears that renovations will take much longer than expected, she’s left with no place to live for the next several months. Still, she’s loving her time in the Highlands, and taking a job as a companion to a darling older woman in a gorgeous home seems like a terrific temporary solution to her problems.

Jess and Mimi click instantly, and Jess seems to intuitively know how to give Mimi the attention and affection she needs, while also making sure she eats healthy foods and goes easy on the Chardonnay. Mimi’s sons welcome Jess to the family home eagerly, although middle brother Angus, recovering from a serious motorcycle accident, is initially gruff and off-putting.

The Highland Hens follows most of the plot beats you’d expect. Jess becomes close to everyone in the family, forms a close bond with Mimi, and makes life at Glen Carrick House better for everyone. She’s supposed to be returning to her own little cottage in time for Christmas, but the more involved she becomes with the McKinlays, the harder a separation will be.

This is a pleasant book, but I do have some quibbles. Without getting too spoilery:

  • Pretty much everyone is coupled up by the end, and most of the romances are half-baked and underdeveloped. A book this long could have shown the developing feelings more convincingly.
  • The end of the book, as it relates to Mimi, is NOT okay with me. It was not necessary. Not saying more about it, but just no.
  • There’s a hint of a deep dark secret from Mimi’s life, which ends up revealed very close to the end and really is more or less a big fat nothing.
  • The cover and title imply that the book will be something it isn’t. It isn’t about a bunch of women friends romping around the Highlands. There are friendships and outings, but that cover image doesn’t even come close to depicting Mimi, and I don’t know who the third character is supposed to be.

A major complaint is that this book is much longer than it needs to be. I listened to the audiobook, and the narration was fine — but so little actually happens that I ended up listening at 1.75x speed (which I never do!) just to get through it.

I’m not mad that I read this one, but I did feel let down. I had high hopes after my last book by this author. As I said, The Highland Hens is perfectly pleasant… but not a lot happens, and the romantic entanglements feel more like there was a need to match everyone up rather than true emotional connections.

I learned about this author from seeing her books featured on other blogs, and she does seem to have devoted fans. I’m not ruling out reading more of her books (and would welcome suggestions on which ones to try). The Highland Hens was fine (hence the three stars)… but not something I’d go out of my way to recommend.

Shelf Control #204: The Highland Witch by Susan Fletcher

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: The Highland Witch (original title: Corrag)
Author: Susan Fletcher
Published: 2010
Length: 368 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The Massacre of Glencoe happened at 5am on 13th February 1692 when thirty-eight members of the Macdonald clan were killed by soldiers who had enjoyed the clan’s hospitality for the previous ten days. Many more died from exposure in the mountains. Fifty miles to the south Corrag is condemned for her involvement in the Massacre. She is imprisoned, accused of witchcraft and murder, and awaits her death. The era of witch-hunts is coming to an end – but Charles Leslie, an Irish propagandist and Jacobite, hears of the Massacre and, keen to publicise it, comes to the tollbooth to question her on the events of that night, and the weeks preceding it. Leslie seeks any information that will condemn the Protestant King William, rumoured to be involved in the massacre, and reinstate the Catholic James. Corrag agrees to talk to him so that the truth may be known about her involvement, and so that she may be less alone, in her final days. As she tells her story, Leslie questions his own beliefs and purpose – and a friendship develops between them that alters both their lives. In Corrag, Susan Fletcher tells us the story of an epic historic event, of the difference a single heart can make – and how deep and lasting relationships that can come from the most unlikely places.

How and when I got it:

I’ve had this book on my shelf for at least five years, and I’m pretty sure I received it from a book group friend during one of our annual book swaps.

Why I want to read it:

Basically, put the word Highland in a title, and throw in the word witch as well… and I’m sold! I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction set in Scotland, and this one sounds terrific! 

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: A Small Death in the Great Glen by A. D. Scott

Book Review: A Small Death in the Great Glen by A. D. Scott

A Small Death in the Great GlenThe staff of the Highland Gazette produces the same little newspaper week in, week out. Classifieds on the front page, sporting and racing results on the inside, updates on farming, women’s club meetings, and the like filling up the rest of the four-page spread. Certainly no investigative reporting, nothing controversial, nothing that the “big city” papers in Edinburgh or Glasgow might cover. But when a young boy is found dead in a canal, the new editor-in-chief demands more from the small team of reporters, and they soon become enmeshed in an investigation that threatens the stability of their insular town.

Set in the the Scottish Highlands in the mid-1950s, A Small Death in the Great Glen is a murder mystery, but at the same time is a compelling portrait of a time and place. Ten years after World War II, the effects of the war are still being felt. An abused wife tries to live with her husband’s rage and frustration, recognizing that he came home from war different from the person she’d married. The Italian immigrant who runs the town’s café (with the only cappuccino machine in the Highlands!) is accepted by the community — but with limits. When a Polish sailor jumps ship in the harbor at the same time that the boy’s murder occurs, the strangers in town are immediately suspect, and the underlying mistrust of foreigners — even those who’ve lived and worked alongside the townsfolk for a decade — lead to ugliness and division.

The focal point of the story is Joanne Ross, who shocks her family by taking a part-time job at the paper as a typist — women are supposed to be at home! What next, wearing trousers? Joanne needs escape from her bitter home life, and finds it at the Gazette, where she is pushed to think for herself and actually write newsworthy content. As Joanne grows professionally, she has to face facts about her marriage and make choices that, in the mid-1950s, are not at all easy for a woman with two small children.

The mystery at the heart of A Small Death in the Great Glen is compelling and has several surprising twists. The history and mythology of the Highlands come into play, as do the various factions and prejudices beneath the surface of a seemingly harmonious town.

Apart from the investigation of the murder itself, there were really two elements in this book that gave me the greatest enjoyment. First is the setting itself: I’m a sucker for Scotland, particularly the Highlands, and this book is filled with descriptions of the glens and braes, the rocky terrain, the natural surroundings, that are so vivid that I could practically feel it.

Pleasure came from the small things; tickling for trout, watching the birds, the eagle hunting, stalking the deer. Cloudscapes of great beauty highlighted the four-seasons-in-one-day phenomenon that was called weather in Scotland, but often it was dreich for days, sometimes weeks, on end.

(My Thursday Quotables selection for this week is from A Small Death in the Great Glen. See it here for another snippet of description of the Highland landscape.)

The second element that really elevates this book above a standard mystery is the glimpse into the inner workings of a small community, at once tight-knit and full of resentments and judgments. Thanks in large part to my obsession with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I have a familiarity with the Highlands of centuries past; A Small Death in the Great Glen is a lovely insight into 20th century Scotland and what life would have been like for people in the post-war era of that time.

I don’t usually read mysteries, but I’m glad that the Highlands setting drew me to this book. I enjoyed the people, the relationships, the investigation, and the portrait of the intermingled communities that make up the society of this small Scottish town. When I first picked up A Small Death in the Great Glen, I hadn’t realized that it’s the first book in a series. Two more are currently available, with another due for publication later this year. No worries, though: A Small Death in the Great Glen stands on its own just fine. If you enjoy mysteries — or, like me, just want a little taste of the Highlands, give this one a try!

As for me, I’m looking forward to reading the next book, A Double Death on the Black Isle, next time I crave a visit to Scotland.

Thursday Quotables: A Small Death in the Great Glen


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

If you’d like to participate, it’s really simple:

  • Follow Bookshelf Fantasies, if you please!
  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now.
  • Link up via the linky below (look for the cute froggy face).
  • Make sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (
  • Have fun!

This week’s Thursday Quotable:

Joanne went into a dwam*, floating with the gull. Floating over the castle braes, over the river, across to the cathedral without a single wing movement, he (for it always seemed a him to her) drifted on toward the infirmary, back over to the war memorial, disappearing into the tangle of the Islands.

She could feel herself nestling into the shoulders of the gull, oily satin-smooth feathers smelling of fish. Up into the thermals they floated, taking in the river, the town, the hills, the mountains, the Great Glen, the faultline that fractured the Highlands. Peaks and scree-strewn ridgelines were mirrored in the ribbon of deep dark lochs. Glens clad in a  faded tartan of heather and bracken with splashes of green outlining abandoned crofts emptied by the Clearances** were cut deep by drunken burns and rivers. A fierce and stunning landscape; it made Joanne want to sing.

*Dwam: Scottish term for “daydream” or “reverie”.

**The Highland Clearances. See Wikipedia for info.

Source:  A Small Death in the Great Glen
Author: A. D. Scott
Atria, 2010

Sigh. I just love this description of the Scottish Highlands — one of my dream destinations!

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

Link up, or share your quote of the week in the comments.

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

 A Small Death in the Great Glen

A Small Death in the Great Glen by A. D. Scott

From Amazon:

In the Highlands of 1950s Scotland, a boy is found dead in a canal lock. Two young girls tell such a fanciful story of his disappearance that no one believes them. The local newspaper staff—including Joanne Ross, the part-time typist embroiled in an abusive marriage, and her boss, a seasoned journalist determined to revamp the paper—set out to uncover and investigate the crime. Suspicion falls on several townspeople, all of whom profess their innocence. Alongside these characters are the people of the town and neighboring glens; a refugee Polish sailor; an Italian family whose café boasts the first known cappuccino machine in the north of Scotland; and a corrupt town clerk subverting the planning laws to line his own pocket.

Together, these very different Scots harbor deep and troubling secrets underneath their polished and respectable veneers—revelations that may prevent the crime from being solved and may keep the town firmly in the clutches of its shadowy past.

Why do I want to read this?

I’ll be honest — they had me at Scottish Highlands. I’m a sucker for this setting, although most of my Highlands fiction tends to take place centuries in the past, with an emphasis on dashing men in kilts. I’ve yet to read a book set in Scotland within a more contemporary time frame — as soon as I spotted this one in a bookstore, I knew it was for me. The story itself sounds intriguing — local drama and deception, a tragic and suspicious death, a melting pot of townspeople and immigrants. Great ingredients for what I hope will be a terrific mystery!

Quick note to Wishlist Wednesday bloggers: Come on back to Bookshelf Fantasies for Flashback Friday! Join me in celebrating the older gems hidden away on our bookshelves. See the introductory post for more details, and come back this Friday to add your flashback favorites!