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
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.