The Lady of the Lakes by Josi S. Kilpack

The Lady of the Lakes by Josi Kilpack is historical fiction recounting the love story of Sir Walter Scott, one of Scotland’s most famous authors.

This easy-to-read tale begins in Edinburgh in 1791. Walter Scott is attending the Sunday morning service at Greyfriar’s Kirk when he is besotted with a beautiful girl in the congregation. Walter connives to introduce himself to this girl after the service, discovers her name is Mina, and obtains permission to walk her home under his umbrella. Thus begins a friendship that would lead to something more as the years, and the letters, went by.

In the ensuing years Walter spends his time working hard to find a way to be able to support a wife and family and thus be in a position to propose to Mina. Meanwhile Walter and Mina’s families both get wind of the romance and see trouble ahead if the two, who are from different social backgrounds, pursue a permanent union. Eventually Mina is persuaded by her family, and the attentions of a wealthy young suitor, to abandon her first love and let Walter go. Blindsided by this misfortune, Walter is utterly crushed and grows despondent.

Mina soon marries her wealthy suitor and Walter is left wallowing in his grief. A year later Walter’s brother and a friend convince him to accompany them on a trip south to England to explore the Cumberland lakes. While staying in Gilsland, a small town near Carlisle, the men happen upon a dance at the hotel where they are staying. There they glimpse a captivating Frenchwoman who appears to be on her own. Thus begins a whirlwind week of getting to know Miss Charlotte Carpenter.

Walter is quite taken by Charlotte, but Charlotte realizes his heart is still mourning Mina. Urged by her maid, Charlotte leaves Gilsland suddenly for Carlisle and tells Walter not to follow her. The relationship seems to be over until Walter is given advice to pursue what might be growing in his heart. Walter leaves for Carlisle immediately.

By the time Walter reaches Charlotte in Carlisle he has devised a plan. If Charlotte will agree, they will spend the next fifteen days in each other’s company and at the end of that time come to a decision as to whether or not they are suitable for each other and should marry. Charlotte receives wise counsel from her hostess to proceed with this arrangement and willingly accepts Walter’s proposition. Thus commences fifteen days of dinners, horse rides, and trips to the theatre. As the time draws to a close Walter finds his heart no longer aching after Mina but has been drawn deeply to Charlotte. Will Charlotte reciprocate his feelings for her? Will she agree to marry him, leave England, and move to wild Scotland?

Kilpack is careful to note at the back of this book what parts of each chapter are based on facts and what parts are of her own imagination. This book makes for an enjoyable way to learn more about the life of Sir Walter Scott and the women who shaped his life.

Travel Notes: this book would be an excellent choice to read before a visit to Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home in the Scottish Borders.

 

Listening Valley by D. E. Stevenson

Listening Valley by D. E. Stevenson is a delightful, vintage romance set in both Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders during World War II.

This story follows the life of Antonia Melville, a dreary little girl growing up in Edinburgh with little excitement in her life. Antonia’s sister marries early but it appears there will be no beaux for Antonia herself. Quite surprisingly, a delightful, older man (Robert) takes an interest in Antonia and with his love Antonia begins to blossom into a capable, beautiful woman. The two move to London and Antonia’s husband takes up important war work. Together they weather the bombings of London. The stress and worry of Robert’s work eventually takes a toll on him and his health declines rapidly until Antonia is left a widow.

Now Antonia must learn to stand up for herself against her leech-like sister-in-law and niece-in-law. She must find a way to live on her own without them and manage her own affairs. She finds herself in the small town of Ryddelton, a fictional town in the Borders. Antonia begins to get to know her neighbors and becomes involved in entertaining soldiers from the nearby airfield. One of the soldiers (Bay) happens to be an old friend from school. Perhaps romance might develop between them except for Bay’s fiancé, a suspicious woman from France.

Listening Valley contains all the elements readers expect from D. E. Stevenson: descriptions of Scottish life, gentle romance, a return to the way life used to be, amusing characters who seem almost as if you might have met them, and of course an element of suspense that keeps us wondering if the right people will ever get together.

Travel Notes: a great vintage novel choice for reading in Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders, or Scotland in general. For more information on D. E. Stevenson check out this website.

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

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Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey is such a fun book choice if you want to read fiction set in modern Edinburgh. Part of “The Austen Project,” Northanger Abbey is a re-write of the Jane Austen classic by the same title. In keeping with the terms of the project, Northanger Abbey maintains the same plot and the same characters Austen created but creatively takes the setting to 21st century Edinburgh during the annual Edinburgh Festival.

Following the original plot, Catherine (Cat) Morland is invited to join her friends the Allens in Edinburgh for the Festival. There she keeps company with the Thorpe siblings who appear to like her but don’t seem to have her best interests at heart. Cat meets the handsome and well-mannered Henry Tilney (who happens to have an ancient home in the country named Northanger Abbey) and upon becoming best friends with his sister, Ellie, secures an invitation to stay with them at the Abbey. Along the way Cat’s brother is engaged to Bella Thorpe but Cat begins to question Bella’s sincerity. Will things turn out right for Cat’s brother and will Henry ask Cat to marry her? (And why is the death of Henry’s mother shrouded in so much darkness and silence?)

Of course there is no surprise ending or twist of plot in this book. Rather, the surprise is in how McDermid reinterprets 18th century personalities and events into modern day Scottish life. Edinburgh comes alive in a special way during the month of August each year when it hosts the Edinburgh Festival. This Festival includes music, theatre, opera, books, art, and street performers. One could spend their entire day (for three weeks) hopping around the city to various performances, lectures, and exhibits. There is a buzz in the air as the city swells with visitors eager to feast on the arts at the largest cultural festival in the world. McDermid captures some of the excitement and aura of the Festival in this story.

Plenty of place names are included in the book which helps to make it seem more real: all kinds of locations in Edinburgh (West End of Queen Street, Morningside, Lawnmarket, Arthur’s Seat, Haymarket, and Princes Street to name a few) as well places beyond (Glasgow, Linlithgow Palace, Stirling, Kelso, Loch Lomond, Jedburgh, and Melrose).

One of my favorite parts of the book is the constant mention of literature. You will find authors, books and series such as: Ian Rankin, Kate Atkinson, Swallows & Amazons, Famous Five, Harry Potter, Dracula, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, Twilight, The Wasteland, Hunger Games, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, William Letford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Burns, Henryson, Sir Walter Scott, Muriel Spark, and Pride & Prejudice Zombies.

McDermid ends the book with this quote: “The moral or message of this story is hard to discern. And that is as it should be, for as Catherine Morland found out to her cost, it is not the function of fiction to offer lessons in life.” I’m not quite sure I agree with that statement, at least not completely. It seems quite clear that the message of this Northanger Abbey is not to let your imagination run away with you to such an extent that you deny reality.

I have never been a fan of “re-writes,” but I found Northanger Abbey such fun that I’ve read it twice now! If I were packing for a trip to Edinburgh this is a book I’d considered putting in my suitcase!