Charles S. Low
Book Club

Current  Book  Club  Selection 

The Low Library Book Club’s next meeting will be on September 18 at 5:30 pm (EDT) via Zoom.

We will be discussing Of Stone and Sky by Merryn Glover.


Of Stone and Sky

by Merryn Glover

After Highland shepherd Colvin Munro disappears, a mysterious trail of his possessions is found in the Cairngorm mountains. Writing the eulogy for his memorial years later, his foundling-sister Mo seeks to discover why he vanished. Younger brother Sorley is also haunted by  his absence and driven to reveal the forces that led to Colvin’s disappearance. Is their brother alive or dead?

Set on a farming estate in the upper reaches of the River Spey, Of Stone and Sky follows several generations of a shepherding family in a paean to the bonds between people, their land and way of life.  It is a profound mystery, a passionate poem, a political manifesto, shot through with wisdom and humour.

This book was a Highland Book Prize nominee in 2021.

The Low Library Book Club’s next meeting will be on September 18 at 5:30 pm (EDT) via Zoom. All are welcome to join in. Just send an email to Cathy McCullough Les at for the Zoom invitation.

Past  Book  Club  Selections 

William McIlvanney
The unorthodox, complex, sardonically humorous, intriguing policeman Jack Laidlaw makes his debut in an engrossing tale of murder. In Glasgow, the city with the worst slums in Europe, a city of hard men, powerful villains, bitter victims and cynical policemen, Laidlaw uses unconventional methods. his works Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch, and Walking Wounded are all known for their portrayal of Glasgow in the 1970s. He is regarded as “the father of ‘Tartan Noir’” and has been described as “Scotland’s Camus”. CWA Silver Dagger (1977), Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel (1978)
Our review:
William McIlvanney – a life-long resident of Glasgow – is called the father of Tartan Noir. You can tell from his description that he loves and understands the city. His characters all feel like real people. They all have a background and reasons for what they do. Here’s Detective Inspector Laidlaw explaining to Detective Constable Harkness how to figure out a murderer: “..monstrosity’s made by false gentility. You don’t get one without the other. No fairies, no monsters. Just people. You know what the horror of this kind of crime is? It’s the tax we pay for the unreality we choose to live in. It’s the fear of ourselves.” If you want to hear what the Glaswegian accent sounds like, get the audio version of the book. We all enjoyed this book and nearly all of us will be reading the other books in the series. By the way, the 4th Laidlaw book (a prequel titled “The Dark Remains”) was finished by Ian Rankin after William McIlvanney’s death. Definitely recommended.
Death of a Chief (John MacKenzie, #1)
by Douglas Watt

The year is 1686. Sir Lachlan MacLean, chief of a proud but poverty-stricken Highland clan, has met with a macabre death in his Edinburgh lodgings. With a history of bad debts, family quarrels, and some very shady associates, Sir Lachlan had many enemies. But while motives are not hard to find, evidence is another thing entirely.

It falls to lawyer John MacKenzie and his scribe Davie Scougall to investigate the mystery surrounding the death of the chief, but among the endless possibilities, can reason prevail in a time of witchcraft, superstition and religious turmoil? This thrilling tale of suspense plays out against a wonderfully realised backdrop of pre-Enlightenment Scotland, a country on the brink of financial ruin, ruled from London, a country divided politically by religion and geography. The first in the series featuring investigative advocate John MacKenzie.

Two Closes and a Referendum 
by Mary McCabe

Synopsis: An engaging tale of ordinary people in an extraordinary time, capturing the growing excitement and fervor of the 2014 Independence Referendum that changed Scotland forever.

Set in Glasgow’s East End, the novel follows ordinary citizens as they explore their identities and wrestle with the hopes and fears that surround the choice they are asked to make. Mary McCabe has written a compelling novel where human drama meets political activism

As the Women  Lay Dreaming 
by Donald S. Murray

Synopsis: In the small hours of January 1st, 1919, the cruelest twist of fate changed at a stroke the lives of an entire community.
Tormod Morrison was there that terrible night. He was on board HMY Iolaire when it smashed into rocks and sank, killing some 200 servicemen on the very last leg of their long journey home from war. For Tormod, a man unlike others, with artistry in his fingertips, the disaster would mark him indelibly.

Two decades later, Alasdair and Rachel are sent to the windswept Isle of Lewis to live with Tormod in his traditional blackhouse home, a world away from  the  Glasgow  of  their  earliest  years.  Their  grandfather  is  kind, compassionate, but still deeply affected by the remarkable true story of the Iolaire shipwreck, by the selfless heroism and desperate tragedy he witnessed. A deeply moving novel about passion constrained, coping with loss, and a changing world, As the Women Lay Dreaming explores how a single event can so dramatically impact communities, individuals and, indeed, our very souls.

Review: After the sinking of the HMY Iolaire the Isle of Lewis became the “land of sad widows and spinsters.” The author’s description of life on the island made you feel as if you’d actually visited it. We thought that the characters, especially Tormod, were very well drawn. You can feel the shock of the children coming from Glasgow when they first arrive on the island and walk into their grandparents’ blackhouse.  We’d encourage those interested in the disaster to check out this link for more information on the actual incident: BBC Article  Definitely recommended.

The Royal Stuarts: A History of the Family that Shaped Britain 

by Allan Massie (2011), 370 pages

Synopsis: In this fascinating and intimate portrait of the Stuarts, author Allan Massie takes us deep into one of history’s bloodiest and most tumultuous reigns. Exploring the family’s lineage from the first Stuart king to the last, The Royal Stuarts is a panoramic history of the family that acted as a major player in the Scottish Wars of Independence, the Union of the Crowns, the English Civil War, the Restoration, and more.

Drawing on the accounts of historians past and present, novels, and plays, this is the complete story of the Stuart family, documenting their path from the salt marshes of Brittany to the thrones of Scotland and England and eventually to exile. The Royal Stuarts brings to life figures like Mary, Queens of Scots, Charles I, and Bonnie Prince Charlie, uncovering a family of strong affections and fierce rivalries. Told with panache, Allan Massie’s The Royal Stuarts is the gripping true story of backstabbing, betrayal, and ambition gone awry.

Review: Ten of us discussed the book The Royal Stuarts: A history of the Family that Shaped Britain by Allan Massie. It was interesting to see how the abilities of each monarch varied. There was the incompetent James II (who consorted with “inappropriate people”) and was rated a failure.
The author highly approved of James VI & I however (he calls the king “highly intelligent, a scholar and poet” and “a canny politician). It gave a nice summary of Scottish history from 1406-1714 with a chapter on the Jacobites. We all enjoyed it and would recommend it to the membership.

The Sopranos

by Alan Warner

Synopsis:  The choir from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour School for Girls is being bussed to the national finals in the big, big city. And it’s an important day for The Sopranos – Orla, Kylah, (Ra)Chell, Manda and Fionnula (the Cooler) – pub-crawling, shoplifting and body-piercing being the top priorities.

Then it’s time to lose that competition – lose, because a nuclear sub has just anchored in the bay and, tonight, the Man Trap disco will be full of submariners on shore-leave. “Compassionate and riotously funny. It is a long time since I read a novel which had me rocking with laughter” (The Times)

Review:  It’s about a Catholic girls’ high school choir going to Edinburgh to compete in a competition. The girls are much more interested in the attractions of the big city – mainly shopping, drinking, and men (and not in that order) than they are in the competition. In fact, the competition itself was hardly in the story at all. The 24-hour glimpse of these girls’ lives has been praised as both believable and “riotously funny.”  Our book club members did not agree. The girls spoke almost entirely in a Scottish slang which some members found difficult to follow. Most of us didn’t get the humor and we just could not care about these girls. The book was adapted into a play at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival and has also been made into a movie entitled “Our Ladies.” Sorry to say, we give this title a thumbs down.

The Story of My Boyhood and Youth 

by John Muir

Synopsis: John Muir recounts in vivid detail the three worlds of his early life: Born in East Lothian, Scotland in 1838, he was raised by a fanatically strict, religious father who decided to move the family to America when Muir was eleven; the years 1849–1860 were spent labouring on the family’s grassroots farm in Wisconsin,

working seventeen-hour days after which an exhausted yet inquisitive Muir secretly studied books on topics other than religion (!); and then at age 22, he went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study chemistry and botany. He decided to leave the university without a degree and completed the rest of his nature education in ‘the university of the wilderness’. He was truly a Scottish-American who made a huge difference.

The Blackhouse (Lewis trilogy, #1)

by Peter May

Synopsis: From acclaimed author and television dramatist Peter May comes the first book in the Lewis Trilogy – a riveting mystery series set on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, a formidable and forbidding world where tradition rules and people adhere to ancient ways of life.

When a grisly murder occurs on the Isle of Lewis that has the hallmarks of a killing he’s investigating on the mainland, Edinburgh detective and native islander Fin Macleod is dispatched to see if the two deaths are connected. His return after nearly two decades not only represents a police investigation but a voyage into his own troubled past.

As Fin reconnects with the places and people of his tortured childhood, he feels the island once again asserting its grip on his psyche. And every step forward in solving the murder takes him closer to a dangerous confrontation with the tragic events of the past that shaped – and nearly destroyed – Fin’s life. (from

Meeting Notes and Review:  Nine of us (one of our members was in Alaska and another in Scotland so they didn’t attend) met on September 20 and discussed the book: Blackhouse by Peter May. It’s a crime novel about an Edinburgh detective, Fin Macleod, who is assigned to investigate a murder on the Isle of Lewis because it may be related to one on the mainland. Fin grew up on Lewis. He knows the people – the victim is the bully from Fin’s school days – and he can speak Gaelic. Details of life on Lewis were integrated throughout the story: the guga hunt, the suppression of the Gaelic language, the old blackhouses vs the newer white houses, the isolation of the islands. The weather, the sea, and the land itself become characters in the story.

The story was well-plotted and flashbacks to Fin’s past gave background to the present-day relationships of the islanders. This novel is available as an audiobook (free at many of your local libraries via the Libby app) and one of our group highly recommended it so that you can hear how the Gaelic is pronounced.

Blackhouse is the first book of the Lewis Trilogy (the other two are The Lewis Man and The Chessmen). Most of us liked it so much that we had already finished the trilogy and the rest said they were planning to finish it. Highly recommended.

Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other

by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish.

Synopsis: The group had decided that for the next book we would do something light: Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish (the actors playing Jamie and Dougal in the Outlander TV series).  The book is available in hardback, paperback, and Kindle editions and audio, narrated by Sam.  

Nancy Waters is about 1/3 of the way through the book and says it is a rollicking adventure around modern Scotland with two funny, naughty boys.  We hope you enjoy it. Just so you know, the book is kind of a diary written along the way as Sam and Graham filmed their special series on Scotland, “Men in Kilts,” for Starzz.  Go to the following link for a fun description of the book and the series: Clanlands: Why the Book is Worth Checking Out

Meeting Notes and Review: We had a good time discussing Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish at our June 14th meeting. Clanlands records their experiences filming the pilot for the Starz TV show, “Men in Kilts.”  They visited historical sites such as Culloden, Glencoe, and Rob Roy’s (possible) gravesite; traveling in an RV which Sam – rather inexpertly – drove.  We learned a bit about Sam and Graham’s personal histories and a bit about Scottish history.  The affection between the two was obvious even though they spent a lot of the time ribbing each other (lattes or Sassenach whisky anyone?).  This book is really for those who are fans of the Outlander series.


Sunset Song

by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Synopsis: Faced with the choice between her harsh farming life and the seductive but distant world of books and learning, the spirited Chris Guthrie decides to remain in her rural community. But, as the devastation of the First World War leaves her life-and community-in tatters, she must draw strength from what she loves and endure, like the land she loves so intensely.

Brutal and beautiful, passionate and powerful, Sunset Song is a moving portrait of a declining way of life and an inspirational celebration of the human spirit. And in Chris Guthrie, Grassic Gibbon has given us one of literature’s most unforgettable heroines. It has been voted Scotland’s favorite novel, beating titles including JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter story to the top spot (The Guardian, 18 October 2016).

Meeting Notes and Review: Nancy Waters filled in for Cathy for the April meeting and provides the following. We had a rather slim turnout for the April Book Club, but the discussion of Sunset Song was lively as usual!  The general consensus was that the book deserved its reputation as a Scottish classic and was a good lesson on Scotland during WWI as the old way of life was making way for the new. Cathy had the new edition with an introduction by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who describes the book as a “masterpiece”; and “one of the finest literary accomplishments Scotland has ever known.”

The Game of Kings

by Dorothy Dunnett

This is the first book in the Lymond Chronicles series.

Synopsis: Dunnett introduces her irresistible hero Francis Crawford of Lymond, a scapegrace nobleman of elastic morals and dangerous talents whose tongue is as sharp as his rapier. In 1547 Lymond returned to his native Scotland, which was threatened by an English invasion. Accused of treason, Lymond leads a band of outlaws in a desperate race to redeem his reputation and save his land.

Meeting Notes and Review: On Monday, February 8th, six of us got together on Zoom to talk about Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings (Lymond Chronicles #1). We enjoyed the book but agreed it’s not a quick read. The story has many characters – some of them having more than one name and the main character uses disguises several times – and there are quotations in Scots, French, Spanish, and Latin. The story begins in 1547. Mary, Queen of Scots, is 5 years old. Francis Crawford of Lymond, the hero of the story, is an outlaw accused of treason. He is the dashing, witty, Errol Flynn-type, good at sword fighting and quick with a romantic poem for a lady. Lymond and his outlaw band cause a lot of trouble raiding and burning homes, but his ultimate aims are to clear his name and save Scotland from outsiders who wish to control it. Our group would definitely recommend this book (the first of 6 books in the series) and we’d also recommend some reading aids to make the experience even more enjoyable:

     — Now You Have Dunnett: a blog devoted to the novels of Dorothy Dunnett (I never would have known that the name Buccleuch was pronounced Buck-Loo).

     — The Ultimate Guide to Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings by Laura Caine Ramsey

The Mermaids Singing 

by Val McDermid

This book is one of the top 10 Scottish crime novels.

Synopsis: “This was the summer he discovered what he wanted–at a gruesome museum of criminology far off the beaten track of more timid tourists. Visions of torture inspired his fantasies like a muse. It would prove so terribly fulfilling. The bodies of four men have been discovered in the town of Bradfield. Enlisted to investigate is criminal psychologist Tony Hill.

Even for a seasoned professional, the series of mutilation sex murders is unlike anything he’s encountered before. But profiling the psychopath is not beyond him. Hill’s own past has made him the perfect man to comprehend the killer’s motives. It’s also made him the perfect victim.

A game has begun for the hunter and the hunted. But as Hill confronts his own hidden demons, he must also come face-to-face with an evil so profound he may not have the courage–or the power–to stop it…”

The Mermaids Singing is a chilling and taut psychological mystery.

The TV series “Wire in the Blood” is based on the Tony Hill books. This is the first book in the series.

Meeting notes and review: “The book for December 2020, was Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid, the first book in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series. It won the Crime Writers of America Award for best crime novel of 1995 and the TV series “Wire in the Blood” is based on this series. The group decided that although the characters were well developed and we didn’t see the surprise ending coming, the very graphic descriptions of the murders were too much for most of us.”

44 Scotland Street

by Alexander McCall Smith.

This is the first book in the “44 Scotland Street Series

Synopsis: “The residents and neighbors of 44 Scotland Street and the city of Edinburgh come to vivid life in these gently satirical, wonderfully perceptive serial novels, featuring six-year-old Bertie, a remarkably precocious boy—just ask his mother.”

Meeting notes and review: “We had a very nice zoom meeting last Monday, October 12, discussing 44 Scotland Street. It has quite a few “main” characters that continue through the series of – soon to be – 14 books. We all liked and felt sorry for Bertie and Angus, and Cyril were also high on the favored list. Irene and Bruce however tied for least favorite. I also wanted to put in a plug for Big Lou (maybe because she’s reading her way through an entire bookshop!). It was also interesting to see Scotland through the eyes of a Scot who plainly loves Edinburgh and the Scottish people.”  Catherine McCullough Les