We’re big fans of literary tourism around here. Books can take you places you’ll never physically visit, and can help you prepare for long-planned trips. I always love hearing that readers want to prepare for their trips by reading about the place they’re heading to, or they want to visit or revisit a destination via armchair travel.
These past 2+ years my travel has been predominantly of the armchair variety, but once upon a time, back in December 2018, Will and I headed to Wigtown, Scotland at the invitation of our friends Mel Joulwan and Dave Humphreys, who had booked The Open Book airbnb for a week and wanted to know if we would come along. Who could turn down an offer like that? Not us!
Wigtown has been Scotland’s official book town since 1998 and we all enjoyed taking advantage of the unusually large number of bookstores to visit during our stay. After Wigtown, we traveled north to continue our time together in literary Edinburgh.
Perhaps Scotland is on your list of future travel destinations; perhaps you have your own fond memories of a past trip there. My hope is that this list will make you even more excited about your next trip or provide an accessible and affordable means of escape via armchair travel.
To send you off on your literary adventure, I’m sharing twelve titles that I’ve read and loved or that are on my To Be Read list. There are countless books about Scotland and there’s no way to include them all here, especially not with our 2022 philosophy of shorter book lists. We’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments section!
This time-travel romance series has 9 books to date, totaling 9,381 pages, and 300+ hours on Audible. Time travel, the Scottish highlands, romance, drama...it’s easy to get swept away. As she tells it, Gabaldon intended to write a realistic historical novel, but a modern woman kept inserting herself into the story! She decided to leave her for the time being—it's hard enough to write a novel, she'd edit her out later—but would YOU edit out Claire? I didn't think so. (Heads up for open door content and graphic torture scenes.) I was so excited when book #9 hit shelves, but I still haven't read it. If you have, tell us about it in the comments! More info →
Set in 1930s Edinburgh, this 1961 novel story centers on a nonconformist school teacher who is dismissed after she is "betrayed" by one of her students. The Guardian calls this "a sublime miracle of wit and brevity," and ranks it #79 on their all-time list of best novels. This oft-praised Scottish classic has been on my TBR for ages (and is short enough I could finish it in an afternoon should I make up my mind to do so!) More info →
Susanna Kearsley often does interesting things with time in her novels, and this story is no exception. Carrie McClelland is an author looking for her next story when she ventures to Northern Scotland. She settles near the ruins of Slains Castle to write, drawing inspiration from her own family history and the events of the Jacobite uprising. The writing process is like nothing she’s ever experienced before and the novel flows out of her, making her feel as if she's actually there. And then she discovers what she's writing actually happened. But how could she have possibly known? Interweaving present-day and historical storylines, Kearsley plays with genetic memory, making for a story you won't soon forget. If you love The Winter Sea and want more, pick up the sequel, The Firebird. More info →
In this gentle and tender novel, five individuals aged 14 to 70-something, each dealing with their own painful personal tragedy, are unexpectedly brought together during the Christmas season in the Scottish countryside. They have each, for their own reasons, decided not to celebrate the holiday this year; because of painful events in their recent pasts they don't think they can bear it. But redemption is found in surprising places, and this disparate bunch of distant family, friends, and strangers finds love and redemption when they didn't dare to hope for it. I’ve made a loose habit of rereading this story at the end of every year. More info →
Honeyman's at times painful but ultimately feel-good debut follows Eleanor, a profoundly lonely young woman who lives a structured and orderly existence absent of even a glimmer love or friendship. But then thanks to a chance occurrence, she's drawn into the world again—decidedly against her will—in the spirit of A Man Called Ove. I revisited this before my trip to Scotland a few years ago, as it’s set in Glasgow, and I enjoyed it so for its three-dimensional characters, protagonist I could root for, wicked sense of humor, and redemptive ending. More info →
I spent part of December 2018 in Bythell's own bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland so of course I had to read this before I went. This is Bythell's actual year-long diary of his days at the helm of The Bookshop, complete with daily customer count and till totals. But the real focus is on the customers: Bythell documents the unusual, eccentric, and often irksome behavior he witnesses every day in his shop. I got a kick out of seeing the Kindle Bythell shot and wall-mounted in person. More info →
I started this serialized novel on the plane ride to Scotland and finished it in Edinburgh. (And then, in a delightful coincidence, the sparse bookshelf in our airbnb held the sequel!) This series is about the neighbors who live at the eponymous address in Edinburgh's New Town, and was originally written as a weekday column in The Scotsman over a six-month period. The newspaper asked for stories short enough for commuters to read on the train, which is why the novel consists of one hundred short chapters. I found myself googling all sorts of locations in Edinburgh and beyond to discover if they truly existed and to catch a glimpse of the city's streets and landmarks for myself. (For the curious: Scotland Street is a real street in the New Town but 44 Scotland Street is not a real address.) This was delightful travel reading: I loved being able to read about a location and then see it with my own eyes! More info →
The titular "lost queen" is Languoreth, a real sixth century Scottish queen whose twin brother inspired the legend of Merlin. In this historical fantasy, Pike grounds her story in the real places and peoples of ancient Scotland, while leveraging the freedom of fiction to craft an engrossing story about a fascinating protagonist. I loved following Languoreth from girlhood onward as she experiences love, loss, and the increasing weight of responsibility. The evocative setting made for a moody and escapist reading experience in which ancient magic, complex politics, and clashing religions all conspire to create an intriguing and high-stakes story. Audiophile alert: this historical fantasy works well on audio; I especially appreciated hearing the pronunciation of the Ancient Scottish names and places, as read by Toni Frutin. More info →
I couldn't resist picking up this bookish mystery because it's set in a Wigtown bookstore (and I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much if I didn't have that strong personal connection). When former librarian Jude needs an escape from her life, she flees to the small village she visited the previous summer and becomes assistant to the kind owner of Lowland Glen Books. After securing a temporary home in the gravedigger’s cottage, Jude discovers the previous inhabitant’s troubling marginalia, which might be connected to an old mystery that not everyone wants to solve. The plot defies belief, but the Scotland setting and deliciously creepy atmosphere made this a worthwhile read for me. More info →
The second book in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series follows NYC socialite Portia to Edinburgh where she’s about to apprentice with grumpy swordmaker Tavish. She’s ready for a fresh start but things don’t go smoothly—and that’s before she accidentally discovers Tav is the secret son of a duke. According to the MMD team members who put this on my radar, Tav and Portia’s dynamic makes for some laugh out loud moments with chemistry aplenty. There’s great ADHD rep, plus Cole shines at depicting friendship in this contemporary romance series. You don’t have to read the first book about Portia’s best friend Ledi first—this stands alone just fine—but you’ll probably want to. (Open door.) More info →
My friend Mel read this while we were in Scotland, and described it as a dark police procedural with MAJOR content warnings but with a detective so compelling that she tore through it. I'm a scaredy cat in my reading life, but the setting on the isolated Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides almost convinces me to give it a shot! Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod grew up on the isolated isle and couldn't wait to leave it behind forever, but he's called back to the hardscrabble Scottish community to investigate a brutal murder. Everyone in the tight-knit community knows everyone else's business, yet no one knows—or will say—who might be responsible for the crime. The one thing the detective knows is that something sinister lurks beneath the surface, as the investigation brings Fin dangerously close to the past he tried to leave behind. More info →
Schwab’s middle grade ghost story is a fun and gently spooky tale set in Edinburgh. Cass’s parents are professional ghost hunters who travel to the city to film their TV show about haunted cities. What nobody knows is that Cass has paranormal abilities herself—ever since a near-death experience the year before, Cass has been able to see ghosts, including her best friend Jacob. Once she arrives in Edinburgh, Cass befriends a girl who not only sees ghosts but also helps send them permanently beyond the Veil—and it's not long before the girls have attracted the attention of an evil spirit who means them harm. I read this book before I visited Scotland and I most enjoyed learning about underground Edinburgh, something I had zero knowledge of before. More info →
Which books set in Scotland have you read and loved? Tell us in comments!