The best books featuring feisty Scotswomen

Who am I?

Proud to drop the F-bomb—I’m an unrepentant feminist. I grew up during the heady days of the Sixties and Seventies when books played a major part in raising our consciousness. I’m remembering the wonderful Virago Press championing women’s voices, and writers such as Marilyn French, Angela Carter, Maya Angelou, and Maxine Hong Kingston. I’m not keen on books where women are helpless victims or ciphers while men get to do all the exciting stuff. And since real life can be quite grim enough (I was a journalist for over thirty years and remain a news junkie), I’m increasingly attracted by writing that includes a dollop of humour. 

I wrote...

Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace

By Olga Wojtas,

Book cover of Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace

What is my book about?

Fifty-something librarian Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for Muriel Spark’s novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name. 

Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist, and musician, Shona is personally selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for an important mission in fin-de-siècle France. But Shona finds this mission very confusing. Why have so many people been torn to death by wild animals, what are Maman and the mayor up to, and is the reclusive aristocrat in the isolated castle really suffering from toothache?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Why did I love this book?

A classic, and my inspiration. Dame Muriel and I went to the same school, James Gillespie’s High in Edinburgh, which she immortalised as the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Jean Brodie is a monster, manipulating and grooming her favoured pupils, the “crème de la crème.” She is also dazzling and charismatic with a fine turn of phrase. The novel is deceptively short, more a novella—it was published in its entirety in The New Yorker magazine in 1961. But it’s a masterclass in fine writing, and every time I read it, I find new things to admire. It’s also very funny. “Who is the greatest Italian painter?”

“Leonardo da Vinci, Miss Brodie.”

“That is incorrect.

The answer is Giotto, he is my favourite.”

By Muriel Spark,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The brevity of Muriel Spark's novels is equaled only by their brilliance. These four novels, each a miniature masterpiece, illustrate her development over four decades. Despite the seriousness of their themes, all four are fantastic comedies of manners, bristling with wit.
Spark's most celebrated novel, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, tells the story of a charismatic schoolteacher's catastrophic effect on her pupils. THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS is a beautifully drawn portrait of young women living in a hostel in London in the giddy postwar days of 1945. THE DRIVER'S SEAT follows the final haunted hours of a woman…

How to Survive Everything

By Ewan Morrison,

Book cover of How to Survive Everything

Why did I love this book?

I’m full of admiration for this book. Morrison is a fifty-something bloke, but this narrative is told in the first person by a teenage girl, Haley, and the voice is totally perfect: opinionated, funny, sulky, naïve. The novel’s full of dark humour, and a real page-turner. Haley is kidnapped by her father to join a group of apocalyptic pandemic survivalists. Are they barking mad or the only people clear-sighted enough to see the danger the world is in from Virus X? You’ll veer from one viewpoint to the other throughout. You’ll also learn how to use a crossbow and what to put in your survival pack. (Warning: I could only read the bit about amputation through my fingers.) 

By Ewan Morrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Survive Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"One of the most provocative, intelligent and original novelists working in Britain today." Irvine Welsh. My dad taught us to be prepared for whatever was coming. He said we should know the facts about how long we could survive without food, water or fresh air, and to remember that we couldn't live at all without hope. It was better, he said, to be ahead of the game. Better to be ten years too early than one minute too late. That's why he did what he did, on that morning ... Inspired by her father's advance planning and her own ingenuity…

Under the Skin

By Michel Faber,

Book cover of Under the Skin

Why did I love this book?

A bit of a cheat, since the protagonist, Isserley, is actually an alien. But she’s presenting as a woman in the Scottish Highlands, luring male hitchhikers into her red Toyota Corolla. We don’t discover why for quite some time, and when we do, it’s a shocker. The book effortlessly encompasses major themes of difference, injustice, big business, and gender politics without ever being polemical. If you’ve seen the film of the same name, starring Scarlett Johansson, forget it—it’s totally different from the book. Oh, and if you’re not already a vegetarian, this novel might turn you into one. 

By Michel Faber,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Under the Skin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an introduction by David Mitchell

Isserley spends most of her time driving. But why is she so interested in picking up hitchhikers? And why are they always male, well-built and alone?

An utterly unpredictable and macabre mystery, Under the Skin is a genre-defying masterpiece.

Field of Blood

By Denise Mina,

Book cover of Field of Blood

Why did I love this book?

The first in Mina’s Paddy Meehan series set in Glasgow in the 1980s and 90s. Paddy is a newbie on the Scottish Daily News, who dreams of becoming an investigative reporter. A child is abducted from the garden of his house, and the trail leads to two young lads. But Paddy doesn’t believe the lads acted alone and launches her own investigation. Headstrong, ambitious, and wet behind the ears, Paddy also has to combat rampant sexism and Catholic guilt. In an intriguing subplot, Mina weaves fact into fiction through Paddy’s obsession with her namesake. The real Paddy Meehan was a Glasgow criminal who was the victim of a notorious miscarriage of justice, jailed for a murder he didn’t commit. 

By Denise Mina,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Field of Blood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The most exciting crime writer to have emerged in Britain for years' Ian Rankin
'Denise Mina is Britain's best living crime writer' Sunday Express


In Glasgow, a child goes missing, taken from the front garden of his home. The investigation leads the police to the doors of two young boys.

Paddy Meehan has just started work at a local newspaper where she dreams of becoming an investigative journalist. Although everyone around her believes the boys acted on their own, she is certain there is more to it and begins to ask awkward questions.

But Paddy's…

Book cover of The Unreliable Death of Lady Grange

Why did I love this book?

This historical novel is based on quite horrifying fact. In Edinburgh in 1732, Lord Grange was apparently mourning the death of his estranged wife Rachel. Except he’d actually had her kidnapped and marooned on the remote and desolate island of St Kilda. Lawrence isn’t only a historical novelist: she’s a respected cookery and food writer, and former winner of the BBC’s MasterChef. She first heard of Lady Grange when she was researching her cookbook on Scottish islands. And she discovered that Rachel’s life had been recorded by male writers in the 18th and 19th centuries, all of whom blackened her reputation. So this book, for the first time, gives Rachel a voice. 

By Sue Lawrence,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unreliable Death of Lady Grange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Edinburgh, January 1732. It's the funeral of Rachel, wife of Lord Grange. Her death is a shock. Still young, she'd shown no signs of ill health. Rachel is, however, still alive. She has been brutally kidnapped by the man who has falsified her death: her husband. Her punishment, perhaps, for railing against his infidelity - or simply for being too feisty for a lady and never submissive enough as a wife. Whether to conceal his Jacobite leanings or to replace his wife with a long-time mistress, Lord Grange banishes Rachel to a remote island exile, to an isolated life of…

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