Sisters of Castle Leod

A Novel

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Pub Date 19 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 29 Nov 2022

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Description

"Heartbreaking and redemptive...a thoroughly engrossing story that will have readers quickly turning the pages." -Megan Chance, bestselling author of A Splendid Ruin

Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon's popular Outlander books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon's fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era.

Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father's vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell's daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate.

Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.

"Heartbreaking and redemptive...a thoroughly engrossing story that will have readers quickly turning the pages." -Megan Chance, bestselling author of A Splendid Ruin

Millions are fans of Diana...


A Note From the Publisher

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, "a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller" (Readers' Favorite), and TEMPTATION RAG: A NOVEL, a "resonant novel ... about the birth and demise of ragtime ... luxuriously crafted" (Publishers Weekly). Her books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and National Indie Excellence Awards, received a gold medallion from Book Readers Appreciation Group, and been named a historical fiction Discovered Diamond. Elizabeth and her family live near Phoenix, Arizona.

Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: THE BEAUTY DOCTOR, "a compelling historical novel steeped in mystery with strong elements of a medical thriller" (Readers'...


Advance Praise

"This expertly written novel is a beautiful example of how historical facts can be researched and transformed into a work of art. To say this novel was difficult to put down would be an understatement. From the first page, I knew this would become one of my favorite historical novels." -Sublime Book Reviews

"A magical, mystical, mesmerizing tale of two real-life noble sisters of Castle Leod, caught up in shocking passions that cast them in opposition, yet desperate for reconciliation." -Rebecca Rosenberg, triple-gold seed-winning novelist of Champagne Widows

"With shocking revelations and twists throughout the book, the reader is never sure what each new chapter will bring. Overall, with an excellent plot and character development, this book is awe-inspiring." -Pacific Book Review

"Whilst the historical element of this novel can easily be compared to some of the great historical novelists, like Sharon Kay Penman, the ghostly apparitions and contact with the spirit world add an original view of a woman who was, in so many ways, ahead of her time." -Readers' Favorite

"The stage is set for sibling rivalry [in this] grand novel about two fascinating sisters of the Scottish Highlands at the turn of the 20th century." -Sheila Myers, author of The Truth of Who You Are

"...a carefully researched historical novel with a touch of the supernatural." -Gail Ward Olmsted, author of Landscape of a Marriage: Central Park Was Only the Beginning

"This expertly written novel is a beautiful example of how historical facts can be researched and transformed into a work of art. To say this novel was difficult to put down would be an...


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Featured Reviews

The Mackenzie sisters are two distinctly different personalities, each envying the other and clashing over their family legacy and the events of the day. Lady Sibell, the narrator, is the dedicated and diligent caretaker of the family estate left in her care even while pursuing her beliefs in spiritualism and an eventual dogged pursuit of a desired reincarnation while Lady Constance, the younger sister, was the golden child grown into a resentful and impetuous woman. How each sister reacts to the tragedies in their lives becomes a study in contrasts and the impressive way in which the author blends novelist’s invention and meticulous research to flesh out these women and their lives in Sisters of Castle Leod is mesmerizing.

Once again, Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard has penned a portrait of a time and place in history, mixing fictional and historical characters to good effect and creating a treat for both the history buff and the historical fiction reader. Definitely one for the re-read shelf.

Highly recommended.

This review refers to a digital Advance Reader’s Copy that I voluntarily received and read via NetGalley. A positive review was not required and all opinions expressed are my own.

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"Sisters of Castle Leod" has a theme that never ends. Bernard's telling of the story of two sisters is as relevant today as it would have been hundreds of years ago.

The Scottish settings are richly described. The rivalry and dynamics of the two sisters is richly woven into the story and explains the many twists and turns this story takes.

If you're looking for a journey to a Scottish castle and a well written story with intrigue and mystery you won't be disappointed with "Sisters' of Castle Leod".

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In Sisters of Castle Leod, we head into an area often overlooked in novels set in Scotland: Cromarty and Ross! We meet sisters Sibell and Constance, daughters of Francis, 2nd Earl of Cromarty, in their younger years, when the older Sibell enlists her small sister's help in spotting a famous Castle Leod ghost, the Night Watchman. But only Sibell can see him, and this small scene begins to set out the glaring differences between the sisters. Fast forward a few years, and Sibell – interested in books and the paranormal – ends up inheriting the title and estate by her father's wishes, and Queen Victoria's consent.

This puts a massive divide between the sisters, now in their teens, that they both struggle to overcome. Sibell finds Constance envious of her wealth, even though the young girl received a respectable sum herself. But as they grow up, they grow even further apart, and Sibell begins to mistrust her sister.

Aware of her status as head of a family, Sibell knows she has to marry, though she's not really keen on the fashionable suitors she meets during three seasons. Under pressure from her aunt and uncle, the Duchess and Duke of Sutherland, she finds it hard to agree to any match.

Constance, meanwhile, keeps enjoying hunting and horse-riding, a total contrast to her bookish elder sister.

When Sibell meets dashing Major Edward Walter Blunt, she becomes interested in the man who wants to bring electricity to the Highlands through a large hydro project. She agrees to marry him, but remains in charge of her estate, something not everyone agrees with.

But the loss of their first child, a baby daughter, shortly after her birth leads Sibell down a dark path of depression – then merely regarded as melancholy, something to ’get over’ swiftly, but when she becomes fixated by an old legend, and Constance's apparent involvement, the fall-out between the sisters is spectacular. Edward remains firmly on Constance's side, and the couple become estranged.

In order to get away from it all, she returns to Venice, alone, where she'd been happy during her honeymoon. Will she be able to find common ground with Edward, and to have a chance of being a ’normal’ family again? Keep reading!

Sisters of Castle Leod is told from Sibell's point of view, in a beautiful, somewhat wry, narrative which suits the woman's personality well. I was able to identify with her, to be frustrated when she is, to feel the pain at the tragic loss of baby Janet, and to relate to her annoyance at being belittled and misunderstood for her paranormal sensitivities. I sensed her displeasure at Constance's misdemeanours, and also her envy at her sister's perceived freedom. Sibell's life was one of duty, of status – something she could not escape from.

This novel is as fascinating as it is gripping. The characterisation of both women, their adventures, and their experiences are described beautifully. I read it deep into the night, and found it hard to tear myself away from their world, so far removed from our modern one.

I'm delighted that Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard has plucked this lady from her obscurity and presented her to the world. Readers who love riveting fiction about real women of the past will enjoy this novel.

A highly recommended read. Don't miss it!

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“Sisters of Castle Leod” by Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard is an enchanting story that you won’t forget, I know I will be thinking about it for quite some time. “Sisters of Castle Leod” is inspired by the lives of Sibell Lilian Mackenzie, 3rd Countess of Cromartie, and her sister, Lady Constance Stewart-Richardson (Matthew). The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era. This story is an excellent piece of women’s literary fiction, and as this is the first book I have read from this author - I was blown away!

Lady Sibell Mackenzie is a spiritualist, a believer in reincarnation, and a popular author of mystical romances. Petite and proper, she values tradition and duty. Her younger sister Lady Constance, swimming champion and big game hunter, is a statuesque beauty who scandalizes British society with her public displays of Greek-style barefoot dancing. The differences between the sisters escalate into conflict after Sibell inherits their late father's vast estates and the title 3rd Countess of Cromartie. But it is the birth of Sibell's daughter that sets in motion a series of bizarre and tragic events, pitting sister against sister and propelling Sibell on a desperate mission to challenge the power of fate.

Sisters of Castle Leod, by award-winning author Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, is the emotionally charged story of two sisters torn apart by jealousy and superstition, and the impossible leap of faith that could finally bring them together.


After reading this book I find myself wondering about the spiritual aspects of this story. Who really knows what happens in the afterlife … is there really a red thread of fate linking two spirits? Don’t worry though the spiritual aspect does not dominate the book. Reading the story honestly was like getting a backstage pass to witness the lives of two captivating women.

5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

📚Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher Black Rose Writing via Netgalley. All thoughts, opinions, comments, and interpretations of the story are my own and bias free. I did not receive any money in exchange for this review. Thank you to the publisher for allowing me the opportunity to review. Reviews are cross-posted to social media, goodreads, and blog. 🦄

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According to Goodreads: “Millions are fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular OUTLANDER books and television series, but few know that Gabaldon’s fictional Castle Leoch was inspired by a real Scottish castle, Castle Leod. The two sisters who lived there at the turn of the twentieth century were among the most fascinating and talked-about women of their era.” Well, I’ve never read Gabaldon’s books, nor seen the TV series, and don’t intend to do either, to be honest. My regular readers know that I prefer more reality-based, literary novels. However, after enjoying Bernard’s novel “Temptation Rag” she asked me if I’d like to read and review this one as well. I agreed, not knowing about the paranormal stuff in this book, but rather because I knew I liked Bernard’s writing style. Mind you, I have read ghost stories by other authors that have written literary works, but these fantastical elements do tend to rub me a bit the wrong way, and I’m afraid this will be reflected in my rating.

Thankfully, it isn’t like the whole book is filled with scenes about the occult and reincarnation. In fact, while this gets some nods early in the book, and then gets really going at one point, it also tapers off at a certain point, but not totally forgotten. Bernard distinguishes between the sisters in that Sibell believes in the supernatural, but Constance fully disavows it all as superstitious. So, when the story includes more about the rebellious Constance, there are fewer connections to spiritual world, and more about the down-to-earth irregularities of Constance’s behavior. Mind you, Sibell does attribute some events as having magical effects caused by some of Constance’s actions. Personally, I just call that coincidental, even when Sibell is almost certain that Constance is somehow dabbling in the dark arts. Obviously, this leads to some rifts between the sisters which aren’t easy to smooth over. Essentially, together with the biographical aspects of this book, what we have here is a study of a sibling dynamic that sometimes borders on the toxic.

Since these two women actually existed, and because the information about them seems pretty sparse, this enabled Bernard to invent a few fables surrounding the two of them. On the one hand, we have Sibell who was a countess in her own right (not something that women inherited at the time), as well as a well-known spiritualist and an author of several fantasy/romance stories and novels, which gained her both acclaim and some wealth (no, I won’t be looking to read any of them). Mind you, Sibell’s inheritance was also carefully curated by herself and her advisors in order to keep from losing financial stability, which happened to many owners of such large estates in the early parts of the 20th century. This makes her admirable on many levels, even if I doubt that she really saw ghosts, believed in curses, or could remember a past life as a Phoenician!

On the other hand, Bernard shows Constance to be fairly irresponsible, and even mentally unstable, which may have contributed to her increasing financial problems, despite having received a substantive inheritance herself. In fact, looking over all of Constance’s antics, one might tend to believe that she might have been bi-polar, or suffering from some type of mental instability, or even some kind of unknown addiction. Of course, Bernard also posits that some of the problems with Constance was her jealousy and anger regarding Sibell’s being named their father’s sole heir, combined with Sibell’s envy of Constance’s own beauty and talents.

As you can see, this is certainly a recipe for a truly fascinating story, and Bernard’s lyrical prose enhances this, tapping into as much as possible from these very divergent sisters, and then filling in the blanks with her own imagination. Yes, I still dislike novels that ask us to accept the paranormal as fact, and I honestly don’t think Bernard is asking us to do this here. Actually, I found many reasonable, and logical explanations for most, if not all of Sibell’s unearthly events. This is probably why I continued reading this book despite some of the more bizarre scenes, and why I’m recommending it – particularly for those readers who don’t mind, or perhaps enjoy these elements in their novels – with a very solid four stars out of five. (Yes, it might have gotten 5/5 from me if Bernard had fully debunked all those elements.)

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