Book Riot #ReadHarder Challenge 2017

Here’s what I read for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge this year! My own rules for the challenge were to:

  • only read things that were new to me (except for that one challenge)
  • choose from the books growing dusty on my own shelves as I often as I could
  • read books with a Scottish slant whenever possible

You’ll see there are two still unticked – both very hard reads, for different reasons. I’ll finish them next year (Ulysses will even fit a challenge on the 2018 list!)

Book Riot Challenge 2017

Read Harder Challenge 2017

rhc_cover_pinterestI’ve decided to take part in the Book Riot reading challenge this year. I came to it rather late but I’d already finished several books that met various challenges so it’s achievable I think.

For the rest, I’ve been scouring my bookshelves and Kindle lists for items to fit the bill. I love that it’s encouraging me to read things which have been literally gathering dust until now. I’ve looked out books which have been languishing, for years in many cases, and added them to the ‘Book Riot Challenge pile’.

However, this is my personal reading and I have my own reasons for taking the challenge. Therefore, I may not stick stringently to the requirements in every case. For example, my pick for the ‘Central or South America’ challenge is likely to be a book about the Caribbean by a Cuban author – but it looks interesting and it’s already in my possession (also, there was some debate on the challenge forum about whether the Caribbean was or was not part of ‘Central America’. I have chosen to embrace that grey area). And, of course, there’s always going to be a Scottish slant to my choices whenever possible.

For those remaining challenges my current bookstock just can’t meet I’ll be utilising local libraries and the Scottish branch of Better World Books. A few of the challenges have me seeking books I wouldn’t normally consider reading at all – which is, of course, the whole point… But enough writing, I have reading to do! I just finished “an all-ages comic” so I’m off to pick my next read now. Which one to choose? Maybe that Caribbean one?… Or a banned book? So many choices!

FYI, here’s my list so far:

  1. Read a debut novelThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  2. Read an all-ages comicLobey’s the Wee Boy!: Collected Lobey Dosser by Bud Neill
  3. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your locationSaltire Invasion by John Ferguson
  4. Read a travel memoir – The Desert and the Sown: Travels in Palestine and Syria by Gertrude Bell
  5. Read a book you’ve read before – The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey
  6. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your locationA Splendid Isolation: Lessons of Happiness from the Kingdom of Bhutan by Madeline Drexler
  7. Read a fantasy novel – The Obsidian Throne by James Oswald
  8. Read a superhero comic with a female leadThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
  9. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey –Warrior of Peace: The Life of the Buddha by Jinananda
  10. Read a collection of stories by a woman – Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland
  11. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color – Little Green by Walter Mosley
  12. Read a book about booksThe Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane
  13. Read a book published by a micropressThe Birlinn of Clanranald by Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald), translated by Alan Riach, (published by Kettillonia)

Book review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods 
Bill Bryson
Published 1998 by Black Swan (first published 1997)


I’ve just re-read this and found it to be even more wonderful the second time round.

At times genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny – funny in a way that makes you snort with laughter on public transport. It’s packed with background data and interesting anecdotes from the author’s own readings about the Appalachian Trail.  At heart though this is the tale of two guys on a really, really long walk.

Whole-heartedly recommended.

Books read (or re-read) in 2014

I read so many more books this year than last! I think my new and shiny Kindle is mainly responsible for the increase. Because it has a large supply of books waiting to be read, the gap between books lasts only as long as it takes me to pick out the next one. Zero waiting time – maximum turnaround!

Anyway, here’s the list for this year:

  1. Finding Arthur – Adam Ardrey, 2013 – a most enjoyable book detailing how, during the course of his own genealogical research, the author stumbled across proof of the legendary King Arthur’s actual existence in Scottish history. Evidence is drawn from clues found in historic writings, ancient place names and geography

  2. Finn McCool Rises (part 1) – Mark MacNicol, 2013 [Kindle edition] – a journalist uncovers a secret and finds herself in danger. Her only protector is Celtic hero Finn McCool, sent to her by the mysterious Ancients! The story moves between modern day Scotland and Finn’s realm of heroes and magic. Due to be released in three parts during the run up to the Scottish independence referendum. I’m pure gantin to find oot whit happens!    #indyref
  3. Jaggy Splinters – Christopher Brookmyre, 2012 [Kindle edition] – short stories. Featuring two Jack Parlabane tales and a sequel to the excellent A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away. All stories are great, in the classic Brookmyre-stylee
  4. State of Independence – Alistair Strang, 2011 [Kindle edition] – a rather unpleasant book. Seems to be overtly anti-english but is in fact insidiously anti-Scottish, full of negativity about the Scots and all their works. The hide and seek chase through the Highlands is somewhat entertaining – if it had been just a short story about that it might not have been so utterly heinous
  5. Coconut Badger – Mark MacNicol, 2011 [Kindle edition] – a brilliant book. Edgy, funny and surprisingly moving. All the dialogue is rendered in Glesga Scots. Nasty but great!
  6. Diary of a Pilgrimage – Jerome K Jerome, 1919 [Kindle edition 2009] – a typically quirky and enjoyable story of Jerome’s journey to Germany to watch the Passion Play performed every 10 years at Oberammergau
  7. Master of Ballantrae – Robert Louis Stevenson, 1889 [Kindle edition] – the only RLS story I’ve read but not enjoyed. An overwritten, Dickensianly-dull tale of a tedious family feud. Features the most boring pirates ever
  8. Raven Black – Ann Cleeves, 2006 [Kindle edition 2009] – first in the Shetland Island series featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. Fairly entertaining but I’m not sure I’m mad to read any more
  9. Tombstoning – Doug Johnstone, 2006 [Kindle edition 2012] – a tale of a school reunion, love and murder …in Arbroath! A really entertaining book. I’ll be looking out for more by this guy
  10. Crocodile on the Sandbank – Elizabeth Peters, 1975 [Kindle edition] – first in the series about formidable Victorian Egyptologist Amelia Peabody and her wonderful, grumpy Emerson. Like comfort food for my brain  🙂
  11. Around the World In 80 Days – Jules Verne, 1873 [Kindle edition] – I’m obsessed with this book. I buy every copy I come across (I had 6 or more at one time!). So, what was one of the first things to be downloaded onto my shiny new Kindle?… A glorious trans-global adventure. I love it!

  12. A Thousand-mile Walk to the Gulf – John Muir, 1916 [Kindle edition] – this should have been, and mainly was, just my sort of book. A lone wanderer, armed with nothing but a backpack and an adventurous spirit, takes a very long walk in days of yore. Sadly it was marred a good deal in the middle by the author’s constant, sickening and obviously entirely casual racism towards any and all “negroes” he encountered as he journeyed through America’s southern states. That (pretty huge) fault aside it was quite a nice book
  13. Gods and Fighting Men: the story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland – Lady Augusta Gregory, 1905 [Kindle edition] – a fine book, written in english but with very gaelic-style sentence structure. An enjoyable read, though the stories of Finn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna became a bit samey after a while… Guys! How many times must you go chasing after enchanted fawns before you get the message? It’s never going to end well for you!
  14. Gone Again – Doug Johnstone, 2013 [Kindle edition] – Excellent. At first the story is moving, heartbreaking even, but halfway through it becomes a very different book – the climactic chapters left me breathless! Highly recommended
  15. Flee – J.A. Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson, 2012 [Kindle Edition] – very exciting, almost exhausting to read. First in the Codename: Chandler series. A highly trained, very secret agent finds her cover blown. She’s fighting for her life but her enemies seem to know all her moves… Somewhat far-fetched but super entertaining nonetheless
  16. Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland – John Gregorson Campbell, 1900 [Kindle Edition 2012] – an entertaining but scholarly work, mainly concerned with tales of the Daoine Sìth (the Fairy Folk). It is at times repetitive, since the author gives variant versions of some stories, but interesting and enjoyable (in an old-fashioned, slightly stuffy kind of a way)
  17. Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1907 [Kindle edition 2004] – my very favourite book. Ever. I’ve read this countless times but I  always get something new – the chapter ‘A Night Among the Pines’ is still the best though

  18. Benny & Shrimp (Grabben i graven bredvid), Katarina Mazetti, 2010 [Kindle edition] – a Swedish book recommended to me by Mo (and recommended to her by a Swedish friend). A love story written from both perspectives. Mo thought it had a ‘good ending’ but it seemed shocking to a chick reared on Hollywood romance. Mo felt she must be very hard-hearted as she watched my reaction to it, tears rolling down my cheeks…
  19. Walking, Henry David Thoreau, 1862 [Kindle Edition] – this essay is more a philosophic discussion of nature and civilisation than walking but enjoyable nonetheless
  20. On the West Highland Way, Jimmie Macgregor, 1985 – only the second paper book I’ve read this year. A very nice wee book – surprisingly interesting, informative and well written. The travelogue style is interspersed with history, stories and songs
  21. A Short History of Scotland, Andrew Lang, 1911 [Kindle edition 2012] – this ‘short history’ took me over a month to read. The history of Scotland – from the Romans to ‘The 45’ – was bloody and complicated. It didn’t help at all that they only seemed to have a dozen or so names to go around, e.g. all the women were called either Mary or Margaret!
  22. The Dead Beat, Doug Johnstone, 2014 [Kindle edition] – a twisty, turny, corpse filled tale of family ties, memories and mental illness
  23. We Were All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler, 2013 [kindle] – Rosemary Cooke begins her story in the middle because she doesn’t want us to make assumptions about her family. In my view this results in Rosemary coming across as an unsympathetic character at first, although this changes as we learn more of her story. An engrossing and moving story of love and psychology
  24. The Stone, Nigel Tranter, 1958 – kind of a sequel to the Iain Hamilton gang’s caper with the coronation stone at Westminster. This story draws on the legends surrounding The Stone of Destiny (the real stone that was hidden and never left Scotland, not the sandstone privy-cover Longshanks carried off!). The protagonist is a bit of a pompous eegit but most other characters are great – especially the resourceful and spirited Jean Graham
  25. Smokeheads, Doug Johnstone, 2011 [kindle] – the least impressive of Doug Johnstone’s books so far. Most of the book was great – good characters, excitement and peril – but the ending was weak and far too drawn out
  26. Dreamwalker, James Oswald, 2012 [kindle] – book 1 of the Ballad of Sir Benfro. A compelling story of magic, dragons and librarians written by a sheep farmer from Fife. Shocker of an ending – I’m looking forward to book 2
  27. Beach Cafe, Lucy Diamond, 2011 [kindle] – I love Cornwall and the sea, so I expected to like this book – and to be fair, it’s not entirely awful – not entirely. The main character is meant to be the ‘black sheep’ of her family but she just seems unimaginative and a bit stupid. There were a number of plot points I saw coming about a week and a half before the character, and no Cornish accents anywhere. Not recommended.
  28. On the Last Day of Christmas: The Fall of Jack Parlabane, Chris Brookmyre, 2014 [kindle] – a short story to lay a little groundwork for Brookmyre’s next novel in the new year. A bit of a cliffhanger ending – aaargh!
  29. The Rose Cord, James Oswald, 2012 [kindle] – The Ballad of Sir Benfro, book 2. Much darker than book 1 and, if I’m honest, the constant pain and suffering the main characters experienced was becoming a bit grinding towards the end. However, we seem to have reached a turning point in the story, so I have higher hopes for book 3…
  30. The Golden Cage,  James Oswald, 2013 [kindle] – The Ballad of Sir Benfro, book 3. Another cliff-hanger ending – but this time I have to wait nearly a year for book 4! A very enjoyable read. I zipped through this one in no time. Benfro and Errol finally meet again, slowly learning to trust and rely on each other. Something terrible seems to have happened to Martha (!!!) and who the heck is The Shepherd anyway? Roll on Sept 2015!