Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 #4: Read a Book That’s Been Challenged Recently in Your School District/Library OR One of the Most-Challenged/Banned Books of the Year by a Queer and/or BIPOC Author

Given that 2021 and 2022 have seen a scary rise in censorship across the nation, it should come as no surprise that this year’s Read Hard challenge includes a challenge to read a book that’s been challenged recently in your school district/library OR one of the most-challenged/banned books of the year by a queer and/or BIPOC author. The purpose of this challenge is to get you aware of what’s happening in your own communities, and also to stop and consider what books are being targeted these days.

I think oftentimes when we think about “banned” books we think about the classics and books that have been around for decades and always ruffling feathers. While it’s important that we read those books and fight against censorship that targets those books, I think we also need to be keenly aware of what’s happening right now and where these challenges are trending. Books by people of color and by queer authors are being challenged most these days. Books that offer sex education or a deeper understanding of gender are especially targeted. And we shouldn’t just read them — we need to actively stand up for them.

If you’re unaware if something has been challenged or banned in your community, simply Google your community’s name + the words “book challenge” or “censorship” and look for local news sources. Go track down your public library’s board meeting minutes or the school board meeting minutes and scan them for any challenges that might have occurred. Better yet, chat with a local librarian and ask them about any censorship issues they might have faced recently. Unfortunately, lots of teachers and librarians are fighting these battles, but you might not know about it until something hits the news weeks or months later. But being aware means that you”re better equipped to jump to a book’s defense when there is a challenge!

If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that hasn’t experienced any challenges or censorship, expand your search to region or state. Unfortunately, this is happening everywhere. You can also check out the ALA’s Most Challenged Books list of 2021 for some reading inspiration:

Gender Queer cover

Gender Queer Maia Kobabe

The most challenged book in 2021 is a graphic memoir about Maia’s journey to realizing e does not fit into the gender binary, and eir journey of discovery. Unsurprisingly, it has been banned and challenged due to LGBTQ+ content and claims of sexually explicit material.

a man in overalls standing on a ladder, trimming a giant green hedge

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

This book about a young Chicano man working as a landscaper and stuck in his life has been highly lauded…but also challenged for LGBTQ+ content and for being considered sexually explicit. (Note: This title has been often confused with Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen, a children’s book.)

All Boys Aren't Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

This is a moving memoir about George’s journey through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood and navigating the expectations of society while being both queer and Black. It’s been challenged for LGBTQ+ content, profanity, and for being considered sexually explicit.

Out of Darkness cover

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

This Printz Honor book tells the story of two teens who fall in love, despite the laws that would keep them apart, set against the backdrop of a deadly explosion in 1937 Texas. It’s been challenged for its depictions of abuse, and because it’s considered sexually explicit.

The Hate U Give Book Cover

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The mega bestseller about a girl who witnesses police violence and becomes a voice for change has been on the most challenged list since it came out. It’s been challenged for profanity, violence, and because it’s thought to depict an anti-police sentiment.

cover of The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The oldest book on the list, this modern classic from the great Toni Morrison is about a young girl who is tormented by her desire for blue eyes, and the tragedy that she encounters in her life. It has been challenged for its depictions of sexual abuse and for being considered sexually explicit.

This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson

What does is mean to be queer? No matter how you think you might identify, this book is a primer on identity and the LGBTQ+ community. For obvious reasons, it’s continually challenged for LGBTQ+ content, and because it offers sex education.

Beyond Magenta

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

Susan Kuklin has interviewed six teens who identify as transgender and documented their stories and journeys to coming out, transitioning, and learning to live in a world that isn’t always welcoming to trans kids. It’s been challenged for LGBTQ+ content and because it’s considered to be sexually explicit.

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It’s important to stay aware of censorship news and help combat challenges both in your community and throughout the country. Follow Book Riot’s coverage of censorship news to stay on top of what’s going on.

Click here for the full Read Harder 2023 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 Task #3: Read a Book About Activism

Activism is a huge topic that could be easily targeted in many different directions. You could read a book for kids or books for teens, books about antiracism or books about the environment, or any number of works of fiction that explore the lives of activists. 

For this post we wanted to focus on works of nonfiction about activism by choosing books that can offer examples, books that can inspire action, or books that allow activists to tell stories in their own words. Here are four works of nonfiction about activism and four memoirs by contemporary activists.


book cover As Long As Grass Grows

As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker

The Indigenous community in the United States has a long and rich history of activism related to the environment. In this book, researcher and activist Dina Gilio-Whitaker chronicles Indigenous resistance to government and corporate intervention via treaty violations, threats to food and water, and more. These different threads all came together throughout 2016 when the protest at Standing Rock brought national attention to Indigenous activists and highlighted how much modern environmentalists have to learn from their history.

book cover How to Do Nothing

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

While it seems funny to include a book about “doing nothing” on a list about activism, this one really does fit well. Artist and activist Jenny Odell argues that attention is our most important (and exploited) asset that we need to take control of in order to succeed at political action like saving the environment. She pushes back against capitalist narratives about productivity and technology, to argue that being in nature and away from screens can help us rethink our place in the world.

book cover all the women in my family sing

All the Women in My Family Sing: Women Write the World, edited by Deborah Santana

This book is an anthology “documenting the experiences of women of color at the dawn of the twenty-first century.” Through poetry and prose, it captures the experiences of women across careers, economic status, sexuality, and cultures as they “exercise autonomy, creativity, and dignity.” It includes pieces by actresses, activists, journalists, executives, authors, and more. It’s especially cool that the book was entirely produced by women of color, in addition to featuring their voices.

book cover From Memes to Movements

Memes To Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media Is Changing Social Protest and Power by An Xiao Mina

This book takes a global look at the impact of memes as pieces of “pop culture, politics, protest, and propaganda” both on and offline. An Xiao Mina is a digital media scholar and technologist interested in understanding how memes work and how they “reinforce, amplify, and shape” politics and culture. She argues that the silliness of meme culture is directly tied to the way memes can also direct attention to important social issues, poking at those in power in ways that aren’t always possible directly. 


book cover Year of the TIger

Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life by Alice Wong

Alice Wong is a disabled activist, writer, and director of the Disability Visibility Project. The title of this memoir comes from Chinese culture, where the tiger is “deeply revered for its confidence, passion, ambition, and ferocity” — qualities Wong embodies each day. This memoir combines essays, previously published work, graphics, photos, and art from other disabled and Asian American artists. Through this “impressionistic scrapbook,” she shares a look at her life as an activist, writer, and community organizer. This memoir is innovative, moving, and readable.

book cover when they call you a terrorist

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ was raised by a single mother in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood where she experienced the prejudice Black Americans experience at the hands of the police. Thanks to her mother and teachers, she was able to attend a well-supported charter school in an adjacent neighborhood. This book is the story of her childhood, her early work as an activist, the people she has loved and who have loved her, and more. Khan-Cullors gets into the details of founding the Black Lives Matters movement with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in the last part of the book, sharing how it went from a hashtag to a full movement around accountability from law enforcement.

book cover we are not here to be bystanders

We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love and Resistance by Linda Sarsour

Linda Sarsour is a Palestinian Muslim American activist who was a co-organizer of the Women’s March. In this memoir she writes about growing up in Brooklyn, attending protests in Washington D.C. and discovering her “innate sense of justice” in the wake of the September 11 attacks. She also writes about learning how to be a community organizer and shares her experiences fighting for “racial, economic, gender, and social justice” throughout her career. Inspiring!

book cover native country of the heart

Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe Moraga

This book is a dual memoir of a daughter and her mother, queer Latina feminist Cherríe Moraga and her mother, Elvira, who grew up picking cotton in California. In the 1920s, Elvira left California to work as a cigarette girl in Tijuana, a choice that allowed her to learn lessons about “power, sex, and opportunity” from the wealthy men she met. Moraga parallels that story with her own journey of self-discovery, passion for activism, and history of her community. As Elvira slips into the grips of Alzheimer’s disease, Moraga digs deeper into stories of the Mexican American diaspora.

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If none of those books feel like the right fit, we have even more Book Riot posts you can peruse including middle grade books on activism, books for baby activists, and books about digital activism. Grab a book, get inspired, and then get out there and change the world for the better!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2023 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 Task #2: Read One of Your Favorite Author’s Favorite Books

Fact: We all have favorite books. Some of us can even narrow it down to our VERY favorite book. That often leads us to calling the people who wrote those books our favorite authors. But have you ever wondered about your favorite authors’ favorite books?

While I can’t narrow down just one book as my favorite, I do feel certain when I say my favorite author is Elizabeth McCracken. I have been a devoted fan since her debut novel The Giant’s House. I was really excited to get this assignment, because I was wildly curious to find out what McCracken considers her favorite book. So I asked her on Twitter and she was nice enough to respond! Then I got nervous — would I love the favorite book of my favorite author? Spoiler: Absolutely, as you’ll see below.

Now you are probably asking yourself, “How do I find out my favorite author’s favorite books?” In this age of social media, authors often mention the books they love, so you can search their Twitter or Instagram feeds, if they have them. One helpful way I discovered some of my favorite author’s favorite books for this post was by googling “(their name) favorite books”. A lot of results came up for interviews with these authors, which I scanned for mentions. Or you can watch/attend an event with the author and ask them. There are a lot of ways!

Below are nine recommendations from some of my favorite authors, including the one recommended by Elizabeth McCracken, which I then read for this post. Most I came upon in interviews, and a couple came from glowing praise they heaped on the book. Book blurbs on the cover of a book work on me, if they’re from an author I love. I hope you find something here you want to read, and good luck with the 2023 Read Harder Challenge!

xx, Liberty

cover of Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Z. Hossain; brown dirt behind the font

Escape from Baghdad! by Saad Z. Hossain

This is a favorite of Nick Harkaway’s, and is one one of my favorite indie press books. It’s a madcap, razor-sharp satire of war in the vein of Catch-22 or Fobbit, with a touch of Three Kings. It’s set during the U.S. invasion of Baghdad, and follows two men who sell goods on the black market who wind up in possession of a prisoner who says he will lead them to Saddam Hussein’s riches if they let him go.

cover of They’re Going To Love You by Meg Howrey; painting of a ballerina sitting on the floor

They’re Going To Love You by Meg Howrey

I picked this one up because it was so enthusiastically and beautifully blurbed by Jami Attenberg. And I am so glad I did, because it ended up being one of my favorite books of the year! This one will wring so many tears from your heart. It’s about a dancer who is deciding if she will visit her estranged father after learning that he is dying. Perfect for fans of Tell the Wolves I’m Home and A Little Life.

cover of The Known World by Edward P. Jones; cream colored with a magnolia blossom in one corner and a green leaf in another corner

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

When pressed, I will tell you that this novel is definitely in my top three favorite books. It’s about the death of a former slave and what happens with his widow, who tries to manage his plantation and the enslaved people who work it. It’s a gorgeous, powerful work, and one of the winningest books for all ties, in both accolades and cash awards, including the Pulitzer. It was no surprise to me when one of my favorite authors, Colson Whitehead, mentioned it as being important to him while writing his first Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Underground Railroad.

cover if The Dubliners by James Joyce; paiting of people looking down into a river

Dubliners by James Joyce

And speaking of Edward P. Jones, he mentioned once in an interview that he was influenced by this collection of stories by James Joyce while writing his own collection, Lost in the City. Believe me when I tell you that Jones is one of the best living short story writers, so while I haven’t read this book, it’s on my TBR for sure. Jones loves Irish story writers — he has also mentioned Mary Lavin as another favorite.

cover of Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith; collage image of a woman's face made of photos and snakeskin

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith

Any book blurbed by the magical Kelly Link is an auto-buy for me, and this is probably my favorite that I picked up for that reason. It’s set in Vietnam, back and forth over decades, involving two missing young women in different times, a priest, war, and a whole lot of snakes. It’s a visceral, astounding novel.

cover of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing; photo of a young woman in a white nightdress reading a book

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

In researching what books the amazing Charlie Jane Anders loves, I came across a list with a few recommendations. This is one I have always meant to read, and I actually own, so I think I will pick this one for the 2023 Read Harder Challenge. Lessing is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and this is the story of a young writer who keeps four different colored notebooks (black, red, yellow, blue) for four different facets of her life, but may one day combine them into — you guessed it — the golden notebook.

cover of Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser; illustration of a young boy standing in front of a white house

Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer: 1943 – 1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright by Steven Millhauser

And this is the book recommended to me by Elizabeth McCracken, which I eagerly read and loved! The title is a bit confusing because it’s a fake biography of a child genius (Edwin Mullhouse) written by a childhood acquaintance (Jeffrey Cartwright) but of course really all written by Steven Millhauser. It was quirky and darkly humorous and brilliant, and it made me feel like I was seeing a bit into McCracken’s brain, because her work is also all of those things. This novel turned 50 this year, and I can now see Millhauser’s possible influence on A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer, and Patrick deWitt’s upcoming novel The Librarianist. What a treat it was to be assigned this task.

cover of True Grit by Charles Portis; styled like a old-time circus flyer, in yellows and reds

True Grit by Charles Portis

After Donna Tartt released The Secret History, it was ten years before she released her next book, The Little Friend. It was a very different style than her first, and did not receive the same love that The Secret History was given. I myself loved The Little Friend, and I also love the works of Charles Portis. When I learned that True Grit is Donna Tartt’s favorite novel, it was so easy to see Portis’s influence on The Little Friend. I personally think True Grit is the greatest Western ever written, and worth reading, even if you don’t like Westerns. And if you love Donna Tartt, recent editions include an afterword written by her, and you can also hear her read the audiobook in her lovely Southern accent.

cover of I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin; black and white photo of a closeup of a young Asian woman's face

I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-Sook Shin

And last but not least, another book I am considering for the 2023 Read Harder challenge recommended in an interview by one of the most amazing authors I’ve read: Alexander Chee! It’s the story of a young woman and her three college friends set amidst the political turmoil of South Korea in the 1980s. The narrator, Jung Yoon, recounts past tragedies and relationships in her life.

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To get even more awesome recommendations and hopefully find more books you will love, be sure to sign up for our weekly New Books newsletter, and subscribe to All the Books!, the podcast where we discuss our favorite new releases each week and more!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2023 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 Task #1: Read a Novel About a Trans Character Written by a Trans Author

Welcome to the 2023 Read Harder challenge! I am honored to have this first slot, because Read Harder is always a great opportunity to diversify your reading in every sense. For the next 23 days, you’ll be getting emails like this with recommendations for every task, though of course you’re free to use any books you’d like to complete the challenges.

This first prompt is “Read a novel about a trans character written by a trans author,” and let me tell you, I had trouble narrowing down the books I wanted to feature in this newsletter. While trans books are still not as common as they should be, there are far more being published now than in prior years, which is something to celebrate. I tried to include a mix of books that you may already know, to remind you of them, as well as ones that are less well-known that might be your first introduction to them. Each of these are written by a trans (including nonbinary) author.

I started with adult titles and then listed some middle grade and young adult titles. Across all age groups, they include both realistic/contemporary books as well as sci-fi/fantasy ones, so there’s something for everyone. (Also, quick English class reminder: “novel” means fiction, so save the memoirs/history books for later!)

cover of Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

This award-winning novel follows three women, trans and cis, who — after an unexpected pregnancy — decide to raise a baby together. This was a bestseller that was named one of the best books of the year by a ton of publications last year, including NPR and The New York Times.

the cover of Nevada

Nevada by Imogen Binnie

This has recently come back into print with a new afterword from the author, which I am very happy about, because it’s one of my favorite books. Maria is an unforgettable main character: overanalyzing, ironic, dissatisfied, and so compelling. When she’s fired and her girlfriend breaks up with her, she steals her ex’s car and takes off on a cross-country road trip, eventually meeting James, who she’s sure she can help transition, even though James is not ready to face that yet.

the cover of The Bruising of Qilwa

The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia

This is a fantasy novel set in a queernormative, Persian-inspired world with an asexual, aromantic, nonbinary main character. Firuz is a refugee working at a clinic who discovers a deadly blood-borne disease that is spreading. But Firuz is a blood magic practitioner, and this disease might bring even more danger down on them.

Light from Uncommon Stars Book Cover

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

How do I explain this book? It has deals with the devil, a donut store run by alien refugees, and a trans teen runaway who is a violin prodigy. These disparate parts combine into a heart-achingly affective story, but do be prepared to read about both the kindness and the cruelty of humanity. (Check trigger warnings for this one.) It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

In the Watchful City cover

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

If you like experimental SFF, this is the novella for you. It includes multiple nonbinary characters, including one that is fused with the city’s security system. The main character, Anima, uses æ/ær/ær pronouns. The other character, Vessel, uses se/ser/ser pronouns.

the cover of Melissa by Alex Gino

Melissa by Alex Gino

This has been one of the most frequently banned and challenged books since its release, but it’s a very sweet, gentle middle grade story about a trans girl, Melissa, who wants to audition to be Charlotte in the school’s production of Charlotte’s Web.

the cover of Felix Ever After

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

As a Black, queer, trans teen, Felix worries that he’s “too much” to find the romance he’s looking for. When someone starts anonymously harassing him by publicly posting his deadname and pre-transition photos, he never expects that his revenge plot would also be the start of a new relationship. This is a book about self-discovery and always learning more about your own identity.

cover of Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix (Remixed Classics, 5) by Anna-Marie McLemore; illustration of two young men, one white and blonde, one Latine with dark hair, dressed in 1920s outfits

Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix by Anna-Marie McLemore

This is a recent release that reimagines Nick and Jay from The Great Gatsby as queer trans boys, and Nick and Daisy as Latine. Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys, said that “With a breath of fresh life, Self-Made Boys shows us how queer love has flourished in quiet corners across history.”

Cover of The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

Speaking of Aiden Thomas, you may have already heard of Cemetery Boys, a very popular trans paranormal YA title with an M/M romance, but did you know he has a new series that also has a trans main character? The Trials pit the most worthy semidioses against each other: the winner will be the Sunbearer, but the loser will be sacrificed. Teo is shocked to be chosen, and now he has to try to keep him and his friends from becoming the sacrifice — while attempting not to get distracted by the handsome top competitor who was once his best friend.

hell followed with us book cover

Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White

Benji is a trans boy on the run from a cult who have made him a bioweapon to try to end the world. He finds refuge with a group of queer teens, but they have their own secrets, and he’s a ticking time bomb. This is a rage-filled story that tackles transphobia head-on and has lots of body horror, so be prepared for that going in.

Want to read books from this newsletter? You can, for free! Get three free audiobooks with a trial to Claim your 3 free audiobooks now!

But don’t stop there! Also check out 20 Must-Read Adult Books by Trans & Genderqueer Authors, 12 Books By Up-And-Coming Trans & Nonbinary Authors, and 8 Transgender YA Books Written by Trans and Nonbinary Authors.

Bon voyage on your Read Harder journey, and keep us updated on social media with your progress!

Until next time, you can find me at my sapphic book blog, the Lesbrary. You can also read my weekly Our Queerest Shelves LGBTQ books newsletter, hear me on All the Books, or you can read my Book Riot posts.

Happy reading!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2023 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

The 2023 Read Harder Challenge Is Here!

If you’ve been counting down the days, your wait is over — the 2023 Read Harder Challenge, sponsored by Thriftbooks, has arrived! Check out the new tasks, download this year’s PDF, revel in that glorious pink, and start plotting next year’s reads. Happy brainstorming!

the Read Harder Challenge 2023 logo has bright pink san serif lettering with yellow paint splashing across them

Read Harder

Read Harder Task #24: Repeat A Past Task

Howdy folks! We’re nearing the end of the Read Harder 2022 experience, but there’s one last task! Instead of making it easy for you with a single potential task, you have your choice from over a hundred (168, to be exact, give or take a few repeats) possible tasks from the Read Harder challenges from 2015 to 2021. The first go round was a little more general with tasks like “read a romance” or “read a book by a person whose gender is different from your own”, but eventually we started getting pretty particular about what you might be willing to do in order to challenge yourself as a reader.

The wonder about this particular task is that there are so many ways to take it: is this the book you reward yourself with after completing the first 23 tasks? Is this a comforting read, or are you ending the year with a bang? Are you thinking of reading in a familiar genre or do you want to pick up something you never would have thought to read before? Anything is possible with this particular task, because there are so many possible tasks to choose from. I’ve pulled together a small number of tasks (including links to the original recommendation lists if there were any) with a couple books to read in each one, but there’s a whole world out there for you!

Historical Romance By an Author of Color

cover of Night Song by Beverly Jenkins

Night Song by Beverly Jenkins

Historical romance great Beverly Jenkins’s first book, Night Song, is the story of a Kansas schoolteacher and the Union officer she can’t resist. (This can also qualify as a classic of genre fiction, which I mention a little further down.)

A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera

Arriving in Paris from Santo Domingo to build her family’s rum business, Luz Alana doesn’t expect Evan Sinclair. And she certainly doesn’t expect the marriage of convenience he offers to help her and her business.

The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan

When entrepreneur Grayson Hunter seeks the brilliant person that has been recommended to create the code that will take his telegraph business further into China, he’s surprised to discover that person is a woman. But they’re both more than willing to go with the flow. 

A Classic of Genre Fiction

cover of Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

What better way to figure out what the heck is happening in the most recent theatrical adaptation than to read the source material? Young Paul Atreides and his family must move to the planet of Arrakis, where the spice is from. But there are people who aren’t happy about that. 

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

This classic thriller novel centers a young sociopath who slowly insinuates his way into the life of a socialite. If you’ve never read a Patricia Highsmith novel, this is definitely a great place to start. 

A Dystopian or Post-Apocalyptic Novel

cover of Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

This exceptionally well written book follows Fen in a near-distant future in which the world as we know it no longer exists. Reminiscent of Parable of the Sower, this is the story of a girl seeking a better life in a place far from home, before it kills her. 

The Home I Find With You by Skye Kilaen

After a second civil war that has left the US broken and powerless, Van and his community work to keep alive and keep others out. When Clark arrives to stay with family, the two might have some chemistry; but trust is hard in a world where any outsider might be ready to kill you. 

A Book that Takes Place in Asia

cover of The Red Palace by June Hur

The Red Palace by June Hur

This historical mystery set in 18th century Joseon (Korea, for those of you who didn’t spend the whole pandemic downing K-Dramas) centers Hyeon, a palace nurse. After four women are murdered in the palace, Hyeon starts her own investigation to help prove the murderer wasn’t a beloved mentor. 

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Pride and Prejudice. In Pakistan. I’m not sure I need to say any more.

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

LGBTQ romance novel

Cover of Meet Cute Club

Meet Cute Club by Jack Harbon

Snooty bookseller Rex surprises Jordan at the romance book club he runs after an unfriendly encounter at the bookstore. He’s hesitant at first, but he might be coming around to this whole romance novel thing. Meta AF.

Satisfaction Guaranteed by Karelia Stetz-Waters

When staid accountant Cade and flighty artist Selena co-inherit a home and a sex toy shop, they have to figure out what to do about it…and each other.

A Humor Book

cover of Shit Actually by Lindy West

Shit, Actually by Lindy West

If you’re a fan of movies, or even just a fan of snark, you might enjoy this book. To some, this book might look like Lindy just recapping the plots of several films, but there’s more to it. Trust me. 

Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outside Clothes by Phoebe Robinson

While anything by Phoebe is laughworthy, this book is particularly fun and interesting, for any reader. A combination of essay, memoir, and advice, every chapter has moments of hilarity and depth. 

A Collection of Short Stories

cover image of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

While each of the characters, styles, and themes of the stories in this collection are different, they all have one thing in common: excellence. There is not a skippable story in the bunch.

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So

Stories about first and second generation Cambodian Americans abound in this collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking. 

The Awkward Black Man by Walter Mosley

Did you know Walter Mosley wrote short stories? And not a single one in this collection is a mystery novel, at least not in the same way the Easy Rawlins books are. But they are fascinating takes on so many different kinds of Black men and the people around them. 

A Book of Social Science

book cover the heartbeat of wounded knee by daavid treuer

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer

Writer and anthropologist Treuer digs into the modern history of Native peoples on the American continent, their relationship with settler colonialism, and how that has impacted Native and tribal life today.

Belly of the Beast by Da’Shaun Harrison

Do you have thoughts about desire, desirability, race, and anti-fatness? I can assure you, after you read this relatively short book, you’re gonna. 

A Non Superhero Comic that Debuted in the Last Three Years

cover of Cosmoknights

Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer

Space Gays Fight The Patriarchy. 

That’s it, that’s the tweet.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Titular new kid Jordan knows that his new school is going to offer him more academic opportunities than his old school near home, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t miss his neighborhood friends. 

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

Not quite what you’re looking for, or just interested in seeing what else is out there? Visit the Read Harder Archives for all of the past tasks and recommendation lists.  And if you’re curious what I’ve been reading, you can check out my page on Book Riot proper, listen to the When In Romance podcast, or catch me on twitter (@jessisreading) or instagram (@jess_is_reading). 

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder Task #23: Read a Book by a Disabled Author

Contributor Editor Kendra here to talk to you about all things disability lit! The 23rd prompt on the Read Harder challenge is to read a book by a disabled author. While not all disabled, chronically ill, Deaf, and neurodivergent authors write about disability specifically, they do often include a discussion of disability in their work.

As a disabled person, I rarely see that part of myself in the books that I read. So a few years ago, I decided to begin looking for books by disabled authors so I could finally see myself in books. What I discovered was a treasure trove of incredible literature. From historical fiction to poetry to memoirs, disabled people write it all.

In a previous newsletter, I mentioned Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong and Growing Up Disabled in Australia edited by Carly Findlay. Both of these anthologies feature a range of disabled authors who often have full-length books of their own, so I highly recommend going and checking out those titles as well.

Okay, get your TBRs ready! I have an incredible selection of books to tell you about. So what are we waiting for? Onto the books!

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

A graphic of the cover of A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley

A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley

In her memoir, Ariel Henley describes her experience of growing up with Crouzon Syndrome, a genetic condition that caused the bones in her head to fuse prematurely. Henley describes how the only other person that truly understood her experience was her twin sister who also has the condition. A Face for Picasso challenges ideas of beauty, which is based around a non-disabled default. I love Henley’s work and can’t wait to see what she writes next!

A graphic of the cover of The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me by Keah Brown

The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me by Keah Brown

Keah Brown hashtag #DisabledAndCute went viral, ushering in a slew of posts by disabled folks raising awareness that disabled people can be sexy too. All too often, non-disabled people infantilize disabled people, especially those with visible disabilities. But Brown is here to remind you that ideas like that need to stop in their tracks. Her memoir, The Pretty One, covers her experience of growing as a queer Black woman with cerebral palsey and how she came to love her body.

A graphic of the cover of Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer

Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer

Born with spina bifida, Riva Lehrer grew up with a lot of internalized ableism. Doctors didn’t expect her to survive, but she did. She eventually comes across a group of artists who use their experiences as inspiration for their work. There, Leher learns to love her body, creating incredible art pieces in the process.

A graphic of the cover of Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma

Deafblind Harvard Law grad breaks all the stereotypes the world throws at her. The daughter of Eritrean immigrants, Girma started life learning to adapt to new situations, which proved a useful skill throughout her life. While studying at university, she invented a piece of tech that helps her communicate with the sighted and hearing people around her.

A graphic of the cover of White Magic by Elissa Washuta

White Magic by Elissa Washuta

Cowlitz author Elissa Washuta proves herself queen of the essay with White Magic. This collection of essays takes a look at a wide range of topics, including alcoholism, breakups, the occult, colonialism, and the Washuta’s love for the Oregon Trail computer game. Washuta lives with an autoimmune condition called Sjögren’s Syndrome and much of her writing discusses learning to care for one’s body in a nondisabled society.

A Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks by MacKenzie Lee

A Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks by Mackenzie Lee

I’ve loved reading the Montague Siblings trilogy, but the latest book, A Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks might be my favorite. Adrian Montague had no idea that he had two older—very much disinherited—siblings, but once he learns they exist, he knows he MUST get to know them. Adrian has severe anxiety and OCD, but in the 1700s, they don’t have words for that, or at least nothing that Adrian finds helpful.

A graphic of the cover of Black Under by Ahsanti Anderson

Black Under by Ahsanti Anderson

Disabled queer Black author Ashanti Anderson won the Black River Chapbook Competition for Black Under. Her writing covers topics around her own identity, examining the intersections of her identity from every angle. She uses such precision in her poetry, and I found myself reading and rereading sections over and over again.

A graphic of the cover of The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers: And Other Gruesome Tales by Jen Campbell

The Sister Who Ate Her Brothers: And Other Gruesome Tales by Jen Campbell

In her latest book, Jen Campbell retells fairytales from around the world. From a sinister merman to a family of skeletons, these stories possess a delightfully creepy feel. With spooky illustrations from Adam de Souza, this collection of scary stories is the perfect pick for a dark and windy night.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

Those are just a few of the amazing books by disabled authors that would be perfect for Read Harder prompt #23.

I hope you love these books as much as I did! That’s it for now, but we’ll be back with more recommendations for the 2022 Read Harder challenge. In the meantime, happy reading!

~ Kendra

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder Task #22: Read a History About a Period You Know Little About

Hello, friends!

Today’s Read Harder task is “Read a History About a Period You Know Little About.” This assignment, which seemed straightforward to me when I took it, got more complicated when I sat down to come up with a list of qualifying books. After all, what about books that cover a period I know a fair amount about, but from a perspective I’m unfamiliar with? Or books that address a specific topic that I know very little about over a long period of history – or conversely, microhistories addressing a very narrow subject that I am again woefully unfamiliar with, but taking place during a period I thought I knew well?

In the end, I came up with a list of books whose summaries made me go “Huh. I didn’t know that!” And even though the “forgotten” parts of history are often obscured because they reflect very, very badly on the dominant (white, ablebodied) culture, meaning that most of these are likely to be hard reads, the fact that I struggled to cut this list down rather than build it up is indicative of one of my favorite aspects of history: there’s always more to learn.

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

Black and British

Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga

As a white American, I know at least the mainstream African American history that’s taught in schools, though the older I get, the more I realize how little I actually know. How much less, then, do I know about the history of Black people in England? This history dates back to Roman Britain, situating Black Britons as part of the history and culture of the nation rather than rare exceptions.

The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez

This book makes the case that Indian slavery – technically illegal but openly practiced for centuries – was one of the major causes of Native American genocide and one with which we still have not reckoned. Again, I know mainstream (white) American history pretty well. I don’t know about this.

Empress Dowager Cixi

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

That subtitle! How could I not want to read it? I know very little about Chinese history in general, so there are centuries to dive into here, but Empress Dowager Cixi lived from 1835-1908 (and ruled China from 1861 on), so that’s the period we’re looking at for this one.

The Unfit Heiress: The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt by Audrey Clare Farley

The case this book revolves around – the sterilization of a “promiscuous” socialite by her mother in order to control millions of dollars of her inheritance – took place in 1934, and I’ll admit I’m a 1930s history buff – but I know far less about disability history and reproductive rights than I’d like to, and stories like Britney Spears’s only serve to illuminate how sadly relevant this sort of thing still remains.

Churchill's Secret War

Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee

You can’t mention that you like history without having a million World War II books chucked your way – but India is almost never mentioned. This book examines the period between 1940 and 1944 and the devastation Churchill’s decisions wreaked on the subcontinent.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

I love urban history, especially that of my native New York, but books on the topic tend to focus on the 19th century and earlier, and rarely address disturbing aspects like the way American governments at every level codified segregation in our cities throughout most of the 20th century.

The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

This history of the migration of almost six million Black southerners to other parts of the country over the years 1915-1970 has been on my TBR for ages, and having now read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste has just moved it higher up on the list.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

The thing about historical events that happen when you’re a child is: you’re too little to understand them, but they’re too recent for you to learn about them in school. So it was for me with the end of the Soviet Union when I was seven. All I’ve ever gotten is a vague sense that America and capitalism are just so gosh-darn superior; I have a feeling it’s a little bit more nuanced than that.

And that’s my list of possible reads! Yours will look different, obviously, given the personal nature of this task, but here’s hoping we all learn something new from it.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

Happy reading!


Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder Task #21: Queer Retellings

It’s time for another Read Harder task! This time, we’re talking about queer retellings of almost any kind—classics of the canon, fairy tales, myths and legends, we could go on. Retellings, in this list, count as anything that either uses a previous work as a jumping off point, or that uses the original source material to tell a brand new version of the same story. 

I love retellings. Give me a Jane Austen story set in the Caribbean, or Pygmalion set in a fantasy world with Chinese influences. Tell me the same love story I’ve heard before, but with a twist, or give a classical hero the depth he deserves. Pastiche is something I live for and dwell in—to the point where I spent more than half of my life reading more fanfiction than actual books, some years. And queer retellings? *chef’s kiss* They are the best of the best. This list is a good place to start in order to complete this task, but there are…a not insignificant amount of others you might want to dive into. (Some years ago it would have been like pulling teeth, but now, they’re starting to appear a little more frequently.)

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

Cover of Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Retelling of: The Legend of King Arthur

After her mother’s death, Bree enrolls in a pre-college residential program at UNC to get away from the memories and the pain. Witnessing a strange magical event her first night there leads her down a path towards a secret society claiming to be the descendents of King Arthur’s knights, and a young mage who calls himself Merlin. And apparently, there’s a war coming. Great.

cover of Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Retelling of: Romeo and Juliet

When Jubilee and Ridley meet at a comic convention prom, their connection is instant. But Jubilee’s family business is an indie comic shop and Ridley’s family owns one of the biggest comics chain in the country. With their parents in an ongoing feud, the two can’t help but keep their relationship a secret.

cover of Dithered Hearts by Chace Verity

Dithered Hearts by Chace Verity

Retelling of: Cinderella

Cyn is a farmer who would do anything to gain ownership of her farm back from her step parents—or to at least get away from them. When a chance to attend the Prince’s ball presents itself in the form of a literal fairy godfather, Cyn uses the opportunity to get a plan rolling…but it’s not the one anyone would have expected.

A Blade So Black cover image

A Blade So Black by LL McKinney

Retelling of: Alice in Wonderland

Atlanta teen Alice is a warrior. Having trained to fight the Nightmares in the magical realm of Wonderland, she is one of the few barriers to keeping the regular world safe. When her mentor is poisoned, she has to travel farther into Wonderland than she’s ever been in order to save his life…but she also has to keep herself alive.

cover of briarley by aster glenn gray

Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray

Retelling of: Beauty and The Beast

When a country parson finds himself trapped on a large estate by a grumpy dragon-man type being, he’s not sure what he might find easier: getting out, or helping the dragon-man to free himself from his curse.

Peter Darling updated cover

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Retelling of: Peter Pan

When Peter comes back to Neverland after a decade away, his old home has moved on without him. Sure, Captain Hook has missed his old rival, but the Lost Boys don’t seem to need him. When war breaks out between the two bloodthirsty Neverland groups, the relationship between the two changes into something completely different.

cover of Ash by Malinda Lo

Ash by Malinda Lo

Retelling of: Cinderella

Ash, left at the mercy of her stepmother after her father’s death, has little joy or comfort in the world. She meets a dark fairy, Sidhean, who could offer her everything her heart desires. But what of Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, who she learns from and comes to love, first as a friend and then maybe something else?

cover of thrall by roan parrish and avon gale

Thrall by Roan Parrish and Avon Gale

Retelling of: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

When Lucy’s brother Harker goes missing, she and her partner—in life and in true crime podcasting—go on a mission to find him. With the help of their social media assistant and Harker’s professor, they go deeper and deeper into the app Harker was investigating, Thrall. And Arthur and Professor Van Helsing go deeper into something different.

cover of Drag Me Up by RM Virtues

Drag Me Up by R. M. Virtues

Retelling of: Greek Mythology

Hades is one of the most feared people in Khaos Falls, almost to the point of being a myth. The only thing that could possibly bring him down is the vision he sees hanging from silk at a Cirque performance, who he can’t resist, and who should be with anyone except him.

cover of Nottingham by Anna Burke

Nottingham: The True Story of Robyn Hood by Anna Burke

Retelling of: Robin Hood

On the run after a hunting accident, Robyn seeks shelter in the Sherwood Forest. But when the Sheriff of Nottingham levies a tax on the good people of the area, she takes matters into her own hands…with the help of some great women and the Sheriff’s delightful daughter, Marian. 

cover of Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

Retelling of: Cinderella

Two hundred years after Cinderella married her prince, local girls are expected to attend the Annual Ball to be selected as wives. But Sophia would rather marry her best friend, Erin. When a chance encounter with Cinderella’s final descendent leaves her on the path to smashing the patriarchy, anything can happen. 

cover of The Princess Deception by Nell Stark

The Princess Deception by Nell Stark

Retelling of: Twelfth Night by Shakespeare 

When her twin brother Sebsatian, Crown Prince of Belgium, overdoses right before the royals are getting ready to bid for the FIFA World Cup, Viola decides the best way forward is to impersonate him (for some reason). Missy Duke, a reporter covering the Belgium bid, realizes very quickly that Sebastian is actually Viola, but goes along with it. Also, what are those sparks?

Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Retelling of: Snow-White, Rose-Red, and Swan Lake

In this retelling of the story of Snow White and Rose Red, McLemore weaves a haunting tale of two sisters who are also rivals. Thanks to a curse, sometime in their future, one will remain human while the other is turned into a swan. When the curse draws two local boys into the fray, who knows what will happen.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

Looking for more queer retellings? Find more here, here, and here. And if you’re curious what I’ve been reading, you can check out my page on Book Riot proper, listen to the When In Romance podcast, or catch me on twitter (@jessisreading) or instagram (@jess_is_reading).

Happy reading!


Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.

Read Harder

Read Harder Task #20: Read an Award-Winning Book From the Year You Were Born

With this challenge, we are throwing it back with a challenge that might require a little bit of research on your part. This is a real open-ended challenge that should ensure that you’ll be able to find the right book for you because it can be any award! In any genre! Just as long as it’s from the year you’re born!

Because this isn’t a one-size-fits-all challenge and my options from 1992 won’t be the same as yours, I’m going to highlight a list of awards for you to check out so you can hopefully find the best book pick for you! Just a quick note about diversity: Depending on how far back you have to reach, it might be harder to find books by authors of color. I hate that for us! I’ve highlighted a couple when I could find them below, but just know that might be a challenge and not the kind of challenge that we like, as we much prefer the more diverse awards lists of this century.

Make sure to get your own Read Harder Book Journal from Book Riot to track your reading for the year!

The National Book Awards

The National Book Awards are the United States’ biggest book award of the year, and they date back to 1950 when there were three categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry. Over the years, the NBA Foundation has added categories for Young People’s Literature and Translated Literature, which are awarded today, and have even offered awards in retired categories such as Arts and Letters, History and Biography, and Science, Philosophy, and Religion. Some past winners include Herzog by Saul Bellow (1965) and All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992).

Lambda Literary Awards, aka the Lammys

If you’d like to pick up a queer novel and you were born after 1988, then you can peruse the Lambda Literary awards page to discover award-winners in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender representation and in a variety of genres. I love these wards because they’ve worked hard to be an inclusive as possible in recent years. Just be warned that once you start throwing it back to the 90’s, the representation gets broken down by just gay and lesbian. Look how far we’ve come! These awards also get the award for easiest past winners directory to browse!

Newbery Awards

Here’s an award that’s celebrating 100 years in 2022! The Newbery is awarded each year to a children’s book that is a distinguished contribution to American children’s literature, and it was named after a British bookseller from the 18th century. I bet some of your childhood favorites are award winners here, like Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (1986) and The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979).

The Pulitzer Prize

Dating back to 1917, the Pulitzer Prize was established to incentivize the best in journalism and arts and letters. Named after Joseph Pulitzer, the renowned journalist who left money in his will to make this award happen, the Pulitzer has expanded in categories as media has developed. But you can always find great fiction, nonfiction, drama, and more for this prize, although not every genre will be represented in every year. Beloved by Toni Morrison took home the prize in 1988, and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller won in 1949.

The Booker Prize

Known over the years as both the Man Booker and Booker Prize for Fiction, this honor was first awarded in 1969 and it was first awarded to the best novel in English published in the U.K. or Ireland and the British Commonwealth. In 2014, eligibility expanded to include any novel published in English. Past winners include The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992) and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981).

The Hugo Award

The Hugo Awards have been presented annual since 1955, and they honor the best in science fiction. It’s one of the few awards where readers can nominate books for consideration and vote on winners (for better or worse), and since the Hugo Award doesn’t have established guidelines to differentiate between fantasy and sci-fi, we often see a blend of both in finalists and winners. Past winners include Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2003) and The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (1975).

The Bram Stoker Awards

If you’re a horror fan born after 1987, then check out the Bram Stoker Awards, named after the author of Dracula. Presented by the Horror Writers Association, this prize honors a superior achievement in the horror genre for novels, short fiction, collections, and nonfiction. These days, the award also honors graphic novels and young adult novels, among others. Past winners include Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark (1987) and The Green Mile by Stephen King (1997).

The Edgar Awards

Presented by the Mystery Writers of America, this award honors the best mysteries in a variety of formats, from novels to short fiction to young adult and juvenile fiction, as well as movies, dramas, and radio programs and TV episodes throughout the years. Named after Edgar Allan Poe, it was established in 1946. past winners include The Spy Why Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre (1965) and The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton (1969).

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

I hope you have fun exploring the myriad of awards and book options! Good luck picking out your challenge book!

Happy reading!
Tirzah Price

Click here for the full Read Harder 2022 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.