Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 Task #20: Read a Book of Poetry by a BIPOC or Queer Author

Hello, readers! We are on the 20th task, and it’s a fun one: read a book of poetry by a BIPOC or queer author. Like many people, I’ve had a mixed relationship to poetry for most of my life. I have always written little poems, but often felt like I couldn’t fully understand reading them, and so spent great swaths of time missing out on the beauty of the language poets use. Even though poems are written using the same words as anything else, there is something in the brevity, in the careful choice of phrasing, and in the imagery that is unmatched in any other format.

I’ve gotten back into reading poetry in the last few years, although I have a long way to go in discovering the many amazing poets out there. But I have found a few! For this task, I’ve selected eight books from the last few years, each of them written by a poet who is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or a person of color), queer/LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or any other queer identity not listed here), or both. They’re all absolutely gorgeous, and I hope one of them speaks to you!

cover of Black Girl, Call Home: Poems by Jasmine Mans

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans

These gorgeous poems follow spoken word poet Jasmine Mans’s path as a queer Black girl in Newark, New Jersey, becoming a woman.

cover of Alive at the End of the World by Saeed Jones

Alive at the End of the World by Saeed Jones

In these poems, award-winning memoirist Saeed Jones explores his voice as an unreliable narrator confronting white supremacy and looking at America through cultural icons including Little Richard and Aretha Franklin.

cover of You Better be Lightning by Andrea Gibson

You Better Be Lightning by Andrea Gibson

In these poems, nonbinary poet Andrea Gibson explores the world through self-reflection, looking at everything from their own queerness to climate change.

cover of The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath

The Smallest of Bones by Holly Lyn Walrath

Queer poet and editor Holly Lyn Walrath explores the body in these tiny poems, taking the reader on a journey of questioning and acceptance. (Disclosure: I have written for Holly’s magazine.)

cover of The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak by Grace Lau

The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak by Grace Lau

In these poems, queer poet Grace Lau explores Hong Kong history and life as a Canadian immigrant, using reference points in popular culture including boy bands, food, and more.

time is a mother book cover

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

In his second collection, queer Vietnamese American poet, novelist, and MacArthur fellow Ocean Vuong reflects on his life and the experience as a product of war, following his mother’s death.

cover of Can You Sign My Tentacle by Brandon O'Brien

Can You Sign My Tentacle? by Brandon O’Brien

In Lovecraft-inspired horror poems, Black poet Brandon O’Brien explores Blackness through monsters in the form of racism, sexism, and violence.

cover of Where Hope Comes From by Nikita Gill

Where Hope Comes From: Poems of Resilience, Healing, and Light by Nikita Gill

In this collection, written during COVID-19 lockdown, Instagram poet Nikita Gill explores loneliness, mental health, and more. Included in the collection is her famous poem “Love in the Time of Coronavirus,” and the collection is illustrated with her own line drawings.

I hope you enjoy whatever book of poetry you choose for your Read Harder challenge!

Happy reading!

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

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Read Harder 2023 Task #16: Read a Romance with Bisexual Representation

Hello readers! Task #16 is a fun one: read a romance with bisexual representation. As a bisexual reader with a queer spouse, this is my jam! I am always on the lookout for new bisexual romances, and there have been a lot of good ones in the last few years. Since I am perpetually behind on my reading, I asked my fellow Rioters for suggestions, and narrowed it down to these 10 titles, some of which I’ve already read and the rest of which I want to!

My favorite thing about “bisexual” (or pansexual or queer) books is the variety of gender pairings. As a cis woman married to a cis man, I especially like M/F queer romances, but I absolutely enjoy F/F, M/M, and F/NB or M/NB pairings! (I haven’t read an NB/NB book yet, but I look very much forward to finding a good one!)

I hope you find the perfect book for your TBR in this list. I’ve tried to include not just a variety of pairings, but also in time period (although these are admittedly mostly contemporary), tone, and tropes. Enjoy!

cover of behind these doors by jude lucens

Behind These Doors by Jude Lucens

This is an M/M Edwardian historical romance, with class differences between the two leads. Maurice, based on the novel by E.M. Forester, is one of my favorite movies, and this book sounds like a great comp for it — I can’t wait to read it!

the cover of Delilah Green Doesn't Care

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake 

This F/F hometown romance takes Delilah, a successful New York–based photographer, and throws her back into the small town she grew up in when she agrees to photograph her stepsister Astrid’s wedding. Then she is reintroduced to Astrid’s friend Claire, and things go awry for them both. This one sounds so fun!

cover of A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria

A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria

This one is an M/F second-chance romance about childhood friends and young lovers who haven’t seen each other since he walked out 13 years ago. They reconnect, at first just working together…then sleeping together…and eventually wondering if there’s a chance for more.

cover of The Love Study by Kris Ripper

The Love Study by Kris Ripper

In this M/M romcom, perma-temp Declan is tired of temping, and tired of everyone talking about his fiancé leaving him at the altar. Then he agrees to let popular nonbinary YouTuber Sidney, who hosts an advice show, set him up on a number of dates and discuss them on the show. Unfortunately, the dates are all meh…because Declan only has chemistry with Sidney.

Payback's a Witch cover

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

In this F/F romance, Emmy is a witch who exiled herself from her hometown due to the presence of her crummy ex, Gareth, but she returns for a spellcasting tournament in order to help out her family. Then she meets Talia, who just broke up with Gareth after learning that he was also seeing Linden…and she and Linden both want revenge, so they team up with Emmy, who finds herself drawn to Talia.

Book cover of The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes; illustration of woman in breeches and tails jumping into the arms of a man similarly dressed

The Perfect Crimes of Marion Hayes by Cat Sebastian

In this M/F Georgian era historical (and hilarious) romance, thief Rob blackmails duchess Marian and is surprised to find her utterly charming in the letters they exchange — and shocked when she kidnaps him and ties him up to prevent him from participating in her planned highway robbery of her own husband. When Marian is forced to shoot her husband in the robbery gone wrong, she only has Rob to turn to for help.

cover of The Romance Recipe

The Romance Recipe by Ruby Barrett

In this steamy F/F romance, Amy is trying to save her restaurant and hires hot new reality TV chef Sophie, who is tired of being a public figure and confused by her attraction to her new boss. I love a book where a main character learns a lot about themself, so this one is going on my teetering TBR!

cover of Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall

In this delightful M/F romance, single mum Rosaline wins a spot on a baking competition show, and quickly finds herself hooking up with fellow contestant Alain. But it’s her steady friendship with Harry that she finds herself relying on.

cover image of Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

In this M/F romcom, Dani just wants a friends-with-benefits situation. After she’s rescued from an elevator by hot former rugby player Zaf — and video of the rescue goes viral online — she thinks she’s found one. Unfortunately, he wants more than just sex…and he’s very persuasive.

You Made A Fool of Death with Your Beauty book cover

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

This M/F romance explores grief as much as it does love. Feyi lost the love of her life five years ago and is finally ready to date again. She agrees to a vacation in the tropics with the man she’s casually seeing, but once there, she finds herself drawn to his father, who is also grieving a lover who died.

Still need more options? I found a few books from 2019 (just before my arbitrary cut-off for this list) that are just as great: Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon; Ice Cream Lover by Jackie Lau; and Working Title by Holley Trent. 

Happy reading!

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

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Read Harder 2023 Task #14: Read a Book with Under 500 Goodreads Ratings

Hello, readers! For the fourteenth challenge, we’re going to read a book with fewer than 500 ratings on Goodreads. That’s it! That’s the only guideline! For some people, that freedom is a joy. For others, it’s probably an instant anxiety: there are too many choices. I hear you, my spicy-brained friends, and I’ve got some ideas for you. 

For this one, I’m going to tell you how to find low ratings books on Goodreads. (Please note: this does not mean books with low star ratings, but books that have only been rated 500 times or less. They can have any average star rating!) Now, these instructions assume that you use Goodreads. There are some book recs below for anyone in other situations!

Let’s shop your Want to Read shelf. After all, you’ve already established that you want to read these books! Let’s see if you have one that will work. Here’s how to do that on a computer or your smartphone.

On your web browser, navigate to “My Books” (at the top left of the page) and then click on “Want to Read” under Bookshelves. Now you’re going to sort by the number of ratings. To do this, scroll to the bottom of the page, just below the last book listing. There are two drop-down menus; one determines how many books are shown per page — it defaults to 30, and you can increase this number if you want to. The other is the one we want: the default sorting option is “Date added,” and you want to change it to “Num ratings.” Once the change takes effect, your “Want to Read” shelf will be sorted by the number of ratings, but it will go from highest to lowest! Click the arrow at the top of the “Num ratings” column and it will switch to lowest to highest.

On the Goodreads mobile app, the process is slightly different. Tap the “My Books” tab at the bottom, then select “Want to Read.” At the top, you’ll see the way the books are sorted. I believe these also default to “Date Added.” Tap on that and select “Number of Ratings.” Then tap the word “Reverse” at the top right and you’re all set!

My books with the lowest number of ratings tend to be books that haven’t come out yet, books that just came out, books that were self-published and haven’t caught on, books from academic presses, older books that aren’t still big, and cookbooks. I’ve chosen a few books with under 500 ratings, shopping all of my shelves (because I’m sure I’ve read some books you haven’t read). I have omitted books that aren’t out yet, as well as very recent releases.


cover of Lovers Choice by Becky Birtha

Lovers’ Choice by Becky Birtha

This collection of 11 short stories for adults by children’s author Becky Birtha, originally published in 1987, explores Black lesbian girlhood and is beautifully written.

cover of The Parker Grey Show by Kristen Buckley

The Parker Grey Show by Kristen Buckley

In this “chick lit” from 2003, screenwriter Kristen Buckley gives us a twentysomething heroine just trying to make rent and pining for a TV doctor, who has to save her kidnapped best friend.

cover of vow of celibacy by erin judge

Vow of Celibacy by Erin Judge

Tired of her sexual conquests never turning into romance, Natalie takes a vow of celibacy and explores her recent relationships a lá High Fidelity


cover of The Moose That Roared by Keith Scott

The Moose That Roared by Keith Scott

You probably remember Rocky & Bullwinkle, the cartoon variety show from Jay Ward Productions. In this book, Keith Scott, who has voiced Bullwinkle since original actor Bill Scott (no relation) died, gives us the complete history of moose and squirrel.

cover of Black Love Matters by Jessica P. Pryde

Black Love Matters, edited by Jessica P Pryde

In this book of essays on Black love in the romance genre, Book Riot writer Pryde brings together contributors, including romance novelists Beverly Jenkins, Jasmine Guillory, Piper Huguley, and Kosoko Jackson, as well as academics Sarah Hannah Gomez and Carole V. Bell, among others.

cover of Vincent Price by Victoria Price

Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography by Victoria Price

In this biography, Price’s daughter traces his six-decade career as well as his personal life, including his love of cooking, his art curation, and his work with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

Children’s and YA

cover of A Whole Lot of Lucky by Danette Haworth

A Whole Lot of Lucky by Danette Haworth

When Hailee’s family wins the lottery, she is excited to finally be able to get the things she wants. No, needs. But her parents’ decisions about how to spend their newfound fortune don’t line up with her expectations, and suddenly she’s in a new (private) school and everything is different.

cover of Kenzie Kickstarts a Team by Kit Rosewater

Kenzie Kickstarts a Team by Kit Rosewater and Sophie Escabasse

Each book of the lower middle grade Derby Daredevils series focuses on a different team member. In this first installment, Kenzie dreams of playing roller derby, but she has to put together a team of at least five in order to even try out.

cover of Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding

Ink is Thicker Than Water by Amy Spalding 

In YA and romance author Amy Spalding’s second novel, 2013’s Ink is Thicker Than Water, Kellie feels out of place in her family, but a job at her stepdad’s tattoo parlor might help change that.


cover of Jerk from Jamaica by Helen Willinsky

Jerk: Barbecue from Jamaica by Helen Willinsky

This book is indispensable in my kitchen! The dry seasoning recipe alone is worth the price of the book, and there are dozens of other amazing recipes for meat, vegetables, and desserts.

cover of Cheryl Days Treasury of Southern Baking

Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking by Cheryl Day

Rioter Susie Dumond told me about this book, and it’s now the one I turn to, even for recipes I already had a go-to version of. (Chocolate cake? Hers is richer. Cornbread? Perfection.)

cover of The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis

The Palestinian Table by Reem Kassis

This is more than a cookbook; it’s a history of Palestine and a window into the food, which is, of course, the culture. I’ve only cooked one recipe from this book, but I’ve read it like I would read a memoir or anthology.

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Happy reading, from my shelves to yours!

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

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Read Harder Task #13: Read an Adventure Story by a BIPOC Author

For this task we’re reading an adventure story by a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or person of color) author.

Out of curiosity, I googled “adventure novels” just to see what would come up. The results would have been entirely lily white if not for the inclusion of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both by Alexandre Dumas, who was Black (and is my personal favorite classic author).

But what qualifies as an adventure? We typically think of adventure as a person or people going on a journey, usually a physical one, encountering new people and places, and accomplishing something — whether that something be finding an object, returning an object, finding a person, or learning something. I’ve compiled a list of ten adventure stories written by BIPOC authors, all of them written recently.

These books cover all sorts of adventures and span genres from contemporary realistic to historical, from second world fantasy to science fiction, and so much more. They’re all adult or young adult, and I’ve added a few suggestions for younger readers (or adults looking for a quick read) at the end. Reading an adventure story by a BIPOC author is as simple as opening one of these books and going on an adventure with the characters.

Cover of Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Based on pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas, Black Sun takes place in the holy city of Tova during the winter solstice. There is a ship heading for Tova whose captain believes her only passenger to be a villain, and an eclipse is on the horizon.

Cover of Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation (and its sequel Deathless Divide) follow Jane, born into a United States where zombies walked off the battlefield at Gettysburg and young Black and Indigenous women are trained to fight them.

cover of The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The world is ending and a woman must find her kidnapped daughter while grieving her murdered son. The first book in the Hugo Award–winning Broken Earth trilogy.

gods of jade and shadow

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In Jazz Age Mexico, overworked Casiopea Tun dreams of adventure, and that’s just what she finds when she opens a trunk and finds the Mayan God of Death, who needs her to help him take back his throne from his brother.

Cover of Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Grieving her mother, Bree Matthews attends a university program for teenagers where she witnesses a magical attack and learns that there is a secret society fighting demons, and she might belong with them. A modern day Black Girl Magic retelling of the King Arthur mythos.

cover of Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Fatima finds an alien artifact and loses her memory, becoming Sankofa, the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Now her touch can destroy. She wanders with her fox companion, seeking the artifact that changed her life.

cover of Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Yumeko’s adoptive family is killed and she runs away with part of a scroll the killers were looking for. She forms an alliance with samurai Kage Tatsumi, who is trying to recover the scroll. Book 1 in the Shadow of the Fox trilogy.

cover of that time I got drunk and saved a demon by kimberly lemming

That Time I Got Drunk And Saved A Demon by Kimberly Lemming

Look, if you save a demon in a wine-drunk stupor, you might be stuck helping him kill an evil witch and set his people free. Or so I hear.

cover of Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

When Samantha’s father is killed and their home burned to the ground, she runs away with Annamae, an enslaved girl, both of them taking on boy’s names for protection. They join a group of cowboys on their way from Missouri to Oregon.

the wangs vs the world

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

When the Wang family loses everything in the financial crash, father Charles packs up his only un-repossessed car and, with his wife and two of his children, sets off across the country to the home of his oldest daughter.

Prefer a quicker read? I cannot possibly speak highly enough of recent middle grade portal fantasy, especially those inspired by real world cultural mythology. Give Aru Shah and the End of Time, The Serpent’s Secret, or The Gauntlet a try. Or for a quieter, contemporary adventure, try The Vanderbeekers!

Happy reading!


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

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Read Harder Task #7: Read a Romance Where at Least One of the Protagonists is Over 40

For this task, we are reading a romance where at least one of the protagonists is over 40. Until recently, this was uncomfortably rare, but it’s becoming more common to see older romance protagonists. In many cases, this means they’re in their 30s instead of their 20s, but the numbers are creeping up.

I am 43 years old. I love romance. And until recently, I had never read a protagonist in my age bracket. Why does that matter? Well, it might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but then again maybe it does. People find love at all stages of life, and only seeing 28-year-olds (who invariably consider themselves ancient) fall in love gets a little bit…discouraging? And I say this as someone who met my partner when I was 19 years old!

There are plenty of romance novels with protagonists over 40, and more being published every day. I have focused mainly on heroines over 40. As much as I love an age gap, I tend to find them less appealing when the man is significantly older (Cary Grant in Charade notwithstanding) and I also tend to prefer sapphic romance — although there are pairings of various genders here. (Note: some of these are later books in series, but all of them can be read as standalones!)

cover of 40-Love by Olivia Dade

40-Love by Olivia Dade

At a tropical resort for her 40th birthday, Tess meets Lucas under embarrassing (topless) circumstances. Then her best friend sets her up for tennis lessons…with Lucas. Who is 26. What could go wrong?

cover of Bring On the Blessings by Beverly Jenkins

Bring on the Blessings by Beverly Jenkins

In one of her rare contemporaries, Miss Bev tells the story of 52-year-old Bernadine Brown buying the all-Black town of Henry Adams, which desperately needs her help. But they might not like her ideas for the town…especially Mayor Trent July.

the care and feeding of waspish widows

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

Widow Agatha needs help with some bees that have moved into her printing warehouse. Penelope cares for Melliton’s bees, and she and Agatha strike up a friendship, complete with longing for something Agatha never knew she needed. Both heroines are in their 40s.

geek who saved christmas

The Geek Who Saved Christmas by Annabeth Albert

Gideon desperately wants to be a good neighbor to silver fox Paul, who is something of a Scrooge. But then Paul’s brother is coming for a visit, and he asks Gideon to help him decorate in a hurry. Both heroes are in their 40s.

gray hair don't care

Gray Hair, Don’t Care by Karen Booth

Newly divorced 47-year-old Lela has a one-night stand with her college crush Donovan and accidentally confesses her feelings. He leaves in a hurry, but they are thrust back together when she becomes the face of his daughter’s company, where he works in marketing.

cover of that kind of guy by talia hibbert

That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert

Rae is 40 and in need of a date for an event where her ex will be on the arm of his new wife. Her hot playboy best friend Zach is up to the task of pretending to be her boyfriend. Now he just has to convince her his feelings are real.

cover of Mrs. Martin's Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan

This book is on every list, and for good reason! Bertrice is 73 and has no interest in her terrible nephew. Violetta is 69 and tired of said terrible nephew causing problems at the boarding house she runs. The women team up to get revenge on him, and find love as they buck the patriarchy.

cover of royal holiday

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

Vivian’s daughter Maddie convinces her to take time off work (a rarity for Vivian) and accompany her to England to style a member of the royal family. Malcolm is the Queen’s private secretary, and is suddenly interested in taking some time off to show Vivian around. Both protagonists are in their 50s.

cover of second chance

Second Chance by Jay Northcote

Nate moves back to his hometown with his teenage daughter and reconnects with his best friend Jack, who’s back in town recovering from addiction. Nate has always had a crush on Jack, and Jack is attracted to Nate now that he’s come out as trans, but they both have fears in the way. Both heroes are in their mid-40s.

cover of Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae

Wrong Number, Right Woman by Jae

When straight Eliza accidentally texts stranger Denny, they strike up a friendship and Eliza slowly figures out that she is not a straight as she thought. Denny is 41 and Eliza is 30.

Bonus: Tommy Cabot Was Here by Cat Sebastian — Tommy and Everett are only 38 years old in this second-chance novella set at a private school in the 1950s, but they honestly feel older and it’s just lovely. This one may not count for Read Harder, but you should read it anyway.

Want even more? There are dozens of suggestions in reply to this tweet from Beverly Jenkins in which she linked to Jess’s essay!

Happy reading!


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