Read Harder

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 #12: Read an Entire Poetry Collection

Contributing Editor Kendra here to chat about poetry collections!

Whenever my book club reads a poetry collection, someone in the group expresses being self-conscious, that they’re not a “poetry person.” But one of the great things about poetry is that you don’t have to be a poetry person to read, enjoy, and appreciate great poetry. Of course, there’s a lot of options out there. So how does one even know where to start? Don’t worry—I’m here for you!

The 21st-century is a great time for poetry, with dozens of incredible collections coming out every year, including works from current poet laureate Joy Harjo and former Poet Laureate Tracey K. Smith. I love the Harjo collection American Sunrise and Smith’s Wade Into the Water. But beyond national poet laureates, there’s so many great poets to discover.

To help give you a headstart in your research, here are ten of some of the best poetry collections that I’ve come across in the last few years. There are award winners and debut poets alike, but whatever their experience, they are proving to be masters of their craft. So what are we waiting for? Let’s jump right in!

A graphic of the cover of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability

Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen

Beauty is a Verb features a range of disabled authors using poetry to write about their experience living in an able-bodied world. The editors of this anthology have ensured that the collection features writers with many different perspectives, giving the reader a well-rounded view of disability, beautifully expressed through each poem.

A graphic of the cover of This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Queer Indigenous poet Billy-Ray Belcourt writes these autobiographical poems in such a way that it’s like we get a glimpse into his mind as he ponders aspects of his life. From interracial love to the effects of living as an Indigenous person in the wake of colonization, Belcourt covers a range of topics in the collection.

A graphic of the cover of Perfect Black

Perfect Black by Crystal Wilkinson

Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson published her first full-length poetry collection, Perfect Black, in 2021. Written from a semi-autobiographical perspective, these poems focus on Wilkinson’s experience growing up as a Black girl in Eastern Kentucky raised by the generation of women before her.

A graphic of the cover of The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Jamaican British poet Raymond Antrobus makes his American debut with The Perseverance, a collection that describes what it’s like to live in the gray spaces of the world. Many of the poems circle around the theme of grieving the loss of his father, feeling like he never could entirely understand him before he passed. Antrobus also writes about the d/Deaf experience based on his life living as a d/Deaf person in Britain.

A graphic of the cover of English Lit

English Lit by Bernard Clay

One of the most glorious hidden gems of 2021, English Lit is the first full-length collection from Affrilachian poet Bernard Clay. These poems center around themes of Clay’s experience growing up and living in Kentucky and being Black in Appalachia. Clay’s use of rhythm and precise word choice make these poems stand out in the reader’s mind.

A graphic of the cover of The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan

Palestinian American writer Hala Alyan might be more well known for her novels Salt Houses and The Arsonists’ City, but she’s also an accomplished poet. Her collection The Twenty-Ninth Year features memories from her life as she’s traveled in various places throughout the world. Each recollection stands out, each poem with its own place as we look through Alyan’s memories.

A graphic of the cover of Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong

In some of the most gorgeous writing that I’ve read in the last several years, Night Sky with Exit Wounds examines how the body keeps the score of the myriad of traumas. Vuong informs his poetry with his experience as a queer Vietnamese refugee, returning to these parts of his identity again and again.

A graphic of the cover of The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell

The Girl Aquarium by Jen Campbell

Disability advocate Jen Campbell released The Girl Aquarium a couple years ago, and I immediately fell in love with her work. She possesses the ability to perfectly capture the disabled queer experience that’s deeply relatable. But whether or not you personally connect with her work, each poem communicates an understanding of language and the depth just a few words can have on the reader.

A graphic of the cover of Reparations Now! By Ashley M. Jones

Reparations Now! by Ashley M. Jones

The first Black and youngest poet laureate of Alabama, Ashley M. Jones possesses incredible talent. Her latest poetry collection, Reparations Now! is out from one of my favorite indie presses, Hub City Press. It makes an argument for reparations for Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States.The poem chronicles the violence inflicted on Black bodies, but also celebrates Black joy in the face of systemic racism.

A graphic of the cover of Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

A finalist for the National Book Award, Whereas by Layli Long Soldier stands as one of my favorite collections that I’ve read in recent years. Long Soldier plays with form, the sound of language, and narrative elements in her poetry, illustrating an incredible range of skill.

I could go on, but this newsletter might become twice as long! But I think these fabulous poetry collections will give you some great options as you look for the perfect book for you to read for this Read Harder task.

We’ll be back soon with even more recommendations for another of the 2022 Read Harder prompts. But until then, happy reading!

~ Kendra

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

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Read Harder Task #11: Read a Book with an Asexual and / or Aromantic Main Character

Ever wondered what that all-important A in LGBTQIA stands for? Well, now you don’t have to, because A is for Asexual and Aromantic. If those terms are entirely new to you, they refer to people who experience no to little sexual and/or romantic attraction. There’s a spectrum, with some people identifying as demisexual or gray-ace feeling attraction after getting to know someone. And, of course, as with any sexuality, there’s a lot of nuance and variation in people’s experiences and how they would describe it. But there’s a very basic introduction for anyone who needs it.

Why should you read a book with a main character on the asexual or aromantic spectrum, you may ask? Well, in addition to the fact that many of these books are just really dang good, ace and aro rep is far less common in fiction than a lot of other LGBTQ representation so you might not be familiar with it. And whether you’re looking to be seen or trying to learn about new perspective and experiences, reading books with ace / aro representation is important.

All of these books include main characters on the asexual or aromantic spectrum. And, much like in real life, each of their experiences with their sexuality and romantic attraction is different. From teens and young adults questioning their feelings for the first time to out and proud asexual adults trying to find romance, these books are full of all the ace and aro feels.

Young Adult

Summer Bird Blue Book Cover

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

In this novel about grief and recovery, a girl who has recently lost her younger sister is sent away to live with an aunt in Hawaii as her mother recovers from the loss of her daughter. Rumi can’t imagine ever picking up a guitar again, especially not with the last song she and Lea were working on unfinished. But she finds help in the most surprising of places–a surfer boy next door and an elderly neighbor who succumbed to his own grief long ago. Slowly, Rumi begins to realize that letting music back into her life might actually be the only way to heal.

Though sexuality isn’t the primary focus of this book, it is made clear that Rumi falls somewhere on the asexual and aromantic spectrums.

Loveless Book Cover

Loveless by Alice Oseman

This is a lovely book about a teenager struggling to figure out her identity in her first year of college. Why does fanfic-obsessed Georgia find romance so tricky when for everyone else it seems so effortless? She’s always wanted love, but with new terms being thrown at her like asexual and aromatic, she’s beginning to fear that might not be in the cards. But is it possible she’s just been looking for all the wrong things in all the wrong places? The author of Heartstopper and Radio Silence crafts a heartwarming story of identity and the many forms of love.

Speculative Fiction

Firebreak Book Cover

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

In a corporate -un future America, Mallory makes ends meet by streaming a popular VR war game. The company controls everything, from the water she drinks to the very game that is her livelihood; but when she discovers a horrifying secret behind the origin of the celebrity super soldiers in virtual reality, she knows she has to do something about it, even if it brings the world—and the wrath of corporate America—crashing down on her.

Mallory is implicitly depicted as aro / ace as confirmed by the author.

Elatsoe Book Cover

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

This wonderful YA novel explores a slightly different, slightly more magical America, where a Lipan Apache girl with the ability to raise the ghosts of dead animals searches for answers about the death of her cousin alongside her best friend. And it’s particularly wonderful to see a YA novel about an ace teen with a male friend who understands and respects her sexuality.

Adult Romance

It's Always Been You Book Cover

It’s Always Been You by Elin Annalise

Courtney Davenport runs a phone service for fellow asexuals worried about coming out. When her sworn enemy phones the helpline, Courtney is totally thrown for a loop. Courtney and Sophie grew up together in a boarding school that always pitted them against each other. And now Sophie is coming out to Courtney, not knowing it’s her on the other side of the phone. Even worse, she’s apparently moving into the apartment next door. After trying to scare Sophie away by making her apartment seem haunted, the two are roped into a reality-style TV game show playing off of their rivalry. The two of them just can’t seem to get away from each other, but Courtney’s beginning to wonder if that’s such a bad thing. After all, love isn’t always that far from hate.

This book does include a good bit of acephobia, but also a lot of intro to asexuality considering one of the main characters is running an ace helpline. So just keep all that in mind going into reading it.

The Charm Offensive Book Cover

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Charlie is an unlikely contestant for a dating show. He’s closed, distant, and doesn’t believe in love. It’s all producer Dev Deshpande do to even get him to talk to the twenty women he’s supposed to be romancing. The more he tries to get Charlie to open up on TV, the more the two of them connect behind the scenes. But this is reality TV, and Dev isn’t the one Charlie’s supposed to be falling in love with.

This adorable rom-com features a demisexual lead falling for a gay man.

The Romantic Agenda Book Cover

The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann (April 2022)

This year Claire Kann, the author of Let’s Talk about Love and If It Makes You Happy, is gracing us with an adult romance novel with ace representation and this one includes not only an unabashedly asexual protagonist, but A Midsummer Night’s Dream-level complicated love quadrangle, and fake dating—all set on a weekend getaway. Sounds perfectly dreamy to me.

More Ace / Aro Book Recs

I hope some of these ace / aro books connect with you or bring you a new perspective on romance. Happy reading, Riot Readers!

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

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Read Harder Task #9: Read A Book That’s Been on Your TBR The Longest

I currently have 999 books on my Goodreads TBR and the list keeps growing, but no matter what, there’s always a brand new shiny book that catches my eye that I reach for first. That’s why this specific Read Harder task is the perfect one for me, and I’m guessing a lot of you reading this are thinking the same thing too. This is your opportunity to finally read that book you’ve been meaning to read. If you’ve just been waiting for a sign that the time has come, here’s your sign.

So with 999 books, there are a lot of older books on my TBR. How did I personally narrow down my potentials for completing this challenge? I tried to stick with books that I currently own, because if I don’t have it already, I don’t feel like it’s a true part of my TBR list. I also tried to stick with books that I’m still excited about reading, because you know and I know that not all of the books on our list would hit the way they would have hit if we’d read them way back when.

Surprisingly, my TBR list on Goodreads wasn’t as old as I thought it was, so all of these books are ones I added circa 2017. As of 2022, that’s… 5 years ago. How? I don’t know. But here we are. These are the books from my oldest part of my TBR that I’m still down to read today.

sing unburied sing book cover

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I’m going to do something a little different for these descriptions since these are clearly books I haven’t read yet, and I like to be surprised when I read. I’m going to tell you why I’m excited to read it and what little I know about it without having read it. After I read it, I’ll come back here and see how accurate I was.

For this one, I want to read it because I’ve read Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones and I really liked it. This book is apparently influenced by The Odyssey and Toni Morrison and William Faulkner and the Old Testament which just seems like an interesting combination to me. I also know it involved a family journey cross-country.

the fact of a body

The Fact of A Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

I have a signed copy of this book, so I especially feel like this is one I have to pick up and read at some point. Right? This one is a true crime story and a memoir, a combination that is fascinating to me. The author Alexandria Marzo-Lesnevich starts a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder. At the time, they are staunchly ant-death penalty. When they start looking into a specific case, it brings back memories of their childhood and complicates everything they thought they believed.

whats yours is not yours book cover

What’s Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

This is another one that makes my shortlist because Helen Oyeyemi is an author I’ve read and enjoyed in the past. This one is a collection of short stories, which means it’s hard for me to really tell you without reading it how the general feeling of the collection is going to shake out. But I love the idea of picking up a short story collection. It feels like a commitment, but not too much of a commitment. And if it’s anything like Oyeyemi’s other work, this book is going to be thought-provoking and strange.

ms marvel

Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Admittedly, I don’t pick up as many comics compared to other kinds of books, but that’s part of what would make this one good for the challenge, and I’m interested in a Muslim teen superhero. I’ve heard really great things about Kamala Khan as a character, and this seems like a comic I could be really into. Also, Ms. Marvel is going to be a TV series from Disney+, so I’ve got to pick up this one before then!

Yesterday cover image

Yesterday by Felicia Yap

This one is one I just picked up at a bookstore because the premise seemed interesting. And five years later? Still sounds interesting. This is a sci-fi murder mystery in which people are divided by how much they can remember. Monos, the majority, are only able to remember one day into the past. Duos are the elite class because they have two days of memory. But… how do you solve a crime when you can only remember one or two days in the past? I don’t know yet because I haven’t read this book!

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sànchez

I have heard nothing but good things about this one, and I love a good YA novel. I’m especially interested in this particular YA novel because it’s a book about grief. My brother died a few years ago, so I feel like I would have a pretty strong emotional response to this story about a girl whose older sister has died. I find reading stories about grief very cathartic. So even though this is an older book on my list, it remains a must-read.

cover of Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Speaking of must-reads, all of Nnedi Okorafor’s books are on my must-read list. I have read the Akata Witch series, but I have yet to read any of Okorafor’s other works. And that seems like something I need to remedy quickly. I love stories that take place at schools, and this one is a sci-fi story that takes place at a university? Sign me up! This is another one that’s a nice short novella, so while it’s the first in a series, it feel very conquerable.

beasts of extraordinary circumstance book cover

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Okay, so everyone I know personally who has read this book says it’s freaking amazing. This book is a fabulist story about Weylyn Grey, an orphaned boy who was raised by wolves and has a pet pig named Merlin (I love pigs). Weylyn’s story is told through the perspective of the people who knew him, which I’m guessing probably makes this story feel like a fable. Sounds super good to me!

And there you have it! That’s my list! I’m not sure which one I’m going to pick just yet, but I can’t wait to read at least one of these. Of course, your list will probably be totally different from mine, and your criteria might be different too. But that’s the fun part of this particular Read Harder challenge! 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 #8: Classics by People of Color

Hey there, folks! How’s your Read Harder Challenge going? Today, we’ve got classics written by people of color—who here we’re classifying as anyone whom posterity might have identified as a person of African, Indigenous, Latin American, or Asian descent. (We can get into the weeds on who “counts” later.) And in this case, people of Asian descent includes anyone from the Asian continent, from Istanbul on eastwards. 

These classics are novels, works of poetry, memoirs, treatises, manifestos, and other works that have made it through the passage of time, and which have made lasting imprints on the people who read them in their time, and who continue to do so in ours. Some of them are familiar—maybe you were assigned to read the whole thing or excerpts in a lit class in secondary or advanced education—and some are a little lesser known, unless you are familiar with the author or have been doing your research for other purposes. Some were even lost to time, and only republished recently. But each book proves that we have been here for a long time, writing for our own people and eventually for those who traded with, invaded, colonized, and tried to silence us.

cover of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Penguin Edition

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Everyone and their mother knows that Dumas was of African descent, and that he wrote this educational prison break book starring Jim Caviezel. Vaguely inspired by his own father, Alex Dumas (nicknamed Daddy Dumas by the internet), Middle Dumas (because there is also a Dumas, Fils, author of the most boring book known to man) wrote the story of a man who is falsely charged with a crime, is sent to prison until he finds his way out, and finds a boatload of treasure that allows him to make himself a count in order to enact vengeance on those who did him wrong. Because that always ends well. 

Cover of the Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam

The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam

If you’re more of a poetry person, the Ruba’iyat (or Rubaiyat or Rubayat or Rubiyat, it’s all transliterated anyway) is a collection of poems written in the 12th Century by Omar Khayyam, a Persian mathematician, poet, and all around (lol) Pre-Renaissance man. There has been a lot of conversation about the translation of the selected poems, so that might also be something worth checking out. 

cover of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

If you didn’t have to read this in high school, it’s definitely worth picking up anyway. One of the exemplary narratives of enslavement written from the POV of a woman, this autobiographical book tells the story of Harriet’s life during her enslavement, and her escape from South Carolina to the north to be with her children. 

Cover of The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Considered the first novel in existence, The Tale of Genji paints a picture of Japanese court life like no other. It is a lengthy, epic saga, centered around a prince and his search for…love. Yeah, totally searching for love. 

cover of Romance in Marseille by Claude McKay

Romance in Marseille by Claude McKay

After sitting unpublished for nearly 90 years, this novel from the Harlem Renaissance tells the story of an African sailor who becomes wealthy after suing the freight company that caused him to lose both lower legs to frostbite and the surgeon’s knife. This book has been described as one of the earliest overtly queer books about the Black experience.

Cover of Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong

A dramatic exploration of feudal warfare during the Han dynasty, this 16th century novel is an epic romance (in the classical usage of the word) that could match Ariosto and Roland and all those other chansons de geste for its sprawling storytelling—and also page count.

cover of The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Everybody needs a little Baldwin in their life, and this manifesto is a great entrance point. Comprised of two letters, one to his nephew about living in the world (the inspiration for Ta Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me), and the second to the American people on the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, this short but powerful treatise has sparked several fires in hearts for the past sixty years. 

Cover of Cogewea, the Half Blood

Cogewea, the Half Blood by Mourning Dove (Hum-Ishu-Ma)

The first novel published by an Indigenous American woman, Cogewea is the story of a woman with both Native and white blood, torn between two worlds when it comes to many things, including how to live, where to work, and who to love. 

Cover of Iola Leroy by Frances EW Harper

Iola Leroy: Or, Shadows Uplifted by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Considered one of the earliest examples of romantic fiction by a Black American woman, Iola Leroy tells the story of a young Mississippi woman who travels north for school and is sold into slavery when it’s discovered she has African blood. Freed during the Civil War, she must figure out how to live in her new reality. (Also, Beverly Jenkins told me to read this book. I’ll be darned if I don’t.)

cover of The Rig Veda, Penguin Edition

The Rig Veda

There are actually several Vedas, the scriptures that make up the basis of Hinduism. But the Rig Veda is the one you might have touched on in a high school Humanities class or other exploration of world literature. (Just me?) A collection of over 1000 sanskrit hymns, the Rig Veda is the oldest of the four.

cover image of Passing by Nella Larsen

Passing by Nella Larsen

With the film adaptation having released on Netflix last year, this would be a good novella to explore with a group, watch the film, and discuss. Or just compare on your own. The story of two women walking a thin line between two worlds during the Harlem Renaissance, this will enrapture you with every turn and you won’t be the same when you’re done. 

cover of The Arabian Nights

1001 Nights (or The Arabian Nights)

Most of us have seen Aladdin, but might not be as familiar with the text from which the idea originally sprung (and was twisted to Disney’s whim). Told by Scheherezade as she hopes to not be killed by the king, the 1001 Nights are a collection of stories filled with mythical beings and daring adventures. And of course, the ultimate story of daring, that of Scheherezade herself. 

cover of The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole

A free Black woman born in Jamaica in the early 19th century, Mary Seacole traveled the world, learned to be a healer (knowledge she used to help soldiers during the Crimean War), and generally had a lot of fun and interesting times. She also dealt with a lot of other stuff, because, you know, Black. But she had a helluva life. 

cover of Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

First published in 1967, this memoir recounts the author’s experience as a young Nuyorican getting into trouble and exploring the meaning of self and identity on the streets of Spanish Harlem.

Looking for more? Check out this great list of 100 must-read classics by people of color.  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.

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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.

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Read Harder Task #6: Read a Nonfiction YA Comic

In recent years, YA fiction has expanded to include more genres and formats than ever, I am so here for it. We’ve seen an exciting expansion of YA graphic novels, and nonfiction for teens has gotten more diverse, more interesting, and more accessible. This year’s task of reading a nonfiction YA comic is meant to get you picking up some of the best this confluence of genre and format has to offer, and I promise you—there are so many good ones! Here we go!

cover of Almost American Girl

Almost America Girl by Robin Ha

When Robin was a teen, her mom told her they were going on vacation to the U.S. Only once they were there did she reveal the truth: they weren’t going back to Seoul, they were there to stay. Furious, hurt, and betrayed, Robin struggled to fit in and make friends, but it wasn’t until she began taking art classes that she made real friends…and began to face the complicated reasons behind their move and her mother’s choice.

passport book cover

Passport by Sophia Glock

Growing up, Sophia and her family moved around a lot and she was never really clear on what her dad did for a living. When she was a teen she discovered the truth: her parents worked for the CIA. This kickstarted a long and introspective coming-of-age process for Sophia as she reckoned with what it means to be American but grow up abroad, and to have her family life defined by secrets.

huda f are you book cover

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy

When Huda moved with her family from a small town where they were the only Muslim family to Dearborn, MI, a town with one of the largest Muslim populations in the U.S., she suddenly had to contend with her identity beyond the “hijab girl” because now her outward appearance and religious practices weren’t what set her apart. This is a funny, probing book about figuring out who you really are.

March cover

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

In this moving personal history, the late Representative John Lewis shares details and memories from his young adulthood, when he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma and fought for Civil Rights. His journey spans decades, from being beaten by police to receiving the Presidential medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Dragon Hoops book coverr

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Gene is a story nerd, but he doesn’t understand sports. As a kid, he was never into basketball and now as an adult he still doesn’t get it, but when the high school he teaches at has a basketball team so good they might go straight to the State Championships, Gene gets to know the players and their journey and finds a story as thrilling as any comic epic.

The Fire Never Goes Out cover

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

Written by the author of Nimona, this is a memoir in pictures and snapshots of Noelle Stevenson’s life and their experiences and influences that led them to create Nimona, co-create Lumberjanes, and work on She-Ra. It’s a collection of memories, influences, and thoughts about being a working creative, which will inspire and provide fascinating insight to their creative life.

spinning book cover

Spinning by Tillie Walden

As a kid and teen, Tillie was excellent at figure skating. She skated competitively, and her entire life and schooling were arranged around her sport. But the older she gets, the less passionate she feels about the sport, and when she realizes that she is attracted to girls, it begins a process of quitting figure skating, despite her skill, and figuring out what she really wants.

Honor Girl cover

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

This is one of the most memorable memoirs about coming-of-age and first love I’ve read, and it has a really thoughtful arc. Maggie was fifteen when she went to summer camp and discovered she had a crush on a camp counselor named Erin. As the summer progresses, and Maggie’s feelings become known, it leads to a moment that changes Maggie’s perspective on camp forever.

Hey Kiddo book cover

Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

As a kid, Jarrett J. Krosoczka grew up with an unconventional family. His dad was pretty absent from his life, and his mom was in and out of his childhood thanks to addiction. But he always had his grandparents, who raised him and supported his art, even if they don’t always understand it. This is a loving tribute to the couple who raised him, and a memoir that tells other kids and teens whose families are struggling with addiction that they are not alone.

I hope you find something great to read for this year’s challenge! Happy reading!

Tirzah Price

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

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Read Harder Task #5: Read an Anthology Featuring Diverse Voices

Contributing Editor Kendra here! Today we’re chatting about the 2022 Read Harder Challenge, task #5: read an an anthology featuring diverse voices.

When I heard that anthologies by diverse voices was going to be one of the 2022 Read Harder prompts, I couldn’t have been more excited. I LOVE anthologies! They are the buffets of the literary world. You get to try a little bit of everything, and if you discover something you really like, you can go back for more. It’s really the best of all worlds.

I remember when I first read LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia. My favorite story in the collection was by a writer named Silas House. When I looked him up, I realized he had an incredible backlist, all of which I read in quick succession. Let me tell you, that was an incredible reading year.

Anthologies typically center around a particular theme, idea, genre, or really anything that brings all of the authors together. Now maybe you are new to the wonderful world of anthologies—not to worry! I have plenty of titles from a wide range of nonfiction and fiction genres. Plus, there’s books for both kids and adults, so if you’re doing the Read Harder challenge with a kid in your life, there’s something for them too.

So settle in and get your TBR ready—onto the books!

A graphic of the cover of A Measure of the Belonging

A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinelle Barnes

Out from one of my favorite indie presses, Hub City Press, A Measure of Belonging features essays from authors of color from across the Southern United States. Each contributor gives their perspective on what it’s been like living in or being in the South.

A graphic of the cover of Disability Visibility

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century edited by Alice Wong

As a disabled person, I rarely see that part of myself in a book, so I couldn’t have been more excited for Alice Wong’s anthology, Disability Visibility. Each contributor adds their own perspective on what it’s like to live as a disabled person in an ableist society. There are stories of both struggle and joy, truly capturing an incredible range of experiences.

A graphic of the cover of Growing Up Disabled in Australia

Growing Up Disabled in Australia edited by Carly Findlay

Australian disability rights advocate, Carly Findlay, gathered together disabled writers from across Australia, each with their own unique perspective on what it’s like growing up disabled. Writers with a range of disabilities write about everything from autistic representation in theater to competing in paralympic events.

A graphic of the cover of It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race edited by Mariam Khan

It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race edited by Mariam Khan

This incredible collection features Muslim women from around the world, each with their own unique relationship with their faith. The selections cover topics like marriage, modesty, careers, sexuality, and women’s rights. I love the different styles of writing throughout the book, each unique piece combining with the others to create a chorus of these women’s stories.

A graphic of the cover of LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts

LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia edited by Jeff Mann and Julia Watts

Unfortunately, stories of queer Appalachian people are all too often few and far between. But Jeff Mann and Julia Watts have put together this anthology to do their part to help fix that. LGBTQ Fiction and Poetry from Appalachia features queer writers from across the region, highlitghing the incredible talent in these mountains.

A graphic of the cover of Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith

This anthology features stories from different Native Nations, each based in their own unique history and culture. The stories center around an intertribal Powwow in Ann Arbor Michigan, working together to weave a larger picture as you read through each selection. Perfect for kids of any age, these selections often center around themes of heritage, family and community.

A graphic of the cover of Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed

This delightful collection of short stories for kids features 15 different Eid celebrations. Muslim children from around the world come together to celebrate the holiday with their own traditions—and learn to create new ones!

A graphic of the cover of Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

First off, this book is STUNNING. With it’s beautiful design and full-color photos throughout, Black Futures draws the eye. And once you open the cover, you find a celebration of Black lives, featuring contributors from a range of artistic backgrounds and experiences.

Anthologies invite readers in to experience new kinds of stories and to find new-to-them authors. That’s what makes them so great! Whether you choose a book from this list or discover one on your own, you are in for a treat.

That’s it for now, but we will be back with even MORE Read Harder recommendations. Until then, happy reading!

~ Kendra

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

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Read Harder Task #4: Read a Book in Any Genre by a POC That’s About Joy and Not Trauma

BIPOC stories and identities aren’t defined by trauma. Yet a lot of the books by authors of color that made the bestsellers list and got all the attention in end-of-the-year lists in 2020 and 2021? They’re stories that focus on pain, trauma, and racism. While these stories deserve to be told, there are so many wonderful books out there that focus on the triumphs, accomplishments, and everyday joy that are also an important part of everyone’s experience.

This is why I’m so glad that “Read a Book in Any Genre About BIPOC Joy,” is one of the “tasks” for 2022’s Read Harder Challenge. Really, I put “tasks” in quotes because this one shouldn’t be challenging at all. There are so many wonderful books out there across many genres that fit this prompt. It was difficult to choose which ones to share with you. Here are eight books that are excellent examples of the types of stories you could read for this challenge, but of course there are plenty more!

cover image of Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Love in Color by Bolu Babalola

Bolu Babalola’s short story collection is a powerful reimagining of West African folktales and Greek and Middle Eastern mythology that centers Black women in the stories. This book retells the stories of Nefertiti, Thisbe, Psyche, and others, focusing on romance, love, and, yes, joy. This is a must-read collection for anyone who loves love and magic… and who doesn’t love those things?

wow no thank you

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

I first came across Samantha Irby’s humorous writing on her blog Bitches Gotta Eat, which now has a substack. My point? Samantha Irby is funny. This essay collection focuses on the changes in Irby’s life as she turns forty, leaves her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, moves into a house with her wife, and settles into a life of gardening, mason jarring, and book clubs. If you’ve never read Irby’s essays before, I’m so excited for you. You’re going to love this.

Arsenic and Adobo cover image

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

This book is the first in a new cozy mystery series, featuring a humorous storyline and plenty of delicious recipes. And what’s more joyful than food and murderrrrr? This book is about Lila Macapagal who moves back home after a particularly nasty breakup. She’s working towards healing and helping out at her Tita Rosie’s restaurant. Everything’s going fine until a nasty food critic (who happens to be Lila’s ex-boyfriend) drops dead in the restaurant.

The Wedding Date Book Cover

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

One thing I’ve learned about myself the more and more I read romance novels? I love a good fake dating story. I don’t know why, because never in my life have I actually encountered a situation where two people were pretending to date (that I know of). And yet it happens all the time in romance novels, and I love it. The Wedding Date is one of those really great fake-wedding-date-turned-to-real-romance love stories. If you’re like me and you also love this trope, bump this to the top of your list for this challenge.

cover of instructions for dancing by nicola yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Nicola Yoon’s books always make me feel all the feels. And her latest, Instructions for Dancing, is no different. This one has an especially interesting premise. Evie Thomas has this strange ability to see a couple’s full love story from beginning to end whenever she witnesses a kiss. She sees the highs, the lows, and soooo many breakups. Now that she knows how each and every love story ends, it’s difficult for her to believe in love at all anymore. But then she starts taking these dance classes, where she meets a boy named X.

amari and the night brothers

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

It probably sounds obvious to say a fantasy middle grade is magical, but that’s the best word to describe this book. It’s just magical. Amari’s brother Quinton is missing, but she’s convinced he’s still alive, no matter what anyone else says. Then she finds a strange briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, and she’s certain this will be the key to finding her brother.

cover of When Dimple Met Rishi

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

I am forever a total fangirl for this book, so I had to include it on this list. When Dimple Met Rishi is just pure joy from beginning to end. Dimple is not interested in romance at all. She’s just recently graduated and is focused on attending a summer program for aspiring web developers. Meanwhile, her parents only seem interested in finding a nice Indian boy for her. So when they arrange for Rishi to meet Dimple at summer camp without Dimple’s knowledge, what could possibly go wrong?

the last black unicorn cover

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

The Last Black Unicorn is actress and comedian Tiffany Haddish’s memoir in essays, and unsurprisingly, it’s super funny. From growing up in one of the poorest parts of South Central Los Angeles to her career as a stand up comedian to her experiences as an actress, Haddish takes readers through her struggles and successes. This is a journey in which Haddish has had to contend with racism, classism, sexism, but that doesn’t take away from Haddish’s determination, her joy, and her unicorn-ness.

Is your favorite book on this list? What are you planning to read for this challenge? For more ideas, check out last year’s challenge: An Own Voices YA Book With A Black Protagonist That Isn’t About Black Pain. Or these 8 Great Books Celebrating Black Joy.

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

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Read Harder Task #3: Read Any Book from the Women’s Prize Shortlist/Longlist/Winner List

Hello there, Read Harder friends! Kendra here to chat with you about the prompt “Read Any Book for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.” I love this prompt because it draws attention to a prize that I’ve enjoyed following over the years. They always feature a wide range of books, so there’s something for everyone.

The origins of the prize began in 1991 when a group of women saw that The Booker Prize shortlist included no books by women and decided to create a prize that celebrates women’s writing. They awarded the first Women’s Prize in 1996 to Helen Dunmore for her novel A Spell of Winter.

Since then, they’ve been uplifting women’s literary work with their yearly fiction award and their writer development program, Discoveries. They even have a podcast and create videos to accompany their award announcements. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Women’s Prize’s website for more info and the complete lists of titles nominated for the award throughout its history.

Over the years, the Women’s Prize has nominated dozens and dozens of excellent novels, but I want to share some of my favorite winners with you today!

a graphic of the cover of Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (2021)

Piranesi lives in a magical house, more of a labyrinth, that contains an endless number of rooms. As he explores the house, Piranesi begins talking with a man he calls The Other, who keeps pestering him for more information about something The Other calls The Secret Knowledge. Piranesi doesn’t see anyone else as he wanders around the different rooms, but he begins to suspect there’s a third person somewhere in the house.

a graphic of the cover of Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (2020)

Agnes lives in a small English village in the late 1580s. Her husband, a playwright, spends much of his time in London putting on his plays. Her husband’s career begins taking off when their young son, Hamnet, is struck ill by the plague. While many readers may be more familiar with her husband’s story, Agnes’s own life proves just as compelling.

a graphic of the cover of American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2019)

Celeste and Roy spend a night in a hotel to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary when Roy is arrested and accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the building. When he’s sent to prison, Roy and Celeste try to keep their marriage together through letters and visits, but will they be able to keep making their marriage work in the face of such odds?

a graphic of the cover of Home Fire by Kamala Shamsie

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (2018)

This retelling of Antigone (one of my favorite Greek tragedies) gives the story a whole new feel. Isma finally feels like she can pursue her own dreams in America after looking after her two younger siblings for so long. But when her sister Aneeka calls with the news that their brother has joined an extremist group, Isma must choose whether she goes home to keep delaying her plans for her life or to leave her siblings and follow her dreams.

A graphic of the cover of The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (2016)

Lisa McInerney, one of Ireland’s most talented contemporary writers, won the Women’s Prize back in 2016 for The Glorious Heresies. The novel begins when an older woman hits an intruder over the head, killing him. This single event brings together characters across a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences. And if you like The Glorious Heresies, there are two more books in the trilogy that are already out and ready for you to read!

A graphic of the cover of how to be both by Ali smith

How to Be Both by Ali Smith (2015)

In this glorious novel, we meet a young girl who keeps getting glimpses of a renaissance painter in her dreams. In another time, a young artist aspires for renown and acclaim. Smith’s prose, as always, flows across the page, drawing the reader in with every word. Some of the editions of the book have the artist’s story first, while other editions position the girl’s story first. These different editions create two unique reading experiences.

a graphic of the cover of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2012)

Before its TikTok fame, The Song of Achilles, won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. In this retelling of the story of Achilles and Patroclus, we experience their relationship from youth to adulthood. As Patroclus narrates their story, it’s difficult not to become more and more attached to the characters as they fall more and more in love with one another.

A graphic of the cover of Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home by Marilynne Robinson (2009)

I adored Robinson’s novel Gilead, so when I picked up Home, I knew I was in for a treat. But I possessed no real understanding of what I was about to read. Home features Jack, the wayward son of a Methodist minister. Robinson’s characters shine, captivating readers on every page.

A graphic of the cover of On Beauty by Zadie Smith

On Beauty by Zadie Smith (2006)

Zadie Smith’s debut White Teeth launched her career as a major talent, and On Beauty solidified her place as a literary star. On Beauty follows an interracial family in Massachusetts. The novel paints a complex reality for the family, each character possessing their own dreams for their future that often conflict with their family members’ ideas of what the family should be.

A graphic of the cover of Small Island by Andrea Levy

Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)

Small Island follows a group of characters whose lives weave together and intersect. Hortense Joseph and her husband Gilbert try to make a life together after WWII, but the systemic racism of Britain essentially makes them second-class citizens.

That’s it for today! I hope you find some wonderful options for prompt 3. We’ll be back soon with recommendations for another Read Harder prompt. But until then, happy reading!

– Kendra

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