Reading Harder in 2024! – Part 1

2024 marks the 10th year of the Read Harder Challenge put on by the folks over at Book Riot, but this is my first year doing it! I decided there wasn’t enough going on this year, so I’ll read 24 books, and then share my thoughts on them every couple of months! So look forward to that! What is the Read Harder Challenge though? Well, according to the Book Riot website, “the challenge is made up of 24 tasks (an average of two per month) that invite readers to explore formats, genres, and perspectives that might go beyond their reading comfort zones. How you approach Read Harder is up to you: you can read one book per task or count one book for multiple tasks. The point of the challenge isn’t to do the thing one particular way but to push yourself to diversify your TBR.”

This sounds like a lot though, how is anyone meant to find 24 books that meet all these challenges? Luckily your local library is here to help! This is a collection of lists outlining the 2024 challenges along with library books that help meet those challenges! Need support or to check in with others undertaking the same goal? We have monthly check in programs at the library too, just check the events calendar for the next one! For my purposes though, I’ll be reading and discussing four books a month, and my challenges will be all over the place, starting with:

Cover of "Spy x Family, Volume 1" by Tatsuya Endo

Task 22 – Read a manga or manwha

Book Read: “Spy x Family Volume 1” by Tatsuya Endo

The idea of the Read Harder challenge is to diversify one’s reading and to try things they might not normally try. If you missed my post from earlier in the year, I don’t really need to be pushed into reading manga or manhwa, but it gives me a good excuse to pick something up I had been meaning to read anyways!

In this first volume of “Spy x Family,” we are introduced to Twilight, a master spy working for the Westalis government to thwart the machinations of the rival nation Ostania. On his latest mission, Twilight is tasked with spying on a reclusive Ostanian politician, and the best way to get close to him would be through the school at which the politician’s son is enrolled. To do so, Twilight needs a family to help keep his cover, namely a wife and child. Little does he know that the child he adopts is a telepath, and his fake wife is a skilled assassin! The first volume introduces us to Twilight the spy, Anya the telepath, and Yor the assassin, as they try to seem like a normal family while enrolling Anya in the elite school.

At the time of writing, the series is currently sitting at 12 volumes, of which the 11th is set to come out in English soon. Having only read the first volume, it seems very campy and silly and fun, in contrast with the highly personal and professional stakes of the characters. I anticipate picking up the rest of the series at some point, but it didn’t grab me so strongly that I have to pick up volume 2 right away. Personal theories: I don’t love a fake dating scenario, but I don’t think this will go in that direction, but it might instead become a found family, which is a trope I adore. I could see character backstories being delved into further, perhaps due to some blackmail wherein each of the characters don’t want everyone else to know who they truly are. That could skew the story a little darker and introduce some real plot, but it could stay light and funny and likely be just as good a story. Time (and more reading) will tell!

Cover of "So This is Ever After" by F.T. Lukens

Task 2 – Read a young adult book by a trans author

Book Read: “So This is Ever After” by F.T. Lukens

Arek was prophesized to defeat the Vile One who has cast a dark shadow on the land for the past 40 years. And he does, right in the beginning of the book, with a terribly dull sword. Fun fact, a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. Getting back on track, after Arek and friends defeat the Vile One, and with no apparent heir in sight, it is determined that Arek will be the king, possibly against his better judgment. Definitely against his better judgment when he finds out that unless he binds his soul to another by his 18th birthday (in just a few months), he’ll die. Hooray for magical laws of succession! What follows is a series of wacky misadventures while Arek tries to find someone among his group of friends to get together with. Except of course, he’s been desperately in love with his best friend Matt since well before the adventure began, but Matt doesn’t want him. Does he?

I mostly picked this up because I had read from F.T. Lukens before, namely “

Arek’s feelings towards Matt don’t feel earned though, as we’re simply told Arek is in love and has been planning to confess for ages, but we didn’t get to see their dynamic before this magical mishap and how it has changed as a result, so any will they/won’t they tension is significantly lessened. By virtue of it being a romance, we know they eventually will, but there’s no real angst about it. Actually, I was writing this blog post as I was reading the book, and upon finishing it, I would struggle to call this a romance, despite that being its intent. I’ll consider picking up more from this author in the future, but I may need to check reviews first.

Cover of "The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches" by Sangu Mandanna

Task 19 – Read a romance with neurodivergent characters

Book Read: “The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches” by Sangu Mandanna

Mika Moon is a witch that doesn’t often get to see her fellow witches. Too many witches in one place leads to higher chances of non-witches finding out about their secret. But to let off steam and at least try to be her real self, Mika posts ~witchy~ videos on the internet, where she catches someone’s attention, and receives an email asking to be a witch tutor. Curious despite herself, Mika discovers that there are three young witches together in Nowhere House, under the care of a cast of characters, who implore her to help the girls try and rein in their magic: “An absent archaeologist, a housekeeper, a librarian, a gardener, a retired actor, and three unlikely witches. As backstories went, it was one of the weirdest Mika had ever heard.”

This romance fantasy (not romantasy, that’s something else) is great for people interested in trying romance for the first time, as it has low stakes, low fantasy, and low (but not zero) spice. As someone who enjoys both romance and fantasy, and fantasy with romance, this fell flat for me. Given how low plot this story is, the narrative instead needs to be driven by the characters and their interactions with one another, namely Mika and the children, and Mika and Jamie, the librarian love interest. However, instead of getting to read about those dynamics and watching them grow closer, there were a number of montages, where we were simply told what characters were doing together. One of the cardinal sins of fiction writing is to show, don’t tell. And by simply telling the reader what’s happening, it flattened a lot of the side characters, especially Lucie and Ken, and even the children to some extent.

The relationship, if it can be called that, between Mika and Jamie didn’t feel at all deserved — they seemingly were attracted to one another because they both had trauma, but any and all mentions of trauma from any character were laid out in a paragraph or two, and quickly moved on from. Jamie’s trauma is about his biological family, and he lays out his story to Mika while on a car trip to see said family. Of course, we’d get the emotional catharsis of seeing the love interest meet his family after so many years and talking with them, right? Nope, the entire interaction happens off-page and is apparently resolved within less than an hour.

Now, I picked this up not just as a romance, but a romance with neurodivergent characters. I think Mika and Jamie both read as some kind of neurodivergent, yes, and author is apparently also neurodivergent. I’m not someone who believes that characters must have a diagnosis out of the DSM-V to be considered legitimate either. However, if I had to take a guess, based on what I’ve read about the author’s process with this book, I think Mika coming across as neurodivergent is more to do with her being a reflection of the author, as opposed to any deliberate attempt to showcase neurodiversity. I had been planning on picking this up at some point anyways, but I would recommend trying another title to meet this challenge.

Task 4 – Read a history book by a BIPOC authorCover of "The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Volume 1" by Kent Monkman & Gisele Gordon

Book Read: “The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Volume 1” by Kent Monkman & Gisele Gordan

This is probably stretching the definition of what a history book is, as it leans more into the realm of historical fiction and fictionalized memoir. In this first volume of memoirs and exploits we are introduced to the spirit being known as Miss Chief Eagle Testickle as they recount the history of Turtle Island, otherwise known as North America.

Miss Chief is the creation of Cree artist Kent Monkman, who has depicted Miss Chief in paintings and film, and has used his artworks as a springboard towards writing this book. Many of the paintings and photographs appear throughout, usually with some caption from the larger narrative. As for what that narrative is about, it begins with Miss Chief being created, exploring and enjoying the world in the time before humans, and then as humans came into creation, Miss Chief is tasked with helping to maintain the balance between humans and all other living things. Miss Chief decides to peek into the future however, and sees their people suffering greatly at the hands of the Europeans to come, “ghosts starving for sustenance much deeper than physical nourishment.” What follows is Miss Chief’s adventures as they do their best to maintain the balance and keep their people safe and healthy. Anyone who is at all familiar with the history of the Indigenous peoples of North America can guess what happens next. This first volume ends with the confederation of Canada as a country in July 1867, and continues into the present day in Volume 2.

I can freely admit I don’t know as much about Indigenous cultures and history as I would like, and even less so about the nations and peoples that were living in what is now Canada. Miss Chief serves well as a guide, mixing in historical figures and events, but all through the lens of a queer Indigenous two-spirit being. The characterization of Miss Chief is especially interesting to track as well — they are always fickle, looking to show off, and sate their appetite, but as they interact more and more with Europeans, at one point even going to Europe to try and make the heads of state understand, their patience and understanding wanes.

This isn’t a history book in the way that there are clear dates and events to follow, nor is it even following the story of a real person. But it is a very effective way of taking a glimpse into Indigenous history and the horrors that were inflicted upon Indigenous people. I’ll be picking up the second volume in the next month or so, which seems like it will cover residential schools and beyond.

Are you participating in the Read Harder Challenge? Do any of these titles sound interesting to you? Don’t forget that there are plenty of other books to choose from, both at your library and elsewhere! See you at the next check-in!

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