Created by Book Riot, this smartly designed reading log consists of entry pages to record stats, impressions, and reviews of each book you read. Evenly interspersed among these entry pages are 12 challenges inspired by Book Riot’s annual Read Harder initiative, which began in 2015 to encourage readers to pick up passed-over books, try out new genres, and choose titles from a wider range of voices and perspectives. Indulge your inner book nerd and read a book about books, get a new perspective on current events by reading a book written by an immigrant, find a hidden gem by reading a book published by an independent press, and so much more. Each challenge includes an inspiring quotation, an explanation of why the challenge will prove to be rewarding, and five book recommendations that fulfill the challenge.
As we all know, there are an awful lot of books out there with much less recognition than they deserve. They have a great plot and great characters, but somehow they’ve just never taken off in the wider bookish world. Maybe it’s because they were independently published. Or it’s just that the covers are horrific. Whatever the reason, the purpose of this challenge is to make you read some of those little-known gems out there.
I’ve aimed for two suggestions per genre below. At the time of writing, all of these books had fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.
The English Public School: A Personal and Irreverent History by Martin Stephen
Okay, so I have to confess, the history of the English public school (think Eton and Harrow) is something I find weirdly interesting, so I’m a little biased in putting this as one of my recs. But it’s objectively a very good book! It’s well written, engaging, and filled with hilarious anecdotes. Even if you think this sounds boring as hell, do try it – you might be surprised.
The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong: The Untold Story of My Struggle for Tibet by Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston
Something a little different. Gyalo Thondup, the 90-year-old brother of the Dalai Lama, details his own history and that of Tibet. From 1959 onwards he was a key figure in the Tibetan movement for independence from the Chinese occupation, meeting with such figures as Nehru and the CIA.
While co-written, the book is predominantly a memoir by Thondup, providing insight into a comparatively obscure area of history.
I, Claudia by Mary McCoy
This is a truly underrated book. It’s based on Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, which itself is based on Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, which in turn is based on real-life history. Yet it manages to give a fresh spin to these ancient characters and their narratives.
The novel chronicles our heroine Claudia’s political machinations within the context of the Imperial Day Academy. It’s vicious, funny, and compelling; in short, it’s a brilliant drama wherein all the brutality and scheming of Ancient Roman politics has been transposed into a modern-day prep school.
Lighthouse Charlie by Jessie L. Star
I originally read this story on FictionPress years ago. While I have no connection to the author, it’s been great to see her go from those humble beginnings to eventually getting published by Simon & Schuster!
This is a contemporary YA romance propelled forward by a moderate level of angst, tight family/friend relationships, and a good dose of humour. But the absolute cherry on top is the brilliant chemistry between the hero and heroine! That’s what keeps this novel in my mind. Star also has a number of other wonderful novels which would fit this Read Harder challenge – I especially recommend Cake at Midnight and The Do-Gooder.
Simply Scandalous (Wayborn Siblings #1) by Tamara Lejeune
When Juliet Wayborn decides to humiliate the man responsible for beating up her brother, she chooses to best Geoffrey Swale in a horse race. Thus begins an entertaining novel full of mix-ups and misdeeds. One of my favourite things about this book is the fact that the hero is…ugly. He has red hair, a pug nose, and sideburns, making a nice change from the ‘tall, dark, and handsome’ trope we generally get treated to. The dialogue between the protagonists is top-notch, and this cute, funny romp is a must-read for anyone into Georgette Heyer.
The Jade Temptress (Pingkang Li Mysteries #2) by Jeannie Lin
Everyone desires the beautiful courtesan Mingyu, except the ascetic Constable Wu Kaifeng. Their reluctant romance plays out against the backdrop of the decadent Lotus Palace, Imperial politics, and – most importantly – a murder mystery.
While this is technically the second book in the series, I found it easy to begin here, and hopefully so will you. Lin’s series offers something intensely refreshing here: a non-Eurocentric historical romance. Instead, it’s set during the Tang Dynasty.
Trolling Nights by Savannah J. Frierson
Here we have a feel-good romance centred around Bevin and Tim. A virgin at 27, Bevin is convinced she’ll never find love; instead, she acts as the Gatekeeper whenever her friends go out drinking, making sure they don’t leave with unsuitable men. But one night – much to her shock – there appears a man who’s interested in her, not her friends.
While the writing was slightly stilted, the emotional connection between the hero and heroine was superb.
Veiled Desire (Karimi Siblings #1) by Alisha Rai
Fortunately for her, Leyla Karimi has a hot neighbour who likes walking around half-naked. Unfortunately for her, it’s Dr Mason Barrett – someone she’s known since childhood and her younger brother’s best friend. Fortunately for her… he’s determined to make her stop viewing him as just another little brother.
Please ignore that disgraceful cover, which in no way conveys how sweet, funny, and romantic this novel really is.
Tracing Shadows (Scout #1) by Alex Lidell
I’ve always been a sucker for a good disguise plot. Here, Kali plays a male palace guard trainee by day and a royal lady by night: she’s been forced by the king to infiltrate all ranks of society at court, in order to find out who’s been threatening the crown. Her balancing act becomes trickier when the same man – Trace, captain of the king’s guard – is assigned to be both her male persona’s commanding officer and her female persona’s escort.
While a good, pretty interesting fantasy, this isn’t actually the best of Alex Lidell’s novels. Her Tides series, about a seafaring heroine, is excellent (but doesn’t fulfill this particular challenge). I’d also recommend her Power of Five novels for anyone interested in well-written fantasy reverse harem books.
Hunting by Andrea K. Höst
This book was inspired by Georgette Heyer. What more do you need to know? Read it!
Ash, an intelligent and energetic young thief, is forced to return to her aristocratic roots when her mentor is murdered. Disguised as a boy – sorry, I did say I liked that trope – she’s partnered with a quietly capable nobleman to figure out the threat.
While possessing a sweet romance, the novel is primarily fantasy-driven. This is a good thing, because the world is quite well built and I liked getting to know the characters.
Looking for more recs?
I have SO MANY MORE books for you guys, so definitely let me know if you’re struggling and want a recommendation a bit more suited to your reading tastes!