A Year of Reading Harder: Chapter Two

Cover images of Illuminae, Rafe, Delicious in Dungeon, and Southern Lady Code
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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

As part of my 2019 reading goals, I’m working my way through the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. So far, so good (read part one here). My progress is slow, but I’m back with part two of my reading challenge round-up.

In the midst of a teen reading kick at the time, I decided to find a teen book that would fulfill a task. Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae fit the bill nicely for task #1: an epistolary novel or collection of letters. The space opera story tells the tale of teens Kady and Ezra, whose home planet is destroyed by a menacing megacorporation. They escape onto two different ships and can only communicate thanks to Kady’s hacking prowess; there’s a lot to sort out with plague contaminating some of the survivor ships and another ship in pursuit hoping to cover up the evidence of their genocidal actions, plus there’s a homicidal AI. Oh, and right before their world literally exploded, Kady kind of dumped Ezra, but now they’re the only familiar person the other has left. The story unfolds through security briefings, memos, and chat transcripts, which makes for quick page turning and some fun formatting. I happened to listen to it, and the award-winning, full-cast audio version of the story was so much fun.

While I am a huge fan of teen literature, I needed a palate cleanser after a couple months of reading it almost exclusively. That cleanser came in the form of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Rafe, fulfilling task #23: a self-published book. This was a frothy, very low-drama romance. If you read any romance at all, you know the general arc: romantic interests like each other, something keeps them apart, they get together, then something comes up that threatens to destroy their happily ever after, and finally they overcome that hardship to have a happy ending. It’s a solid formula that sells millions of books. Rafe does away with the majority of the drama, leaving two mature adults who decide to embark on a no-strings physical relationship in spite of an existing employer-employee obligation and then realize they have feelings too. Great, right? Well, yes, but… tension needs to come from somewhere in a plot, and that was missing—by design, but missing nonetheless. However, it did a lovely job flipping the common, regressive dynamic in romance of powerful man and less-experienced woman, with a driven professional woman and a male lead in a caregiving capacity. I want to see more of that unpacking of gender roles in my romances.

My next challenge task was a wild departure into the world of manga to complete task #11: a book of manga. A friend recommended I read Ryoko Kui’s Delicious in Dungeon, a several-volume story that follows a party of Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque explorers who decide to slice, dice, and eat their way through the dungeons after they run out of food, one exotic monster at a time. It’s a bizarre mashup of D&D shenanigans and Food Network recipe breakdowns, and I kind of adored it for that. Delicious in Dungeon is a story with a niche audience, but if you’ve ever crawled through a dungeon in a tabletop campaign or video game, you might also be part of that target audience. You might even be able to convince your favorite foodie to give it a try.

Browsing the ebooks collection one day, I noticed that Helen Ellis’s Southern Lady Code, which at the time had a print-copy holds list, was available to check out electronically. It would be perfect for task #4: a humor book. The slim little volume, divided into easily consumable entries, was perfect for reading on my phone on the go. I described this one as having “sass for days,” and honestly, my conclusion was that I wouldn’t ever pass up an opportunity to attend a party with Ellis, where I imagine us sitting off to the side and snarking about all the other guests. It was a pleasant surprise, definitely not a title that would have prioritized reading except for this challenge, so score one for the Read Harder challenge!

For those keeping track, this brings my Read Harder progress to 8/24 tasks, or a third of the way through. Am I going to make it to 24? Stay tuned.

Hebah

Written by Hebah A.H.

Fun fact: I once played Magic: The Gathering with author Brandon Sanderson at a local convention.