I love a good reading challenge. I signed up for Heaving Bosom’s 2021 Reading Embrace. And joined a few readathons already, including the #hrreadathon on Instagram for January.

They’re fun, right? And it benefits everyone since we all learn about new books. And there’s always new books to be found. Unless you’re a library from the 51st century full of creepy crawly eat you alive beings.

So why not have a Deconstructing Damsels one? Okay, fine. There’s a little more into this one. All the categories were ideas I had on my own reading, personally and the podcast. So I made one for everyone to join in 2021.

You’ll find a description of the categories below. The hashtag is #ChallengingDamsels since I wanted to standout a bit. And the name took about three days to form, so nothing last minute. Plus, let’s face it: this particular damsel is quite challenging when it comes to ratings sometimes. Both the C and D are capitalized because it’s easier for speech-to-text readers. It’s all about inclusivity and accessibility.

Make sure to tag @damselspodcast on Twitter and Instagram so I can follow. I’d like to see what people read by the end of the year for the challenge. Just to see the different interpretations and what we can miss. Each year is an attempt to do something a little different for the podcast. And here’s the thing. You don’t have to love the books. The idea is just to try something new. Never hurts to try.

Any ideas aren’t the end all, be all. Simply resources or starting points. I haven’t vetted every single one, either. But I know the romance community discusses many, or in the case of a few, were guests on the podcast. You can find a link of upcoming books at The Infinite Limits of Love (Jan-July).

You can find a Google form here and you can fill out what you read. I’ll leave it up all year, so we can see if there’s an new options, how fast, and more. (What? I really, really love data.) Plus, I’m kind of nosy. You can click here for the IG post if you need a reminder card.



Challenging Damsels Instagram post. Categories: backlist no nore, debuting ya author, make it modern, not another regency, siblings a series, ownvoices, comfort zone begone, backstage hookup, positive disability representation, black love, time for a holiday, non-binary or trans author. Purple with flowers background, black text, blue and purple flower bullet points.


The Categories

Backlist list no more. Readers hoarde all the books. We really do. So the idea is to at least read one of your books from previous buys. I have a good 300 or more on Kindle alone. There are many options to be found on the shelves.

  • Ideas: Your shelf. You know it best!

Debuting YA author. Let’s be honest. I don’t read a lot of YA, but I’m trying to change that. I haven’t read any since, uh, 1995? Sweet Valley University, in fact. And there are some really good books premiering this year. Time to showcase and shine.

Make it modern. This is all about contemporary romance. I tend to not read it very often since historicals tend to be my favorite choices. A challenge to myself to expand my reading a bit. Contemporary has such a huge selection of subcategories that I’m missing out by ignoring the options.

  • Starting points: Smitten by Books has categories for each month, including contemporary. Great resource.

Not another Regency. I love Regency romances. It’s a place where I mentally curl up and tuck away. But I want to find more times. Why not find look for historicals set in in the South American mountains, the deserts of Africa, or the Philippines without white colonizers? There’s so much to read. It doesn’t need to be set in England.

  • Ideas: Jeannie Lin (Hidden Moon), Bev Jenkins (Destiny’s Captive), Lydia San Andres (A Summer for Scandal), Alyssa Cole (An Extraordinary Union), Elizabeth Hoyt (Scandalous Desires), Courtney Milan (The Suffragette Scandal).

Siblings: a series. Simply put: love a good family series. They’re really fun and it’s nice to see the different members find their happily ever after. But I often forget to read the full series. Not this year. It’s time to read a series and rate the overall arc, not just one or two HEAS.

  • Ideas: Nora Roberts (Chesapeake Bay), Meghan Quinn (Getting Lucky), Shelly Laurenston (Badgers), Samantha Christy (Mitchell Sisters), Christine C. Jones (Wright Brothers), Jackie Lau (Wongs), Penny Reid (Winston Brothers), Julie Kriss (Riggs Brothers).

#OwnVoices. While the hashtag started out as a kidlit push, other genres felt the reverb. I feel like we miss a lot of really good stories. There’s so much diversity in experience and representation in romance. To miss that seems almost criminal.

Comfort zone, begone. Sometimes comfort zones are safe and easy. Can’t stay there forever, though. So it’s a challenge to myself to read things outside my usual sets. Can’t grow without learning what really works, right?

  • Ideas: This is more personal to you, so no suggestions here. I’m going to attempt to read more erotic, steamy, and darker romance to make an informed decision on my preferences.

Backstage hookup. Okay, so this…..could be about musicians. Go for it. The origins are from the backstage relationships that Adele Buck referenced in her book. Stage managers, grips, PA, handlers, etc. The idea is to find books about those kind of relationships outside the spotlight.

  • Ideas: Adele Buck (Acting Up), Christina Lauren (Roomies), Nana Malone (Love Reality), Brianna Stark (Curtain Call), Meryl Wilsner (Something to Talk About).

Positive disability rep. Last year I read a book about diabetes and that was brilliant. As a diabetic, it mattered. So much. And that made me think: what else is out there? There’s so many ways to have a disability without it being some kind of inspiration porn. Fulfilling lives happen every day. And some publishers are looking to publish, according to #PitchDis.

  • Ideas: Talia Hibbert (Get a Life, Chloe Brown;¬†A Girl Like Her), Chloe Liese (Always Only You), Alyssa Cole (Can’t Escape Love), Sara Banard (A Quiet Kind of Thunder), Alison Gervais (The Silence Between Us).

Black love. Twitter is an amazing resource for finding black romance writers who write amazing stories about black romance. I picked the word love, specifically, because I love bright and happy stories about coming together. Not everything has to be pain. Love is a right.

Time for a holiday. Sometimes we all need a little vacation. And other times it’s a holiday that just can’t be missed. Going to Mykonos for a week and end up meeting the love of their life? Cool! Running away from a bad engagement and end up in Rio de Janiero? Makes sense! Or finding out that it’s World Pudding Day right as the bakery closes and the baker offers to make some just for the main character. It’s all about fun. Sometimes we need to laugh.

  • Ideas: Christina Lauren (The Unhoneymooners), Priscilla Oliveras (Island Affair), Amy Andrews (Playing with Trouble), Farrah Rochon (A Mistletoe Affair), Erin McLellan (Party Favors).

Non-binary or trans author. This is pretty self-explanatory. Remember that comfort zone? The same exists with authors I read all the time. I have a Xan West book that was gifted, but I didn’t get to read it before their passing. So I wanted to make a category as I reminder to do better.

  • Ideas:¬†Cecil Wilde (Defying Convention), Aiden Thomas (Cemetery Boys), Anna Zabo (Reverb), Kacen Callenger (Felix Ever After), Xan West (Their Troublesome Crush).