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Jennifer J. Coldwater's Diversify Your Romance Challenge

We are extremely excited to share this article written by Jennifer J. Coldwater, all about her new reading challenge today! Diversify Your Romance is a wonderful attempt to help readers connect with romance books they may not usually pick up, from stories with disabled characters, to stories of trans love, to books by BIPOC authors, and so much more!

Read on to find out how Jennifer's challenge came to be, and what books she (and we) recommend you start with.


I almost exclusively read audiobooks. 

I’m just neurospicy enough that reading with my eyes takes an eternity. Turns out I was diagnosed with a visual processing disorder at the same time I was determined to be gifted— that was a long day of testing, I can tell you! — and my parents and teachers decided to only tell me about one. Guess which they chose. 

Even with that impairment, I have always loved to read. Stories mean everything to me. I was the kid who woke up on a summer morning, picked up my book where I’d left it on the nightstand and read until my parents kicked me out of the house. Then I’d read outside, lying in the grass until it got dark. Then I’d read in bed until my parents made me turn off the lights. 

Skip to my first years living in Los Angeles when my hours-each-way commute became unbearable and a dear friend suggested audiobooks. Wow! It was like winning some kind of lottery. 

I almost exclusively read contemporary romance. 

It was actually audiobooks that led me to romances. No matter what audiobook service I tried, I found myself turning to Penny Reid, Lauren Blakely, Abby Jimenez, Helen Hoang. My longest relationships have been with Joy Nash and Chris Brinkley, Andi Arndt and Sebastian York, Erin Mallon and Zachary Webber, my OG narrator rockstar Carly Robins. One long winter I listened to every Audible Original holiday romance on the roster. (By the time spring rolled around that year, we were locked down and I had a lot of free time on my hands. That’s what led me to write my debut novel Holland, My Heart. But that is another blog post entirely.)

There are lots of “diversify your reading” challenges out there.

I’ve participated in some very fun and productive writing challenges on social media, but I was looking for a reading challenge I could get into. I kept seeing challenges that had tasks like “read a nonfiction book” or “read a book written by a woman”. Seriously? I finally got fed up and developed my own Diversify Your Romance challenge. 

Since January, I’ve been posting book recommendations in these categories. 

📚Audiobook with BIPOC narrator

📚A library book (I'm terrible about this!)

📚By a trans author

📚By an Asian or Asian American author

📚Afrofuturism or Africanfuturism (I can't wait to talk about these!)

📚Disability rep

📚An FMC athlete

📚Retelling of non-western mythology

📚Set in another country

📚Muslim main character

📚FMC older than 50

📚By a South Asian author

📚A book in translation

📚By an First Nations, Native American, Indigenous or Aboriginal author

📚A monster romance (this will be my first!)

📚A biracial protagonist

📚A physical paperback or graphic novel 

📚By a BIPOC author (this has taken on a whole new shape; see below) 

Here are some highlights from the last 18 weeks. 

Audiobook with a BIPOC narrator

  • One I read: Goal (St. Louis Sires, Book 1) by Alexandria House, narrated by Jakobi Diem & Nicole Small (Please click on Alexandria House’s website! Her logo gives me branding envy)

  • One I wrote: I’m very proud of the narration of Holland, My Heart by Cindy Harden and Brian Rivera. When I reached out to Blue Nose Audio to hire narrators for my first novel, they worked diligently to help me cast Kai, whose mother was Black and whose father was Samoan. Rivera identifies as Pacific Islander and did a beautiful job— many readers comment they love his timbre. Me, too!

  • One I plan to read: Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert, narrated by Amina Koroma and Jonathan Andrew Hume

Afrofuturism and/or Africanfuturism

I committed to finding at least three Afrofuturist (or Africanfuturist) romance titles with the full faith that I cannot be the only person who wants to read this combination. Look what I found!

All three are series starters — in for a penny, in for a pound, I always say. Am I the kind of reader who buys the entire series before I’ve begun the first book? Yes. Yes, I am. 

  • Noughts and Crosses (Noughts and Crosses, Book 1) by Malorie Blackman, narrated by Syan Blake and Paul Chequer

  • Song of Blood & Stone (Earthsinger Chronicles, Book 1) by L. Penelope, narrated by Allyson Johnson

  • Awaken the Dragon (Legion, Book 1) by A.C. Arthur, narrated by Leon Nixon

Disability Rep

I couldn’t limit myself to three books in this category, so I broke it down into three subcategories. 

Chronic Illness Rep 

  • Always Only You (Bergman Brothers, Book 2 — can be read as a standalone) by Chloe Liese, narrated by CJ Bloom & Nelson Hobbs

  • Love Flushed (All Access Series, Book 2) by Evie Mitchell, narrated by Teddy Hamilton & Savannah Gilmore

  • Kissing Kosher by Jean Meltzer, narrated by Dara Rosenberg

S&S recommend: Just Stu by Merlina Garance and Make You Mine This Christmas by Lizzie Huxley-Jones

Mental Illness Rep 

  • Beard in Mind (Winston Brothers, Volume 4) by Penny Reid, narrated by Angela Dawe & Chris Brinkley

  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, narrated by Rebecca Lowman & Maxwell Caulfield

  • Weather Girl by Rachel Lynn Solomon, narrated by Sarah Mollo-Christensen

S&S recommend: Cursed in Love by Bryony Rosehurst and The Book Boyfriend by Jeanna Louise Skinner

Sensory Impairment Rep 

  • A Cruise Fling by Laura Brown, narrated by Kelli Tager

  • Make You Mine (Running in Circles, Book 1) by E.M. Lindsey, narrated by Zachary Zaba

  • Saved by the Boss (New York Billionaires, Book 2) by Olivia Hayle, narrated by Ava Blair & Mercer Boffey

Retelling of non-western mythology 

Y'all. I needed help with this one. I could find lots of retellings of non-western mythology... but not with love stories and a happily ever after. I asked Bookstagram for recs. Here’s what I got back from friends! 

  • From spacedragonshoard: Asiri and the Amaru by Natalia Hernandez is based on Peruvian mythology.

  • From emmalily5: The Stardust Thief is an Arabian Nights-centered story by Chelsea Abdullah. Also the Daughter of the Moon Goddess duology is Chinese mythology by Sue Lynn Tan.

  • From fsmeurinne: Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  • The Enchanted Hacienda by J.C. Cervantes

  • The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

  • Song of the Last Kingdom Series by Amélie Wen Zhao

  • Sun of Blood and Ruin by Mariely Lares

S&S recommend: Under the Ice Skies by Gwenhyver and the Fall of Souls by R.A. Moreau

FMC over 50

I’ll be 42 in October, and I’m proud of my age and my (seriously single) life so far. But for this challenge, I selfishly wanted to read about women older than I. (Remember in middle school when you wanted to read about teenagers? And when you were a teenager, you wanted to read about 20-somethings?) Alas and alack, it seems I was asking too much of Romancelandia when I wished for books with female main characters over 50. God bless Jasmine Guillory for ALWAYS understanding the assignment. After finding Royal Holiday, the best I could do was find romances with FMCs in their 40s. 

  • 54: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory, narrated by Janina Edwards

  • 47: Gray Hair Don't Care (Never Too Late, Book 1) by Karen Booth, narrated by Romy Nordlinger

  • “Over-40”: Sterling Brick by L.B. Dunbar, narrated by Stella Hunter & Patrick Zeller

S&S recommend: A Tale of Two Florists by Brenna Bailey and Mending Bones by Merlina Garance

The week that became a year.

The last week of the challenge was supposed to be three books by BIPOC authors. How does one narrow down all the amazing romance novels being written by Black, Indigenous, and people of color today? So, I decided to do what I did for Disability Rep only bigger. Starting in May, I am choosing romance books for each Heritage Month. 

  • May: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

  • May: Jewish American Heritage Month

  • May: Mental Health Awareness Month

  • June: LGBTQ+ Pride Month

  • July: Disability Pride Month

  • September: Latinx Heritage Month

  • October: LGBTQ+ History Month

  • October: National Disability Employment Awareness Month

  • November: Native American History Month

  • February 2025: Black History Month

  • March 2025: Women's History Month

  • April 2025: Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

  • April 2025: Arab American Heritage Month

This guest blog post isn’t just a look back, it’s an invitation.

Want to come on an adventure with me? I'd love for you to join me for my Diversify Your Romance Challenge! Please tag Swords & Sapphics and @jenniferjcoldwater_author when you post any challenge tasks you complete. I can’t wait to hear what romance stories you’ll come up with in these categories.


About Jennifer

Jennifer J. Coldwater has been writing stories since they were in a spiral-bound notebook in elementary school. The first one she remembers was about a talking horse; however, the notebooks are long gone and she cannot corroborate this tale. There are no talking horses in her current stories. She hopes that’s not too disappointing to her readers.

Always curious, always writing, Jen wanted to find work that fed her soul. The closest she could get to a career in Curiosity and Questioning was teaching English, journalism, and creative writing at a public high school in San Diego, California in the late ‘90s.

She creates diverse characters who believe love is love.


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