And, bad books can have bad covers, as Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, the authors of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart B*tches' Guide to Romance Novels know too well. After years of rating romance novels on their blog Smart B*tches, Trashy Books, they understand all the embossing in the world can't make up for a bad romance.
Today's the last installment of our five-part series with Candy and Sarah. We asked them if there is any correlation between cover cheesiness and book quality, and got book recommendations for the Summer.
I was looking through books you rated Fs, and found the Gold Plated Garbage Truck. Looking at the cover, what were you expecting?
Sarah: One thing I've learned about romances is that the authors are not ever in control of their covers. Often they get no say and the cover is miles away from the content — bringing new meaning to, "No, really, we mean it — don't ever judge a book by its cover." Especially a romance novel.
One of the most evocative and powerful romances is Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, and the original cover has Fabio standing in a windstorm, holding out a handful of wildflowers with a truly bizarre expression on his face. Another book I enjoyed featured the biggest mullet I've ever seen coupled with a woman whose hair was so impossibly curly, I thought electroshock therapy was part of the plot.
With Gold Plated Garbage Truck, I figured there might be a crazy cover hiding a funny or silly plot, but, unfortunately, I was wrong.
Candy: You know, I've learned not to rely on romance covers to provide any kind of rubric of quality. At all. You know how you can surf the web, reading content, and somebody comments on something they see on the page you're on, and you're all "Whut?" and then you realize they're talking about the sidebar ads, which you have completely tuned out? Yeah. It's that way for me. I buy romance novels despite their covers, and I generally tune out the specifics of the covers. That said, the Gold-Plated Garbage Truck was a bit harder to ignore, because the self-identification and self-typing are too aggressive (another example would be Indian romances of a certain sort — usually ones involving savage brown men finding ever-loving bliss and fulfillment in some white chick's magic hoo-hoo). Seeing that book, I would've expected a book about a buncha losers, and going by Sarah's review, that's pretty much what it was.
For someone who wants to read a romance novel but is overwhelmed by the untamable options, where should she begin? To see their suggestions,
If you like historical fiction, Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels is incredible and has been held responsible for allowing even the most determined romance snob to rethink her position.
If you like funny contemporary books with incredible dialogue, Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me features a brave and authentic heroine and total hilarity.
If you like stories with paranormal elements, mythology and fierce intelligent women, look to the Norse mythology at work in Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series, especially No Rest For the Wicked. Or, Kelley Armstrong's Bitten, which is about a lone female werewolf living in hiding in Toronto.