The Vanishing Viscountess (Diane Gaston, 2008) is the kind of historical romance I'm always wanting to read but am rarely fortunate enough to find. It's tightly plotted, romantic, and well-researched. Best of all, nothing feels out-of-proportion. The stakes are high--the heroine is wanted for a murder she didn't commit--but the characters' reactions are appropriate to their situation, making the story dramatic rather than over-the-top and melodramatic.
It's an excellent book, but I feel compelled to rant a bit about its cover. I'm not at all ashamed of reading romance. I'll tell anyone I talk books with that romance is among my favorite genres. I also tell them that I wrote three romance manuscripts, and that I switched genres because I think historical adventure is a better fit for my voice, the kind of heroes I write, and the stories I want to tell, not because I think it's somehow superior. But as I read The Vanishing Viscountess in the cafeteria and at the bus stop today, I made sure to hide the cover, or at least to cover the bare-chested guy, because it's just so silly and cheesy. I did the same when I was reading this book and this one.
It's honestly not that I hide any and all obvious romance covers. I read this openly on a city bus, though I'm not wild about the pink. And Jo Beverley has had some gorgeous covers I'd read with pride anywhere.
But what's with the shirtlessness, or men ripping open their shirts looking like Superman on a day he forgot his tights? It's not sexy, at least not to me. You want sexy, show me fully clad Regency men, especially if they're in uniform like the ones on the second Beverley cover. Men just don't dress a quarter so well anymore! Or if you're going to show the undershirts, at least get them right. They were pullovers, with an open throat and a button or two at the top, but they didn't button all the way down. It really annoys me that romance covers UNIVERSALLY get this wrong, because it's not like it's an obscure detail, or that it would cost more to paint a period-correct shirt. And it's not like accurate shirts aren't sexy, either. Exhibit A. And though Colin Firth does nothing for me, obviously a lot of women thought he looked perfectly fine climbing out of that pond by Pemberley. So I can't come up with any explanation for why romance publishers always get this wrong except that they think women who read romance just aren't as smart and aren't as worth taking trouble over as the audience for the Sharpe series (probably at least half male, even with the Sean Bean factor bringing in the ladies) or Pride and Prejudice viewers (people who care about Great Literature).
But really. All I need are covers I don't feel the need to go into contortions to hide when I'm reading on the bus. Is that too much to ask?