Nurse Saxon's Patient by Marjorie Norrell

Something doesn’t add up. When the subject of reading romance novels arises, most folks turn up their noses, clearly too good for that sort of fluffy nonsense. But the numbers don’t lie – at least some of the snooty literati must be secretly swooning behind closed doors, because romance sells like hotcakes. Just ask the accountants at Harlequin or Mills & Boon. Demand is great, the turnover is high, and the arena of love is an area where the used book market thrives – these books have typically short print runs, but thanks to secondhand shops and websites, the out-of-print steamy affairs can be discovered and enjoyed by new readers again and again.

And why not? It’s fun to fantasize, and escapism is surely one of the foremost reasons to read. If I spend my days squinting at a computer, hunched over a keyboard and typing my fingers to bloody nubs (hypothetically), then far be it from anyone to judge me if I want to escape into a world where I might be the farmer’s adult daughter, tending the ranch ever since Pa’s accident, and happen to catch the eye of Hunter, the fence-building cowpoke who just can’t be tamed. I’m good with a lasso, and his heart is my next target.

The day after I could become a wealthy, bored and slightly spoiled heiress in a villa in Tuscany, shocked by the audacity and smoldering gazes of the rude mechanic who knows I need to be taken down a peg. Perhaps if we have a battle of wits, we can make up a few times afterward, then sun ourselves by the pool and sip Pinot Grigio.

Or what of this young man in the hospital bed, who drove his car off the road, to end it all? As a nurse, I naturally maintain a brisk detachment and professional efficiency, but this patient is different. Perhaps I can learn the dark secret that torments him, and teach him to walk again. And maybe....just maybe... to love again.

Whatever your pleasure, no doubt there is a romance plot calling your name (in a husky whisper), whose pages you can slip into like your silkiest negligee (or most beloved terry-cloth robe, as the case may be). Nothing wrong with guilty pleasure. But romance readers, much like the devotees of some science fiction out there, have long been teased for their indulgences, and it shouldn’t be the case.  If you ask me, we should read what we enjoy, unabashedly.

Send for Nurse Vincent by Margaret Malcolm
And romance novels, again like their science fiction counterparts, have been done zero favors by designers of cover artwork. Just like your favorite sci-fi novel will often be adorned with outdated fonts, blinding color schemes, multi-headed monsters and embarrassingly scantily-clad space-vixens, you’ll similarly rarely find a subtle romance cover. No tasteful muted tones, no small, understated title, not even a plain cover, here. Instead, the covers are generally dripping with flowery, serif-heavy lettering, loudly announcing that the book you’re reading alone in a coffee shop is called “ANIMAL MAGNETISM” or “UNTAMED PANTS” or “FORBIDDEN EMBRACES” and the like. The illustrations (or even photographs, sometimes), leap off the cover with their swarthy, smoldering men, swooning, passion-addled heroines and the like, in any one of a seemingly limitless number of interchangeable scenarios.

In short, these books are not doing anything to detract attention from themselves and let the reader peacefully enjoy them over a croissant without having to endure the sniggers of nearby patrons, clutching the latest Dave Eggers or Ian McEwan and feeling superior.

As someone who spends much time scouring the book world, I began to notice repeated trends in the cover art of romance novels, and decided to categorize the ones most commonly seen. Whether Harlequin Romance, Mills & Boon or another publisher, there are common elements. For the purposes of this list, I’ve stuck to the older, more traditional and vintage covers – the modern ones certainly are much steamier(!).

The list is tongue-in-cheek, with no offense meant – just a gentle bit of fun-poking. In fact, I challenge you, lovers of love, readers of romance, devourers of devotion – to take back the romance novel. Stand proud in line at the bank, paperback clutched in hand. Read boldly on the bus, not caring who sees. Make waiting rooms your reading rooms, with no apologies. After all, what better to do with romance…than embrace it?

So, without further ado, here are five common themes of romance novel covers.

...And a treat at the bottom, where the AbeBooks staff have tried our own hand at romance.

 

One Or More Giant, Disembodied Floating Heads

Why? Why are there huge disembodied heads? Why are they floating in space, over other people, a mountain, a lake, a horse? Is it romantic? I think it's scary.

Doctor’s Daughters by Anne Weale
Doctor’s Daughters
by Anne Weale
Where No Roads Go by Essie Summers
Where No Roads Go
by Essie Summers
Away Went Love by Mary Burchell
Away Went Love
by Mary Burchell
Ride a Black Horse by Margaret Pargeter
Ride a Black Horse
by Margaret Pargeter

The Iron Man by Kay Thorpe
The Iron Man
by Kay Thorpe

 

Nurses

This is sort of a gimme, as I think we all know that nurses have long been a staple for romance novels. But I had no idea how absolutely saturated the genre was with them - I could very easily have created an entire 100-book feature on just vintage romance novel nurses.
Nurse in Holland by Betty Neels
Nurse in Holland
by Betty Neels
That Nice Nurse Nevin by Jan Tempest
That Nice Nurse Nevin
by Jan Tempest
Ring for Nurse by Renee Shann
Ring for Nurse
by Renee Shann

Nurse Mary’s Engagement by Essie Summers
Nurse Mary’s Engagement
by Essie Summers

 

Uncomfortable Embraces

Sure, they're embracing. But it seems to me, the majority of couples embracing on romance book covers don't look happy. Someone is frowning, someone is looking away with dissatisfaction, someone is in a headlock. You know. The usual. ...maybe I'm just not romantic.
The Green Parakeets by Hilary Wilde
The Green Parakeets
by Hilary Wilde
Unbidden Melody by Mary Burchell
Unbidden Melody
by Mary Burchell
Country of the Falcon by Anne Mather
Country of the Falcon
by Anne Mather
Night on the Mountain by Flora Kidd
Night on the Mountain
by Flora Kidd

Wife to Sim by Joyce Dingwell
Wife to Sim
by Joyce Dingwell

 

Three's a Crowd

The covers featuring three people don't do so in a sexy way (that's a different genre.) - instead, the presence of three people seems to imply instant conflict, with scowls, frowns, heads in hands and ominous expressions all round.
Dance, Little Lady by Nan Sharpe
Dance, Little Lady
by Nan Sharpe
The Smoke and the Fire by Essie Summers
The Smoke and the Fire
by Essie Summers
The Japanese Screen by Anne Mather
The Japanese Screen by Anne Mather
The English Tutor by Sara Seale
The English Tutor
by Sara Seale

House of Conflict by Mary Burchell
House of Conflict
by Mary Burchell

 

Woman in Foreground, Looking Playfully At Man Over Shoulder

These larger-than-life women are placed solidly in the foreground as the obvious focus of the story, but we know where their hearts lie - with the tiny men in the background, at whom they are glancing over their shoulder flirtatiously.
Heatherleigh by Essie Summers
Heatherleigh
by Essie Summers
Adair of Starlight Peaks by Essie Summers
Adair of Starlight Peaks
by Essie Summers
Enchanted Oasis by Faith Baldwin
Enchanted Oasis
by Faith Baldwin

Hotel Waitress by Gene Harvey
Hotel Waitress
by Gene Harvey

 

Woman in Foreground, Looking Dead Ahead and Ignoring Man Over Shoulder

These women, while still prominently in the foreground with a comparatively tiny man loitering behind them, exude a bit more independent confidence - they're looking straight ahead, not at the tiny man.
Rapture of the Desert by Violet Winspear
Rapture of the Desert
by Violet Winspear
Doctor Overboard by Catherine Airlie
Doctor Overboard
by Catherine Airlie
Castles in Spain by Rebecca Stratton
Castles in Spain
by Rebecca Stratton
Young Bar by Jane Fraser
Young Bar
by Jane Fraser

Substitute Nurse by Valerie Nelson
Substitute Nurse
by Valerie Nelson

 




Our Own AbeBooks Romance Novels:

Arrr is for Romance The Tart and the Tartan When in Rome All For Love and Love for All

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