Blythe Barnhill - Ballot chair

 

I like to save the Worst category for last, just like dessert. All year I look forward to hearing what voters will say about the baddest of the bad, and I'm rarely disappointed. This year we had fewer covers nominated in this category than last year, so you'd think the genre as a whole is getting better. But just like that little girl with the curl right on the middle of her forehead, when our covers are good they are very very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid.

This year's "winner" is truly in a class by itself. It's not unusual for the worst winner to receive more votes than any other single cover in the contest that's happened before. But our winner received nearly twice as many votes as any other cover, and nearly half of the total votes placed in the worst category. The reactions ran the gamut; some readers threw up their hands and typed "WTF?" Others were offended by the obvious oral sex going on. Many couldn't figure out what was going on, but hoped to find out. Still others had elaborate theories to explain the seemingly impossible body positions of the characters. The most popular were:

  • The characters are dead.
  • The heroine is a contortionist.
  • There are three people in the car (at least).
  • It took me a full hour just to read through all the comments, and I've taken the unprecedented step of giving this cover more space than ever allotted before so you too can read them. You may want to put down any beverages before reading what voters had to say about Rumor Has It:

    Nancy: "Ummm..what are they doing? I mean really, is it what it looks like? He's either doing her a favor, or she's just killed him and is trying to drag him into the backseat so she can hide the body."

    Islandelf: "Okay, I don't know what the rumors are but, I'm sure they are far, far from the truth - whatever they're doing in that car, it's probably illegal. Not to mention very creative and physically taxing, I'm sure. Hands down the worst cover because it's the most puzzling."

    Myretta: "...Rumor Has It is hands down (or hands somewhere) the worst. It took me a full minute to figure out what it was a picture of. Then at least another minute to figure out if it was remotely physically possible. I think not."

    Julie: "Another tough category. So many of these struck me as bad during the year...the committee chose exactly as I would have. But Rumor Has It is one that I thought, ‘didn't anyone at Harlequin THINK about what these people are doing?' If it had been my cover, I probably would have paid them my advance back in order to stop production. Just horrible And why does it look like his own hand on his waist? ::shiver::"

    Peggy: "But Rumor Has It - that these people are the victims of a really nasty car crash. Get out the Jaws of Life!"

    Mary: "Didn't they get the hint from last year's worst ‘winner'? NO MORE PORN ON COVERS PLEASE. THANK YOU."

    Sela: "First impression - what the heck is that sticking up over his dead shoulder? I finally figured it out, but the poor hero appears to have given his all in an attempt to give oral sex. Too bad she smothered him to death in her thigh grip. And why is his hand wrapped around his waist?"

    Karla: "At first I thought it was a corpse, the body has that lifeless dummy appearance to it, not to mention the redness of the chest/shoulder (bruising after death obviously) but wait - there's feet and a hand, is it another corpse? No. Rumor has it that this some sort of hinted at sex act."

    Jill: "This seems anatomically improbably. Does the heroine have freakishly long arms? Isn't he straddling the ash tray right about now? I think the art department should have tested this position out before they gave it the go ahead."

    Michelle: "Only just. Lovely choice of horrible horrors. This is so wonderfully bad it defies description. It's simply a grab bag of images pasted onto the page. Here a torso, here a leg, there a hand ... Very uncomfortable and the car door looks uncomfortably like a shot gun in the male back. Maybe the artist had second thoughts?"

    Sorcha: "It looks like he's performing oral on one woman while another grabs his waist - unless his lover is REALLY flexible. Is the heroine part of Cirque du Soleil, perhaps? Also, they appear to be doing all this in he back of a hearse. I'm not one to judge, mind, but I'm pretty sure necrophilic tendencies are not something the average romance reader looks for".

    Leslie: "While the other nine covers are odd or downright laughable, this one is utterly and completely devoid of good taste. (No pun intended.) If readers and publishers want to know why romances are generally denigrated, this cover serves as a perfect explanation."

    Stacey: "Rumor has it someone died in this car???? At first glance it looks like a murder scene to me. Probably the worst book cover I've ever seen."

    Jennifer: "No hesitation here. This is obviously a car crash. The woman was thrown into the back seat and her hand is cut off. The man is dead. The title should be Blaze - Don't Drink and Drive."

    Ellen: "This is bad in so many ways, it has to be the winner. If the car door is to his right, then he's lying in the car from front seat to back seat - what happened to the seat backs, the gear shift, etc.? And what is that over his head and back? Please don't tell me it's the female half of this pair. If it is, how is her right hand reaching around his waist - how long are her arms?? And where is her head - sticking out the sunroof? Is his left shoulder burned, or is that eczema?"

    Nana: "I've gotta hand it to Rumor Has It. It's not easy to make what that guy seems to be doing in this picture look utterly unappealing, but this cover does that and more. I mean, in a car is one thing, but going over the seat? With him looking so limp he might be passed out? With her knees questionably close together for anything to be going on down there? With the perspective on her legs and his shoulders making it look as though he missed her entirely and is fellating the upholstery? And people say romance is dead. I don't even think it's logistically possible for him to be doing what I think he's doing, unless her hips are connected directly to her knees or he has a two foot long neck. And where is that hand coming from? Is he groping his own stomach? Has she managed to reach *through* the car seat? Is there a third person somehow trapped underneath him? And to top it off, why does what I assume is the car door handle look like a smoking stapler? The mind boggles."

    Bina: "All Keyed Up…practically begs, ‘Pick me for worst, pick me for worst!' The beefy, Neanderthalish lifeguard and his disturbingly elastic girlfriend would have won if it weren't for the total lapse in decorum by the Harlequin Blaze art department. To their credit, it took me a moment to figure out just what the characters on Rumor Has It were doing, suggesting that most passers-by would not notice the allusion of a man's face in a woman's crotch on the front cover of a book. (Is it any wonder that so many people contend that romance is nothing more than soft porn?) Once the startling image clarifies, one can't help but begin to wonder about the uncomfortable logistics suggested by the picture and how long the models had to strike such a pose. And is that blurring by his pant-clad butt? Why? I don't consider myself prudish but good grief. Rumor Has It wins worst cover hands down for me for its indecency and propagation of romance-as-porn attitude."

    Cindy: "I would guess that if every cover in the history of the world were lined up end to end, this one would win as the worst. It generates confusion, then distaste, then laughter (not the good kind)."

    Laura: "I had never seen any of these before so I was clicking through the entries in order to vote. I laughed hysterically when this cover finally registered on my bleary eyes. ‘Rumor has it' that the female cover model is now in traction due to the contortions necessary to get her feet up kicking the title (rightfully so) while her hand is down there on its way to pantsville - unless that is the dudes own right hand wrapped lovingly around himself as praise for a job well done?"

    Rumor Has It

    Harlequin Blaze

    Coverballot's Mary Lynne "OK, The Pirate's Jewel is silly, and the four eyes of Dad Interrupted are creepy, and Bushwhacked Bride is just too phallic for my taste. Then there's the giant butt of the Denim Detective, the unfortunate costumed child of Be My Baby, and Picasso run mad on the Flipside cover. But easily the worst among worst is Rumor Has It. Rumor has it that someone in the art department at Harlequin thought women would consider this a tasteful pose to find on a book they purchase. Rumor has it that someone thought this sells a classy image of love and romance. Uh, no. Tacky, tacky, tacky cannot begin to describe the wretchedness that is this downright insulting cover. I feel like I need to take a shower now. Eeeeeuuuuw."

    And here are my two personal favorite comments:

    Sherry: "I am not sure this is actually possible, in the literal, anatomical sense. The next time I have girlfriends over, I swear that, after we have a few glasses of wine, we're going out to my car - we will see if someone's arms can reach that far forward while ... never mind. But this page is definitely getting e-mailed around the office."

    Shelly: "I'm completely confused about what it's showing. They're in a car right? Are those the heroine's legs going through the roof? Or is he with a guy? Because that hand on his waist looks masculine to me. I guess it could be a MxMxF threesome in a backseat. And a paranormal one at that, if the lightning shooting out of his butt is any indication. Plus the scene out the window makes it look like they're floating through space - I hope the windows have good seals. Sheesh. So the cover tells me this is about a ménage a trois in a spaceship designed by aliens with Earth auto fetishes, in which the lightning propelled buttocks of one man thrust him with such vigor into the woman she kicks a hole in the ceiling, causing an air leak into space that they must figure out how to stop before they die. Let's hope that other guy is MacGyver. Did I get it right?"

     

    Believe it or not (and I'm not sure I do after reading all the comments on Rumor Has It), a little over half of us thought others covers were even worse. The second place cover was All Keyed Up, which featured a cartoon mullet man extraordinaire. Several readers thought he might be Billy Ray Cyrus – not exactly the stuff of fantasy.

    Jessica said, "...this one screams Billy Ray Cyrus on steroids. Or maybe he's a base ball player? Anyway, who in the world would want this guy, he's just ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww." Elizabeth also thought it was horrible: "She seems to have the long walk down. Now we can only hope it's a short pier. Sadly, it appears he'd be too busy flexing his six-pack for the benefit of the stunned onlookers to notice. His priceless astonished expression suggests that she either gave him a good whack with her clipboard as she passed, or else he's suddenly caught on that it's no longer 1983."

    Maya had this to say about her choice: "At first, I was so shocked by him, this caricature of a man with Billy Ray Cyrus' hair, and a face I'd run away from, that I was feeling sympathy for the poor girl. Then I finally took in her 12 foot stride, impossibly perky breasts and equally frightening face, and I decided that maybe they will be very happy together. But I am happy that they seem about to take that fabled, well-deserved, long walk off a short pier. I'd like to cut the small publisher some slack and pick on one of the other candidates from houses that should know better, but this cover was too awful to let slide."

    All Keyed Up

    Medallion Press

     

    Dad Interrupted

    Harlem Moon

    The third place cover was Dad Interrupted, a tragic image featuring three people melded together. I think.

    Susan chose this one: "Three adults conjoined at the eyes and noses? This is just bad. I almost voted for All Keyed Up (has this man been on a 3 day drunk?), but I went with Dad Interrupted because it is so BAD." Cody was horrified as well: "I had to vote for the dad interrupted by two women while he was using the transporter from The Fly. I mean there are supposedly three people on this cover but apparently they only had enough parts for two because I only see 4 eyes, legs, and arms. It also looks like his ears have fused with their noses. This is truly the worst cover."

    Paula agreed: "Let's forget the phallic symbolism with Bushwhacked Bride, the Rumor Has It hero who had a heart attack and now the heroine's trying to get the body out of the car... oh, wait! That's not her chin, that's her heel! And let's not even mention the mullet hair in All Keyed Up (hello??? Billy Ray Cyrus is NOT cool). Dad Interrupted is just plain creepy. It looks like one of those hospital posters for a mental disorder ('do you have two angry women in your head? Do you wear green rectangles thinking they are shirts? We care. Call us now.') Either that or it's a fanatical advertisement for Single Father Rights, complete with psycho girlfriend trying to force-feed the hapless daddy a microphone, of all things. And that baby bottle ain't gonna help you, sugar."

     

    The fourth place pick was Stranger in Paradise, or as Peggy (who voted for the winner, but hated this one too) hilariously put it, "Renee Zellweger meets Prince Charles." The Prince Charles resemblance was commented on again and again. Art departments take note: Prince Charles is no more desirable then Billy Ray Cyrus.

    Pangaea picked this one: "Oh, dear. They are all, in their own way, quite sublimely bad. But this one ... Oh my word. Is this a romance novel or an Amway brochure?" Catherine disliked it as well: "Is that man the hero? It looks like someone took Grace Kelly and a gob smacked Prince Charles and stuck them behind a podium. It does not say ‘romance' to me, more like stage fright."

    And Kelly asked, "Isn't it a little soon for Prince Charles to be cheating on Camilla???"

    It brought up an unfortunate association for Paula: "Is that the hero and his daughter? Because he looks like MY dad. That just won't do…" She wasn't the only one who felt that the heroine looked too old for the heroine. Anna has all the original series, and thinks these covers really suffer in comparison: "Having a full set of the original issue of this series, I cannot for the life of me figure out why the new covers even exist. Instead of evoking an era or a romantic mood, this leaves me thinking of a low-budget Twilight Zone episode. Should I be looking for the monsters at the end of the street, which may be what the male figure sees, or follow the female's lead and watch the skies?"

    Stranger in Paradise

    Harlequin

     

    Be My Baby

    Silhouette Romance

    In fifth place was Be My Baby, which many voters saw as a menacing child in a terrible bunny hat. I confess to not getting it myself; I just don't think it's that bad. But lots of people couldn't stand it. Those who voted for other covers mentioned it again and again as a second choice. One oft-cited reason is that children just don't say "romance."

    That was Lindsey's position: "Nothing like a baby with rabbit ears to make you feel like curling up and ready a nice, sexy romance. Uggghhhh, just creepy." Afton agreed: "Attack of the Blurry Mutant Babies Part 22!"

    Sandra hated this one too: "What's that, ‘How to dress your child as a condom'? Children on Romances are not my taste anyway, but the man cuddling the eye-hurting pink, deer-in-headlights looking baby is creepy."

     

    The sixth place book was my personal un-favorite, Bushwhacked Groom. I usually know my pick the minute I see it, and this was no exception. I was appalled at first glance. Who did she just shoot? Is it homicide as foreplay? And why is it so hilarious to the hero? I don't know and I don't want to find out. On top of that, she looks like she's about to lick the gun…or worse. Several voters offered theories on the identity of the corpse.

    From Annie: "At the end of the day Bushwhacked Groom should win, because the woman on the cover just shot her husband and now (smoking gun still in hand) is about to ravish her young lover, who thinks that this is all totally groovy. It certainly looks that way to me."

    Verity had another theory: "This cover suggests to me that the novel's title should really be: ‘I'm So Turned On By The Way You Shot That Hobo.'"

    Lareign had an idea as well: "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I'm not sure which is worse, the title or the cover. From the guy's sleazy expression, I wish she would go ahead and shoot him. Or maybe she already has and he just doesn't realize it yet. Oh wait - maybe she shot whoever designed this cover. That would be the best."

    Bushwacked Groom

    Love Spell

     

    Pirate's Jewel

    Leisure

    The Pirate's Jewel came in seventh, and has a similar overblown eighties sensibility. Voters were appalled by the dated nature of the cover and the impending doom signified by the ship in the background. Rosina said: "I'm worried about the ship. Why aren't they?"

    AAR's Lynn made it her choice: "This just epitomizes the very worst of historical romance stereotypes for me. It would take a lot of good reviews for me to buy something that looked like this."

    More than one reader wondered just what "jewel" the cover was talking about. Delle said, "The only thing that would have made me laugh more would be if the title were 'The Pirate's Jewels'." Jennifer was similarly appalled: "Looking at calendar...says 2005. What is with the woman climbing man tree covers still being around? Strike this from my eyes. Plus they'll get all that sand in their cracks. Why do all pirate covers look this cliché? You can see the thought process. Pirate: right...we'll need a pirate ship on rough waters (check) woman scantily clad (check) pirate for her to climb up (check, check)."

     

    Coming in eighth was For Better or Cursed. Some readers thought this one was kind of cute, but those who voted for it tended to dislike cartoon covers in general and this cover in particular.

    CJ's sentiment was common: "I absolutely HATE the cartoon covers!"

    Nikki agreed: "All of the cartoon covers repel me, so much so that I had trouble choosing the worst of the worst. However, this one is sure to turn more readers away than any other simply on the ridiculousness of the clothes while holding the bouquet and the rings."

    Vonna dislikes this type of cover as well: "I don't like these covers with these caricature drawings. I think they are in poor taste. A cover needs to draw you in and catch your eye enough for you to pick it up and read the teaser. Every book looking like this one, I NEVER pick up and NEVER even think about purchasing. YUCK."

    For Better or Cursed

    Harlequin Flipside

     

    Denim Detective

    Harlequin Intrigue

    In ninth place was Denim Detective, another cover that some voters thought was attractive. But many were turned off by the giant, floating butt – with a badge on it, no less. Laura thought it looked like "the cover for a gay porn DVD." Susan thought it beat some tough competition: "This was a very tough choice as always. I waffled for a long time between this one, oral sex in the car, and the fuzzy soft focus widdle bay-bee, but in the end the ghost butt in the sky won out."

    AAR/Coverballot's Jennifer was similarly horrified: "It's not the ugliest cover (that would be Dad Interrupted) or the skankiest (Rumor Has It, oh my God). But The Denim Detective makes me laugh and laugh. It doesn't matter how many times I see it, the sight of that colossal male butt striding through the Rockies just cracks me up. The first time I saw it, I e-mailed my friends and family about it so they could see how hilarious it is. If that doesn't make it the Worst Cover, I don't know what does."

    And I laughed out loud reading these comments from AAR's Leigh: "...the first time I saw the cover of Denim Detective I thought it was one of the lamest things I've ever seen, and that impression hasn't changed. It's a transparent ass. It's a flying ghost butt in the sky. It makes it look like this is the story of a crime-solving rear end. Watch out, evildoers - Butt with a badge! Oy. A close-up of a butt just doesn't say romance (or romantic suspense) to me. I just says this is not a book I would want anyone to ever see me reading. The others might be ugly. This one's truly embarrassing." It's also interesting to note that this cover received more worst nominations than any other (including the winner).

     

    The last place cover (truly an honor in this category) was Babe Magnet. Several readers who chose other books mentioned this as an also-ran, but felt that others were even worse. Voters who chose this one most often described it as stupid or ridiculous. "Trite and stupid," pronounced Jill.

    Andrea agreed: "There is no way I would purchase this book, it doesn't even look like a romance. Nobody looks happy. Denise chose it as well: "Beyond the initial WTF? reaction, I think the artist should be fired. This is a disservice to the author. Even if this was a literary masterpiece, I wouldn't buy it because I couldn't get past the ridiculous cover."

    Danni said it all: "Because as we all know, there's nothing more romantic than a screaming demanding baby, dragging a man and women into love."

    Babe Magnet

    Love Spell

     

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