Thoughts on the Cover Challenge

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. One of the challenges making the rounds on Facebook asks those who are challenged to post covers of ten books they’ve enjoyed, one cover a day. Participants are asked to post only the covers, with no explanation for why they were chosen, and to challenge another Facebook friend to do the same. One of my oldest childhood friends issued the challenge to me and I took her up on it.

I thought it would be easy. Hah! Obviously, these had to covers of books that meant something to me, even if I wasn’t going to explain what it was. There are many books that have influenced me, many I’ve enjoyed, many I could plug for friends by showing just the cover.

I faced a second quandary when I tried to think which of my FB friends to pass the challenge to . . . or rather which ones wouldn’t mind being challenged. This also turned out to be harder than I thought it would be. At about day six, I gave up on that part and just posted covers.

But here’s the thing: it was killing me not to explain why I’d chosen a particular cover. The obvious solution was to give myself the opportunity to do so by writing a blog. Here, then, are the ten book covers I posted and the reasons I selected each of them.

Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings is the first of the six novels that comprise her Lymond Chronicles. Set in the sixteenth century, it’s a tour de force that in some ways defies description. At times it’s a challenge to read because she tosses in bits in other languages without translation. The plot is incredibly complex, she never writes from the point of view of the hero—I didn’t catch that until the third time I read the series—and the sense of place is so powerful that for years I hesitated to set my own books in the same period because I knew I’d never come close to accomplishing what she had. And yes, when I was selecting my pseudonym and it was suggested I use a Scottish surname, I gave a tip of the proverbial hat to her by becoming Kaitlyn Dunnett.

Clair Blank was a real person, not a pseudonym for multiple authors writing for a syndicate. I’ve written about her here before. All of her Beverly Gray girls’ adventure stories, including the one shown here, were favorites when I was growing up, probably because the world of Beverly and her friends was much closer to reality than, say Nancy Drew’s milieu. The first books, one for each year at a women’s college, were written and took place during the 1930s. The series continued through World War II and into the 1950s. I also devoured the adventures of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr, and the rest, but the books in this series are the ones I still own.

My father read historical novels. My mother read (and watched) Perry Mason. They also subscribed to Readers’ Digest Condensed Books. Since no one ever put any restrictions on what I read, I soon discovered that the novels I enjoyed most were historicals. I read all of Thomas B. Costain and even convinced my ninth grade English teacher to let me do a paper on him instead of one of the authors on her list. That said, Frank Yerby’s The Golden Hawk stands out in my memory. Why? It contains a steamy kiss, at least by 1950s standards. That the female pirate who makes up half the romance later informs the male half that she won’t put up “mouthing and pawing” also made an impression on me.

I don’t remember exactly when I discovered the novels of Anya Seton, but when I did I read them all. Green Darkness stood out for two reasons. It’s set partly in my favorite historical period, the sixteenth century, and it has a paranormal/reincarnation element. Later I came to disagree with Seton’s characterization of several real people in the story, but that couldn’t sour my memory of reading this book for the first time.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig is a (relatively) recent discovery. Like Green Darkness, it is a past/present story but in this case, both the historical spy story and the tribulations of the modern day heroine, a researcher, are leavened with humor. It’s the first of a series in which the secrets of the past are slowly unraveled in the present. Romance is nicely blended with mystery, history, and comic relief.

Most of Clive Cussler’s novels also combine past and present, although most of the action is set in the present day. In my humble opinion, his mid-career books—Treasure, Dragon, Sahara, Inca Gold, and Flood Tide—are the best, containing incredibly complex plotlines that somehow come together seamlessly by the end of the book. The movie version of Sahara only presents a small part of the whole. If you read the book, you’ll never think of Abraham Lincoln the same way again.

Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes was my first experience with reading a female author who was writing about the life of a real historical woman. There have been many, many takes on Anne Boleyn in both fiction and nonfiction, but I have a soft spot for this one. Later, when I read accounts of some of the events in Anne’s life, I could visualize them much more clearly because I already had a picture of them in my mind. I discovered Brief Gaudy Hour among my aunt’s books while on a visit to Connecticut when I was twelve and had read the whole novel before it was time to go home again.

John Dickson Carr’s The Burning Court is a mystery that slides over into woo-woo territory. Can you tell I have no problem with mixing genres? There’s a good dollop of history, too. And since the challenge was to post covers, how could I resist sharing this one.

Charlaine Harris’s Dead Until Dark is the first in her Sookie Stackhouse series. Mystery, the supernatural, and humor—what could be a better combination? Dead Until Dark inspired the HBO series True Blood, but the books are much lighter in tone. Since they’re written in Sookie’s point of view, readers are not obliged to witness her brother’s sex life first hand and it’s up to them how much bloodshed to imagine.

I wanted to include at least one romance in the ten books. I read romances voraciously when I was writing them and continue to buy every new book from certain favorite romance and romantic suspense authors even now. Since picking just one book would be impossible, I shifted my focus and chose one cover that stands out from the rest. Study it carefully. Can you spot the reason it’s so memorable? I’ll put the answer in the comments section.

So there you are—my reasons for choosing the ten books I did for the book cover challenge. What about you, readers? How hard or easy would you find it to pick ten covers to post? And if you’ve already participated, what covers did you choose?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of nearly sixty traditionally published books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Overkilt) and the “Deadly Edits” series (Crime & Punctuation) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” mysteries and is set in Elizabethan England. Her most recent collection of short stories is Different Times, Different Crimes. Her websites are and and she maintains a website about women who lived in England between 1485 and 1603 at

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4 Responses to Thoughts on the Cover Challenge

  1. kaitlynkathy says:

    The reason this romance cover is famous, in case you didn’t spot it, is that the heroine has three hands. The cover artist changed her pose but forgot to paint over the earlier version. The book was already in stores before anyone noticed.

  2. I did not see that third hand! That’s memorable, all right.
    I’d have a difficult time with this challenge (so I’m glad you abandoned the idea of tagging friends on FB to follow suit). Choosing the ten that resonated most deeply would take me days.

  3. susanvaughan says:

    Thanks for this post about favorite books. I see a few I’d like to read. And I’ve always heard about the three-hand cover, but this is the first chance I’ve had to see it.

  4. Kate Flora says:

    I read many of those. Found Frank Yerby so steamy as a girl probably too young to realize what I was reading. You tagged me and I’m afraid I failed after about book cover five or six. Maybe seven. It was fun to go back and see what jumped off the shelf, though.

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