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Midnight angel kleypas

Historical Romance Review: Midnight Angel by Lisa Kleypas

historical romance review
Midnight Angel by Lisa Kleypas
Rating: three-half-stars
Published: 1995
Illustrator: Max Ginsburg, Fredericka Ribes
Book Series: Stokehurst #1
Published by: Avon
Genres: Historical Romance, Victorian Era Romance
Pages: 373
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Midnight Angel by Lisa Kleypas


The Book

Lisa KleypasMidnight Angel is the predecessor to the only one of her novels I’ve been unable to finish, Prince of Dreams. I started Prince of Dreams, not knowing it was a sequel; the Elaine Duillo stepback cover lured me in.

I should have started with this one, which features a Max Ginsburg tip-in illustration, as this is by far the better romance.

The Plot

The story opens with Lady Anastasia Kaptereva. She is in jail, sentenced to hang for a murder she did not commit. Anastasia doesn’t have any recollection of the event.

She flees Russia for exile to England, where under an assumed name, she lands employment as a governess to young Lady Emma Stokehurst.

The hero Luke, Lord Stokehurst, is unique in that he’s disabled, missing a hand, with a hook in its place. He is a widower whose wife died in a fire. And he’s vowed never to love again.

His 12-year-old daughter Emma is in need of care. Emma is the heroine in Prince of Dreams, where she is paired off with Tasia’s annoying brute of a cousin Nikolas Angelovsky. He was such an awful hero; I DNF’d that book. Unthinkable for a Kleypas, but he rubbed me the wrong way. Strange, as he’s not so terrible here in Midnight Angel.

midnight angel lisa kleypas
Midnight Angel, Lisa Kleypas, Avon, 1995, Max Ginsburg cover art, John De Salvo model

Luke is about 15 years older than Tasia (she’s 18; he’s 34). Luke is “tortured” and domineering, not a thoughtfully sensitive but strong quasi-beta male with a cream-puff interior. The power dynamics may be off-putting to some. I didn’t mind.

When Tasia and Lucas get together, the steam factor is hot. Kleypas writes excellent love scenes, which is why the book was enjoyable.

The plot was a bit of a kitchen-sink affair, as there are many factors thrown in: the Gothic aura, amnesia, murder, a nasty other woman, and lots of drama. Plus, there are evil baddies, a tiger, and some paranormal factors. The supernatural stuff is further explored in Prince of Dreams.

My Opinion

Midnight Angel was good, better than its follow-up, but not anything exceptional. If you’ve read my reviews, you know where I stand on the grieving widowers trope, but it was mostly tolerable here. Mostly.

Some aspects were rushed, making my rating for this book drop a few percentage points. It’s melodramatic and cheesy at times. Then again, I don’t mind cheesy.

I liked this historical overall, but I don’t think it’s for every reader. Fans of Kleypas’ romances written in the 20th century–particularly her Hathaway and Ravenel series–probably will not have a good time as I did with Midnight Angel.

The ratings on Amazon and Goodreads are relatively low for a Kleypas romance, with a considerable number of 1 or 2-star reviews.

That didn’t sway my opinion, as I enjoy Kleypas’ 1990s to early 2000s romances more than her “modern” books.

Final Analysis of Midnight Angel

Historical romance is a broad genre and Lisa Kleypas’ is a rare author with broad genre appeal. Midnight Angel is a solid, if not stellar, romance. Tasia and Lord Stokehurst are an unlikely couple, but their story is full of passion, intrigue, and danger.

Opinions are mixed about this one, so your mileage may vary. As for me, while I won’t be returning to Midnight Angel, I am glad I read it.

3.74 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 3.7


A noblewoman of frail beauty and exotic mystery fakes her own death to escape the gallows. And now she must flee. In disguise and under a false identity, she finds unexpected sanctuary in the arms of a handsome and arrogant yet gallant British lord—who must defy society to keep her safe . . . and overcome a tragic past to claim her as his own.

modern stepback covers 7

Stepback Covers Part VII: Stepback & Modern Romance Novels

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The Stepback in Romance Circa 2000

By the dawn of the 21st millennium, the stepback was the pinnacle of cover art in the romance genre. From the crests of sensual beauty…

intrigued duillo
Intrigued, Bertrice Small, Kensington, 2001, Elaine Duillo cover art

…to the heights of campy, wonder…

Ritual of Proof, Dara Joy,
Ritual of Proof, Dara Joy, Harper Collins, 2002 (2001 orig. pub.) Steve Assel cover art,
Ritual of Proof, Dara Joy, Harper Collins, 2002 (2001 orig. pub.) Steve Assel cover art

…this particular cover style ruled the day.

By Y2K, all sorts of genre changes were in swing, but one aspect was consistent in romance. A stepback was “it.” The combination of a best-selling author, a prominent artist, and fantastic design aesthetics meant quality all around.

Suddenly YOu ginsburg
Suddenly You, Lisa Kleypas, 2000, Avon, Max Ginsburg cover art

Change is always a constant in life, however. Such is the case for the artwork for paperback romances. As artists of the second-golden age of pulp began to leave this mortal plane, publishers looked to a new, cheaper style of design.

Plain covers did not sell as well as clinches, despite the embarrassment associated with the latter. The stepback was an acceptable middle-ground and proved to be constant in an era of transformation.

Romance Covers in the Modern Age

Cover art in romance has always been controversial due to its sensual nature. Today, in 2022, the most notable trend is the cartoon-illustrated design.

Many authors and readers prefer this, as this modern cover style downplays the campy eroticism and adds an air of “respectability” to romance.

Nevertheless, stepback covers are still prevalent. At least, they are in historical romance. Although the covers are no longer painted by hand, there are digital artists who design fantastic modern romance covers. Alan Ayers, Jon Paul Ferrera, Chris Cocozza, James Griffin, Victor Gadino, and Anna Kmet number among them.

a kiss at midnight
a kiss at midnight
A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James, 2011, Avon, James Griffin cover art

Modern Stepback Covers

The more prominent an author is, the more likely their books will have stepbacks. Modern-era romance covers can be created quickly through the digital process, so it’s easier to design a more illustrious stepback.

Writers such as Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare, Elizabeth Hoyt, and Sarah MacLean have received the “special” stepback treatment.

wicked and wallflower maclean
wicked and the wallflower
Wicked and the Wallflower, Sarah MacLean, Avon, 2018, Alan Ayers cover art

Digital Art Covers For the 21st Century

One difference modern covers have from those of the past–besides the digital aspect– is the exterior of the stepback is not “plain” anymore. The front may display a couple embracing. Often, the outside cover portrays a solo image of the hero or heroine. Usually, the interior artwork shows the clinch pose.

chasing cassandra kleypas
chasing cassandra ayers

Chasing Cassandra, Lisa Kleypas, Avon, 2020, Alan Ayers cover art

Another variation is instead of multiple hues vying for the eye, one solid source–often the heroine’s gown or the bedsheets surrounding the couple–will be the primary spot of color.

Though we adore painted covers, we can also appreciate the loveliness of digital images. So long as covers inspire romance, there’s always room for them on our shelves!

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Rey Books, cover artist TBD

Your Opinion?

Do you prefer modern romance, cover artist TBD covers with computer-generated images or are you an old-school-lover of painted covers? Or do you adore romance cover art and love looking at them no matter what era they came from?

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

stepback saturday vi

Stepback Covers Part VI: Stepback Saturday

stepback saturday vi

Stepback Saturday

Today, stepback covers remain widespread in romance. Many fans cherish them for the beauty they display (and hide).

A fun way to show off old and new stepback cover art is to post them on “Stepback Saturdays.”

(Cat lovers need not worry. Caturday is still and will always be in effect.)

A few months ago, we wrote about using Instagram to show off your vintage books.

One of the more popular tags on Bookstagram/ Romancestagram/ RomanceBookstagram is #stepbacksaturday. With this hashtag, bookish Instagrammers upload pictures of interior cover art or the clinches illustrated on the back covers.

Staging Stepbacks for Instagram

On Instagram, readers and collectors use filters to highlight the bright, glorious colors of the covers. Proper lighting is essential to getting your book cover to look its best.

Posters display their stepback Saturday books surrounded by fabrics, flowers, jewelry, scarves, or other objects to add some flair.

stepback saturday rebel in silk instagram

Users discuss facts about the books or the covers. They make guesses about the book’s title. Others try to identify the artists or authors. Stepback Saturdays are a fun way to share your collection with others and make internet friends.

Then the following Sunday, readers upload the front cover using the hashtag #stepbackreveal or #stepbacksaturdayreveal.

Did you guess the title, author, or artist?

stepback saturday rebel in silk
Rebel in Silk, Sandra Chastain, Bantam, 1994, Daniel R. Horne interior cover art

Here’s another #stepbacksaturday image. I put the book outside on the grass, placed some flowers on part of the cover to hide the ISBN code, and let the natural sunlight do the rest.

Do you recognize the artwork?

stepbacks rosanne bittner

It’s an H. Tom Hall illustration. Any luck?

stepback saturday

The book is Rosanne Bittner‘s Wildest Dreams from 1994, published by Bantam.

Remember Caturday? Well, if you are cat-crazy like me, you can combine the two to get the best of both worlds. Here is a lovely Ken Otsuka illustration.

stepback saturday lady valiant

This stepback reveal of Suzanne Robinson‘s Lady Valiant is paired with a lazy cat lounging in the sun. Use the hashtag #catsandbooks to show off your feline and literary fancies.


Some covers make the round more often than others. A classic is Brenda Joyce’s The Conqueror. It shows Fabio standing arrogantly with a mace and sword, a redhead kneeling and clutching at his legs, while a horse rears in the background.

It’s yet another wonderfully saucy cover by Elaine Duillo. Although she disliked hiding her art behind a plain exterior, stepbacks allowed her to get racier with her clinches.

Other popular books Stepback Saturday posters show off include Amanda Quick’s romances, with her various Pino-designed covers (most of which also starred Fabio).

From week to week, covers by the talented Victor Gadino, whom Sweet Savage Flame considers to be the undisputed “King of the Stepbacks,” are also favored. Looking at this glorious illustration for Lisa Kleypas, we see why!

Oh, what the heck, here’s another popular Gadino cover. This whimsical piece is for Catherine Coulter‘s The Scottish Bride.

It’s satisfying enough to see the hero with the heroine slung over his shoulder as John Wayne would do to Maureen O’Hara in an old flick from the 1940s or 1950s. What’s fun about this–and many other covers–is the action in the background. There’s always something crazy going on in romance covers.

Sometimes a very rare stepback makes the rounds, such as this one for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.

Stepback Saturdays are loads of fun. You can even post your covers on other social media platforms. Just remember to use the right keywords or hashtags, and then reveal the title on Sunday!

Your Opinion?

Have you ever posted images for Stepback Saturday? You should, it’s a blast! Everyone oohs and ahhs over the gorgeous images. It’s neat to look at all the varied ways people stage their books.

Plus, #bookishromance is a very welcoming community, with a lot of knowledgeable folks about the genres. Even writers engage in the fun.

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much, thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

1990s stepbacks v

Stepback Covers Part V: 1990s Stepbacks

1990s stepbacks v

The Stepback Cover Enters the 1990s

By 1990 every established publishing house was rethinking the way they did romance cover art. The clinch would remain ever-present. But new covers were being introduced. The stepback was the hottest trend around.

Some big-named authors didn’t even get stepbacks plus a painted illustration. They got covers with just their names and the title printed on them. Sure there might be some embossing, or some digital images added in, but they were plain and designed to make the reader feel comfortable about reading “smut” in public. Usually, these authors, such as Judith McNaught and LaVyrle Spencer, trended away from the erotic and were more romantic anyway.

Almost Heaven, Judith McNaught, Pocket Books, 1990 & later editions

Contrary to some old-school artists’ beliefs that hiding the cover art would lower sales, not increase them, the stepback was starting to mean something special to readers. Rising stars–both authors and artists–would combine for a winning combination, and no publisher could ignore that.

Kensington’s Zebra imprint launched stepback covers for their best-selling authors such as Deana James, Phoebe Conn, Shannon Drake, and Penelope Neri. They were illustrated by their reliable stable of artists, which included Franco, Pino and John Ennis.

no sweeter paradise neri
no sweeter paradise
No Sweeter Paradise, Penelope Neri, Zebra, 1993, Pino cover art

As for the biggest publsihers in romance, Avon, they were late players in the game. They hopped on the trend in 1990. Although I haven’t confirmed Avon’s first stepback, this Katherine Sutcliffe cover was one of the earliest:

A Fire In the Heart, Katherine Sutcliffe, 1990, Avon, Victor Gadino cover artist

Elaine Duillo and Changing Cover Styles

The “Queen of Historical Romance Covers,” Elaine Duillo, had no great love for stepbacks. Unlike other artists, she had no hangups about the dazzling, sexy romance covers she created. She derided “tip-ins” for covering up her exquisite artwork. Covers were the sizzle to sell the steak! The existence of “tip-ins” in romance perplexed Duillo.

“I did have an argument with a publisher once. He thought it was very thrilling to put an outside cover and the ‘tip-in’ using the entire cover art on an inside cover so they had the whole thing inside. Big mistake! Johanna Lindsey became big and wanted that, so publishers tried to do this with other books too. The book buyers, women with a stroller with a kid and another kid that’s going out of her sight, they have to pick up book quickly. They are all aware of the ‘tip-in’, but they’re not going to do that, they’re going to pick up the book with the cover image they like and that they can see immediately.”


Despite her druthers, Duillo was the consummate professional. She almost always brought her “A” game to her stepback illustrations.

once a princess cover
once a princess duillo
Once a Princess, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1991, Elaine Duillo cover art

Avon Stepback and Back Cover Art

While other houses produced books with stepbacks, Avon–the largest and most successful paperback romance publisher–for some reason was slow on the uptake. I couldn’t find any Avon stepbacks dating from the 1980s.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until romance superstar Johanna Lindsey requested this cover technique for her novels that Avon regularly employed its use for big-name talents.

When Duillo was unavailable in 1991 to paint the clinch for Johanna Lindsey’s Prisoner of My Desire, this gave artist Victor Gadino the opportunity to step in.

prisoner of my desire lindsey 1991
prisoner of my desire gadino
Prisoner of My Desire, Johanna Lindsey, Avon, 1991, Victor Gadino cover art

As for mid-list authors, or writers who were just starting out? Avon issued them covers with clinch images on the back, instead of the front. Technically, artwork placed on the back isn’t a tip-in or stepback. Even so, the purposes of both formats are the same: to place the “embarrassing torrid embraces” in a less conspicuous position.

Unsurprisingly, this design choice was a staple for Avon in the 1990s, particularly the “Avon Romantic Treasure” historical line.

timeswept bride peter attard
Timeswept BrideEugenia Riley, Avon, 1995, Peter Attard cover art

Your Opinion?

Like the great Elaine Duillo, we feel no embarrassment over covers that show off fantastic clinch embraces. We adore them! But stepbacks also hold a special place in our hearts. Plain-looking covers with a mere castle, flower, jewel, etc., not so much.

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

1980s romance covers

Stepback Covers Part IV: 1980s Romance Stepbacks

1980s romance covers

Horror Dominates the Stepback

In the 1980s, the stepback cover would not be prominently linked with romance, but with the horror genre. Pocket Books, Bantam, Berkley, Zebra, and other publishers invested heavily in lurid covers that hid horrific images behind merely-creepy ones. The keyhole style was popular with this cover design.

Many of these paperbacks are now collector’s items. We can see why.

They’re pretty scary.

Please don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Crooked Tree, Robert C. Wilson, Berkley, 1981, Dario Campanile cover art

Other works of fiction would take advantage of the stepback cover to hide irreverent art or add an element of distinction. Historical fiction would use the stepback for that reason.

all she wants ginsburg
all she wants stepback ginsburg
All She Wants, Suzanne Diamond, Warner Books, 1984, Max Ginsburg cover art

As for mainstream romance? It was going through another transformation. While bodice rippers were still selling like hotcakes, tastes were changing. A new generation of readers wanted sophisticated, emotionally driven romances. Ones that were tightly written rather than sweeping sagas with sex, violence, and melodrama. There was a new sentiment in the genre about the roles of men and women. The stepback fit perfectly with those changing beliefs.

Romance Stepback Covers Into the 1980s

Throughout the 1980s, romance publishers would use various tricks to catch prospective buyers’ eyes: embossing, foil lettering, bright colors, explicit embraces, big-named artists, and superstar cover models. Nevertheless, the stepback was not commonly utilized until the mid-1980s.

Jove had previously used stepbacks for historical fiction and other genres. When they designed one for Lavyrle Spencer’s sweet 1986 romance The Gamble, it was a big hit for the best-selling author. Moreover, Spencer was delighted with it, as she had despised clinch covers. Spencer believed her books merited less campy artwork, a common sentiment among many authors. And readers.

the gamble
the gamble spencer tbd
The Gamble, LaVyrle Spencer, Jove, 1986, cover artist TBD

With The Gamble, the flowery cover didn’t disguise a steamy embrace. It depicted a couple gently holding hands, with a small child in the distance. This image almost shouts: “This is a wholesome romance, with absolutely no rape or sexcapades ahead.”

Pocket Books and 1980s Stepback Covers

As usual, the folks at Pocket Books were ahead of the game in paperback design. Jude Deveraux had this style for her 1987 romance, The Princess.

The Princess, Jude Deveraux, Pocket Books, 1986, Lisa Falkenstern cover art

With Deveraux covers, you have to be careful not to be fooled. Some reissues look like stepbacks, making it seem as if the original was a stewas one, too. That’s not always the case. A lot of Deveraux’s books were reissued with fakeout covers. (That is one of my big cover pet peeves!)

Something Wonderful, McNaught’s 1987 follow-up to her best-seller Whitney My Love had a tasteful exterior cover and a stunning Morgan Kane painting inside.

Something Wonderful, Judith McNaught, Pocket Books, 1987, Morgan Kane cover art

Everybody in the 1980’s Used Stepcovers! Except…

Eventually, Dell, Warner, and Bantam would follow in Pocket Book’s and Berkley/Jove’s footsteps with their own beautiful “tip-ins.” One of my favorites is the artwork by Elaine Duillo for Rebecca Brandewyne‘s Upon A Moon-Dark Moor. The reds, pinks, and purples are so pretty. This cover didn’t need to be hidden behind a stepback!

upon a moon dark moor duillo
upon a moon darkmoor duillo
Upon a Moon-Dark Moor, Rebecca Brandewyne, Warner Books, 1988, Elaine Duillo cover art

Elite authors such as Elaine Coffman, Lori Copeland, Valerie Sherwood, among many others, would get the deluxe stepback treatment. But the true era of the stepback in romance had just begun.

tolovea rogueexterior
tolove a rogue duillo
To Love a Rogue, Valerie Sherwood, Onyx, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

Your Opinion?

The 1980s stepbacks were lovely, but we like erotic and cheesy clinches a smidge more. It was in the 1990s when this design style really exploded in popularity. Look for Part V: 1990s Stepbacks tomorrow.

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much, thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

first stepback cover

Stepback Covers Part III: The First Stepback in Romance

first stepback cover

Pocket Books and the First Romance Stepback

I’ve searched around to find which was the first mainstream paperback romance to use a genuine stepback cover. I’m not 100% certain, but likely, it was Janet Dailey‘s first full-length, single-issue romance, Touch the Wind. Pocket Books published it in May 1979.

This stepback cover had a keyhole opening that showed the couple in an embrace. Open the front cover and ta-da! It is a classic clinch with the hero swooping the heroine onto a rearing horse. A blazing red background stretches from the end of one page to the end of the other.

Fortunately, I was able to hunt down an original copy of Touch the Wind.

touch the wind
touch the wind

Touch the WindJanet Dailey, Pocket Books, 1979, cover artist TBD

So unless I’m wrong (which I often am), Touch the Wind is the earliest example of a romance with a stepback cover. 

Noted artist Roger Kastel illustrated the reissue edition in 1986. The technique for the ’86 edition appears similar in style to the original. But although Kastel produced many stepbacks for Pocket Books, I’m not absolutely sure that the 1979 cover is his handiwork. Therefore, I’m marking the artist as “to-be-determined” for the time being.

What say you?

Touch the WindJanet Dailey, Pocket Books, 1986 reissue, Roger Kastel cover art

Sweet Caroline by Con Sellers

In June 1979, Con Sellers’ historical romance Sweet Caroline also had a stepback coverUnsurprisingly, Pocket Books was also that novel’s publisher.

Again, I have no confirmation about who made this stunning interior design. Could it be a creation of George H. Jones? He, like Kastel, was prolific for Pocket Books and its parent company Simon and Schuster for years.

sweet caroline ext
sweet caroline
Sweet Caroline, Con Sellers, Pocket Books, 1979, cover artist TBD

Tame the Rising Tide by Virginia Morgan

Later in July 1979, Pocket Books released Tame the Rising Tide, a bodice ripper by Virginia Morgan. (Did Ginny Brandon from Sweet Savage Love become a romance novelist after marrying Steve Morgan?) Here is another romance novel with a clinch embrace hidden behind a stepback with a keyhole. This one lets you see the heroine’s face.

tame rising tide
Tame the Rising Tide, Virginia Morgan, Pocket Books, 1979, cover design Cathy Carucci

As with the other books, I had to get my hands on this early step back. Tame the Rising Tide has a lovely picture of a couple together, but it’s so dark I had to brighten it. On the acid-free paper side, the image transferred nicely. However, I can’t say the same for the backside of the front cover. It’s too blurry. Note the difference in technique for the greenery and then for the figures. It’s quite eye-catching.

As to who could be the artist? The flowing hair says Harry Bennett, but again, I have no confirmation. The copyright page states “interior design by Cathy Carucci.” I’m not sure exactly what that entailed.

What I do know about Carucci is she was responsible for designing the cover of Leigh Nichols’ (aka Dean Koontz) 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness. That work of fiction has been in the news for the past couple of years. Why? It predicted a biological weapon from China named the Wuhan-400 would devastate the planet causing global catastrophe.

So. Yeah.

Anyway, here’s the stepback cover:

Tame the Rising Tide, Virginia Morgan, Pocket Books, 1979, cover artist TBD

Another Dailey Stepback Romance Cover

Janet Dailey’s first four full-length romance covers with Pocket Books would garner much attention for their similar style. Like with V. C. Andrews’ books, they would be stepbacks with a keyhole design revealing the heroines’ faces. Her next full-length novel wouldn’t be published until early 1980, however.

Still, I thought it was worth showing off. The Rogue has the hero looming over the heroine and ripping her shirt open. Note yet another rearing horse, this one white, in the background. Again, the cover artist isn’t mentioned, and while I have a hunch, like with the others, I’m not sure.

stepback romance cover
The Rogue, Janet Dailey, Pocket Books, 1980, cover artist TBD

So whatever way you slice it, 1979 seems to have been the year romance and stepbacks came together.

Like peanut butter and chocolate, they were a match made in heaven! Many more romance stepback covers were to come!

Your Opinion?

In the next installment of this series on stepbacks, we’ll look at the covers of the 1980s. That’s when stepbacks finally became prevalent in the genre. To be fair, though, in the ’80s, the stepback was everywhere.

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you very much thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.


Stepback Covers Part II: The History of the Stepback


The Stepback’s History: The “Tip-In

The history of stepback covers goes back to the early/ mid-20th century. Stepback covers are also known as “tip-ins.” That is what industry types called the inserted page(s) originally added after the binding of a book.

Tip-ins can be placed anywhere among the pages. They could be placed inside the front cover or before the back. These inserts were usually glued in. The paper is usually of different stock and texture than the rest of the pages.

“Tip-ins” were used first in hardbacks. These pages were for special additions such as the author’s autograph, offset prints, photographic images, maps, etc.

duel in the sun
Example of a “tip-in” Duel In the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
duel in the sun
Another example of a “tip-in” Duel the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
duel in the sun
Yet another example of a “tip-in” Duel In the Sun, Niven Busch, World Publishing Co, 1944
(See how the page is glued in, not bound?)
duel in the sun
Example of a first regular bound page after the “tip-ins”

Early 1970s Stepback for The Terminal Man

In the early 1970s, these covers were popular in pulpy genres like science fiction and horror.

I have yet to determine what the first mass-market paperback published with a stepback cover is. Fortunately, I have come upon an early example. Surprisingly it’s one book, Michael Chrichton’s The Terminal Man, but with two versions, both with keyhole designs.

Special thanks to @arkhamlibrarian on Twitter for these images. If you’re even the slightest bit of a bibliophile, I highly recommend following her account.

The American paperback version is simple, revealing the only artwork on the page, a floating head connected to wires. When opened, there is no illustration, just the blurb.

And here is the British Corgi edition of The Terminal Man:

terminal man corgi

Front cover and interior page of The Terminal Man, Michael Crichton, Corgi, 1974, artist unknown

Lou Feck and the Stepback Cover

1976 would see several stepback covers in various genres with artwork created by talented artist Lou Feck.

First, it was the cover for the Bantam published Burt Hirschfeld potboiler, Aspen. Feck created a tawdry clinch on the front. Inside was a sketch showing an assortment of faces. The image stretched from the edge of the cover to the end of the attached page.

aspen lou feck
aspen stepback

Aspen, Burt Hirshfeld, Bantam, 1976, Lou Feck cover art

Then later that year, Warner Books‘ paperback reprint of Thea Alexander’s “macro-philosophy bestseller” 2150 included a die-cut keyhole cover showing the faces of a man and woman. It reveals a head floating in an outer-space background and a couple who look right out of Logan’s Run when opened.

2150, Thea Alexander, Warner Books, 1976 reprint (1971 orig. pub), Lou Feck cover art

Pocket Books and the Stepback Cover

In 1977 Pocket Books created a stepback with a design similar to what Warner had used for 2150. It, too, had an inner page of artwork and an exterior with a die-cut/keyhole opening. This famous cover was for the bestselling Young Adult/Gothic Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews. This style became so successful for the publisher and the author that the term “keyhole stepback cover” is now synonymous with Pocket Books and V.C. Andrews.

Staring through a red-shuttered window was the face of the heroine, Cathy Dollanganger. When you opened the cover, it revealed an image of Cathy and her haunted-looking family with their creepy-looking old grandmother looming above them. The artist is Gillian Hills.

The History of the Stepback in Romance Novels

Kathleen E. WoodiwissShanna was an exception to the lack of stepbacks in 1970s romance–sort of. This hefty romance had a map insert that you could unfold that showed the Caribbean island of Los Camellos. The fictional island was where Shanna’s family had their plantation. I’m unsure if the original 1977 mass-market edition contained this map or not. My Avon seventh-printing edition (circa 1989) does include it, so I don’t see why not.

Shanna, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Avon, 1977, H. Tom Hall cover art
Shanna, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Avon, 1977, book designer Deborah Speed

However, as nice as the map is to look at, it doesn’t count as artwork. The history of the stepback in romance begins not with Avon but with another publisher.

Your Opinion?

The 1970s expansion of the stepback into genre fiction was simply the beginning. Which paperback romance novel was the first to employ a stepback cover? We’ll let you know in the following article!

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much, thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

stepback covers

Stepback Covers Are Back & Why We Love Them

stepback covers

Don’t Call It a Comeback (Stepback Covers Have Been Here For Years)

Conversations about romance cover design draw strong opinions. Are they a source of cringe or are they a form of art? What about stepbacks?

The covers with an attached interior page of artwork have been popular in the genre for over 35 years. One reason for that is discretion. With stepbacks, you can have your clinch and eat it, too.

veils of silk out stepback
veil of silk pino stepback
Veils of Silk, Mary Jo Putney, Pino cover art

Almost half of romance readers say they feel uncomfortable when seen reading a book with a “sexually explicit” image on it. Many outright dislike the provocative covers, feeling they lessen the perceived value of the genre. Even so, there as just as many readers who admire the vividly painted images.

Enter the stepback. The respectable-looking outer portion of the cover hides the more “lurid” illustration beneath. This enables one to read a romance in public without any self-consciousness.

We love the stepback at Sweet Savage Flame, but we also have zero shame about the over-the-top aspects of romance. Clinches featuring half-naked men and women are our jam!

a love for all seasons domning 19
a love for all seasons pino
A Love For All Seasons, Denise Domning, Topaz, 1996, Pino cover art (Graistan Series #5)

Fabio and the Stepback Cover

It is interesting to note cover model Fabio and the stepback cover both came to prominence around the same time (mid-to-late 1980s). I have a “Fabio-penned” book, Rogue, that features a pull-out poster of the supermodel himself. And yes, that counts as a stepback!

Rogue, Fabio (w/ Eugenia Riley as a ghostwriter), Avon, 1994, Elaine Duillo cover art
fabio loin cloth

Stepbacks have been used in many genres, even literary fiction. However, it’s the bestselling pulpy paperbacks such as horror, science fiction, action-adventure, historical fiction, and romance that fully embraced this cover design.

the vikings woman cover
the vikings woman spiak stepback
The Viking’s Woman,
Heather Graham, 1990, Dell, Sharon Spiak, cover art

The Rise of the Stepback Cover in Romance

For a romance writer to get a stepback cover for their book is a sign of elite status. It shows publishers consider their books to be highly marketable. Companies invest more for a cover design that disguises the fun, romantic artwork. This pleases many readers and authors alike.

With stepback covers, artists would be able to experiment with their paintings in ways never seen before. Plus, the era of the romance super cover model would be ushered in through the popularity of the stepback.

duke of desire
duke desire stepback alan ayers 2017
Duke of Desire, Elizabeth Hoyt, Hachette, 2017, Alan Ayers cover art

Originally this very long article Stepbacks Are Back! was released as a unified whole. We’ve now broken it up into seven parts for easy loading since it’s pretty image-and-content-heavy.

Tomorrow, we’ll re-post a revised page of Stepback Covers Part II: The History of the Stepback as its own article.

Your Opinion?

Where do you stand on romance cover art? Do you like stepback covers? Do you prefer them to regular clinches? Are you more drawn to the modern cartoon illustration style that’s being used today? Or does cover art not concern you that much thanks to e-readers?

Whatever is on your mind, we’d love to hear what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Paradise and More

Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke

historical romance review
Paradise and More by Shirl Henke
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1991
Illustrator: Pino
Book Series: House of Torres #1
Published by: Dorchester, Leisure
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper
Pages: 443
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonThriftBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: Paradise and More by Shirl Henke


The Book and the Cover

Paradise and More by Shirl Henke is memorable to me for having one of the most eye-catching covers in romance. A dazzling beauty by Pino Daeni, it features a fully naked couple in a glorious clinch, their nudity covered by some strategically placed flowers and the book’s title.

Lamentably, I have a later reissue where their nakedness is hidden behind a respectable-looking stepback. Why would anyone want to hide that stunning beauty?

As for the book itself? I was conflicted. It’s both excellent at times and frustrating at others.

The Old World

A swashbuckling historical, Paradise and More is the first entry in the House of Torres duo. This romance is in late 1400s Spain. This is a seminal time in history with Columbus’ exploration into the “New World.” This was months after the expulsion of Jews from Spain. The Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon had just reconquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslims who had entered Hispania 700 years prior.

Lady Magdalena Luisa Valdes–for some unfathomable reason–falls madly in love at first sight with Aaron “Diego” Torres, the son of a wealthy converso family (a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism).

Aaron is arrogant and contemptuous of Magdalena, a wonderful character with the kind of fortitude that makes a heroine legendary. Beautiful and kind-hearted, Magdalena has to navigate court intrigues to avoid the eyes of the Reyes Católicos. This is to say, the King’s wandering eyes and the Queen’s jealous ones.

To flee from prejudice and persecution, Aaron decides to travel the uncharted seas with Columbus as his second-in-command, to search for new lands. Meanwhile, Magdalena befriends Aaron’s family, becoming like a second daughter to them.

After a successful conquest, Aaron returns to find Magdalena living in his parents’ household. He takes advantage of her crush on him and forces himself upon her. After ravishing her, he leaves to return to the newfound colonies. The Torres family demands honor and avow their wayward son must marry their darling Magdalena.

Destiny has tragedy in store for the House of Torres, as they are accused of heresy by the Inquisition and then executed.

The New World

Alone in the world, Magdalena has but one mission in her life: to be with the man she loves. She follows Aaron across the ocean to Columbus’ settlement in Hispaniola. Despite his contemptible behavior towards her, Magdalena still wants to marry Aaron.

However, when Magdalena arrives, she finds Aaron already has a mistress, the Native Princess, Aliyah. What’s more, Aliyah is pregnant with Aaron’s child.

As a lone European woman in Hispaniola, Magdalena draws much attention from men, including the brothers of Columbus. Aaron cannot deny the allure she holds. And though he will never be forced to do anything against his will, Aaron knows his family’s final wishes were for him to marry Magdalena.

The tropical backdrop makes an appropriate setting for their heated attraction. Their passion for each other grows to a climax. After they marry, Aaron and Magdalena find that their adventures together are just beginning. Aaron’s spurned mistress connives with the villains to destroy him in every way she can. Aaron and Magdalena must work together to overcome even more obstacles.

Final Analysis of Paradise and More

I loved that Paradise and More took us to late 15th-century Spain, an era I can’t get enough of. Columbus’ expedition into the Americas was an unusual backdrop for a romance. Shirl Henke did a great job capturing the era, even though her protagonists were sometimes a bit too modern in their thinking.

This epic, late-era bodice ripper is a tumultuous read that features a loveable, resilient heroine, but the hero is a bit of a jerk and not in a good way. Although I must say, the love scenes were…oh my! ¡Muy caliente!

The first half of this book was so good and filled with action: bloody sword fights, the hero’s entire family being killed, forced seduction, and the spanning of years & continents. Although, when Magdalena got to Hispanola, the pace slowed down a bit.

Aaron was a douche canoe. If not for the machinations of the scorned “other-woman,” Aliyah, the last half would have dragged needlessly.

All in all, I found Paradise and More to be a mostly diverting historical romance that took both history and romance seriously. This had a great cover, a likable heroine, and a unique setting. It needed a to-die-for hero to elevate it to a spectacular level.

For those curious to continue the story, the love lives of Aaron’s two sons are told in the sequel, Return to Paradise.

4 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.2


Second in command to Cristobal Colon, Aaron sets sail for the Indies seeking adventure in the new world and fleeing persecution in the old. Caught between King Fernando’s desire and Queen Ysabel’s jealousy, Magdalena follows the man she has always loved to the ends of the known world and beyond. Drawn together across religious barriers and storm-tossed oceans, they discover a lush paradise fraught with danger and desire.

blood red roses

Historical Romance Review: Blood Red Roses by Katherine Deauxville

historical romance review
Blood Red Roses by Katherine Deauxville
Rating: five-stars
Published: 1991
Illustrator: Leslie Pellegrino-Peck
Book Series: Medieval Series #1
Genres: Historical Romance, Bodice Ripper, Medieval Romance
Pages: 320
Format: eBook, Paperback
Buy on: Amazon

Historical Romance Review: Blood Red Roses by Katherine Deauxville


“[At worst] yon Welshman has one dangling nut.”

BLOOD RED ROSES by Katherine Deauxville

The Book

Blood Red Roses is, understandably, a difficult book for some readers to enjoy. However, it stands as one of my most-loved medieval romances.

It could be nostalgia goggles on this one for me, plus a love for the glorious red stepback cover. Or it could be the vivid Middle Ages setting, my favorite time period. Or it could be that this book is really a wonderful piece of romantic fiction, styled to appeal to a niche audience.

I read this Medieval romance by Katherine Deauxville (aka Maggie Davis) twice. Once in middle school and then years later in high school. The story swept me away both times.

The Plot

Alwyn, the Heroine

Alwyn, the heroine of Blood Red Roses, is 28 years old. That is practically ancient for her time period for her to be unmarried. She’s a seemingly wild Welsh woman forced to be a prize in marriage to the Norman knight, Fulk de Joburg, as she’s heiress to her dead father’s lands.

They spend a passionate night together before Fulk is off again to fight for King William.

It rang true to me that a woman would be forcefully bonded to her enemy. It seemed authentic that her husband, being a man of war and conquest, would go off to fight while she lived in her castle, awaiting his return.

Blood Red Roses
Blood Red Roses, Katherine Deauxville, St Martin’s Press, 1991, cover artist Leslie Pellegrino-Peck

Fulk, the Hero

What initially drives Fulk is simple. He won lands in conquest and to help solidify the bonds of conquest, he must marry the daughter of the former lord of said lands. What drives Alwyn is simpler: hate towards her enemy and a desire to be free.

Fulk and Alwyn don’t spend much time together, they’re not deep on intimate conversations either. Their times together are passionate and forceful.

My liking for Blood Red Roses could be because I love the brutal incivility of the Middle Age era. Deauxville injects an earthy historical ambiance that I really appreciate. What is the point of historical romance without history?

There’s a scene where Fulk and his men torture a man and semi-castrate him before he flees. Fulk comments that it could have been worse: “At worst yon Welshman has one dangling nut.” Another scene depicts Fulk and his men as they stare at a woman with hairless pudenda.

The Medieval Setting of Blood Red Roses

The genital references seem to be a theme in the Deauxville Medieval series. There is a dwarf with a giant dong in the second book, Daggers of Gold, which also has lots of talk about circumcised penises (the hero is Jewish). The third, The Amethyst Crown, features more references to dwarves, foreskin, castrations, and shorn vulvas.

Blood Red Roses has middling ratings on some review sites, yet here I am praising it. I often have a contrarian opinion on certain books due to my personally peculiar tastes.

The red-haired hero is extremely cold and distant.

While Fulk is away, Alwyn has an emotional romance with a blond Scottish mason she fantasizes about and kisses.

Later is taken captive by Powys, a black-haired Welsh lord from the hills. The latter was foretold to Alwyn by a fortune-teller who told her to choose Powys as her man.

Then, there is Fulk’s cousin Geoffrey who seems to have designs on Alwyn himself.

Final Analysis of Blood Red Roses

Fulk and Alwyn have a lust-based relationship, one not based on trust or communication. Is it a love story for the ages? Probably not, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and the authenticity of the time period. Blood Red Roses is a Historical romance with a capital H on the history.

Fulk is no reformed kind-hearted hero at the end, and Alwyn will always be a disagreeable shrew. Still, I can’t give this book a lower than “I love it” rating, because frankly, I did.

Perhaps it’s a matter of temporal tastes, as back in 1991 when Blood Red Roses was released, it was fairly successful, winning the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Medieval Romance.

5 Stars



When King William’s knight, Fulk de Jobourg, is sent to reclaim the lands of a hanged traitor, he is also commanded to take the man’s unwilling daughter as his wife. Bound and gagged, the furious Lady Alwyn is wedded to this dark-eyed, massive man who spends but one night in her bed before galloping off to fight the king’s battles once more.

Left behind to tend to the Castle Morlaix, Alwyn cannot bring to mind the face of the husband she barely knows. But her body remembers the feel of his hot touch…and the urgent passion he ignited within her. When Fulk returns, Alwyn fights his efforts to take control of her family’s estate. But she cannot resist what he brings to her at night…a sensual pleasure that binds her to him forever against her will…