Lisa Kleypas’ Midnight Angel is a solid romance. A Russian noblewoman assumes a fake identity as governess to an English lord’s daughter. 3.5 stars
By the dawn of the 21st millennium, the stepback was the pinnacle of cover art in the romance genre. The combination of a best-selling author, a prominent artist, and fantastic design aesthetics meant quality all around. The stepback was an acceptable middle-ground and proved to be constant in an era of transformation.
A fun way to show off old and new stepback cover art is to post them on “Stepback Saturdays” on bookish Instagram or Bookstagram. Using #stepbacksaturday bookish Instagrammers upload pictures of cover art.
By 1990 every established publishing house was rethinking the way they did cover art. The stepback was starting to mean something special. Rising stars–both authors and artists–would combine for a winning combination, and no publisher could ignore that.
Throughout the 1980s, romance publishers would use various tricks to catch prospective buyers’ eyes: embossing, foil lettering, bright colors, explicit embraces, big-named artists, superstar cover models, and more. Nevertheless, the stepback was not commonly utilized until the mid-1980s.
The history of stepback covers goes back to the early-to-mid-20th century. Bantam, Warner, and Pocket Books would be among the first paperback publishers to use this innovative cover design in the 1970s.
Conversations about romance covers always draw strong opinions. Are they a source of cringe or are they a form of art? The stepback cover has been popular in the genre for over 35 years. One reason for that is due to discretion. With stepbacks, you can have your clinch and eat it, too.
Paradise & 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, the stepback version, where their nakedness is hidden under a respectable-looking cover. This is the first book in the House of Torres duo that takes place in late 1400s Spain. 3 & 1/2 stars
Blood Red Roses is understandably a difficult book for some to enjoy. 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. I read this Medieval romance by Katherine Deauxville (Maggie Davis) twice: once in middle school and then years later in high school, and was swept away in the story both times. 5 stars