Marlene Breakfield - Ballot chair

There were fewer nominations to the Historical with Stepback category this year than there have been in earlier years. For whatever reason, lush stepbacks for historicals don't seem to be quite as common as they used to be; perhaps rising production costs are to blame. This is a disappointing trend for stepback fans who like to have their cake (a sexy cover) and eat it too (cover it with a tasteful, less explicit front package). Marlene Breakfield, who was responsible for this category, notes that there were while there were fewer nominations this year, the quality improved for one publisher: "This year I was surprised at the number of Harlequin covers that made it, they're doing something right. I just wish the other publishers would have tried harder. Unfortunately, it seems that this category may have become stagnant. Many of the committee voiced surprise at the covers in the runoff, and I agree that this year's covers don't seem to be as well executed as in the past."

Nonetheless, there were some attractive 2-cover packages this year, and many voters indicated that they had a lot of trouble making a choice.

The overwhelming favorite was Hazard, a lovely combination of a feminine fan on the front cover, and a woman preparing for bed (with an unlaced corset) inside. Certain covers tend to evoke a single word or an image for a wide cross section of people, and Hazard is one of those covers. In this case the word was "elegant;" voters used it time and again. They also felt that it was provocative without being overt or cheesy, and many felt that the fan was intriguing and even mysterious.

Cover artist: JonPaul - Stepback

Carol made it her choice, and even bought the book because she loved the cover so much: "This is a great cover. It is very suggestive, very feminine, very classy. Pastel pinks and creams appeal to women as well."

Coverballot's Mary Lynne chose this one as well: "I think this is just a gorgeous cover/stepback combination. The idea of using the fan shape as the front cover, paralleling the fan the woman holds in her hand, is a very clever concept. The nice combination of pastels is lovely. And that unlaced dress back makes her a hazard for most men! :-)"

It's also interesting to note that several people who chose this cover picked it because they liked not seeing the heroine's face. They felt that this allowed them to picture her as they wanted, rather than as the artist saw her.

Coming in second was Ecstasy, a cover readers praised for its sensuous look and rich, beautiful colors. Several readers picked it because they thought it embodied the best qualities of a two-cover book.

As Arlene put it, "Luscious inside, dignified outside."

Jennifer made it her choice as well: "Nicole Jordan's Notorious series always has the most delicious, suggestive covers. Those flowers and that shawl strewn on the chaise lounge outside and the reclining lovers on the's just a gorgeous total package."

And it earned this praise from Caroline: "If 'clinch' covers start looking like this, I'd like them to make a comeback. This couple actually looks sensual and tender, not awkward and antagonistic. I want to be her."

Cover artist: Gregg Gulbronson

Cover artist: Franco Accornero, lettering: David Gatti

Readers who chose the third-place The Secret Lover were attracted to its mysterious, intriguing feel.

For some, it was a little too mysterious; a reader who chose another cover called this one "The Rapist You Ordered is Here!".

Allison loved this cover's dark edge: "There is something sultry and almost sinister about this cover. It just gives me the chills to look at it."

Kathleen loved the "great imagery" - particularly the hat in the man's hand. Laura made it her choice because she liked the way the artist handled color. She also found that "…the contrast between the sunny window & the man in shadow is very mysterious!"

The fourth-place cover was Duchess in Love. Readers who voted for this one thought it evoked a happy, joyful feeling. More than one reader was glad to see a cover where the heroine actually looked like she was in love with someone. Marlene, Ballot Chair for this category, made it her choice because she loved its light hearted qualities.

Kathy agreed: "I like the way Duchess in Love used the same setting on both the front cover and the stepback. The different views from above and below were also nice. I also like the fact that the artist made it seem like the heroine had just stepped out onto the balcony when you open the book. The use of light was also nice, and the fact that the heroine seemed happy - even by herself! :)" Maya loved the overall composition and feeling of motion. She added, "Best of all, instead of showing me an image that is supposed to be evocative of love, I feel like I am looking at someone who is actually in love."

Cover artist: Unknown

Cover artist: Unknown

The fifth place cover, Four in Hand, was favored by voters who liked the moody, mysterious feeling it evoked. I personally had a very tough time deciding between this cover and the winning Hazard, but what tipped the scales for me was the gorgeous, moody sky on Four in Hand.

Janez chose it because it made her feel like she'd stepped back in time. Kestra had a similar reaction: "This comes very close to having the elements of my ideal romance cover; scenic/house picture on the front, the cloudy night sky gives a feeling something exciting is about to happen...I can imagine riding up to this house in a grand carriage, and then the fully dressed couple on the inside. The dress lets me know what period this is, and the pose looks realistic, like I've come around a bend and caught the h/h slipping away from a gathering for a private moment."

Coming in sixth was Stealing Heaven. Those who chose this cover were drawn to the colors (several mentioned loving the blue) and dreamlike quality. Yvonne had this to say about her choice: "It looks like the couple is truly having a wonderful time together; it has lovely eye-pleasing colors and looks romantic."

Several readers also loved that it accurately depicted the scene from the book where the hero and heroine first met. That's why Shelley made it her choice: "I thought the stepback perfectly captured their first meeting in the garden and made it feel as magical as Hunter's words did." It also caught the eye of LLB, who considered both Duchess in Love and To Protect an Heiress, but eventually decided Stealing Heaven was prettiest.

Cover artist: Front: Alan Ayers, stepback: Franco Accornero

Cover artist: Pino Daeni

His Lady Fair was the seventh place choice. Several readers who voted for other covers were put off by the fact that the hero of the book was noticeably absent, but that's just what those who voted for His Lady Fair liked best about it. Voters found it intriguing and appreciated the dress of the characters and intimacy of the domestic scene.

Vicki's comment is fairly representative: "It's so intriguing! What is the significance of the jewel being held on the cover picture? For what event is the heroine preparing as depicted on the inside cover? This cover makes me want to find out more about her and what is going on in her life." It was M.J.'s choice as well: "This is very original for such a cover. The cover has a beautiful richness in the sleeves and the title placement around the hands both enhances and does not interfere with the picture. The step-back itself is unusual, as it seems very natural (for a change!). The heroine on the threshold of her life perhaps impatient and reluctant at the same time? Most of the others appear rather plastic and artificial by comparison."

Coming in eighth was To Protect an Heiress (which interestingly enough was also mentioned as a second choice by many voters). "Lush" was the adjective voters used to describe this one; they loved the colors and composition, and they loved that the back featured a clinch that was romantic but not blatantly sexual.

Michelle explains her reasons for choosing this one: "I like the lamp and fog in the background. I like that neither h/h have their clothes half off and it still has a romantic and sexy look! Overall it is a wonderful picture!" It also caught the eye of AAR/Coverballot's Teresa: "I love the vivid hues of this cover, and the back cover especially is gorgeous with the lamplight making for a lovely glow and giving a more interesting backdrop than usual."

Cover artist: Lina Levy

Cover artist: Alan Ayers

The Bride Fair was the voters' ninth place pick; those who chose it found it to be beautiful, romantic, and sweet. And again, many were glad not to see a clinch. Margaret nominated the cover and still favored it above the other choices because "…the cover painting is beautiful. And I like the way that, on the cover, she's symbolically looking back on the past, but on the stepback is looking forward to the future."

Wendy has read the book and loved that the cover reflected its content. "The front shows the heroine in isolation - she's looking down on a large estate. The back shows that the heroine is no longer alone - but with a dashing hero in military dress. I think it strongly conveys the story as well."

Rounding out the Historical with Stepback category is So Wild a Heart. Coverballot's Sharon chose it because she liked both the front cover and the stepback, and felt that each could stand on its own.

Ariane thought it was the best of the bunch as well: "I like the movement of the couple, as if they were captured for one frozen second in time, and will continue to live and move beyond that. I don't have a sense that they were posed like lifeless mannequins. I like the stormy sky background and the horse, and the house on the front cover."

Cover artist: Unknown

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