This category originally featured only Historical two image covers. In 2002 we added another category for non-Historicals with two image covers. In 2003 we combined them, and we've done so again for 2004's covers, which include Historicals, Contemporaries, and Alternate Reality Romances with either a step-back or a second image found on the book's back cover. When we first started this contest, there were many more step-back covers out there, but these days they are a little harder to come by. Whether it's due to declining budgets (obviously they are more expensive to produce) or just a shift in style and taste is hard to say. While some voters expressed dissatisfaction with the choices offered in this category, there were also plenty of enthusiastic comments.

Interestingly, the top two covers are both contemporary romances. The winner (by a comfortable margin) was Run No More. Usually when I read through all of the comments I see the same few variations on a theme; readers who choose a particular cover generally choose it for the same reasons. Run No More was an exception to that rule. It appealed to a wide variety of voters, for different reasons. Some simply liked the color and composition, while others admired the kick ass heroine (that term came up again and again). Some appreciated that the cover actually reflected the contents of the book, and other were relieved that it wasn't a clinch cover.

Meljean liked the colors and composition: "What an amazingly strong cover. Usually I like the couple in the stepback, but in this case the pose and the colors were so striking, I had to vote for it." Brenda loved the portrayal of the heroine: "It screams ‘Strong, kick-ass heroine' - She won't be ravished. If anything, she'll do the ravishing."

MaryJanice had a tough time choosing, but went with the strong heroine: "This was a tough one between LORD OF SEDUCTION, which is one of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen, and RUN NO MORE, which has a heroine in the middle of about to embark on a serious ass-kicking. Being immature, I'm going to opt for the ass-kicking. But damn - Where does the cover model for LOS work out?"

Run No More

Pocket
Cover artist: Tom Hallman/Stepback Cover artist: Doreen Minuto

AAR/Coverballot's Teresa was also a fan: "The front cover is extremely bold and dramatic and makes you want to check out the inside, where the inner cover continues the color scheme established on the front but gives you more of a suggestion of character and plot, WITHOUT resorting to semi-naked people. This is a well-crafted package. The title, front cover and inside cover all work in concert to sell the book. On some of the other covers it seems instead that the two covers are competing with each other. My second choice would have been the Medeiros, which has a beautiful consistent color scheme too, but is also very similar to her last year's cover."

AAR's Leigh loved it as well: "I love this cover. I couldn't wait to read the book as soon as I saw it, and even if I hadn't enjoyed the book as much as I did, I probably still would have kept it for the cover(s) alone. Individually the outer cover and the stepback are equally terrific. Together they fulfill the two purposes a cover should, giving a real sense of what the story's about and presenting it in an intriguing and beautiful way. The fonts, the images, the blurbs and the color scheme are all well-chosen. For me, it's everything a cover should be.

 

The second place cover was the very different Wild Rain, which features a just-barely-decent hero. And unlike the first place cover, there was definitely a consensus on why readers chose this one. While there were a few who valiantly claimed to be voting for it because of the "composition," it usually just came across as a euphemism for the primary reason – the hot model. Malvina was one reader who succumbed to the model's charms: "Holy cow. An untamed, alpha hero unleashed - and unclothed - in the jungle. Brings out the primal omigosh factor in every female romance reader."

Sue said, "Do I need a reason? (Fans self) I don't know what he's doing out there in the wet, and I don't care." Pam was up front about her reasoning: "What a hunk! I reserve the right to objectify guys - even if it's not PC." Coverballot's Jo-Ann chose it as well: "Oh well, if you're going to hide something behind the cover, I guess a naked man is worth a sneak peek. Oh, and I like the tropical feel and colors of the front cover too."

And I laughed out loud when I read this comment from Jennifer: "hard to write...can't concentrate...waiting for the storm to move the ferns. Wild rain...grant my wish..."

  Wild Rain

Jove
Cover design: Leslie Worrell;
Cover artist: Daniel O'Leary

Yours Until Dawn took the third place spot. Voters overwhelmingly cited the color scheme as their reason for choosing this one. They also liked that the couple looked romantic without being unclothed. It got Jeanne's vote: "I thought the cover was very striking and rare with its use of the color red, orange, and gold. It was bold, vibrant, lush, and romantic. I thought the male model was a stand-in for the book's hero, Gabriel, with his tall, lean, blond good looks. A beautiful cover."

Yours Until Dawn

Avon
Cover artist: Rick Johnson

Sherrie liked it as well: "The impact of the bright yellow and orange is eye-popping. It makes me think of summer days glowing with gold sunshine. The hazy and uncluttered background with its sloping meadow and single tree is awash in golds and oranges, adding a cozy ambiance to the scene and focusing the eye on the two figures on the far right." Mo was another fan of the colors: "I like the gold tone of the entire scene. It's very warm."

And Kate's sentiment of vague dissatisfaction with the category was also typical: "Again, a hard category since no particular cover jumped out at me. (I confess to being disappointed, because this is usually one of my favorite categories with tons of beautiful categories.) Also, is it just me, or do many of the historicals seem to be regressing to the old bodice-ripping covers? I chose Yours Until Dawn because it reflected the title well, and for making yellows and golds look pretty."

 

The voting was quite evenly divided between the remaining seven covers.

In fourth place was Lord of Seduction. Author Nicole Jordan tends to be very fortunate in her covers (which appear on this ballot year after year). Jennifer is drawn in by them every time: "As always, Nicole Jordan gets the sexiest, most evocative covers. Every year, I end up voting for hers."

Plenty of other readers found this cover sexy as well. Those who voted for it thought it was sexy without being completely tacky. Wendy had this to say: "I'm choosing Lord of Seduction because it's really sexy without being trashy. The woman may be half-naked, but all the reader sees is the sexy curve of her back. Also, this is a prime example of our the clinch can work when it's done right." Several readers agreed that this was the best kind of clinch. Ellen said: "This had such a sedate outside cover, and then such a naughty inside cover - like a prim, perfect lady who secretly wears frilly, frothy French lingerie beneath her staid old-maid dresses."

Lord of Seduction

Fawcett
Stepback cover artist: Jon Paul

 

Winterset

Mira
Cover artist: Jon Paul

Winterset came in fifth. Readers liked the house on the front, the bold use of color – and the fact that everyone was dressed. AAR's Lynn gave it her vote: "I love the gothic feel of this cover. I also appreciate that the artist can depict the h/h without it having to be a more explicit clinch cover." Carol was a fan of the color scheme: "Color, color, color. This cover is ALL about the color choices and the vividness of the hues chosen. Composition is also good as the eye roves over the pictures. At least in this clinch, the heroine seems to be participating, or at least anticipating rather than being ravished."

Coverballot's Linnae liked it as well: "The cover and the step-back are both breathtaking with lush colors and a very romantic H/H pose. The two work together to create a beautiful package for the author's work. Often, the front cover and the step-back do not mesh into one visual statement. I picked it too; I thought it had a lush, old fashioned feeling. It's a traditional cover in the best sense.

 

In sixth place was Hidden Honor. Those who picked it liked the cover's sexiness and continuity. Several, like Lian, mentioned their secret Robin Hood fantasies: "I chose Hidden Honor because of my secret Robin Hood fantasies - Wild Rain would have fulfilled my Tarzan ones if I had any . I was very glad Wild Rain was a stepback cover - imagine reading that on a train with the wildman of the jungle facing outward. Blush." Island Elf was just one reader to praise the covers' continuity: "This one seems the best two-page concept. I don't know the book but it seems like the hero ran off with the heroine and they got ‘distracted' in their escape... Even the colors seem to suggest the change of light during the same day."

Afton thought it was the best of a mediocre lot, and her comments had me laughing out loud: "Ok, I'm sorry, I don't really like any of these. I refuse to vote for anything that stole an Enrique Iglesias title. I am uncomfortable with the idea of someone getting naked in the stuffy English study - where IS the butler anyway? Probably peeking out of hidden passageways... I think I may have to vote for Hidden Honor] just because in spite of the bloody sky, they went for the classic. Tree. Sword. Probably compensating. And how many covers have used that same tree... but it's classically cheesy, so I'll go with it."

Hidden Honor

Mira
Cover artist: unknown

 

Miss Wonderful

Berkley
Cover design: George Long;
Cover illustration: One by Two

Coming in seventh was Miss Wonderful. Voters found it pretty and whimsical, and several thought it had a fairy tale quality.

It got the top nod from coverballot's Mary Alice: "I like the way the front design is carried over to the stepback. The water color effect and the soft use of color is outstanding."

Sherry liked it as well: "Because I am a sucker for wisteria and elegance and Victoriana. I was torn between my baser instincts, which drew me to the Feehan cover, and also to the Hawkins clinched legs, but my higher intellectual faculties won out." Frances had this to say: "Light, airy, dreamy quality - being waltzed down the garden path."

 

And The Bride Wore Plaid came in eighth. Christy thought it was just right: "Just enough setting, just enough skin, just enough heat."

Other voters praised what Liz called "the cause and effect feel." She said: "First she's a bride in white with just a hint of plaid, and then she's the not-so-innocent wife and the plaid is revealed in all its glory."

Laura admired this as well: "I like the hint of plaid showing under her dress on the front, then the unfurling of her passion, I mean plaid , on the inset. Overall, as an artist, I appreciate the skill required to paint good drapery folds and the dreaminess of the front where the misty fade of color allows the type to be easily read. Also, I enjoy the squirrel's-eye view we get from the oak tree."

Bride Wore Plaid

Avon
Cover Artist: Jon Paul

 

Let Me Be Your Hero

Mira
Cover artist: Jim Griffin

Kiss / Love me Forever

Zebra
Cover artist: Craig White

The ninth place cover was Let Me Be Your Hero. Voters who picked this one often mentioned their soft spot for castles, kilts, and all things Scottish. To Denise, it was Scotland done right: "Beyond the awful title, this is a lovely two-image cover. The artist captured the mistiness of the land surrounding Eilean Donan (castle in background), and who can resist a man in a kilt? And speaking of that, I am profoundly glad and relieved that someone illustrated a man wearing a kilt that wasn't a plaid miniskirt, and he's wearing a shirt with it. The whole shirtless/kilt thing just borders on silly, not sexy."

Mary Lou wasn't afraid to admit it: "I'm a sucker for Scots...with a big sword and plenty of plaid." Coverballot's Mary Lynne voted for it as well: "I think this balances the lovely art of the cover with the step-back in a marvelous way. I like the fact the hero and heroine also manage to keep their clothes on for once. :-) The way the sword is used as a connection between the front and the stepback covers is a very nice touch. The colors of the covers are lovely, and the heroine and hero seem to relate to one another in the stepback nicely."

Kiss Me Forever/Love Me Forever came in tenth. Those who voted for it liked the style of the cover, and the fact that it was tasteful. Many, like Jodie, felt that other covers in this category were over the top: "This one has style. The others are tacky or downright embarrassing. I couldn't even read them in front of my children." Our own LLB liked this one as well: "It's got a very unique sensibility. A very close second was the cover for Let Me Be Your Hero. I love the castle and sword icons, but there's a modern look to Love Me Forever that I liked."

Former cover maven Carol also gave it top marks: "[I like] its simplicity, the classic red, white and black color scheme with tinges of gray, this color scheme ALWAYS works, next, the simplicity of design, i.e. the couple in reverse positions with a red rose, the other covers are over-designed, over-colored flamboyant horrors but at least Miss Wonderful adequately suggests the story inside, if I liked that male body build in the Feehan one, I might go for that since at least it delivers on an erotic level, but I personally hate the ‘I live in the gym' look."

 

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