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In 1997, Judy Cuevas switched to Avon and also took on a nom de plume, the more elegant, high salon sounding "Judith Ivory." Admittedly, Avon did have to retool her image to increase her sales numbers. A new name and a new look were in order. Obviously, no one needed to "fix" her imagination or writing style and it's doubtful one could turn her into a more conventional romance writer even if it were tried. Ivory's perspective is just way too off the beaten path to be bent into a straight arrow shape. Avon adopted a few other innovations for establishing a look which readers could identify with Ivory. It uses red in some way on all of her covers. On two of them this was with a red rose and on another, red fabric. Avon also tried to recall classic, beloved fables or stories from earlier times with Ivory's work. Let's turn to the actual three books to see exactly what happened in each case.
Beast was published in 1997 by Avon Romantic Treasures (ART, for short) under the Ivory name. It is supposed to remind the reader of Beauty and The Beast. "It does and it doesn't" was my reaction upon reading it. It is by no means a reenactment of that fairy tale. The time period is 1902 and the hero is wealthy, aristocratic Frenchman Charles d'Harcourt, whose main professional interest is the development of costly perfumes from rare ingredients. He is slightly marred in appearance from a childhood illness but women certainly find him devastating regardless of whether they are with him by night or by day. His married mistress travels on the same luxury liner as he does, albeit in separate staterooms, on a return journey from America.
The ship is conveying Charles's American bride-to-be, Louise Vandermeer, from America to France. Louise is beautiful, young, educated, rich, and at the pinnacle of New York society. She has never met Charles, since her parents arranged the marriage, but she's heard rumors that he is deformed. Once at sea, Charles concocts an alternative identity and conducts an affair with Louise while always staying in the shadows so she can't get a good look at him. He convinces her that he is a wealthy Arab. He pulls this off because he deals with Arabs regularly to obtain rare ingredients for his perfumes. When they reach France, Louise meets the non-deformed Charles off the ocean liner but is completely indifferent to him, regardless of what he looks like, because she has fallen in love with her shipboard Arab lover. Charles must now figure out how to woo his bride away from the man he pretended to be.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly and thought it was very original in concept and execution. However, I was not wildly in love with the two lead characters as I had been in several of the prior novels. My expectations for this author had become mighty high however, after the Cuevas novels.
The cover is a mixed bag. The three sides work nicely together. There is a simple white front with a red rose. The back is a typical "Avon Romantic Treasure" back. The hero and heroine are in a semi clinch. He is shirtless but wearing a red cape and is very handsome. The heroine looks the way she is described in the book and is holding the trademark red rose. They stand on a cliff overlooking the sea. The inset of only their faces on the spine is actually much better because you don't start picking away at the problems with this image. Such as: why is he so perfect looking since it is essential to the plot that he is somewhat marred? Why is he wearing a flowing red cape yet no shirt on a cliff in the middle of the night? What are they doing on a cliff? Shouldn't they be on the ocean liner? However, compared to the seashells on salmon pink, it is a winner!
Avon published Sleeping Beauty as a Romantic Treasure in 1998 and, if possible, I flipped out more over this novel than I had over Bliss, which is saying a lot. This is very loosely related to the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty. It is so loose, in fact, that if that exact title weren't used, I would have never drawn any comparison between the two.
Set in 1876 in England, the thirtyish hero is Sir James Stoker, newly knighted by Queen Victoria for his courageous explorations in deepest Africa. He is the only one of his party to return to England alive. He is also a professor at Oxford and has just been made Vice-Chancellor as a reward for his bravery. For someone who started out as the milkman's son, Stoker has crossed an immense distance in English class-based society, greater than the physical distance between England and Africa. He is the man of the hour throughout the country, celebrated everywhere.
James meets the beautiful Coco Wild, the exact wrong woman for him on his expected rise up the ladder of success. James is an ambitious man and plans to rise even further at Oxford College. Coco is seven years older than he and was a courtesan to royalty in France. She amassed a fortune in that role and now lives as she pleases, wherever she pleases. However, she gave up a long time ago ever looking for a Prince Charming for herself, realizing that girlhood dreams and the lifestyle of a courtesan were incompatible. She considers her heart now impregnable by any man. The faculty and administration at Oxford would never accept Coco as James's wife.
There are many more developments in the story line, which all pull together beautifully but the lead characters themselves are just stunningly realized. Much of the story is set in Oxford, which I found totally fascinating. I personally would give this novel an A+ and make it a super Desert Isle Keeper. It was not awarded that status here at AAR and the reviewer who made that determination and I are in complete disagreement over the ranking of this novel in romance literature.
The cover for Sleeping Beauty is probably the best one Ivory was given under either of her names. It is mostly red fabric in folds with a snow dome on the front and side. Inside the snow dome is a kingdom, and on its bold base are mythological characters. On the back, the gorgeous Coco is laying back on a divan in a private salon with James leaning over her, about to follow her down onto the divan. His shirt is undone and he looks rather informal compared to Coco, but this is a minor quibble. Both are gorgeous and look great together in this sumptuous red salon. I thought to myself, "At last someone is on the right track with covers for Ivory!" When I learned from my colleagues at AAR that Avon was going to give her "the full cover treatment" on her next book, stepback and all, I was totally at ease over her cover situation for the future! Ha! I will never relax my cover guard again!
I am talking, of course, about Ivory's very popular The Proposition published by Avon in December of 1999, which did receive Desert Isle Keeper Status at AAR. Whatever success this novel is enjoying, and I understand it is enjoying a lot of success, the credit should all go to Ivory and absolutely none to her cover. I frankly just about died on the spot when I saw this cover extravaganza.
First, the color combination is one of the most unfortunate I've ever seen. Avon used a peach tablecloth with a white lace overlay as the entire background. Peach can be a tough color to work with and plopping a red rose with a green stem down on top of it clashed terribly. I didn't mind the idea of the cutout but the visual itself did zilch for me. In the stepback, one sees that it is a card set on a gold tray with yet another red rose, all on the same tablecloth. It is being presented to the unseen heroine.
In my own mind, I tried several things to get the cover to look better. I changed a number of items to black, like the card or even the rose, then the tray to silver, made the tablecloth white, then black, then silver. Nothing worked and I then realized I was trying to negate the color clash by making the cover all black and white.
Let me tell you about the story. The images that will surely flash through your mind, will undoubtedly suggest something better than what you see before you.
This story is a reworking of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and its Lerner and Lowe musical version, My Fair Lady. However, the positions have been reversed and it is the man who needs to pass as an aristocrat and the woman who is the linguist who teaches him. Instead of being a flower seller, the hero, Mick, is a rat catcher. There are many delightful scenes in this book and some of them are in Victorian settings such as a tea house, a dressmaker's, a tavern filled with the dancing of working class people, and heroine Edwina's house where the lessons take place. There is even a ball, which they need to attend to see if they can pass Mick off as an English gentleman. This is what was done with Eliza in My Fair Lady. Images flashed through my head while I was reading, especially of the people wearing delightful Victorian clothing and accessories. Regrettably, none of these were shown on this cover.
As to the novel itself, it is very good and a delightful piece of entertainment. However, I must say that this is Cuevas-Ivory Lite. It lacks the intensity, originality and outright audacity of her earlier work under either of her names. She, of all writers, doesn't need to borrow ideas from anyone else's work. Anyone can tell that this is adapted from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. The freshness of Ivory's own work, not derived from any other source, is far more invigorating and groundbreaking. However, if this novel is outstripping her others in sales, and it may well be, then I completely understand her need to have more buyers for her books. Unfortunately, people prefer buying that which is already familiar.
I can't help but wonder why the artist or artists who worked on her cover for this last book didn't simply go look at stills from My Fair Lady or at art works from this period of time if they needed inspiration.
Let's just look at a few things they could have used as design inspiration. To the left is a painting by French Impressionist artist Claude Monet, a portrait of woman reading a book in the French countryside surrounded by lush grass and Spring flowers. It evokes a wonderful mood of the French countryside we read about in Bliss, Dance and Beast.
To the right is Jacques Joseph Tissot's The Political Lady, a painting of a gorgeous woman of that time, fully attired for a fancy party surrounded by her peers. The attention to detail is stunning from the bustle, to the fan, to the people who surround her yet cannot equal her.
This film still to the far left is from the movie Oscar and Lucinda, set in the Victorian era. The actors, in authentic dress, are Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett. This is how many of the Cuevas/Ivory characters might look in daytime dress whether rambling around the French countryside or learning linguistics in London.
The film still directly to the left is from My Fair Lady. It features Eliza and her suitor Freddie Hill, played by a young Jeremy Brett, who went on to later fame playing Sherlock Holmes on PBS.
Finally, below we have a wonderful portrait of Rupert Everett as Lord Goring in Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband, set in the last half of the 19th century. Everett captured every aspect of the British lord from the sublime to the ridiculous and completely upstaged the rest of the cast.
One bit of artistic license taken by those who made movies set in the latter 1800's/early 1900's was to remove the facial hair of the male characters. When I studied the paintings of many artists during this period, nearly all the men were depicted with full beards and/or moustaches. They appeared as though they never used a razor anywhere, which definitely dates their looks and does not likely appeal to modern women. And, although these painters frequently used beautiful women as their subjects, when they painted men, it appears they were stuck with painting these women's wealthy, older, patron husbands. These would have been the CEOs of their day and they were not the stuff of romance heroes. Imagine Donald Trump in a full beard and you've got the basic idea.
We will be bringing you the results of the 1999 Cover Art Contest next time. Also, we will be giving you instructions for the 2000 romance cover nominations for each voting category. Try to send along a URL or link for us to view your cover nomination, unless one is not available on the web. Amazon carries most front cover images whereas author and publisher web sites will usually carry both the front cover and stepback, if one is included.
-- Carol Irvin
with technical assistance from Sandi Morris
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