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Kensington Publishing ~ Reminiscing

November 20, 2009

Before I launch into my retrospective on Kensington’s covers, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Kate Duffy, who was their Editorial Director. As most of you know Kate Duffy past away September 27, 2009 at the age of 56. Her family, her friends, her authors, and her Kensington family mourn her loss. We all mourn her loss. Kate Duffy will be missed.

I would also like to thank my editor, Peter Senftleben,  for finding me a whole list of authors to research. Thank you Peter!

As of 2009, Kensington has been publishing books for 35 years, which would take us back to 1974. I’m going to start my retrospective in 1980 (it’s very hard to find original covers going back that far, as I found out). Who did I find in 1980? I found Dorothy Garlock’s LOVE AND CHERISH. Look at the font of the title and how large it is. I think it takes up half the cover? By comparision, Ms. Garlock’s name is way at the top and significantly smaller. All in all, it’s a cover fairly appropriate for the time. Very red, wouldn’t you agree?


ambertreasure_1983_zebracaptiveecstasy_1981_zebra In 1981 and 1983 respectively, we have Elaine Barbieri’s CAPTIVE ECSTASY and AMBER TREASURE. I must say, CAPTIVE ECSTASY looks rather primitive to me. I mean I know Native Americans (usually half) were quite popular as heroes back then, but the cover doesn’t make me think of a grand passion, a romance. And I’m sure I know the guy on the cover of AMBER TREASURE. His hair reminds me of a guy I saw on Columbo. Not kidding. Also notice that Ms. Barbieri’s name is barely discernible on either cover. All in all, the covers do look dated don’t they? Wow these books were from almost 30 years ago.


savagesplendour_1985_zebraTwo years later Kensington gave us Constance O’Banyon’s SAVAGE SPLENDOUR. As we see the Native American hero continues to be a strong sell in historical romances. This cover has a particular brushstroke that I find…interesting. I stared at this cover for a long time trying to figure out what was nagging at me about it, until I realized the proportions of the hero and heroine appear to be somewhat off. Her shoulders look too narrow and his arms look too short for his body. Suffice it enough to say this won’t make my top ten list.


hiddenfires_1988_zebraOn the other hand, Betina Krahn’s HIDDEN FIRES, released in 1988, has a perfectly proportioned hero and heroine. This cover works for me. So what if it appears she’s wearing a negligee and that it doesn’t look all that ‘historical’. It’s a lovely clinch cover, very much the norm. But once again, I can not make out Ms. Krahn’s name. I think not only is it small but the font is not lending itself to easy reading.


passionssweetrevenge_1990_zebraNow around 1990, Kensington added a hologram to their Zebra covers as you can see on Jo Goodman’s PASSION’S SWEET REVENGE. It was finding this cover that I realized I used to get these books, 4 (four) every month. At that point I was hooked on Bobbi Smith, Jo Goodman and Cassie Edwards. I read America West, Native American stories until I couldn’t read them anymore. Seriously.  But I really like this cover. It definitely has a more historical feel than HIDDEN FIRES. And I do remember thinking that the hologram was way cool. :)


morepreciousthangold_1992_zebra forevermyheart_1994_zebra withallmyheart_1999_jogoodman

In the 199os, we see less skin, less embracing, and more flowers (for certain authors). On Elaine Barbieri’s MORE PRECIOUS THAN GOLD, Kensington has employed a beek-a-boo cover. The font is less ‘scripty’ than in prior years and please look at the position and scale of Ms. Barbieri’s name! I want to do a cheer. I’m so relieved I can now read it. I like this cover. It works for me. And while Jo Goodman’s 1994 book, FOREVER MY HEART and her 1999 release ALL MY HEART in no way indicated they were historical romances, I didn’t mind this more tame look. As we saw last week with some of the other authors as they rose in stature when their careers blossomed, their names became as big as or bigger than their titles and hero/heroine clinch was removed from the front covers of their novels.


stolenecstasy_2001 lovingjesse_2004 howtoenjoyascandal_2008

Having survived the turn of the millennium, the world safely moved into the 21st century. In 2001 Hannah Howell’s CAPTIVE ECSTASY is on the book shelves. The heroine and hero are in a fairly provocative pose. It’s a western but it’s hard to tell. In 2004 we have Joyce Myrus’s LOVING JESSE. This reminds me of a traditional Regency cover, chaste and sweet. I haven’t seen one like this from Kensington up to this point. Four years later in 2008, Adrienne Basso’s HOW TO ENJOY A SCANDAL sees our hero and heroine hitting the sheets. Quite literally. Again, here I wouldn’t  peg this as a’ historical looking’ but all in all, it works if the objective was to show the readers they will be getting a sexy read.


LostinYou_Aug08 sinfulsurrender180

And now we’re here in 2009 and as a Kensington debut author, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how many pins and needles I sat on while waiting for the unveiling of my cover. In 2008 there were many covers that looked like Alix Rickloff’s LOST IN YOU. There was nothing wrong with these types of covers, but I hoping for more clothes and a more historical feel to mine. Janice Rossi in Kensington’s art department made sure that not only was I NOT disappointed,  but that I was THRILLED with my cover for SINFUL SURRENDER. As you can see, I couldn’t have asked for a better looking couple. Seriously though, isn’t my hero (James) gorgeous! And my heroine (Missy) is beautiful too. :)


wild_heart masteringthemarquess150 LADYOFSCANDAL_Cover-150

So to celebrate the current ‘wow’ Kensington (Zebra) covers, I’m giving away a copy of Lori Brighton’s WILD HEART, Vanessa Kelly’s MASTERING THE MARQUESS and Tina Gabrielle’s LADY OF SCANDAL. Comment to enter to win!

So which is your favourite Kensington cover? Were you reading Kensington books when the half Native American heroes were all the rage?

Also, don’t forget to check out the 20 covers that are moving to the finals of The Season’s Best Historical Cover Contest.

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  1. Interesting walk down memory lane. I didn’t read romances in the seventies and eighties and the covers were part of the problem. They got a little less “graphic” and I picked them up. Now that I like romances, the clothes are disappearing again. Am afraid I’m from the “less is more” school of thought.
    I have WILD HEART and can’t wait to read it. It still boils down to it is the story inside those covers that count. A good cover gets readers’ attention, but if the story isn’t good, they won’t be back.

  2. Ah, memories . . . Kate Duffy bought my first book for Zebra’s Splendor line in 1999. John DeSalvo is on the cover, and I still adore it. :)

  3. I agree that the story is more important than the book, but I still love a good cover! I think my favourite cover is the one for Wild Heart – no man-titty in sight. Man-titty is nice enough, but I much prefer period clothes on a male cover character. If I want bare chests I can go to the beach (though there’s no guarantee about how toned the chests there will be, eep!) but it’s a bit harder to find men in period costume, so I like to get that kind of eye candy from covers.

  4. I hate the skin covers. So embarrassing. *shudders* But I have purchased some oldies in the UBS. I prefer the Regency type covers. Much more elegant.

  5. I didn’t start really reading romance until the last few years, myself. But having seen stacks of the older 70s-90s books on my mother’s shelves for years, I didn’t lack exposure to Romance cover art. And I’ll agree with the other posters here: Some of the covers are just downright embarassing! LOL And they are probably part of what put me off the genre for so long, as well. I much prefer the more non-descript covers like in Fern Michaels, Leslie Meier, and Joanne fluke’s case, or the cartoony ones (say like Lutishia Lovely’s covers).

  6. Thanks for the memories Bev. I still have those books from way back way. I have no one favorite cover — I think I like the newer ones better than the golden oldies.

  7. Thanks for the memories, Bev! The first romance I ever read was MIDNIGHT MAGIC by Betina Krahn and afterwards I gobbled up as many Kensington books as I could find at the UBS. That’s how I discovered my first “auto-buy” author, Jo Goodman. Still love her books. I love the cover for PASSION’S SWEET REVENGE as well as the story. 😉 As for the newer covers, I really like Tina Gabrielle’s LADY OF SCANDAL. Just beautiful.

  8. My three favorite covers (I can’t narrow it down further) are: Wild Heart, Mastering The Marquess, & Sinful Surrender. :)

  9. My favorite will be Wild Heart ! The color is great !
    i didn’t read romances in eighties and nineties, just read them couple years ago :)

  10. I like the Hidden Fires cover – reminds me of those old-time gothic covers though they really have nothing in common. Maybe it just the way it is presented.

    I never read the old Native American historicals as I didn’t care for them. However, I just love them now!

  11. I really like the newer covers better, especially Wild Heart, but it is fun looking at the old one, too. I love old photos and such.

  12. Gosh, I think I read all those books featured. My favorites had Fabio on them but I like the latest ones too.

  13. Oh wow. The memories. I think I actually have some of the Jo Goodman books somewhere. I never really got into the Native American hero stories though. I read a couple of them but meh.

  14. How fun! I love looking back, but I agree, that Captive Ecstasy doesn’t really look like a romance.
    And Bev, your cover is gorgeous! The art dept is doing an awesome job!

  15. I loved checking out the older covers. I know the covers now are better (maybe more saleable) than years ago, but I still like them. That is where your hunks!! started. Fabio started it, but DeSalvo and others kept it going to this day and time. I wonder where the covers will be in 20 years :)??

  16. Kensington has grown so much. I think they do a great job on their cover art and really focus on the characters in the story. I think older covers made the characters looked desperate. Having said that, the covers now I think feel more sensual.

  17. I like looking at covers, but I have to admit they don’t sway me on whether I buy the book or not. The book blurb is the deciding factor for me. Amongst all the covers above, I like Tina Gabrielle’s Lady of Scandal best. By showing all that leg you can see why she’s so scandalous.

  18. Oh wow I remember a lot of these books. I have all of Constance O’banyon’s books stored away. I got hooked on her years ago and still buy every book she writes. I love book covers. I must say they have changed over the years.

    ghurt110 AT bellsouth DOT net

  19. What a wonderful journey through the years. The earlier covers were so over the top, especially the ‘barbarian’ style cover, clearly cashing in on certain movie releases in the mid ’80s.

    My favourites have to be Wild Heart and Lady of Scandal. Both lovely, bold colours and very stylish. I like your Sinful Surrender, too, but I’m not a big fan of bare male (hairless!) chests. 😉

  20. My favorite cover would have to be Wild Heart.

  21. Wow! There is some major improvements there. It’s like browsing through a used book store since many of the covers in them are similar to these. Out of all of the covers shown “Wild Heart” and “Lady of Scandal” are my favorites. ^^

  22. I just love these posts! Looking back on all the old covers has been enlightening and fun!

    I am in a reading group that holds seasonal challenges and one of our items for the Winter challenge is “Cheesy Covers” For me cheesy covers consist of cartoonish characters, however there are several women in the group that are relying on the older historical clinch covers. Looking at the ones in your post I would have to agree with the ladies, only when I started reading romance in the mid 90s I loved these covers.

    I love the cover of Jo Goodman’s Passion’s Sweet Revenge for the older covers. However I am absolutely in love with the cover of your book (and the release date can’t come soon enough)!!

  23. Beverley, another great topic!

    I don’t have a favorite Kensington cover but like I’ve said before, I LOVE the old covers, lol.

  24. Sigh, it would appear that my poor bare-chested James is turning many off. 😉 Well James, I still love you lots and I think he’s the best looking guy out there…on ANY cover. LOL. Well, I must say I’ve very partial to the bare torso guy on the front of Insatiable (yes ladies, I don’t mind man-titties that much. LOL.

    But you’re right, Wild Heart and Lady of Scandal ARE quite gorgeous…and no man-titties. LOL

  25. Those old covers bring back memories. I was reading Kensington books when half Native Americans were all the rage. Of the covers shown, I like Loving Jesse best.

  26. Hi, Beverly! I think that the cover of your book, SINFUL SURRENDER, is lovely! There is obviously passion between the couple, but there is also a sweet tenderness, which has been sorely lacking in the book cover world.

    I am fond of Kensington Westerns.

  27. LOL Beverley, now if I were a heroine, I certainly wouldn’t banish ‘your’ James from my boudoir. 😉

  28. I don’t have a favorite Kensington cover. I was reading Kensington when the half Native American heroes were popular.

  29. I am really enjoying these cover retrospectives. I didn’t start reading romance until the mid 90’s so I missed out on the older style covers but looking at them here was fun. I definitely vote for “Wild Heart” though. Gorgeous and elegant (I’ll take a crisp white cravat over the bare chested look anytime).

  30. I do like the covers of Jill Shalvis’ baseball series with Kensington Brava.

  31. I love these old covers, it really brings back memories. I’ve been reading romance since the 70’s and it’s fun to see how they’ve changed through the years. Yes, I remember reading all of those half Native American stories, I read a ton of them. I have to say I like the newer covers much better, except I wish they’d leave more heads and faces in one piece instead of cutting them off part way or all the way – I think it’s just weird to see all these headless people :o)

  32. I just finished reading Wild at Heart. Whoever wins it is in for a treat!

    Lori what’s next?

  33. Sorry that should have been “Wild Heart”

  34. How to Enjoy a Scandal is my favorite cover of those there. I have been reaidng Kensington for some time and I remember the books about half Native American heroes.

  35. Hi Bev! I’m really enjoying your blogs on cover art! :) I think you’ve got a really beautiful cover for Sinful Surrender!

    I also love the cover for Mastering The Marquess!

  36. Thanks Ginger, Paula! And Steph, neither would I. 😉

  37. Haven’t covers changed over the years I have been reading historical romance for well over 30 years now and I am sure my Mum had some of those books in her collection at some stage.

    I do love the newer ones and it is hard to pick one. I am reading Lori Brighton’s Wild Heart at the moment and loving it.

    Have Fun

  38. I missed the whole period when Kensington books had the half Native American heroes on the cover, so this is my first time seeing them. I enjoyed taking a look at all the covers throughout the years and seeing how they’ve changed. I love all three of the covers that you are giving away. I also like Jo Goodman’s “The Price of Desire” and Victoria Dahl’s “One Week As Lovers”.

    Beverley I love your “Sinful Surrender” cover, and can’t tell you how much I look forward to reading it. January can’t come here quick enough.

  39. I still have some of those books in my library so often look at the old covers and shake my head.

    You’re right, though. Yours is a keeper.

  40. Thanks Amber! I had so much fun writing about Missy and James.

    Helen, Lori’s book is in the mail to me as we speak. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

    Thanks Gwynlyn, I think so too. 😉

  41. Hi Bev,
    Yet another great blog! I’m sure I read many of those books, long gone from my memory. This year’s Kensington covers were very good. While of course I love my hero (everyone thinks it’s Brad Pitt), I think your cover and Kimberly Killion’s are very pleasing to the eye. Keep up the good work!

  42. I enjoyed looking at all the covers! They are fun to look at! :)

  43. I was reading Kensington books when the Native American heroes were popular. The older covers are a little too over the top. I much prefer the newer covers. I really like Lori Brighton’s Wild Heart. For some reason I find cravats very sexy.

  44. I really liked the How to Enjoy a Scandal cover. I was not reading Kensington when half native Americans were the rage.

  45. Thanks Kit! I must say, if my hero had a Victorian shirt on, I wouldn’t have minded at all. I love when their clothes show a real sense of the period.

  46. I really like the “Lady of Scandal” cover. Sex implied, not graphically depicted. On the cover of “Wild Heart” the woman’s dress looks so uncomfortable = I can’t even think “sexy”.

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