May 2015 Seal of Excellence

Each month the RT editors select one book that is not only compelling, but pushes the boundaries of genre fiction. This book stands out from all the others reviewed that month, in the magazine issue and on the website. May 2015’s RT Seal of Excellence — the editors’ pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Jenn Bennett’s paranormal romance, Grave Phantoms.

“Last January, I fell in love. His name is Bo Yeung and he’s fictional. A secondary character in Jenn Bennett’s innovative and fresh paranormal romance, Bitter Spirits, Bo stole my heart with his humor — and his gentle touch with Astrid Magnusson. I almost hyperventilated when I heard Bo and Astrid were getting their own book. I definitely hyperventilated when I saw the cover of Grave Phantoms. But could this book live up to our very high expectations? Apparently, we’re just that lucky! Bo and Astrid have a long history together; and their tender moments, their forbidden love and the social forces that keep them apart all combine to make their romance sweet, sexy and crackling with tension. But Jenn Bennett doesn’t stop there. She also adds a rollicking paranormal mystery that moves at a brisk clip, all set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1920s. Contemporary romance may be experiencing a renaissance, but this paranormal is my favorite romance of 2015.” — Regina Small

“If you’re a fan of paranormal romance, Jenn Bennett’s latest most definitely deserves a spot on your bookshelf. Equal parts romantic and supernaturally suspenseful, Grave Phantoms immediately pulls you into Astrid Magnusson and Bo Yeung’s story. The 20’s backdrop adds flair to this tale of forbidden love while paranormal elements unfold perfectly, leaving readers captivated by the mystery and magic behind the yacht that comes crashing into the Magnusson’s dock. Paranormal fans old and new will appreciate Bennett’s imaginative storytelling and eagerly explore the rest of her Roaring Twenties series.” — Danielle Valente

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as quickly as I read Grave Phantoms (and I’m a particularly slow reader), but Bennett immediately draws readers into her world and the pace only picks up from there. There are many notable things about this story: the setting, the mystery, the paranormal elements, Astrid’s outfits. But it all pales in comparison to Bo and the tension that builds between him and Astrid during this exceptional friends-to-lovers romance.” — Elisa Verna

Here are the other books we considered for our May 2015 Seal of Excellence Award:

“Kate Atkinson is one of my auto-buy authors, and her latest, A God in Ruins — the second in her Todd family duology — is a masterpiece. Seeing golden boy Teddy live the life he wasn’t really supposed to have — thanks to a long, dangerous WWII, tells us about the war — and ourselves. Read it, but start with Life After Life and Ursula, Teddy’s sister, first.” — Elissa Petruzzi

“In Victoria Alexander’s delightful historical romance The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress, we get to follow Miss Lucy Merryweather as she attempts to complete her long-dead great-aunt’s bucket list, and, oh, what a list it is! The wishlist of adventures ranges from the simple, like learning to do something new and making an unexpected friend, to the outrageous, like having a love affair and riding an elephant (though not at the same time, of course!). Lucy, an American, chooses England as her playground, and somehow makes even the stodgiest of Brits fall head-over-heels for her charms. She’s a delightfully inspiring heroine, and one I couldn’t get enough of. And then there’s her love story. Cam Effington is an at-times-aggravating love interest, but like Lucy, it’s impossible not to fall for him. While the two have much in common, it’s their disagreements that really capture their growing affection for one another. I swooned and swore almost simultaneously, and I loved every minute of the will-they/won’t-they romance. I’m putting ‘read this book again’ on my own bucket list immediately!” — Jennifer Peters

“Few things are more beautiful than Tiffany glass, and Deeanne Gist’s Tiffany Girl follows one of the first young female glassworkers employed by Louis Tiffany. Set in 1890s New York, the story follows Flossie Jayne as she moves into a boarding house on her own, enters the workforce and, eventually, falls in love. And while life as a “New Woman” isn’t all Flossie hoped it would be, this book exceeds expectations. Gist definitely did her research, and within a few pages you’ll feel immersed in late 19th-century culture. Flossie’s fellow Tiffany Girls, based on real-life Tiffany glassworkers, are impressively well drawn, and her neighbors in the boarding house come to vivid life. That there’s a sweet love story mixed in is the icing on the cake. History buffs — and historical romance fans — will surely love this one!” — Jennifer Peters

“When Kody Keplinger’s debut, The Duff, came out, I devoured it in an evening, and the trend has continued with each of her YA novels. So, of course, I loved Lying Out Loud. Sonny felt like a classic Keplinger lead, a smart, opinionated and outwardly confident female who just needs a little help figuring out a solution to whatever it is that has made her secretly lose her confidence. Knowing that “formula,” though, does nothing to take away from Sonny’s unique voice. And her relationship with BFF Amy (and the entire Rush family, really)? That’s a thing of pure magic. That the friendship remains a major focus even with all of the relationship drama going on is what really makes this a standout. As much as I love a good YA romance — and I really, really do love them — it’s always so thrilling to see an author show a realistic depiction of teen girl friendship, and Keplinger delivers a believable, authentic relationship that will make you want to call your best girlfriend and tell her how much you love her.” – Jennifer Peters

Congratulations to the winner and all of the nominees! You can find all of our Seal of Excellence winners here.

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