Sure, partridges in a pear tree are nice and all, but we know what you really want — books! The BEST books. So we at RT came up with our very own version of the Twelve Days of Bookmas, starring our twelve Seal of Excellence winning books from this year. For the next twelve work days, we’ll celebrate each Seal of Excellence title of 2013, and hear from those authors about their favorite read of the year. To further prove our love, we’re giving away a set of all twelve 2013 SOE titles to one lucky reader. For details on entering, read on! And check back here every day for a new post.

DECEMBER

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

I discovered mystery author SJ Bolton in 2013 — My first taste was her Now You See Me, about detective Lacey Flint and a Jack the Ripper copycat killer in modern London … and I was hooked. Bolton's most recent book, Lost, is also about Lacey, on leave from her job, but unable to escape it when a serial killer starts targeting boys in South London. Oh, and there's a handsome Detective Inspector in the wings as well. So, yeah. You can bet I'll be first in line for the next Bolton book in 2014!

NOVEMBER

Broken by CJ Lyons

It’s always tough to choose a favorite book when you read as much as I do, but there is one book that I read earlier this year that I truly adored as both a reader and an author.

David Levithan’s Every Day has an elegant premise. The tagline says it all: Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

Like many of Levithan’s books, Every Day explores identity, only this time with a protagonist, A,  who is neither male nor female—or perhaps, more accurately, A is both, depending on whose body he/she wakes up in that day. The world building is exquisite in its simplicity, making it all the more poignant as we slowly realize the depth of A’s predicament. Here is a character who has never, from the day he/she was born, had anyone in his/her life to teach him/her how to be human.

No parents, no teachers, no godparents, no big brothers or sisters — no one lasts more than twenty-four hours in A’s life before he/she is ripped away and thrust into another body.

Understanding that, we can applaud A’s self-taught moral code even as we sympathize when A makes bad choices (usually for the right reasons) and cheer A on his/her quest for love. The love story takes a bittersweet turn, adding sacrifice and nobility to the list of human traits A teaches him/herself.

Every Day, like so many of Levithan’s books, has stuck with me more than a year later—in fact, just writing this makes me want to go back and read it again!

- CJ Lyons

OCTOBER

Sleep with the Lights On by Maggie Shayne

I love books that enlighten me, books that move me emotionally, change the way I think, broaden my mind, and teach me. I know that’s a lot to expect from a book, but this year, there was one that lived up to those standards in every possible way. The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved To Me There’s Life After Death by Annie Kagan.

I never do guests on my Bliss Blog, but this book moved me so much that I contacted Annie and asked her if I could interview her. I did, and the piece was one of my most popular Bliss Blog posts ever.

It’s non-fiction, but it reads like a novel. One we’d call paranormal. But it’s so life affirming. If you’ve ever lost someone you love (and haven’t we all?) this book is a soothing balm that can absolutely help your heart begin to heal, and I recommend it with absolute sincerity.

- Maggie Shayne

SEPTEMBER

Tear Your Apart by Megan Hart

Earlier this year, I was assigned a new editor who’d be working with me on my Mira titles. One of the questions I asked her was, “what book have you read that you’d love to have seen come across your desk?” For her, that book was Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes. Quickly, I checked it out and ordered it to read on my iPad. Within minutes, I had the book up and ready to go.

I devoured it.

Me Before You isn’t a romance, though it is a heart-achingly, desperately and astonishingly romantic novel. The story of a young man who becomes a quadriplegic after being hit by a car and the caregiver who comes into his life determined to help him rediscover his joy, the book echoed a lot of the themes I’d explored in work of my own. Sometimes, this can detract from the pleasure of reading, if the story feels too much like work, but I lost myself in this book without a second thought. I laughed. I cried. I loved it.

- Megan Hart

AUGUST

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

2013 was a fantastic year for books. I read some great YA and wonderful urban fantasy, but I’m going to step outside my own genres here. I picked up an advance copy of Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls at a convention. I can’t recall where. The cover wasn’t something that would have caught my eye, so I suspect someone pushed it into my hand. It sat forgotten on my shelf until a radio show mentioned a book about a serial killer who travels through time. I got my pen out to make a note of the title…and I realized I had it on my shelf. Often, when a premise intrigues me, the book turns out to be disappointment. Not with The Shining Girls. I ripped through it in a weekend. It has everything I love in a thriller—devious killer, twisted premise, fast pace and a strong female lead who refuse to be a victim. If you’re looking for a fresh and original read, I highly recommend this one.

- Kelley Armstrong

JULY

A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

You know how, in Olympic diving, you start out with a score for degree of difficulty before you even start the dive? I have a thing for romances with a high degree of difficulty – AKA the “How on earth is she ever going to pull this off?” romance – and I can’t think of a recent romance with a more boggling degree of difficulty than Rebecca Rogers Maher’s “The Bridge.”

Two people meet on the Brooklyn Bridge, where each has gone to jump: Henry, as a final escape from all-consuming depression; Christa, because the cancer she’d hoped she’d beaten is back. It’s an awfully dark starting point for a love story, and on top of that this is a novella — Maher has about 30,000 words in which to get them off the bridge, get them acquainted and bring both of them, believably, to a point where we (and they) can be hopeful about their future together. She pulls it off with graceful prose, incisive detail and unexpected humor, weaving one of the most arresting romances I’ve read in this or any other year.

- Cecilia Grant

EDITOR'S NOTE: Cecilia’s other choice was a novella already selected, Mary Ann Rivers’ “The Story Guy," for those of you, like us, making a giant TBR list.

JUNE

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

I have to choose just one favourite book of 2013? One? That’s cruel. Because I’ve read a lot this year. Some books, like Adam Sternbergh’s hard-boiled future noir, Shovel Ready, or Sarah Lotz’s creepy high concept thriller, The Three, which are actually only coming out in 2014, or Jennifer Egan’s extraordinary debut, The Invisible Circus, which came out in 1994. I loved James Smythe’s The Explorer and Warren Ellis’s Gun Machine and Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, the graphic novels Fatale and Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips and Sara Gran’s gritty, strange, melancholy, unforgettable detective novels, Claire De Witt and the City of the Dead, pressed on me by an insistent bookseller in Phoenix and the follow-up Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway and kids’ writer Alex Latimer’s adult debut, The Space Race, about a secret apartheid space programme that gets hijacked. Just one, you say, you cold-hearted bastards? Fine. Max Barry’s Lexicon. It’s black as hell, punchy, smart and just devastatingly beautiful and subversive. On the surface, it’s a thriller about a secret society of poets who know that language really does have power — and the search for the killing word. But it’s also about pride and loss and the damage we do to each other, and love. It’s his best yet, and the kind of book I wish I’d written.

- Lauren Beukes

MAY

Wicked As She Wants by Delilah S. Dawson

Favorite book? You might as well ask me my favorite flavor of cake, because 2013 was a great year for books! And cake. Coincidentally, one of my very favorites launched the same day as Wicked as She Wants. Deanna Raybourn's A Spear of Summer Grass is a lush journey into Africa in the 1920s as witnessed by notorious vixen Delilah Drummond, who's exiled from Paris after too much scandalous behavior. Deanna's historical ambiance is legendary and vibrant, her characters complex and addictive. And, oddly enough, our launch day twins share the influence of Walt Whitman — and world-weary blond heroes who could only fall for strong women. Other favorites include The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz, The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee and Winger by Andrew Smith.

- Delilah S. Dawson

APRIL

Let It Be Me by Kate Noble

One of my favorite books of 2013 came out recently (just in time for holiday gift giving!) — Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh.

Brosh is a memoirist, an artist and a humorist who tells stories about her exploits as a child, life as a modern adult, an owner of two slightly unhinged dogs and someone who has struggled with depression. All of her essays are illustrated with deceptively simple computer paintings, and every single one of them will make you laugh, weep and think. It’s incredibly smart and achingly honest, and I told myself I was only going to read one chapter a night — and ended up reading the whole book in one sitting.

- Kate Noble

MARCH

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

My favorite book from 2013 was Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs. I prefer to stay home on Black Friday, mainly because I don’t find anything odd about Fae assassins, abducted werewolves and otherworldly mayhem occurring on a day when stores are packed with people looking for the most special of specials, and finding a parking space in a mall lot requires more than a touch of magic. So I sat back and had a great time following Mercy as her day slid from normal lunacy with her stepdaughter Jesse to worrying about a body in the trunk and no child car seats in the getaway vehicle. And that was before the fur really started flying. Definitely a high-speed bit of fun.

- Anne Bishop

FEBRUARY

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Editor's Note: Karen Lord, for reasons explained, didn't choose a favorite book, but instead chose an artistic work that had a great impact on her this year.

My pleasure reading suffers when I’m mid-manuscript. Fortunately, the novel is not the only place to find science fiction, romance and social commentary. This year, my needs were met by the new Janelle Monáe album The Electric Lady, a concept album which is solidly science fiction, definitely romantic, and also nostalgic, subversive and so deeply, dangerously new that we might as well call it nouveau.

The Electric Lady is part of a larger narrative that began with Monáe’s EP Metropolis and continued with her award-winning debut album The ArchAndroid. Fans of speculative fiction and afrofuturism will be drawn to the story of Cindi Mayweather — revolutionary and visionary, android and quintessential Other, and fugitive for the crime of falling in love with a human — told in song and spoken interludes, moderated by the canny and humorous android DJ Crash Crash of radio station WDRD. Music connoisseurs will love the depth and range of the orchestral and rhythm arrangements, and also the very impressive roster of collaborators: Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange, Miguel and Esperanza Spalding. You can write, read, sing, dance and listen to this music, and you’ll come back again and again to ponder and savour the unfinished tale.

- Karen Lord

JANUARY

The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand

Since The Chocolate Kiss is only my second fiction book, I thought it might be fun to focus on some other new authors whose work I’ve encountered this year. I love the novella length for author discovery — a well-done one is like a jewel, and the perfect length of investment for me when I’m “risking” myself on a new author. Given that one-hour read length for novellas, I’m going to give you two for the price of one, both just out the second half of this year. The Story Guy, the first published work by new author Mary Ann Rivers, is the story of two people who meet “for kisses only” through an online dating service, and it just stunned me with its emotional depth and its gorgeous, erotic writing. You’ll never look at a park bench the same way again. And In the Clear by Tamara Morgan would be my definition of a comfort read: a charming, adorable story of a beta hero and his best friend’s sister, rendered fresh and vivid by Tamara’s wit and skill at capturing a moment or a character. It’s hard to think of a better way to spend a couple of our precious reading hours than on these two stories!

- Laura Florand

This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Please see the widget below for how to enter and the full terms and conditions. A winner will be announced here on December 30th. Happy holidays!

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Tags: RT Daily Blog, Romance
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