December 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. December 2013's RT Seal of Excellence — the editors' pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Sarah MacLean's historical romance No Good Duke Goes Unpunished. Sarah MacLean is the first author to win more than one Seal of Excellence Award!


Sarah MacLean just gets better and better. Her first Rules of Scoundrels book, A Rogue by Any Other Name, won an RWA RITA award, and her third, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, will win your heart. Bare-knuckle bruiser Temple is in for the emotional fight of his life when the woman he thought synonymous with his destruction, Mara Lowe, returns from the dead — and readers are in for a tale of redemption, realization and forgiveness. Temple and Mara are passionate, powerful characters who battle in and out of the bedroom, and are as well-matched as adversaries as they are allies. As for MacLean, she not only knows how to craft relatable individuals and heartfelt romances but also a few jaw-dropping surprises. Don't punish yourself: Pick this up! — Mala Bhattacharjee

"I've loved Sarah MacLean's books since her first adult historical, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake — the very first Seal of Excellence we ever awarded, back in 2010. Her latest, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished is heartwrenchingly good. You know that romance that literally makes your heart ache as you read, because these two people clearly love each other so much yet you just can't figure out how they're going to make it work? That's what reading No Good Duke is like. I sobbed all the way to the wonderful HEA. If you need to purge some feelings this holiday season, give this one a try." — Elissa Petruzzi

"Any book that begins with the hero covered in blood is bound to get my attention. But even beyond this shocking start, MacLean's physically powerful and emotionally tormented hero, Temple, kept me rapt throughout No Good Duke Goes Unpunished. His connection and chemistry with Mara, who framed him for her murder twelve years earlier, was so electric that I desperately rooted for them to get past the resentment and rage brewing since that first encounter. And I marveled at MacLean's talent at getting me to sympathize with and invest in Mara, who could easily be viewed as ruthless and unlikable. But as a devoted friend, sister and headmistress of an orphanage, Mara is as deeply lovable as she is clever and resourceful. And that epilogue?! Has me clamoring for book four." - Regina Small

"Dark, sexy, and more than a little punchy, MacLean takes the Scoundrels series to new depths with No Good Duke Goes Unpunished. With a flair for chiaroscuro, MacLean leads us into the shadows of Regency England's gambling hells and orphanages -- not to mention the mind of an alleged killer -- so we can later revel in the light of truth, forgiveness, and love. When the gloves are off (courtesy of Madame Hebert with a nod to Loretta Chase), Temple and Mara engage in some of the most bitter battles, contrasted with the most inventive love scenes, of the series."— Devon Glenn


So, which other books were contenders for the December Seal of Excellence? Here's a look at the titles the RT editors considered.


"If you like your romantic suspense with a hefty serving of steam, then Hard as it Gets is for you. The first book in Laura Kaye's new Hard Ink series, centered around disgraced military men and a family-owned tattoo shop, will knock your socks off and then set them on fire. Becca is a kickass heroine determined to find her missing brother at any cost, and gruff, tormented Nick is the kind of hero you always want by your side. Throw in a great supporting cast (featuring both two-legged and three-legged members) and the promise of more books, and this is a winner." — Mala Bhattacharjee


 "You might recognize Maggie Barbieri’s name from the Murder 101 series and think 'huh?' Yes, she’s breaking out of the realm of cozy, amateur-sleuth mysteries and has written a quietly powerful novel of suspense. Barbieri succeeds at taking a female protagonist who could appear in a cozy mystery — she’s a bakery owner with a curious nature and a retired police officer for a father — and putting her in much more dire circumstances. Forty-something divorcée Maeve Conlon’s childhood abuser is found shot to death. There are no witnesses, but a suspect is Maeve's 80-year-old father Jack who suffers from dementia. But readers don't just get one plot in Once Upon a Lie. Maeve's trivial problems are put in juxtaposition with very serious issues that arise, including the murder case and a neighborhood predator inflicting pain on his spouse and children. This might seem like a lot to pack into one book, but Barbieri pulls it off. Each storyline is resolved by the end — and it’s never what I expected. The novel has murmurs of a psychological plotline, but readers are kept in reality where nothing is as it seems. Just as readers thought they were done guessing, Barbieri leaves them with one more thing to think about." — Tricia Carr

"I picked up Return of the Cowboy Doctor by Lacy Williams feeling nostalgic for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and was soon transported to an even wilder West for an aspiring lady doctor. Hattie has so much working against her: Her parents have very different goals for her future, she's suffering from a debilitating illness, and her Christian values demand that she remain humble when she has a dream to chase and a cowboy to fall in love with. But the titular cowboy doctor is no ordinary prairie woman's fantasy — he's her competition! And poor Max has dealt with his own share of heartache. Watching Hattie try to have it all, 1890's style, is a delight." — Devon Glenn


"When I really love a book, I make sure everyone knows it. Delphine Dryden's third installment in her Science of Temptation series, The Principle of Desire, almost slipped under my radar, but good thing I caught it, because I loved it. You can read my extended review here and see my official RT review in our February issue next week. Beth and Ed are such a wonderful, quirky couple. She's a switch and he's a BDSM newbie who primarily, in this book, bottoms but shows switch tendencies. There's a lot of femdom action, which was so refreshing after the wave of BDSM Billionaire Doms that saturated romancelandia. You don't need to read the rest of the stories in the series to enjoy this one, and I sincerely think you will." — Elisa Verna

Some of the additional titles that the RT editors considered are:

Unrestrained by Joey W. Hill

Shadowdance by Kristen Callihan

These Broken Stars by Amie Kauffman & Megan Spooner

Visit The RT Seal of Excellence Index >>