June 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. June 2014's RT Seal of Excellence — the editors' pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Jeffe Kennedy's fantasy romance, The Mark of the Tala.

The cover of The Mark of the Tala


"There's one trope that almost always makes me cringe: the fated romance. It's hard to root for a couple when it feels like their love connection is totally inevitable. So I picked up The Mark of the Tala with some hesitation — and Jeffe Kennedy blew my mind. Kennedy crafts an extraordinary, exciting and thoroughly engaging fantasy romance. Princess Andromeda (Andi) has always been the invisible middle sister, with older sister Ursula as the tough, well-trained fighter (think Game of Thrones' Brienne of Tarth) and sweet, beautiful younger sister Amelia as the jewel of the Twelve Kingdoms. It would be easy to turn this into a story where Andi is secretly the best and most special sister, but Kennedy isn't interested in setting up a competition, opting instead to emphasize the deep, unbreakable bond of these women. Even as alliances shift and Andi must choose between the kingdom she's been born into and the kingdom that awaits her, her love for her sisters and desire to secure their safety shines through. And that fated romance? Andi is attracted to super-hot Rayfe, but she is understandably skeptical of his motives, and initially resigns herself to a loveless political marriage, entered into for the sake of peace. It's this resignation — no insta-love here — done for her family and her kingdom that makes Andi such a strong, believable heroine. Kennedy's latest fantasy romance is a smashing success — I can't wait to see what's next for the Twelve Kingdoms, and for Amelia and Ursula." — Regina Small

"Jeffe Kennedy makes high fantasy beautifully accessible in The Mark of the Tala, the first of her new Twelve Kingdoms series — a saga of three sisters with gifts and destinies beyond their wildest imaginations. Middle sister Andromeda has always been invisible, until Rayfe of the Tala sees her for who, and what, she is. More a journey of self-discovery than a romance, The Mark of the Tala pits these two strong, stubborn characters against one another and wraps them in politics, passion and magic. Readers can also expect a few surprises — and an immediate hunger for the next book in the series. Kennedy's got a hit on her hands." — Mala Bhattacharjee

"Jeffe Kennedy offers many relatable scenarios within her fictitious world — the loss of a mother, relationship dynamics between sisters and everything that goes along with being the middle child. And that middle child, Andi, proves to be a character worth reading. She’s tough, sharp and offers pretty awesome comebacks, particularly when she encounters hero Rayfe for the first time. Overall, Kennedy’s voice is inviting and engaging with an imaginative twist. As a newbie to fantasy and paranormal romance, I look forward to returning to the Twelve Kingdoms in the trilogy’s second installment." — Danielle Valente

The Mark of the Tala is wonderfully entertaining, set in an expansive world filled with strong-willed women and a scorching romance. If you’re a reader who typically shies away from fantasy, try this story, you’ll be delightfully surprised." — Elisa Verna

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

 "Devil's Game by Joanna Wylde was my first motorcycle club romance, and all I can say is, I get it. I now understand why so many romance readers rave about MC romances. In Devil's Game, the politics and family dynamic of the Reapers motorcycle club, combined with Em's actual family drama (her father is the Reapers' president), had me on edge for the entire story. The most interesting part of this story is — and I say this with love — that just about every person in the novel is kind of a scumbag (Hunter and Em have what is probably the worst meet-cute ever), yet you still feel invested in the characters and want to explore the seedy, dangerous world of the Reapers. I thought hero Hunter was awful, and yet I still understood his appeal. I can't wait to see what Wylde does next in this series." — Elisa Verna

"Leigh Bardugo's Ruin and Rising is one of those epic books that not only shows the author's immense talent, but also ends a series on a high note. It's the kind of book writers wish they had written and readers want to re-read over and over again. Alina's story comes full circle with this final installment as she, Mal and their friends set out to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers to save their country. Definitely a must-read." — DJ DeSmyter


"Zoe Archer's third full-length Nemesis, Unlimited adventure lives up to its name. Wicked Temptation is full of the best kind of illicit desire: that which involves knowing yourself. When widow Bronwyn Parrish teams with Nemesis agent Marco Black to find her missing fortune, they discover a great many things along the way — especially heat, heart and nefarious villains. And all of it is riveting. Archer's crisp, witty prose, asskicking action and gorgeous handling of the tension between Bronwyn and Marco is sure to keep you flipping the pages." — Mala Bhattacharjee


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

Keep Me Closer by Rhyannon Byrd

The Troublemaker Next Door by Marie Harte

The Virgin of Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney

Visit The RT Seal of Excellence Index >>