October 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. October 2015's RT Seal of Excellence — the editors' pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Rachel Vincent's Menagerie.

I'm a fan of hellish carnivals and boy did Menagerie deliver. Delilah's ordeal kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. Vincent adeptly captures the feeling of dehumanization that comes with enslavement. It's easy to see parallels between this book and animal, as well as immigration rights. It's a sobering reminder of what happens when one group of people is seen as less deserving. The book stands on its own, but once you get to the end you'll be eager for book two. This is a dark and thrilling read that you will easily burn through in a couple sittings. I know I did. — Sarah McDaniel Dyer

Every reader has their pet peeves, and one of mine is flashbacks. Just tell me, already! Despite this misgiving, I was entranced by Menagerie from the very start, no matter that the reveal behind the Reaping is given to us in tiny morsels. Vincent's worldbuiling is impeccable and does what all the very best fantasy novels must — make us think about our own world, and the prejudices within. Heroine Delilah is real and multidimensional — someone to root for from page one. — Elissa Petruzzi

I've been a fan of paranormal and urban fantasy for a long time, but lately, we've seen fewer releases — the pickings, they've been slim. So imagine my sheer delight when I picked up Menagerie by Rachel Vincent. Fresh, engaging and dark as hell, Menagerie follows a troupe of enslaved, circus-performing cryptids, aka human/creature hybrids straight out of myth. (Think sirens, ifrits and, yes, even a Minotaur.) Our heroine, Delilah Marlow, has a spine of steel and a will to match. Watching Delilah lead a revolution is utterly and relentlessly thrillling — I had to remind myself to breathe. — Regina Small

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

Karin Slaughter's Pretty Girls is an extremely well written and very moving book that delves deep into the seedy underbelly of violent kidnappings. The story makes a very important point — people go missing every single day, and long after the media and the rest of the world forget, the families must cope and continue to seek justice. Slaughter seamlessly intertwines the stories of two sisters with diary entries from the father of a missing girl, painting a vivid picture of the pain and anguish caused by never finding a missing family member. As we discover more about the kidnappings, the events of the book become positively gruesome. I've been referring to the the plot as every parent's worst nightmare. Because of the disturbing nature of the story, this book is not for everyone. The writing pushed me forward, though there were moments of nausea and tears. I felt like I became a part of the Carroll family. I was so invested in their anguish that I had to see them find peace. I also became positively terrified to walk home alone from the train in the dark and double locked my door. Such a powerful emotional reaction is certainly the hallmark of an engaging story. — Kristin Wise

Oh, hey there! I know I've been talking about this book kind of a lot, because boy was I excited. I was also nervous, because we'd waited so long for the real story behind Lyon and Olivia's affair. But I needn't have been concerned. The Legend of Lyon Redmond was so, so good. So good. I just loved it. The only reason I didn't wrestle the other editors to the ground and insist this win SOE for October was the very simple fact that this book is a lovely culmination, and you deserve to read the other Pennyroyal Green titles before getting to this deliciousness. If you need me, I'll be on a beach in Spain. — Elissa Petruzzi

YA fantasy is huge right now, and Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows is a great example of why that trend is not dying out anytime soon. Her band of misfits is so well-rendered (in multiple POVs, no less), and her worldbuilding so intricate that I felt like I was right there with them, trying to break into an unbreakable prison. Set in the same world as her Grisha trilogy, newcomers can hop right into the breathtaking adventure, and I really recommend that you do. — Elissa Petruzzi

When discussing Radiance with my fellow editors, I joked that it's the literary equivalent of an acid trip. In all the best ways. Catherynne M. Valente, returning with her first adult novel since Deathless, is the kind of the writer who pushes the boundaries of narrative and storytelling in some of the most offbeat and creative ways I've ever encountered as a reader. In Radiance, she examines the disappearance of a young filmmaker, Severin Unck — through the biopics that Severin's father makes detailing her rise and fall, her life and death. The story-within-a-story convention calls into question the act of storytelling itself, putting history and the truth into competition with the embellished stories we tell about them for the sake of art. Radiance is haunting and ambitious, even — or maybe especially — when it throws the reader off-balance. Oh, and did I mention this all takes place across several planets?— Regina Small

When I read the early reviews of Elle Kennedy’s new erotic romance, Claimed, I was intrigued. It sounded not just sexually exciting, but adventurous and thrilling, the kind of book that would make my heart race for so many reasons. And Oh. Em. Gee! The hero, Connor, is one of the hottest male leads I’ve read, and Hudson is a fantastic heroine — the perfect match for Connor. Their chemistry is explosive. But the side characters, too, are three-dimensional and feel more fully realized than most secondary characters. All together, those elements create a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, heart pounding, from page one right up until the end. Even for readers not already fans of Kennedy’s writing, they will definitely be anticipating her next book after reading Claimed. I know I am! — Jennifer Peters

All I Want by Jill Shalvis begins with a misunderstanding: the hottie on Zoe’s front steps isn’t her blind date — he's her brother’s friend Parker. Guess it’s okay that she planted one on him, right? A case of mistaken identity — and forgetfulness of a temporary houseguest — catapults readers into Shalvis’ witty, romantic story of a no-nonsense pilot-for-hire and a USFW special agent. Though deeper issues affect our main characters, the playful interactions and clever quips really get romance fans going. If you need some levity and are looking to unwind after a long day, All I Want is a perfect go-to. No judgment if your nightstand snack ends up on your sweater while reading — if Zoe can rock a few crumbs and still look irresistible to Parker, then there's hope for us all. — Danielle Valente

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