My Favorite Self- and Independently-Published Books
Anyone who’s followed me for any length of time knows I’m a strong supporter of self- and independently-published authors.
Not just because I’m self-published myself, but because so many of my favorite books over the past several years have come from indie authors. Fighting back against the stigma indie books face means shouting from the proverbial rooftops about the books we love, so consider this my bullhorn.
NOTE: Where appropriate, I use a slot for an entire series; that way, entries from that series don’t overwhelm the list.
The Judah Black series by E.A. Copen
(Guilty by Association, Blood Debt, Chasing Ghosts, Playing with Fire)
I’m a sucker for female protagonists, particularly those who are in jobs where one would traditionally expect to see a man. Enter Judah Black, federal investigator who specializes in the paranormal. Oh, and she’s a single mom. This is a police procedural with werewolves and other such creatures, but whatever you think you know about the genre, there’s more character depth than you might expect. The monsters and the lore are just a backdrop; the real story is Judah and how she balances being a single mother with forging a relationship and dealing with the realities of her job (and I don’t just mean the monsters). Copen is quite the prolific writer (I think she published two more books while I was typing this), and I hope she returns to this series one day.
Floor 21 (series) by Jason Luthor
(Floor 21, Floor 21: Descent, Floor 21: Judgement)
I’ll admit horror isn’t normally my cup of tea, but this post-apocalyptic first-person trilogy was certainly an exception. Told, at least in part, through a series of audio recordings in a building that’s long been abandoned, but not really, Floor 21 is every bit as intense as it is gruesome. The violence comes in short bursts, and the true horror is developed in the quiet moments, when you realize how the characters got to where they are and how, at least on the surface, everything seems so damn hopeless. It’s not the fear of the monsters right in front of you, it’s the ones lurking around in the dark, in the inaccessible lower floors. What you can’t see is far more dangerous than what you can, and this is a trio of books you’ll be reading with the light on.
Untamed (series) by Madeline Dyer
(Untamed, Fragmented, Divided, Destroyed)
More intimate in scope than most other dystopian novels, Dyer’s Untamed series rightly shifts the focus from the macro storyline (end of the world, possible human conversion that erases all negative human emotion) and puts it instead on the small ragtag gang of characters facing seemingly impossible odds. The series gets darker and more intense with each passing installment, but the focus on Seven and those closest to her never wavers. Most authors would fall into the trap of world-building at the expense of everything else, but Dyer never does — and the result is a quartet of books that never grows stale, never slows down, never relents.
Starstruck (series) by S.E. Anderson
(Starstruck, Alienation, Traveler, Celestial, Starbound, Earthstuck, Inalieable, Dreadknot [Feb. 22])
I’ve made it known several times that I think sci-fi as a genre takes itself far too seriously. There’s a place for the grim and the apocalyptic, no doubt, but sometimes, sci-fi needs to be goofy. Laugh-out-loud funny. It’s possible to be intense and action-packed and still bring in the laughs. Enter Anderson’s Starstruck series (which, as of Tuesday, Feb. 22’s release of Dreadknot, will be eight books deep). Very much in the vein of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this series gives us something different each book. One’s a murder mystery, another’s a time-hopping adventure, the next is a coming-of-age…Sally is very much out of her element in each installment, and the result is a slapstick and adventurous romp through the galaxy, one I think every sci-fi fan would do well to have on their shelf.
Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
As vibrant and evocative and intense as many of the dimensions its characters inhabit, Dangerous Ways does for high fantasy what Virdi’s Grave Report series does for street-level thrillers. Virdi writes with a free-flowing, quick-witted first-person style that makes the pages fly by, so a book as large as Dangerous Ways doesn’t feel all that large. It’s not just a fantastic exercise in world-building, it’s also the perfect example of how vibrant, memorable characters can elevate a narrative. Mainstays Hawthorne and Cassidy are a delight on their own, but the supporting cast they encounter through several different worlds makes this book feel like a world all its own.
Aix Marks the Spot by S.E. Anderson
One author claims two spots on this list, and Aix Marks the Spot is every bit as worthy of its inclusion — even if it’s night and day from Anderson’s flagship series. This book is emotional and charming and funny and heartfelt in ways big and small. This is mostly a light read, a love letter to Provence, France, but there is a dark undercurrent throughout — one that in the hands of a less capable author could come across as forced or unnecessary. Anderson is at her best here, weaving a personal tale with luminary prose. The coming-of-age story isn’t my first choice — unless there’s superheroes or magic involved — but Aix Marks the Spot is the exception, and it’s one of the more surprisingly emotional books I’ve read.
A Country of Eternal Light by Darby Harn
This book is a masterpiece. It’s crushing and deflating and grim and it will gut you seemingly every other chapter — but it’s also the perfect encapsulation of the stubbornness of the human condition, and you’ll find yourself unable to put the book down. A Country of Eternal Light is spec fic that doesn’t feel like spec fic. It feels more like an exhaustive, raw study of the human condition — constantly asking the question “Why?” Why do humans keep pushing forward, even when things seem completely hopeless? Why keep going when there’s no longer any point? Harn’s focus on the people, not the disaster, makes for a book that’s impossible to put down.
Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot
A gripping, disturbing read that is as enthralling as it is uncomfortable, Scot’s series debut follows Rune and Kyder, who are more or less opposite sides of the same coin in a post-apocalyptic world where freedom and power are often illusions. It’s dystopian spec fic that focuses on the two protagonists and their relationships (…such that they are, in Kyder’s case), and Scot showcases a deft pen while taking us along on a tale of violence, debauchery, heartbreak, rage, and pushing forward no matter how bleak things get. Because things are bleak. But Scot is a capable enough writer to not only handle it, but make it impossible to turn away. There are three other entries in the series (and on my TBR), and I don’t see how they won’t be every bit as engrossing (or just gross) as the original.
J.D. Cunegan is a self-published author and freelance editor who has written six novels (including Notna and the Jill Andersen series), the non-fiction The Art of Reading, and has had short stories published in three anthologies.
You can find his work at https://jdcuneganbooks.com.