The following are the winners of Library Journal‘s Self-Published Ebook Awards as chosen by a volunteer committee of librarians. The books are hosted on SELF-e, a discovery platform for self-published books that is a partnership between LJ and BiblioBoard. Libraries with a subscription to SELF-e can locate these titles through the site’s search function at the top left of the page. The competition, which debuted this year, recognizes authors who submit the best ebooks in their respective genres. Congratulations to all of the winning authors and to those who received honorable mentions.
Winner: Dave Ferraro, Yokai.
As a child, Yumiko Sato was held prisoner in a realm that exists beyond the mirrors of the regular world by Kagami, a lord of the race of supernatural monsters called yokai. When she is allowed to leave, it is on the condition that she will be retrieved again at the age of 18 to become his for eternity. With only months until her dreaded birthday and her mother lost to her, Yumiko takes matters into her own hands, spending her time hunting down the yokai and sending them to the mirror realm. Facing trials even more pressing than her impending showdown with Kagami, Yumiko finds herself teaming with a group of humans and yokai to ensure that the world does not end. While she searches for a way to stop the evil onslaught, find her mother, and defeat Kagami, Yumiko quickly learns that the truth behind her return will be the answer to everything—although it may not be what she expected. VERDICT An absorbing tale that weaves together Japanese urban legends with impressive characterization. Ferraro’s storytelling will draw in urban fantasy enthusiasts.
Shelbi Wescott, After Life.
Mara is looking forward to the future: going to college, getting away from her family, and escaping her small town. All of that disappears when one night her little brother, Soren, tells her he was murdered several years ago and that his name is actually Cole. Disturbed by what her sibling is spouting and with parents that refuse to believe it is anything more than a child’s imagination, Mara enlists her friends to start digging into Soren’s story— and discovers much more than she bargained for about the dead. As Mara pursues what she believes is the truth—that her brother really is the reincarnated soul of little Colton Sullivan—barriers from supernatural and natural forces keep blocking her. Mara employs all her means to free her brother from this wayward spirit, even facing losing her friends and family. VERDICT Reincarnation and ghosts are not new tropes, but Wescott places them in the midst of a tightly woven family drama that is at times as scary as the ghosts. Contains enough twists to keep readers guessing until the very end.
Anthony St. Clair, Forever the Road: A Rucksack Universe Novel.
In Agamuskara, India, no one remembers why the river and city both carry the name “smiling fire.” Unfortunately for them, an ancient evil is about to give them a harsh reminder. In the global secret order of Jakes and Jades, overseen by the Management, bartender Jade Agamuskara, Bluegold sees what comes next and tweaks people’s destinies as easily as she pours beer. But Jade begins to doubt what she is doing and tries to untangle the multiple, horrible time lines she sees ahead. When traveler Jay arrives with a strange object in his backpack, Jade finds herself connected to the future of the world. They are soon joined by the only existing Himalayan-Irish sage, stout drinker Faddah Rucksack, a man without a destiny. Only these three world-wanderers can prevent the destruction of all life on Earth. When the day of a rare and powerful mirror eclipse appears to bring the moment all fear, the choices made by Jay, Jade, and Rucksack will mean the beginning—or the end—of the world. VERDICT Fans of travel, fantasy, and beer will circle around this story. Matching Indian lore with universe building reminiscent of Terry Pratchett, St. Clair’s tale will make readers reconsider fate.—Kristi Chadwick
Winner: J.K. Ullrich, Blue Karma.
Water has become the most valuable resource on the planet. Thanks to years of environmental abuse, the world has shrunk to those who have access to fresh water and those who do not. Amaya de los Santos is an ice poacher. She and her sister survived a typhoon but are now orphans and poaching ice to sell on the black market allows them to eke out a meager existence. Logan Arundson has been sent to a military unit in the Artic as punishment for stealing water near his drought-ridden family farm in California. Paul Hayes is heir to a water empire, but being the vice president of his family’s hydrology company isn’t a walk on easy street. These three characters’ lives intertwine in this story of an all too real future, where war is fought over water and religions spring up based on the resource. VERDICT Ullrich’s story hits many elements—intriguing characters, a cohesive story, and engaging plot. Readers are faced with moral and ethical dilemmas about life as they follow the narrative. The author does a good job posing these questions while also making the audience care about the characters and finding out what happens next.
Richard Levesque, Strictly Analog.
Ted Lomax is living on the fringes of a near-future California. Disabled during the state’s war for independence from the economically depressed United States, he is locked out of any new technology. This certainly serves him well as a private detective helping clients who need to stay off the grid. He has managed to get by, but then his daughter is accused of murdering her boyfriend—a man who just happens to be an agent in the state’s secret police. Unfortunately, the bullet that was found matches her gun. Diving into a world of underground hackers, rogue gear-heads, and programmers, Ted fights to clear his daughter’s name and spring her from prison. However, as he works to save her, he finds that things are much more complicated than just one murder; this case has ties that go back 18 years and could very well get Ted killed. VERDICT With gritty writing and a dystopian tone, this noir/sf crossover should appeal to fans of either genre. Readers who enjoy a fast moving story with an emphasis on cyber elements will be hooked by this page-tuner.
Michael F. Stewart, Assured Destruction.
In the tech world, nothing is ever really deleted and no one knows this better than 16-year-old Jan Rose. Working for her mother at their family’s computer destruction company, she has scavenged many identities from hard drives that she was supposed to terminate. With them, she creates an illegal online world she calls Shadownet, which gives her a sense of family. Unfortunately, this world becomes vulnerable when the real people behind the stolen identities become victims of cyber-attacks. Jan realizes it is all her fault and must find a way to stop the threats and expose the true wrongdoer. The danger puts all of Jan’s hacking skills, friendships, and her trust with her mom to the test as she fights back to solve the mystery behind the attacks. VERDICT Stewart offers up an engrossing read about hacking, computers, and the underbelly of the technological world. He has created a strong character in Jan, who the reader cheers on as she does all she can to save her friends and family. While the protagonist is a young woman, an older audience will still find much to enjoy in Jan’s journey.—Robin Nesbitt
Winner: Angela Quarles, Steam Me Up, Rawley: A Steampunk Romance.
In an alternate 1890s Mobile, AL, ships fly both above and below the surface, and designer plastic surgery is all the rage. But, sadly some things haven’t changed—women are still expected to marry and settle down, not do crazy things like pursue careers. In her quest to prove to her boss that she is qualified to cover more than just the society news, Adele de la Pointe stumbles upon a story that goes from interesting to dangerous in an instant. Not to mention the equally dangerous idea of marriage that comes her way in the form of Dr. Phillip Rawley, who is in need of a wife to secure a business deal. Adele sees Rawley’s pursuit as the end of her independence, and it isn’t until they come together to solve a series of murders that they begin to solve the more interesting mystery of each other. VERDICT This book is sure to entertain a variety of readers with its broad genre appeal and expert blend of romance and steampunk. Adele and Rawley are charming, separately and together, and readers will be excited to know that is only the first in Quarles’s “Mint Juley & Monocle Chronicles.”
Christy Carlyle, Reckless Wager: A Whitechapel Wagers Novel.
Kate Guthrie is happily widowed from an abusive husband but knows her time of freedom must come to an end soon: a woman of her social status is supposed to be someone’s proper wife. She has resolved to accept the expected proposal of a gentleman when she suddenly becomes embroiled in helping Rose, a prostitute who claims to have just escaped an attack from the legendary Jack the Ripper. The situation puts Kate into the orbit of Detective Sergeant Benjamin Quinn, whose life and sobriety are both in compromising positions when he is called onto the case. The chemistry between Quinn and Kate is apparent from their first meeting and with a little meddling from Quinn’s sister, they are able to overcome their romantic obstacles. VERDICT The novel’s secondary characters would have benefited from better development, but there is much fun to be had in the time Carlyle dedicates to them. However, historical romance fans won’t be disappointed as Kate and Quinn’s romance sparks on the page.
Jules Barnard, Deep Blue.
Working at a casino during the summer after her senior year, Cali Morgan is saving up money for a law school she doesn’t even know she wants to attend. And while she’s focused on helping her friend recover from the end of a relationship, she finds out that her own perfect boyfriend is neither perfect nor her boyfriend any longer. When she meets up with Jaeger, an old friend of her brother’s, she’s torn between following through with the match-making scheme she’s concocted for her friend or giving into her own attraction to him. Barnard’s supporting cast comes through as well-developed characters, capable of carrying books of their own. As readers ride along through the somewhat bumpy ride to Cali and Jaeger’s happily ever after, they are also treated to several intriguing side plots that will give Barnard an enthusiastic following, eager to see these stories resolved in later books. VERDICT The story’s one misstep is an antagonist brought on mid-book who falls short of bringing the tension and conflict needed. Still, this is a great start to a series that has engaging characters and a strong sense of location.—Robin Bradford
Winner: K.B. Owen, Dangerous and Unseemly: A Concordia Wells Mystery.
At the novel’s start, Concordia and her charges at Hartford Women’s College are the unseemly ones—it’s 1896, and the idea that women should go to college is still highly unusual. In fact, even Concordia’s family opposes the life she’s chosen. As a professor and chaperone barely older than her students, Concordia has her hands full with senior pranks and directing a production of Macbeth. Then the tricks turn darker, putting the future of the school in jeopardy. When a shocking death occurs, it is clear that the students are not the perpetrators. Despite the concern of the school’s odd principal, Miss Hamilton, Concordia realizes that the only person who can save the college from ruin is herself—but that means that she is putting herself in danger, too. With so many people opposed to women in college, how will Concordia be able to find the unseemly culprit? VERDICT Concordia Wells will delight fans of Laurie R. King’s “Mary Russell” or Charles Todd’s “Bess Crawford” series, and similarly to those works, the book contains many subplots just as compelling as the primary mystery. A fun historical whodunit with a delightful background of the early days of women’s collegiate education.
Laurie Stevens, The Dark Before Dawn.
Gabriel McRay is no longer on the force, due to several acts of violence, but the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department presses him back into service after a serial killer starts attacking randomly on the California coast. Little is known about the killer except that he must be familiar with Detective McRay, based on the notes left for him on the mutilated bodies of the victims. But McRay needs to solve more than the mystery of the Malibu Canyon Murderer; he also needs to deal with the source of his own PTSD and mental instability, which seem increasingly intertwined with the murderer on the loose. With alternating chapters from the perspective of the psychopath teasing McRay, the tension and gore build steadily as McRay struggles to crack the case of a lifetime—and the secrets of his own life—before any more innocent people die. VERDICT A fast-paced serial killer story that will work for both thriller and mystery fans, especially Law & Order devotees. Though the characters are more archetypal than fleshed out, they’re well-placed for an increasingly intense narrative that builds to a satisfying conclusion.
Pamela Beason, The Only Witness: A Neema Mystery.
When an infant goes missing from her car seat in a grocery store parking lot, the main suspect is her teenage mother, and only one witness knows the truth. The problem is that that witness is a gorilla named Neema with the mental capacity of a five-year-old, and her keeper Grace is doing everything in her power to protect her from notoriety. Though Neema is capable of signing what she saw, there is a limit to what Detective Matthew Finn can do with that information, especially when it becomes clear that a politically powerful family is involved with the kidnapping. As Finn and Grace narrow down the list of suspects, they realize that Neema holds the keys to an even greater mystery, and that all of them are in great danger. VERDICT Neema’s character outshines the humans around her and elevates her presence in the story to be more than just a gimmick, bringing a unique viewpoint to the novel. A well-plotted mystery with surprises for animal lovers and amateur anthropologists.—Stephanie Anderson