LJ recently concluded its second annual Indie Ebook Awards. Committees of librarians—plus one of last year’s winners—volunteered their time to evaluate hundreds of submissions to determine the best ebooks self-publishing has to offer in fantasy, mystery, romance, sf, and YA. These books—and many others—can be found on SELF-e, a subscription-based digital discovery platform for self-published books that is a partnership between LJ and BiblioBoard. Congratulations to the 2016 winners!
Galley, Ben. Bloodrush. Bengalley.com. (Scarlet Star Trilogy, Bk. 1). 2014. 482p. ebk. ISBN N/A. FANTASY
Young Tonmerion Hark is faced with tragedy when his father, Prime Lord Hark, is found dead in his home in London. Even worse, his late father’s will forces him to sail across the Iron Ocean to America and start a new life in the last stop on the Serped Railroad: Fell Falls, WY. Merion reluctantly leaves his privileged city life and becomes immersed in the dust, dryness, and desperation of a frontier town with an aunt—who is also the local undertaker—he does not know. Accompanied by one friend, a faerie named Rhin, Merion tries to solve his father’s murder, but soon finds that the darkness surrounding it has followed him across the world. There is no way to escape the magick or secrets that are hidden in his blood. VERDICT A sweeping western fantasy that envelops the senses of the reader. This magical coming-of-age series opener mixes the Wild West with the supernatural in all the best ways, following multiple plot threads that intertwine superbly.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., South Deerfield
Bloch, Justin. The Stolen Karma of Nathaniel Valentine. CreateSpace: Amazon. (The Books of Balance, Bk. 1). 2012. 374p. ebk. ISBN N/A. FANTASY
Nathaniel Valentine has no family or friends and is of no importance. However, on his birthday, he receives the biggest gift possible: consequence. Almost killed by a spider-demon, Nathaniel is saved by Sol, a karma policeman who definitely does not appreciate having to defend and protect this human. Sol had been looking for Nathaniel for 25 years, searching for the Cipher to restore balance—if he can live long enough. As Nathaniel begins a journey beyond his world he encounters beings and places that were only myths, but woven into those myths are good and evil, and Nathaniel will find that both exist in the hands of those who hold his now-important life. VERDICT Threads of self-discovery and redemption are woven tightly into this tale. Bloch pulls from various religious hierarchies and beliefs, and both Nathaniel and Sol are individual, strong characters that readers will understand. The worldbuilding completely frames the story and solidifies the emotional narrative.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., South Deerfield
Doose, Dylan. Fire and Sword. Spawning Pools. (Sword & Sorcery, Bk. 1). 2015. 332p. ebk. ISBN N/A. FANTASY
Aldous Weaver is confined to a lonely life as a monk until an uncontrollable power in him erupts and burns his church leader. Kendrick the Cold’s past catches up to him, despite his efforts to escape it. The aristocrat Theron Ward is most famous in his own head, but taking the son of his favorite author under his wing brings his skills to life. Their country has ravaged their names and souls, but the land itself is in peril. With plagues and dark magic all around, a new evil is coming to take root. Brought together in prison, these men become allies and are met with an important decision: leave the land that has already forsaken them, or fight for it? VERDICT An epic tale enhanced by the internal conflicts of men searching for redemption. Readers will side with these antiheroes, even when they are faced with darker deeds and choices.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., South Deerfield
Argo, Ronald. Baby Love. HotDamn Univ. May 2016. 372p. ebk. ISBN N/A. MYSTERY
Former foster child Maggie Frazier wants to open a home to help other orphans. Just as she zeroes in on the perfect location, her life begins to unravel. One of her babies is missing, her dad is killed, and a border patrol agent comes calling for the money she stole from her boss. As Maggie tries to stay alive, keep her other babies safe, and grieve the loss of her father, she crosses paths with a reporter facing his own troubles. Ray Myers is fired from his job as crime reporter but can’t stop searching for a missing infant and for answers about why one veteran wasn’t allowed to bring his son home from Vietnam. His search for the truth takes him across the border to Mexico and forces him to face his own addiction. Ray and Maggie form an unlikely pair as people do the wrong things for the right reasons. As relationships form and fail, readers cannot help but feel invested. VERDICT Argo’s dramatic and gripping tale also manages to tug at your heartstrings.—Teva Hutchinson, Atlanta Univ. Center Robert W. Woodruff Lib.
Bates, Keeley. A Dead End. CreateSpace: Amazon. (Saints & Strangers Cozy Mystery, Bk. 1). Aug. 2016. 194p. ebk. ISBN N/A. MYSTERY
After standing up to a popular television producer, Kit Wilder’s days in Hollywood are over despite her frequent calls to her agent for another chance. Her mother has the solution: move home, pursue a college degree, and lead a quiet life. Kit follows the suggestion and soon finds herself back in Westdale, PA, home to the Pilgrim Society, descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower. Kit buys a fixer-upper and while doing renovations, stumbles on the body of her new home’s former owner. With nowhere else to go and her house the scene of a crime investigation, she’s left with no choice but to channel her former character, Detective Ellie Gold, and help solve the murder. VERDICT Bates excels at the familiar staples of a beloved cozy mystery, including nosy neighbors, a nagging mom, and a swoon-worthy love interest, while still keeping the story modern through the use of social media and common technology.—Teva Hutchinson, Atlanta Univ. Center Robert W. Woodruff Lib.
Kaplan, E.M. The Bride Wore Dead: A Josie Tucker Mystery. CreateSpace: Amazon. 2013. 320p. ebk. ISBN N/A. MYSTERY
When asked by her best friend to fill in as a bridesmaid for a woman she barely knows, Josie Tucker reluctantly agrees. It isn’t easy for her to find joy in the occasion, especially when she realizes that the groom-to-be recently hit on her. Worse still, the new bride dies on her honeymoon, and her mother begs for Josie’s help to prove that her daughter’s new husband was responsible. Coincidentally, Josie’s doctor recommends that she spend some time at a spa for her troublesome stomach—the same spa where the bride met her tragic end. As the calming environment and special diet begin to work their magic, Josie does a little sleuthing on the side. Unfortunately, there’s trouble afoot, and Josie is caught in the crosshairs. VERDICT While her tendency to place herself in danger will frustrate some mystery fans, Josie shines as a funny and sympathetic heroine whose amateur detective work is just as enjoyable as her complicated personal life.—Teva Hutchinson, Atlanta Univ. Center Robert W. Woodruff Lib.
Albert, Susan Wittig. Loving Eleanor. Persevero.
Feb. 2016. 305p. ebk. ISBN N/A. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
In 1962, an intimate memoir is penned in secret with instructions that it be sealed until ten years after the death of the writer—along with 3,000-plus letters she exchanged with Eleanor Roosevelt over four decades. Reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok is assigned to cover Eleanor during her husband’s presidential campaign in 1932. Hick struggles to stay out of the story as she falls in love with Eleanor and helps create the public persona of the new first lady. For two passionate years, their private relationship is affected by Eleanor’s high-profile duties, the need to avoid media exposure, and FDR’s jealousy. The escalation toward war is neatly foreshadowed, with a historical backdrop of well-known people and events behind the envy, longing, disappointment, and hope shared throughout the lifelong bond between these two admirable women. A historical afterword separates deeply researched facts from fictional assumptions. VERDICT Albert deftly writes in Hick’s compelling and opinionated voice and conveys an emotional vantage point that will resonate strongly with romance fans. The happy ending is not traditional. Rather it is found in Hick allowing herself to share her love story at all.—Lissa Staley, Topeka and Shawnee County P.L., KS
Frame, Mary. Imperfect Chemistry. CreateSpace: Amazon. (Imperfect, Bk. 1). 2014. 216p. ebk. ISBN 9781681018775. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Lucy London is a genius. She’s smart enough to earn a PhD in microbiology but doesn’t know the first thing about people—unfortunate, seeing as she’s facing an academic deadline regarding the study of emotions as pathogens. Desperate to learn more and with encouragement from her new friend Freya, Lucy decides she must observe feelings in romantic relationships firsthand. She propositions her campus neighbor, a reputed playboy, who she assumes will be an expert. Jensen Walker has good reason to be suspicious of any advances and initially resists Lucy’s awkwardness, even though her frank speaking and obvious naïveté intrigue him. Lucy isn’t expecting her own emotions to be affected as part of her research, but her attraction to Jensen is as undeniable as it is unexplainable according to the scientific principles that rule her life. VERDICT Lucy’s candid and clinical worldview is well drawn, and she is most believable when confused about how her emotions are affecting her judgement. Frame’s strong first-person narration makes this story a delight.—Lissa Staley, Topeka and Shawnee County P.L., KS
Herron, Rachael. The Darling Songbirds. Rachael Herron. (Songbirds of Darling Bay, Bk. 1). Feb. 2016. 350p. ebk. ISBN N/A. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Adele Darling hasn’t seen her sisters since the split of their country trio, the Darling Songbirds. As the responsible older sibling, she arrives in Darling Bay to liquidate their deceased uncle’s properties and split the proceeds. She finds the café vacant, the hotel uninhabited, and the Golden Spike bar still afloat only because of its sexy bartender/handyman. Nate Houston is initially flirtatious and helpful—at least until Adele decides to stay in town and not sell the bar to him. Resisting their fiery attraction, Adele struggles with running and repairing the business alone, while Nate pursues a new direction away from the place that has been his focus for so long. Neither wants to admit that their previous failures, guilt, and grief threaten to ruin everything, including their chance to find happiness together. VERDICT Herron stocks the jukebox with music and invites an intimate crowd to the bar in this contemporary romance. She builds a charming world around the characters of Darling Bay, and readers will be captivated by this small town and its inhabitants.—Lissa Staley, Topeka and Shawnee Cty. P.L., KS
Hubbert, Trenlin. Shaman Machine the Mentor. Trenlin Hubbert. Jul. 2016. ebk. ISBN N/A. SF
Chance-bot is a personal assistant humanoid rescued from recycling—a fate to which he was instructed to succumb willingly—by artist Ziggy, who does not want to conform to a society where robots cater to the needs of humans. Through a turn of fate, Chance-bot has the opportunity to leave Earth and participate in the creation of an undersea city where man and nature can coexist in peace. The idea of no longer being a slave to humanity leads Chance-bot, who has only ever known blind obedience, on a journey of self-discovery and curiosity. He may not be a human, but is he more than just a subservient machine? VERDICT Hubbert offers contemplative characters, a weighty plot, and a brilliant narrative that is rich with thought-provoking questions. Chance-bot feels as real and complex as any human protagonist, and readers will champion his profound transformation over the course of the story.—Marie M. Octobre, Coll. of New Rochelle, Brooklyn
McConnell, Ken. Devon’s Blade. GB Pr. 2015. 129p. ebk. ISBN N/A. SF
Commander Devon Ardel is sent to take charge of a run-down air base on the alien planet Kew, known for being extremely hot and surrounded by water. To most it would be a punishment, but for Devon it is a challenge to reinvigorate the starfighters there who have lost their fighting zeal—and Devon is always happy to take on a challenge. Her first order of business is to retrain her pilots to overcome the Red Ace, an elusive enemy with superior aircraft that has inspired fear in the hearts of many. On Devon’s side is a cast of fascinating female characters sadly not often represented in the genre. Well-rounded and flawed, they are a welcome addition in this battle-filled story. VERDICT McConnell has packed in a ton of exciting action, and sf enthusiasts and fans of war fiction will love the classic, well-plotted aerial combat scenes.—Marie M. Octobre, Coll. of New Rochelle, Brooklyn
Moorer, Sherri Fulmer. Progenitor. Sherri Fulmer Moorer. (Earthside Trilogy, Bk. 1). Apr. 2016. 192p. ebk. ISBN N/A. SF
Kalea Kerner lives in a future where nanotechnology is used to cure most diseases. That advance in medicine has come too late for her uncle, and Kalea can only sit vigil at his side with her broken leg as she helplessly waits for him to pass away. It then comes as a shock when he rises from his deathbed and heals her injury by touching it—no nanotechnology required. This mysterious power spins out, inexplicably curing other terminally ill patients and giving their visiting loved ones supernatural abilities. These strange happenings bring together minds that had firmly believed that nothing could best science. Are there such things as miracles or is there something else at work? Moorer plays intriguingly with technology, other beings, and the capabilities of humanity in this thrilling novel. VERDICT The story’s quick pace and engaging twists will keep readers racing to get to the end and eagerly awaiting the next in the series.—Marie M. Octobre, Coll. of New Rochelle, Brooklyn
White, April. Marking Time. Corazon. (Immortal Descendants, Bk. 1). 2012. 438p. ebk. ISBN N/A. FANTASY
Gr 9+ Teenager Saira Elian has had to fend for herself for most of her life. Her mother slips away for a week at a time every couple of years with no indication of where she’s going or why. When she fails to return after one of her disappearances, Saira little to go on. As Saira investigates, she finds ominous and threatening men are after her, insistent that she is a “clocker.” Now on the run and in trouble with the law, she’s taken in by her grandmother and learns the truth behind her family history—she is part of the time-traveling Immortal Descendants, and her mother is trapped in Victorian England. Saira jumps back to the past to save her, only to discover that her mother is at the mercy of the murderous Jack the Ripper. VERDICT With a solid premise and a fully fleshed-out lead, this fast-paced fantasy thriller will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The exciting twists and turns and slow-burn romance will appeal to many.—Sandra Farag, BookOps, New York
Anske, Ksenia. Rosehead. Ksenia Anske. 2014. 318p. ebk. ISBN N/A. FANTASY
Gr 7+ Anske wholly captures the mind of Lilith Bloom, a precocious and misunderstood 12-year-old girl who tends to see and feel things others cannot—a trait that convinces her parents to keep her constantly medicated. The family is off to her grandfather’s Berlin mansion, much to Lilith’s dismay. Fortunately, she has her loyal talking pet whippet, Panther, to help her pass the time. Things in Berlin are as dull as they can be—until Lilith notices that the house moves and the grounds’ famous rose bushes are seemingly alive. With the help of Panther and Ed, the mute boy next door, Lilith must unravel the estate’s secrets before it consumes her entire family. While this is primarily a story of fantasy, Anske also seamlessly weaves in common themes like friendship, bullying, and parental disappointment. VERDICT Full of wonder and magic, this quirky dark tale feels like a Tim Burton film.—Sandra Farag, BookOps, New York
Archer, Katrina. Untalented. Ganache. 2014. 288p. ebk. ISBN N/A. FANTASY
Gr 9+ The Kingdom of Veyle is divided between the Talented, respected members of society, and the ostracized Untalented. Their destinies are determined by the Guilds and the Order of the Adepts. Saroya, an orphan, did everything right. She studied hard and tirelessly practiced her skills to pass the test, be found Talented, and secure her future. Then the unthinkable happens—she is deemed Untalented, crumbling her whole world. Serendipitously, when a royal decree states that all members of the orphanage who are of age are to leave for the kingdom, Saroya sees an opportunity to change her fate. What she finds is a dangerous game of political intrigue, secrets, and lies, with her stuck in the middle. VERDICT Archer has created a vividly detailed realm utilizing the old theme of the haves vs. the have-nots. Saroya, steadfast, independent, and imperfect, is a heroine young readers will want to root for.—Sandra Farag, BookOps, New York