At this time of year, statistics abound. Many of those relating to the publishing industry have been queried and debated, but one thing is certain – the number of self-published (or indie) books is growing. Whether you see that phenomenon as the citadel stormed by the great unwashed, or an opportunity for more readers to find good books, the problem remains – how to find the best ones?
Bloggers offer opinions, indie assessors offer stamps of approval, newspapers ask readers’ opinions such as Guardian Readers Recommend, but mostly a book succeeds in finding readers via word-of-mouth.
I’ve read a lot of indie authors this year. They weren’t all good. Several ended up being hurled at the wall (not advisable if reading on Kindle). Many were excellent and deserve a wider readership. So here you go – I’m ending 2013 with 13 of the best indie books I’ve read this year in alphabetical order of author names. Sharing the goodies.
Let me know if you have any recommendations of your own.
Seeking Sophia by Ariadne Apostolou
Surprising and unpredictable, this story of a woman’s journey to find her roots.
The author takes us on a geographical journey to New York, Geneva, and Greece, but the emotional parallel is far less predictable. This book, despite its polish and sophistication, feels raw – in a good way. Emotions are on the table with the olives, tomatoes and a jug of rough wine.
Feral Youth, by Polly Courtney
Few books I’ve read can carry such weighty themes with such a unique voice and distinctive accent. Courtney attacks the enormous social issues of contemporary Britain by giving the voiceless a voice. A real voice. This is a different slant on Britain’s 2011 ‘BlackBerry Riots’, looking at the causes, lacerating the media and using the most beautiful tool of all. Language. This book made me cry, grit my teeth in frustration and realise that up till now, I only had one side of the story.
Secrets of the Italian Gardener by Andrew Crofts
Difficult to define and delightfully unexpected, this novella has many levels. A contemporary adventure and literary experience, which makes the reader both introspective and on the edge of your seat. The eponymous gardener is rather more than he seems, sharing observations and philosophies on the personal and political. Robert Harris meets Paulo Coelho in a thoughtful, intelligent story.
I Stopped Time by Jane Davis
A wonderful story of a son re-evaluating everything he thought he knew about his mother. Two lives: Lottie Pye, growing up in Edwardian Brighton, and her son, James, who faces a lonely old age. Until he takes delivery of his mother’s legacy – her photographs – and with the help of young Jenny, begins to make a new picture from the jigsaw of images. A book you resent having to put down.
The Chase by Lorna Fergusson
The history of a house and the uncertain future of marriage are portrayed in this skilfully woven story. Annette (Netty) and Gerald are making a new start in the Dordogne, trying to look ahead and forget the past. Le Sanglier, their new home, also has a colourful past. From primitive civilisation, through mediaeval hunts to occupations from foreign powers, its history is both bloody and dramatic. Ideal atmospheric holiday read.
Scratch by Danny Gillan
Outshines David Nicholls, Tony Parsons and John O’Farrell because Scratch is honest-funny, not synthetic-funny. This is funny, sharply observed comedy with a wry contemporary and Glaswegian slant on age-old problems. Yes, it’s laugh-aloud, but the bits that made me cry and nod came from the most unexpected quarter, and meant all the more for it. Gillan’s writing – quite literally – makes us grow up.
House of Silence by Linda Gillard
It’s a tricky book to describe. It has mystery, romance, skeletons in the closet, a decrepit family manor house and a fair few emotional truths. I read it in one weekend, completely absorbed by the world the author creates. House of Silence reminded me of several other well-loved books, such as Cold Comfort Farm, The Pursuit of Love, Janice Gentle Gets Sexy and The Little Stranger.
The Englishman by Helena Halme
Fictionalised memoirs give an insight into displacement, long-distance love, dysfunctional families, cultural differences between neighbouring countries, and the emotional journey of readjustment. The light tones of romance and adventure are deceptive. Halme tackles awkward issues such as family problems, practical bureaucracy and the reality of prejudice.
The Company of Fellows by Dan Holloway
A psychological murder mystery set among the spires of Oxford, it bristles with intelligence, refined tastes and real skill. It’s also very disturbing, in a Hannibal Lecter way. Characters, plot and setting are carefully detailed in such a way to make the reader constantly change perspective. A book I still think about and will undoubtedly re-read.
The 7th Day by Nika Lubitsch
The only translated book on the list. A German-set crime novel with an unusual and absorbing structure. Sybille is on trial for her husband’s murder. While on trial, flashbacks tell the story of their life together and she pieces together what really happened. The ending is atmospheric and exciting, not to mention brilliantly executed. Unsurprisingly, a Kindle bestseller.
My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris
An unusual blend of the esoteric and the practical, the book follows a pianist diagnosed with RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury). Her curious condition and an accidental encounter peel back various layers of memory, truth and trust, revealing rather more than she expects. Both reader and narrator are left with more questions than answers, but plenty to think about.
Charlotte Aimes and The Great Alpine Adventure by Libby O
Exactly the kind of book I’d have loved as a kid, and nothing has changed. Fast-paced adventures in the Alps, with a smart-mouthed heroine, a terrific sidekick, a romantic interest, wicked evildoers and a plethora of background information discoverable via various media. Although labelled YA, this is a funny, sassy, cracking yarn for all ages.
The Imagination Thief by Rohan Quine
Another difficult to classify book, but that’s precisely why it works so well. Part literary fiction, part fantasy, it is a surreal experience which makes the most of its equally offbeat location. With a cast of unforgettable characters and a central premise both intriguing and epic, this is what indie fiction does so very well – breaks boundaries and takes risks. In this case, it pays off.