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Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Jan 19

The 61 Greatest Indie Books of All Time

The 61 Greatest Indie Books of All Time

Indie books are books that have been self-published, or published by smaller presses. Think of them as the small business of the book economy: they can produce amazing titles but often struggle to get the recognition they deserve. 

As a launchpad for some of today's best indie authors, Reedsy Discovery is delighted to reveal their list of top independent books from over the years.

Want the inside scoop on the hottest indie titles every week? Create a free account on Reedsy Discovery and vote on the independent superstar authors of the future!

Literary Fiction Indie Books

Like a Bird

1. Like a Bird by Fariha Róisín

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Having been in the making for eighteen years, Like a Bird bravely and beautifully tells the story of Taylia Chatterjee, a teenager from the Upper West Side who suffers a violent sexual assault and is subsequently disowned by her old-fashioned and overbearing parents. Forced to make her own way in New York City, she builds a chosen family that ultimately gives her the space to recover.

Róisín’s own brush with traumatic sexual assault has driven her writing since she was twelve years old. Now, with years of activism on her resumé, she’s given the world a story about what happens after trauma, and the healing power of community.

The Disaster Tourist

2. The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-eun

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Yona has been working for Jungle — a company specializing in tours to disaster zones — for a decade, but is only now going on her first trip with a free ticket given to her as "compensation" for the sexual harassment of a senior colleague. The situation only worsens when Yona realizes that this destination, a desert island by the name of Mui, is planning to fabricate destruction in the hopes of renewing its partnership with Jungle.

The Disaster Tourist is a bold and witty rumination on the exploitations inherent in capitalist systems. From Jungle’s abuse of its workers to the devastation of rural communities that it inspires and benefits from, Yun Ko-Eun captures the terror of irresponsible, cold-hearted corporations in this striking novel about climate issues.

You Exist Too Much: A Novel

3. You Exist Too Much: A Novel by Zaina Arafat

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Otherness rests in layers in the unnamed narrator of Zaina Arafat’s debut, who is a queer Palestinian American woman with an eating disorder, mental illness, and an overbearing homophobic mother. Her friends called her “the terrorist” growing up, which she only noted as a repetitive microaggression as an adult. She’s diagnosed with a love addiction, which manifests itself in her longing for love from strangers, especially women she can’t have. 

Told in vignettes that span time and space (from childhood to adulthood, New York to Palestine), You Exist Too Much is a series of continual longings for a new something that will finally go right. It’s a dynamic and moving story of growing up and finding yourself in conflict with your family’s religion, struggling with codependency and rejection in society, but still holding onto your hope and humanity on a never-ending search for contentment.

Scorpionfish

4. Scorpionfish by Natalie Bakopoulos

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The unexpected deaths of her parents brings Mira back to her childhood home in Athens, Greece, where she meets her new neighbor, a recently-landed sea captain. As the two characters get to know one another, we the readers get to see their lives, loves, and pasts unravel from each of their perspectives.

With stripped-down prose and beautiful details beyond white-sand beaches and holiday destinations, Scorpionfish makes for one of our favorite indie books, showing us Greece for what it is: a country with a history larger than life, but which is now suffering from a continual economic crash and a rising refugee crisis. As her characters move through the city, Bakopoulos gives us a tour through the Greece she knows without straying from the heart of the story: finding what we’re looking for in what we’ve left behind.

What Happens at Night

5. What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron

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A couple’s trip to Europe to adopt a baby turns awry as the cancer-ridden wife weakens by the traveling, and the husband worries about whether the orphanage would give them the baby given this. But, as they check in at their hotel, the baby slowly becomes the least of their worries. The couple begins to question themselves and their own relationship as they encounter a pathologically lying lounge singer who tries to convince them that the adoption is not what the couple needs.

Through a dream-like, ghostly trip through Eastern Europe, What Happens at Night explores the relationship between love and terminal illness, and how something like cancer can affect what it means to have a marriage or a family.

Unsettled Ground

6. Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

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Dot is the mother of fifty-one-year-old twins Jeanie and Julius. They’ve always lived together in rural England, sharing a cottage and growing all they need to survive in their garden. So when Dot dies unexpectedly, Jeanie and Julius’s lives are turned upside down. As the landlord takes the property back and the twins struggle to find work and a new place to live, they juggle the idea of independence from one another for the first time in fifty-one years. On top of it all, secrets about their mother’s life start to surface, changing everything they’ve ever known.

In Unsettled Ground, Fuller challenges the idea of rural poverty. What looks like poverty to an outsider is home to Jeanie and Julius. And while the people around them continue to outcast Jeanie and Julius, Fuller invites readers into their lives with beautifully descriptive language and vivid character-building.

Cassandra at the Wedding (New York Review Books Classics)

7. Cassandra at the Wedding (New York Review Books Classics) by Dorothy Baker

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Cassandra and Judith have been inseparable since birth — or even earlier, seeing as they’re identical twins. As adults, they live on opposite sides of the United States, Judith in New York, and Cassandra in Berkeley, California. Both are wildly intelligent women who know they can have anything they want; Cassandra is getting her master’s degree while Judith is bringing her fiancé, a doctor from Connecticut, home to California for their wedding. Everything seems to have fallen into place for these women, and yet Cassandra is determined to ruin Judith’s wedding.

Cassandra at the Wedding, one of the older indie books on this list, follows the title character, a gay, miserable, highly intelligent, self-aware woman who sees her sister as a kind of alter ego living a life she could easily have lived. But as it turns out, Cassandra isn’t marrying the doctor. As noted in the afterword by Deborah Eisenberg, Cassandra at the Wedding turns the notion of finding our other halves on its head.

The Sick Box

8. The Sick Box by Matthew Fries

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What’s a sick box, you might be wondering? Simply put, it’s a collection of items given to the dying to comfort them and deliver their last rites. But, well, matters get a bit complicated when Karen’s sick box ends up with the Matthews’ family — fulfilling an ancient prophecy and giving Karen a chance to start over by possessing the Matthews’ youngest daughter, Mallory. Meanwhile, Ben and Dana Matthews are over there wondering why their daughter is acting so… weird all of a sudden. 

Witty, irreverent, and ingeniously plotted, Matthew Fries’ laugh-out-loud-funny debut novel is a must-read for anyone who loves a black comedy along the lines of Good Omens. Even when everything in the novel is up in the air, one thing’s for certain: you’re sure as Hell itself to get a rollicking ride out of it.

⭐ Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Michelle Hogmire

Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World

9. Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World by Lucy Ives

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It’s 2003 and Troy Augustus Loudermilk is about to start his residency at The Seminars, America’s most prestigious creative writing program. He was accepted to the program for his stand-out poetry, but the thing is, Loudermilk has never written a poem in his life. (He is, however, good-looking.) His friend Harry, on the other hand, is a brilliant poet without the brawns Loudermilk has. With the combination of Harry’s eloquence and Loudermilk’s looks, the pair believes that they can rule the poetry field: Harry will get published, and Loudermilk will get the women.

Read Loudermilk to see the students at The Seminars track their submissions to literary journals on wall charts, protest over symbolic pigeons, and compete in a poetry competition. Lucy Ives’s wit makes this book a contemporary satire on writing programs and the competition they foster between writers across all kinds of backgrounds. This is one of those must-read indie books for anyone who has taken, or wants to take, a creative writing class.

Permafrost

10. Permafrost by Eva Baltasar

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In hallmark literary fiction style, Permafrost features an unnamed narrator who is living a very different life than those of the other women in her family. Rather than marrying a good man, having children, and living out her days in domestic paradise, our narrator spends her time traveling and exploring all that life has to offer. She’s also a lesbian; her sexuality is an anomaly that her aunts and sisters like to discuss. 

Permafrost portrays these family dynamics from a queer point of view, challenging usual roles and expectations but also exploring the depressing — and even suicidal — qualities of such confines on our lives. In shimmering, lyrical prose that is no doubt an offspring of Eva Baltasar’s background in poetry, Permafrost offers a different perspective on being and sympathizing.

Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series)

11. Life in the Chastity Zone (Chastity Series) by Holly Brandon

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We’ve got wedding bells, a psychic, an affair, and a doctor in engineering. Dr. Chastity “Chase” Morgan is ready for marriage and kids. She dreams of the perfect American family and white picket fence. She’s even saving herself for marriage so nothing can derail her plans. But when her fiancé leaves her suddenly for another woman, and a psychic tells her she’s better off diving into the dating world anyway, Chase has to decide what’s important to her, and what’s realistic.

⭐ Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Sigy George

Open Water

12. Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

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A photographer and a dancer walk into a bar in London, and, well, fall in love. But it’s not quite that simple. Both are Black British, and that means they live in constant anxiety and vigilance in a society that never quite settles on whether it embraces or rejects them. How do you fall in love when all your energy goes into surviving?

Open Water is a Black love story that showcases the multiple facets of people who are seen in stereotypes. When Black people are revered for being strong, masculine, and stoic, Open Water gives us vulnerability and love. Caleb Azumah Nelson makes his fictional debut by putting to words the terrors and frustrations, as well as the joys and power of being Black and creating art in our current climate.

A Kind of Freedom

13. A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton

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Follow three generations of a family in this short but richly layered saga. We begin with Evelyn, daughter in a well-off family of Creole descent, living in post-World War II New Orleans. She falls in love with a poor Black man who hopes to study medicine and gives birth to her daughter Jackie. In the 80s, Jackie goes on to have her own family with a man struggling with addiction. Jumping to the year 2010, as New Orleans is ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, we see Jackie’s son, TC, at a turning point in his life. Though each generation has its own complex circumstances and obstacles to overcome, the harsh realities of systemic racism cast a long shadow over their lives.

Sexton’s care for her characters and their voices makes for an exquisite and nuanced multigenerational narrative arc about the endurance of a Black family in the South. A Kind of Freedom offers a look at what it means to navigate choppy waters while also carrying the hurt and hopes of your family with you."

You Can See More From Up Here

14. You Can See More From Up Here by Mark Guerin

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Walker Maguire is in the middle of his life by the time he is summoned back to his hometown to see his dying father. Standing by his deathbed, Walker can’t help but be tugged back to 1974 and that fateful summer at the auto factory when he was the only witness to an explosive fight — and the aftermath of it that held lifelong ramifications for racial tensions at the factory, Walker’s understanding of his own privilege, and an irrevocable rift between father and son. 

Sharply observed and rich with emotion, You Can See More From Up Here is a wrenching portrayal of the chasm between the secrets we keep and the lies we tell. Most of all, it asks what happens when the past comes alive — and how it haunts us in the present.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Kristiana Reed

Only the Strong

15. Only the Strong by Jabari Asim

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We’re in the 1970s, Martin Luther King Jr. has just been assassinated, and things are starting to change in America. Through the eyes of Lorenzo “Guts” Tolliver living in the fictional Midwestern city of Gateway City, we get a front-row seat to the unraveling of these changes. As Lorenzo quits his job as a professional leg-breaker and adopts the words of Reverend King, he also encourages others in his circle to change their lifestyle. 

Featuring a lively and diverse cast of characters, Only the Strong expertly showcases what it’s like for a community to slowly rise to a rolling boil and demand change. With its compelling portrait of Black life in urban America, this acclaimed novel has taken on an added layer of poignancy in the light of recent historical events surrounding police brutality.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine

16. The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky

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When Rosa’s seventeen-year-old daughter Sulfia is pregnant, she tries every home remedy under the sun to end the pregnancy. But when it all fails and the baby is born, Rosa falls head over heels for her. So in love is she with her granddaughter that Rosa would do anything —  lie, manipulate, and even attempt suicide — just to stop Sulfia and her daughter from moving away.

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine might be one of the more shocking indie books on this list, featuring an unlikeable anti-hero protagonist, and we’re here for it. This family drama is a wild ride of absurdity overcasting a real sense of tragedy. Underneath Rosa’s overbearing obnoxiousness, we learn, is a survivor of tragedy and trauma. However misguided she may be, at the end of the day, she’s only trying to keep the same misfortune away from her own daughter and granddaughter.

Florence in Ecstasy

17. Florence in Ecstasy by Jessie Chaffee

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In leaving Boston for Florence after a bout of starvation that has left her physically and mentally exhausted, Hannah hoped to discover the arts and culture of this exciting, romantic city. What she didn’t expect to find is a hub of high fashion that reveres starvation as a means to uphold strict beauty standards and achieve sainthood. As it turns out, the city is haunted by the story of Saint Catherine, a woman who starved herself to death in a quest to find ecstasy under what she swore was God’s direction. 

Combining mesmerizing, layered images of Italy with the challenges of living with a disorder that society sadly reinforces, Florence in Ecstasy is both an exploration of culture and a sharp, lyrical discussion of womanhood, alongside its pressures and struggles. If you’re looking for Eat, Pray, Love with a fictional twist, look no further.

What Pretty Gets You: A Novel by Chandra Hoffman

18. What Pretty Gets You: A Novel by Chandra Hoffman by Chandra Hoffman

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Two women’s lives intertwine in this electrifying debut novel when 19-year-old Maia follows a handsome stranger on a whim to Boulder, Colorado to become the helper to the bed-ridden woman whose husband she’s having an affair with. That the two women form an unlikely but deep friendship is a surprise to both of them — but whether they can survive the explosive lie at the heart of their relationship is another question altogether. 

Chandra Hoffman flips the tired affair plot on its head by focusing on the relationship between the two women at the heart of the love triangle. This is a raw and masterfully written book about the bonds of family, female friendship, and the extent to where prettiness can get you.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Sacha T. Y. Fortuné

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead

19. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns

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A flood runs through a small English village, and as ducks swim through drawing windows and gardens are drowned, people are also going insane. First the miller drowns himself, while the butcher slits his own throat. Even the animals are falling victim to these self-inflicted deaths. What’s happening in this community? Well, no one quite knows for sure. 

Barbara Comyns takes this horror story of a massive tragedy and tells it in dark but poetic prose. Her storytelling comes in rushes and ebbs just like the river that terrorizes the story’s central village. In a somber but magnetic fashion, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead is one of the more bizarre and thoughtful indie books we’ve read recently, showing a world that is at once comforting and dangerous, beautiful and disgusting.

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A Spare Life

20. A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska

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It’s 1984 in Yugoslavia. Zlata and Srebra are twelve years old, and there’s nothing too incredibly distinctive about them. Oh, except that they’re conjoined twins, attached at the head. While their country is divided, the twins are literally stuck together. This, of course, comes with a lot of staring, ostracising, and fighting for independence. The twins experience love affairs as well as personal and public tragedy in the years before they travel to London for a separation surgery, all of which is told through this very vivid novel.

Lidija Dimkovska is a master poet, and it shows in A Spare Life. Juxtaposing the fragmenting Yugoslavia with the immutable attachment of the twins, she offers a poignant observation of the unsettling social changes at the end of the Cold War, as well as the rough changes of growing up. Far from gimmicky and sensationalist despite starring such a head-turning set of protagonists, A Spare Life is ultimately a truthful, moving story about love and identity.

Guapa: A Novel

21. Guapa: A Novel by Saleem Haddad

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In an unnamed Arab country that is staunch in its views of gender, Rasa and his non-binary friends are on a search for contentment. One night, while Rasa's grandmother catches him in bed with his boyfriend, his friend Maj is being arrested, supposedly because of his activism. 

Guapa follows Rasa in the next 24 hours of his life where he travels through the city with his thoughts, at once worried about his grandmother's judgment and reeling from the thought of losing his friend. The further he goes and the more people he meets, the more he comes to terms with his identity and the burdens that it comes with. This story of love, acceptance, and survival in a city that hates you is an exceptional debut from Haddad.

Hearts We Leave Behind: a novel

22. Hearts We Leave Behind: A Novel by Myriana Merkovic

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Sisters Stella, Daisy, and Willow grew up in rural Appalachia without much extra to go around. But now, as adults, they’ve all taken different paths. Stella might be lonely, but she’s wealthy and has all the things she’s ever dreamed of having. Daisy may never have left home, but she’s happy talking to plants in her emerald forest. And Willow makes her living as a psychiatrist, something she’s practically been doing since she was ten. So when Stella has a heart transplant, she’s surprised that she wants to do something she hasn’t done in eighteen years: go home.

This tale of sisters shows us how family is always there, even after eighteen years apart, and material possessions aren’t necessarily what makes someone successful.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Megha Chakraborty

Almost Crimson

23. Almost Crimson by Dasha Kelly

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Growing up with an absent father, Crimson, who goes by CeCe, is very young when she has to start coping with her mother’s depression. It seems her mother is always in bed, always crying. CeCe calls it the Sad. Now, as a young woman, CeCe is the sole caregiver to her mother — an identity that she has grown into and struggles to see beyond. Not that she has a choice in going beyond; what would happen to her mother if she left?

Told through present-day scenes and flashbacks, Almost Crimson is a story of becoming. The novel follows CeCe as she becomes a woman, independent and compassionate for not only others, but for herself. Almost Crimson not only explores how we are shaped by our parents, but how our parents are shaped by us.

Coyote Songs

24. Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias

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The people of the American Southwest are fed up, and they are looking to old gods and ghosts to lead them and save the soul of the region. From colonizer blood rituals to smuggling children across the border with the help of the Virgin Mary, a vengeful spirit roams the pages of these connected stories.

Coyote Songs is one of those indie books with a strong story of family, revenge, and, even though at times it may not seem like it, hope. What does it take to return a nation to glory? And what happens if that mission fails?

Dogs with Bagels

25. Dogs with Bagels by Maria Elena Sandovici

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Liliana is a hard-working New Yorker who never believes she is doing enough. She wants a luxurious life in the city — but she can’t even afford her apartment’s rent, living on bagels and coffee. Meanwhile, her mother is unexpectedly reunited with her estranged husband, who re-enters the picture offering equally unexpected generosity. Liliana and her mother are both forced to accept help after years of denying it, while coming face-to-face with past mistakes and bad judgement calls. 

Dogs with Bagels is a tale of a mother and daughter living out an American dream that turns more nightmarish. Along the way, we get to explore female friendships, what it takes to survive in one of the most expensive cities, and what to do when an ex shows up out of nowhere.

Holy Island: A DCI Ryan Mystery (The DCI Ryan Mysteries Book 1)

26. Holy Island: A DCI Ryan Mystery (The DCI Ryan Mysteries Book 1) by LJ Ross

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It’s a few days before Christmas, and Detective Ryan has settled into his new routine on Holy Island, where he's retreated from the mainland of England while on a forced sabbatical. But when a young woman turns up dead on the island, Detective Ryan has no choice but to conduct the investigation. 

Working alongside Dr. Anna Taylor who grew up on the island, they must find the murderer hiding in plain sight among the few citizens of Holy Island. This classic self-published whodunit is lightly salted with romance and humor to keep you moving through the fast-paced action.

Indie Speculative Fiction

Trafik

27. Trafik by Rikki Ducornet

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In a post-Earth universe, Quiver — a descendant of modern humans gestated in a carbon envelope on the Moon — and her robot companion Mic are asteroid miners. But when an argument between them leads to the destruction of their cargo, the pair goes rogue, heading for the fabled, idyllic planet Trafik.

Throughout their adventures, the pair spend a lot of time reminiscing about a life they never had — a life on Earth, patched together with whatever records they could find of Quiver’s home planet. They think about what it would have been like to look up at the stars, sit in a boat in the middle of the ocean, wander the city streets under the lights, or even wade through rubble after a war. The lighthearted prose of this post-apocalyptic sci-fi is a masterclass in absurdity, which makes it one of our favorite indie books.

This Savage Sea

28. This Savage Sea by A P Walston

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If Markus had known possession of the Pirate King's map would be this much trouble, he would have told Anna to burn it all those years ago. Now he’s being detained by marshals, and Anna has to save her brother. She brings along some help, but what Anna and Markus don’t know is that this new companion is after what they have, waiting for the right moment to strike.

In this action-packed story of revenge, righting wrongs, and family ties, no one knows who they can trust, or what’s waiting for them around the bend.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Becca Mionis

Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was

29. Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was by Angélica Gorodischer

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Kalpa Imperial features a fictional empire that has risen and fallen quite a lot of times. The expansive storytelling is what makes this book an instant favorite among readers. We’re given the past, present, and future of this empire through present scenes, oral history, and political rivalries. Over a large time span, the novel takes you through the peaks and troughs of this empire, where political systems are overturned, and what was once known as historical fact has turned into myth.

With Ursula K. Le Guin translating for the Argentine author, Angélica Gorodischer, it’s not hard to see why this exquisitely built world can immediately pull readers in.

Earthly Bodies

30. Earthly Bodies by Susan Earlam

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In the far future, Earth is devastated and a small crew is sent into space to find a better home. Aboard the ship with them are the MAGIE (Mindful, Able, Genderless, Inter-operable Entities) and an uninvited visitor who’s silently come with. And on top of it all, passengers seem to start getting very sick out of nowhere. 

A keen social commentary reminiscent of John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, Earthly Bodies skillfully balances science fiction against eco-horror. In Earthly Bodies, artificial intelligence isn’t the menace to the survival of humankind — nature is.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Michelle Hogmire

The Man Who Spoke Snakish

31. The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk

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Leemet is a young boy who is given the task of saving tradition in a modernizing world. Hailing from a hunter-gatherer village inspired by medieval Estonia, Leemet is the last speaker of Snakish, a language that allows you to communicate with all animals. His people are being threatened by outsiders who are settling —  with ships, new religions, and crops — in the forest of their home. Leemet has to deal with this reality while also finding a place in it for his own traditions.

Kivirähk is known as a satirical journalist, and this outlook translates into his prose. Through absurd, violent acts (including genocides and mass castrations), The Man Who Spoke Snakish presents a biting piece of anti-colonialist satire that will keep you on your toes.

The Eaters (The Eaters Trilogy)

32. The Eaters (The Eaters Trilogy) by Teddy Hitaffer

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Grayson’s home city is completely enclosed by a massive steel cage. Ever since he was a kid, Grayson has wanted to find a way to escape, and there are rumors of one trench where the water might just run outside of the cage. But there’s a catch: there are man-eating monsters guarding the trench, ready to eat anyone alive who dares to enter it.

While the action and tension of Grayson’s quest will be more than enough to keep you reading, you’ll also get to experience subplots full of romance and mystery. What more could you ask of one of our favorite sci-fi indie books?

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Ish

Strange Beasts of China

33. Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge

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An amateur cryptozoologist — someone who studies legendary, unknown, or extinct animals — is called on to study the strange beasts that wander her fictional Chinese city. These beasts, however, live among humans, and sometimes are hardly distinguishable. As our cryptozoologist keeps a keen eye out for anomalies as subtle as the shape of an earlobe and continues her documentation of these beats, she realizes there’s a bigger mystery unraveling before her.

A mystery novel about creatures that imitate humans, Strange Beasts of China is as much about discovering the truth as it is about examining what it really means to be human.

The Witchfinder (The Deiparian Saga Book 1)

34. The Witchfinder (The Deiparian Saga Book 1) by J. Todd Kingrea

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Thorne is quickly rising the ranks of the Church of the Deiparous, hunting those who threaten the Church’s teachings and disposing of them however necessary. He’s got a perfect record, letting no one escape his grips — that is, until someone does. When his latest victim flees him, Thorne is set on a mission where he’ll face demons and a coven of witches out for his blood. But the most terrifying discovery he makes is that of the Church’s dark past.

Now, Thorne must decide if what he’s always believed in is right, or if this newfound information is worth abandoning everything he’s worked toward.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Charlotte Zang

Historical Fiction

Grace

35. Grace by Natashia Deón

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Naomi is a fifteen-year-old runaway slave who used to live on an Alabama plantation. Now, she’s seeking refuge at a brothel in Georgia, where she meets Jeremy, a smooth-talking white man. They fall in love, and Naomi gives birth to Josey, a baby girl with blonde hair and light skin. But Josey never gets to meet her mother — Naomi has been murdered at Josey’s birth.

Grace is told through Naomi’s narration, even after her passing, as she’s unable to leave Josey’s side. The lives of mother and daughter, as well as those of the women they encounter, make for an immersive story about love, freedom, and motherhood during one of America’s most malignant periods.

The Only Living Lady Parachutist

36. The Only Living Lady Parachutist by Catherine Clarke

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The job is simple: first, you rise into the sky in a hot air balloon. Then you plummet back to Earth in a parachute, where fame and fortune await you — if you’re lucky enough to survive the crash. That is the life that daredevil Lilian leads with her sister, tugged ever deeper into the world of professional balloonists that The Only Living Lady Parachutist unveils with unerring accuracy and heartfelt compassion. Shortlisted for the Lilian Ida Smith Award, The Only Living Lady Parachutist tells the as-of-yet-untold story of the female aeronauts in the 19th century who always flew under the radar.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Susie Helme

The Book of Harlan

37. The Book of Harlan by Bernice L. McFadden

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Harlan is a Harlem musician, and he and his best friend, Lizard, are asked to play in a cabaret in the Parisian enclave of Montmartre often referred to as the Harlem of Paris by Black musicians. It seems too good to be true, so of course they jump at the opportunity to travel overseas. What they weren’t expecting was for Montmartre to come under Nazi control; in a twist of fate, Harlan and Lizard end up in a concentration camp.

McFadden has clearly done her homework, as writing about Black men imprisoned during the Holocaust is not a topic you can tread through blindly. The Book of Harlan is fiction infused with accounts of McFadden’s own ancestral history, and she’s taken care to show the culture of localized communities and contemporary events of the world as accurately as possible, which makes it one of the most compelling indie books we’ve read.

The Gilda Stories

38. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle L. Gómez

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Gilda is a runaway slave who has taken refuge in a brothel in Louisiana. The catch? This brothel is run by a Black woman who is also a vampire. Right before the Civil War starts, this woman turns Gilda into a vampire and kills herself, leaving Gilda to take care of Bird, a Lakota woman who ultimately becomes Gilda’s mentor and lover. 

The Gilda Stories is exactly what it says on the cover: as an immortal vampire, she has a lot of stories to tell across an incredible time span. Through eight chapters, each set in a new time and location, we start in 1850 and end in 2050. From historical events to an imagined future of economic and environmental collapse, Gómez covers it all.

YA Indie Novels

Annabel Pickering and the Sky Pirates: The Fantastical Contraption

39. Annabel Pickering and the Sky Pirates: The Fantastical Contraption by Bretigne Shaffer

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Thirteen-year-old Annabel Pickering is a plucky albeit ordinary teenager… until she sees her parents kidnapped before her very eyes. To rescue them, she has to decide whether to throw her lot in with an airship of fearsome sky pirates. Spoiler alert: she does board the ship, which begins an adventure of wonderfully wild proportions! 

Whether it’s the hairsplitting escapes from danger or brave Annabel herself, readers of every age will find something to love in this lovable middle-grade fantasy adventure from Bretigne Shaffer.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Lauren Jones

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega

40. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

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Charlie Vega is a high schooler with a lot of interests. She’s smart, artistic, funny, ambitious, and fat. She’s on the journey of loving her body as it is, without giving in to the pressure to be slimmer, whiter, or to have straighter hair. But it’s hard when the world keeps expressing their qualms with her body: her mom keeps leaving weight loss shakes in her room; while the boy she’s dating apparently has asked out her thin, athletic, popular best friend first, turning to her only once he was rejected.

This coming of age story is one about standing up for who you are, and not conforming to the things society thinks you should be. Charlie is very aware of how great she is, and she’s demanding that other people see it, too.

Katie Watson and the Painter's Plot (Katie Watson Mysteries in Time Book 1)

41. Katie Watson and the Painter's Plot (Katie Watson Mysteries in Time Book 1) by Mez Blume

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If “time-travel murder mystery in the time of the reign of James I with a magical equestrian twist” makes you sit up in your chair, then Mez Blume’s Kate Watson and the Painter’s Plot is the book for you. Our protagonist is Katie, an eleven-year-old who discovers a painting that can transport anyone to another era. Blown back to the 1500s, Katie finds out that time travel’s not all fun and games when someone is found murdered. 

This action-packed, richly wrought vision of what would happen if Sherlock Holmes met Shakespeare is destined to be a classic children’s series of indie books.

⭐ Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Carol Cronin

Not Your Sidekick

42. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

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Jess is a regular kid at a regular school looking for an internship to help with her college applications. But, in her hometown of Andover, superpowers are pretty common. In fact, Jess comes from a family of superheroes, though she herself doesn’t have special powers. Settling for something more mundane, she finally finds the perfect internship, only to realize that it’s for the local supervillain. Jess goes for it anyway, just to spite her parents and get some one-on-one time with her crush Abby, who is there, too. It’s all fun and games until she uncovers a secret that’s bigger than anything she ever expected to experience.

This book has everything you want a superhero story to have, and more. The representation of LGBTQ+ teenagers and first-generation American kids is what makes Not Your Sidekick and its sequels stand out.

Nonfiction Indies

Heaven

43. Heaven by Emerson Whitney

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Whitney’s memoir takes a deep dive into how we can become more than what our childhoods will try to morph us into. They examine what womanhood really consists of, and what the consequences of it can be, through their relationships with their mother and grandmother. More than that, Whitney candidly shares their own experience as a transmasculine person — someone who is gender-nonconforming — living in America to explore the theories of ‘selfness’. They put forward the thought-provoking question of what the world may look like if gender variance isn’t a death sentence for so many marginalized people.

A Woman, A Plan, An Outline of a Man

44. A Woman, A Plan, An Outline of a Man by Sarah Kasbeer

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Sarah Kasbeer grew up in Illinois and is living in New York in the #MeToo era. Her collection of essays, A Woman, a Plan, an Outline of a Man, takes us through her multitude of emotions (shame, hope, as well as joy) while unraveling the aftermath of trauma. She explores what her own definitions of sexuality, privilege, and healing are, and her book invites you to come to terms with these realities as well.

I'll Tell You in Person

45. I'll Tell You in Person by Chloe Caldwell

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In this collection of essays, Caldwell tells us stories about her attempts at adulthood, including her experience with addiction to people, food, and drugs. Her storytelling is vulnerable and intense, like accounts of first loves and falling (by surprise) for a woman. Her humor is dry, but her thoughts are honest and it makes for a relatable, binge-able read about that awkward transition from childhood to adulthood.

Behind the Scenes: Pianos and Performers - What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

46. Behind the Scenes: Pianos and Performers - What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Steve Duncan

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For 40 years, Steve Duncan tuned pianos in Atlanta’s music scene, and boy has he seen some things. This memoir takes you into the concert halls, landmark venues, and recording studios of Atlanta.  The piano has perhaps become one of the most important instruments there is — and that’s for good reason. This collection of love letters to the ivory keys shows the average reader what it’s really like behind the scenes in the music industry.

⭐ Discovery Book of the Week! Read the review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Monica Lee

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature

47. The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man's Love Affair with Nature by J. Drew Lanham

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Edgefield County, South Carolina has been home to the Lanham family since they were brought over on a slave ship. It’s here that ornithologist Drew Lanham, our narrator and author, spent the 70s falling in love with nature — birds specifically. This love had him thinking about what it means to be a rare bird. The Home Place explores this question in relation to being human, specifically with the contradictory identity of being Black in rural southern America.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays

48. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays by Kiese Laymon

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Through thirteen rich and sharp essays, Kiese Laymon discusses  what life is like in the southern states of America as a Black person. From interviewing his mother, to criticizing football at Ole Miss, to the advantage-taking of the labor of Black women, the varied topics in his book are all ways for Laymon to slow down and see what’s really going on around him. For an accurate portrayal of life in Mississippi from a Black point of view, get your hands on Laymon’s collection.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

49. Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe

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It’s 1892. Secret lovers Alice and Freda had been found out and were forced to stay apart. Alice went on to send letter after unanswered letter to Freda, who seemed to be going on with her life a little too easily after such a love affair. On January 25th, Alice publically slashed Freda’s throat. Her father and local doctors deemed her same-sex attraction the cause for her insanity. The courtrooms had to accommodate a nation’s worth of interested spectators. What fate lied for Alice after the tragedy?

Filled with photos, newspaper articles, and other commentary from the time of the murder, Alice + Freda Forever is thought to be one of the best true crime books about a lesser-known incident.

Indie Graphic Novels

Snowlands: A Blood Moon (Book One)

50. Snowlands: A Blood Moon (Book One) by Morr Meroz

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In this comic book (we love seeing comic indie books), Feba is an orphaned wolf cub, but she stands out from her pack for another reason: her white fur, which her elders see as a bad omen. They blame Feba for the lack of food this winter, and she gets exiled from her pack. As she’s roaming the forest alone, she meets Usha, a snow leopard whose cub has gone missing. Of course, Usha wants to continue her journey alone — but she begrudgingly allows Feba to join.

Their journey takes them deeper into danger, and they encounter some helpful creatures, but also some deceitful ones. Will Usha find her cub? And what will come of the exiled Feba?

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Sarah Hinrichs

Justine

51. Justine by Forsyth Harmon

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Ali is bored this summer, the summer of 1999. She lives with her Grandmother, who doesn’t pay her much attention. She and her friends feed their Tamagotchis, watch the boys at the skatepark, and read fashion magazines as they learn what the world will expect of them. But Ali doesn’t quite see herself fitting that expectation — especially when she falls obsessively in love with a grocery clerk at the local store, the title character, Justine. 

Justine is an illustrated novel that explores the suppression of sexuality a lot of queer teenagers go through, one that often leads to the question, ‘Do I want to be like her or with her?’ In Ali’s case, maybe it’s both. She applies for a job at the store and goes so far as to eat the same food as Justine, down to the brand of yogurt. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that this obsession Ali has with Justine is far more than something to pass the summer days with.

Poetry

Homie: Poems

52. Homie: Poems by Danez Smith

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Homie is a celebration of friendship in a world that would do anything to keep people at odds.  In contemporary America,  where xenophobia, brutality, and oppression is strife, it’s hard to operate a body that is ruled by your race, sexuality, and medical diagnoses. And yet when life seems to get unbearable, someone from Smith’s circle always shows up at the right time — and with the right food.

Negotiations

53. Negotiations by Destiny O. Birdsong

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In her debut collection, Birdsong examines the role of the Black woman in America, and her quest to find what ‘self’ means. In the aftermath of assault and diagnosis, Birdsong points out the fascination white people have with Black women, from the awe to the fetishization. She criticizes cultural appropriation and the casual racism that has been deemed okay in America. But, with all this said, she writes so gracefully that you can’t help but feel as if you’re reading love letters to those who need them most in this country.

No Thanks

54. No Thanks by E. E. Cummings

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E. E. Cummings may be a popular poet, but what many people might not know is that he originally self-published this collection of poems named No Thanks, a nod to his rejections from fourteen different publishers. No Thanks, which is is all about radical and romantic individualism, is a love letter to all the indie books out there. These daring literary experiments focus on different types of love, whether it’s a love for the natural world or a romantic love between people.

Indie Short Stories

The Folly of Loving Life

55. The Folly of Loving Life by Monica Drake

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In The Folly of Loving Life, we get a set of connected stories all featuring characters looking for stability. Whether they find that stability from responding to a change or figuring things out where they are, the characters are all highly realistic, flaws and all. Many of Drake’s characters are falling under the weight of their pasts and heading toward inevitably painful futures. But, Drake utilizes her dark humor and familiarity of the Portland, Oregon backdrop to keep us grounded even if life keeps moving forward.

Black Cloud

56. Black Cloud by Juliet Escoria

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The twelve stories in Black Cloud are named after emotions. They feature narrators who describe the terrible things they’ve been through — addiction, violence, depression — without romanticizing tragedies the way the mainstream media sometimes do. The reality of working shitty jobs for low wages or coasting through unsustainable relationships keeps Escoria’s characters using substances to find a glimpse of relief from the everyday torture. Some characters move toward sobriety, and others don’t.

Windeye: Stories

57. Windeye: Stories by Brian Evenson

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In Windeye, we’re taken through twenty-five horror and mystery stories, all of which will leave you asking yourself what the heck just happened. Characters are plagued with madness. Take, for example, the orphan who is wrapped up in a supernatural murder spree. Or, in a Murakami-esque sense, the transplanted ear with a mind of its own. 

Evenson has a deserved cult following for his dream-like horror that never gets wrapped up into a nice bow of an ending. Rather, his horror indie books will leave you with more questions as well as a sense of relief that you can leave his flavor or madness behind.

We Show What We Have Learned: and Other Stories

58. We Show What We Have Learned: and Other Stories by Clare Beams

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Clare Beams’ debut short story collection is unsettling, but the kind that you can’t look away from. Her settings are almost recognizable, inspired by our world but not quite what we know. Her metaphors become reality; as a fifth-grade teacher breaks down in front of her students, she starts to literally fall apart, losing pieces of her body over the following week.

The central theme that connects these stories is the idea of what it costs to be a woman in Western societies. Beams explores what men expect from women, but also what pressures women put on other women. The feminist themes in this book are coupled with Beams' poetic prose, making for binge-able, riveting stories.

You Can't Get There From Here: Stories

59. You Can't Get There From Here: Stories by Megan Gordon

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Life’s pivotal moments can be found in some of the hardest emotions: grief, regret, longing. In Gordon’s short story collection, we follow three different lives in the middle of turning points. “Repossession” follows a young man whose girlfriend has died, and he searches for closure in her apartment. “You Again, Always” shows us up-close the last time a couple comes together. “Strange Secrets Worth Knowing” takes us along with a man on a deadly journey of resolution.

You Can’t Get There From Here is one of the most emotionally moving indie books. You’ll find why exactly, you have to go through the hard emotions to get from here to there.

Discovery Book of the Week! Read the full review by Reedsy Discovery reviewer Shamitha Devakandan

Falling in Love with Hominids

60. Falling in Love with Hominids by Nalo Hopkinson

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Hopkinson is about as imaginative of a writer as they come. In her collection Falling in Love with Hominids, she moves between a Caribbean retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, to a mall filled with ghosts, to chickens who sometimes breathe fire. 

In Hopkinson’s youth, she has said that she hated people. But now in her fifties, she has gathered a hard-won hope for humanity. This idea of coming around after a coming of age (or two) is central to her imaginative stories.

White Dancing Elephants

61. White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

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In these seventeen stories, Bhuvaneswar shows us the struggles and achievements of a diverse cast of women of color. From grieving a miscarriage to orphans getting their mystical powers taken away, from an affair between two women that ends in betrayal to a schizophrenic artist trying to survive the pointed hatred in their city, there’s a lot to digest here.

No matter who is going through what, Bhuvaneswar takes care to showcase her characters as realistically as possible, giving them flaws and strengths, bad choices and consequences. You’ll feel a connection to each character, understanding another culture just a little bit better.

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