Independent publishing is clearly showing no signs of slowing, as indicated by Bowker’s recent announcement that a whopping 211,269 titles were self-published in 2011, up from a mere 133,036 in 2010. The news came during the uPublishU (formerly DIY) seminar that kicked off this year’s BEA season on June 3. The one-day self-publishing bonanza also saw the announcement of the winners of friend-of-Kirkus IndieReader’s first Discovery Awards.
As a former editor of Kirkus Indie, I had the pleasure of serving as a judge for the contest, and the fact that the books to which I gave some high ratings didn’t make it to the winners’ circle is an indication of the ultimate quality of the works submitted. Of course, some of the winners did look familiar, as they have come through Kirkus Indie, with some earning stars and even landing on Indie’s Best of 2011 list. Nice to see their continued success!
As the ranks of the self-published continue to grow, it only reinforces the need for discerning eyes to help guide readers to the gems. So we’re happy to draw your attention to the following award-winning books, IndieReader certified and Kirkus Indie approved:
Read more notable IndieReader Award winners.
IndieReader: Fiction, First Place
Debut author DeMaio sketches the mid-life crisis of a 40-year-old woman and shows that turmoil can lurk behind even the most serene of façades. Sara Beth Riley is a stereotypical suburban mom with a financially successful and fairly decent husband, three good kids, a nice house, great friends and enviable health. But behind that mask, Sara’s soul is actually crumbling. Unlike many content to go through the motions, Sara says “no more,” and walks out on her life, her family, her kids and her husband, both literally (for a short while) and emotionally (for an extended time). DeMaio’s use of supporting characters to show the impact of Sara’s choice on others is an enlightening stroke that adds depth to her character’s journey…Despite the stream-of-consciousness style that leaves the reader feeling somewhat distant from the story, DeMaio pulls off a wandering, thoughtful story that surprises with its insight and emotional impact.
IR: Fiction, Second Place
A governor and his sordid past are at the heart of a tale of retribution in Amaru’s stunning debut novel. When Karen Lafitte disappears, her father, Louisiana governor Randy Lafitte, is initially skeptical of the ensuing ransom note. The governor believes that he’s responsible for his father’s death years earlier, resulting in a curse that’s been passed down the Lafitte line. He’s particularly concerned that his daughter is now the same age as his son, Kristopher, who was 18 when he was killed. In fact, in addition to money, the ransom note demands the pardon of a lifer, Lincoln Baker, who was imprisoned for the murderer of Randy’s son. What follows is an elaborate pattern of revenge involving multiple parties, delving into the Lafitte family history and Randy’s dark road to an elected office. Amaru’s greatest achievement is a nonlinear story that still manages to be clean-cut and precise…A gutsy book that blazes trails, plotted at breakneck speed that won’t let up.
IR: Fiction, Third Place
The Golden Ball: The Fairy Tale of the Frog Prince and Why the Princess Kissed Him
In this engaging reinterpretation of the familiar Brothers Grimm fairy tale about an arrogant princess and a witch-cursed-prince-turned-amphibian, Sinclair uses rhyming iambic tetrameter couplets—“An infant princess once was born / Upon an early winter morn / So long ago and far away / Her name is lost to us today”—to tell the tale of enchantment, transformation and royal comeuppance. Sinclair manages the form evenly throughout, from the origins of the princess’ favorite toy (“Because he loved her most of all / The Sun gave her a golden ball”) to the extended happy ending—with the spell broken by a friendly kiss, the little princess and the restored prince, still children, become best friends…A well-known Grimm’s fairy tale is given a playful new interpretation through rhyming couplets and appealing word pictures in this charming read-aloud, read-along book for ages 5 to 9.
IR: Nonfiction, Third Place (tie)
Grieving a Soulmate: The Love Story Behind ‘Till Death Do Us Part’
The author nursed his wife Jeri through a 10-year battle with ovarian cancer that he feels was the most rewarding part of their marriage: life in their Hawaiian home, where Jeri became an avid surfer, was full and even romantic—baldness and colostomy bags included. Orfali’s reminiscences of those years are fond and forthright and packed with information and tips on everything from coping with chemo to choosing a hospice. But because of their extraordinary closeness as soul mates, “totally intertwined and fused” into “an entity called we,” Orfali was unexpectedly traumatized by Jeri’s death; her sudden absence provoked endless crying jags and “grief bursts” that overwhelmed him “like molten lava.” As he looks for a way out of his pain, he takes us on a journey through the psychological literature on death and grieving, visiting writers from C.S. Lewis to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Dr. Joyce Brothers (and sternly rejecting the “forget and detach” school of “Freudian psychobabble”). Orfali synthesizes what he learns into a workmanlike cure that is inflected by his career as a software designer and involves a “grief meter” and “grief burst buckets.” What he means by that mechanistic terminology is something very simple: a sustained meditation on the ideas and feelings behind his grief…A heartening testament to the ability of love to transcend loss. Orfali tied himself in the IR Nonfiction category for third place with his book, Death with Dignity: The Case for Legalizing Physician-Assisted Dying and Euthanasia.
IR: Category Winner, Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Transgender Fiction
Shekleton (A Jesuit Tale, 2000) begins his second novel moments after the title character, a closeted gay Catholic priest, tests HIV-positive. Father Joe Tierney’s decision to seek advice from a trusted friend leads him to a clandestine support group for HIV-positive clergy. Meanwhile, a freelance reporter investigating the issue of AIDS in the Catholic priesthood moves closer to discovering the support group. Angela Roth, director of public relations for the diocese, undertakes her own research as she tries to formulate a measured response to increasing media scrutiny. The conflicts between Angela’s professional obligations and personal beliefs represent one of the novel’s highlights. Likewise, the author evokes Joe’s Mexican-American heritage by incorporating Spanish words and phrases that are authentic, yet unobtrusive for readers not familiar with Spanish. This well-paced narrative maintains a consistent sense of urgency, where each critical decision has potentially disastrous consequences…An author’s note reveals Shekleton’s intention to continue with Father Tierney’s story, and a considerable number of readers may want to accompany him further in this exploration of faith, identity and community.
IR: Category Winner, Historical Fiction
Chamberlin (Gloria, 2005, etc.) breathes life into the ancient Arabic world in this epic historical novel of one girl’s tumultuous search to discover her past. One scorching summer day, 12-year-old, blue-eyed Rayah participates in a rousing water fight with her aunts and cousins at their home in the desert oasis of Tadmor. When her small cousin, Bushra, slips and lands head first on the mosaic floor, all believe her dead. Rayah prays over the body, and something miraculous happens; underneath her hand, the skull fragments of Bushra’s head fuse and life suddenly fills the toddler’s body. For Rayah, this new, unknown power only fuels her desperation to uncover the truth of her ancestry…Readers should be prepared to immerse themselves so completely into the ancient Middle East, with its exotic spices, silken veils and hot, desert sands, that leaving it is akin to re-emerging into the modern world like Rip Van Winkle. Chamberlin beautifully captures the depth of Rayah’s awakening to her heritage, both emotionally and spiritually, and deftly intertwines the narratives of her mother and grandmother to create a multigenerational saga of love, betrayal, faith and legacy. Impeccable research and haunting, poetic language create a lush tale to be lingered over and savored.
IR: Category Winner, Humor
Readers hungry for more Stieg Larsson will find much to laugh about in this clever, tongue-in-cheek adventure starring Gotilda Salamander and Jerker Rhindtwist. When Olaf Gedda is found dead in his rose garden, his friend and fishing buddy Salamander is arrested and accused of firing the fatal shot. Her prints were found on the bucket of worms beside the body, so who else could it be? Salamander’s old flame, journalist Rhindtwist, makes some inquiries and discovers that a few others had motive as well—the lawyer Manfred von Otter, the butler Henrik Paulsson and the business partner Gunnar Hakanson. Salamander escapes from jail to better conduct an investigation of her own via computer, and manages to snare the murder weapon while trying to take a break from the stress of being a hunted criminal. With the help of solid research on Rhindtwist’s part, and well-planted karate kicks on Salamander’s, the efficient duo finds its way to justice, Swedish style. Groome has done substantial homework and adeptly re-creates the quick pace and clipped tone of Larsson’s supremely popular books…Groome’s spoof highlights what millions love about the Larsson books—fast-paced action and smart, unconventional heroes—and pays tribute to what drove at least a few of those fans a little crazy—occasionally flat dialogue and tedious moments of explanatory connection.
IR: Category Winner, Kids (tie)
June Keating Sherwin
In Sherwin’s debut middle-grade novel, a young boy and his sister do battle with a band of treasure hunters in the Florida Keys. During their summer vacation in the Florida Keys, 11-year-old Chad Hatcher and his sensible older sister, Gene, venture out on their own for the first time to a reef off of Cudjoe Key. While Gene is concerned about a looming storm cloud, Chad is busy snapping photos of a nearby boat. Onboard, suspicious-looking looters appear to be hauling up pieces of treasure from the water. Are these scruffy men stealing gold medallions and pirates’ booty from an ancient Spanish shipwreck below or is Chad’s imagination in overdrive? Sherwin’s characters will be easily identifiable yet relatable to young-adult readers: Gene is the reluctant, responsible sidekick dragged into hero Chad’s noble but dangerous quest…A perfect summer thriller for young readers.
IR: Category Winner, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller (tie)
In Mosquera’s debut spy thriller, an Iraq War veteran finds himself embroiled in a high-tech assassination plot. Eric Caine wakes in the Miami Veterans Affairs hospital with no memory of where he is or how he landed in a hospital bed. He chalks it up to the post-traumatic stress disorder he’s suffered from since returning from Iraq, where he served as a pararescue jumper in the Air Force. After leaving the hospital and trying to piece together missing details, he visits a bar and ends up in a bloody brawl. A mysterious man, Antonio Montenegro, befriends Eric at the bar and helps find him a job in computer security at a large multinational corporation, Corso. After several successful months at Corso’s Miami office, Eric heads to Venezuela to tackle the company’s security problems. Upon his arrival, he meets Trishna, who soon becomes his lover. He notices that someone has attempted to hack into his computer and finds that he’s being followed, but Trishna assures him that the Venezuelan government tails all Americans. Despite growing misgivings and paranoia, Eric attends a security conference where Venezuela’s president gives the keynote speech. In a dreamlike state, Eric slips out of the conference, attacks a security guard, steals his gun and shoots the president in cold blood, causing widespread riots and damaging diplomatic relations between Venezuela and the United States. While Eric initially turns himself in, he escapes in order to discover why he assassinated the president and what he learns is chilling. Mosquera deftly captures the dreamlike states that Eric experiences…Mosquera weaves a tale of suspense through a clandestine world, crafting an engaging read that’s not easily put down.
IR: Category Winner, Young Adult (tie)
Pandora's Key: Book I the Key Trilogy
Nancy Richardson Fischer
The first book in a trilogy about Pandora’s Box in the modern world and how Pandora’s descendent holds the key but is only just beginning to understand her power. On the morning of her 16th birthday, Evangeline Theopolis’ mother places an ancient key on a chain around her neck. It’s a family heirloom, though her mother has no idea what the key unlocks. Later, Evangeline returns home from school to find her mother has collapsed and, at the hospital, Evangeline is forced to admit that her mom has been suffering delusions. The doctors reveal the reason is a terrible brain tumor. Running parallel to this story in alternating chapters is Malledy’s story, a young man who is also diagnosed with a fatal disease. Malledy is an archivist determined to find ancient artifacts of great power, including Pandora’s Box, which he believes may contain his cure. Evangeline soon finds out that she is the descendent of Pandora when she is kidnapped by a sect of women devoted to protecting Pandora’s Box. Her newly bequeathed key unlocks the actual Pandora’s Box from Greek mythology, which still contains a fifth Fury of Annihilation. As Pandora’s descendent, Evangeline also has powers originally bestowed by the other Greek gods…With this fresh, intriguing novel, Fischer is clearly laying the groundwork for a trilogy that will successfully continue to bring ancient mythology forward into a modern tale of self discovery.
IR: Category Winner, Young Adult (tie)
Gutsy teen Grace, who is much more at home fly fishing, hiking and tracking bears through the woods than hanging out at the mall or chasing boys, has a mission—to prove that her father is still alive. Grace’s father—forest ranger and wilderness survival expert—has taught his daughter everything she needs to know to trek through the Smoky Mountains, searching for clues to his sudden disappearance. After the police find his torn, bloodstained shirt in a local river, they, along with Grace’s mother, assume he has been killed in a tragic accident. Despite being snubbed by the local police chief, running up against the wrath of the chief of the town’s Native American reservation and alienating herself from her distraught mother, Grace is determined to prove them all wrong. The spunky sleuth goes all out to find her dad, determined not to be put off by her longtime friend and admirer Wyn or distracted by the amorous attentions of the intriguing British stranger Mo. When she inadvertently stumbles upon a dark, dangerous secret, it challenges everything Grace thought she knew about her sleepy hometown and its inhabitants. This thrilling story is a dramatic entanglement of mystery, deception and teen romance.
IR: Category Winner, Nonfiction American Studies
Oh, Beautiful: An American Family in the 20th Century
John Paul Godges
Godges presents a vast narrative depicting what it means to be an American, told through the lens of an expressive family story. Written in four parts, Godges’ first memoir spans his family’s immigrant beginnings to his parents’ assimilation to a family of six kids growing up, growing apart and finally coming back together. The memoir is rich with the cultural history of 20th-century America; the hardships of immigrants, the harrowing times of the Depression and World War II, dealing with mental illness, the tumultuous Vietnam-era social divide and the AIDS epidemic all impact Godges’ family. The author shines a spotlight on each member of the family particularly affected by these events, hanging back until his turn to present a facet of American life deeply meaningful to him—being a gay man in this country. Roman Catholicism also permeates the book, providing a pillar of community for the Italian- and Polish-American family, but also becoming a divisive force between husband and wife and parent and child, causing the family to face questions over divorce and homosexuality. The intricately crafted narrative is written with the specificity of a historian, seamlessly flowing through the decades. Yet the book is also poignant and personal, capturing the intimate, intricate workings of a family with amazing clarity.
IR: Category Winner, Biography
Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project
Kansas teenagers rediscover a forgotten Holocaust heroine in this moving historical drama, based on a true story. Irena Sendler, a Catholic welfare bureaucrat in German-occupied Poland, saved thousands of Jewish children during World War II by organizing a network that smuggled them out of the Warsaw Ghetto to live in convents, orphanages and private homes. Mayer’s superb novelization of her exploits elevates social work to the intensity of a spy thriller. Posing as a nurse, Sendler carries youngsters out in boxes and bags, hides them under soiled dressings and piles of corpses headed for the cemetery or secrets them away in a truck equipped with a dog trained to bark over their cries. She coolly bribes and bluffs her way past guards, though discovery means execution. In the midst of this deadly caper, Irena registers the horrors of the ghetto—the pitiless struggle for food, the families that quietly die off from starvation and the anguish of parents who realize they can save their children only by giving them up forever…Writing in vivid but restrained prose, Mayer describes this agonizing situation with understated pathos…A gripping real-life tale of extraordinary courage that had an enduring impact.
So many books analyzing America’s financial meltdown have flooded the marketplace that they almost become indistinguishable, but Edwards’ contribution stands out from the crowd. The twist here is the book isn’t about financial malfeasance—it’s a well-researched, engaging and often amusing study of 100 expressions we use to describe financial malfeasance. Edwards says in his preface that he found more than 500 expressions that could apply, but selected the most relevant 100 for his book…More often than not, Edwards makes a wry comment or witty observation that lightens up what otherwise could be an overbearing work…Edwards also manages to find just the right quotation from personalities old and new to add to the beginning of every chapter; the quote for the chapter describing the expression “They Could Sell You the Brooklyn Bridge” is from Paul Newman: “If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”
IR: Category Winner, History
Unvanquished: Joseph Pilsudski, Resurrected Poland, and the Struggle for Eastern Europe
Hetherington presents sweeping accounts of Polish history and Joseph Pilsudski, a major figure in the struggle for Polish independence. Hetherington warrants praise for the thoroughness of his research and the consistently engaging quality of his prose. His ability to sift through the lion’s share of Polish history (from the country’s founding until the rise of its neighbor, Nazi Germany, in the 1930s), and interweave that history with the singular life of freedom fighter, and eventual dictator, Joseph Pilsudski, is a remarkable feat…But the sheer scope of this ambitious work may prove an obstacle for readers. Weighing in at over 700 pages, Hetherington’s tome will test readers’ enthusiasm for Polish history…Hetherington’s ability to entertain is considerable, and Pilsudski, who escaped from prisons, robbed Russian treasury trains and created his own Polish army, gives Hetherington a lot to work with. But it’s a long way from the time of the Goths to the height of Pilsudski’s influence in the early 20th century, and it’s hard to shake the suspicion that Hetherington has needlessly combined two books into one. Bigger is not necessarily better, but there’s much to be enjoyed, and much to be learned, should readers take the long road to Pilsudski.
For a complete list of IndieReader's Discovery Award winners, please visit IndieReader.com.