“30 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2019”
Curated by Joe Walters
You can’t go wrong with these great books from independent publishers
Whether you’re looking for books for yourself or trying to pick out a great new book for the reader in your life, you’re in good hands with the ones that indie presses have released this year.
The big five publishers (including Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster) are often seen all across the country, likely displayed prominently on the shelves of your local bookstore. But indie presses might just have the exact book you’ve been waiting for. They don’t always have the reach that the big five publishers have, but they do often receive high praise from places like the New York Times Book Review, Oprah Magazine, and–you guessed it–Independent Book Review.
See, that’s the thing with indie press books. They might not be seen as often as those from the big five, but they can still be terrific reads worthy of impacting your life. And when you read books from indie presses, you can make sure you’re not only reading a great book but that you’re helping authors succeed despite the challenges their publishing companies face.
While there are plenty more amazing indie press books from 2019, we wanted to share this list with you, including the books we’ve reviewed as well as a few brand new ones that we know will get you excited about reading.
In no particular order, here’s our list of “30 Impressive Indie Press Books from 2019.”
#1. Mars by Asja Bakic
Publisher Feminist Press
Genre: Literary, Magic Realism, Short Stories
“Mars showcases a series of unique, twisted universes, where every character is tasked with making sense of their strange reality. One woman will be freed from purgatory once she writes the perfect book; another abides in a world devoid of physical contact. With wry prose and skewed humor, Bosnian writer Asja Bakić explores twenty-first century promises of knowledge, freedom, and power.”
#2. Ocean Blues by Glen Ebisch
Publisher: Cozy Cat Press
Genre: Cozy mystery
“When a formerly peaceful ghost at a bed and breakfast begins assaulting people, the owner calls for an exorcism. Since ministers don’t usually do that, Clarissa teams up with the police to capture the ghostly culprit. But before she can solve the problem, a teenage boy is murdered on the other side of town, and the person accused is Clarissa’s former fiancé. Clarissa and her boyfriend find themselves in a race against time to discover the identity of the murderer—a race that may cost Clarissa her life.”
#3. The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
Genre: Literary, Surreal
A surreal exploration of one woman’s life and death against a landscape of meat, office desks, and bad men.
“The Book of X tells the tale of Cassie, a girl born with her stomach twisted in the shape of a knot. From childhood with her parents on the family meat farm, to a desk job in the city, to finally experiencing love, she grapples with her body, men, and society, all the while imagining a softer world than the one she is in. Twining the drama of the everyday ― school-age crushes, paying bills, the sickness of parents ― with the surreal ― rivers of thighs, men for sale, and fields of throats ― Cassie’s realities alternate to create a blurred, fantastic world of haunting beauty.”
#4. A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed
Publisher: Tin House Books
Genre: Family life fiction
“A Key to Treehouse Living is the adventure of William Tyce, a boy without parents, who grows up near a river in the rural Midwest. In a glossary-style list, he imparts his particular wisdom on subjects ranging from ASPHALT PATHS, BETTA FISH, and MULLET to MORTAL BETRAYAL, NIHILISM, and REVELATION. His improbable quest―to create a reference volume specific to his existence―takes him on a journey down the river by raft (see MYSTICAL VISION, see NAVIGATING BIG RIVERS BY NIGHT).
“He seeks to discover how his mother died (see ABSENCE) and find reasons for his father’s disappearance (see UNCERTAINTY, see VANITY). But as he goes about defining his changing world, all kinds of extraordinary and wonderful things happen to him. Unlocking an earnest, clear-eyed way of thinking that might change your own, A Key to Treehouse Living is a story about keeping your own record straight and living life by a different code.”
#5. Emerald City by Brian Birnbaum
Publisher: Dead Rabbits Books
Genre: Contemporary Literary, disabilities
“Set in Seattle, Emerald City follows Benison Behrenreich, the hearing son of deaf royalty. His father, CEO of a multimillion-dollar deaf access agency, has bribed Myriadal College officials for Benison’s spot on their powerhouse basketball team, where he struggles to prove himself and compensate for his father’s sins.
“Julia Paolantonio has recently lost her father to a drug relapse. Her mother ships her off to live with her estranged granddad, Johnny Raciti, during the summer before her freshman year at Myriadal. Johnny offers her a deal: bring him Peter Fosch – tormented college dropout and the best drug runner west of the Cascades – and he’ll give Julia’s freshly widowed mother a board seat on his mobbed-up securities firm.
“When Benison’s father is arrested for defrauding government subsidies for the deaf, the Behrenreichs are left vulnerable to his company’s ruthless backers – namely Johnny Raciti – forcing Julia and Peter to navigate the minefield left in the aftermath.”
#6. Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
Publisher: Tin House Books
Genre: Literary, LGBT
“One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function.
“And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.
“Kristen Arnett’s debut novel is a darkly funny, heart-wrenching, and eccentric look at loss and love.”
#7. A Girl Goes Into the Forest by Peg Alford Pursell
Publisher: Dzanc Books
Genre: Literary short stories
“Following her acclaimed debut, Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow, award-winning author Peg Alford Pursell explores and illuminates love and loss in 78 hybrid stories and fables. A Girl Goes into the Forest immerses readers in the complex desires, contradictions, and sorrows of daughters, wives, and husbands, artists, siblings, and mothers.
“In forests literal and metaphorical, the characters try, fail, and try again to see the world, to hear each other, and to speak the truth of their longings. Powerful, lyrical, and precise, Pursell’s stories call up a world at once mysterious and recognizable.
“A Girl Goes into the Forest invites fans of Lydia Davis and Helen Oyeyemi into a world where “no one can deter a person from her mistakes.”
#8. Christmas in Peppercorn Street by Anna Jacobs
Publisher: Allison and Busby
Genre: Holiday Romance
“Christmas is approaching but the mood on Peppercorn Street is anything but jolly. Claire is convinced her stalker ex will catch up with her and her young daughter, and Luke is finding that living with his estranged teenage daughter brings its own problems. When a road accident brings them together, Luke impulsively offers them shelter in his home. Will this Christmas give them the best present of all: a new family? Or will Claire’s ex again cause trouble?”
#9. Every River Runs to Salt by Rachel K. Jones
Publisher: Fireside Fiction
Genre: Paranormal & Urban Fantasy
“The Pacific Ocean is a big thing to steal, and Quietly’s roommate Imani never does anything small. But then Imani goes and dies, and Quietly is left to travel to the Under-Ath (the underworld beneath Athens, Georgia), with angry gods at her heels, to clean up the mess Imani left behind and try to rescue her friend.”
#10. This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. by Jennifer Wortman
Publisher: Split Lip Press
Genre: Literary short stories, depression & family life
“This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love. contains thirteen stories, full-length and flash, that explore love—sexual, platonic, filial, and beyond—in its gritty and beguiling forms. A small-town teenager pursues an eccentric pinball wizard after her grandfather’s move to her home shakes up her parents’ marriage; a chronic depressive turns to a TV animal psychic in hopes of mending her relationship with her dog-loving dad; a middle-aged recovering alcoholic goes back to college and becomes fixated on his stern professor. Throughout the collection, as characters in various stages of life try to navigate love, they court obsession, madness, and transcendence.”
#11. The Gallows Green Killer by Frances Lloyd
Publisher: Joffe Books
Rosemary and Dick Brown move into a beautiful, secluded house on Gallows Green in the idyllic Somerset village of Lullington Barrow. It seems like a dream come true. But is it too good to be true?
The tight-knit community close ranks when asked about the previous residents.
The charming village takes on an even more sinister hue when Rosemary’s sister, Corrie, and her husband, DI Jack Dawes, come to visit and a local man is found dead at the bottom of a slurry pit, his body wrapped in a feed sack.
A few bad apples reveal the village’s rotten core, as the body count rises. The forces at play extend far beyond this backwater, but how? Jack must race to fit the pieces together as everything he holds dear comes under threat.
WHO WILL BE THE NEXT VICTIM OF THE GALLOWS GREEN KILLER?
#12. Black from the Future edited by Stephanie Andrea Allen & Lauren Cherelle
Publisher: BLF Press
Genre: African American Science fiction and Fantasy
“Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing encompasses the broad spectrum of Black speculative writing, including science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and Afrofuturism, all by Black women writers. Editors Stephanie Andrea Allen and Lauren Cherelle have gathered the voices of twenty emerging and established writers in speculative fiction and poetry; writers who’ve imagined the weird and the wondrous, the futuristic and the fantastical, the shadowy and the sublime.”
#13. People I’ve Met from the Internet by Stephen Van Dyck
Publisher: Ricochet Editions
Genre: LGBT coming of age, online dating
“Stephen van Dyck’s PEOPLE I’VE MET FROM THE INTERNET is a queer reimagining of the coming-of-age narrative set at the dawn of the internet era. In 1997, AOL is first entering suburban homes just as thirteen-year-old Stephen is coming into his sexuality, constructing selves and cruising in the fantasyscape of the internet. Through strange, intimate, and sometimes perilous physical encounters with the hundreds of men he finds there, Stephen explores the pleasures and pains of growing up, contends with his mother’s homophobia and early death, and ultimately searches for a way of being in the world.
“Spanning twelve years, the book takes the form of a very long annotated list, tracking Stephen’s journey and the men he meets from adolescence in New Mexico to post-recession adulthood in Los Angeles, creating a multi-dimensional panorama of gay men’s lives as he searches for glimpses of utopia in the available world.”
#14. Tracing the Desire Line by Melissa Matthewson
Publisher: Split Lip Press
Genre: Love & Marriage
“Tracing the Desire Line follows a writer’s journey of opening her marriage with her husband. The story—told through short memoirs, essays, lists, letters, and hybrid prose poems—is an intimate inquiry into one woman’s search for autonomy with detours into meditations on music, motherhood, religion, love, and wildness.”
#15. The Crying Book by Heather Christle
Genre: Grief & Bereavement
“Heather Christle has just lost a dear friend to suicide and now must reckon with her own depression and the birth of her first child. As she faces her grief and impending parenthood, she decides to research the act of crying: what it is and why people do it, even if they rarely talk about it. Along the way, she discovers an artist who designed a frozen-tear-shooting gun and a moth that feeds on the tears of other animals. She researches tear-collecting devices (lachrymatories) and explores the role white women’s tears play in racist violence.
“Honest, intelligent, rapturous, and surprising, Christle’s investigations look through a mosaic of science, history, and her own lived experience to find new ways of understanding life, loss, and mental illness. The Crying Book is a deeply personal tribute to the fascinating strangeness of tears and the unexpected resilience of joy.”
#16. Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Genre: Nature writing & essays
“Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents―her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father―and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child’s transition to caregiver.
“And here, braided into the overall narrative, Renkl offers observations on the world surrounding her suburban Nashville home. Ringing with rapture and heartache, these essays convey the dignity of bluebirds and rat snakes, monarch butterflies and native bees. As these two threads haunt and harmonize with each other, Renkl suggests that there is astonishment to be found in common things: in what seems ordinary, in what we all share. For in both worlds―the natural one and our own―’the shadow side of love is always loss, and grief is only love’s own twin.’
“Gorgeously illustrated by the author’s brother, Billy Renkl, Late Migrations is an assured and memorable debut.”
#17. The Reluctant RV Wife by Gerri Almand
Publisher: Sunbury Press
Genre: Travel & humor
“Follow a reluctant wife and her excited husband through two humorously-conflicted years of RV travel. He wanted to go; she wanted to stay. They both learn, grow, and change as a new level of freedom evolves.
“This book is lighthearted and humorous but at the same time serious. While not a How-To book, it gives lots of basic information about RVing. And while not a travelogue, it touches upon many travel destinations in the United States and Canada. On deeper levels, the book is about marital relationships, retiring and getting old, and finding a new kind of freedom through a minimalistic lifestyle.
“After reading this book, you’ll never again look at one of those huge monstrosities driving down the road in quite the same way. The book answers questions for non-RVers and triggers chuckles of recognition from experienced RVers.”
#18. Homesick by Jennifer Croft
Publisher: Unnamed Press
Genre: Sibling relationships
“The coming of age story of an award-winning translator, HOMESICK is about learning to love language in its many forms, healing through words and the promises and perils of empathy and sisterhood.
“Sisters Amy and Zoe grow up in Oklahoma where they are homeschooled for an unexpected reason: Zoe suffers from debilitating and mysterious seizures, spending her childhood in hospitals as she undergoes surgeries. Meanwhile, Amy flourishes intellectually, showing an innate ability to glean a world beyond the troubles in her home life, exploring that world through languages first. Amy’s first love appears in the form of her Russian tutor Sasha, but when she enters university at the age of 15 her life changes drastically and with tragic results.”
#19. Knitting the Fog by Claudia D. Hernandez
Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY
Genre: Hispanic & Latino Biographies
“Weaving together narrative essay and bilingual poetry, Knitting the Fog is the complex self-portrait of a young Chapina girl who wakes up to find her mother gone. When her mother returns three years later, they begin a month-long journey to El Norte. Once settled in California, Claudia has trouble assimilating—she doesn’t speak English, and her Spanish is “weird”—but when back in Guatemala, she is startled to find she no longer belongs there either.
“A harrowing story told with the candid innocence of childhood, Hernández’s memoir depicts the struggle and resilience inherent to immigration today.”
#20. The Tradition by Jericho Brown
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press
Genre: African American Identity
“Jericho Brown’s daring new book The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive.
“Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex―a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues―is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while reveling in a celebration of contradiction.”
#21. America That Island off the Coast of France by Jesse Lee Kercheval
Publisher: Tupelo Press
Genre: American culture
“America that island off the coast of France speaks to the impossibility of emigration, of ever being the citizen of only one country. Born in France, raised in Florida, Kercheval now divides her time between the U.S. and Uruguay. The poems hurtle across literary and linguistic borders toward a lyricism that slows down experience to create a new form of elegiac memoir.
“Against the backdrops of Paris, Montevideo, and Florida, the poems explore citizenship and homelessness, motherhood and self, family and freedom, turning over and over again the very meaning of the word home, as the poems, like the poet, make the fraught journey back and forth between America and France. As Kercheval wonders in her poem The Red Balloon, “is leaving / ever painless? Is returning?”
#22. Instructions for Temporary Survival by Monica Prince
Publisher: Red Mountain Press
Genre: African & African American Studies & Women Studies
“Winner of the Red Mountain Discovery Award. Monica Prince’s INSTRUCTIONS FOR TEMPORARY SURVIVAL suggests a path that moves one from suffering to healing. The poems tackle historical trauma, racism, rape, and depression–all explain that pain is meant to inform, not define, one’s life. Rather than ask us to live in a constant state of survival, or give up entirely, this collection shows the many ways we can save ourselves, while revealing the secrets that require a rescue in the first place.”
#23. A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
Publisher: Tin House Books
Genre: Death, Grief & Loss
“In his much-anticipated follow-up to The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, poet, essayist, biographer, and music critic Hanif Abdurraqib has written a book of poems about how one rebuilds oneself after a heartbreak, the kind that renders them a different version of themselves than the one they knew. It’s a book about a mother’s death, and admitting that Michael Jordan pushed off, about forgiveness, and how none of the author’s black friends wanted to listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s about wrestling with histories, personal and shared. Abdurraqib uses touchstones from the world outside―from Marvin Gaye to Nikola Tesla to his neighbor’s dogs―to create a mirror, inside of which every angle presents a new possibility.”
#24. Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff by Sara Borjas
Publisher: Noemi Press
Genre: Hispanic American poetry
“HEART LIKE A WINDOW, MOUTH LIKE A CLIFF is a transgressive, yet surprisingly tender confrontation of what it means to want to flee the thing you need most. The speaker struggles through cultural assimilation and the pressure to “act” Mexican while dreaming of the privileges of whiteness. Borjas holds cultural traditions accountable for the gendered denial of Chicanas to individuate and love deeply without allowing one’s love to consume the self.
“This is nothing new. This is colonization working through relationships within Chicanx families–how we learn love and perform it, how we filter it though alcohol abuse–how ultimately, we oppress the people we love most. This collection simultaneously reveres and destroys nostalgia, slips out of the story after a party where the reader can find God ‘drunk and dreaming.’ Think golden oldiez meets the punk attitude of No Doubt. Think pochas sipping gin martinis in lowriders cruising down Who Gives a Fuck Boulevard.”
#25. THROW by Ruben Degollado
Publisher: Wipf and Stock Publishers
Genre: YA Coming of Age, Hispanic American
“Llorona is the only girl Güero has ever loved. A wounded soul, she has adopted the name of a ghost from Mexican folklore. True to her namesake, Llorona cast Güero away with the coldness of the apparition she has become. But Güero—though he would never admit it to his friends—still wants to get back together with her.
“Güero spends time with his friends Ángel and Smiley—members of the HCP (Hispanics Causing Panic) gang—roaming the streets of the South Texas border towns they inhabit, trying to forget Llorona even as she seems to appear around every corner.
“Over three days Güero’s increasingly violent confrontations with Llorona’s current boyfriend will jeopardize the lives of Ángel and Smiley and the love he hopes to regain. As events begin to accelerate toward their conclusion—and gang signs are thrown as both threats and claims of identity—the question arises: will Güero throw the HCP sign, or will he throw off that life? Güero’s life will be irrevocably changed by violence and loss, but who will he lose, and will he—somewhere along the way—lose himself?”
#26. Cherry Blossom Eyes by S.T. Cartledge
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Genre: YA bizarro, surreal
“Margot and Blanko live on the Isle of Flowers, blessed by the rose gold light of the cherry blossom sun. In the season of the Cold, they build bonfires on the beach to ward off the malicious shape-shifting sea creatures known as tourists from the island.
“Each year their home becomes colder, their resources become tighter, and more tourists swim ashore and murder the locals, bury them beneath the cherry blossom trees, and take their identities like nothing ever happened.
“Can they survive long enough to sort out real from imposter and put a stop to this hostile takeover?
“From Shane Cartledge, the author of The Orphanarium, comes a surreal YA bizarro novella about young love and finding one’s true identity.”
#27. Grape! by Gabriel Arquilevich
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Genre: MG contemporary
“Grape is in trouble again! He punched Miss Roof in the arm! Now he’s suspended for two weeks, and Principal Clarkson has threatened to send him to Riverwash, a school for problem kids. But he has one last chance. Grape must spend an hour a day writing about his history of trouble, and there’s a lot of trouble to choose from… Grape’s best friend Lou is by his side, and even though Grape drives his parents crazy, they’re pulling for him all the way. But will Grape make sense of it all? Will it be enough to keep him out of Riverwash?”
#28. Not Your Backup by C.B. Lee
Publisher: Interlude Press
Genre: YA LGBTQ Superhero
Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities that the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, she isnt always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when thats done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.
#29. I’m Going to Be by Wade Hudson
Publisher: Just Us Books
Genre: Children’s Nonfiction
“There are so many exciting careers: astronaut, athlete, educator, film director, architect. And there are great Black leaders in those fields, including Dr. Mae C. Jemison, LeBron James, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ava DuVernay, Sir David J. Adjaye and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Learn about these great achievers and their careers as the AFRO-BETS Kids (Tura, Stef, Nandi, Robo, Langston and Glo) research and use their imagination to explore what they’ll be when they grow up. Revised edition with new illustrations.”
#30. Lana Lynn Howls at the Moon by Rebecca Van Slyke
Publisher: Peach Tree Publishing
Genre: Children’s adventure
An adventurous sheep tries to take a walk on the wild side and encounters more than she expected.
Lana Lynn is an intrepid sheep. The other members of her flock are content to nibble grass in the pasture, sip water from the pond, and nap in the meadow. But not Lana Lynn. She wants… adventure!
So one night, when the moon is high and the other sheep are asleep, she finds a disguise and dashes into the wild woods to see what life is like as a wolf. It’s fun to run through the wild woods, stay up very late, and howl at the Moon—but is life with the wolf pack everything it seems?
Rebecca Van Slyke’s charming depiction of experiencing new things is accented by Anca Sandu’s humorous illustrations.
And that’s all we have for you this year! What are your favorite indie press books from 2019? Let us know in the comments!
About the Curator
Joe Walters is the founder of Independent Book Review. When he’s not doing editorial or reviewing work at IBR, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process.
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