Julia’s Favourite Self Published SFF Books – Update 3
Oh dear, it has been way too long since I updated this, so brace yourself, this is gonna be a long one…
I’ve read more in 2022 than in ages, especially indie fantasy, because I joined two challenges in summer that made me devour book after book. I really need to do more of these!
As always I tried to group them in batches that fit together, so it’s easier to find what might appeal to you. Titles that have an audio version I marked with a ⊗.
Usually I start these off with the bloody stuff, so for a change, today you’ll get some cosy stories first. Followed by:
Books featuring strong female leads & easy reads
Grittier fast paced & easy reads
Your usual dose of Grimdark
Classic style & epic fantasy
Assembled Future (SciFi, Dystopia, Alt Future, Steampunk)
And last but not least some Anthologies
Miss Percy’s Pockez Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson ⊗
I loved the older spinster main character, who always disappeared in the shadow of her sister, and just leads a quiet life. She doesn’t suddenly turn into a fearless heroine, but really just organically grows throughout the story, finds new friends and new ways. Please give me more aging woman as main characters! Especially if they’re in possession of a feisty baby dragon…
There’s all you want from a plucky regency story. A squabbling family, scandalous rumours, banter, tasty baked goods, nice dresses, innocent attraction, and a villain to give the whole story some immediacy.
Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis ⊗
Yet another story combining regency manners and dragons!
A down on their luck heroine who is just way too honest for her own good. Fate, or rather the dragon she steals to rescue it, forces her into pretending to not be the meek, penniless cousin dependent on others’ benevolence, but rather a lady of the highest order.
I loved seeing her come out of her shell and into the light. Her dragon is the cutest side character ever!
There’s a mystery which was well done, a light dose of romance that doesn’t take over the plot, and a dash of magic.
Touchstones by Stephanie Burgis
A collection of very different stories, but they all feature: A good twist & amazing female main characters who know, or learn about, their own strength and goals!
I loved the way this book made me feel when reading, from a small contented sigh, through smirks and snorts, to full on “Yay girl, you got this!” air punch moments, I got it all along the way.
If you’re looking for a book with strong female protagonists forging their own paths, but you also want something that leaves you more resilient and happy than before, instead of angry or depressed, I can’t recommend this enough!
Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree ⊗
While, this has since been snapped up by a publisher, it started out as self-published, and that’s when I read it.
Legends and Lattes absolutely scratched the low stakes itch for me. I adored the slice of life view, I liked the characters right from the start, and I was just instantly ported right there. The fantastic smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked goodies in my nose, I didn’t even want to go back to the real world.
Friendship, found family, building something new and a fresh brew – what more could one want?
Strong females leads, easy reads
Suzannah Rowntree – Miss Sharp’s Monsters ⊗
As you can see I’ve read the whole trilogy of these in one summer, so you know I enjoyed them a lot! A young woman who doesn’t remember her past, with some supernatural strength after being bitten by a werewolf, becomes a bodyguard for a young lady. Navigating a society that shuns her for what has been done to her, trying to solve a murder mystery, trying to find clues about her past and all the while trying to keep her employer and herself safe and alive, means Miss Sharp is rather busy.
Found family, a light dash of romance, unexpected twists, a lot of fun and witty dialogue, all set in front of well researched European history. A delightful read!
Burning Bright by Melissa McShane ⊗
I did not expect to love this from the cover, but I started reading and was immediately hooked. The romance in this one is really minimal, especially compared to what the cover seems to suggest. A bit like in Pride and Prejudice, where it really takes people their own sweet time to even acknowledge any attraction at all. As that is one of my favourite books, this is one of the highest compliments! Now imagine Elizabeth being able to throw fireballs…
It is a regency story, about a fine lady who joins the Navy to get out of two unpleasant choices for her life. A woman. In the Navy. The scandal!
Faling Through Stars by Staci Olsen⊗
It’s heavily inspired by Alaskan mythology, and I loved spending time in this community who live completely in harmony with nature. There’s little bits and pieces about surviving the cold, and the connection to sled dogs, as well as preparing during the warm months. I devoured each little bit of those.
I loved seeing how this very different societal structure worked. It is both incredibly close knit, and yet if you’re supposed to be possessed by evil spirits you might see yourself cast off for the sake of safety. This was all well developed and written, and you could really feel her character change along with how people reacted to her.
With This Curse by Amanda DeWees ⊗
A great mix of Victorian romance, mystery, suspense, manners and a dash of gothic vibes.
The characters who act like real humans, within their societal borders, were a big draw for me, and I enjoyed both the main and side characters tremendously. No one did stupid things just to further the plot.
I was hooked from the first page on, and while I guessed the big secret, it took me long enough to have me thinking and puzzling along with Clara to more than satisfy me!
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking ⊗
A mix of surprisingly dark, twisted, fun, and cute story!
On the one side it’s a hilarious story, about a 14 year old who can magically alter dough or baked goods. Think dancing gingerbread men, or such.
Then we have a murder mystery, political intrigue, and possible traitors in the city.
For me the darker and sad bits definitely rounded this story off, and made it a lot more engaging than if it had been just pure fluff. It’s still light and weird enough to be a definite comfort read for me, hoewever you should have some sort of dark(ish) humour to get the most out of it.
Grittier, fast paced & easy
Nectar for the God by Patrick Samphire
Book two is again a wild ride full of action, politics, kidnappings, loyalties, doubt and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, even if just to spite them all. And of course a lot of wisecracks and humour. However we also get some more insight into the character’s past, which gives more depth, as well as some darker vibes.
Another murder mystery, and yet again so many things go wrong, and it’s not always Nik’s fault. Only mostly…
Scions of the Black Lotus by JC Kang ⊗
I’ve “only” read 5 of these since my last update, so again you can guess I’m enjoying them!
The first 4 are very fast paced and easy to read novellas, which you could probably read as stand alones as well. Book 5 however is a lot longer and more epic, while also managing to tie them all together in a brilliant way. So many little bits and pieces suddenly fall into place as the bigger picture starts to show itself. I adored the asian flavour and was quickly hooked!
Classic & Epic Fantasy
First off three Tie-In Short Stories / Novellas
Smuggler’s Fortune by Angela Boord
A prequel novella that works either as a depper insight into the MCs past, or as a stand alone glimpse into the world of this series.
I enjoyed both the fun quest and the deeper inside into Kyrra’s mind!
The Black Horn by JA Andrews
A short story set in the Keeper Chronicles universe. I think you’ll get more out of this if you read the books first, otherwise it could feel a bit too short and unsatisfying. If you know what it’s all about however it’s a good story of hope and not giving up, even when facing the impossible.
When Cereba Fell by Rachel Emma Shaw
This is a really short prequel story to the main series.
I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this, if I hadn’t read Last Memoria before. So I would not recommend it as a teaser for the main series. If you already read the duology however, and like me can’t get enough of this world, then this little snippet is a very nice bit of extra info!
A glimpse into Cereba, as it was – something I dearly wished for.
It might only be about ~17 pages, but these packed quite an emotional punch as well as new insights.
Gates of Hope by JE Hannaford (⊗ to come)
(I read an ARC, the book will be available mid April!)
At first the book seemed to be on the lighter end of stories. However, the setting grows and the world building gets ever deeper the farther you go. I adored all the little details about flora and fauna, that made this an immersive world you could really walk into, and get lost in, while not being so much it hampers the plot progression.
Characters I cared for, a good deal of mystery and adventue, and an amazing furry companion made this an amazing read.
Darklands by ML Spencer ⊗
Book two in this series was a major step up to book one. I especially enjoyed the growing setting, and seeing other parts of the world. The characters get a lot more depth and felt more rounded. Add to that a lot of action and interesting plot, and it’s quite addictive!
Empire of Shadows by Wanstall-Burke ⊗
A fitting finale for a great trilogy!
While Blood of Heirs started on the easier side, the story gets continuingly continuously darker, so when you reach the end it’s really quite dark. I loved how all the threads start to flow together and get woven into one strong plot. I especially enjoyed how we learn more about the backstories of characters, which rounded the whole series up quite nicely!
Phoenix Rising by JA Andrews ⊗
And another conclusion to a brilliant series!
All these characters have grown so very much on me, I really cared for each and every one of them. They all feel so real and three dimensional, so you can even kind of understand the bad guys. This made the story all the more gripping and realistic.
The balance between war, fights, death and destruction on the one hand, but also hope, friendships, family and loyalties on the other hand worked out well for me. It didn’t feel too easy or shallow, but also managed to avoid going into the full on grimdark direction.
All the major plot points get a satisfactory conclusion, while enough little bits and pieces are left open to leave the world open and the characters room to grow.
Ascendant by Michael R Miller ⊗
A classic epic fantasy, with a more modern style and prose, so it doesn’t feel dated while still giving you the great nostalgic feeling.
A couple of twists made this stand out, even though it has quite a few tropes as well. I really enjoyed the mix of fresh takes and ideas with the expected good old things. It made me feel right at home in the story and world, while still surprising me quite a few times.
I especially loved our main duo: A blind dragon who bonds with a kitchen boy. While some of the side characters were a bit bland at times, these two were really well crafted and written, and felt very real to me.
Cool world building, banter, plenty of dragons, monsters, fight scenes, friendships, loyalties and betrayals together with a “magic system” that felt a bit like a very much dialed down progression fantasy kept me hooked all the way.
The Fall and Of Blood and Fire by Ryan Cahill ⊗
The prequel novella and first book in a very classic style fantasy, that hits all the classic tropes bang on the head.
If you do enjoy the old fantasy stories, and want more young boys turning out to be special, along with elves, dwarves and dragons – this a really good and addictive read. If you’re looking for something very unique or unpredictable, this will probablynot be your cup of tea.
I personally am just as happy to read either way, and breezed through this one in a matter of days. I liked having the classic feel, but with a fresher prose and tone that made it feel less “dusty”.
A few more actual important female characters would have been nice, but at least I got a great dwarven one to make up for that lack. I hope there’ll be more in later books in the series.
The Pact by JE Hannaford ( ⊗ to come)
In this book two the characters grew and developed, both individually and into a tighter family than before. There’s a whole new set of them as well, along with a new POV, which made me breeze through the story. I just wish more books had such a strong bond of friends and family!
I especially enjoy the melding of our world and different sorts of mythology, and a bleak future that has magic again and a chance to recoup.
I wouldn’t have thought this mix of alternative future, a world almost destroyed by humankind, some almost list technology would blend so well with magic and all sorts of creatures, but Hannaford somehow manages to pull this off amazingly well.
The Pact has quite some dark moments, some really gut wrenching, while others had me snort with a dose of nice dark humour. It definitely isn’t a fluffy and easy read. There’s always hope at the core of the story, but there’s dark patches as well as the light.
Altar of Influence by Jacob Cooper ⊗
I really enjoyed this prequel, which you can read either before or after the first book. If you read it first you learn about the backstory and know more once you start book one. If you read it after, you have some nice “aha moments” along the way, so both work fine.
This story is epic and big, and I had to backtrack here and there when I didn’t pay attention to a POV switch. It’s not overly hard, but it does have a couple of POVs and the cast was at times a bit hard to separate as some are just a tad too similar.
Another one with plenty of tropes, some over the top fight scenes, but also a lot of fun!
Legend of Tal (book 1 & 2 of 4) by JDL Rosell ⊗
And yet another classic feel series with a bit more modern writing.
Mostly a political plot, with brewing unrest, assassin’s, betrayals and a lot of plotting and planning to uncover. This bit of the book also did feel a lot smoother than in the first book. I was constantly puzzling along with everyone, wondering what exactly was happening, and who could be behind it all.
There’s a couple of expected things happening, but also some nice twists coming totally out of the left field that gave all sorts of reactions. From “Oh No!” to elation and also some stunned blinking at the pages. I really liked how it blended the surprises with other parts of the story you felt clever for picking up in advance. It kept me on my toes, while still feeling believable.
Especially at the very end which had me do a double take at least twice, and I loved both the action and revelations there.
The Green Wyvern by Matt Heppe
I love a good story within a story, so that format was quite perfect for me!
This is a collection of 4 novellas. The first one took a bit to really grab me, as it felt a bit too… easy? predictable? for a full fantasy book.
However it did hit its stride after a while, and once I was hooked I quickly worked my way through it all. It’s on the light side reading wise, though it covers quite a lot of fights, violence and death I loved the banter and the quips, and frequently snorted and chucked along the way. As humour is so hit and miss, this is a high compliment!
A fast paced and fun fantasy romp with goblins, wargs, dwarves, orcs, ghouls, bugbears and way more…
In Solitude’s Shadow by David Green ⊗
This is a novella that packs in as much world, characters and political machinations as a lot of big tomes. While in some points this made it lack a little bit of depth, mostly it worked out really well, and made for a really fast paced and engaging read that drew me in very quickly!
It’s on the darker side with elves an enslaved race and some mysterious “banished” people being kept at bay by a big fortress. Quite a lot of death, fights and war, so not for the faint of heart.
We have multiple POV characters, and I liked all of them. For such a short book it was great to see how those different paths slowly run together throughout the story.
I liked the magic in here, and the mystery of it. There’s no hard magic system, it’s more the very soft and mysterious kind – and the mystery there, later in the book, definitely was a main hook for me!
Blood on the Canvas by David Damuels
I got easily hooked by Blood on Canvas, and read it within just a few days. The characters especially drew me in, and I really enjoyed art and painting being a main plot driver for the story.
While I liked the characters, some of the dialogue felt a bit stilted or contrived at times. However, they did hold my interest so I devoured this, despite a slightly meandering plot, in just a few days.
Breaker by Amy Campbell
This definitely is more of a YA story, or a book for those looking for something easier to follow, and with less complexity.
Blaise and Jack feel very stereotypical at first, with a native young boy who had been bullied all his life, and the older gruff outlaw who makes his life even harder. Over the course of the story they do grow and show more of their hidden depths though!
Westerns usually aren’t my cup of tea, and I was sceptical about the Pegasus who bind to a human partner, but overall it all worked out fine. Here and there it might have been a bit too “cute” and easy again, but as I read it with my YA hat on, I didn’t mind.
There’s some few twists I did not expect, and enough mysteries and adventure to make for an entertaining read.
Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews ⊗
I definitely could have done without being told just how incredibly “hot” the characters are. It kept me fearing this would turn into romance soon, which it luckily never actually did.
Aside from that bit, this was a thoroughly entertaining and amusing read! Fantasy blended with SciFi to explain how a lot of magic came to pass, while other pieces are still just mysterious and magical worked well for me. Especially as it gave good old tropes some fresh feel!
I really like the main character, and just how confident and strong she is. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, and is more than willing to stand her ground.
The inn is just fabulous. I so want a magic inn that is almost sentient! It’s not just adorable as well as pretty cool, but also something I never read before, which is always a big plus!
The mix of bloody murder and gore with humour and banter hit the exact right balance to keep me hooked from start to finish, so I devoured this in just two days!
Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron ⊗
I avoided this for ages, due to the series name Heartstrikers, which made me think it’s shifter romance or such.
I got recommendations for it over and over, so I finally caved, and I’m so glad I did!
While yes, there are dragon shifters, and there is a little bit of romance, it definitely is a fast paced and fun urban fantasy.
I loved the main characters, and the bit of attraction between them did not feel like drama, whining or pining. There’s no hot loins or similar.
Ain’t nobody got time for that anyway, if you’re busy running from bad guys trying to shoot you. Or avoiding being eaten by the family matriarch. Or Lampreys. Don’t let the giant lamprey get you…
SciFi, Dystopia, Alt Future, Steampunk
Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral ⊗
When I started this, I was expecting some sci-fi warfare, purely from the cover. Boy was I surprised to find something that’s a bit like finding Baymax in a dystopian world! And oh how I loved it.
Robots have killed a lot of humans, and the world is broken, but not all are like that. No, there’s also the harmless ones. Like our main character, who just wants to clean and do a good job. Which gets really hard when you suddenly find yourself in charge of a squalling tiny human infant.
I loved the contrast between trying to survive, and the slightly naive view. Wanting to trust everyone, but also fearing betrayal.
Is it a perfect read? No, there are a few rough patches and the pace is a bit uneven at times. Did I enjoy the hell out of it? Absolutely! Can’t wait to read more in this world!
The Given by Colby R. Rice ⊗
I quite enjoyed the main character, and her family dynamics. A family just trying to get through life in a world that has broken down and war and violence are drawing ever closer to the few civilian territories.
I liked how real and three dimensional people felt and how they just did what needed doing. I also quite enjoyed the mix of post apocalyptic world, fantasy aspects, police procedural, survival, family, trust, betrayal and mystery.
The dystopian story features a lot of societal topics like oppression, racism, abuse of power, … And I thought they were handled rather well!
I missed a bit of a sense of an overarching plot, as it seems like a random string of things happening, without much forward progress. As this does fit in with just trying to keep your head above the water I didn’t mind the meandering too much, and still quite liked the story overall!
The Thirteenth Hours by Trudie Skies ⊗
A wild mix of murder mystery, heist, revolution, a gang of misfits, cranky gods, aether fuelled technology and a lot of mystery.
Really, a whole ton of mystery, as even the main character doesn’t have the slightest idea what she is, after one strange incident.
I loved the world, though at times it felt a bit rough around the edges. It’s such a complex set up, that other pieces felt a bit lacking in contrast. Those weren’t enough to rip me out of the story, just felt a bit too loose here and there.
What really made the book for me was the character! I loved the snark and the sarcasm that just felt right at home in a rather bleak and dark world. This made for a great balance between humourous and fun, and yet full of suspense and gritty. The main character(s? As she has a voice in her head) was easily my favourite, but I also enjoyed all her friends, and some of her enemies as well.
Titan Hoppers by Rob J. Hayer
Anmazing blend of progression fantasy and sci-fi, with a slight upper YA flavour despite being rather bloody.
I adore the setting, the mystery, the world, the monsters, the progression and the magic system.
I had a bit of a problem with the characters, which felt a bit two dimensional at times, but then I trust in Hayes to bring this around. He has proved me wrong more than once before!
The very cool fight scenes and training sequences more than made up for it, so I really enjoyed this romp.
On the Shoulder of Titans by Andrew Rowe ⊗
What makes this a great read besides the action and magic system is the characters!
There’s a lot of trust, loyalties and betrayals as a main theme,
This book gets even more inclusive, and I loved seeing different aspects being explained and accepted. If you have a problem with “woke culture” as it’s often called, steer clear. If you however like seeing a character being allowed to just be who and how they are, this was balm to my soul! Be it not liking to be touched, having difficulties socialising, not being sure if romance is for you at all – and if – then what sort, having a full non-binary character, the after effects of trauma and abuse, to name just some.
I also really love the wit over raw power, and being prepared is everything theme, that always underlies the fight scenes. While it is a little bit too predictable at times, I just enjoy watching the big bad getting beat up at times!
Vigor Mortis ny Natalie Maher ⊗
It has a few LitRPG elements, but mostly felt more like a real fun fantasy. There’s no stats sheets at all, so it was just the way the magic system itself was set up, with different talents and abilities that felt familiar.
I loved the main character, a 16 year old, half-starved orphan who suddenly learns she’s a natural necromancer. She’s tiny and everyone thinks she is a kid, which drives her nuts.
I loved her tone, voice and sass, and was very happy to follow along in get adventures! There’s some ruminating in what makes a monster, and what it means to be human. It was nicely balanced to still be a fun romp, but with enough depth to keep me hooked.
Lots of action, monsters, magic, new friends, found family, mysteries and twists combined with humor that gelled perfectly with me turned this into a pure entertaining reading pleasure!
Oathbound Healer by Selkie Myth ⊗ (Beneath the Dragoneye Moons)
At first I thought this wouldn’t really catch my interest, as the start felt like a very easy middle grade / YA sort of LitRPG that just lacked a bit of… I don’t even know what exactly. It just felt a bit shallow.
Slavery, plus reading about another woman being violently beaten by her husband for “not being in the mood” when she didn’t feel well at all, just contrasted really badly with the sorta fluffy YA tone and style, and so it was a bit of a bumpy start for me.
After a while the story takes a new direction though, and from there on I really quite enjoyed it! Our main character grows up a bit, and we leave for an adventure, which also means we leave the city and its problems behind.
I liked the interactions between our new team, as it reminded me a bit about The Wandering Inn. A mix of darker and grittier content with light and fun bits as well, and a lot of banter.
Dungeon Man Sam by JW Benjamin ⊗
Overall I quite enjoyed this humourous dungeon core story.The main character is not the stereotypical one for this sort of story, as he doesn’t set out to build a dungeon, but to destroy the whole dungeon “industry”! He is a tinkerer and a thinker, and a good and loyal friend.
While it all is just a bit too easy and juvenile at times, I liked the banter. While it made me groan at times, like a dad joke, I was mostly well entertained.
Especially near the end everything seems to be not just overpowered, which I’m used to from LitRPG, but just way over the top. Yes, there was quite some leveling and great new abilities, but what was an insurmountable danger, is suddenly gone with two strikes. It made me care less for the battles, as I was just wondering what (seemingly) previously impossible thing would happen next. Still a really entertaining reads all in all.
An Alchemie of Sorrows ⊗
Being someone who fully believes that sharing grief and sorrow is the best, if not even only, way to help the soul to heal, I was looking forward to this anthology immensely.
Sometimes you need a break from your sorrows, and escapism and distraction is the way to go. Other days diving in the deep end, touching the bottom and just letting go is what is needed.
This book is for those later days. When you want to look the sadness in the eye, embrace it as a part of you, have a good cleansing cry and feel like you lost a boulder of emotional weight once you’re done and come back to the surface.
Obviously, with topics as highly emotional as these, not every story will work for every reader. I’ll try to say a little bit about all of these, in the book’s order. Overall most stories were 4-5 star reads for me, which is a great balance for an anthology!
While I’m not usually a fan of short stories, the way they were interconnected in this anthology made it feel a lot more like one bigger story, and therefore more to my taste!
As always, an anthology has some better and some weaker stories.
The prologue sets a tone that promises a bit of humour as well as adventure. Someone thrown through a rift, and trying to get back at the people who did it. This causes a rippling effect with all sorts of portals and with bits and pieces that fall in and out of worlds… This book made me laugh as well as flinch, and I devoured it in no time at all.
(Warning, this is labeled as dark fantasy, and it is deserved for some of the stories. There’s plenty of death, murder, and all sorts of dark content, including child death and hurt animals)
Through Shadows – A collection of QuaranCon award-winning speculative short fiction!
There’s a really cool online fantasy convention that started due to COVID. They have a short story contest each year, and this anthology is a collection of the first three places from both years.
I quite enjoyed this anthology, that covers fantasy to science fiction as well as different tones and styles. As with any short story collection there’s some that worked better for me than others, but overall they were all more than worth the read!
If you’re looking for small bites to test out different new authors, this is well worth a look!