Blog Post: And Now For Something Completely Different: Refreshing Reads from Indie Publishers

Regular readers of my blog (hi, both!) will know that I have very eclectic tastes in books. I’ll read most genres, and I like to mix things up. One of my greatest pleasures is discovering great books published by indie presses – it’s been one of the best things about joining Book Twitter. Finding new, exciting writers who are pushing the boundaries and doing something different is such a thrilling feeling.

I could have made this list three times as long, but for now, here, in no particular order, is a selection of fabulous books I’ve read recently that will hit the spot if you’re looking for something just a bit different. I’ve linked to my full reviews if you want to find out more about my thoughts on any of them, and if you click on the publishers, you can find the link to buy direct, which is a great way to support indie presses!

Charity by Madeline Dewhurst

Published by Lightning Books, this debut novel is beautifully constructed. Echoes of past actions and crimes reverberate into the present day, and nothing is quite as it seems.

Here’s the blurb:

“Edith, an elderly widow with a large house in an Islington garden square, needs a carer. Lauren, a nail technician born in the East End, needs somewhere to live. A rent-free room in lieu of pay seems the obvious solution, even though the pair have nothing in common.

Or do they? Why is Lauren so fascinated by Edith’s childhood in colonial Kenya? Is Paul, the handsome lodger in the basement, the honest broker he appears? And how does Charity, a Kenyan girl brutally tortured during the Mau Mau rebellion, fit into the equation?

Capturing the spirited interplay between two women divided by class, generation and a deeper gulf from the past, and offering vivid flashbacks to 1950s East Africa, Madeline Dewhurst’s captivating debut spins a web of secrets and deceit – where it’s not always obvious who is the spider and who is the fly.”

You can read my full review here.

Outsiders edited by Alice Slater

This brilliant anthology from 3 of Cups Press contains some staggeringly good short stories. It is also really cohesive, the different voices coming together to build something that is more than the sum of its parts. I’m already looking forward to rereading this collection.

Blurb:

“This is an anthology about people who don’t fit in. These stories explore what it is to be an outsider, from some of the most exciting voices in short fiction.

From lovers to loners, moonlighters to midnight walkers, these pages are haunted by more than ghosts: loss, lack of direction, insecurity and otherworldly hunger. 

But most importantly, it asks the question: if we’re us, then who are you?

With stories from: Julia Armfield, Jen Campbell, Sarvat Hasin, Beverley Ho, Emma Hutton, Susan James, Kirsty Logan, Lena Mohamed, Heather Parry, Leone Ross, Stephanie Victoire, Anna Walsh, Eley Williams, Lara Williams and Anna Wood and a foreword by Irenosen Okojie.”

You can read my full review here.

Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead

Absorbed is out in a couple of weeks from brand new imprint New Ruins, a joint project by two fantastic indie presses, Influx and Dead Ink. I’ll let the blurb do the talking for this one – yes, it is as odd as it sounds, and also yes, it is VERY good:

“Allison has been with Owen since university. She’s given up on writing her novel and is working a dull office job at the local council – now it feels like the only interesting thing about her is that she’s Owen’s girlfriend. But he’s slipping away from her, and Allison has no idea who she’ll be without him.

Panicking, she absorbs him…

Soon Allison begins taking on Owen’s best qualities, becoming the person she always thought she should be. But is Owen all she needs to complete herself? Will Allison ever be a whole person?

Absorbed is the original and timely debut novel from Kylie Whitehead; a darkly comic story of female insecurity, body horror and modern relationships.

You can read my full review here. Get your pre-order in now for a delicious slice of weirdness!

Chauvo-Feminism by Sam Mills

I feel like I haven’t read as much non-fiction this year as I normally do, but this essay, published by The Indigo Press, is a powerful, important read, and it really got me thinking. Here’s the blurb:

“The 2017 #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and abuse felt like a flagship moment, a time at which women were empowered to share their stories in a spirit of empowerment and solidarity and demand change. But have some men simply changed tactics?

The latest addition to The Indigo Press’s Mood Indigo series sees Sam Mills, author of the acclaimed novel The Quiddity of Will Self (“ambitious and outrageous” Guardian), and recent literary memoir of caring, The Fragments of My Father (“brave and original” The Times) investigate the phenomenon of ‘chauvo-feminism’, where men present themselves as feminists publicly, in order to advance their careers, while privately exhibiting chauvinistic attitudes.

Through testimony from women and men, as well as her own experiences with a chauvo-feminist, Mills explores the grey areas of modern relationships, gaslighting and emotional abuse, the psychological underpinnings of the chauvo-feminist, and asks how we might move beyond ‘trial by Twitter’ to encourage an honest and productive dialogue between the sexes.”

You can read my full review here.

The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh

This is such a joyous, funny, big-hearted book – a quirky, surreal adventure led by three of the most original characters I’ve come across in fiction for some time. Both playful and wise, The Dig Street Festival, published by Louise Walters Books, is a book that stays with you, and I highly recommend it.

Blurb:

“It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House – a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor.

When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…

Funny, original, philosophical, and unexpectedly moving, The Dig Street Festival takes a long, hard, satirical look at modern British life, and asks of us all, how can we be better people?”

You can read my full review here.

My Brother the Messiah by Martin Vopenka translated by Anna Gustova Bryson

My Brother the Messiah, published by Barbican Press, was such an unexpected gem of a book. For me, this is an almost perfect novel. It is deeply intelligent but not at all pretentious, tender and profound and also highly readable, and I urge you to check it out. Here is the blurb to tempt you further:

“It’s 2096. Scientists work to protect a baking planet. What a drought-stricken Europe needs is rain. What it gets is a messiah.

Eli is born in a suburb of Prague. A rainstorm heralds the birth. Perhaps this messiah is for real. Eli’s father abandons the family to become the dictator’s right-hand man. Eli’s elder brother Marek guides Eli through his short and powerful life.

Can tales of a messiah be enough to heal a ravaged planet in which few babies are born? If so, Marek works with the zeal of a prophet. Aged 72, he’s still going strong. A new follower joins Marek’s community, young Natalia. She awakens the old man to the joys of the body. But what’s the worth of a human love when the environment is collapsing? Marek sets out to find his answer.

My Brother the Messiah is a story about daring to seed the future of our planet.”

You can read my full review here.

Yes Yes More More by Anna Wood

This short story collection, published by The Indigo Press, is a breath of fresh air. Funny, piercing, original – I can’t wait to read more by this author. And I’ve never read anyone who writes nights out as well as Anna Wood!

Blurb:

“Two schoolgirls in Bolton take acid just before their English class. A film journalist shares tea and a Kitkat with Marcel Proust, more or less, during a long train journey. An afterparty turns into a crime scene. Colleagues, maybe in love, have lunch and don’t quite talk about their relationship. A woman flees to New Orleans and finds unexpected treasures there.

In her electric debut, Anna Wood skips through the decades of a woman’s life, meeting friends, lovers, shapeshifters and doppelgangers along the way. Delights and regrets pile up, time becomes non-linear, characters stumble and shimmy through moments of rupture, horror and joy.

Written with warmth, wit and swagger, these stories glide from acutely observed comic dialogue to giddy surrealism and quiet heartbreak, and always there is music – pop songs as tiny portals into another world. Yes Yes More More is packed with friendship, memory, pleasure and love.”

You can read my full review here.

Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez translated by Christina MacSweeney

Published by Charco Press, this novel is beautifully crafted and hugely enjoyable. It has just the right mix of screwball humour and intricately plotted mystery, and I loved it. Here’s the blurb:

It was as if we’d reached the minimum critical point of a mathematical curve. Imagine a parabola. Zero point down, at the bottom of an abyss. That’s how low we sank.

The year is 1993. Cuba is at the height of the Special Period, a widespread economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

For Julia, a mathematics lecturer who hates teaching, Havana is at Year Zero: the lowest possible point, going nowhere. Desperate to seize control of her life, Julia teams up with her colleague and former lover, Euclid, to seek out a document that proves the telephone was invented by Antonio Meucci in Havana, convinced it is the answer to secure their reputations and give Cuba a purpose once more.

From this point zero, Julia sets out on an investigation to befriend two men who could help lead to the document’s whereabouts, and must pick apart a tangled mystery of sex, family legacies and the intricacies of how people find ways to survive in a country at its lowest ebb.”

You can read my full review here.

Fridge by Emma Zadow

This really was something completely different – the first playscript I’ve read for a long time. Published by Renard Press, Fridge is a really engaging, active reading experience, and I loved imagining myself at the theatre watching it unfold in front of me. Here’s the blurb:

“Alice hasn’t been home for a while – for seven years, in fact. But when her little sister Lo tries to take her own life, she has to return to the life she left behind. The change of scenery from London to Norfolk proves quite the culture shock, however, and Alice has to confront what she left behind all those years ago.

The sisters’ relationship hasn’t evolved in Alice’s absence, and when she steps through the door she’s plunged back into the same world she escaped from. Set against Norfolk’s bleak landscapes, but masquerading as childhood nostalgia, Fridge is an all-too-familiar exploration of the broken promises of youth, and a bitter exposition of a generation left behind.”

You can read my full review here.

Sybelia Drive by Karin Cecile Davidson

Published in the States by Braddock Avenue Books, this is a little harder to track down in the UK, but you can find it at Blackwell’s and it is absolutely worth it. I fell deeply in love with this novel – it is a book that I feel passionately about, that deserves to be shouted about and read so widely. It is lyrical, intelligent, subtle and moving, covering an era that is perhaps more familiar from films than from literature, and I will be raving about Sybelia Drive for a very long time. Here’s the blurb to encourage you to READ THIS BOOK:

“In the small lake town where LuLu, Rainey, and Saul are growing up, day-to-day life is anything but easy. Navigating the usual obstacles of youth would be enough for anyone, but for this trio a world marred by the Vietnam War, detached parents, and untimely death create circumstances overloaded with trouble. Yet through their unyielding resourcefulness and the willingness to expose their vulnerabilities, these three friends discover deeper bonds than even they could ever imagine.

Told through kaleidoscopic images and in prose that will keep you on the edge of your seat, Sybelia Drive is a story of three friends who push beyond the typical woes of childhood into teenage years transformed by the shared baggage of a generation, years when men walk on the moon; students are killed during a peace demonstration at Kent State; and the obligations of military service claim the lives of fathers, husbands, and children.

Investigating the personal impact of social upheaval with unparalleled sensitivity and depth, Sybelia Drive is a novel that will stay with you for a long, long time. It is an extraordinary debut.”

You can read my full review here.

Cockfight by María Fernanda Ampuero translated by Frances Riddle

Published by Influx Press, this short story collection is a fierce, searing exploration of the darkest places of the human soul – in highly original ways, Ampuero probes the subjects other writers would not dare to touch. It is not for the faint-hearted, but the emotional pummelling is well worth it – Cockfight is a stunning book. Here is the blurb:

“Named one of the ten best fiction books of 2018 by the New York Times en EspañolCockfight is the debut work by Ecuadorian writer and journalist María Fernanda Ampuero.

In lucid and compelling prose, Ampuero sheds light on the hidden aspects of the home: the grotesque realities of family, coming of age, religion, and class struggle. A family’s maids witness a horrible cycle of abuse, a girl is auctioned off by a gang of criminals, and two sisters find themselves at the mercy of their spiteful brother. With violence masquerading as love, characters spend their lives trapped re-enacting their past traumas.

Heralding a brutal and singular new voice, Cockfight explores the power of the home to both create and destroy those within it.”

You can read my full review here.

Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel by Drew Gummerson

The first book published by new indie publisher – and now bookshop owner – Bearded Badger Publishing, Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel is exactly the reason we need indie presses, willing to take a chance on books that don’t fit into a conventional mold. This book is hilarious, rude and downright bizarre at times, but it is also very clever and insightful, and it uses the unusual second person ‘you’ to wonderful effect. Here’s the rather enigmatic blurb – I urge you to visit the Flamingo Hotel and discover it for yourself:

“You could’ve been someone, you could’ve been a contender, yet instead you ended up here, a dishwasher at the Flamingo Hotel. From the death of your mother, to homelessness, to insanity, and back again, to an encounter with an American serial killer, a love affair with a performance artist, to the loss of your foreskin, to living in a shed, and certain bum operations, you have only ever wanted one thing…

To find someone worse off than yourself.

And now’s your chance.

You’ve got seven nights…at the Flamingo Hotel.”

You can read my full review here.

I hope at least one or two of these magnificent books have piqued your interest – do let me know in the comments below, and please do add your own suggestions of books from indie publishers!

Happy reading!

Ellie x

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