Indie Romances to Push Your Buttons (and Boundaries)

Posted by Sharon on February 8, 2021
 
Talia Hibbert is a bestselling romance author and certified book nerd. Her hobbies include reading about baking, reading about chess, reading about long walks on the beach, and reading about brunch with friends.

Hibbert occasionally puts all that reading to use by telling other people what they should read. Some say this makes her bossy, but she prefers the term authoritative.

Hibbert's next book is Act Your Age, Eve Brown, the final installment of her The Brown Sisters series, in U.S. stores on March 9.


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I believe anything can be a romance, so long as it has a central romantic relationship and a happy ending. However, big publishing houses often require…a little more. They need their books to be marketable—clearly categorized, with plots and hooks and other spiky things. This is, from a business perspective, perfectly understandable. It is also, in my opinion, one reason many authors choose to publish their books independently. Sometimes (and I speak from experience here) you just want to write your wonky little novel and get it out into the world, profit margins be damned.

Of course, the industry’s definition of “marketable” is far from immutable fact. Sometimes (often) it’s limited or outright bigoted, and nothing illustrates this better than self-publishing’s consistent success. The indie boom has, in my opinion, transformed the romance landscape. As a result, we readers can choose from a wider range of novels than ever before—a fact that’s informed and enriched my process as a writer, too.

So, to celebrate: Here’s a list of indie romance novels that changed or challenged the way I approach this genre.
 
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This book takes the stereotypical “taming of the alphahole” story and turns it…not upside down but inside out. This is a subversive, gut-wrenching exploration of grief, arrogance, and power. It’s also a red-hot romance stuffed with banter and charm.


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Frothy fated love—with harrowing, high stakes. The way this book plays with time, plus the family drama and emotional issues it unravels layer by layer, makes reading a cinematic experience. Like the cover, this story’s darkness is mitigated by sultry golden light. (Look for content warnings before reading.)


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I’m trash for puns. I’m trash for food porn. But what I love most about this book is: It feels like a sexy snapshot of the best parts of a suspense movie. Specifically, the parts that are usually rushed over: the central romance, the sexual tension, the love that fuels people to do wild things.


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I love all kinds of fantasy, but the quiet kind that focuses on culture and connections has a special place in my heart. In this adorable story, an acrobat and a mage come together for the microquest of getting some bloody dinner and fall in love over the course of their walk.



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A brooding dom, a Clark Kent–looking sub, and the woman they should never have met. When you sit back and think about it, this book—full of murder, grief, and BDSM—is technically bonkers. But its core is viciously down to earth, from the extreme pain to the extreme pleasure.


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How to describe the story of an interspecies arranged marriage? A slow burn, strangers-to-friends-to-lovers connection with poetic prose? An aching sexual attraction that grows despite each main character looking like a literal monster in their spouse’s eyes? Radiance is right.


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This novella combines traditional historical romance tropes with a few fresher elements. Namely: steampunk, annoying vampires, and brooding lesbian inventors. This romance is as fluffy as a Victoria sponge [cake], and the housemaid heroine is the extra-tart jam in the middle.


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This book’s prose is hauntingly familiar. Not just because I’ve read, like, 99 Kennedy Ryan books, but because she writes as if she’s scooping words out of the earth’s core by hand. Hook Shot combines spirituality, family, determination, and pain in a way that will leave you breathless.


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I have recced this one before, and God knows I’ll rec it again. Trashed will indeed leave you trashed; reading the world entirely through ex-con Eddie’s point of view is a hot and sweaty nightclub high. His perspective is like living through a telescope: Everything’s dizzyingly close, including love.


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Another story told entirely from the hero’s point of view—except this hero is a lonely caveman. A modern woman plops into Ehd’s life, making strange mouth noises and wearing weird clothes. Despite the sci-fi setup, this romance is entirely domestic; two opposites learning to communicate despite being literally unable to do so.


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In this genre, it often feels like even the baddest heroines have to be “good” in certain, fundamental ways. This one…isn’t. If you’re a fan of the Seven of Nine, “I could kill you, but I’m reformed” vibe, here you go. Bonus: The sweetheart hero is a literal daddy.


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This Arthurian retelling is epic, despite taking place almost entirely in a one-room hut. Stuffed full of tropes (there’s only one bed! Brother’s best friend!) and angst (it was my fault you lost your hand!), the romance is so compelling you really will feel, er…marked. By fire-y prose. (Couldn’t resist.)


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Remember those slow, small-town TV shows about perfectly simple worlds? This book is like that, only funnier and hotter, with a relatable, emotional bite. A quiet, down-to-earth comfort read with a metric ton of incidental food porn. You’ll miss this novel as soon as you put it down.


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The cozy tension of a baking competition is the perfect backdrop for this grumpy/sunshine pairing. Both heroines experience their Dominican identity differently, and negotiating those differences makes for an emotional examination of the ways our heritage can hurt or heal us. (Also, there’s only one bed.)


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A gothic Stuart romance about a highwayman and a sex-trafficking victim shouldn’t be so…sweet. This book is dramatic AF, with unnervingly garish villains, a clear-eyed take on the immediacy of death, and a delightful mistaken identity trope. (Find content notes before reading!)



Now it's your turn! Do you read indie and self-published romances? What are some of your favorites?
 

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Kate (new)

Kate Wilburn Love anything by Chloe Liese but especially the Bergman Brothers series.


message 2: by Natalie (new)

Natalie "A Land So Wild" is a great historical m/m romance (with an f/f/ subplot)!


message 4: by Liz (new)

Liz Alden Grace Draven writes amazing Fantasy. I just finished Master of Crows, which is very good too!


message 5: by Helen (new)

Helen Lucy Howe Check out Samantha Marshall - new Australian author with two excellent fantasy/paranormal/romance series going. One starts with: 'Sorcery and Stardust',
the other with: 'Aislinn's Shadow'.


message 6: by Fiona (new)

Fiona McGier Anything by Lisabet Sarai is steamy and sexy. Shari Elder has 2 books in her Green Rising series--steamy! James Cox wrote 3 books in his Otherworld series--M/M/F, but different participants in each book--yet each of the 3 gets what they need from the other 2. You'll need to fan yourself! I do reviews for TBR Pile, and few books rate a 5--but all of these did.

And I write erotic romance also--you can find out more at my GR page. Fiona McGier


message 7: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn Christina C Jones book is amazing
The Reinvention of the Rose...


The FountainPenDiva, Old school geek chick and lover of teddy bears Too bad Talia Hibbert stats so busy. Goodreads needs to hire her for any and ALL Best Romance Reads lists. Her picks are indie and diverse #ownvoices and that's cool.


message 9: by Dani (new)

Dani Nikki Clarke is one of my favorite indie authors, especially her Lyqa Lovers series. I enjoy alien romances where the alien planet is a pleasant place to be and not some dystopian place at war (no prison planets for me!). It is also fun to read black characters that sound like my relatives without going overboard on the slang.


message 10: by Grace✨ (new)

Grace✨ I can't wait to read Mangos & Mistletoe!!


kittykat (Jo Tortitude) Yea Talia, guaranteed to offer a range of books covering different types of people.

In romance, I tend to prefer indies over trads because they are not confined to so many of the 'acceptable' conventions of the genre and I always want to see a lot more of them in these blog posts and this delivers. Kennedy Ryan, however, is in the top tier league and deserves so much more attention for her work, I think she is fearless in the topics she weaves her EPIC romances around and the people she gives well-deserved HEAs to.


Ije the Devourer of Books I am going to set up a Talia Hibbert recs shelf and include these books. Each one sounds intriguing. I love reading romance but I like stories that are different and not following the usual conventions. Thanks for this Talia.


message 13: by Torie (new)

Torie Bledsoe Jade Alter, the Phoenix inheritance series is really good, I've read the first 2, third coming out Feb25


message 14: by Dee (new)

Dee Rosalind James who writes the Escape from New Zealand series is a favorite of mine


message 15: by Tina (new)

Tina Haigler More indie lists please!


message 16: by ☾Sabrina♡༄ (new)

☾Sabrina♡༄ Kate wrote: "Love anything by Chloe Liese but especially the Bergman Brothers series."

I second this! Always Only You is THE BEST. Unforgettable.

Talia's own Take a Hint, Dani Brown was great too.


message 17: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Thanks so much for putting this list together, I've found a few that I can't wait to dig into!


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