Someone will balk and say I’m exaggerating, but I mean it when I say that the authors I’m listing here are every bit as good in their respective genres as any New York Times best-seller or Newberry Award recipient. Their writing is consistently tight and polished with a unique and powerful voice, and they go beyond simply entertaining me by adding depth to their characters and themes that really inspire me to be better. I’ve had the tremendous privilege of “meeting” these people through the power of the internet and social media, and I can tell you they’re as wonderful as their works.
This list differs from a Top 10 sort of thing because it isn’t about individual stories but rather the overall talent / skill of the writer. These are authors I watch closely because someday, I want to grow up and write as well as they do! This will be a post that I update as I discover new-to-me indies, so check back from time to time. Also, this list only includes authors if I’ve read more than one of their books. I have read some fantabulous single novels, and I’m waiting to see if those writers continue at the same level before I add them here.
In alphabetical order (because once you’re at this level, you stop ranking things and just go “Wow!”)
(especially for Beggar Magic, the Nyssa Glass series and Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon, but see her many other dragon books, too)
Burke shows crazy amounts of versatility in her writing, mastering everything from sharply witty children’s literature to mysterious, insightful fantasies or dystopian adventures, to steampunk sagas. Whatever the genre, she nails it down even while bringing a fresh new twist to established formulas.
(especially for Irish Mysteries and Phil Brennan stories)
Canfield has one of the strongest narrative voices I’ve had the pleasure of reading. He is simultaneously sympathetic, self-deprecating, and snarky. I laugh (or snicker and snort) and I cry, and I care about his characters very much. His books are billed loosely as mysteries, but they are more of the solving-a-puzzle sort than the dead-body-crime sort.
(especially for the Divided Decade series and its spin-off, Ella Wood or the Song of the Mountain series.)
Isenhoff wastes no words. Her prose is elegant and vivid, packing striking and memorable images onto the page without demanding that the reader carry a dictionary at all times. The stories match or beat the best of anything I read in middle school and high school literature classes, and the messages are timeless. Time after time, I’ll read a passage and grunt with satisfaction. “I wish I’d written that!”
(especially the Annals of Alasia series and the Collar and the Cavvarach series)
Lima is a master world-builder–whether she’s giving things a medieval feel or a futuristic flavor. Her details and her characters are richly drawn. She has a particular gift for rotating points of view in such a way that readers really get to see all sides of a story–and the issue it involves. This prompts some real soul-searching about personal values and biases and expands the mind in delightful ways.
(especially Bingo Summer and The Upside of Down)
Malone is my newest discovery, and I’m absolutely blown away by how she transforms the whole genre of contemporary middle grade fiction. Her protagonists put a face on poverty, homelessness, and every sincere fear a young teen faces. It’s so much more than fluffy friendship battles or popularity crises. This is the kind of stuff every kid should be reading because it will help them relate to the world around them with more insight.
(especially the Kibble Talk series)
Few books have ever made me laugh literally out loud as many times per page as Port’s Kibble Talk series. Though targeting a middle grade audience, these books have sophisticated layers of humor woven through every scene that will keep adults entertained as much or more than the kids. She’s a smart funny lady, and her books prompt you to look at things very differently even while laughing at the absurdity of a Great Dane who wants to be a lap dog. The punchlines are never forced, always fresh.
(especially the Cassidy Jones series)
Stokes has a gift for writing action and teen angst in a way that is neither cliche nor formulaic. Her villains and adventures cry out to be made into a movie series that would rival the Harry Potter franchise for excitement with depth. She has also found a way to make a female superhero that isn’t just a male superhero with longer hair. Cassidy Jones keeps her femininity while busting some pretty amazing martial arts moves. I read these books and wish I could write heart-pounding action sequences like Stokes.