In 2014, PW reviewed hundreds of self-published titles—works of fiction and nonfiction from a wide variety of genres—and handed out 24 starred reviews. In conjunction with PW's Best Books of 2014, we are also pleased to highlight the best of the best from BookLife:
Capital Offenses: The Artwork of Stephen Barnwell
Stephen Barnwell. Antarctica Arts, $75 (140p) ISBN 978-0-9913216-0-5
Barnwell's provocative artwork takes the form of reimagined banknotes, coupons, and stamps -- all of them reappropriating the aesthetic of the establishment in order to critique it. With works like the controversial "United States of Islam" -- which features U.S. currency featuring scenes of historical Islamic military victories, the artist takes aim at everything from finance to foreign policy. In a starred review, our reviewer praised Barnwell his ability to "ably criticizes the extent to which energy and other corporate interests influence American government and imperil the nation's future," adding that "Barnwell's work exposes the contradictions and hypocrisy of various power structures and even underscores the intricate elegance of currency as an aesthetic experience.
Hair of the Corn Dog
A.K. Turner. Fever Streak Press, $12 paper (220p) ISBN 978-0-9913759-2-9
In Turner's third installment in her Tales of Imperfection series (after This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store and Mommy Had a Little Flask), the Idaho mother of two provides yet another batch of hilarious, self-deprecating tales of parenthood. The book received a star from PW with our reviewer calling it, "Well paced, entertaining...this new addition to Turner's popular series will leave readers looking forward to the next installment.
Azin Sametipour. CreateSpace, $14.99 paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-4912-6519-2
Sametipour's novel chronicles the struggles of Mahtab, a 23-year-old woman Iranian violinist attempting to escape her morally rigid father and abusive brother. Our reviewer called Mahtah's struggle for independence -- she finds her life even more complicates when she falls in love with an Iranian American -- "a microcosm of Iranian society," praising the book's "robust, confident style and probing characterizations" and calling it a "startling novel that celebrates love without blinking at the pain of its protagonist."
The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl
Julian David Stone. For the Duration Press, $14.95 paper (408p) ISBN 978-0-9898315-0-5
In Stone's novel set in 1950s New York during the golden age of television and the Red Scare, TV writer Jonny Dirby loses his job for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the United States. But after Jonny changes the dialogue of sketch parodying Superman -- in what he thought was an act of revenge -- he inadvertently creates a popular new character named Justice Girl, is rehired, and must do his best to avoid being blacklisted. The book was given a star with our hailing it as "a lurid depiction of mass media's power in shaping our fantasies, values, ideals, and fears," and adding that "this fast-paced and emotionally vibrant satire is a treat for television buffs and general readers alike."
The Great Liars
Jerry Jay Carroll. Jerry Jay Carroll, $14 trade paper (362p) ISBN 978-0-9898269-0-7
In Carroll's thriller, when oral historian Harriet Gallatin starts working with former Navy Lt. Lowell Brady -- who is now living in an old age home -- she uncovers a secret about Pearl Harbor so terrible that her assignment becomes a race against time and a battle for survival. Our reviewer game the book a star, calling it a "meticulously constructed thriller from Carroll [that] delivers healthy doses of political conspiracy, paranoia, and pulse-pounding suspense," and adding that "military absurdity and governmental betrayal are depicted with wit and humor...Carroll has crafted a crowd-pleasing page-turner, replete with cultural criticism and refreshing honesty."