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Free Friday: Today’s top free Amazon sci-fi and fantasy books for May 15
By Maria Korolov and Amira Loutfi
Did you know that Amazon has a list of the top-selling and free sci-fi and fantasy books?
The list changes constantly — authors set their books to free temporarily to promote their work, and, of course, books move up and down in the rankings. But are any of the books actually worth reading? Well, I read the first few chapters of each to find out, so you don’t have to.
This week’s list is completely different from those of the previous weeks. So if you’re a fan of free books, it looks like there are going to be new things to read all the time.
There are a lot of books to go through, so this week I’m being helped out by Amira Loutfi, our reviews editor.
I’ve noticed that if you try to open the list on a mobile device, it will take you to the listings that cost money, instead. I’ve found that by switching to the “desktop site” in the mobile browser, the free list comes up.
Oh, and if there’s a book that catches your eye, grab it quickly, since the books are often free for only a short time. And, Amazon allows you to lend your e-books, for free, to your friends. Even free e-books. Here are the instructions.
Most of these books are the first book in the series, and in each case I’ve checked to see whether the rest of the books are free as well, or whether they’re in Kindle Unlimited. Learn more about Kindle Unlimited here.
The list is accurate as of the time of writing, but may have changed since the story was posted.
1. Dragons in the Stars by Jeffrey A. Carver
This is the second book of the six-book Star Rigger Universe series. The rest of the books are $4.99 or $6.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
Jael LeBrae, 18, is new to being a space pilot. In this universe, it takes special psychic skills for people to be able to do it, and most age out in their mid-20s. She spends her time in a hiring hall, waiting for a chance to fly, but most legitimate shippers won’t take a chance on her. Not only is she new but her father, who was himself a shipper, had a very bad reputation that’s rubbed off on her through no fault of her own.
Then someone offers her a job that’s a little too good to be true. Not only will she get to fly, but she’ll get more of the training she needs in order to move ahead in her career. The downside? This shipper isn’t completely legit.
I’m guessing that her inexperience and desperation is going to make her take the job, and it’s not going to be what she expected. Just too many warning bells going off that she’s ignoring.
I also have another guess. The prologue was from the point of view of a dragon who just lost its mate. And the dragon communicated with its mate psychically. I’m betting that Jael and the dragon are going to get together with some kind of psychic link.
The book is well written and eminently readable, but I’m a little put off by both Jael and the dragon’s personalities. Jael seems extremely needy, wounded, and passive. If she was sitting alone at a bus terminal, she’s be the first one the traffickers would go after. And the dragon seems like a young hothead. Neither of them appeals to me personally, and since I don’t want to spend more time with them, I’m not going to read the book.
But I think there might be an interesting story here for people who are interested in these types of characters, in their personal growth, and their struggles to find a place in the world.
2. Off the Grid by Robert J. Walker
This is a standalone book of a post-EMP apocalypse. The author has several other books of this kind up on Amazon. An EMP is an electromagnetic pulse which destroys electronics.
Oh no, not another EMP blast book.
Unless you’re a fan of EMP blast books, in which case, yay, another EMP blast book!
The book starts with two squads of police officers closing in on a drug-trafficking biker gang. It’s winter, there’s a blizzard, and they’re wearing Arctic camouflage gear. Two of the bikers try to shoot back and Troy kills one and his fellow officer Leo kills the other. The rest of the bikers surrender.
On the way back to the police station, Troy and Leo have the biker gang leader in the back, when their car dies, and with it, their phones.
Troy immediately knows that this is not a random coincidence or a localized issue but a massively catastrophic terrorist attack. Is he psychic, does he know something we don’t know, or is he really just hoping it’s a massive EMP attack because he’s a survivalist nut job?
The biker gang leader also knows that it’s an EMP attack — but he also knows exactly how it happened.
Troy’s wife, Julia, is a botanist who specializes in edible plans. How convenient! She’s on way way home from a conference, and still has nine hours of driving ahead of her. When she stops for gas, someone breaks into her car and steals her survivalist bug-out bag.
She and her dog are in their car, in the middle of nowhere when the blast hits, killing her car’s motor and her phone. She’s still a hundred miles from home, it’s cold, and she had to tape up her broken window to keep the wind out, and it’s not holding.
Again — psychically? — she knows it’s not a coincidence or a localized event but a massive EMP attack, and starts to hike, wolves howling in the distance.
Boy scouts Anthony and Vincent are out with their troop, delivering food and supplies to the needy who were trapped in their homes by the blizzard, when the EMP blast hits. They’re Troy and Leo’s sons and again, they instantly know that this is a massive EMP attack, and not any of a hundred more likely possibilities.
Ugh. I’m sorry, but I can’t keep reading. This reads like a wish-fulfillment book for people who really want there to be a disaster like this, so that they’d be proved right and all their years of stockpiling and prepping won’t have been wasted. Having spent a year living through a real disaster of this Covid pandemic, the last thing I want to do is read about a fictional disaster and a bunch of nut jobs who just couldn’t wait to see it happen.
3. Casino Witch Mysteries by Nikki Haverstock
This is the first two books of the seven-book Casino Witch Mysteries series. The rest of the books are $3.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited.
And now for a little palate-cleanser. A cozy witch mystery!
Ella has just found out that she’s a witch, there’s a mischievous cat who wants to be her familiar, and her new coworker is cranky but very, very attractive.
I must have read this story a million times already. But, to be honest, I’m going to read it again. And enjoy it.
So, Ella works at a casino, and she just moved into her Dad’s apartment after he’d been murdered. She’s a freelance financial auditor. While she’s working at her desk, a giant cat, the size of a medium dog, keeps bothering her and sneaking into her office. This is a common type of cat in this town, which is Rambler, Nevada. And the cat bites her.
She’s at the casino’s owner office when she sees marks spreading up her arm from where the cat bit her, and thinks she’s been infected by a poison. But the casino owner knows what’s going on, and she calls in witnesses and they do a little ritual. Ella’s now bonded to a cat, learns she’s got some magical powers — her ability to spot financial fraud isn’t just pure professional skill – and the casino owner sends her home with a ton of cat supplies.
At home, she discovers that her dad left her a mysterious necklace, and that her new cat hates dry cat food.
I’m interested. I like the Ella. I like the casino owner. I like the cat. I like the fact that all the other books are in Kindle Unlimited.
This book set is a keeper.
4. The Dragon of New Orleans by Genevieve Jack
This is the first book in an eight-book series, The Treasure of Paragon. The other books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. It’s the second week in a row that this book has made the top-ten free sci-fi and fantasy book list.
Gabriel Blakemore is an immortal dragon. Or, at least, he used to be immortal. A voodoo curse is making him sick.
Ravenna Tanglewood is in a hospice, dying of brain cancer. The only thing she’s happy about is that she can donate her organs. She’s half-paralyzed, on a morphine drip. She’s had the chemo, she’s had the surgeries. This is the end. And death himself shows up. Or, at least, a guy who isn’t wearing medical scrubs. And time stops — literally — the IV stops dripping, the clock stopped. This is the end. One thing that surprises her — death is a hunk. Dark, brooding, scruffy. Judging by the book cover and the Ravenna’s description, I’m picturing him to look like Tom Ellis in the TV show Lucifer. And the visitor turns out to be Gabriel.
Yup, Gabriel saw an old newspaper article where she’d had a premonition of a fire, causing her parents to buy a new fire extinguisher, and thus saving their business and their lives. Now he thinks she’s psychic.
Now we switch back to his point of view, and he’s a little shocked by how awful she looks. Nothing at all like her newspaper picture. But she did used to be an honors anthropology student with a minor in history. So he offers her a job. If she consents, he can use what little magic he’s got left to bind her. Unless the cancer has taken so much of her mind that she can no longer consent. Then it wouldn’t work. And she says yes. So he pulls out a tooth — a giant dragon tooth — out of his mouth. He turns the tooth into a pill, and tossed it down the back of her throat like I do with my cat. Then he leaves and time starts moving again.
Okay, I’m caught up in the story. I want to know why he needs her specifically. Also, the writing is really good.
Update: I went back last weekend and continued reading the book.
5. Firecracker by A.L. Knorr
This is the first book in the five-book Arcturus Academy series. The other books are $4.99 or $5.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited. The fifth book is due out in June.
It’s Saxony’s first year at the Arcturus Academy for fire mages. She was admitted early, and will be finishing up her high school classes and taking a lighter course load than other students — but she’s also the most powerful of them all.
At first glance, it doesn’t sound much like a story I would enjoy, because of the whole supernatural school and teenage protagonist thing, but Saxony turns out to be tough and competent and fun to spend time with. I like her, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.
There’s romance here, but it’s not too heavy handed, and lots and lots of action.
Right from the start, Saxony gives chase to a thief and does battle with him, which leaves her banged up — and she doesn’t seem to blink an eye. She’s decisive, fast, dogged, a risk taker, but grounded in common sense. That’s a rare combination.
6. Murder Any Witch Way by N.M. Howell
This is the first book in the four-book Brimstone Bay magical mystery series. The other two books are both $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
River is a reporter in a small town in Maine called Brimstone Bay.
When she was a student New York City, she didn’t exactly flaunt the fact that she was a witch, but she had a decent support group of others of her kind. Now that she’s moved to a small town, she’s back in the closet. She was at NYU for her journalism degree. That’s a good place to study journalism.
She found her housing on an online forum for the paranormal community, a room in a Victorian seaside mansion on Black Cat Lane, where she lives with three other twenty-something witches.
Her big problem is that nothing ever happens in a small town. The big story the previous week was about a new street cleaning machine. So she wants to try to bring the paranormal-themed Shadow Festival to town. Her editor is skeptical. But River is friends with the town’s new mayor, who not only has a crush on her, but who also spent twenty years in Los Angeles and was familiar with the paranormal community and had a lot of witch friends back in LA.
This is a universe where magic is not only real, but out in the open — kind of, at least in the big cities.
And it turns out that the good-looking mayor had the same idea that she did, and the Shadow Festival is already in the works.
The festival has something of the feel of a pride parade, and the newspaper is now gearing up to cover the festivities — and all the controversy it’s bound to generate.
For someone who’s brand new to a small town, River seems extremely well connected. Getting up to speed fast is a good skill for a journalist to have, so I’m optimistic about her career prospects.
The story is slow to get moving. We get some stories about people who’s been murdered a very long time ago by the Puritans, and then, finally, a dead body a few chapters in. But it’s okay because it was a fun, cozy read getting there. I’m sticking with this book.
7. Vampire With Benefits by E.J. Russell
This is the second of three books in the Supernatural Selection series. The other two books are $3.99 each but are both in Kindle Unlimited.
Casimir Moreau was a mediocre silent film actor before he became a vampire, looking forward to a freewheeling eternal life with lots and lots of sexy times. Now he has to marry someone he’s never met, sanctioned for violations of the rule against creating any more vampires — even though he was innocent. But he did break plenty of other rules. Apparently, he’s not taking his new life as a vampire very seriously, and it’s starting to annoy people.
The council is going to marry him off to a supernatural of their choosing, supposedly for his own good, and for the good of the race. And they send him to a matchmaking agency run by a witches’ collective.
Already, this story is so preposterous. I love it.
He going to be marrying an incubus named Quentin Bertrand-Harrington and it’s a guaranteed perfect match.
Casimir isn’t exactly a settling down kind of guy.
In the waiting room of the matchmaking agency, he meets Rusty, a construction engineer, a shapeshifter whose other shape is a beaver, but who can’t shift.
And the next chapter is from Rusty’s point of view. Oh no, are the two of them going to get together? But what about Quentin, the incubus? I was really rooting for him. So Rusty’s ex-boyfriend and best friend since childhood went off and got engaged to a woman from another beaver clan, so Rusty signed up for the matchmaking service the next day and got matched up with a guy named Ted. But Ted’s just gone off and married someone else. Rusty punches a hole in a wall.
Back to Casimir. He’s walked out of the matchmaking agency, annoyed by Rusty, and is on the prowl for some random guy to hook up with. And maybe marry? Just to spite the council? Because Casimir is immature and impulsive. He sees a sure thing — and winds up watching his sure thing propose to his boyfriend, right there in the bar in front of everybody. Apparently, he’d missed the rumor that his sure thing was already dating someone, and was serious. Everyone is pairing off. It’s pissing Casimir off.
Meanwhile, Rusty has decided to hit the bars, too. His hand hurt from punching the wall, and he can use a drink to take the edge off. He sees someone with a knife coming after Casimir and steps in to protect the would-be attacker from the vampire — and the supernatural community from exposure due to Casimir’s carelessness.
And then — shocking twist! Turns out that Rusty’s perfect match — the one found for him by the witches — has married Casimir’s match. I did not see that coming.
So the two of them go out for drinks.
And then we get the other twist. Oh, I’m not going to spoil it. But let’s just say that it sets the whole plot in motion.
I like Casimir. I’m growing fond of Rusty.
So this is a romantic comedy, with a vampire and a were-beaver, full of ridiculously contrived situations. But there’s also a mystery. Who really committed the crime that Casimir is accused of?
I’ve got to say, I’m really getting into this book. And while it’s the second in a series, it feels more like a stand-alone book, so you don’t need to read the first one to enjoy it. Meanwhile this book is also the number one best seller in romantic fantasy in the Kindle store, and the number one best seller in gay romance. I can definitely see why.
8. The Dragon Blood Collection by Lindsay Buroker
This is the first three books in the eight-book Dragon Blood series. The other books are $2.99 to $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
The first book, Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, introduces Ridge, a talented military man who is sent to manage a prison of murderers and rapists as punishment for causing an international incident.
According to the description, a mysterious woman shows up who’s been asleep for the past 300 years and is the last “Referatu” who used to protect the realm of “Iskandia” from outsiders. She needs to be reunited with her soul-blade, and her only way of doing this is to pretend to be one of the prisoners and build a relationship with Ridge. She’s a sorcerer, and if Ridge ever finds out, he has to kill her.
So, from that description, the book sounds like it would be a sword-and-sorcery kind of book, and, by the cover, there should be dragons.
So let’s get started. First of all, it starts out with a military that sounds very modern-day, with modern titles. I like the fact that the military has female officers. I’m always a fan of women who kill — in my leisure reading, that is. But then there are unfamiliar country names, there’s a king, It’s the king who sends Ridge off to run the prison for a year, even though he’s needed at the front. Ridge is a flier. There are references to dragons, so I’m guessing they’re not piloting airplanes, but dragons?
I like Ridge. I’m a fan of military sci-fi. This is more like military fantasy, but close enough. Very enjoyable.
Then in the next chapter we switch to Sardelle’s point of view. She must be the mysterious woman the book description talked about. There was a battle, and an explosion brought a mountain down on her, and a safety device activated, cocooning her inside a magical bubble. The bubble put her in stasis until it was safe — and with the rocks all around her, that stasis lasted for 300 years. According to her telepathic talking sword, at least. Her sword warns her that times have changed, and if people see her using her magic powers, she’ll be killed.
Oh, and the reason she woke up? A couple of miners have reached her. Problem is, once they find her, they just want to rape her. They’re prisoners, forced to work in the mines. This must be the prison that Ridge is being sent to manage. She gives them both a rash and escapes down the tunnel, where she finds two prison guards. There’s an explosion, and the prisoners attack, and the guards mow them down with rifles. Sardelle hadn’t seen rifles before — 300 years ago, people didn’t have them. I like the fact that the book recognizes that things change over time. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine that fantasy and science fiction books often have empires that lasts for a thousand years with no changes in technology.
The guards assume that she’s one of the prisoners who’s wandered off because she didn’t know any better, and she’s taken to the prison.
But I’m a little disappointed that this is turning out to be a romance. I was hoping it was going to be a military action book.
But I like both of the main characters, and I like the writing style. So I have high hopes for this book.
Update: I’ve read the first book, then the next two, then I went and bought the next three… I’m on the sixth book of the series now and will just keep going!
9. Tropical Punch by S.C. Jensen
This is the first book of the three-book Bubbles in Space series. The other two books are $2.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
Apparently, this series incorporates language from “American Pulp noir” writers of the 20s-40s — I found this to be a bit confusing, but I continued reading without using the glossary.
It has a grungy setting — a grungy night club full of flashing lights, shady characters, and a rusty bar. Mystery and danger from the get-go — “I’m not supposed to talk to you,” says a stranger who our protagonist attempts to interrogate.
I like how one of the characters is described as a “lump of flesh.” Goodness. He’s a creepy detective and our protagonist’s former partner. After a tense conversation, he warns her, “we are watching you.”
Throughout this first chapter, there are several references to our protagonist’s “cybernetic arm.” She’s been on disability for a year since her arm had been “burned off” and she was fired from work. We gradually learn that she might be in trouble with her old employer, she’s looking for a mystery girl for a mystery client, which might be illegal considering how her former partner treats her and what the strange girl in the night club said to her. It’s intriguing.
This is a great beginning. I’m gonna fast forward to the third chapter to see if our author is able to keep up the good work. So when it comes to creating a grungy dangerous vibe – yes. I would say that our author has been able to keep it up. I can’t really testify to the plot or other storytelling devices since there were a lot of terms that I didn’t understand. It seems like there’s a lot of cyber-punk, dishonored detective stuff going on. The protagonist is humorless and tough, and laconic, which I like. Kind of like a hero from a western. I can’t say much more about this one other than it seems like it has succeeded in maintaining the tone and setting really well.
10. Cutthroat Cupcakes by Cate Lawley
This book is the first book in the three-book Cursed Candy Mysteries series. The other books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
This is about a woman who gets into trouble with a magical regulatory group for selling magical baked goods by accident.
I love the first chapter. It has a conversational tone — irreverent and cavalier — and several powerful storytelling elements. However, the artful manner in which our author constructed the first chapter is missing from chapters 2 and 3. I get the impression Lawley really studied how to write a strong opening and strong first chapter. Many of these top ten free books tend to be like that — if there is powerful storytelling, it seems to taper off after the first chapter.
Read the opening lines for yourself to get an idea of what I liked:
“I didn’t profile my guests.
“But on days when I wasn’t swamped with in-store shoppers and filling online orders, I practiced guessing the motivations of the people who entered my shop.”
She then describes her usual customers and how she is able to read them with accuracy — often giving them free samples that would suit their immediate emotional needs. She established tone — witty, cavalier — setting — a popular, modern, small-town candy-shop — and also suggests character arc — which is that the protagonist dedicated her life making the best candies in town, allowing us to assume that she probably could use a wild, imaginative adventure. In addition, this introduction promises us that something unique and bizarre is probably going to happen with one of her shoppers — AND IT DOES! Something unique and bizarre DOES happen with a shopper, and it’s at the end of the first chapter with a satisfying BANG.
This was an incredible start. I was excited to continue reading. I think if the author put as much effort into the rest of the book as she did into the first chapter, each of us would be forced into buying all of her work, stay up all night binge-reading it, and talk ceaselessly about it to our friends and family. Who we would force into buying her work. And the cycle would continue. Instead, Lawley probably got sidetracked by other obligations.
Weak world-building and seemingly pointlessness, unconvincing dialogue is what disappointed me about the next few chapters.
Do you have other free books for us to check out? Email me at [email protected].