We hope you enjoy our reviews. Revenues from the affiliate links help us pay for original stories and support writers of speculative fiction. Read more here.
Free Friday: Today’s top free Amazon sci-fi and fantasy books for May 21
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.
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. Holding Our Own by Carter Woods
This is a box set of two separate books, both set in the aftermath of an EMP blast that takes out the power grid and brings civilization to a halt.
From Maria Korolov:
Okay. Here’s the thing. It’s not so much that I’m opposed to post-apocalyptic books in general. I’m not a huge fan. I prefer books that cheer me up, instead of making me depressed, and most of them tend to be a little bleak. But at least the authors don’t seem to be rooting for the apocalypse.
But with the EMP sub-genre, I get the distinct feel that the authors feel a kind of gory satisfaction that the attack occurred. The doomsday preppers who were practicing for the eventually of the attack are finally proved right and all their preparations pay off. There’s usually a sense of distain for the people who didn’t prepare — unless they’re hot women, in which case the protagonists deign to save them. They’re like the religious fanatics who are suddenly proved right by the coming of whatever weird deity they’d been worshipping, who smites their enemies and eleates the faithful.
I recall there was a similar fad for books about the rapture. Both kinds of books often share a sense of superiority towards average people and a sense of satisfaction in their suffering.
I do not enjoy being near those people. The give me the creeps. So when I see a book in this genre, I feel an immediate sense of revulsion. I didn’t used to, until I started doing this series. Now I’ve read the beginnings of half a dozen books of this type, and with each new book, my distaste grows.
So, just telling you, I’m immediately prejudiced against this book based on the subtitle alone: “EMP Survival in a Powerless World.” But hey, you never know. Deep breath. Keep an open mind. Okay, let’s get started.
The book begins with a prologue set in the Russian Arctic. That’s new. Bombers are taking off from a Russian military base. They’re going to run a drill, simulating a nuclear attack on the United States. Except — it’s not a drill.
Why? We don’t know. The book immediately jumps to Washington, D.C., where students at the Stillwell School are watching a documentary about “mutually assured destruction.” One of the students is the president’s granddaughter, Olivia. The class is getting a lecture on what happens in the case of an attack when the power goes out. And the kids discover that their phones don’t work. Outside, cars were coasting to a stop in the middle of the street, and the traffic lights were out. The Secret Service team rushes in, followed by bodyguards for one of the other students. Then there’s an explosion near the Capitol.
One of the agent has a suspicion about what’s going on, but even he admits it’s going to sound crazy.
Meanwhile, captain Luke Thibodeaux is piloting a weather plane with six people on board when all the systems go down. One of those people is his teenage son, Jackson. Luke is going to have to glide to a landing at Andrews Air Force Base. And with no instruments, he’s flying practically blind.
Meanwhile, the secret service agents are taking Olivia, and one of her classmates, Beth, to safety. Beth’s mother works in a think tank, and she knows all about EMP blasts. As they pick up the pace, they talk about what it means and how EMP blasts work.
It’s only been half an hour since the blast, but fights are breaking out all over the place. People are setting fires.
Beth’s mother Angela is at work at the think tank, and she and her colleagues are doing a quick geopolitical analysis of the situation, trying to figure out who the attacker could be and what they’re likely to do next. And they need to get to president Yao quickly, before the inexperienced and likely confused man makes a mistake that sets off World War Three.
So far, all I’m seeing is smart, reasonable people, responding in reasonable, logical and competent ways to a terrible situation. I like them. They’re not snide, self-satisfied survivalist jerks.
And the book reads like a Tom Clancy thriller. A tense preview of what could actually happen. And that’s a good thing — we need to think about an event like this so we can make contingency plans, set up shielding for critical infrastructure, that kind thing. And we need to have enough public awareness of the threat to make sure there’s enough political will to put in the effort — and money — to set up protections.
Oh, and it looks like we have. There are already government guidelines in place to protect critical infrastructure from EMP attacks. Good to know.
My initial prejudice turned out to be wrong. I like this book, I like the main characters, and I’m enjoying reading it.
2. Longshot by Avery Blake and Johnny B. Truant
This is a standalone book that’s set in the same universe as the seven-book Alien Invasion series. The other books are $0.99 to $2.99 each, but are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Right from the first sentence, I’m liking this book. It’s snide and sarcastic, my favorite genre.
John Abbot is a gambler who decided to let it ride on the day that Las Vegas burned. He’d won enough at the blackjack tables to get a nice suite at Lucky’s hotel and a key to its high roller’s spa.
And I have to quote this next line, because it’s so awesome: “But Maria, the maid he met before she jumped off the roof, said the housekeeping staff just called that one ‘the pool without shit in it.'”
It seems that the end of the world is really ruining the day for him. And just as his luck finally starting to turn.
Yup, the world is coming to an end. Aliens are burning everything with their death beams, and about two dozen people are holed up in what’s left of Lucky’s Casino. They’re gambling and getting drunk while the world collapses around them. Makes total sense. That’s what I’d probably do, too.
It’s been a week now. There have been riots, buildings burning down, civilization falling apart. John and the others are hanging out in a casino. Looking out the windows. This is an old casino, and it still has windows. The maid’s body is out there, but nobody’s gone outside to move it. Then something takes the body away. An animal, maybe. They argue about what kind of animal it was. The two women who saw it say it was large and black. Other speculate that it was a dog, or an escaped animal from a show. Then it comes back. It’s the size of an SUV, like a giant cockroach with teeth, with a blue glow when it opens its mouth.
It spits out the maid’s head and vanishes into the dark.
The book switches between the points of view of some of the other survivors. They’re all memorable, unique characters that I want to spend time with.
Kristina, for example, is a stand-up comic who mocks people for a living, and she’s merciless. Her career is taking off, but with the aliens and all, her agent isn’t returning her calls. She is watching humanity turn into savages, gathering material for her act. Pretty soon, everybody will be wearing socks with sandals, she thinks.
This book is hysterical, It’s the most unexpected approach to an alien invasion story I’ve seen. It reminds me a bit of the movie Zombieland, the one with Bill Murray and Emma Stone and Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg.
And now, for a completely different review of the same book!
From Melody Friedenthal:
John Abbott, who is known as The Gambler (capital “T”, capital “G”) seems to be contemplating suicide in some dinky casino/hotel in Las Vegas. He’s got a gun but he’s also got some pills. He thinks twice about using the gun and his equally-illegal hollow-point bullets because it wouldn’t be polite to leave parts of his brain all over the rented room.
Ok, already this is not my kind of book.
Then, John was losing in the casino but his luck turned. But, poor John, that fortunate change occurred at the same time alien “death beams” were focused on Earth. Most of his fellow gamblers (lowercase “g”) run off, along with most of the staff. Why are aliens attacking? Don’t know yet – I’ll read on…
John, who’s a loser – he’s lost his wife and kids, lost his self-respect, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars – sticks around, denying what’s going on outside, where people are dying and gangs marauding, and, oh yes, aliens occupying. Because after all, he’s winning and the next bet will assuredly get him all his moolah back, and his wife.
Some chick shows up. Although John has been the POV character up till now, the reader is told the woman’s name, Kristina, before she imparts it to our-man-John. But now it looks like Kristina is a world-famous YouTube comedic personality a la Don Rickles, and John has now become one of her many targets. Then there’s some confusing conversation about a Margaret, a Lisa, a Cruella, and a Dennis. And Todd. Then Joanna starts screaming but we don’t know why or even who Joanna is.
I’ve only gotten to the end of chapter one, but nothing so far would attract me to go on reading.
3. The Circle by Cindy Cipriano
This is the first book in the Sidhe trilogy. The rest of the books are $0.99 and $2.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Calum Ranson and his cousin Finley are faeries, living in a faerie mound in the Otherworld.
Or maybe they live in Emerald Lake, a resort town in western North Carolina. I’m a little confused.
Either way, they have magical powers. There’s a bookstore in town that has magical books, too. Calum works there, along with his mother. But Calum’s magical powers are slipping.
Calum is annoying and self-centered. He’s about to go into sixth grade, and he seems to have the personality of a wet floor mop. Plus, he smirks. I have an instant hatred for any character who smirks.
All he does is mouth off to his mother and try to get out of doing work. All my sympathies are with his mom, but unfortunately the book is from Calum’s point of view.
I don’t have enough patience to deal with him.
4. Displaced by Bridget E. Baker
This is the first book in the seven-book Birthright series. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Chancery is an evian, whatever it is, seventeen years old, living on an island in Hawaii. Her mother is an empress, and has ruled for nearly nine hundred years. Chancery was born with some kind of disability and should have been killed at birth, but wasn’t. So — these aren’t nice people.
Her best friend, Lark, is secretly half human. If the other evians find out, they’ll kill her. Again, not nice people. Lark is a year old than Chancery, and wants to be accepted into the intelligence subsection and get to go out and live among the humans. But it’s competitive. If she defeats Chancery in a challenge, she’ll get a spot for sure. But people won’t believe that their battle was real, not staged, not unless they have a big public falling out first. Plus, Chancery isn’t enthused about throwing a fight to someone as far down in the pecking order as Lark.
If Lark can’t get into the intelligence subsection, she’ll be stuck working for her Uncle Max, restructuring corporations all day long.
I’m so confused. I have no idea what’s going on.
Anyway, Chancery is third in line for the throne, right behind her evil twin.
And, oh, all the human rulers on the planet know about the evians. Chancery’s mother’s birthday is coming up, and the US president, and a bunch of other global leaders, are coming to pay their respects. Turns out, they’re just the figureheads for the evians. But most humans don’t know the evians exist. The evians are like secret gods, playing with human fates on a whim. Oh, and Chancery seems to have a crush on her evil twin sister’s boyfriend.
I don’t like Chancery. I don’t like her mother much, I don’t like Lark. I’ve gotten old and grumpy and hate teenagers and their problems.
5. Shadows of Creation by Ryan D. Meier
This is the first book and only book — so far — in the Creation Chronicles series.
From Maria Korolov:
Zyla, nineteen, came to a magical temple six months earlier to study as a first-year student in an order of ancient mages.
Oh, no, it’s a story about students in a magical school. Anything but that!
The only thing that breaks up the dullness of the classes is the occasional magic duel.
The students’ interactions, career plans, mentor assignments… I’m not enthused by any of it.
And Zyla doesn’t appeal to me as a character.
Then, in the second chapter, the book switches to the point of view of Asrai, a princess with the Wood Elves, who wants to change how the Wood Elves interact with the High Elves and the humans.
Then, in the next chapter, we switch to Euri, a prince of the High Elves and heir to the kingdom’s throne. Euri also wants to change how the two groups of elves interact with one another, to become more like allies. And he might have a thing for the Wood Elves’ princess. There’s a lot of talk about trade agreements.
I’m a big fan of books about trade and economics, but this plot doesn’t particularly grab me, and both Euri and Asrai seem pretty bland. So does Zyla for that matter.
We find out that Asrai has a secret — she’s got magical powers she’s not supposed to have and doesn’t tell anyone about. And Euri wants to combine the two elven kingdoms and rule over both of them. So he hatches a plan to have Asrai kidnapped so he could pretend to saver her from the kidnappers and she would fall in love with him, marry him, and unite the two kingdoms.
Then we switch to Brenn. Who’s Brenn? I do a search to make sure he hasn’t come up before and I just forgot about him. Nope, it’s the first time we’re seeing him. He and his partner Romas have spent two weeks on the road, travelling, sleeping in tents. All he’s got is his horse, his sword, and his bow and quiver and little else. And there’s a darkness hanging over him that he drinks to forget. He’s looking for the perfect town to settle down in, but they’re all wrong. In town, he hears about things disappearing in the west — trees, fields of crops — with nothing left but a black empty space.
And then back to Zyla. She’s unhappy with her mentor, but looking forward to learning how to cause small earthquakes. But I like her mentor. He promises her some excitement.
Okay, the story is growing on me.
6. Silverlake Shifters by Anastasia Wilde
This is the the box set of all three books in the Silverlake Shifters series.
From Maria Korolov:
Every time I begin a review of a paranormal romance, I have to explain that I’m not a fan of paranormal romance, and I would never read a book with a bare-chested man on the cover.
Then it always turns out that I love the book and wind up finishing it! I don’t even know who I am anymore.
So, the book starts with Emma Wilkes driving a silver Chevy Malibu down a dark highway, checking her mirror because she thinks someone is following her. Nice and ominous!
But also — I used to have a silver Chevy Malibu! God, I hated that car.
I read on. Emma refers to her car as “the piece of shit Malibu.” Hah!
And then she thinks that she should have stolen a better ride. I like her.
So, it looks like Emma is running away from a guy named Alexander Grant. He’s hot, and has a high-paying job, he’s passionate, adventurous, would be there for her when she needed him. But she hated being cocooned in his fancy houses. Plus, he cheats people for a living. So she stole his laptop and passwords and split. Now all she has to do is get to her friend in the FBI before Alexander figure out what she’s done and sends someone to stop her.
And then the next chapter starts with Jace Monroe, a lonely werewolf spending Saturday night by himself in a truck stop bar. He’s a brand new alpha trying to establish a territory, to gather his shattered pack and make up for his father’s failures. But he needs to find his true mate, and the magic that would bond them, the magic that will help protect his pack. He’s met many potential mates, trying to find the right one, but his wolf rejected them all. Now, he was running out of time.
But then a human walks into the bar. Not a potential mate. But his wolf is practically howling. So Jace buys her a beer.
Meanwhile, Emma has dyed her hair. Alexander’s goons didn’t know her personally, only had a photo of her, so maybe the blonde do will throw them off. Now all she needs to complete her disguise is a random dude, since the goons will be looking for a scared woman traveling alone.
I have to stop reading now, to go on to the next book, but I don’t want to. I suspect I’ll come back later on tonight and finish the story. Not that I’m suddenly a fan of steamy romance. No, never! I’m just reading for… for the hair style tips. Yup, that’s it. That’s the ticket.
7. Making a Medium by Erin Huss
This is the first of seven books in the Lost Souls Lane Mystery series. The other books are $3.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Marie Ginga:
I think writing good humor is harder than the most detailed, convoluted suspense story. That being said, Erin Huss is one of the good ones. True to its claim, Making a Medium is a lighthearted cozy ghost story with a snarky newly deceased millionaire and a sheltered, socially-challenged young woman trying get a job at her small-town newspaper.
It’s hard not to love Zoe Lane, a twenty-three-year-old home-schooled recluse, as she begins to make her way in her small-town world. Add one ninety-three year old man ghost that is attached to her side, and things get complicated.
Newly deceased Willie MacIntosh has mysteriously latched onto Zoe and is demanding that she find out who killed him, despite the official report citing “natural causes”. Willie’s thirty-year-old bombshell wife would be an easy suspect if it weren’t for the three other people who explicitly wanted him dead. But, of course, there’s more going on than meets the eye and this story unfolds with interesting and unexpected twists, all of which left a smile on my face.
In some ways, it’s a predictable story but the unique characters and laugh-out-loud moments make it a great read.
8. Burn The Dead by Steven Jenkins
This is the first of three books in the Zombie Saga series. The other books are $3.99 and $2.36 each but are both in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
So, first, I’m not a fan of zombie books. Just putting that out there.
Rob has a stressful job with long hours. He gets home after his four-year old son, Sammy, is already in bed. His wife, Anna, had something to eat earlier that disagrees with her and she’s throwing up.
Oh oh. I saw the book cover. This doesn’t bode well.
The next day, Rob goes back to work. And his job is… oh, gross, his job is incinerating dead bodies. He opens the body bags and peeks in, though he’s not supposed to.
Then one of the dead open his eyes. Rob zips the bag back up, ignores the dead guy’s screams, and pushes it into the incinerator,
Oh, gruesome. I wasn’t expecting this.
So now we get the backstory. There’s been a plague. There’s no cure, though there is an antiviral shot that you can get right after you’re infected. But the shot only works some of the time, and only if you get it soon enough.
Rob hates his job. He especially hates the fact that his boss calls him in early to fill in, and doesn’t give him lunch breaks. He hates that he has to stay late and finish paperwork. He hates that he hasn’t put any money aside yet for his planned trip to Vegas, a stag night with his guys.
And then one of the bodies turns out to be his wife, Anna. He blames herself for not taking her to the hospital immediately to get a shot when she was throwing up the previous night.
I’m not going to give away what happens. It’s tense.
And I’m not going to read the rest of the book. It’s a little too grim and scary for me.
9. Hell On Earth by Macy Blake
This is the first book of the four-book Hellhound Champions series. The other two books are $4.99 each but are all in Kindle Unlimited. The fourth book is due out next week.
From Maria Korolov:
So this book is part of a bigger universe of interconnected series. The author recommends reading the books in order, starting with Sweet Nothings, which, judging by the cover, is a gay paranormal romance. The book costs $4.99 but is in Kindle Unlimited.
But I’m going to be bold and daring and jump right into the middle.
Meshaq is a bartender in a biker bar. He’s a werewolf alpha, and he takes care of his staff as if they were his pack. But he doesn’t have a mate.
Then someone walks into a bar. A good-smelling, scared guy who needs a phone. He ran out of gas. Meshaq listens into the man’s conversation with his super-human hearing. The guy’s name is Drew, and he’s in some kind of trouble.
Sol, Meshaq’s bouncer, comes in with a tracking device. He’d smelled strange wolves on a customer’s car, and found the device. The car belongs to Drew. So not only is he in trouble, but he’s been electronically tracked by some other wolf pack.
Meshaq and Sol make plans. Meshaq comes across as extremely capable and tough. I like him.
I want to keep reading.
10. Melt: Snow Queen Retold by Demelza Carlton
This is one of the books in the 22-book Romance a Medieval Fairytale series. Two of the other books — Enchant and Fall — are also free, but the rest are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. It seems that different books in this series may get a free promotion, so if you’re a fan — but don’t want to spend money — keep checking back.
From Amira Loutfi:
So already know that I like Demelza Carlton. I reviewed Blow a few weeks ago and enjoyed the wolf character. This one, Melt, is kinda weird for me though. I’ll explain why, but first I want to say what I like about it.
Each chapter moves things forward. There’s some mystery, but I can connect the dots at the end of each chapter. I enjoy that – it’s an immediate payoff.
So if you like to get a good kick, you probably should download this one while it’s free.
The weird part is the setting. It makes me a little uncomfortable. I can’t help but imagine that Demelza did a quick Google search of “Islamic marriage rules” and then picked out all the most bizarre ones and left out the deeper meaning.
Some of the dialogue reminds me of the first Disney “Aladdin” movie.
Personally, I feel that if an author wants to get a little weird, then why not go deeper into the sources, such as the original translated story of “Aladdin” or “the thousand and one nights.” I’m sure there’s a ton of bizarre details there for world-building. I know so, actually.
It seems like she might’ve also been a fan of those old Hollywood harem movies where the protagonist and love interest are played by white people painted over in copper.
In other words, it’s got orientalism written all over it, but you can’t deny talent. It’s got a good kick. And that’s what I’m into.
I’m just a little wary of absorbing orientalist attitudes from “Melt.”
The next few chapters get really weird. The protagonist becomes a slave to a courtesan and who commands her to facilitate an incestuous relationship. What happened to the orientalism? Maybe that was only in the beginning.
I’m a little disappointed, I wanted to see how else orientalism would affect the story, but it seems moot for the next several chapters. Maybe I’ll continue reading this one just to see if there’s a good payoff.
Demelza Carlton certainly likes to surprise and shock us.
Do you have other free books for us to check out? Email me at [email protected].