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Free Friday: Today’s top free Amazon sci-fi and fantasy books for Aug. 13
By Maria Korolov, Melody Friedenthal, 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.
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. When You Had Power by Susan Kaye Quinn
This is the first of three books in the Nothing is Promised series of optimistic post-apocaplyptic survival. The other books are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
I’m not a fan of post-apocalyptic survival books, so this one will have to have something special to get me interested in it.
But it starts out strong. Lucia is funny and has a sarcastic take on life, which I like. There’s plenty of futuristic technology, which I also like. Both humor and fun new tech are uncommon in post-apocalyptic survival books, which tend to be grim and serious. So, with the first couple of paragraphs, the author has already won me over.
Lucia has just arrived at a very nice-looking house in Huntington Beach, California, got sprayed with anti-virals, had her face scanned, talked to the house AI bot, and showed her vaccine passport to the home’s inhabitants.
It’s the year 2050, a banner year for viruses and bacteria. Old plagues are rising from the melting permafrost. So — very timely and topical!
She needs a place to stay because she just got got transferred from a job in Oregon to southern California, and this household is looking for a housemate. An AI matched them up. She’s a power engineer, but the job transfer isn’t the real reason she’s looking for a new place to stay. She doesn’t want to start off with her new housemates by being less than completely truthful so she tells them the whole story — a coworker was harassing her. Her stalker was transferred to an arctic station, but after all the unpleasantness that ensued, she no longer wanted to be around her former coworkers.
As she settles into her new home with the cute gay couple and other housemates, and delicious home-made empanadillas, we get some of her backstory. Her parents and brothers died in a plague caused by an ancient virus.
That night, there’s a power outage. There’s a problem with the local power grid, and during outages it sucks power out of residential backup power packs, draining whole neighborhoods’ batteries. That shouldn’t be happening. Neither should the fact that the outage is unscheduled — or that she hadn’t heard about the problems.
At her new job, her boss dismisses her questions about the outages, and she discovers some problems with the undersea ocean power generators. Her boss is ignoring her reports about that damage and other malfunctions.
The author dives deep into renewable power technologies and carbon sequestration. I’m fascinated by all of this. The central mystery — what’s going on at this power station? — isn’t very compelling yet, and both Lucia and her housemates come off as a little too nice and too bland, but the tech is dragging me in. I’m going to keep reading.
2. The Weight of a Thousand Oceans by Jillian Webster
This is the first of two books in The Forgotten Ones dystopian future series. The other book is $3.99 and is not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
The book opens with a nightmare. Maia is dreaming about the ocean, and her mother, and a ghost who looks just like Maia herself.
In the first chapter, we learn that 20-year-old Maia lives in an isolated cabin on a mostly abandoned island with her dog and her grandfather, who likes to talk about what the world used to be like when things were going well. People had figured out how to cure diseases, aging, even control death. Then something happened, but he won’t tell her what.
They’re in New Zealand, and there are a few other people in the community, and then a young couple with a baby move into one of the abandoned houses.
Maia’s anxious to leave, to go somewhere and do something. Her grandfather wants her to go visit a community further north, maybe find a man, and come back to start her own family. But she wants to explore the rest of the world, instead.
Four chapters in and I still don’t know what happened to the world, or if there’s going to be an actual plot that moves the story forward.
Oh, in chapter five, we find out that Maia has a mysterious power. She once accidentally killed an entire bee colony after her dog had been stung. Now, she reaches out to a tree and sparkly balls of energy flicker between her and the tree.
Was she the disaster?
A few more chapters further in, we still don’t know. Anya hunts jellyfish for dinner. Has more nightmares. Fights with her grandfather about what to do. He wants to hook her up with an elder from the community up north, so that there will be someone to take care of her once he’s gone. She gets mad at him.
The story is taking too long to get going, for me, at least.
3. Northern Lights Shifters by Vivian Arend
This is a box set of the first two of 14 books in the Northern Lights Shifters shapeshifter romance series. The other books are $2.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Shape-shifter romances are huge right now. We seem to get at least a couple every week, sometimes more. A few years ago, I didn’t mind the occasional shape-shifter in a book. It was unusual, exciting, sexy.
Nowadays, I’m sick of it. These romances are like potato chips of the literary world. Except they’re not my flavor of potato chips. My flavor is funny paranormal cozy mysteries. I can’t get enough of those. And James Bond and Jack Reacher-style page-turners. I once read 40 Stone Barrington books all in a row. Oooh — Stuart Woods has written more of them! There are 61 books in the series now! These books are shopping porn disguised as mysteries. The hero is a detective who gets paid lots and lots of money and spends at least half of every book buying extremely expensive clothes, planes, boats, and real estate. In real life, I would hate this guy and everything he represents. But when it comes to escapist reading… mmm…
So I’m no better than anyone else when it comes to literary tastes.
Anyway, back to these sexy shape-shifters.
Robyn, who is deaf, was going to go backcountry skiing on Granite Mountain with her brother, but he had to cancel on her. She plans to go alone. Her brother is worried about her, so she promises to take her satellite phone with her and bear spray. Plus a notepad, in case she needs to communicate with people who don’t know sign language.
She takes a helicopter to the cabin. Her brother had already arranged the flight, and this way she can bring extra suppliers and equipment with her, including an entire cheesecake and an ice auger. She uses the auger to cut a hole in the ice on the lake. She’s going to catch some trout for dinner. It’s February, which is when she normally likes to come up to Granite Late because there’s rarely anyone else there. As she settles in, she discovers that someone has done some repairs on the cabin, including a new building — a sauna. She gets a fire going so the sauna can warm up while she goes fishing.
After dinner, she’s enjoying the sauna and notices that the pot of melting snow is almost empty. She puts on her boots and ducks outside to fill it up, and bumps into someone. And she’s wearing just her boots — nothing else.
This book is compulsively readable. I take back everything I said about this not being my favorite flavor of literary potato chip.
4. The Garage Guerrilla by Collin Pearce
From Maria Korolov:
The book starts in 1969, in Riverwood, a low-crime town just west of Denver. Abigail, divorced and in her 40s, has lived there for five years, carpooling to her job at a nearby car dealership. She’s shot to death in her own garage as she’s taking out the trash one night. Two detectives, Sean and Dave, are assigned to the case. They examine the crime scene and interview some witnesses.
The next chapter, it’s 2018. Jake has just accepted the job of detective in Riverwood after spending five years as a patrolman in a smaller city nearby. The district attorney likes to start out new detectives by pairing them up with veterans on cold cases.
Then we go back to 1969, the day after Abigail’s murder. Sean and Dave are working the case. The pathologist gives them the time of death, and confirms that the gunshots killed her. At the crime lab, they learn the type of gun used to fire the bullets, but nothing else. There’s no usable fingerprint evidence. They get some pancakes for dinner and discuss the case. Dave goes home, but Sean goes back to the crime scene, and spots a suspicious man hanging around, but the man escapes via a hiking trail.
In 2018, it’s now Jake’s second week on his job. The Golden State Killer has just been caught. Not because there was a match to his DNA, but because of a familial match. A relative’s DNA was in the system. It could be a game-changer for the police.
In 1969, it’s been nine weeks since the murder and the case has grown cold. Sean didn’t tell anyone about the suspicious man he saw. I guess, because he’s an idiot? They could have at least gotten the guy’s footprints and a general description. Then another woman is killed in her garage, this time stabbed to death.
The pacing is slow and steady. It’s a police procedural, which is a genre I like very much. None of the officers involved seem particularly energetic or competent or imaginative, but I like to watch detectives work. I’m not seeing any sci-fi elements yet, and there’s nothing in the description, but the book also ranks number one on the generic engineering sci-fi books list, so there may be something interesting in that regard happening later on.
The book is very readable, and I may well come back and finish it this weekend.
5. Unlucky Charm by Kimberly Gordon
This is the first of five books in the Black Kat urban fantasy series. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. The fifth book is scheduled to be released in March of 2022.
From Maria Korolov:
We’re back in Colorado again, and it’s 1999. Hugh Harrison is the county jail, accused of his brother’s murder, even though there’s no body. He’s a stage magician, and can pick the lock.
Never mind, I take it back, he’s a real magician and picks the lock with his mind. He can also make himself invisible using his powers of illusion. Hugh needs to find his brother before he dies. Before Hugh himself dies, that is — he’s been poisoned by an attack by another supernatural being, called Nightshade.
He’s in the woods, but hears no sounds of pursuit. Then he realizes that his escape was too easy — the police must have let him escape on purpose, and are now tracking him somehow. He takes off all the prison clothes and continues his escape naked.
This is a great beginning. I’m completely caught up, and definitely plan to read the rest of this book.
6. Memoirs of a Time Traveler by Doug Molitor
This is the first of four books in the Time Amazon time travel sci-fi series. The other books are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
I like this one. Just as I was starting to get a little impatient, the plot moved along nicely.
So we start out with a famous baseball player, Andy, who won’t stop sending flowers to Dave’s gorgeous cousin, Lori. They used to be engaged, but now she won’t have him back. So Dave, the protagonist, has to go tell him to leave her alone.
I’m not entirely sure why, but Dave wants to have this discussion right before one of Andy’s big games. Why must Dave bring personal drama into Andy’s workplace? Ah well, it made for a great scene. And Andy dies on the same day.
He’s been having a bad year and he is about to get cut from the team. His coworkers treat him like a pariah. Then, a strange man interrupts and asks for an autograph on a new baseball. In exchange, he gives Andy a really old ancient baseball signed by a baseball legend that Andy adores. Andy immediately recognizes the signature and handwriting and believes it’s authentic.
During the game, Andy hits five homers, and apparently, that’s legendary. I don’t know anything about baseball, but I found this first chapter to be very exciting.
So where’s all the time travel-y science fiction-y stuff? First, it’s in the strange man asking for an autograph from Andy when it appears that he is right about to get cut from the team. How would this stranger know that Andy’s signature would be worth anything?
The second is the ancient baseball that he gave in exchange for the one with Andy’s signature. It has a few anachronistic qualities that scream “time travelers!”
I highly recommend it if you are interested in time travel. I might come back to this one if I keep thinking about it …
From Melody Friedenthal:
I loved the setting of Memoirs of a Time Traveler. Our narrator is an archaologist (I took a few classes in archaeology when I was an undergrad) but also a skilled fencer – this latter detail sold me on this book — I fenced in high school, college, and after. They say the devil’s in the details and I figured this was the sword-analogue to Anton Chekhov’s oft-quoted “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.” And I was right: we get some swordplay soon enough. We also get an ancient untranslated language, Minoan. I love linguistics! We also have a mysterious baseball with “powers” and a female Minoan named Ariyl who is as strong as the legendary Minoan bulls. Fencing, linguistics, archaeology, a strapping female with agency, and… time travel!
Yes, I’m going to finish this one!
7. Tales of Feyland and Faerie by Anthea Sharp
This is the first of six books in the Sharp Tales young adult fantasy series. The other books are $0.99 to $2.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
The first short story is an underdog story in a fantasy village. Maeve wants to be a musician even though she has no support from her village — because she’s a girl. Ugh. So annoying. This is hitting a little too close to home. The writing style is old-timey and serious. It feels a lot like magical realism.
Her parents decide that humiliating her in front of the entire village is the best way to stop her from pursuing music. So they allow her to demonstrate her musical talents. And it goes horribly. Everyone laughs at her — way to go, mom and dad! Really pumping up that child and her dreams, I see. I’m being sarcastic.
So then her sister’s baby gets kidnapped by the Faerie Knowe, and the men of her village go to battle them. Maeve watches them return back home, defeated. They are limping and supporting each other and like … they look beat.
She’ll use her music to rescue the child. And she goes to play and a beautiful tune comes out. Then a dark passage opens up and down that path she meets the guardian of the gate. It’s pretty cool.
I don’t know if I like how Maeve suddenly got really good at playing music. If you like magical realism, though, you probably will enjoy this collection. You might love it. I think I might actually love it.
8. Family Magic by Patti Larsen
This is the first of 20 books in The Hayle Coven Novels urban fantasy series. The other books are $0.99 to $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
There is a demon raising. A bunch of people are arranged in a half-circle. And they are humming and swaying. A bit of power flows through them. Our protagonist hates using her magic.
Her mother is the leader. She’s been surrounded by magic and witches her whole life and wants to just be the same as everyone else. Why? I don’t see how magical humming events are so horrible. Boring, sure. But I would strongly prefer if there was a good explanation for why she was resistant to her upbringing. Otherwise, I’m annoyed that she’s just ungrateful.
Her father is a demon. Maybe that explains her ‘unwarranted’ contempt.
And the whole event is about witches, male and female alike, pledging loyalty to the coven, which is run by her parents. I’m not into this.
I don’t like any of the characters. The parents are constantly making goo-goo eyes at each other. It’s just a perfect, loving, powerful witch family with an ungrateful teenager.
It’s also moving a bit too slow. I’m in chapter three and something is about to happen, but I could pass.
9. Midlife Wish by Nikki Kardnov
This is the first of five books in the Blackwell Djinn supernatural romance series. The other books are $3.99 and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
This one starts out with serious drama, but it’s not pulling me in. Maybe the backstory is too complicated?
Ashely has been separated from her husband for a few months and then she discovers that he has begun a new relationship with a woman at work. It’s her supervisor’s ex. She’s all emotional about it, but somehow it doesn’t pull me in. That is always a bad sign to me. She’s over there sobbing about her husband and I’m just like “Okayyy… then what?”
She then hears about the Blackwells, who are rumored to be able to make anything happen if you strike up a deal with them. Awesome! Now I’m happy.
Dae is a djinn. He has 3000 wishes and 1000 deals to grant before he burns up and dies. He’s been around since the late 1700s. Now, he’s a wealthy bachelor. His family is made up of a handful of hot, snarky guys who look like they could be in their thirties or forties. As we go into the details here, I’m getting a bit impatient.
One of the brothers is very close to dying! He only has a few wishes and one deal left. Awesome again. Dae really wants to save him from Death. The only way to do that is to find the right human to make the right kind of deal or wish. Other than all of them being gorgeous musclemen, I like this situation they’re in.
Will I come back to finish this story? No. But I do appreciate the simple and sweet magical system they’re dealing with. And I like the traditional fairy-tale element of deal-making.
10. Crying Wolf by Rochelle Paige
This is the first of three books in the Black River Pack shapeshifter romance series. The other books are $0.99 to $1.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
This story switches between the perspectives of Hunter and Grace.
Grace is in an abusive relationship and she gets crafty in planning her escape. Her previous boyfriend, Sam, is a cop. He manipulated her into isolating herself from her friends, work, and the rest of her family. When I first read this part I was wondering why a wolf-shifter would do that. Turns out, he’s not a wolf-shifter.
There is, however, a den of wolf-shifters, and they are rowdy. Hunter is one of them and Grace immediately feels safe with him. I think that’s probably a sign that she’s mentally vulnerable or at least still co-dependent — codependency is the thing that people do when they allow an abusive person to take advantage of them.
Boy, women’s fantasies sure do involve a lot of obnoxious musclemen. What if the den was instead full of a bunch of pimply homely guys? That were all 5’9″ and below? With awkward body proportions? I guess that might mess up the story.
I’m already so bored of this one. I’d rather skip it entirely.
So Grace gets away from Sam and she starts working at another bar. The other guy working there is Hunter and everyone is surprised he’s taken on so many shifts. Grace suspects he’s doing it to see her more. And then, woah. Something kind of hot happens which caught me off guard. No spoilers. Ha ha.
I used the search bar and it turns out there are several graphic scenes in this book.
Do you have other free books for us to check out? Email me at [email protected].