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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? I read the first few chapters of each to find out, so you don’t have to.
1. Genesis Code by Eliza Green
This is the first of seven books in the Genesis series, which is set in a future where Earth is governed by a repressive corporation called World Government, and hard-boiled investigator Bill Taggart is off in space looking for a so-called criminal alien race called the Indigenes, who may also have kidnapped his wife.
The guy drinks a lot of coffee, which I sympathize with. But in most other ways, I’m not a fan of the character. He’s bad at corporate politics, he’s judgmental, he takes pills so he doesn’t have to sleep, and he’s on the wrong side — humans have nearly destroyed Earth and are now colonizing a new planet and trying to kill off the native inhabitants. That puts the guy in a lot of difficult positions simultaneously — in his personal life, in his job, and when it comes to the biggest picture of human survival.
It’s a little depressing, to be honest. And this past year has been bad enough. I want a little light escapism in my reading these days. So I personally stopped reading before I got too far into it.
But if your idea of escapism is reading about people who are suffering worse than you — or, at least, suffering in different ways — then check this book out. Keep in mind, though, that only the first book in the series is free — the rest are $4.99 each.
2. Beauty and the Shapeshifter by Melody Raven
This is the fifth book in the Evil Rising series, so if you’re a fan of supernatural romance, and haven’t read the rest of the series I recommend starting with the first book in the series, The Lost Vampire Prince, which is also free.
The protagonist, Anna, is trying to track down her lost sister, who she suspects was taken by a vampire. I prefer my heroines to be a little more powerful and a little realistic in my escapist reading.
Also, while there’s a decent amount of action in the book, it’s also heavy on the romance. I do read urban fantasy with romantic subplots, but I prefer them to be a little heavier on the action and a little less on the romance, so I didn’t read this book to the end.
3. Mystic Guests by Leanne Leeds
This is my favorite of all the books on today’s top-ten list. It’s the classic story of a plucky heroine with magical powers who moves to a small town to open an art studio and winds up solving a mystery while trading witty barbs with the local hot detective.
I admit it. I’m a sucker for these kinds of books.
I read the book all the way through. It was a fun, light read. There were multiple references in the book to the author’s prior series, the Magical Midway Paranormal Cozy Mysteries. So, before I go to the rest of the Mystic’s End book, I’ll probably read those, first.
One thing I particularly enjoyed about Leeds’ book is that the characters were so much fun, and all so distinct. I liked spending time with them, and am looking forward to seeing how their relationships develop. The characters and their friendships are what really drives the story here. The romance is barely there and the plot isn’t particularly high stakes or suspenseful or twisty. If this was a TV show, I’d put in a similar category to Murder, She Wrote or Psych.
4. Prophecy by Amanda Lynn Petrin
This book reads like a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Highlander, but is a bit slower paced.
Lucy is cursed, and there’s a Big Bad after her, and two immortal knights show up to protect her. It’s too slow and somber for my tastes, but if you like it, there are two other books in The Owens Chronicles series, each $3.99.
The book switches between the different romantic leads’ first-person points of view, which is a common approach in romance books but not personally my thing, so I stopped reading about a tenth of the book in.
The heroine is also a bit too passive for my taste. Other than the whole curse thing, she doesn’t seem to have much going for her, so I didn’t keep reading.
5. Thor by JC Andrijeski
Thor comes to modern-day San Francisco to chase down his wayward, shape-shifting nephew and meets a woman who reminds him of his long-lost love.
Oh, and he lands naked in the middle of a crowded bar.
So, of course, I was imagining him as Chris Hemsworth as I read this. At first, the book seemed to have a lot of the same feel as the Marvel movie, which I was a big fan of. The romantic plot also has the same feel as the one in the movie — fun, flirty, not too heavy handed, not too sexy.
However, as I got further into the book, it didn’t live up to that initial promise. It didn’t have the humor or the action of the Marvel movie, or strong characters, and the romance plot was the primary driver here. And romance seems to be based purely on looks — he’s hot, she looks like his long-lost love. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a romance plot like that. When you’re looking for escapist romantic reading, that might be exactly the kind of romance you want. Who wants challenging, realistic relationships in their romance reading, right?
6. Hidden Heart by Ellie Pond
Aurora goes on a cruise with her werewolf boyfriend and her boyfriend’s brother and falls in love with the brother.
This is a regular old romance story, but with werewolves. I’m assuming that there’s a happy ending, but I stopped reading when I realized that the plot was all romance, so I can’t tell you for sure. I’m betting by the picture on the cover that there are some sexy time coming up, but I was seven chapters in when I gave up, and there hasn’t been any sexy time yet but there has been a lot of family drama.
7. Menacing Misfits by Robyn Wideman
Jack is traveling around with his grandfather, a tinker, when he learns that he’s inherited magical ability from his mother, who died in battle when he was a toddler. Now it’s time for him to learn how to use his abilities. Jack and his grandfather are both likable characters and the book’s setting is an engaging fantasy world, with dwarves and elves in addition to magic users. In fact, Jack himself is half-dwarf, on his father’s side.
The book is engaging and has a bit of a Harry Potter vibe. It’s part of the Darkthorn Academy series, which has three books in it. The third one is also free, and the second one costs 99 cents — and is also free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.
The characters and their relationships have no depth or character arcs, and they all seem to have exactly the same personalities. The plot was almost completely about the main characters practicing their skills in order to level up their stats and finding magical weapons — it was a little bit like watching someone play a video game.
There’s no romance in these books. Well, the main characters do pair up, but anything more serious than a quick kiss happens off screen and is barely alluded to. There’s no relationship drama of any kind, no love triangles, and the pairings seem completely random and unmotivated.
But I couldn’t put the book down. It was addictive. I read the whole thing in a single sitting. Then I read the second book in the series, Scavengers, $4.99 normally but free on Kindle Unlimited. And then I stayed up into the middle of the night reading the third one, Settlers, also $4.99 or free on Kindle Unlimited. That third book just came out last week, and it ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger, and I was very disappointed to find out that the fourth book wasn’t out yet. If it was, I’d have kept on reading. Fortunately, Robyn Wideman does have other books on Amazon. I’m reading the Stoneblood Saga next.
Menacing Misfits is not just reading about characters fighting their way through dungeon after dungeon, or practice to improve their mana and stamina levels. There’s a bigger plot involving the buildup to a major war that involves all the major species in this fantasy world. In that, it feels a lot like the Harry Potter books. The settings are extremely detailed and well thought-out, the political plot makes sense and is compelling, and I particularly liked the third book, where part of the plot is about building a new town.
The books are an example of a genre called GameLit or LitRPG, which includes elements taken from video games. I’m a big fan of these kinds of books and GameLit is probably the genre my own books would fall into, except my books are more of a satire, while most play it straight.
Reading LitRPG is a bit like watching a police procedural. You know how it’s going to go but it’s very satisfying to see someone go through the process. Or maybe its more of the literary equipment of watching someone detail a car.
8. Who Will Save Your Soul by Skye Warren
This book is composed of four novellas, in the 50 Shades of Gray vein.
They don’t have any fantasy or science fiction elements, though. It seems that the reason this book is on the list is that the stories — which are set in the modern day — have elements that are inspired by traditional fairy tales, like a father selling his daughter to a beast of a man to settle his debts, or where a girl is forced to work in a sweatshop by two evil sisters and finds her salvation when she attends a ball.
The stories are pure romance, and so not my cup of tea. I read the first and the last, hoping for some fantasy elements to show up, but they never did.
9. Anna and the Alien by Honey Phillips
As the title suggests, Anna meets an alien. More precisely, several of them, when she’s abducted after an airplane crash. There’s sex in this book. A lot of sex. I can see why this book is in the top ten list. The book starts out sexy and just keeps getting sexier. Oh my God does it get sexier.
This is the kind of book you might want to read in private. Maybe in a bathtub.
There’s an action plot, and a sex plot. The sex seems to happen for no reason whatsoever. Whenever there’s a break in the action, there’s sex. I guess the closest analogy I can think of is a James Bond movie, if the sex was way, way, way more graphic.
10. Saved by Blood by Sadie Moss
Yes, this book is yet another paranormal romance. The human heroine meets a sexy vampire. Well, vampires.
But the point of these books isn’t the premise — there are only so many premises to go around, after all. The point is whether the characters are fun to spend a couple of hours with. And in this series, they are. Plus, there are good sexy times.
Willow, a sexy waitress in a bar, is saved by three vampires, gets caught up in all kinds of trouble, all while trying to decide which of the vampires she likes best. Just kidding. She doesn’t have to decide. She dates all three. Now that’s the kind of escapism I can get behind.
I stopped reading after a couple of chapters because I had other books on this list to get through, planning to return. But, to be honest, the characters didn’t stick with me after I put the book down. Now that I’ve gone through all the books on this list, I’m going to go back and read more books by Leanne Leeds and Robyn Wideman.
Do you have other free books for me to check out? Email me at [email protected].
Edited by Melody Friedenthal
MetaStellar editor and publisher Maria Korolov is a science fiction novelist, writing stories set in a future virtual world. And, during the day, she is an award-winning freelance technology journalist who covers artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and enterprise virtual reality. See her Amazon author page here and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email her at [email protected]. She is also the editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business, one of the top global sites covering virtual reality.