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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.
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 also 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 I also learned something new last week — Amazon allows you to lend your e-books, for free, to your friends. Even free e-books. Here are the instructions.
1. The Return of the Elves Collection by Bethany Adams
This is the first four books in the eight-book The Return of the Elves series. The others cost $3.99 each, are not in Kindle Unlimited, and the last one isn’t out yet — but will be released on April 13.
Soulbound begins with a prologue. Three years ago, Arlyn’s mother died and her dying wish was that Arlyn would go through a portal in another world to find the elven father who doesn’t even know she exists. Arlyn works selling bows at Renaissance Fairs. Two days ago, Kai is attacked by yet another assassin. He’s been sent to ask the elven queen to send her underhill mages to the surface realm, and it’s not going well. Something is wrong with her kingdom, and he needs to find out what, and do it quickly.
Now, in the present day, Arlyn finds her dad, Lyr, after months of searching in the mists. He’s elven nobility, and now she’s got a title as well. Kai is his emissary. I’m guessing that Kai and Arlyn are going to end up together.
Kai comes back from the queen’s domain without any answers or promises, just the knowledge that some poison energy was creeping into her realm.
I like Kai. I don’t know how I feel about Arlyn. I’m a little annoyed that the author skipped over the whole part where she first goes into the elven world and how she finds her dad. Also, she drops her phone when she finds her dad. Why is she still carrying her phone in her pocket and automatically reaching for it? Shouldn’t it be packed safely away, along with its charger, in her pack, ready to be plugged in and used when she returned to earth?
Kai finds the dropped, broken phone and immediately knows that he has to find its owner no matter what. Isn’t that a coincidence?
I’m not going to keep reading the book. Not because of the phone thing. If I’m enjoying a book, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But while the writing is very readable — it certainly wouldn’t be a hardship to finish the book — it doesn’t really pull me in.
2. Bypass Gemini by Joseph Lallo
This is the first book in the six-book Big Sigma series. The other books are $3.99 to $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
Hard sci-fi, a space battle right from the first paragraph. Lex’s ship explodes and he’s drifting in an escape capsule, wondering if he’ll survive the crash landing. It’s a fun scene, written with humor. I like it.
That was the prologue. The first chapter takes us somewhere else — back in time, most likely, a little bit. Lex is a courier and limo driver. He used to be a race car driver — well, a hover race car driver — but threw a race to settle debts and thus ended his promising racing career.
The setting is a fun mix of futuristic and present day. Lex is amazed that his smartphone — here called a pad — has fingerprint IDs and can do touchless payments. But they’ve also got flying cars and space elevators and he’s not surprised by those at all. Oh, I just figured out why. I checked out the title page and the book was published in 2011. It’s funny how predictions work. The things that writers think will take the longest happen the quickest, and vice versa.
Okay, the book got me at flying cars and space elevators. But what really hooks me is Lex himself. He’s sarcastic and clever and his own worst enemy. I like him. I know the other books cost money, but I’m going to read this one, anyway.
3. Blow by Demelza Carlton
Blow is a retelling of the Three Little Pigs, but in this version, the wolf is a cute prince, Rudolf, who has been separated from his lover by his political responsibilities when a war breaks out.
The story starts with them as children and we get to know the characters a bit. Rudolf seems kind and mature. He withdraws from a play fight that he feels isn’t fair due to his superior training. When he hears three girls are missing, he runs in a genuine panic to find them.
These three girls are then nicknamed the Three Little Pigs thanks to Rudolf. And even a decade later, they are unable to live it down.
Portia is the eldest and her puppy love for Rudolf is actually pretty cute. Rudolf then finds himself in a situation where he must lead his father’s army to take control of Portia’s homeland.
There is a good chance I’ll read this one all the way through. I like the medieval time period and the recurring themes of the classic story of the Three Little Pigs.
4. Thrill Chase by John Spietz
A sailing schooner is transported back in time to 1798 and needs to get to a particular place and time in order to return to the present time. But they have to deal with a pirate attack, a mutiny, and a violent storm.
I am a big fan of the kind of books where a team of modern-day people somehow winds up back in time. A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court. S.M. Stirling’s Island in the Sea of Time series. Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire series.
Jason is a commercial fisherman. His girlfriend has run off, and she took his dog with him, he’s got a pot arrest hanging over him, he could use some money — and he’s not supposed to leave Alaska except for his work on local fishing boats. But he’s just been offered $35,000 to go to Seattle to work on a five-day cruise on a custom-build sailing yacht.
The book starts really really slow. And switches back and forth between Jason and several other characters, none of whom are particularly compelling for me.
I read six chapters in, and they still haven’t set sail or learned what the the job actually is.
Not much of a thrill so far. The book is readable, and I might come back to it, but given the slow pace — probably not.
5. The River Maiden by Meredith Stoddard
This is the first book in the four-book Once & Future series. The other books are $3.99 to $4.99 each, and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
Sarah is clearly a troubled girl. She had a near-death experience as a child and has seemingly unrelated recurring nightmares as an adult.
The plot seems to begin with her volunteering to sing and field questions in a college class with a handsome Scottish professor. Later, they are at a camp party and drink together. The narration and dialogue build in sexual tension.
Paranormal stuff starts happening pretty soon. Sarah, for example, gets lost in the woods and sees a lot of strange things, including herself in the future having sex with a stranger on a rock.
The writing style is pretty good. I will not be reading this book, but I understand why others like it.
6. Memories Live Here by Marc Sheinbaum
This is a modern-day thriller where a Silicon Valley inventor comes up with a way to use artificial intelligence to bring back historical figures, but his top-secret code is encrypted in a ransomware attack.
Josh Brodsky’s brother Donny wants to see their mom’s diaries because he thinks that they hold the truth about their father’s death 30 years ago. But when Donny gets to Josh’s place, Josh and their other brother, Louie, hit him, tie him up, duct tape his mouth, and yell at him to delete the ransomware.
Then Josh opens his laptop and their mother asks them why Donny’s tied up. Her voice is coming from the laptop — and oh, she died nine days ago.
Then the story switches to a week prior. Josh goes to work, where his team of AI developers is making remarkable progress. Their goal is to create AI simulations of historical figures from the past — like Winston Churchill — in order to serve as military advisers.
As a tech journalist, I’ve been writing about both AI and ransomware a lot lately. And I love Silicon Valley startups. So in theory, this book should be right up my alley. Plus, the author himself has worked as a senior executives for large corporations.
But it doesn’t grab me. It is readable. If it was the only book in the house I would definitely finish it. But it just doesn’t grab me the way I expected it to.
7. Slayer Witch by Katie French
This is the first book in the Demon Hunters Wanted trilogy. The other books are $3.99 each but are both in Kindle Unlimited.
If I was in a bookstore and had to choose one of these ten books to buy, I’d grab this one just based on the cover and the title.
I love hot women who kill people. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Anita Blake. Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Can’t get enough of them.
The book starts with Winter, the protagonist, running late to a job interview. Literally running, down a dark alley, chasing a demon, getting mud on her interview suit. She’s annoyed that the demon is going to make her late, and that she didn’t get any of her family’s cool magical abilities, like the kind that would make her clothes look spotless.
Winter is funny and snarky and I am absolutely definitely going to finish this book this weekend and probably the rest of the series as well. And — oh joy — the author has got other series on Amazon, as well — and they’re all in Kindle Unlimited.
Update: Finished the book, and the rest of it was as good as the beginning. The plot was clever, twisty, and filled with action and snark.
8. The Call by Maggie M Lily
This is the first book in the six-book Building the Circle paranormal romance series. The other two books are $2.99 to $3.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
It’s a paranormal romantic comedy. Matty, a business consultant, has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help launch a new alcohol label. But as she walks to the meeting, she’s drenched by rain, can’t get a cab, and her phone and laptop get knocked into the street and run over by a bus. She shows up late, disheveled, her laptop bag with tire tracks over. Jake, son of the company owner, offers to replace her laptop and phone, challenges her to a game of pool — she wins because she grew up in a bar — and she gets the contract.
It’s a meet cute. The book description promises psychic powers. And the female protagonist has some kind of disability, but not one that’s obviously visible. Maybe something on the autism spectrum? I’m not going to cheat and try to look it up in the Amazon reviews, though.
This book is pulling me in. I’m a big fan of rom-coms. I’ll come back and finish it this weekend.
This is the first book in the The Celtic Legends trilogy, a tale of star-crossed lovers, magic, and time travel. The other books in the series are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
The book starts out in the year 1223, in France, with Conor attending the funeral of the last of his friends. He’s disguised as an old man, because he doesn’t grow old, his true love long dead.
Then it jumps back to Ireland in 513 A.D. where Brigid is playing hide-and-seek in the woods with the Sidh — the fairies. She’s the only one who can still see them. At first, I think she must be five or six or so, but she turns out to be 20. The Sidh lead her to Conor, who’s there to conquer her tribe. She thinks he’s Sidh and tries to bind him to her with magic, but runs away when she finds out who he is.
The point of view switches to Conor again. He’s fallen in love and is trying to find her, but everyone is telling him that she doesn’t exist — he must have seen a fairy in the woods. Then he learns from an old village healer who she is, and that he’s killed her only brother.
Then we switch back to Brigid. Conor finds her in the woods, asks her to heal his wound and she decides to make him pay for her brother’s death by… making him do chores around her hut? And I’m out.
But lots of other people really love this book and the series, so if this is your kind of thing, give it a shot. It’s certainly very readable — if I was stuck in a house over the weekend and this was the only reading material, I’d happily finish it.
This is the first book in the four-book The Land of Fire and Ash series. The other books are $2.99 each but all are in Kindle Unlimited.
I wasn’t impressed by the book at first — the protagonist, Reva, is 13 in the prologue and despite being an orphan comes across a little shallow and spoiled. She’s supposed to marry the king’s second-oldest son, Luca, and the two of them are in love, but the king gives her away to another man, instead, as a prize for doing well in battle.
The story itself starts for good a few years later, and switches between Luca’s and Reva’s point of view, so I’m guessing the two of them are going to get together later.
There’s a prophecy that dragons are coming back and Luca is in bed, sick, and accidentally burns his brother to a crisp.
And Reva is pregnant for the fourth time, and, again, loses her baby. Plus, her husband is violently abusive.
Oh, and the king himself is a shape-shifter and can turn into a hawk, and keeps a crazy old woman locked up, one with magical powers and the gift of prophecy, and she foretells that he’s going to be killed by another of her magical kind.
The main characters are a little passive for my taste and the writing didn’t grab me, personally. But it is extremely readable and there’s certainly the promise of a lot of action and adventure here. Plus, the other books are in Kindle Unlimited, so this is good series to check out if this is your type of book.
Do you have other free books for me to check out? Email me at [email protected].