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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? 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. King of Midnight by Tasha Black
This is the first book in the four-book Rosethorn Valley Fae paranormal romance series. The other books are $2.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Sara is a real estate agent trying to sell an old house that had been vacant since she’s been a girl. If she doesn’t, a developer is interested in buying the whole property and tearing it down to build a parking lot. But whenever buyers get too interested, something always happens to them — they lose their jobs, or have car accidents.
She used to sing to the roses in the garden when she was a child. During a showing with a prospective customer, a vase breaks, seemingly of its own accord, and she cuts her hand on a shard.
Meanwhile, in another universe, Dorian, the King of Darkness, sits on his throne and looks out the window at the rose garden. There used to be a mortal child in that garden, singing. For a second, he can hear the singing again — and then there’s the sound of a vase breaking. There was a vase on a wooden table in the center of his throne room, and now it’s in shards — and there’s a drop of blood on it.
I like Sara. I like Dorian. I’m enjoying the writing style quite a bit. But I’m a little creeped out by the fact that Dorian’s immortal and used to watch Sara when she was a little girl. If not for that, I would definitely keep reading. But having that connection there underscores the age difference between the two leads and adds a big yikes to the story. For me, at least.
2. Ocean’s Justice by Demelza Carlton
This is the first book in the six-book Siren of War fantasy series. The other books are $2.99 to $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
This is a retelling of the Little Mermaid. Demelza Carlton’s books tend to be oddly structured and fast-paced. This one is giving me reverse harem vibes, to be honest.
Judging from the dialogue in the first chapter, which is only one page long, I am guessing that a few people were angry with Maria and decided to throw her into the ocean on a raft. A hundred words later, she is rescued by a few kind strangers in a boat.
In the next scene, there is a boy, Charlie Seaborn, who is basically telling us what happened. He helps her get dressed and is so embarrassed, but she’s cool with it.
The Captain confronts Maria — saying that the crew believes her to be a monster who sank the last ship she was on. Because I read the blurb, I know that Maria is a monster of sorts, but I’m still unclear on what kind.
If you like to read fast, oddly structured stories with reverse harem vibes, then I say buy!
But I won’t be back. Although I am kind of curious about what type of monster Maria is!
3. Haunting Beauty by Erin Quinn
This is the first book in the four-book Mists of Ireland time-travel romance series. The other books are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
Danni was abandoned by her mother, has clairvoyance, and meets a dreamy man who convinces her that she has family in Ireland who have missed her since she disappeared twenty years ago.
I love the first line — “The man came for her at dawn.” And the slightly spooky dreamy vibe continues. She and the dream man teleport around to a few places and then come into a cave where they see a pregnant woman and a little girl. The woman is covered in bruises of varying colors. She recognizes her mother, and herself as the child.
The next chapter is from the man’s point of view. His name is Sean and he has been sent from Ireland by Danni’s family to bring her back. And he approaches her in his human form. I say human form because I read the blurb so I know that at least one of them is straddling two worlds. He gives her a photo of her family and they discuss the disappearance of her mother and her twenty years ago.
It’s a good mystery.
Personally, I’m not digging it, but I understand how others would. It has dreamy vibes, a family mystery, and a romance between an Irish guy and an Irish-American girl.
4. Dragon Cursed by Mia Hall
This is a box set of the first two books in the five-book Dragon Cursed young adult urban fantasy series. The other books are $0.99 to $2.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
First, my usual disclaimer: I’m not the target audience for young adult fantasy. I’m too old and cranky to deal with young adults. Get off my lawn, I say. Go. Shoo!
Lily is a senior, bantering with her best friends about senior skip day. She goes to high school in Houston. Her family is poor because her stepmother spends all the cash she gets on alcohol and abusive boyfriends. Lily and her brother are only able to attend a decent school because of a trust set up by her grandmother which her stepmother can’t touch.
She learned martial arts by watching YouTube videos. There was no money for real classes.
She and her friends decide to go to the beach in Galveston, an hour away from Houston. Then there’s an explosion that shakes the ground, and Lily knows that it happened in Houston. They can’t get a signal on their phones, or any radio stations. They drive back to Houston, and the city looks like a war zone. The streets are broken and cracked, all the power was out in the whole city, and shell-shocked people are in the streets. When her friends drop her off at her apartment building she finds her stepmother passed out drunk on the couch. Her little brother isn’t anywhere to be found. She borrows a bike to go looking for him and winds up in the middle of a field with a bright, weird light in the middle of it, and weird people with lizard screen fighting a battle with magic staffs. It’s three against one, and during the battle one of the staffs gets knocked towards Lily. She picks up the staff and fights off the attackers.
So, I like her.
But then we switch to the viewpoint of the lizard-skin guy, who’s mad at her for saving him, and they squabble like kids. Which, it seems, they both are.
Overall, the book is very readable, but not enough to overcome my old-person crankiness.
5. Serpents and Kings by S.M. Gaither
This is a box set of all three books in the Serpents and Kings romantic epic fantasy series. The books are normally $3.99 to $4.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
This is a world with clans, deities, and the Sundolian Empire, which spans three nations. They are all categorized by an interesting magic system which seems to be partially structured by elemental magic. That reminds me of Avatar the Last Airbender, which makes me very happy.
I like the first line, “In the light of a weary half-moon, a new mother paces.”
She is pacing nervously because “Takers” took her baby to another room and are trying to decide what to do with it. The Takers decide that the baby must be killed because it is cursed and may destroy the entire world. They give the baby back. But instead of letting them kill her baby, the mother straps the baby on her chest and runs away.
Eighteen years later, Alaya is an orphan, hiding from the king’s “soul collectors.” Apparently, collectors are not human, they have claws and snarl. According to Alaya’s intel, they are planning to collect one of her friends that night. She lives in a hut with a bunch of other helpless people. The only thing the collectors are scared of is lightning birds, and Alaya wears a mask resembling one. She’s plucky! This girl has been involved in several other “escapes” and “sabotages” of the soul collectors. This night, she steals some of their horses.
I can certainly see why people like this.
I will probably be back!
6. The World Over by Cassiopeia Fletcher
This is the first book in the four-book Stone World Saga of post-apocalyptic survival. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
This takes place in a post-apocalyptic America. There are monsters, superhumans, and a shrinking US government.
Seven months after they became refugees, a bunch of kids hanging out by Cheesman Reservoir are worried about winter coming. Then they find a bunch of housing! Then one of them thinks she hears cars. The dynamic between these kids is annoying. They fight over dominance between themselves.
Six years later, we have Oliver and his team searching through the rubble of Seattle. They sound a lot like the kids from the prologue, but Oliver is a sergeant and they are supposed to be professionals serving the ever-shrinking USG. One is blond, another is a doofus, and there is a set of twins with pink hair whom I suspect are modeled after the Weasely twins from Harry Potter. Each has a special skill and experience. It’s difficult for me to suspend my disbelief, but I can imagine how someone else would get a real kick out of their silly scabbles.
They arrive at a building, but I don’t know why it’s important. The next scene is riveting — the team stops bickering and they go in twos, up one story at a time checking for … something. The suspense really gets me. They then hear footsteps above and aren’t sure what it is. Chapter ends.
Probably it’s the monsters mentioned in the blurb! I already know that all the funny characters are going to die.
I am definitely not coming back to this book. But I could totally see others getting sucked in and loving all the parts that irk me. The dialogue reminds me of anime banter and Harry Potter, but I am not sure how much more of that there will be in this book.
7. Forbidden The Stars by Valmore Daniels
This is the first book in the three-book The Interstellar Age space opera series. The other books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
I’m a big fan of hard sci-fi and when I saw the cover I immediately jumped on this book. But it starts out slow. The first chapter, titled “The End,” has an old man telling a bored grandson about the destruction of their Mayan ancestors by the white man, but that the ancient Mayan gods will soon return from the stars and end the reign of the white men. I’m with the grandson on this. The story is pretty boring. Skip to the good parts.
Then we move on to a NASA press release announcing the first manned mission to the planet Pluto. Hold on, when was this book published? Yikes, 2010!
I dislike beginnings where old men tell boring stories to their grandchildren. I also dislike reading press releases. I have to read a lot of press releases on my day job as a tech journalist and, lately, as I’ve been writing more about space, I’ve been reading NASA press releases as well. The press release in this book is boring, but, other than that, it doesn’t read anything like a press release, and nothing at all like a NASA press release. I am fighting an urge to pull out a red pen and copyedit it.
Then, in chapter three, we finally get to the action. Alex is a captain of a ship in a sector of a galaxy near the Ronge Nebula, which is being attacked by pirates, and his backup wingmen have broken away to help a ship in distress. Did we just skip ahead in time? Or is Alex playing a video game?
Oh, it’s a game. Alex is a kid. Darn it.
But, on the plus side, he’s on a space habitat in the asteroid belt with his parents. He’s bored. It’s his first time accompanying his parents on their annual survey. All his friends are back on an orbital near Earth, and he has to spend the day alone with his computer tutor. Next time his parents go on a dig to the asteroid belt, he’s going to stay on their home orbital.
Instead of doing his home work, he spends time playing video games.
Next chapter is a geological survey report filed by Alex’s dad. Are we ever going to get to the action? Okay, here we go, chapter five. Captain Justine Turner is the captain of the Orcus 1, the manned flight to Pluto. She’s the youngest female astronaut in NASA history, the youngest captain of a space vessel, and the first human to set foot on Pluto. But as she steps on to the surface, she can’t think of anything good to say. So she just says, “Pluto.” Then she starts a really boring speech about mankind’s two-hundred-year journey to get there.
Fortunately, one of her crewmembers interrupts her before she can continue with it.
She thinks about how she has all this responsibility on her shoulders and how she doesn’t dare let anything untoward happen on the mission. And, in the next sentence, to stop a crewmember’s complaining, she breaks protocol and allows the rest of them to step on the planet early, before a safety check is completed. Oh, no, I can’t keep reading. I hate stories in which the plot is driven by the protagonists’ incompetence. Especially when they’re described as extremely competent and accomplished. Justine can’t keep her crew in line and doesn’t seem to take her job seriously at all. I’m starting to hope she dies a quick, unpleasant death. She’s making NASA astronauts look bad.
Instead, they find an alien artifact.
Wait, hold on. Back in chapter two, in the NASA press release, it said… let me look it up… that there were “countless unmanned ships and probes sent to Pluto over the past fifty years.” Putting aside the fact that NASA couldn’t couldn’t up how many probes had been sent, wouldn’t one of those probes have noticed something? Especially an alien monument the size of an aircraft hangar?
Maybe it just got there…
But instead of finding out, I have to read about a charity ball back on Earth, in Ottawa. People are exchanging inane pleasantries. That’s not my description — that’s the author’s. And then we have to read all those inane pleasantries.
Back to the alien artifact. The geologist says it could have been sitting there for a million years. They throw chucks of ice at it. They discover that the monument has writing on it in what looks like different languages — it could a Rosetta Stone for alien civilizations. Thirty thousand alien civilizations.
In theory, this is the kind of book I enjoy reading. But it is so agonizingly slow. I’m nine chapters in and there’s still no action.
8. Highlander’s Captive by Mariah Stone
This is the first book in the seven-book Called by a Highlander series of time-travel romance. The other books are $3.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
I’m not the target reader for the time travel romance genre, but occasionally I do get caught up in a series. I’m a big fan of Outlander, for example. But I think I liked Diana Gabaldon’s book despite the genre, not because of it. When I first picked them up, I thought it was hard-sci fi about time travel. By the time I knew different, I was caught up in the story.
Craig Cambel is one of his clan’s fighters. His grandfather is the clan’s leader, and his sister, Marjorie, was kidnapped by the local laird, MacDougall, because the laird’s son wanted to marry her — and she wasn’t happy about that.
So Craig and the others attack MacDougall’s castle to rescue Marjorie. While the rest of his clansmen attack where the walls are lowest, at the front and on the west side, Craig goes around to the east and climbs the stone wall. He makes it inside and fights his way through the castle.
He finds Marjorie and rescues her, but she’s been hurt. Craig himself is wounded — and his grandfather has died. Craig vows never to trust another MacDougall again. That was back in 1296.
Then, in 2020, Amy MacDougall is with her sister at the castle, chaperoning a school trip. She’s a divorced search and rescue officer, and her sister is a teacher. A strange woman appears and tells her that the castle was built upon a Pict stronghold, and the Picts used magic to open the river of time and build a secret tunnel for people to pass through.
Then one of the teenagers falls down a broken set of stairs and Amy climbs down after her. Under the castle, she finds the teenager and points her to safety — and sees a mysterious glowing rock. She touches it, and gets sucked in.
Then we’re back in the past, in 1307. Craig is at the castle again. There’s a war for independence between the clans and England and Craig’s clan is sieging the castle. They see someone appear from thin air — maybe a messenger, sneaking out of the castle via secret passage. They catch him, and it turns out to be a 12-year-old boy, who claims that he came from the river.
Craig goes to investigate the secret passage that the boy must have come through, and finds a way into a dark tunnel.
Meanwhile, Amy has come to, and the ruins that were there earlier are now brand-new. And when she goes up the now-solid stairs and looks out, she sees that there’s a medieval battle going on outside.
Craig finds her and, thinking that he has to keep the oddly-dressed woman from alerting the rest of the castle, ties her up and gags her. Then Craig sets fire to a roof and opens the gates. The castle is taken and will now be a royal residence of the Scottish king — and Craig will be its temporary commander. And Amy is his prisoner.
I’m actually getting caught up in the story, but I don’t think I’ll be back. I’ve got a lot of work to do this weekend, and by the time I have free time to read again, I’ll probably be reading next Friday’s set of free books.
9. Wild Thing by Michelle Hercules
This is the second book in the five-book Blueblood Vampires series. The other books are $4.99 to $6.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
Aurora is destined to become High Witch after her mother. The two of them have a strained relationship. Her mother works for the king. Aurora has a car and goes to nightclubs. What.
Aurora is spying on her mother as she goes down to the catacombs for a tool to trap a deadly ghost. Nothing happens. The ghost is easily controlled. In this scene, there is a lot of info-dumping. And that entire scene didn’t really matter. When she slips back into her bedroom, Saxon knocks on her door. He says the potion she gave him didn’t work and threatens to kill her.
The month before, she learns that she’s got to marry a horrible dude that she hates. So she goes to a club in a fit of rage. There, she meets Saxon and he is bossy, pushy, and flirty. She opens up to him because of the alcohol. Somehow, Saxon gets the idea that she is his mate. Mates are not usually associated with vampires, but oh well.
This is probably the best annoying flirting that I’ve read so far. If you have liked the annoying guys that Maria and I hate, then I would highly recommend this book.
I won’t be back, though.
10. Scavengers by Robyn Wideman
This is the second book in the five-book Darkthorn Academy series. The other books are $0.99 to $4.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
I first read and reviewed this book back in March, when only the first three of the series were out. I’m glad to find out that the last two have come out as well, and will go back and read them, too.
In Menacing Misfits, the first book in the series, 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, but 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. And then I stayed up into the middle of the night reading the third one, Settlers. I would have read the rest but they weren’t out yet.
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 it’s more of the literary equipment of watching someone detail a car.
Menacing Misfits is not just about characters fighting their way through dungeon after dungeon, or practice to improve their mana and stamina levels, though. 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.
And have you read any of these books — or started to? Let us know in the comments!
Watch Maria discuss the books in the video below: