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.
This is a collection of some of the best original science fiction and fantasy short fiction published on Tor.com in 2021. It includes stories by Elizabeth Bear, Kate Elliott, and many others.
From N.T. Narbutovskih:
Some of the Best of Tor.com 2021 is an anthology roll up of short stories and novelettes from, as you may have guessed, Tor.com. As an avid writer and consumer of short stories in the science fiction, or I guess speculative fiction genre at large, I love books like this. And I’ll say right up front that the reason this really stood out to me is that it has some amazing diverse voices in it.
Take the first story, about a young boy growing up in poverty who chances upon a wonderful treasure. This story has all the great echoes of Ray Bradbury in it, but the culture and the lens and the struggles were uniquely modern and struck a chord with me, partly because I have been to a lot of places that could have been right out of the story. Places where, if you’re lucky enough to have shoes, they’re cut out of old tires, where trash bags blow across the open desert like tumbleweeds, and the smell of desperation comes to you on the scent of burning trash every morning.
If you’re looking for a few short stories to fill in the down spots of your day, or if you really enjoy diving into thinking about a story once it’s done, I would highly recommend picking this up. The fact that there is such great diversity of voices and thought in it is an added bonus to the quality of the work you will find here. I plan on reading this collection of short stories all the way through.
2. Forest of Firelight by Shari L. Tapscott
This is the first of four books in The Riven Kingdoms fantasy romance series. The other books are $3.99 to $4.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
First, the disclaimer. I’m not the target reader for fantasy romance. When romantic interests are supernaturally annoying, I’d rather see the main character kill them and get on with her life. And if the love is fated — so much more so. Fate can go suck it.
Amalia, 23, is out in the meadow playing fetch with her wolfdog when her twin brother stops by to see her. He’s leaving soon so that he can find a woman to marry and then he’ll return for his crown. They live in a fantasy kingdom and their parents are king and queen. He’s the heir, and she’s a sheltered princess.
While he’s off traveling around their kingdom, Amalia is going to be stuck at home. But that’s not what bothers her most. She’s worried for his safety – she has a premonition that something is going to go wrong.
And it does. Her brother is attacked and dies. Now she has to step up. It’s time for her father to pass on the crown — some kind of magical deadline. And it can’t go to her. Instead, she has to get married, and her husband will become the king.
I don’t like the premise here and I don’t like Amalia very much. This has the feel of a young adult romance, and I have no patience for young adults and their annoying love affairs.
I know, I know, I’m in the minority.
3. God of the Sun by Kimberly Loth
This is the first of four books in the Stella and Sol young adult fantasy romance series. The other books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
High prince Leo of Stella, 17, lives in a magical castle with his large extended family. One of his older sisters, Candace, is about to announce her pregnancy when an old woman hobbles in. She’s the Old Mother who gives horrible prophecies that always entail great sacrifices.
Today, she announces that if the two kingdoms of Stella and Sol aren’t joined by the time Candace’s baby turns one, then he will die, and so will others.
I don’t usually like young adult fantasy, but I am enjoying reading about this family.
Meanwhile, over at the kingdom of Sol, 16-year-old princess Zwaantie is a midwife and hopes that she can continue with her career and not have to take the throne. In fact, the entire royal family has regular jobs. That’s the typical thing for people to do in Sol.
So, the story here is that Sol is a kingdom where the sun is always shining, but it’s controlled by a strange and annoying Voice that talks to all the citizens and keeps them from leaving and marks certain people as slaves. And Stella is a kingdom where it was always dark. But at least they don’t have to listen to the Voice.
Zwaantie is old enough to get married, but she doesn’t like any of the princes she’s met so far.
I’m guessing that eventually she’ll get together with Leo and break the hold of the Voice and free the slaves.
It’s a unique setting and a compelling story, and I do like all the characters despite the whole young adult thing. I might stick with it.
4. Fire Maidens: Ireland by Anna Lowe
This is the fifth of ten books in the Billionaires & Bodyguards paranormal romance series. The other books are $.99 and $3.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited. The last book in the series, Paris Rose, is also free today.
From Maria Korolov:
Normally, I wouldn’t start with the fifth book in a series because I prefer to read things in the official order — and avoid spoilers.
But I can tell you right up front, just by looking at the cover, that I’m not going to like this book.
I mean, look at that perfectly sculpted naked chest. And is that a flying dragon in the background? It’s a dragon shifter romance, I bet.
Okay, let’s get into it.
Grace has just flown from Boston to Ireland to visit the country of her heritage. She’d been there before, as a child, when she’d met a boy named Finn. Now she goes back to look at a cottage that a great-great-uncle left her in his will, pulled there by a strange compulsion, and trying to figure out what to do with the cottage.
She goes for a walk back to the place where she used to play with Finn, and where he saved her from falling off a cliff. And wouldn’t you know it, as she’s standing at that cliff again, someone startles her, and she almost falls off again. It’s Finn.
Then we switch to Finn’s point of view. He’s been pining away for her all this time. He’s a dragon, and she’s his soul mate. He’s elated to have her back — and then finds out that she’s due to leave in a week. He’s only got that long to win her over. And not scare her away with the whole dragon thing.
It’s a readable story. If I was trapped in a snow-bound cabin for a week, I could see sticking with it, and probably enjoying it.
I might even read it without being snowed in.
But I have a lot of other books on my reading list right now, so the odds aren’t good.
5. My Captive Valentine by Elyce de Reefe
This is the fifth of seven books in The Rabbit River Saga paranormal romance series. The other books are $2.99 to $4.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited. The author is a frequent presence on this list. In January, we reviewed the first book in the series, Moonrise Over Rabbit River. And in July we reviewed the fourth book, A Mating Of Convenience.
Since this is a series, here is the review of the first book:
From Amira Loutfi:
The first book in the series, Moonrise Over Rabbit River, is a shifter romance between a shifter man and a lonely human woman, Mari, who works at a grocery store in a snowy little New England town. She’s been in town for only a month. Before that, she had been in an abusive relationship until she finally ran away. Even now she occasionally feels like she should keep running.
Meanwhile, the shifter man recently came to the area just enjoying life. He’s just hopping around happily in the snow and only occasionally misses his family.
Then, Mari’s ex attacks her and leaves her for dead in the woods. The shifter smells her bleeding and runs over. I like this shifter man. He seems sweet.
The writing style makes me feel immersed in a cozy New England town, excluding the encounter with Mari’s ex. The pacing is neither too fast nor too slow. It’s perfect for someone who wants a sweet shifter romance. I really like it, but I won’t be back.
6. Oasis by Dima Zales and Anna Zaires
This is the first of three books in The Last Humans young adult dystopian future series. The other books are $3.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. Both Dima Zales and Anna Zaires are New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors.
From N.T. Narbutovskih:
At an indeterminate time in the future, a young boy who hears voices lives in a semi-utopia where his every need is taken care of. With the exception of the one thing we all truly need — the truth.
At first glance, Oasis seems like an interesting story about a future society that is largely constructed.
If the writer had taken this idea and teased out little bits of the secret over the course of the book, leading to some big revelation at the end, then I think it would have actually been a really well executed story. As it is, though, the author uses a literary device to explain everything about the world in vivid detail to the reader, which in my opinion kind of takes the fun out of it.
Lastly, there were a few issues that jumped out at me from an inclusiveness standpoint, the definition of marriage being between a man and a woman being just one example. If this had been simply one of the characters’ outlooks, then it would have been easy to roll it into the rest of the storytelling, however in the same paragraph that character talks about how they can’t possibly understand the idea of a family and living with people of different ages. So that struck me a little off.
If you’re looking for a quick read and you can gloss over some of the gimmicky parts of this story, I think this book would resonate with the dystopia and post-apocalyptic crowd fairly well. In my estimation, it’s aimed at more of the middle grade to early teen demographic, despite some harsh language. If that’s you, then you can’t beat it for the price.
7. The Vampire’s City by Mary E. Twomey
This is the first of six books in The Last Deadblood paranormal romance series. The other books are $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
I’m not a fan of vampire romance books, so I’m probably not the target audience here. I’m more of a fan of staking-the-vampire books. The woman on the cover doesn’t look like she’s in a staking mood.
But I’m going to give it a chance.
And, from the first chapter, it looks like I might have been wrong about the woman on the cover. Collette owns a hair salon but keeps a shotgun hanging on the wall, a Colt 1911 in her office, and a Glock 9mm behind the cash register.
I like her already.
No, wait, there’s a “vampires and humans welcome” sign on the front door.
One vampire, Nick Valentino, picks the lock and walks into her shop unannounced. He’s an old childhood friend and she has to fight the urge to throw herself into her arms. He’s good looking, but she hasn’t seen him in years. Years that he spent getting arrested and then worming his way out of jail.
He now hates her very existence and wants her gone. He picks up a chair and bashes it against a mirror.
Apparently, Collette is indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of vampires — when she was a kid, her blood was taken against her will and used to create weapons. There’s something in her blood that kills them. And even though that she’s been campaigning for peace between humans and vampires, the vampires are still holding a grudge against her.
So that’s why she’s back in town. To try to make peace between humans and vampires after her blood was used to kill them.
That doesn’t seem very smart to me. She’s got plenty of money. Use it to fund a charity or something.
Anyway, instead of shooting the vampire with one of her guns, she stands by and lets him trash her shop. Because his mother had been the closest thing Collette had to a mother, and it was her blood on the bullet that killed her.
That’s too much angst for me. Also, if she’s not going to kill the guy, I’m not as interested in sticking around. I understand he’s grieving his mother’s death, but it’s been a while, and it wasn’t actually Collette’s fault. At this point, he’s just a jerk. A handsome jerk, but a jerk. I hate romances, but I particularly hate romances where the male lead is obnoxious.
But I understand that some people enjoy the friends-to-enemies-to-lovers trope.
8. Too Ghoul for School by Sarina Dorie
This is the first of 16 books in The Vega Bloodmire Wicked Witch Mystery Series. The other books are $2.99 to $5.99 each and most are in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
A perfect weekend read.
Vega is a student teacher at a magic school, and her mentor is a horrible alcoholic and serial harasser. She easily puts him in his place — and then he winds up dead. Vega is trying to hide the fact that she’s part ghoul from everyone else at the school and what with her history with the man, and the fact that she finds dead flesh extremely hard to resist, she’s going to be the prime suspect.
I love Vega. She doesn’t let anyone boss her around — not school administrators, not her students, and not lecherous creeps like the dead guy.
It’s a fun, light story, and I’m looking forward to curling up and finishing the rest of it this weekend.
9. A Mackenzie Witch by Sonia Parin
This is the first three of ten books in A Mackenzie Coven Mystery cozy paranormal mystery series. The other books are $2.99 to $4.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited. The tenth book is due out in April.
From Maria Korolov:
Another paranormal mystery. My lucky day!
Lexie lives in New York City, hoping that her magical relatives won’t be able to follow her there. That didn’t work. She’s still being haunted. They’re extremely annoying. And they want her to take her place in the coven. So they trick her into saying the magic oath. I don’t like the fact that Lexie lets people push her around. She seems to be the opposite of Vega from the previous book.
She doesn’t want to be a witch. Ten years earlier, she’d negotiated a deal to get ten years to be a normal person, and now that ten years is up.
She’d made that deal when she was fifteen, and from the sound of it, she didn’t have too many other options. I don’t like the sound of that.
It’s basically slavery. They want her to work as some kind of magical trouble shooter and she doesn’t have any choice about it.
I’m not a fan of books about people resigning to their fates, even if they are cozy paranormal mysteries. And her two relatives are super annoying and bossy. The book is very readable and fun, but I’m too anxious about the fact that Lexie is being bullied by everyone and doesn’t stand up for herself. She’s got tons of power, but feels completely powerless. I’m sure that she’ll get over it and come into her own over the course of the books. Or, at least, I hope she will. But until she does, it’s going to stress me out too much. I don’t like stressful books. Or TV shows. Things that other people find funny, I get too worried about, and can’t enjoy the show. So, I’m not going to stick with this book, but everyone else on the planet will probably enjoy it.
10. Star Champion by Susan Grant
This is the fourth of four books in the Star Series of sci-fi romance books. The other books are $3.99 each and are all in Kindle Unlimited. Susan Grant is a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author. The first book in the series is Star King.
From N.T. Narbutovskih:
In the backwaters of the empire, a young woman and her brother struggle to scratch out a meager living. One day, they decide to take a risk. With great risk comes great reward, but the decision to show her abilities to the universe is one she can’t take back, and it sets her on a path she never thought possible.
Full disclosure: I am not the target audience for this sort of book. Usually anything with exposed chest parts is an instant pass. However, the writing moves along fairly well and I am impressed by the quality of the action scenes and the depth of the world the author has built.
Perhaps there’s an over-reliance on made-up terms for my taste, but they are not used too heavily, and the meaning of the scenes still shines through.
The meat of this story has all the tropes you would expect of this particular subgenre, whether it is the plucky and capable heroine or the tall, dark, and handsome stranger. It even keeps well in line with the “genetic privilege” Empire trope.
But there are several sections where the writing tends to contradict itself. For example, one character is described as not being overweight, and then in the same sentence as a round and pudgy man with large jowls that eats a lot. These things seem like relatively minor nitpicking; however, they did serve to make the characters less believable.
This coupled with a little bit too heavy-handed a description of a classic desperation backstory, a little baby that needs to eat and a mother who works hard but still can’t feed her family, made this story feel a little bit thin.
Now don’t get me wrong, that description is a truth that happens all too often in our world. But I think the author could have spent more time letting the truth of that situation play itself out on the page, as opposed to dumping it all down up front and moving along. A situation that fraught and fragile deserves more time and attention.
So, if you are into sci-fi romance with a dose of adventure and a “chosen one” heroine, this might be right up your alley.
Have you read any of these books? Are you planning to? Let us know in the comments!
Watch Nick and Maria discuss the books in the video below: