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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. Grounded by Sarah Hualde
This is the first of six books in the Paranormal Penny Mysteries cozy mystery series. The other books are $0.99 to $3.99 each, and the series is not in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
Penny, 18, lives in a van, works in a coffee shop, and is ready to quit her job and leave town at a moment’s notice because her psychic abilities keep messing up her life. She can see signs that someone is about to die, and the closer she is to people, the harder it is to ignore the signs.
I like Penny a lot and immediately got caught up in the story — I read 18 chapters over lunch, or half the book. I’m definitely finishing it.
It’s a cozy mystery, so it moves slowly. I mean, it’s half-way through the book and nobody has died yet. But there has been a murder attempt — or was it? It could have been an accident.
The world building is great. I like the characters and the town, and I like Penny’s cat.
I don’t usually like books with young protagonists, but Penny is universably relatable. She’s also very good at making coffee and helping out with other aspects of the business at the coffee shop where she works, so I like that about her — as well as the fact that she’s trying hard to save her boss’s life.
The rest of the books cost money and are not in Kindle Unlimited. But they make me happy, so I can definitely see myself shelling out the dough for the rest of the series. I’ve already bought the second book. With the whole world falling apart around us, it’s nice to be able to take a little mental break, get some breathing room away from all the bad news, and just read something nice.
2. War Begins by Odette C. Bell
From N.T. Narbutovskih:
The scene opens with William, an archaeologist, and his wife and daughter at a dig site on an unknown planet. It’s apparently pretty remote, as they are waiting for resupply. There are some concerns between William and his wife about how their daughter still has imaginary friends at the age of eight and some discussions about a boarding school. Suddenly, there’s an attack! Aliens have swarmed the colony outpost along with the dig site. Without any warning or demands, they begin systematically slaughtering everyone. William runs, but something mysterious both keeps him alive and threatens to overwhelm him…
This book has a very interesting premise, and the story might develop into something compelling. Unfortunately, for me, the writing makes it pretty impossible to read. Excessive use of adverbs, as well as a minimum of two adjectives per noun, obfuscate the action, and the use of the same adjectives over and over again makes the writing repetitive. Words are used in places that don’t make sense for the meaning of the word. Finally, the drawn-out dramatic scenes that are supposedly in the middle of action stretch believability a little too far. A rather clunky approach to exposition rounds out what is otherwise an interesting story into a thoroughly unpleasant experience.
If you like hero or savior stories and can get around the writing, you might enjoy this story of adventure and combat. I, however, did not.
3. Broken Chains by Demelza Carlton
This is the first of three books in the Heart of Stone urban fantasy series. The other two books are $4.99 and $5.99 and are not in Kindle Unlimited.
Demelza Carlton is a regular on this list. We also reviewed several books in the 26-book Romance a Medieval Fairytale series. In July, we reviewed Embellish: Brave Little Tailor Retold, another book in the same series. Hunt: Red Riding Hood Retold, we reviewed in April, and, also that month, we reviewed Blow: Three Little Pigs Retold, then, in May, we reviewed Melt: Snow Queen Retold and, in September, Dance: Cinderella Retold. A box set of the first three books in the series was also on this list this past April.
But wait, that’s not all! In December, we reviewed Ocean’s Justice, the first book in the six-book Siren of War fantasy series. And Broken Chains itself has also been on this list before — we reviewed it earlier this month.
From Amira Loutfi:
This is a fast, easy read. The protagonist is a wimpy grad student who doesn’t know what study to dedicate herself to. I had trouble suspending my disbelief, and there wasn’t even any magic in the opening scene.
The perspective switches to a mysterious creature that had been buried for years — he has been told that when it’s time to awaken there will be a call. I’m not sure what “awaken” or “call” really means in this story just yet. But the mysterious creature wakes up to the sound of rocks moving about, not a call. So he waits.
One night, a stranger starts chasing the grad student, accusing her of theft. She runs, and cries for help. The mysterious creature hears it and comes bursting through the rock to go save her.
It’s not bad, just not for me.
4. Black Spark by Al K. Line
This is the first book of eight in the Dark Magic Enforcer urban fantasy series. The other books are $3.99 each, and the series is not in Kindle Unlimited. This is the second week in a row this book has been on this list.
From Alex Korolov:
This book might appeal to fans of urban fantasy. It takes place in the present-day United Kingdom, but one that’s filled with wizards, vampires, and other magical creatures.
The story is told in the first person by Faz Pound, a wizard who, as it turns out, has amnesia.
The story gets going fast.
Faz commits a murder right at the start of the book, and then he starts stumbling around town trying to figure out what’s going on and why he’s suffering from memory loss.
I read the first few chapters and this book didn’t interest me that much, but if you’re into fantasy stories about wizards having adventures in a time and place that closely resembles our own, maybe it’s one you’d like to read.
5. The Lost Siren by Raven Storm
This is the first of five books in Rise of the Drakens paranormal reverse harem romance series. The other books are $3.99 to $4.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. The fifth book is scheduled to be released in October and is available for preorder. This book has also been on this list before — we also reviewed it last week, and earlier this month.
From Maria Korolov:
First of all, a disclaimer. I am not a fan of romance, and I’m certainly not a fan of reverse harem romances — those are the ones where the heroine doesn’t have to choose between two equally hot men. Instead, she gets both. Or all three. Or however many there are.
I’m not opposed to the idea in principle. After all, this is escapist fantasy and what’s better than a hot guy? Three hot guys, right?
Unfortunately, all I can think about when reading reverse harem books is how much drama must be involved. It must get so tiring.
Anyway, the book starts out with Wren, who’s a slave of Lord Crullfed, a vampire, in a fantasy world where humans are prey. She’s regularly beaten. Still, she is terrified of being sold off to someone else, like a vampire or demon.
Then a man shows up — a handsome man, of course, and not a vampire though also not human — and gives her a choice. If she wants, she can come with him. She wants, and he carries her away. Oh, and he has wings and can fly.
The story is readable, but it’s not my thing. I’m not going to keep reading.
6. Croc’s Return by Eve Langlais
This is the first of four books in the Bitten Point paranormal romance series. The other books are $3.99 each and are not in in Kindle Unlimited.
From Maria Korolov:
So first, my usual disclaimer. I’m not a fan of romance, or shapeshifters, or any book with a naked male chest on the cover. But the cover does have a crocodile on it. That’s new.
The book starts with Caleb’s point of view. He’s trying to reconnect with his family after his years in the military. He’s bickering with his brother about what seat he’s going to ride in, and he loses the argument. He’s stuck in the bed of the pickup truck, while his brother’s dog, Princess, gets the front passenger seat.
His family lives in Florida, in a tiny town in the Everglades. And they’re all shifters.
The first chapter also mentions that Caleb has just spent some time with another group of shifters in Alaska. I looked it up, and I think it might be referring to the author’s eight-book Kodiak Point series. I haven’t read that one.
Apparently, Caleb’s dad died, also in the military, before he got a chance to teach Caleb about how to be a shifter. When he first became a shifter, he bit someone, and fled to the military. When he did, he left behind the love of his life, Renny. He figured she’d move on. He hasn’t. He’s still angry if he ever so much as thinks of her being with another guy. A doctor in Alaska taught him how to calm down. That also helps him deal with his panic attacks. This is sounding really familiar. Have I read those other books? Or are they all just melding together in my mind?
Anyway, the old family home looks a lot nicer than it did when Caleb left. The driveway is now crushed stone instead of mud. There’s new siding and a new roof. Hurricane-grade window shutters. Caleb’s been sending checks home, and helped put his brother through college.
Then we switch to Renny’s point of view. She’s a single mom, working two jobs to make ends meet. Turns out, Caleb’s the dad. He just up and left her — and didn’t respond to any of her letters.
So I guess it will turn out that there’s some kind of reasonable explanation why Caleb didn’t get the letters, never knew he had a son, and now they’re going to meet up and live happily ever after, once some other minor obstacles are resolved. But that’s just my guess! I could be wrong!
What can I say? The book is very readable. Like a bag of potato chips. If you like this particular flavor, I think you’ll enjoy the book. You won’t be surprised, and it probably won’t change your life, but you’ll have a few enjoyable hours and that good feeling that comes from a happy ending. For free.
7. The Librarian and the Orc by Finley Fenn
This is the third of seven books in the Orc Sworn paranormal romance series. The other books are $2.99 to $5.99 each. The first book is The Lady and the Orc, and is $2.99 — but the entire series is in Kindle Unlimited.
From Amira Loutfi:
What is this orc like? Where did he come from? I have so many questions for this book. Will it be the same as the others?
I am not really into romance but I am a sucker for structure. So amid all the other books on these popular lists, romances tend to be the most structured. They have one theme and belong to a specific genre. It doesn’t take much to understand what the author is doing. And they tend to be pretty cohesive.
Now, to actually read it!
The story takes place in a secondary medieval world. Rosa works for an awful nobleman in a library. He’s super handsome and looks down on her. He makes out with her whenever he feels like it and she loves it. And then one day he brings another girlfriend in to tour the library. His new girlfriend can’t believe that Rosa is working there. It turns out that in this world women are not allowed to go to school or have jobs.
When her evil nobleman’s new girlfriend leaves, he approaches her asking for a favor. He wants her to research a way to start a peasant mob attack against the orcs. The two communities have recently accepted a truce. His intention is to completely wipe them out. And then Rosa feels a little bit bad about helping him destroy all the orcs, but she decides to help. Orcs just want to live in peace.
So Rosa is a bit evil. After she agrees to help this evil plan, she does a few other inappropriate things with him. I am like “wait… Rosa herself is the baddie!” I’m personally not sympathetic to the mentality that says, “oh I know I’m doing an evil thing but I have to if I want to get the thing I want.” Probably this is part of her character arc? She will learn not only to love the orcs but to stop doing evil things?
Hmm. A few days later there is an orc in the library. According to the recent treaty, orcs are allowed to enter the human province as long as they follow human law. But Rosa feels like she has to kick him out. Why? No reason. Just being anti-orc. It seems like an analogy for racism to me and I really don’t like that in a fantasy setting. It’s something I’d rather escape from.
Come to think of it… manipulating a peasant uprising also reminds me of current politics!
I might be back. I’m curious about what happens next. Will there be an uprising? I might skip a few chapters ahead to see how her evil scheme pans out.
8. Of Beast and Beauty by Chanda Hahn
This is the first of seven books in the Daughters of Eville romantic fantasy series. The other books are $4.99 to $5.99 each and are not in Kindle Unlimited. This is the second time this book has been on this list — we previously reviewed it last December.
From Maria Korolov:
This is a book in the “retelling of a classic fairy tale” genre from a New York Times and USA Today best-selling author. This is a popular genre — I’m seeing it pop up regularly on these lists.
But I’ve got to say, it’s not my thing. So, just warning you.
Rosalie is one of Lady Eville’s adopted daughters. Her mother was scorned by her true love and is seeking revenge on the seven kingdoms. She raised each of her seven adopted daughters to be weapons, tools for that revenge. Rosalie’s job? To enter into a loveless and hate-filled marriage with the narcissistic crown prince of Baist.
She’s never even seen Prince Xander before meeting him at the altar — he was supposed to marry someone else, someone much richer and fancier and prettier, and he’s pissed. Immediately after the ceremony, he ditches her and she doesn’t even get to enjoy the party afterwards. Why she doesn’t just go, I don’t understand. She does have magic powers, after all. Instead, she sneaks around and steals food. While she’s skulking around in the shadows, she meets a handsome gentleman, and they flirt. Of course, she doesn’t realize he’s the prince she just married. She was wearing a veil at the ceremony, and never even looked at him. And he doesn’t realize that she’s the witch who he thinks is going to murder him in his sleep that night. He thinks the witch is some old hag, not the young and pretty Rosalie.
It’s a strong premise. And it sounds like this would be a fun romantic read for someone. But that someone isn’t me. I’d probably watch this if it was a Hallmark movie, though.
9. Z2134 by Sean Platt and David Wright
This is a standalone dystopian book of post apocalyptic science fiction. The book is usually $0.99 and is not in Kindle Unlimited. However, Sean Platt has plenty of other books up on Amazon, and he’s even made this top-ten list before. We reviewed his book Pattern Black, co-authored with Johnny B. Truant in January and again in February. And we reviewed Burnout, also co-authored with Johnny B. Truant, in April.
From Maria Korolov:
I’m not a fan of dystopian books. As far as I’m concerned, we’re getting perilously close to actually living in one, so for my leisure reading I’d like something different. Something that takes my mind off of the bad news. Maybe a nice epic fantasy, or a supernatural cozy mystery, or a space opera set in a far-off galaxy.
But I don’t get to decide what’s on Amazon’s top ten list.
So here I go.
The story starts with Jonah, looking out of a tunnel entrance with only one bullet left and zombies swarming ahead of him.
Zombies! Why did it have to be zombies?
Anyway, the only other weapon Jonah has is a machete — and the previous exit from the tunnel is a mile back.
He’s reminded of all this by a floating orb, which has speakers in it, so he can hear the game announcer. Yup, he’s playing a game. And there are only two players left — him and one other guy. The others are all dead. There’s a lot of action in this first chapter as he fights off the zombies.
Millions are watching and he still has half a day left before the final battle of the Darwin Games.
Twelve players started, all of them former prisoners. The winner gets their freedom.
Apparently, the other prisoners have a grudge against Jonah because, before he killed his wife, he was a city watch officer.
It’s a very fast-paced, action-filled story and the stakes are high. As the announcer keeps reminding the public — and Jonah — his children are watching the battle.
We meet one of those children, his daughter Anastasia, in the second chapter. She’s watching her father fight against the zombies on TV at a bar with her best friend. She’s been living at an orphanage since her father had been arrested along with her little brother. She’ll turn 18 in six months, at which point she can claim custody of her brother while supporting herself sewing buttons onto shirts at a textile factory.
I really dislike this setting. It seems awful. A heavy-handed police state where nobody has any personal freedoms. It reminds me a bit of the Hunger Games. On the other hand, despite the zombies and the dystopian future, the book is extremely well written, the action sucks you right in, and the characters are sympathetic and very compelling.
10. The Mermaid Next Door by H.P. Mallory and J.R. Rain
This is the first of three books in the Midlife Mermaids paranormal romance series. The other books are $0.99 each, and are in Kindle Unlimited. H. P. Mallory has been on this list before. We reviewed her book Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble, the first of 24 books in The Underworld Series, back in August of 2021.
From Maria Korolov:
I love mermaids. Especially on a hot day, living in the ocean sounds just about right. And I’ve liked other books by J.D. Rain. Plus, the protagonist is 40, so she’s not an angsty young adult. So I’m primed to like this book heading into it.
She’s had two miscarriages and her husband has died, but she’s actually enjoyed the past few months that she’s been single. But now that she’s turning 40, she has to get married. And she’s pretty bitter about it. She didn’t love her first husband, though she felt a strong friendship towards him — and he loved her, and treated her well. But now she has to marry Cullen, another merman, and her dead husband’s brother. And she hates Cullen. She’d rather have a fish-hook through her eye.
But there’s nowhere to go. If she tries to leave, the other merpeople will just force her to go back to Cullen, because he’s a king.
This society feels absolutely medieval.
But wait — she’s got one option. She can leave the sea. So she takes a backpack full of sunken treasure and heads off for the closest shore.
This isn’t my kind of book. I don’t like the dystopian society she’s living in, nor the romantic plot. But I’m getting caught up in the story, anyway. Odds are, I’ll finish it this weekend. And maybe read the other books in the series, because they’re in Kindle Unlimited and I won’t have to pay extra.
Have you read any of these books? Are you planning to? Let us know in the comments!
And watch Maria talk about all ten books — plus the new MetaStellar anthology release! — in the video below: