I love free reads. My pocketbook loves free reads. But the library in my small hometown can’t handle my appetite. That’s where I break out my Kindle and go schlepping through free offers like a virtual Dumpster diver. (No offense meant by the simile, but there are some real pieces of trash next to the treasure, if you know what I mean …)
So, this blog is for you. Bypass the sketchy reads and go straight for the freebie gems. (I hold no liability if their pricing status has changed by the time you read this!) And bear in mind that I am recommending these as good free reads, not for Pulitzer prizes for fiction. There will be fluff … but who can say no to free fluff?
Brightest Kind of Darkness, by P.T. Michelle
I loved this paranormal romance, the first of a series that is followed up by Lucid, also a good read. In this story, Nara is a teenager with the odd ability/disability of dreaming the next day’s events — exactly. But she avoids using her gift to change fate after an ugly incident in her past, but one day she dreams a future she can’t ignore. A mysterious loner named Ethan is the only person who seems on the same wave length, but as their connection gets stronger, the questions about his past become more pressing. After reading the follow-up Lucid, I can tell you that this series only gets more deep and mysterious as it goes on.
Nikki Jefford is shaping up to be an author I can count on for an entertaining read. Aurora Sky is the second series I’ve found by Nikki — she lures me in with a free first book, and before you know it, I’m buying sequels. Luckily, those prices are generally in the $3 neighborhood. If you like vampire stories, you’ll enjoy the twists and turns of the Aurora Sky books (two so far). Nikki’s not afraid to transform her characters through pain, break hearts or shatter dreams. I’m not sure how long this freebie will last. Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter is free via other venues as well through Nov. 22. Check out the author’s website to see how to get your copy.
I’m jumping right into the other free offering from Jefford. “Entangled” is the first of the Spellbound trilogy about witches. The story is light, and keeps you intrigued as Gray dies, then suddenly finds herself sharing her (evil) twin’s body. Enlisting the help of a love interest, Gray must find a way to return to Earth permanently before her sister decides to purge her for good.
Delirium, by Susan Kaye Quinn
Delirium is the first in the Debt Collector serial. Although it’s less definable as YA, it’s close enough, and I cannot say enough good about this one! I love Susan Kaye Quinn. The writing is polished and well-paced, and the story is fascinating. Debt Colletor is a gritty, future noir about a society that balances a person’s potential against their debt. It takes you into the world of sex workers, the mob and corrupt officials who snatch life from terminally ill children. It’s deliciously dark! Plus, I got a chance to interview Susan. Check out the interview/review here.
I don’t have time to write about all my finds. But here are a few more you should consider:
I have the dystopian malaise.
I’m generally the ideal fan for the dystopian novel. I loved The Hunger Games, and the Legend and Divergent series. I enjoyed the first two books in the Matched series by Ally Condie — I’m sure I’ll get around to book three — as well as The Debt Collector serial on Kindle.
But the market has become so flooded that it’s difficult to find the quality gems mixed in with the wreckage of an over-saturated genre. And right along with the dystopian influx, is the overabundance of books told in the first-person perspective. If done right, both of these methods can still be a big win for authors. Unfortunately, the clutter in bookstores may turn off some readers. I, for one, could use a break.
Here’s a look at a few dystopian novels I picked up in the past few months:
Contributor, by Nicole Ciacchella
This was one of the better dystopian novels I read — based mainly on the fact that I actually finished it. Not exactly high praise. This first book in a new series introduces the idea of a society that is highly motivated to succeed on a career path. If they do, they are greatly rewarded. If they do not, they are ostracized. And if they cannot contribute due to injury or illness, they are disposable. This type of society encourages brilliance — and also ruthlessness — as young people compete for coveted training spots that will position them for leadership in their fields. There was nothing exactly “wrong” with this book, but there was also no great drama or love interests to keep me really hooked. It felt a little ho-hum. The similarity it bears to a highly competitive workplace in America is an intriguing commentary on our society, though.
Aberrant, by Ruth Silver
It’s possible I didn’t give this one a fair shot, but its similarities almost immediately to the premise of the well-known “Matched” series — in which society matches up spouses — bugged me. Also, the writing wasn’t at all on the same level. Almost immediately, our protagonist is being hauled away, for some unknown offense, and I really didn’t care. That’s when I decided to give it up.
The Elite (Selection series), by Kiera Cass
The first book of the Selection series drew me in a bit more than the others mentioned here. In this society, families are divided into scores — 3s, 4s, 5s etc. Girls can marry up, but men who marry someone higher than their rank bring their wives down a notch. Each level determines your profession in life — from servants to artists to the very wealthy. When a contest is held, similar to The Bachelor, to select the prince’s wife, America Singer finds herself in the running — despite being in love with a 6 who is below her station. Though the plot, at least in this first book, seems a little thin, it kept me interested — which is more than a lot of books in the genre do these days.
Delirium, by Lauren Oliver
I’m still working my way through this one. Initially, I was intrigued by the concept: Love as a disease. In this world, the people have a procedure at age 18 that “cures” them of the ailment and ensures a peaceful life. As in other books I’ve read, they are then “matched” with a suitable spouse. There are “invalids” living in the wilds, however, who have never been cured and threaten the stability of their society. As interesting as the premise is, it took me a long time to connect with the main character, and this is one example where the first-person POV grates on me.
In February, Marissa Meyer released the second of her series, The Lunar Chronicles. If you’re like me, you’re always in the market for a good series, and you can’t go wrong with this one.
I was hesitant to read it, at first, despite the good reviews the first book, “Cinder,” had received. The series has some decided fairy tale themes I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. For one thing, I’ve come across many other stories using this approach. “Wicked” and “The Ugly Stepsister” are highly successful examples of the fairy tale spin-off, and too many tween movies are the examples of how wrong it can go.
You can guess from the names what fairy tales “Cinder” and “Scarlet” draw from. Yet, I have to say, Meyer surprised me. Who in their right mind thinks, “I want to do a Cinderella spin-off. Hey, I know! I’ll write about a cyborg who meets a prince while there is a massive plague outbreak and enemies from the moon are trying to manipulate their way into a self-serving marriage alliance!” Meyer pulls it off with flying colors.
“Cinder” gripped me from the first line. There was something very real about Cinder, a cyborg who is treated like a second-class citizen by other townspeople, including her own adopted family. She works as a mechanic, fixing androids, to support the family. Prince Kai, having heard that Cinder was the best mechanic in the area, brings an android containing sensitive information to her for repair, and thus begins the saga of Cinder and Kai. They meet again after she is at the palace, having been drawn into a program working to find a cure for the plague.
As you might expect, there is a ball, though it will not go as you might expect. Cinder and Kai’s happily ever after won’t be as neatly foretold as in the classic, and you have to read on in the second novel to find out how their saga plays out as Scarlet and Wolf and introduced into the story line.
Scarlet, a young woman desperate to find her grandmother after she goes missing, accepts the help of a stranger in town who goes by the name of Wolf. She knows she shouldn’t trust him, but he seems her only hope in tracking down the gang that stole her grandmother. There’s a larger plot at work, which includes secret lunar agents who have undergone genetic mutation. Meanwhile, the Lunar leader continues to make trouble for Cinder and Kai, unleashing violence on the kingdom in an effort to get Kai to marry her.
Even with the fairy tale parallels, the series never comes close to being anything but original. If you’re looking for a new series to read, I highly recommend it, even though you’ll be left waiting anxiously for the third book’s release.
The book surprised me in its intensity as it pulled me into the heart and mind of a teenage girl on the brink of the biggest, most terrifying change of her life. Sixteen-year-old Sep wakes up one morning with white lips, as in, completely absent of color. Naturally, she freaks out just a bit. But a bit of lipstick, and she can hide the oddity …until it spreads. Until she’s diagnosed with vitiligo, a rare skin condition for which there is no cure.
Sep is horrified by the news, which has turned her expectations for the world upside down. But ironically, Sep’s new use of lipstick to hide her secret also draws out long-ago close friend Josh, who is suddenly offering her something good to hold onto as she confronts her changing reality. She engages in a whirlwind romance, eager to experience as much as she can before the vitiligo spreads and she has to let him go. Sep prolongs the inevitable as long as she can with concealers, scarves, lipstick and hand-drawn tattoos on her hand, but she knows she’s running out of time before she becomes the subject of ridicule.
Napoli holds no punches as she takes the reader on this journey into a very difficult chapter in Sep’s life. She makes you feel every moment of fear, of grief, of bittersweet love and happiness as biology catapults Sep toward a reality she cannot change. There’s something so real about “Skin,” you’ll be convinced that the searing heartache is your own.
Ultimately, Sep must find the inner strength not only to face her friends with this new condition, but to face herself. Her own hate and disgust is just as virulent, if not more so, than anything her loved ones or peers could ever throw at her. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that she may have underestimated the depths of the people around her, and in her fear of getting hurt, she may end up hurting the ones she loves.
The book is available for $3.99 on Kindle.
“Notable,” a companion novel to “Awkward” and “Invisible” gets off to a slow start, but takes readers of Marni Bates’ Smith High novels on a new, exotic journey with plenty of adventure before they reach the final page. Though “Notable’ is a continuation of a series, it can also stand on its own.
Chelsea Halloway, queen of the Notables and top of the high school social ladder, is misunderstood by many people, including her own parents. When they attempt to give her a wake-up call, while conveniently packing her off to a trip abroad to Cambodia while they deal with their divorce, everyone gets more than they bargained on.
Chelsea is thrust into a totally foreign atmosphere that takes her out of her comfort zone. Rather than adoring high school peers, she’s traveling with college students who don’t take her seriously — and one who seems to hold her in particularly low esteem after hearing about her past indiscretions from her father.
When their professor ends up on the wrong side of a drug lord, Chelsea discovers what she’s made of — plenty of spunk and a heavy dose of reckless good intention. She’s determined to save her professor from prison — and almost certain death at the hands of angry drug dealers. But it will require all the negotiating power she’s gathered on her climb up the social strata and then some.
“Notable” has a different vibe than “Invisible.” Chelsea is in a pretty dark place when the book starts, and her anger and discontent is a constant companion. Her complaining makes it a little more difficult to enjoy the story. But like “Invisible,” this book is also a story of self-discovery, and as Chelsea learns who she really is — outside of her classmates’ perception and her parents’ projection — she becomes an immensely more likable character. Throw in a little romantic tension with a judgmental college boy, and you’ve got the makings of a good YA read if you have the patience to get there.
In the US, the social, political, familial and religious pressures and prejudices can be overwhelming for a gay couple. So imagine, if you will, how much higher the stakes are for two girls in love in Iran — and you’ll have the barest glimmer of what “If You Could be Mine” has in store.
Author Sara Farizan shares the story of Sahar and Nasrin, 17. They’ve shared kisses and romantic promises, but Iran is not like the US. It’s dangerous for two girls in love. Should their relationship be revealed, Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned or even executed. Add in the arranged marriage on the horizon for Nasrin, and Sahar’s heartbreak and desperation will become your own.
After Nasrin is engaged, she wants to continue her secretive relationship with Sahar, but Sahar cannot stomach the idea of sharing Nasrin or carrying on an affair with a married woman. She wants to love Nasrin openly. Her love is so strong, she begins to consider a radical solution: In Iran, homosexuality is a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as a mistake of nature, and sex reassignment is legal. If she were a man, Sahar would be free to marry Nasrin.
Sahar’s willingness to sacrifice and risk everything for Nasrin is remarkable — and above and beyond what most of us would consider.
“If You Could Be Mine” takes you on a dark journey with Sahar. She can remain true to herself and lose Nasrin, the only girl she’s ever loved, or she can sacrifice her own gender identity to hold on to Nasrin.
As she struggles with the choice — and Nasrin’s more self-centered nature is revealed — there were times i wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading. I felt as devastated as Sahar, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. But like all great books, “If You Could Be Mine” is a journey — and it was worth experiencing Sahar’s downward spiral to also gain an insight into the lessons she learned about herself and the inner strength she finds to move forward, with hope once more on the horizon.
I’m a huge fan of series writing. Some of my favorites include: Harry Potter; Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series (two separate series); The Hunger Games; Legend series; Divergent series; Chaos Walking; Across the Universe. The point I’m making: I love series. I am the ideal target audience for them.
But, I have a caveat.
I’m not a fan of the new fad emerging, in which writers/publishers capitalize on series popularity by publishing half a story and calling it the first installment of a series.
Come on, people.
I need a complete story. I’m okay with cliffhangers, more okay than some readers. I’m cool with loose ties and emerging mysteries that will carry on in the next book. But I do need a complete story within that first book. You can’t just chop off the book at the midway point of the story, and say … Well, that’s all folks! Tune in next year to find out more. That just doesn’t cut it.
A recent example of this is the book “Autumn,” by Sierra Dean. The first of the Dog Days series comes to an abrupt end. So abrupt, I stopped and said out loud, “Wait a second … that’s the end?!?!” I felt as if I should be hitting the mid-point of the novel. The new girl had moved to town; she’d found the outcast boy and ventured into a new relationship with him; she learned there was some sort of supernatural mystery under way; and she’d been threatened to stay away from him.
At the moment when it seemed the real action was about to begin, the book was cut short.
The story itself had pulled me in. It was slightly shallow, compared to the writing of Patrick Ness or Beth Revis, but it was adequate. Not every book has to delve deeply into its characters’ psyche, particularly if it’s not testing its characters’ integrity in difficult circumstances. But for a little supernatural romance, it was doing its job.
Until it wasn’t, that is.
Can you imagine if you read the Hunger Games, and the first book left off right after Katniss arrived in the tournament?
A good series will offer readers a complete story within each book, while continuing a larger story arc to follow-up books. Anything else should be published as a serial, hopefully with publish dates that are months apart, rather than the typical year or two you wait for a new book in a series.
Authors or publishers who ignore this unspoken rule will only aggravate readers and hurt themselves. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I doubt my interest will last until the next book of the Dog Days series, given that the story dropped me cold.
Today, I’m telling the tale of two book series. Both YA and sci-fi, both with strong protagonists (both male and female), both with stories built around secrets and lies. They also happen to be two of the best sci-fi series in the YA category that I’ve read.
I highly recommend both.
The “Across the Universe” trilogy by Beth Revis and the “Chaos Walking” series by Patrick Ness have a lot of similar themes.
Both stories take us on space exploration. In Across the Universe, our protagonist Amy is woken from a cryogenic sleep aboard the spaceship Godspeed on its way to explore a new planet.
In Chaos Walking, Viola is thrust into a strange society on a new planet after her parents die while attempting to land their scout shuttle.
Both trilogies include some intricately laid deception for their characters to uncover.
The Across the Universe series takes your from the spaceship Godspeed to Centauri-Earth, but the larger journey is the journey toward truth. In the first book, the spaceship is being led by a secretive dictator and the behavior of the people born on the ship is far from any normal Amy has seen on Earth. She and Elder begin working together to reveal the truth behind the mysteries, and they continue in their truth-seeking mission throughout the series.
The series is like a web of deception. Each truth Amy and Elder discover clings to more secrets and half-truths they must unravel.
In the Chaos Walking series, the truth about the planet’s checkered past with the native alien race, and the conflicts that haven taken place among the human settlers, gradually comes to light. Though Todd has lived his whole life on the planet, he realizes that every bit of history he thought he knew was a lie.
Both series tackle some pretty major moral dilemmas for their protagonists, who want to be “good” people while in bad situations.
Chaos Walking delves into this more deeply than Across the Universe. At one point in the series, Todd is effectively trapped working for his greatest enemy, and in doing so, he loses hope. Along the way, he commits some morally questionable acts. At the same time, Viola has found her way to a rebel group that is striking back. The actions of the army and the rebels are both morally gray, as they put people’s lives at stake in their struggle for power, and Viola and Todd’s determination to do the right thing is put to the test.
In Across the Universe, Elder and Amy also have their own moral tests. After discovering people are being controlled by a drug and discontinuing its use, Elder’s leadership is met with rebellion and chaos. He must decide, as his control over his people crumbles, whether it’s better to risk mutiny for the sake of free will or maintain the peace with mind-controlling drugs. But just as Amy serves as his moral compass in these instances, Elder also reins in Amy when she is bent on vengeance. In this way, they help each other make vital choices about one kind of people – and leaders – they want to be.
“Across the Universe” and “Chaos Walking” have everything I want in a book series: strong characters, adventure, mystery and the kind of soul-searching that makes you think about the choices we all make in less than ideal circumstances. When you read them, other YA books pale in comparison.
So, what are you waiting for? Read them, then come back and tell me what you think.