It's been a couple years since I got a KU subscription. Mostly it was out of necessity; I was staying with family right after my undergrad graduation and didn't have a whole lot of space for my shelves upon shelves worth of books. On top of that, I worked so much that any free time I had needed to be relaxation time (and for me, that means a book!). So KU to the rescue, in my case. I was still buying physical copies of books I loved (and filling up my mom's place with them), but my Kindle books came in handy to fill in when I raced through the ones I had.
For those of you unfamiliar with Kindle Unlimited, it's a book subscription service that runs through Kindle/Amazon that allows you to pay a set monthly fee and access any of the books available in the Kindle Unlimited repertoire. At $9.99, it's a pretty good deal even if you're only able to read two a month.
One of the criticisms of KU is that it sometimes feels limiting in what it offers, but I really haven't run into that issue myself. My own criticism is that it loads books based on my "tastes" but I find that it isn't able to sort based on quality, only on similarities in plot. So it often offers me a bunch of books that have the same plot but vary widely in the quality of writing and plot.
That's the other major criticism that KU gets... from book groups and Twitter, I often see people complain that the titles you find just aren't that good. And this does have some merit. KU books are often self-published or indie-published, and e-book authors crank those babies out, so they're not held to the same level as others. But that's definitely not true for all of them. I've found some really well-written books on Kindle, and they have a slew of big name authors and titles, like The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, tons of Dean Koontz, the Harry Potters (if that's still your thing after JKR's tweets), The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, and Furyborn by Clare Legrand. That right there hits on a bunch of different genres. All for $10 a month.
Personally, KU is home to a lot of my quick reads. Those books I fly through in a couple hours and just enjoy the experience of reading. They're not The Left Hand of Darkness (by LeGuin) complicated or Men We Reaped (by Ward) heart-wrenching, but they're fun, playful, and mostly well-written. It gives me a chance to explore things I normally wouldn't go for just for the sake of buying something I know I'll love instead. I find myself spending hours reading KU books, and so they deserve some credit here at RudeFiction!
1. Birthday Girl by Penelope Douglas
Birthday Girl is a stand-alone contemporary, published in April 2018. It's a romance novel featuring a college student named Jordan, who is trying to figure out her life and where she fits in, as well as what she wants now that she's becoming an adult. I like that it's college-aged. As I get older, I still love YA plots, but sixteen year old storylines feel a little stale for me after awhile. Jordan's story was a nice change from that. It definitely fits that "New Adult" idea, where it's a bit sexual, but not over the top or thrown in pointlessly.
So this book was a ride for me! My friend recommended to me, and I was actually able to start reading it there and then, at about eight or nine at night. It was available on KU, and so I dived right in, not knowing anything about it. I skipped the synopsis and I guess my friend hadn't told me too much about it, but I was lucky for that because it made for a great reading experience and big shocker. I read it through in one night, on a school night when I had to teach in the morning, and I texted continuous updates to my friend along the way because I enjoyed it a ton.
I recommend that you pick this up and skip reading about it, if you're not already familiar. The moment where I figured out what was going on is still one of my favorite moments. It's not often that a book can surprise me, but this one got me good. I will say, it's a bit a of a weird twist, but I got on board pretty quickly despite my initial apprehension.
Birthday Girl was well-written. The emotions in the novel are realistic and they help make the plot seem like something that could really happen, so it helped me adjust to the twist moment and keep chugging along (like a freight train). I don't want to tell you too much about it, but Birthday Girl made my Favorite Books List of 2019 (and I still think about it a lot!).
Side note: Douglas released a Birthday Girl-esque novel this year as well, but it wasn't nearly as good or believable as her earlier debut. She used similar ideas to Birthday Girl, but despite having a better title, Credence really just felt like she was trying to profit off the success of BG by plugging similar themes in and dialing it up past 100. I wanted so much to enjoy Credence, but I found it just weird and underdeveloped. And I'm really not one to call books "problematic," but this definitely had me wondering what exactly Douglas was thinking when she decided to write Credence.
2. Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon
I am a sucker for historical fiction. You name it, I'll read it, so I was really excited when this popped up in my Kindle Unlimited recommendations! It's yet another one that I stayed up all night reading (although luckily I didn't have to work in the morning).
Where the Lost Wander is the story of the May family as they set off across the Oregon (Overland) Trail in 1853. Newly widowed and only in her early twenties, Naomi May embarks with her dad, her pregnant mom, her soon-to-be-four younger brothers, and her (ex) in-laws to head West across a deadly path with two wagons carrying everything they own.
As they head out, Naomi meets John Lowry, a half-Pawnee man who helps his uncle run the trail in order to sell his cattle at halfway mark, with intentions of returning home. Being half Native American and half white, John's narration showcases that he feels alienated from his own family and from the settlers and people surrounding him. So when brazen Naomi May decides she likes him, John Lowry isn't sure what to think or how to act.
Harmon put a lot research into this novel, and it really shows. She fictionalizes some historical figures that act as supporting characters around John and Naomi's story. The portrayal of the wagon trail and interactions between white settlers and the Native Americans (who rightfully own the land) are realistic, well-written, and especially poignant with John Lowry constantly forced between the two groups without really being accepted in either.
Where the Lost Wander is a fitting name for this story about family, growth, and identity. Both Naomi and John question themselves and the reality surrounding them while trying to find a place where they can fit both individually and together. It's a heartbreaking book at some points, and the emotion really made the characters stick with me, especially Naomi's brothers, who are just so realistic.
This reminds more than a little of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. It shares a wagon journey and the family motif. (And the May and Bundren families both consist of a bunch of sons ranging in age). Fun fact: the title of As I Lay Dying actually comes from The Odyssey, in a quote from Agamemnon to Odysseus (two characters who also appear in The Iliad, which I wrote about my in Top Five: Classics blog!).
Overall, pick up Where the Lost Wander where you have a KU subscription or not! It's gorgeous, and like all the others on this list, I ended up buying a physical copy because I enjoyed it so much.
3. Dark Planet Warriors by Anna Carven
Okay so let's lighten it up a bit with one of my first KU reads, and still something that has stuck with me. This is more so one of my "guilty pleasure reads" but I don't really believe that anyone should feel guilty or embarrassed about what they read or write!
That being said, Dark Planet Warriors is a massive series that centers around this alien race called the Kordolians. They hail from this ice planet in a solar system with no sun. They are silver, pointy-eared (elves anyone??), and some of them have this intelligent nano armor that makes me geek out in SciFi. Abbey is the main character. She's a human from earth who is working on a mining station in the middle of space when this Kordolian ship docks and demands repairs.
The Kordolians are basically known as the brutes of the solar systems, but they're reclusive, dangerous, and apparently gorgeous (because of course they are). This is the first time Abbey, and most humans, have seen the Kordolians.
My favorite character from this is Tarak Al Akkadian, the Kordolian General, who is quiet without being too broody and is also somehow endearing, even as he commands his soldiers. They are searching space for these dangerous alien bug creatures called Xargek's, and Tarak is not happy they had to stop on a human station. While they're there, of course some mischief happens to set the whole eight-book series (and multiple spin-offs) in motion.
I won't say too much more plotwise, because I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm really impressed with how Carven put this all together. It's complicated, but it feels effortless. She never info-dumps any of the background; she seamlessly writes the story and the gaps fill in around the main plot. Yes, it reads simply... none of the human characters, at least early on, are super multi-dimensional, but it's interesting, and the Kordolian characters have a lot going on.
Somehow it avoids being formulaic, which is hard to do in genres like this, so I give Carven props there! The books are good, all eight of them and most of the ones in the spin-offs. I continuously enjoy them. They're face-paced, cute even in some of the romance aspects, and I really appreciate the Kordolian world-building.
And it's rated 18 and older, so there are quite a few of those moments, but it doesn't feel like the book was meant to be some sex fantasy with barebones plot thrown around it. It has a good plot, really cool aspects (like that fricken nano-armor that goes back into the Kordolian's skin on command), and levels to it that reach from romance to politics and morality. That's why I keep coming back.
4. The Rollin' On Series by Emilia Finn
This is another big series (six books plus spin-offs), but it's super cute and well-written. The first two are my favorite because they focus on Bobby Kincaid, who is a mixed martial artist, the oldest of three brothers, and a gym owner who trains professionals and kids alike. He meets Kit, who at first glimpse seems like she'd be a little mary-sue, or static, but who is surprisingly likeable, even as she deals with her issues.
This is a contemporary romance, MMA series. It goes over the top at some points in the later books, like a lot of books in this genre do, but that's excusable because these are very much character-driven books. And the characters are really good. Bobby, despite being this tough MMA fighter, is lovable, charming, and thoughtful. He and his brothers have a really good relationship that strengthens the book. It's more than just "boys will be boys" and men will be assholes. They're clever, funny, smart, and honestly kind. It's refreshing to read a male main character who isn't just this ball of jealousy and "protectiveness" (read: insecurity).
Kit is actually a really strong character despite being portrayed as "shy" early on. She, from the get-go, must take care of her teenage little brother after their father dies, and I haven't really seen this dynamic done realistically in adult contemporary romances. I feel like familial and friend relationships are often swept under the rug or used as plot devices never to be seen again, but the relationships between all the siblings in these books feel real. They're endearing.
Often a lot of books feel narrow in their scope, like you're only seeing part of the world that the characters exist in, but the Rollin On series feels like you're being injected into their lives. It's not just a start-to-finish kind of book where it feels like the author puts horse blinders on you and rushes you along the plot. It's more splice of life, and I really liked that about the books.
Relatedly, one of the spin-off series is called the Checkmate Series. I actually read the first book in this series before Rollin' On, and that's how I discovered the Kincaids. The first book is called Pawns in the Bishop's Game (bad title). It's a bit grittier, and a bit more like that tunnel vision sensation, but the main characters are really good. I attached to them pretty fast.
I do find, though, that Finn's first books in any series are always the best. The first two in RO and first Checkmate book are the ones that really stuck with me. That might just be because I'm not a huge fan of series that switch main characters every book and conveniently get all the friends of the first two MCs together... but it's a trope that I can live with, and Finn pulls it off well enough.
I have tons more KU books that I've enjoyed since starting the subscription, but I'll stop this one here! As of now, these are my very favorite Kindle Unlimited reads! Check them out, rec me more books, and look for my coming blogs!