During this period of enforced lockdown, Kindle Unlimited can be a gift that keeps on giving. However, there is also a lot of clutter on it, and it is filled with books that aren’t necessarily the greatest. In order to help you in this hunt to find the hidden gems, we’ve put together this ultimate list of books across various genres that are great reads and available for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription.
N.B.: These books are available on Kindle Unlimited as of April 29, 2020.
Non-fiction covers a wide variety of topics. If history is your thing, then pick up The Courtesan, The Mahatma And The Italian Brahmin by Manu S. Pillai. This is a collection of essays about some of Indian history’s lesser-known historical figures and is a must-read. Prepare to meet a breastless woman, a singer with an unparalleled voice, a British viceroy, and even a photography-loving Maharaja. For a taste of Indian history that is a bit more recent, try 1962: The War That Wasn’t by Shiv Kunal Verma. Based on the Indo-China war of 1962, the author interviews soldiers and other stake-holders in the Indian army and politico to understand why we lost the war so badly. However, if you prefer reading about topics that make a difference to the way we live, such as how we can have a better standard of living in our cities, and current affairs, then pick up India In The Age Of Ideas: Select Writing by Sanjeev Sanyal.
Young Adult literature has always been a very popular genre. While often set in a fantasy world, good YA tends to address issues that teenagers are currently dealing with. Both The Mortal Instruments series and The Hunger Games trilogy are such books. In The Mortal Instruments, a young Clary Fray discovers she has supernatural blood, and goes on to become a Shadowhunter, a group of people who kills demons. In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is chosen to participate in a fight-till-the-finish style game. Both books have strong female protagonists and raise questions of whether the ends justify the means or not. If you want something more familiar and comforting, then there’s always Harry Potter! And here’s the kicker – all the books from the Harry Potter universe (including Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, Short Stories From Hogwarts and the screenplay of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) are available on Kindle Unlimited.
Mythological & Historical Fiction
The very fact that this genre sees so many books releasing each month speaks volumes about its popularity. One of the biggest names in this genre is Amish, and the trilogy that launched him to fame, the Shiva trilogy, is available on Kindle Unlimited. Blurring the lines between mythology, fantasy and action, the books reimagine Shiva, who we now worship as Mahadeva, as an immigrant who ends up becoming a hero. Alternatively, if you’ve read this, you can move on to Amish’s newer books, the Ram Chandra series, which is a take on Lord Ram. Indian mythology has plenty of interesting female characters as well, and one such character is Satyavati. It was on her behest that Bhishma took his famous vows that form the basis of the Mahabharata. Kavita Kane’s The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty retells her story and tries to answer if she was a conniver or a victim, and if she was opportunistic or simply ‘in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time’.
Biographies & Memoirs
We can learn many life lessons from the lives of others, whether they are famous or not. One such inspirational lady is author Perumal Murugan’s mother. She was a strong and independent woman who not only raised her children but also tended to the farms, managed the income and ensured her children were always fed meals cooked by her. Murugan chronicles her life in Amma. Salman Rashid’s A Time Of Madness: A Memoir Of Partition is a poignant memoir that will teach you the power of compassion and forgiveness in the face of hatred. And then there are some memoirs that provide you with a snapshot of a bygone era, much like how Jim Corbett’s Man-Eaters Of Kumaon does. Whatever your take on hunting might be, Corbett’s stories of hunting dangerous man-eating animals is a fascinating read and also provides you with an insight into colonial life and how Indians were often treated and thought of by the British.
Mystery & Crime
Who can resist the allure of a good mystery novel? Curl up on your sofa, grab a cup of steaming coffee, and ‘the game’s afoot’. This catchphrase was made famous by Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal detective, Sherlock Holmes. You can read four full-length novels and 40 short stories featuring the famous Holmes in The Complete Sherlock Holmes. The beautiful illustrations in the book are an added bonus. Another famous mystery novelist is Agatha Christie. Her second novel, The Secret Adversary, introduces the detective duo, Tommy and Tuppence, who are unwittingly drawn into a diabolical scheme they are unprepared for as they launch their business, Young Adventurers Ltd. If shorter mysteries are what you prefer, then The Perfect Murder, a collection curated by Ruskin Bond, is just perfect. With stories by famous authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins, you’re bound to feverishly flip through the pages in search of any tiny clue that might help you solve the mystery before the author’s big reveal.
Literary fiction is a difficult genre to define since it essentially encompasses everything that is considered ‘fine writing’. And so, Amrita Mahale’s Milk Teeth, a JCB Prize longlister, fits right in. It is as exquisite an ode to Mumbai as it is to young love. Set in the Bombay of 1990s, Kartik and Ira have to balance their jobs, their dreams and their ambitions, as the city (and building) they know and love is changing, and the things they thought they knew, might not be what they appear to be. On a more multi-generational and epic scale, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is an incredible read. It is a tale of love, friendship, betrayal and survival where Sunja, a young Korean, comes to terms with the prejudice her people have to deal with in a foreign country, a topic of great relevance today. Another great literary fiction novel is Eating Wasps by Anita Nair. Featuring strong female characters, the novel is beautifully crafted and balances repulsion and desire, hatred and love on a scale that never tips over and remains just perfect.
If you’re finding it hard to commit to a full-length novel, give short stories a go. Curated by Muhammad Umar Memon, The Greatest Urdu Stories Ever Told is a good place to begin. The book’s introduction serves as an excellent primer to Urdu literature and the book itself features stories by Urdu greats such as Munshi Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Ismat Chughtai. While Leo Tolstoy might be best-known for War And Peace, his short stories are worth reading and contain a lot of wisdom. You can read some of them in The Greatest Short Stories Of Leo Tolstoy. If you’d rather read stories that are more contemporary, then Aruni Kashyap’s His Father’s Disease is a good bet. With a focus on India’s North-Eastern region, the stories in this collection are real, agonising and shake you out of your slumber and force you to deal with the reality that we now live in.
The lockdown period might just be the perfect time for introspection and self-improvement. And self-help books let you do just that. The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen S. Covey is a great place to start. Covey lays out seven easy-to-form habits that he theorises make you efficient and effective. While being proactive or thinking win-win may seem obvious, he tells you how to easily develop these habits for yourself. You could also choose to focus on your mental health by reading Darius Foroux’s Think Straight. Through the book, Foroux shows you how to unclutter your mind in order to stay focussed and pragmatic and free of unnecessary worries. Alternatively, you can choose to just focus on being happy by reading Sister Shivani’s Happiness Unlimited. Her philosophy is that happiness is a decision and not a consequence, and we hold the power to make ourselves happy.
Graphic novels take storytelling to a new level through the addition of a visual element. Contrary to popular belief, they are a wonderful form of literature. If you don’t believe us, read Pride Of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan (Author) & Niko Henrichon (Illustrator). As an American air raid destroys most of Baghdad, the lions escape the zoo and roam the desolate city. Touching upon the themes of freedom, oppression and even patriarchy, this read will leave you thinking. If you’re in the mood for something edgy, read The Sandman series, created by the genius mind of Neil Gaiman. This is one of the few graphic novels to have made the prestigious New York Times bestsellers list. Another dark series is Preacher (by author Garth Ennis and illustrator Steve Dillon). Here, Texan preacher, Jesse Custer, realises that he has supernatural powers and can bend people to his will simply by telling them to do his bidding. The series raises strong questions of what is right and wrong as he begins a journey of violence and righteous destruction across North America.
This genre is probably responsible for most of the fan fiction out there! And for good reason too, since a fantasy world allows authors and readers to let their imaginations run wild. Very few authors and series have gained as much popularity as G.R.R. Martin and his A Song Of Ice And Fire series have in recent times. The same universe includes a story that takes place a hundred years before the events of Game Of Thrones. In The Hedge Knight, a knight tries to gain fame and glory and aligns himself with a mysterious squire who has his own agenda; The Sworn Sword is its sequel. If you’re looking for a beautiful story of witches, warriors and stars, undertake a magical journey with Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. This is the tale of a young Tristan who promises his lover to get her the star that fell from the sky. The book shows us the adventures that the young man gets into, and how he learns the true meaning of love.
Language limitations prevent us from exploring the large and beautiful world of regional and international literature. This is where good English translations come to the rescue since many of us can only read in English and perhaps one more language. Thankfully, Kindle Unlimited has plenty of such options. There’s Manoranjan Byapari’s brilliant There’s Gunpowder In The Air (translated by Arunava Sinha) that was shortlisted for the JCB Prize in 2019. Here, five Naxals are planning to break out of jail in order to continue their fight when the gaoler plants a mole whose loyalties seem questionable. Another great translation available on Kindle Unlimited is Perumal Murugan’s Poonachi: Or The Story Of A Black Goat, translated by N Kalyan Raman. Narrated from the point of view of a black goat, it is a short but poignant read that raises many questions on desire, motherhood, loss and sadness. In the realm of international literature, there’s Turkish great, Ayşe Kulin’s Rose Of Sarajevo (translated by Kenneth Dakan), a sweeping love story set across times of crisis and strife.
Though they might not be everyone’s cup of tea, science fiction novels have a loyal fan base. After all, why wouldn’t you enjoy reading a book that questions reality and the possibility of where science can take us! Hugo Award-winning, Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem is incredibly popular for this reason. It is the first in the Remembrance Of Earth’s Past trilogy and begins during the Cultural Revolution in China. As engineer Wang Miao investigates a secret cabal of scientists, he is led into a line-blurring virtual world where he comes across a threat that could lead to the very extinction of the human race. Another popular, albeit difficult, science fiction book is The Death Of The Universe by Brandon Q. Morris. Humans have spread across the entire universe and have even conquered death and ageing. However, as the universe itself is dying, humans face an inevitable extinction thereby forcing them to deal with questions regarding their existence. For a taste of a classic science fiction book, pick up Jules Verne’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Written in 1864, the story follows the adventures of German professor Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel as they journey towards the centre of the Earth. This special edition has beautiful artwork created by Kilian Eng.
Poetry has the uncanny ability to express emotion through just a few lines in a manner that is impactful. Be it prose or slam poetry, haikus or sonnets, a good poem weaves magic with its words. One such poetry collection is Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal’s Circus Folk & Village Freaks. Her poems challenge our perception of beauty and ‘normalcy’ and introduce us to a number of characters, such as a gay exterminator, a female knife-thrower who doesn’t want to get married, Siamese twins, and a crocodile man who is worshipped as a god. Another beautiful poetry collection is Key Ballah’s Preparing My Daughter For Rain. This is a soulful poetry collection where daughters are taught how to survive this cruel world and love themselves first. Another classic, yet brilliant, addition to the collection is The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, where a prophet talks about the philosophy of life, love, joy and sorrow in a breath-taking manner.