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Reviewer Picks Reviewers Pick Their Favorite Books of 2020

Recently we asked our reviewers to provide us with a list of some of their favorite books from 2020. Included is a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, all published for the first time this year. Take a moment to read these varied lists of titles and see if you agree with any of their selections! Please note that due to personal and professional commitments, some reviewers were not able to participate in this feature.


Kate Ayers

  • DEVOTED by Dean Koontz
    As a dog lover, I’m drawn to books that feature a four-legged friend. Golden retriever Kipp stays by her human’s side until the woman’s last breath. Heartbroken though Kipp is, he realizes that he has another mission: a boy named Woody who is going to need Kipp very soon. It’s a classic good vs. evil.
  • MOONFLOWER MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz
    After MAGPIE MURDERS, there was no way I’d miss MOONFLOWER MURDERS. Book publisher Susan Ryeland retired to Crete with her boyfriend. But running a small hotel turned out to be way more hectic than either thought possible. Then a couple from England arrives, begging Susan to look into the disappearance of their daughter from their hotel near London. Susan could use the time away, and the couple has offered some much-needed money, so she accepts. Of course, it’s not as easy as she envisioned. Reading MOONFLOWER MURDERS itself is a pleasure, but tucked inside is Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, so you get two times the fun.
  • THE MAN IN MILAN by Vito Racanelli
    Murder mysteries are my mainstay. So when a body is found on a posh street in New York City, I’m intrigued. But it gets more intriguing when the victim has diplomatic ties, and more intriguing yet are his ties to Italy. Detectives Rossi and Turner soon run out of local leads and find they have to travel to Milan. There they discover a connection to a long-ago tragedy, and it becomes obvious that people really don’t want the truth to come out.
  • THE SYSTEM by Ryan Gattis
    In a total departure from my usual reading fare, I chose this book just for a change. And I got it. There really is nothing like it on the shelves. The action takes place over several weeks, beginning with a shooting in a bad part of LA, leaving a drug dealer for dead. Chapters are written in first person by a gang member, a cop, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a parole officer and the victim. Voices are all different, rough, streetwise and gritty. It’s almost more about the characters than the story. This is as real as it gets without being there. And it’s very, very addictive.
  • A DOG’S PERFECT CHRISTMAS by W. Bruce Cameron
    Honestly, I’ll read anything that W. Bruce Cameron writes, but when he puts a puppy in the path of a teenager having a rough time, well, it’s beyond compelling. At the heart of the story is the Goss family. They’re pretty typical: Two parents with kids, and grandpa and his dog added to the mix. Christmas is approaching. The hustle and bustle is in full swing. Maybe more like hectic and beyond. All is going along as usual, and then tragedy strikes. Now everyone needs to step up and make things work. With this new stress, little Ruby could be too much to handle right then. Or she could be just the inspiration the Goss family needs.


Megan Elliott


Harvey Freedenberg

» Click here for Harvey's essay about reading during a pandemic year.


Joe Hartlaub

  • THE RABBIT HUNTER: A Killer Instinct Novel by Lars Kepler
    2020 began with one of the year’s best novels, the sixth in the Joona Linna series. Here, the physically and psychologically damaged detective must solve the mystery behind a series of brutal crimes from a prison cell. This, in my opinion, is the best police procedural series currently being written.
  • A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL: A Dave Robicheaux Novel by James Lee Burke
    Dave Robicheaux, James Lee Burke’s iconic detective, gets caught between two warring crime families while fending off a brutal assassin from another time and place. As always, Burke’s latest novel contains some of his best writing.
  • KILLER, COME BACK TO ME: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury by Ray Bradbury
    Everything old is new again in this collection of very early crime fiction from Ray Bradbury, which shows a fully realized talent at his best.
  • THE DIRTY SOUTH by John Connolly
    As always, John Connolly is in top form as he visits the time period between the first two novels in his Charlie Parker canon with an untold story of Parker’s efforts to bring justice to the victims of a series of bizarre murders.
  • THE BONES OF WOLFE: A Border Noir by James Carlos Blake
    This is the latest installment in this grossly underappreciated series about an extended criminal family of smugglers with businesses, legal and otherwise, in the United States and Mexico. I’m not sure that it's entirely fiction.
  • STREET MUSIC: A Poke Rafferty Thriller by Timothy Hallinan
    What is supposed to be the last of Timothy Hallinan’s Poke Rafferty novels, which tells the backstory of his daughter, Miaow, ends on the very highest of notes. It gets no better than this.
  • LITTLE EYES written by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
    This very smart and prescient dystopian story consists of interconnected tales featuring a new toy --- device? --- that changes everything and is like our phones...but worse.
  • IF IT BLEEDS by Stephen King
    Even at this late date, Stephen King shows no diminution in this collection of four previously unpublished novellas that will be enjoyed by longtime readers and newbies alike.
  • COLUMBUS NOIR edited by Andrew Welsh-Huggins
    This long-awaited installment in Akashic Books’ iconic series of geographical noir features some of the best stories found in any of the volumes to date.
  • LAZARUS by Lars Kepler
    Published in the closing days of 2020, LAZARUS finds Joona Linna obsessively hunting his most dangerous adversary, who was conclusively murdered years before. It is wonderfully plotted and exquisitely written.


Stephen Hubbard


Pamela Kramer


Jane Krebs


Alison Lee

  • LOVEBOAT, TAIPEI by Abigail Hing Wen
    Ever Wong is sent on a summer program in China nicknamed "Loveboat." Out of her parents' control for the first time in her life, she explores her freedom at a program famous for romantic flings and wild clubbing. In addition to the relatable Asian content, I loved how this story was full of drama, passion and adventure. A truly wonderful and exhilarating read.
  • THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES by Kristin Harmel
    After forging documents for a child during the Holocaust, Eva Traube Abrams would encode their fake and real names into a book. Knowing that some would be too young to remember who they actually were, Eva kept The Book of Lost Names in hopes that they would be able to regain their true identity after the war. After the book is stolen by the Nazis, Eva never expects to see it again. When it is discovered decades later, she knows that only she can decode its secrets. In the meantime, she thinks back to her time as a forger. A beautiful and heart-wrenching story.
  • ONE TO WATCH by Kate Stayman-London
    Bea Schumacher is a plus-size fashion blogger who watches ​"The Main Squeeze," a reality TV dating show, each week with her friends. In a wine-induced stupor, she writes a scathing review about the lack of diversity on the program. Her comments go viral. To save the show, the producer asks Bea to star in the next season, where 20 men will be fighting for her love and attention. After being promised that there will be both racial and physical diversity in her love interests, she agrees to be the star, but vows not to fall in love during this journey. I love Bea’s confidence and personality. A fun and romantic read.
  • THE BIG FINISH by Brooke Fossey
    Duffy Sinclair is a jokester curmudgeon who is focused on staying at Centennial, a premier assisted living facility, with his best friend, Carl. When a young Josie climbs into the window of Centennial, claiming to be Carl’s granddaughter, Duffy is flabbergasted. Nursing a black eye supposedly acquired by a kitchen cabinet, the attractive girl begs for their help and shelter. Risking expulsion from Centennial, Duffy reluctantly agrees, for the sake of his dear friend. Realizing that they share more in common than at first glance, Duffy sets out on a personal crusade to help her. A heartwarming read about the struggles, beauty and ability of old age.


L. Dean Murphy

Dean's List

  • BLIND VIGIL: A Rick Cahill Novel by Matt Coyle
    Blinded by a gunshot wound to the face while working as a private eye, Rick Cahill must start a new life. Trying to figure out what that is, PI pal Moira MacFarlane asks his help on a case she’s taken for Rick’s estranged friend. The simple investigation of presumed infidelity turns deadly. Rick’s compulsion to find the truth costs him his vision and almost his life. Can a blind private eye help a friend he no longer trusts? Only the genius of Matt Coyle could conceive the plausible plot of a blind private eye [pun intended].

» Click here to read’s exclusive interview with Matt Coyle.

  • THE WELL OF ICE: An Inishowen Mystery by Andrea Carter
    It’s Christmas in Ireland’s County Donegal. Barrister Benedicta “Ben” O’Keeffe working for a client in Dublin runs into Luke Kirby, who killed her sister and is now paroled. Back in Glendara, The Oak pub has burned and barmaid Carole Kearney goes missing. While trekking along Snow Mountain, Ben and top cop Tom Molloy discover a body. After a brutal attack in the village, Ben plunges into Miss Marple mode.

» Click here to read’s exclusive interview with Andrea Carter.

  • HIGHFIRE by Eoin Colfer
    In days of yore, he flew the skies and scorched angry mobs but now hides from swamp tour boats. For centuries, he struck fear in hearts as Wyvern, Lord Highfire. Vern now faces extinction, the last of his kind. Canny Cajun swamp rat Squib Moreau works for a smuggler. He films crooked constable Regence Hooke murder his boss, and finds himself airlifted in a supersonic wedgie by…a dragon?

  • BROKEN GENIUS: A Will Parker Thriller by Drew Murray
    In 2011, Will Parker, the young prodigy CEO of a big tech company, makes a coding error that costs a college student her life. To assuage his guilt, Will pursues a career in the FBI Cyber Division. Now, Special Agent Will Parker is called to investigate a murder scene at a Comic-Con conference, where the victim has ties to a quantum computer that Will was working on before he left his gig as CEO. A trail of blood and high-tech breadcrumbs lead Will deeper into mystery, danger and a race against time to keep unlimited power out of the wrong hands.

  • RIGGED: A Jake Longly Thriller by D.P. Lyle
    First loves are never forgotten. Ever. Certainly not for Tommy “Pancake” Jeffers. His sixth-grade love, Emily, now slides toward divorce in an artsy Alabama Gulf Coast town. Longly Investigations is looking into finances involved. Emily’s body, along with that of one of two guys she’s been dating, is found murdered, execution-style. A satisfying tale of murder, suspense and nefarious characters by master forensics expert D.P. Lyle.
  • TIE DIE: A Colleen Hayes Mystery by Max Tomlinson
    In London’s swinging ’60s, Steve Cook was teen idol number one, until a teen fan was found dead. Cook’s career crashed. In 1978 San Francisco, Cook works construction, dreaming of a comeback. Until his 11-year-old daughter is kidnapped. He turns to Colleen Hayes, who knows what it’s like to be on the wrong side of the law and live in judgment.
  • THE LEONARDO GULAG by Kevin Doherty
    Stalin’s Russia, 1950. Brilliant Pasha Kalmenov and other artists are sent without trial to a labor camp in the Arctic. The conscripted comrades must forge Leonardo da Vinci’s works. A high price is paid for failing, as the camp commandant has a secret agenda. Worse horrors loom. If he survives them, will life still be worth living?
  • PEOPLE DIE IN SUNSHINE: A Novel of Miami by Gloria Nagy
    Before dawn on a hot Miami summer day, two people are savagely killed. This whimsical tale is a carnival ride through the externally glamorous but internally twisted lives of Coco and Frederick Rothenstein. Gloria Nagy accomplishes a work of humor, heartbreak, murder and redemption.


Ray Palen


Norah Piehl


Barbara Bamberger Scott


Stuart Shiffman

Among avid readers, a common refrain often stated is “If I only had more time to read.” This past year surely tested that wish. COVID brought us far more time to read, and I did spend a great deal more time this past year attacking my pile of unread books. Interestingly, while the size of my collection did decline, I also attempted to help the many independent bookstores across America who needed online business to keep their doors open. I would read about one or another of these independent book dealers and tell myself, I will purchase this book from that store. Soon I was receiving packages from England, New York, Phoenix, Chicago, San Francisco, Nashville and a few other cities. As a result, at the end of 2020, I believe the “unread” stack is approximately the same as when the year began. But there were many enjoyable books along the way.

  • THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson
    Erik Larson writes readable history. I have recommended this book to many friends, and some have said that they do not need to read another book about Winston Churchill. While Churchill is the leading character in this story of London during the first years of the Blitz, he is not the real star. England is the star, and this beautifully told story of a nation standing up against fascism is inspiring and vivid. Reading this book early in 2020, I felt hope and inspiration. As an aside, one of Larson’s great books, THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is under development for Hulu by Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. I cannot wait.
  • THE WAX PACK: On the Road in Search of Baseball’s Afterlife, by Brad Balukjian
    Out of the simplest ideas come great books. Brad Balukjian wanted to write about the baseball players of his life. He bought a pack of baseball cards from 1986 when he was a young boy collecting cards. He opened it and started a cross-country journey to find the players and what had happened in their lives. It was a journey and a life experience. Reading along with him, you share triumph and tragedy, success and failure, and a general appreciation of how easily life can turn for better or worse. Baseball fans will truly enjoy travelling with Balukjian.
  • THE LAST TRIAL by Scott Turow
    Scott Turow is one of America’s most popular courtroom-themed novelists. Occasionally, though, his books seem to veer off course. But that is not the case with THE LAST TRIAL. Turow has brought back several of his favorite characters from previous novels for what may be a final appearance in his fictional Kindle County courthouse. Sandy Stern, who was introduced in PRESUMED INNOCENT, Turow’s first bestseller, is in the courtroom for his final case, a federal trial involving allegations of securities fraud and death. The trial scenes are the best and most realistic of any courtroom novel in 50 years. One of the finest courtroom novels of recent decades.
  • MAN OF TOMORROW: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown, by Jim Newton
    Political biographies can often become bogged down in attempts to justify political acts or journey into minutiae. Jim Newton’s biography of Jerry Brown, the governor of California in two different eras, is pitch-perfect in detailing his life and contributions to California government. In the 1980s, Brown was viewed as somewhat of a weird politician, and was even nicknamed “Governor Moonbeam.” But Newton shows him to be a pragmatic politician who clearly recognized the limitations of government and governing. The author captures California as it moved from a Republican state to a  Democratic powerhouse. His style is more newspaper-like than tedious history, and this biography is an easy and enjoyable remembrance of a far different political era.
    I cannot think of any book that I read in 2020 that better represents this past year than LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND. It begins as the story of a New York family spending a vacation week in the country. How it ends is another matter. Midway through their vacation week, New York City loses power, leaving them stranded in the countryside without any contact with the outside world. Then the owners of the rental property appear, advising them that Manhattan is isolated and without power. What do people do when catastrophe strikes?  Although this novel was written before the pandemic changed our lives forever, it strikes a chord that may remain with us for many years. A thoughtful novel that truly represents 2020, COVID and all.


Rebecca Wasniak


Katherine B. Weissman

  • HAMNET: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell
    I’d venture to say this is a great novel. Not to oversell.
  • THE VANISHING HALF by Brit Bennett
    Second novels are often disappointing when the debut is a smash. Not this one.
  • MONOGAMY by Sue Miller
    One of my favorite novelists really killed it this time with a story of marriage that is complex and deeply felt, as well as a damned good read.
  • MEMORIAL DRIVE: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey
    An extraordinary account of a girl, a mother, a growing-up, a murder.
  • THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT by Hilary Mantel
    It’s true that the first two volumes of the trilogy were better. This one needed cutting and shaping. But by the time it came out, Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell was part of me, and I needed to be with him when he went to his death.
  • ALL ADULTS HERE by Emma Straub
    Fizzy, funny --- and seriously sensitive, too. Welcomed in this coronavirus year.
  • UNFINISHED BUSINESS: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader, by Vivian Gornick
    This splendid essayist made me see familiar books in a new light.
  • THE RESISTERS by Gish Jen
    If you, like me, love fantasy AND baseball, this is for you.
  • WEATHER by Jenny Offill
    It’s a weird book, and at first I thought Jenny Offill was just avoiding having to think about structure. But the pieces do ultimately cohere, mosaic-like, and evoke the texture of everyday life better than many heavily plotted novels.
  • SNOW by John Banville
    Booker Prize winner John Banville took to writing crime novels (under the pseudonym Benjamin Black) late in his career, seven so far, but this book is not part of the series featuring the Dublin pathologist Quirke. It’s a bleak, gorgeously written mystery in which a Protestant inspector attempts to solve the murder/mutilation of a local priest, and it was published under his own name.