KRL’s Favorite Books of 2020

Jan 30, 2021 | 2021 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Lorie Lewis Ham, Sandra Murphy, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by Lorie Lewis Ham, Cynthia Chow,
Sandra Murphy
& Terrance McArthur

Another year has ended and once again we take a look back at a few of the many books that were reviewed in KRL in 2020. 2020 was a year most of us want to forget, but one good thing that did happen is that a lot of great books were published! All but one of our main reviewers share in this post their top 5-10ish favorite books they reviewed in 2020. Katherine Costa wanted to include favorite authors and TV shows that she has reviewed, so hers went up in a separate post in this issue.

Sandra Murphy
Silent Bite by David Rosenfelt—Andy Carpenter is a great lawyer. He just doesn’t want to take cases. Readers will love Andy. The police and judges hate him.

Murder in the Boneyard Bayou by Ellen Byron—Witchcraft, newly discovered relatives, and a Rougarou on the loose. It’s Halloween in Pelican, Louisiana.

Howloween Murder by Laurien Berenson—Also Halloween but with marshmallow puffs—and poodles. Plus, the cover dog looks like my dog, Ozzie!

Solace of Bay Leaves by Leslie Budewitz—A shooting leads to clues for a previous murder in this spicy mystery set in Pike Place Market, Seattle.

The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, edited by Josh Pachter—dig out your vinyl and listen to Joni as twenty-eight writers use her songs as a backdrop for their crime stories.

Hell and High Water by Keenan Powell—Maeve takes a break from being a lawyer but really, was that worse than being trapped in a remote cabin during a storm with a rampaging bear outside the door?

Of Mutts and Men by Spencer Quinn—as regular readers know, Bernie is worried about the aquifer. Now his worries include murder. Chet is on the job! Always a favorite series.

Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico (aka Ellen Byron)-Moving in with Nonna, starting a new job working with Dad who may or may not be a mobster, and then finding a shocking surprise during a bachelor party leaves Mia scrambling to find the truth.

From Beer to Eternity by Sherry Harris—a new series set in the Florida panhandle. I predict a winner!

Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross—You help out a friend with a problem, word gets around, pretty soon you’re considered a pro!

A Sprinkling of Murder by Daryl Woods Gerber—What happens when your dream job of creating fairy gardens and serving tea gets mixed up in a murder? You have to ask the fairies for help.

The Secret of Bones by Kylie Logan—Doing a demo of a cadaver dog’s skills, Jazz is shocked to discover he’s better than she knew—he skipped the planted items and found a skeleton!

The Panda of Death by Betty Webb—the debut of a red panda at the zoo, newly discovered relatives, and a murder, all handled with a sense of humor. Gotta love red pandas.

Terrance Mc Arthur

My book reviewing for 2020 has been a bit spotty and sporadic, so how do I choose the best? Hmmm. If I add the digits of 2020, I get…4. OK, four books that stayed with me this year.

For a book to look at, and look at, and look at, I choose Landscapes and Landmarks of the Great Central Valley. Pat Hunter’s evocative watercolors and Janice Stevens’ thoughtful comments lead the reader through a portrait of the land from the south of Kern County to Mt. Lassen, with pictures and descriptions that make the mind say “ROAD TRIP!”

To combine nature and the supernatural, I turn to Spells for the Dead by Faith Hunter. Nell Ingram, outcast from polygamous cult, is now a full-fledged agent in the paranormal arm of Homeland Security, because of her talents for reading the earth and communing with plants. Her fifth outing puts a quickly decaying country singer and death magic on the line.

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs is another urban fantasy, pitting Mercy Thompson, the VW-fixing shape shifter against a smoke-borne creature that ruins lives and throws them away. It’s lively fun.patricia briggs

My most disturbing choice is Lockdown by Peter May, a harrowing mystery set against a killer pandemic closing down England, a book rejected in 2005 as being too farfetched, but rushed into print in 2020 for being so timely…and disturbing. Lots of horrible things happen, and you won’t be able to put this book down!

Cynthia Chow

Puzzling Ink: A Crossword Puzzle Mystery By Becky Clark
An extremely clever new series of a crossword puzzle creator who struggles with OCD. Her aspirations to be a police officer provide the connections to both romance and criminal investigations, making this a realistic and engaging mystery.

Slightly Murderous Intent By Lida Sideris
This fourth in the series has really grown into itself, with budding private investigator still struggling to fill the very big shoes left by her famous father. A murder in a restaurant sets up the action that allows Corrie Locke and her team to battle with egotistical chefs and explore the cutthroat restaurant world.

Murder Goes to Market By Daisy Bateman
Hilariously acerbic observations make this a sharper-than-usual cozy mystery, as San Francisco software engineer Claudia Simcoe adjusts to life running an open market in Northern California.

Til Death: A Zoe Chambers Mystery #10 By Annette Dashofy
If this is the last in the series, it goes out on a high note. Paramedic Zoe Chambers and her fiancé police chief must face their pasts if they are to forge a future together. Plot-swerves, character growth, and a satisfying conclusion all deliver the perfect end to a long running series.

Fields’ Guide to Pharaohs: A Poppy Fields Adventure By Julie Mulhern
Having years ago fallen in love with Amelia Peabody mysteries written by Elizabeth Peters, I was primed to love this adventurous romp through Egypt. CIA espionage, tomb raiding, and hilarious banter place this on the top of my list of favorites.

Staging Wars: A Laura Bishop Mystery By Grace Topping
Home staging is a fascinating world to explore, as the pretense makes sifting through the clues to find real answers all the more difficult. Home stager Laura Bishop’s painful past relationships make moving on difficult but not impossible, and seeing her grow makes this such a worthwhile read.

Alone in the Wild: A Rockton Novel By Kelley Armstrong
The extraordinarily unique concept of an isolated town entirely devoted to criminals wealthy enough to hide out from justice continues to make this such a fun thriller. Detective Casey Duncan and Sheriff Eric Dalton must protect their Yukon town from as many threats within it as from outside it, proving that man never escapes his primitive instincts for survival.

Turn to Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery By James W. Ziskin
1963 Italy has never seemed so tantalizing nor made Ellie Stone’s visit there seem so enviable. The aspiring journalist battles sexism, fascism, and her complex feelings towards her judgmental late father. The past never seemed so present, nor as fascinating and fun.

Pies Before Guys: A Pie Town Mystery By Kirsten Weiss
Northern California Pie Shop owner Val Harris has a family that defines complicated, and seeing her struggle through these relationships is as much fun as it is rewarding. The world of academia is always a delightful setting for satire, and here Val and her friends must navigate through a community college’s ego-battles, slam poetry nights, and bed-hopping professors.

The Study of Secrets: A Lila Maclean Academic Mystery By Cynthia Kuhn
Once again, Lila Maclean finds herself challenging the elitist, and often sexists, attitudes that dominate Stonedale University. Risking her shot at tenure by profiling a little-known gothic writer, Lila finds herself unexpected with the author in their own locked-in manor mystery. This is a tribute to that also honors classic mystery novels.

Lorie Lewis Ham

I never manage to read and review as many books as the rest of the gang, but I do manage to read quite a variety of mysteries, including ones that are a mix of mystery and fantasy. While I have enjoyed every book I have reviewed in 2020, here are a few favorites in no particular order.

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah
This is the first of Sophie’s Poirot books that I have been able to review, but not the first one that I have read. Since Hercule Poirot is one of my favorite mystery characters, it has been a lot of fun to have new stories!

Sword of Shadows by Jeri Westerson
One of my all time favorite series is the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir mysteries by Jeri Westerson. It features disgraced former knight Crispin Guest. This particular book in the series involves King Arthur and Excalibur, which is a huge passion of mine! I am sad that there are only a couple more books left in the series.

A Body in a Bathhouse & A Body On the Hill by Brad Shreve
Brad is one of the new authors I discovered this year and I read and reviewed both of the books in this series so far. This series features gay private detective Mitch O’ Reilly, who also owns a spy store. Can’t wait for the next one.

A Broken Woman by Dharma Kelleher
This one is another new author for me. It is the third book in Dharma Kelleher’s series featuring transgender bounty hunter Jinx Ballou. I have really enjoyed discovering this author and look forward to more of her books.

Deadly Vows & Wicked Wings by Keri Arthur
This series combines magic and mystery—which is my favorite combination. It features Lizzie Grace, who is a witch and a psychic, who runs a tea and psychic consulting business on a werewolf reservation in Australia together with her human familiar Belle.

mystery lee goldbergLost Hills by Lee Goldberg
I have been a fan of Lee’s books for some time now, but Lost Hills is the first book in his new series and this is probably my favorite series of his now. I just reviewed the second book in the series, Bone Canyon. The series features a young female detective who is brand new on the job, Eve Ronin. Eve only got the position because of a video of her arrest of a famous actor that went viral on YouTube, and she knows it, and so does everyone she works with.

There are three books that I didn’t review, but I have to mention because they were amazing and I highly recommend them: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (can’t wait to have time to read the second one), Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson, and The Long Call by Ann Cleeves. The Long Call is the first in a new series by Ann and I will be sure to review future books.

What were some of your favorite books in 2020?

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Play. A new episode went up this week!

You can use this link to purchase many of these books from indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, and KRL gets a portion of the sale:


  1. Most grateful to be listed as one of the best books of 2020 for Landmarks and Landscapes of the Great Central Valley by Pat Hunter and me, Janice Stevens
    Thank you!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing all these wonderful books!!!!

  3. Wonderful to read a list of
    Best Books and see titles of
    many of the books I’ve read
    through the year. Usually
    these lists have titles I’ve
    never heard of and don’t
    think I’d care to read.
    thanks for sharing



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