2020, what a year! I read more books in 2020 than I had originally thought, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t keep up with my Goodreads page as well as I would’ve liked (I’m still working on it as I write this), so that didn’t help me out with my end-of-year lists very much. I need to do better with that and keeping up with everything and being more organized in general. I have some authors I love that I didn’t read all year, and I read several books by other authors. I didn’t realize this until I sat down to try to make a list (since I didn’t keep up so well on Goodreads but also because some things I read aren’t published or for other various reasons) of all the books I read this year. That made me feel sad. I wish there were more hours in the days, hours exclusively set aside for reading, writing, and reviewing. I’m working on that.
Here are my ten favorite books from 2020, and these are not in any specific order. Lists are hard for me because I hate to make anyone feel left out, or I’ll forget someone or something, or I’m too indecisive.
“Midnight in the Pentagram” edited by Kenneth Cain.
There are a lot of great stories in this anthology, which I enjoyed very much if “enjoyed” is really the correct term. This anthology is home to thirty-three short stories all with a super-dark theme. I would like to point out that I especially enjoyed Chad Lutzke’s contribution, “What I Wouldn’t Give,” for making me laugh! I didn’t really expect to go into such a dark-themed collection and find a story, although dark, that could have me in tears from laughing so hard! I think I really needed that.
“Piece of Me” by Steve Stred.
Wow! Just wow! I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I jumped into this book. I don’t think I had even read the synopsis, which is typical for me especially when a book is written by one of my go-to authors. Steve really outdid himself here. We’ve got a frozen setting, and before I finished this book, I could nearly see my own breath. The fantasy elements here are what I didn’t expect, and they really add so much to the story. Beasts! I always expect fantastic beasts in Steve’s work, but he gives a more up-close experience with some of the magnificent creatures here. I keep wanting to say this book is “fresh,” and what I mean by that is I kept feeling the coldness and crispness of the air and the crunchiness of the snow underfoot, the frozen air filling my lungs, like the frozen purity – the “freshness” – that wintertime brings. But, of course, this is Steve Stred, so it isn’t all fantasy and freshness; you know there’s a lot of blood spilt. So much blood! I’m really looking forward to book two and seeing where Kari’s journey takes her.
“Bottled” by Stephanie Ellis.
“Bottled” was one of the first books I read in 2020, and I really enjoyed it. I love haunted house stories, so this was a treat for me, although this isn’t merely a haunted house story. Granddad and Mrs. Waites are both creepy characters. Tyler is strong, has left his demons in the past, and he knows the steps he needs to take. The house and bottles hold secrets that I was excited to uncover. I loved that the book was fast-paced for me. So much anticipation! It really picked up speed at the end. I envisioned myself walking down the dark halls of the house, and I could almost taste the stinking, gristly stew meat for dinner. Not too long and not too short. This book hit all the right spots for me.
“Until Summer Comes Around” by Glenn Rolfe.
This is something I never thought I’d say, but I’m almost burnt out on vampires. When a story is well done, I love them and the nostalgia. Glenn Rolfe is one of those authors who can really take me back and give me the excitement I felt about such themes in the 80s or early 90s.
“Until Summer Comes Around” makes me want to go to a little seaside town, ride the Ferris wheel, get nachos and cotton candy before taking a swim in the ocean. However, I do NOT want to be in the middle of the bloodbath and killing spree of an insatiable vampire. That’s what Glenn Rolfe does. He sets the scene and puts you there in a cozy, realistic place. You walk around, enjoying yourself and eating ice cream, taking in the scenery, then – BOOM! – he splatters you and your ice cream with blood. That’s just the way I like it. Take Stephen King’s “Joyland” and mix it with “The Lost Boys,” and that should give you a decent taste of “Until Summer Comes Around.”
“The Hunger” by Alma Katzu.
I don’t remember where I had first seen anything about “The Hunger,” but I think it was in a Tweet from Stephen King. This was a book I read early in 2020 when it was still cold and snowy, and that went along just perfect with the setting. Most of us know the basics of what happened with the Donner party, but “The Hunger” gives us a whole new perspective. It gets quite creepy at times, downright haunting, really.
“The Lost Memories of Freddy Frehling” by James Newman.
This is probably the most unique story I’ve read by James Newman. We get to live in a world where superheroes exist, but, still, the inevitable sadness of growing old has us firmly rooted in reality.
James has a special talent of being able to sink his fist down deep into your chest without you realizing it until he has a tight grip on your heart. By the time you realize what has happened, it’s too late. Your heart belongs to him in one seamless rip.
I can’t recommend this beautiful, bittersweet story enough. James Newman is one of the greatest authors I’ve ever had the opportunity to read. His work is superb. “The Lost Memories of Freddy Frehling” is no exception!
“Of Witches…” by Steve Stred.
This collection is a little more near and dear to my heart because I wrote the foreword and did the interior artwork. Steve’s one of my favorite authors, and I absolutely love witchy stories, so I NEEDED to include this in my top ten for 2020! Yes, my name is on the cover, but Steve’s stories are his own, so hopefully, I don’t come off sounding pretentious!
Know that this cauldron is filled to the brim and bubbling over with tales gone wrong of people camping, exploring, or trying to live or work peacefully.
There’s revenge, karma, and flat-out sadness.
I especially enjoy the camping/cabin/outdoor themes of Steve’s stories. I spend a lot of time in these settings, so it enhances the experience for me.
Steve’s biography doesn’t say that he “writes dark, bleak horror fiction” for no reason.
Also, I was happy to see a new story pertaining to “The Witch” which was one of my favorites from a different collection.
“Wound Upon Wound” by Steve Stred.
Yes, I am including another – one last – title by Steve for my 2020 top ten. This is a special story. Earlier this year Steve wrote this as a serial novella and posted a new installment each week on his blog. You can find the link to the novella in its entirety on Steve’s blog as he calls it “a perma-freebie ebook.” For me, it was a bright spot in my weeks, something exciting to look forward to. It’s a great story to read in one sitting, as well, but it felt nice to know there was more coming during an especially trying time in my life.
Basically, it’s Ash’s last day alive, and she knows her brother is aware of something that’s dragging him down. She can’t seem to figure out what is going on or what all the commotion in town and on TV is about. She tries to cheer up her brother without much luck. The ending on this one shocked me! I had no idea what was about to happen!!
“The Cockroach King” by Andrew Cull.
I was scrolling through Twitter recently when I saw Andrew Cull post a link to a new story that would be free for two weeks. I had a few minutes to spare that day. It turned out to be longer than a few minutes; I couldn’t stop reading until I got to the end. All work was put on hold until I finished the book, and that’s not something that happens often.
Cassie and her son have moved into a new home, and she has a friend over to help with landscaping. He finds some dog bones buried in the yard, which is unsettling as it is, but then cockroaches start to appear. Not just a few cockroaches, but a full-blown army of cockroaches! Some pretty horrific things happen once the cockroaches make their appearance. Cockroaches don’t really terrify me, but the horror, for me, comes from what happens with the animals. Brutal stuff that nearly squeezed all the blood from my heart. This is one of the best novellas I’ve ever read. I’m nearly at a loss of words for what this book made me feel. My heart feels like it’s too big for my chest and my throat gets tight.
Note: Andrew is donating all profits from “The Cockroach King” to UNICEF.
“A Haunt of Travels” by A. W. Mason
“A Haunt of Travels” is A. W. Mason’s debut collection. I loved this book! I mean, obviously, I loved this book for it to have made my top ten list. I know that Mason is a huge Stephen King fan, and I can feel the King influence in his work. To me, his stories are reminiscent of a blend of three of my favorite authors: King, Richard Chizmar, and Justin M. Woodward. I am really looking forward to reading more of Mason’s work in the near future. Even if you’re a bit burnt out on short stories or short story collections, I highly recommend you read this collection. Mason isn’t movie theatre nachos and cheese, he’s triple-deluxe loaded nachos supreme!
So, there you have my top ten reads of 2020. I hope this list helps you add to your likely never-ending TBR stack. Here’s to a wonderful 2021 filled to the brim with books, books, and more books!
Miranda Crites is a reader, writer, book reviewer, photographer, and lover of horror from the ghostly woods of rural West Virginia.
The writing bug bit Miranda at a very early age. She was pretty much born with a pen and a camera in her hands. She won the young writers’ contest in first grade and received her first camera as a gift when she was nine years old.
When not writing, Miranda enjoys spending time with her family. She and her family spend a lot of time off the grid where they are building a cabin in the supposedly haunted woods.
Miranda is self-employed. She and her husband create large and small vinyl decals, t-shirts, signs, and a plethora of creative customized items.
Some of her many hobbies when time allows are: making unique crafts and artwork, painting, hiking, and, of course, photography.
She has a diploma for Writing for Children and Teenagers although most of her current work is horror fiction and poetry.
Miranda is a member of Team Kendall Reviews at www.KendallReviews.com where you can find her horror book reviews and her monthly feature, Miranda Snaps, which generally contains horror fiction and photography.
Miranda is one of “The Thirty,” which is a group of thirty authors who are each taking a turn in writing a chapter of an in-progress horror novel.
You can follow Miranda on Instagram Miranda_C_rites
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You can find out more about Miranda via her website www.mirandacritesreadsandwrites.com