My Top 10 Books of 2020

INTRODUCTION

I read and reviewed 28 books in 2020. Below are my top 10. These are the 10 books that kept me turning the pages and enjoying every word, paragraph, scene, and chapter. In each case I couldn’t stop thinking about their storyline well after I’d finished reading them. These are the books that I can confidently recommend to anyone looking for a great book to read.

This list is not a comprehensive list of the best books that came out in 2020. It is simply the best books that I happened to read and review this year. After the cover for each book you’ll see my review just as it appeared on Amazon and Readers Favorite. Each review contains a brief summary of the story and a my comments on that book’s strengths and weaknesses. I’ve also added a movie rating. None of these books have been made into movies, but I find the rating to be an effective yet simple way to warn readers about content concerns.

I’ve listed my top 10 in the order of my enjoyment, but it was very difficult to so because they all deserved to be at the top of the list. So, keep in mind, just because a book is at the bottom of this list doesn’t make it any worse than the ones on top. I stand by every book on this list as being a fantastically written book that I can heartily recommend to anyone looking for a great book to read.

FAVORITE BOOK COVER

I love looking at book covers and considering if they are effective or not. So, this year I decided to make note of my favorites. In my opinion the book cover is the most important marketing tool for any book. It needs to be simple, bold, eye catching, and convey something about the book that makes you want to know more about the story. Some of the books on my list succeed with their book cover, but others don’t. My favorite book cover on this list is Arcade (#5 below). Honorable mention for a great book cover goes to Solar Fury (#10 below). And the worst cover below, in my humble opinion, is An English Apocalypse (#2 Below).

TOP 10 BEST READS OF 2020

1. ALIEN REDEMPTION by Gloria Oliver

Alien Redemption by Gloria Oliver is a science fiction novel about mankind’s discovery of an alien race. The story follows Claudia, a doctor who has been disgraced within her profession. In her efforts to escape her past, she ends up working on a merchant spaceship called the Holiday, under the nefarious Captain Bennet. They fly across the galaxy to a planet that is home to a previously undiscovered intelligent race of beings. Claudia is intrigued at the discovery, anxious to learn from them and protect them. Captain Bennet, on the other hand, has evil plans for the beings that have humanoid bodies along with wings and feathers. Claudia soon finds herself their sole caretaker and protector, even as the Captain kidnaps them and forces them into a despicable life of servitude.

I found Alien Redemption to be one of the most original science fiction novels I’ve ever read. The story is simple yet nearly perfect in its execution. Gloria Oliver’s style of writing is fluid and very natural. I was easily carried away within the story as I turned the pages. The characters are believable and real. Claudia is so well fleshed out that I found myself fully invested in her thoughts and dilemmas. Many of the other characters were equally effective, especially Captain Bennet and the First Mate, Stevens. The most stunning story element of Alien Redemption is the avians, the name most often used for the aliens. I won’t give away any story details here, but suffice it to say, they’re handled very differently than aliens are in most other sci-fi stories. Alien Redemption is a fresh and satisfying science fiction read that I am happy to recommend.

If Alien Redemption was a movie it would be rated PG13 for the way the aliens are treated by some of the humans.

2. AN ENGLISH APOCALYPSE by Paul J C Edge

An English Apocalypse by Paul J.C. Edge is an exceptional zombie apocalypse story. The word “zombie” is never used as a name for the infected in this book, but the easiest way for me to describe them here is as fast-moving zombies. What makes this book exceptional is the structure of the story. It follows two brothers who don’t know of the other’s existence. Some spiritual force has warned one of them about the coming apocalypse. The other one doesn’t know what’s coming but he knows he’s been given certain abilities that make him a formidable warrior. The brother who knows what’s coming prepares a fortress to save himself and a small community. The other brother is surprised by it all but his unique abilities make him a survivor.

An English Apocalypse moves slowly at first, laying every brick of the two main characters’ backstories. We’re also privileged to watch the preparations of the brother who knows what’s coming. Anyone who isn’t interested in the fine details of the fortress as it’s being built might find the first half of the book to be a little slow. However, author Paul J.C. Edge knows his stuff about survival in a fallen world and he manages to keep it all interesting. Along the way, we get to know many of the main characters too. Once the catastrophe arrives, the story kicks into overdrive. There is no sitting quietly in a bunker until everything passes. The action and violence come fast and furious. From that point on I had a difficult time putting the book down. Overall, I think the author used the slow build-up in the first half to his advantage, making the second half twice as effective because by then the reader is invested in the characters and has been well-prepped on their survival plans. This is NOT a cheap zombie story all about blood and gore; rather it’s a well-crafted blockbuster novel about a zombie apocalypse that feels all too real.

If An English Apocalypse was a movie it would be rated R for violence and bad language.

3. STOLEN SHROUD by Daniel Westlund

Stolen Shroud by Daniel Westlund is a fast-paced thriller with Christian and science fiction overtones. As the book’s title promises, the story is about the stealing of the famous Shroud of Turin that many believe to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ. An average guy named Mark is the sole witness to the stealing of the shroud. He and a beautiful reporter named Cora try to recover the shroud but it isn’t long before they end up in all kinds of trouble at the hands of some very powerful people. The story is told by alternating scenes from the modern-day effort to recover the shroud to flashbacks that reveal how Mark, Cora, and a few other key characters got mixed up in the whole circus of events.

The Stolen Shroud works extremely well on several levels. I’ve never been a big fan of flashbacks in a story, especially when they are used as extensively as they are in Stolen Shroud. However, Daniel Westlund is a master at making each scene from the past interesting enough to stand on its own. As the book goes on, the flashbacks build on each other and add a crucial understanding of the present-day story. I was also thrilled to see the Christian faith of the main character handled with such honesty and truth. The shroud, after all, is a relic that potentially has great meaning for Christians. It seemed natural to me when the main characters grappled with what it all means. The discussions between Mark and the non-believing Cora surrounding the validity of Christianity were interesting and real, and never felt tacked on to support one side or the other. I also liked the addition of some science fiction elements that helped to keep the story fun and unpredictable. Stolen Shroud will appeal to Christian readers and atheists, shroud believers, and shroud doubters. I found it to be a solid thriller with strong characters and a wild and crazy plot. I highly recommend Stolen Shroud.

If Stolen Shroud was a movie it would be rated PG13 for some violence.

4. RANDOM WALK by Rachel Lulich

Random Walk, a science fiction novel by Rachel Lulich

Random Walk by Rachel Lulich is a hard science fiction novel with heart. It effectively balances scientific detail with characters that are easily relatable and likable. The story follows a three-person crew of astronauts as they attempt the first manned mission to Mars. Though the astronauts are the number one focus of the book, the crew on the ground play an equally important role. I won’t give away the plot but suffice it to say, things do not go as planned and the crew of the Pioneer find themselves in some serious trouble. As soon as things started to go wrong, Random Walk reminded me a little of one of my favorite hard sci-fi novels, The Martian, in the way human ingenuity and team work become paramount to the survival of the astronauts.

Readers looking for a Star Wars type of tale filled with good guys and bad guys fighting it out with space weapons will be disappointed with Random Walk. This book’s main concern is to paint a complete picture of the astronaut’s world full of claustrophobic spaces and hi-tech equipment. Readers who enjoy an immersive experience, based on the real-life experiences of real astronauts, will find much to love with Random Walk. The “heart” that I alluded to earlier refers to the people that Ms. Lulich has created for her story. She does a good job of making them human and showing us how the harrowing plot affects them. As much as I enjoyed reading about the technical side of this ill-fated mission to Mars, it never would have worked without the rich characters that are present in Random Walk. Ms. Lulich did an excellent job of balancing the human element with the technical details. For that reason, Random Walk works extremely well and I can’t wait to see what happens in book 2.

If Random Walk was a movie it would be rated PG for content, but could be considered PG13 for suspense.

5. ARCADE by M F Thomas

Arcade by MF Thomas is a post-apocalyptic science fiction tale with a strong dose of originality. It’s a story that takes the reader eight years beyond the point where everything shuts down and paints a picture of human existence that is both devastating and fascinating. A down-on-his-luck former FBI agent named Walter is the central character who, on his path to find his missing daughter, gets swept into saving the world. He meets a beautiful and brilliant young woman named Sloan who is conducting scientific experiments with far-reaching consequences that could possibly help restore humanity on Earth. Walter feels compelled to help Sloan, partly because he sees good in what she is doing, partly because he is attracted to her, and partly because he wants to protect her from an evil man and his army who will do anything to stop her.

Arcade by MF Thomas is a well-written, fast-paced thriller that took my imagination on a wild ride that I won’t soon forget. The story starts off as a detective story but evolves beautifully into a science fiction masterpiece. MF Thomas’ writing style is smooth and vivid. Every character in the book, from the protagonist to the supporting characters, is interesting and relatable. The plot moves at just the right pace to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Most of all I enjoyed the surprising direction this story takes that somehow manages to be out-of-this-world yet at the same time realistic and entirely plausible. Arcade is a great work of science fiction that I highly recommend.

If Arcade was a movie it would be rated PG13 for violence and some bad language.

6. BERNARD’S PROMISE by S D Falchetti

Bernard’s Promise by SD Falchetti is a science fiction novel, number seven in the Hayden’s World series. I had not read any other books in the series but I was pleasantly surprised that the story, for the most part, stood on its own with very little explanation needed from previous books. James Hayden is the main character, a space explorer who builds a spaceship and assembles a crew for a dangerous mission to an inhabitable planet that orbits a nearby star. The crew is a team of scientists plus an A.I. Their only agenda is to discover life on another planet. They are expecting to find life that is passive and easy to study but events that take place before and after they land tell a different story. The discoveries they make are more than they ever imagined and will change the course of mankind.

Bernard’s Promise is hard science fiction done right in my opinion. Author, SD Falchetti seems to have a strong grasp on the science of space exploration and does a great job of keeping everything as close to reality as possible. Yes, the story is set in the future but it all sounds plausible as if this could really be how it all happens in the twenty-eighties. What makes this story great, though is the combination of hard science and great story-telling. The narrative moves along at a comfortable speed, never lingering too long in one place, keeping it all interesting and exciting. Bernard’s Promise also has an imaginative plot that takes its readers into new territory that isn’t the least bit predictable. On top of all that, the cast of characters is first rate. James and his small crew are all relatable characters who have unique personalities. I found myself connecting with them early on in the story and rooting for them to succeed as they ventured into the unknown. I highly recommend Bernard’s Promise.

If Bernard’s Promise was a movie it would be rated PG13 for suspense and a few bad words.

7. PARANORMIA COMPLEX by Paul Regnier

Paranormia Complex by Paul Regnier is a supernatural tail of angels and demons with a sense of humor. This book picks up three months after the first book in the series, Paranormia. Chris is once again the unlikely hero who gets pulled, against his will, into a demonic battle. This time around Chris learns to lean on his friends more than he did in the first book. Though Chris is still the point man, his girlfriend Amber and a few other friends get mixed up in the spiritual warfare. An offbeat angel named Finch also shows up from time to time to give Chris encouragement but things still spiral out of control for Chris and friends. They go through everything from hearing creepy voices to being chased by demons on motorcycles.

Paranormia Complex is a solid supernatural thriller that could stand up to most other novels in the genre. It has plenty of frightful moments and even includes its fair share of violence, although we’re spared the gory details. The charm of both Paranormia books is the tongue-in-cheek manor in which the story is told. Even in the most serious scenes, the narration remains full of humor as we’re seeing it through the main character’s offbeat point-of-view. I was also impressed with the way Paranormia Complex included just enough Christian language to show where the real source of power comes from in the fight against demons, yet the story never felt the least bit preachy, nor did it feel like a Christian novel. Overall, Paranormia is a perfect blend of story elements that make for a fun read.

If Paranormia Complex was a movie it would be rated PG13 for some scenes that are spooky and could be frightening for younger viewers.

8. JUDENREIN by Harold Benjamin

Judenrein by Harold Benjamin is a high octane thriller set in a near future that seems far-fetched on the surface but, in reality, is possibly more probable than we realize. The book is set in a United States where Jews have been rounded up and forced to live in certain neighborhoods, surrounded by guards. It’s for their protection, they’re told. It’s not quite as bad as a Nazi concentration camp but seems to be a step in that direction. When a cryptic message reaches one of the Jewish districts saying a large scale terrorist attack is coming their way, the Jewish leaders bring in Zach Gurevitz, a Jewish man who was formerly a special forces soldier in the military. Zach is the obvious hero of this book, but he’s not your typical Hollywood action star. When they find Zach, he’s living on the streets of Chicago, unemployed and struggling with heroin addiction. He is manipulated into helping the Jewish community that had rejected him in the past. He reluctantly takes on the mission, but he does it his way, playing by nobody’s rules but his own. It doesn’t take Zach long to figure out that nothing he’s been told about the mission is as it should be, and nobody can be trusted.

I had a blast reading Judenrein by Harold Benjamin. The plot is intelligent, showing the author’s keen understanding of the workings of military special forces as well as the F.B.I. Not only is the plot smart but it’s also really exciting. It has fast-paced action to spare, keeping the reader guessing from start to finish. The plot sports twists and turns throughout that made it hard for me to put the book down. However, the stellar plot is not the only thing Judenrein has going for it. The main character, Zach, is an intricate hero that feels completely relatable. He’s like a best friend who at times you want to cheer for when he pulls the wool over the bad guys’ eyes, and other times you want to cry for him when you see him suffer because of his tragic past. Thriller fans who love a great plot with an even greater hero will find much to love in Judenrein.

If Judenrein was a movie it would be rated R for violence and bad language.

9. STIG’S FLIGHT OF ENCOUNTERS by Stephan von Clinkerhoffen

Stig’s Flight of Encounters by Stephan von Clinkerhoffen is a fantasy adventure meant for middle-grade readers but is appropriate for all ages. Stig is a bright boy with a kind heart who loves to tinker and create mechanical devices like the airplane that he uses to fly out of his home of Chelldrah-ham. No one had ever gone over the mountains to see what was beyond their city until Stig sailed into the forbidden zone. His flight soon turns disastrous and he finds himself stuck in a magical land full of unusual creatures and people who look like him but behave in very strange ways. In his quest to find his way home, he experiences much that is beautiful and good but it is under attack from an evil race of creatures called Bachs.

Stig’s Flight of Encounters is lots of fun to read. It’s full of magical characters who are all a little bit off yet are charmingly endearing. The plot is simple on one level yet complex in its ability to move from one magical setting to the next. With every step in Stig’s journey, he meets new characters and new challenges. For the sake of reference, a fair comparison is to say Stig’s Flight of Encounters is similar in its structure and diverse cast of characters to The Wizard of Oz (the book, not the movie). I highly recommend Stig’s Flight of Encounters to anyone, young or old, who likes to be carried away into fantastic new worlds along with the main character who has a heart of gold and a strong imagination.

If Stig’s Flight of Encounters was a movie it would be rated PG or possibly G.

10. SOLAR FURY by E A Chance

Solar Fury by E.A. Chance, book review

Solar Fury by E. A. Chance is about the end of civilization as we know it as a result of a solar flare. The story follows a young mom named Riley and her teenage daughter Julia as they get stranded at a hotel in Washington DC after the solar flare hits. They are hundreds of miles from their home and Riley’s other two small children. This is the story of Riley and Julia’s journey through a broken world trying to reach the rest of their family. They are joined by a man named Coop that Riley met in DC before the flare. When disaster strikes the planet, she and Coop barely know each other but their friendship evolves as they help each other through one hardship after another.

I’ve read many books over the years with a similar scenario; the world falls apart and our hero or heroine must travel across the country to reach a particular destination. Solar Fury by E.A. Chance is easily the best of the bunch that I’ve read. There are two reasons why I think this book rises above the rest. One, the author is relentless in the way she gives her characters one trouble after another. Just when you think the danger is over, something else happens. This book kept me guessing from start to finish, wondering how the three main characters were going to survive. The second great thing about this book is the complicated relationships between the three main characters. The author did a great job of showing us how traumatic situations affect human beings both inwardly and outwardly. The strains put on the relationships among the characters are interesting and realistic. Solar Fury is a fast-paced story of fragile human beings working together to overcome overwhelming obstacles.

If Solar Fury was a movie it would be rated PG13 for perilous scenes and violence.

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