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These award-winning Colorado authors offer their picks to kickstart your 2020 reading list

The 2019 literary year was another outstanding one for Colorado authors, and here at SunLit we captured a lot of the great books that won prestigious awards, and offered both excerpts and insight into these talented writers.

And while you’re certainly welcome to take a look back through the archives of excerpts and author interviews, we thought you might like some ideas to consider for your 2020 reading lists

Two of our Colorado Book Award-winning authors — and featured guests at The Colorado Sun Book Club at BookBar — agreed to take time out from their holiday schedules to offer three recommendations, with thorough explanations for their choices. Their selections did not have to be recent releases — just books by other Colorado authors they thought would give readers a solid start on their reading year.

Carter Wilson, whose thrilling novel “Mister Tender’s Girl” was the subject of our inaugural book club meeting, offers three suggestions from the mystery/thriller genre he knows so well.

Nick Arvin’s novel “Mad Boy” marked his second Colorado Book Award, and he chose three volumes that do not include a novel — short stories, nonfiction, poetry.

All together, they offer an appetizing smorgasbord of literature to launch your 2020 reading list. 


Carter Wilson

Carter Wilson is a bestselling author of six critically acclaimed, standalone psychological thrillers, as well as numerous short stories.

He is an ITW Thriller Award finalist, a three-time winner of the Colorado Book Award, and his novels have received multiple starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist and Library Journal.

He suggests:

…a brilliant fusion of suspense thriller and American philosophy…

“The Circumstantial Man”

 Author: Gary Reilly

 Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Why I think you’d like it: Gary Reilly passed in 2011, leaving behind 20 unpublished novels. Now, through Running Meter Press and Big Earth Publishing in Boulder, Colorado, Gary Reilly’s fiction is finally coming to bookstores in Colorado and across the nation. I was asked to read one of his standalone stories, and man, was I happy to have been turned onto this author. Spanning a mere five chapters and 30 hours, “The Circumstantial Man” is a brilliant fusion of suspense thriller and American philosophy. Reilly’s voice is singular; lyrical in its portrayals of desperation and hopelessness, bitterly humorous over life’s patent unfairness. This is a one-sitting read that will have you savoring every beautifully crafted sentence.

…at turns blazing, aching, stark, and gorgeous…

“Ambush”

 Author: Barbara Nickless

 Genre: Mystery

Why I think you’d like it: Barbara Nickless is the author of the Sydney Rose Parnell series, which includes “Dead Stop” and “Blood on the Tracks,” a Suspense Magazine Best of 2016 selection. I had the pleasure to read “Ambush,” the third in this series, and found it to be a modern mystery with its foot on the gas. Nickless’ writing — at turns blazing, aching, stark and gorgeous — propels this story at a breathless pace to its sublime conclusion. In Sydney Parnell, Nickless has masterfully crafted a heroine who, with all her internal and external scars, compels the reader to simultaneously root for and forgive her. A truly standout novel.

…I learned about the power of clever

“Kill Me”

 Author: Stephen White

 Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Why I think you’d like it: This book came out in 2006 and I probably read it around then. I was three years into my own fledgling writing career and, in reading “Kill Me,” I learned about the power of clever. White’s writing is tight and fast, but what he really does better than anything is take a simple but exceptionally clever idea and turn it into 300 pages of gut-twisting anxiety. The premise is this: A secret company exists to service clients who have signed up to be euthanized if their medical status crosses a certain threshold. In essence, once the client is injured or diagnosed with any disease they have listed on their contract, a self-directed “hit” is set in motion, with no possibility for backing out. But what happens when the client’s diagnosis is wrong, or what if they change their mind? White explores those very questions with emotions and thrills galore.

MORE: Explore SunLit’s archive of excerpts and author interviews


Nick Arvin

Nick Arvin’s most recent work, “Mad Boy,” a historical novel about a boy’s adventures during the War of 1812, won the 2019 Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction.

His first novel, “Articles of War,” won the 2006 Colorado Book Award.

It also was selected for the One Book, One Denver reading program. He lives in Wheat Ridge.

He suggests:

…beautiful stories full of heart and heartache…

“We Love Anderson Cooper: Short Stories”

Author: R.L. Maizes

Genre: Fiction

Why I think you’d like it: For a taste of fiction in your day, short stories suit the mood and pace of the way we live now, and Maizes’s book offers everything we look for in stories ⎯ intriguing characters, inventiveness, a feeling of life and love with beginning, middle and end. Moreover, these are lean, beautiful stories full of heart and heartache, with characters caught in the traps of their own making. And they’re funny, too. You’ll love it.

… vivid detail and a great depth of experience…

“Megafire”

Author: Michael Kodas

Genre: Nonfiction

Why I think you’d like it: As climate change increasingly alters our world, Colorado will never drown in the ocean, but neither will it be unaffected. Kodas has been reporting on wildfires for decades, and in this book he weaves together the stories of many of the fires he has covered ⎯ from California to Israel and China ⎯ as well as some Colorado’s most terrible fires, like the Fourmile Canyon Fire and the Waldo Canyon Fire. Kodas writes with an eye for vivid detail and a great depth of experience, and he creates a compelling narrative about how these fires are growing increasingly destructive, and how we continue to alter our environment in ways that feed them.

…a bold endeavor, which Goh pulls off with a kind of eerie, unnerving precision…

“Islanders”

Author: Teow Lim Goh

Genre: Poetry

Why I think you’d like it: At Angel Island, in the San Francisco Bay, an immigration station handled the cases of tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s. While they were held, for weeks and months, the detainees wrote poems in classical Chinese forms on the walls of the station. Some have been preserved, but a fire in 1940 likely destroyed many of these poems. In Islanders, Goh imagines the poetry that might have been written. It’s a bold endeavor, that Goh pulls off with a kind of eerie, unnerving precision, in poems that are empathetic, essential and harrowing.