• Erin Zaranec

Best of the Bookshelf

Updated: Dec 10, 2018

With the year coming to an end, I'm SO close to my goal of reading 100 books (only 5 reads away, to be exact!)


While I'm still posting all of my 2018 reads to the blog with summaries and thoughts, I wanted to give y'all an idea of the best of the best I've read so far. If any of my final six get added to the list, I'll be sure to update it and let you all in on my best reads!


These books are listed in the order I read them.


Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult

Photo courtesy of Buzzfeed

I love this book SO much, I really have to limit how much I write about it. In my opinion, it should be required reading... for everyone. Picoult was not afraid to dive right into the middle of a tough issue and write about it with grace, honesty, and candor.


The novel follows Ruth Jefferson, a talented and dedicated labor and delivery nurse that just so happens to be black. With more than 20 years of experience, her life changes within the span of one newborn check in appointment. Turk Baur, the father of Ruth's tiny patient, and his wife were not only bothered by Ruth's care of their child... they wanted her removed from their room and the baby's care list all together. Why? The Baurs were a white supremacist family who refused to have a black woman care for their child.


The story just begins in that room, though, and unfolds throughout the 480 pages in the novel. Some parts of the book are hard to read and slightly uncomfortable. With chapters written from Turk's point of view, the reader is exposed to the dark underbelly of the white supremacist movement. However uncomfortable those pages were, Picoult wrote an incredible story that I would read time and time again.


The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

Photo courtesy of eb-reads

Another must read for this year, or any year for that matter! Similar to Small Great Things, parts of this novel were really hard to read. Even trying to put yourself in the shoes of 16-year-old Starr Carter, who watched the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of police, is a mind-bending experience.


Thomas is an incredible writer. Her writing was so honest, full of the gritty truth that many in our nation don't seem ready to face. Also... Starr Carter is incredible. She's a young woman who truly finds her voice and uses it to promote and bring about change. I loved that Thomas wrote a book that is timely, relevant, and full of social and political commentary... but it's also a book that can be digested by teen readers and adults.


The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid

Photo courtesy of Monica Kim

This book came to me at the recommendation of co-workers (thanks Caitlin & Chelsea!) who raved about it. After reading it myself, I can see why! I loved the story of aging Hollywood icon, Evelyn Hugo, and emerging journalist, Monique Grant, who has been chosen to write her story.


Evelyn became famous for her good looks and acting, but after her looks and fame faded - the stories and speculations around her seven husbands lingered. Aging and reclusive, Evelyn decided to share her story with the world. The fame, the behind-the-scenes of old-school Hollywood, and the men who influenced her path along the way. She selects, or more so demands, a young and emerging journalist to cover her life's story. While Evelyn's story is intriguing enough, her unexpected connection to Monique ties the novel together.


Reid did an amazing job of creating complex but relatable characters and developed a story that I, too, came to rave about.


Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

Photo courtesy of Nikki Loves Books

Hey, Shaker Heights! It was so fun reading a book set in a Cleveland suburb and actually recognizing the landmarks, neighborhoods, and areas referenced. I picked up this book after it became Internet-famous and kept popping up on my social media. Prior to reading Little Fires Everywhere, I read Ng's Everything I Never Told You and didn't love it... but definitely didn't hate it either.


With Little Fires Everywhere, I was hooked. Mia Warren disrupts the cookie-cutter lifestyle laid out in Shaker Heights. A single mother with a teenage daughter, she enters Shaker Heights and leaves the city in a bit of a disarray. Mia and her daughter, Pearl, become intertwined with the well-to-do Richardson family. The book explores long-held secrets and impact they can have on individuals, families, and a community at large. The strong pulls of motherhood, the complex relationships between teenagers, and family dynamics that differ from household to household. I am aching for a follow-up novel... can we get a sequel?!


An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

Photo courtesy of Katalay.net

Oh, Celestial and Roy. Tayari Jones did an incredible job creating these characters, who I was so dedicated to and wanted to know everything about. Yes, it's a book about cracks in the criminal justice system and the holes that Roy and Celestial fell deep into. But, more than that, it's a book about relationships, love, respect for one another, and how to stay afloat when you're set up to drown.


Roy is a hard-working black man in Atlanta who falls in love with Celestial, a strong-willed and semi-whimsical woman. The two marry and, within the first year of what should be marital bliss, Roy is arrested for a crime his wife knows he didn't commit. The book isn't necessarily action-packed, or even quick moving... but it is amazing. The chapters alternate points of view between Roy, who is living behind bars, and Celestial, who is living life without her husband and trying to reconcile her life pre- and post-arrest.


One of the Boys, Daniel Magariel

This book was a completely random read for me. I was scrolling through the Ohio Digital Library and it was one of the first books available to rent for my Kindle. This 176 page book had me cringing, anxious, and completely engaged. It was one of those reads that left my staring off at the wall in silence after flipping the last page.


The book follows two boys - both characters go unnamed throughout the novel - who are being brought up by a father who is in the trenches of a severe drug addiction. The boys are basically left to raise themselves as dear old dad sits in his room for hours - blinds drawn, door shut, getting high and entertaining other addicts.


It's the author's debut novel and I was more than impressed. I truly felt like those young boys were living, breathing kids who I just wanted to reach out and help. It's an emotionally hard read, but worth the investment.


The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton

Photo courtesy of the RatherBeReadingCLE Instagram!

I adore this man so much that after putting down this book, I immediately watched every video, interview, and analysis that has been put out about his book. Anthony Ray Hinton is incredible. I actually feel bad typing that because incredible doesn't even begin to describe him.


After spending more than 30 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit... quick pause... you read that right, THIRTY YEARS for a crime he DID NOT commit, Hinton wrote a memoir of his time behind bars as an innocent man. After being arrested in 1985 in his mother's front yard, Hinton was charged with two counts of capitol murder and sentenced to death. For a crime that occurred while he was at work, with a manager on duty, and supervision at all times. His only crime that kept him in the bellows of the criminal justice system were being black and poor in Alabama. Behind bars, Hinton didn't talk for three years. Three years of silence passed, with Hinton living close enough to the execution chamber that he couldn't escape the smell of burning flesh.


After years, Hinton found his voice and connected with other inmates - but he also developed a deeper connection with himself. Hinton even started a prison book club! This is a must read for inspiration, for perspective, and for, well, an amazing story.


The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

Photo courtesy of Erica and Epeolatry

Leni lives a life that most of us couldn't even imagine, but Hannah painted it so vividly that we could. I buzzed through this read because I was so engaged with the characters, the setting, and how Leni's life turned out. As a young girl, she was removed from all that she knew and thrust into a life where survival skills took first priority.


Living with a father who came back from Vietnam with PTSD, Leni and her mother are suddenly moved to Alaska in the summer of 1974. I wish I could eloquently summarize this novel, but I truly do't know if I can because there were just so many stories woven into this book. The harsh but honest love story between Leni's parents, Cora and Ernt, the need for independence and survival in The Great Alone, the need to fit in, to feel normal, to have a support system and somewhere to lean. Alaka in itself seems to be a story, with its stunning landscapes and its dark, dark winters.


I loved this book. I loved the depth of the characters, they were definitely characters like I've never met before.


The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris

Photo courtesy of my RatherbeReadingCLE Instagram

This book left me speechless so many times over. Morris is such a great writer, it enhanced an already incredible story.


Lale and Gita met at Birkenau, a concentration camp a few miles from Aushwitz. They meet by chance - Gita literally captured Lale's heart at first sight. The two find themselves in a dire situation, literally facing life or death decisions everyday. They rely on each other for basic survival and find themselves in love.


Through an amazing journey, both escape the death camps and are uncertain if they'll ever see one another again. With an afterword by their son, you suddenly remember that you're reading about an actual story that two people lived through. I loved the way Morris told the story of Lale and Gita and would recommend to anyone.