• Erin Zaranec

Quarantine Reads: Reviews and Wrap Up

When the world shut down in March, I thought I’d be reading 6 books a week. Yes, really.

I was so excited that I finally had time to visit my bookshelf and get into some good reads. Well, it didn’t really work out that way for me. I was so consumed by the stress of, well… the world. Transitioning to working from home, living alone in a time of isolation, the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the election, my health - you name it, it stressed me out and took me further and further from my bookshelf.

I still managed to read 51 books since mid-March. Some were amazing one day reads and some had me struggling to find enough interest to flip the page. Here’s some of the ones I’d read over and over again, the ones worth a one time read, and what just wasn’t for me.

Never Leaving My Shelf

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

At fourteen years old, Adunni knows one thing for certain: she wants to get an education. This is the way to get her “louding voice” according to her late mother. Her voice that can change her path in life and the world at large. Instead of going into education, Adunni is sold into marriage by her father and her husband expects her to bear him an heir. After running away to the city Adunni is left to provide for herself by serving a wealthy family. Through violence and struggles, abuse and manipulation, she is determined to earn her louding voice. This book is incredibly moving, Adunni is a courageous character who refused to let the world muffle her voice.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

This book captured my heart. It is not my typical read by any means - a fantasy novel set on a magical island full of children who have been deemed “Dangerous Magical Youth” - honestly, I typically wouldn’t look twice at it. But I put it on hold at the library after seeing it pop up on so many blogs that I didn’t even read the description and, man, I’m glad I didn’t judge a book by it’s cover. Linus Baker lives a quiet and predictable life as a Case Worker at the Department of Magical Youth, one assignment to Marsyas Island Orphanage changes not only how he views his job, but how he views himself. This book is so dang heartwarming and truly exemplifies the message that everyone is more than meets the eye. Just read it, please.

The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

Let’s just start with: Connie Schultz. Amazing. Of course this book was going to be great. The Daughters of Erietown follows Ellie and Brick, high school sweethearts who traded in the dreams of their youth for a small house and a union card when Ellie discovers she is pregnant. This novel shows the true sacrifices people make for family, from stashing away hidden desires and sidelining lifelong dreams to the hard path of discovering yourself within and independent from a family unit. Chronicling the evolution of women’s lives in America from the ‘50s onward to the issues plaguing working class families and their communities, this book is incredible from the first page through the last.

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

I’ve seen this book compared to The Help and let me just say, don’t. The Healing is written so richly, the story true to its time in history. Granada Satterfield is born to slaves on a Mississippi plantation the same night the plantation’s mistress loses her own daughter. Believing that Granada has taken on the spirit of her daughter, the mistress takes her into the plantation home where she is raised. The story takes a turn when Polly Shine, midwife and natural healer, is brought on to the plantation to heal slaves from various diseases on the plantation. She is equally feared and respected by all, but Granada only feels fear. Polly takes Granada under her wing and works to heal her from the inside - teaching her what it means to be a Black woman after being raised by the white mistress of the plantation. This book is magical. It’s well-researched, well-written, and true to itself and its place in time.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land elegantly showcases grief and love and the powerful emotions tied into the two. Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios live wildly different lives, one in the Dominican Republic and the other residing in New York. Both girls know their father leaves for long seasons on business, but aren’t exactly sure what that business is. One plane ride changes life as they both know it, when their father’s biggest secret is revealed. With chapters of alternating perspectives, this read is an easy yet intriguing read that I would recommend over and over again.

Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality by Debbie Cenziper and Jim Obergefell

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same sex marriages. The road to that decision was paved by stories like that of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur. In 2013, Arthur was dying of ALS. The couple rushed to Maryland, where same sex marriage was legal in 2013, and wed to achieve John’s dying wish. After flying to their home state of Ohio, though, their union was no longer recognized. This meant that, amongst other things, Jim’s name could not appear on John’s death certificate as a spouse. The couple partnered with lawyer Al Gerhardstein and paved the way to that life-changing 2015 court decision, impacting thousands of families along the way. I would read this book time and time again, it is so good.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

This was one of my more memorable reads of 2020. Former boarding school roommates Lillian and Madison led very different lives: Lillian leaving school after a scandal and Madison graduating and growing to marry a politician. Years go by and the distance between the two women’s lives continue to grow until the day Lillian receives a letter pleading for help. Madison wants Lillian to raise her husband’s estranged children while he works to gain traction in his political career. The catch? The kids catch on fire. Literally. Go up in flames. The book is entertaining, original, and funny while also hitting you right in the gut about what it means to form your own family and how human connection is all we really need.

A good one-time read

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

For Elwood Curtis, one small mistake is enough to ruin his life. A young Black boy living in the Jim Crow south of the 1960s, he unjustly lands at the Nickel Academy - a boy’s academy advertised as a great place for reform but operated as a violent detention center. Elwood believes he can reform the school, but his friend Turner believes he is naive. The two boys become companions through brutal violence, isolation, and the desperate need to survive. This book is so rich with detail it’s both incredible and hard to read. The only reason I say I’d only read it once is because the impact of a last-minute plot twist is one that made the whole book and has quite the punch in the first read.

The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

I don’t typically pick up thrillers, but this one was amazing. Writing a legal brief on a whim, law student Darby Shaw gets herself entangled in a matter of national security after twoSupreme Court justices are assassinated. This book was a brilliant read, there’s enough twists and turns to keep you curious but not so many that the book drags on. I’d recommend, but probably wouldn’t read again. (Does anyone read thrillers again?! Once you know the plot it seems silly.)

Holy Lands by Amanda Sthers

This book is composed of letters written between one family that spans the globe - from New York to Israel. It’s full of so many relatable family moments that you can’t help but smile while also feeling that familiar sense of frustration that one has with their family members who lead different lives than their own. Harry Rosenmerck, the family patriarch, left a medical practice in New York to raise pigs in Israel. Oh, and he’s a Jewish man. A Jewish man raising pigs. His adult children are molding their own little worlds, pieces of which he does not approve of, and his ex-wife needs him now more than ever. The book is one that unexpectedly got added to my reading list but I’m so glad it did.

Up From Freedom by Wayne Grady

Virgil Moody vows to never be like his father, who was a slave owner. After the death of his father, he ‘rescues’ Annie, a slave, from his plantation and takes her with him to New Orleans to start a new life. When Moody discovers her pregnancy, he vows to raise the child as his own - convinced he is building them a better life. Years pass and while he considers himself and Annie to be man and wife, she views him as being complicit to slavery. Sure, he didn’t own Annie - but he certainly kept her in one place. As events unfold, the divide between Annie’s reality and Moody’s assumptions grows, forcing Moody to examine whether he is more like his father than he wanted to admit. It’s a great and moving read that I’d recommend.

Next Year In Havanna by Chanel Cheeton

This novel gives a glimpse into Cuba’s fight for its freedom and downfall into dictatorship intertwined with a modern day love story. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrerra grew up on her grandmother Elisa’s stories of Cuba and was tasked with returning Elisa’s ashes to her homeland after she passed. Once on Cuban soil, she was able to see her grandmother’s stories come to life and discovers a few secrets along the way. It’s a good piece of historical fiction with some romance dashed in.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

Inspired by the Blue People of Kentucky (which is already a fascinating group) and the Kentucky Pack Horse Library, this novel takes you deep into the hills of Kentucky during the 1930s. Cussy Mary Carter has the odds stacked against her: she’s one of the last Blue People left and faces discrimination and prejudice due to her life experiences and her appearance. She fights to become a ‘book woman’ - delivering books to poverty stricken families deep in the Appalachian hills. Nineteen-year-old Cussy is an amazing character - she is so strong and resilient and truly wants the best for those around her. This book is a great piece of writing, it has a great description of time, place, and people. When you close the cover you’ve probably learned more than you even realize - from a bit of Kentucky history to the background of the Pack Horse Librarian Project.

Just Not For Me

*Please note - if you love one of these books or it's on your 'to be read' list, I love that for you! Reading is such a personal experience I don't want to take away from anyone's opinions of a book simply because I didn't like it. These are just reads that fell flat for me.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Ok, don’t judge me for this one. I know, I know - it was one of the biggest reads of the year, in so many book clubs, everyone loved it. I was… lukewarm to this book at best. I am totally cool with a book with unfinished endings and dialogues that are reflective of real life. That wasn’t what bothered me. I just felt so darn frustrated that year over year over year and situation after situation I was reading the same story. I saw practically no character development and, honestly, both Connell and Marianne annoyed me. I wasn’t a fan of how Marianne’s relationship with her body and sexuality unfolded, it just didn’t sit right with me. And maybe that was the point, but I had to skim through so many parts because I was feeling queasy. (Not saying it wasn’t realistic or appropriate for her survival, I just couldn't stomach reading a lot of it.) I haven’t watched the show yet, but I’ll be curious to see if that changes my opinion at all. Trigger warning: domestic violence / violence in the home / sexual exploitation.

The Heavens by Sandra Newman

The Heavens follows the relationship of Ben and Kate, two young twenty-somethings who meet in early 2000s New York and quickly build a life together. Except - Kate’s life exists in two time periods: present day and the Shakespearean era. Kate is convinced she lives in both worlds, confusing all versions of reality. The book is an interesting read full of quirky characters but I just couldn’t get into it.

Ghosted by Rosie Walsh

Ghosted is meant to be a twisted love story - after falling in love after just “seven perfect days” Sarah and Eddie’s relationship comes to a sudden halt. A big secret is revealed that changes the way Eddie looks at Sarah and their lives are never the same again. I honestly found this writing to be super boring. I read the book really quickly because I wanted to figure out the plot of this darn secret but then I just felt like the reactions of characters and the plot was… weird.

Other quick mentions:

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory - Cute love story, but predictable. A good read to pair with a glass of rose to clear your mind from a stressful week.

Things You Save In A Fire by Katherine Center - A sweet story about a female firefighter and her journey of self discovery and vulnerability. Trigger warning: sexual assault.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land - A moving memoir that explores America’s poverty divide and the ugly underbelly of the upper-middle class in America.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood - One woman’s journey to motherhood teaches her about herself and the world around her. A nice read but a bit of a predictable version of character development. (I was pretty luke warm to this read but it's part of Reese Witherspoon's book club so... still worth it if you're into that!)

Long Bright River by Liz Moore - Two sisters travel the same streets: one as a cop and the other as a homeless drug addict. This story combines a story of a sister’s love with the mystery of a crime spree.

Postscript (P.S. I Love You #2) by Cecilia Ahern - I LOVE P.S. I Love You - it’s my go to movie for a good cry. I haven’t read the first book in this series but the continuation of Holly’s story was a great read and, again, sparked a good cry.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson - A quirky book following two adult children who were used as props in their parent’s artistic antics growing up and are now tasked with separating themselves from their parent’s art as they navigate adulthood.

Whew, that was a lot! Thanks for bearing with me. As we approach the new year my next post will feature some self help and personal growth books that I love!


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