Welcome to our Ten Book Challenge where our favorite authors share their “Book-It List”—a book bucket list with 10 of their most beloved and memorable reads—from the books with their favorite covers and best opening lines, to the reads they gift and the bookstores they frequent. This is a peek into your favorite authors’ perfect bowl of literary comfort food. We hope you discover something delicious!

Author Chanel Cleeton is our May Guest Editor in honor of her new book, The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba, out May 4! She is known for her powerful historical novels with strong-willed female characters and vivid storytelling, set against the backdrop of Cuban history. Now, on the heels of two New York Times bestsellers, Cleeton brings to life the little-known true story of a Cuban woman who changed the course of American history in The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.

Cleeton’s latest is inspired by the legendary Evangelina Cisneros, whose plight, published in American newspapers, captured the hearts and minds of the American people and influenced the United States’ position in the Cuban War of Independence in the 1890s. As the United States, Cuba, and Spain head towards war, Cleeton weaves together the lives of three women—Evangelina, imprisoned in Cuba; budding journalist Grace Harrington, reporting on Evangelina’s story and the conditions of Cuban prisons; and Marina Perez, a young Cuban undercover informant—all devoted to the fight for freedom in Cuba.

Read on to hear about the books that are closest to her heart and on her #TBR list right now—and don’t miss our featured interview on The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba.

The book…

I last bought/am currently reading: An ARC of Zoraida Córdova’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina

I recommend to everyone: The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif

 That was my favorite to read last year, and why: The Cubans by Anthony DePalma. This non-fiction book about life in modern Cuba was informative and illuminating, and moved me tremendously. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about Cuba.

Whose author I would love to have lunch with: I grew up reading and loving books by Nora Roberts and Judith McNaught so I think having lunch with either one of them would be so special considering how much they influenced me as a reader and writer.

That made me realize language had power: There are so many books I could list here, but I will say that the first book that I read that I felt represented my Cuban identity—which was so powerful for me as a reader—was Carlos Eire’s memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana.

I’d like to see adapted to the screen: I’m a huge fan of Alexa Martin’s amazing contemporary romance Playbook series (Intercepted, Fumbled, Blitzed, and Snapped), and I can’t wait to see her characters come to life on the screen.

That made me laugh out loud—or cry—while reading it: I absolutely loved Fatima Farheen Mirza’s extraordinary A Place for Us. It’s such a powerful story of family and belonging, and brought me to tears many times.

That has the most gorgeous cover: Zeyn Joukhadar’s The Map of Salt and Stars

With the best opening line: I’m having a hard time picking just one, but one book I recently read and whose opening line really gripped me is Liz Moore’s Long Bright River. The book opens with a list of names and it’s such a powerful and unique way to open the novel and really sets the tone for the story.

Bookstore that I frequent/is my favorite: There’s always something special about visiting Books & Books in Coral Gables because of the amazing and passionate Cuban-American community in Miami. When I do events there, readers always share some of their stories and their family’s experiences in Cuba and it’s so moving to have that connection.

Bonus: Favorite Read of 2021 (so far): The Survivors by Jane Harper