In April, we shared some of your 5-star reviews for books read as part of the 2022 reading challenge. Now that we are halfway through the year, we have some more of your reviews to share.

Title: Unsub” by Meg Gardiner
Category: Mystery where the victim is not a woman
Review: I am now OBSESSED with this author! Meg Gardiner has unforgettable characters that leap off the page and into your mind. The case will haunt you until the bitter end!

Title: “Wait for Me, Watch for Me, Eula Bee” by Patricia Beatty
Category: Historical fiction not set in WWII
Review: The story, written by Patricia Beatty, is a wonderful account about a brother’s quest to find his sister who has been taken hostage by Indians after their parents are killed. This is a book to not be missed by anyone!

Title: The Witching Hour” by Anne Rice
Category: Told from multiple perspectives
Review: Anne Rice is the best about creating the perfect atmosphere for witches and mystery. You can see the streets of New Orleans under your own feet and feel the air crackling around you when characters meet the spirit who haunts the family. This is a series that will quickly enthrall your every sense and keep you awake reading to discover the ending!

Title: The Last Thing He Told Me” by Laura Dave
Category: NYT Bestseller
Review: Why did he vanish? Was he involved in a grand scheme? All these questions and more come to light during this suspenseful weaving of lives. Laura Dave dives readers into the heart of a large and involved tale that keeps readers guessing what will happen at the turn of each page. A cannot put down till the end!

Title: The Corpse Queen” by Heather Herrman
Category: Middle grade or YA
Review: Heather Herrman, a local Salina author, has struck pure gold with her first novel! Imaginative and enthralling, this book is going to be hard to keep on the shelves for sure!

Title: The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn
Category: Told from multiple perspectives
Review: Is there any better response to a book of history than one that makes you want to immediately go out and get another by the same author!? This book sent me in search of another book by the same author and I ended up reading “Ribbons of Scarlett” set in the French Revolution which I knew nothing about. What a great challenge!

Title: The Wish” by Nicholas Sparks
Category: Takes place in a rural setting
Review: Loved this book that was a classic emotional Nicholas Sparks novel. Was able to read it pretty fast since I couldn’t put it down!

Title: Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Fineberg
Category: Historical fiction not set in WWII
Review: I gave this a 5 because it is an absolute cornerstone for LGBTQ+ books and I’m so proud to have read it and proud to be part of the community this is part of. As a reader, I give it 4 stars because of how overwhelming the injustice towards the community is and how hard it was to read about that starting around the 1950s when this is set in. Jess, however, they define themselves is subject to rape repeatedly. It’s so hard not to relate to that on a visceral level and as a woman. The utter and complete degradation and exploitation of women’s bodies as they are called perverts because they are different and are being raped. As Jess goes to gay bars and defines themselves as butch, cops have the right to beat, rape, murder them and their friends just for being authentic people. It’s so hard for my mind to grasp that. Jess is so amazing and such a fighter. No matter what happens, they are a warrior determined to be heard and remembered, to bring dignity back to everyone who has felt different by restoring our LGBTQ+ history. This is a classic work of art that happens to also be a huge part of history in LGBTQ+ history. I would highly recommend it. It should be taught as a classic in all historic literature.

Title: Wish You Were Here” Jodi Picoult
Category: NYT Bestsellers
Review: A great book by Jodi, as always, encapsulates the grief, loneliness and hardship of how many of us felt during the COVID-19 day pandemic.

Title: The Madness of Crowd” by Louise Penny
Category: Recommended by a Friend
Review:  Although “The Madness of Crowds” is the latest in formula fiction from Louise Penny, it is unnecessary for readers to have read her previous novels. Penny provides background on her characters throughout the novel. The setting is post-Covid, and the theme invites readers to analyze the after-effects of statistics and scientific theories. Villains abound in this novel. The end is a tidy surprise.

Title: Forgiving Paris: A Novel” by Karen Kingsbury
Category: Told from multiple perspectives
Review: A Karen Kingbury novel that keeps you wondering what happened in Paris & what other characters were involved. An inspiring novel about moving forward from past mistakes.

Title: Upright Women Wanted” by Sarah Gaily
Category: A western
Review: I absolutely loved this book. The librarians are outlaws spreading the word that everyone has a place in this world. The main character, Esther is a runaway. She believes that there is something inherently wrong with her. She fell for another woman, Beatriz, and shortly after her father found out about them, Beatriz was hung for having unapproved materials in her possession. So, Esther thought if she joined the librarians she could do some good as the librarians are chaste, morally upright and loyal to the state, but the librarians she finds are rebels. They consist of a lesbian couple and one who goes by the pronoun “they”. You get to see how Esther starts to change how she sees herself, how she starts to see that she might actually be okay as herself and then how she turns into a rebel just like the other librarians, so she can tell people like her there is a place in this world for them, too. There is a lot of action and surprises in between. I definitely would recommend it and I’m so happy that it was recommended to me.

Title: Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review: I loved this book. It was a very creative imagining of a world where monsters, including everyone from police who used brutality and shot others for the color of their skin to parents who neglected their kids, had been erased from this place called Lucille but not before there had been a war with angels. In Lucille nobody had a problem embracing Jam for who she was, once after the thousandth time, she was told she was a handsome boy and broke down in a tantrum, saying she was a girl over and over again. She was accepted as such and from that point on, given an implant with what she needed starting at 10 and then a hormone implant at 13. When Jam asked for a surgery, she got that as well with the love, understanding, and teaching of her parents that she was a girl as much without surgery as she was with it. I wish all transgender people felt that unconditional love and understanding. Anyways, her mom, Bitter, had a parent who was a monster. Bitter was an artist. One day Jam wants to see her mom’s finished work and it scares her and she falls on it. Her mom had put razors on it so her hand was bleeding all over it. Then, one night she hears a pulse coming from the painting, the same one as in her veins and finds the painting has drank her blood and is coming out of the painting into her world. Its name is Pet and it’s on a hunt for a monster. When it goes to her parent’s room, she realizes this has happened before. Her parents resolve that it’s wrong and that Jam needs to send it back to where it came from; Pet has to obey Jam. However, when Pet says that the monster is in her best friend’s house she can’t just look the other way even though it might be easier. She would never be able to forgive herself if her best friend was hurting, so the hunt begins. I would highly recommend the book.

Title: Bitter” by Akwaeke Emezi
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review: This was a prequel to Pet, another book I read by the same author. The main character is Bitter who tries to hide from the battles in Lucile in the comfort of a place called Eucalyptus. However, she can hear the protests and commotion outside her window from the Assata who are fighting for a better place to live in against those in power such as the police, the mayor, and Theron, a rich man who uses his wealth only to abuse others, such as cutting health care costs that cost Ube’s, an inspirational leader of Assata, mother’s life. However, when a friend of Bitter’s loses her eye from a rubber bullet from the police, Bitter gets angry. She has always had this secret power to draw creatures and with some of her blood offered to them, they would come to life. Now, she wants justice for her friend and draws a creature that is fearsome and she slices her forearm to let it come to life. It says it’s name is Vengeance and it has come to hunt and kill monsters. Bitter doesn’t want anyone dead and realizes her mistake too late. Vengeance says it will go on and find people who do want to hunt and it disappears. Bitter finds out her friend Blessing’s girlfriend, Alex, has also let another Angel loose. Everyone is an artist in Eucalyptus under Miss Virtue’s supervision. Alex worked with metal and her hand had slipped and she cut herself on her artwork and it came to life. Bitter fills them in about Vengeance and they seek out Ube, some people stand with Vengeance. There is so much more drama and action that ensues. By the end, Bitter and Lucille will never be the same. There were many sacrifices and costs for peace but it does seem like good will triumph.

Title: Just Ash” by Sol Santana
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review: This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. I call it devastatingly beautiful. I’ve never read anything by someone who was intersex and could share the difficulties and hardships you would have to face if you were intersex especially if you had a family like Ash did. Ash’s family is very conservative. They raised Ash as a boy and Ash always saw himself as a boy. So, when he has his period and everyone including his parents say that he should “try being a girl now,” it’s mindblowing. If he were a transgender male, he would have more rights but he isn’t. When his parents want to cut off his male genitalia, he escapes luckily to his sister who has been disowned for loving another woman. There is so much more to this book, like his girlfriend being sent to a conversion therapy camp. It’s just so heartbreaking, but Ash keeps persevering. He is an amazing person with so much depth and insight to give. I love how he says if women and men are supposed to be together based on anatomy then where does that leave him? It’s just such a good question for people who do get caught up in binary & heteronormative thinking.

Title: All Your Perfects” by Colleen Hoover
Category: NYT Besterseller
Review: Even/especially when things get rough in a marriage, it is important to be honest and communicate.

Title: Hurricane Child” by Kacen Callender
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review: I loved this book. It starts out very sad though, Caroline’s mom has abandoned her, she is picked on by all her classmates and her teacher. She is alone except for her father who she can’t connect with like her mother and these spirits she sees, especially this one that is all black even its eyes are black that she saw when she almost drowned and she sees off and on now. Then, a new girl, Kalinda enters her life and she falls in love with her but along with the entire class finding out, Caroline had put a note in Kalinda’s desk confessing her love to her, which Anise, the head mean girl, finds and reads aloud, Kalinda rejects her, believing such a love between two girls is a sin. Caroline is alone again until Kalinda wants to talk to her again one day and says that she still thinks it is a sin but wants to be friends. They have a good day together, only for Caroline to find out Kalinda wouldn’t be attending their school anymore, that she was moving away. Caroline confronts her and Kalinda agrees to try to find Caroline’s mom before she leaves. Caroline just found out that her mom was alive and living on St. Thomas where Caroline goes to school all this time and thanks to an address on the backside of a photograph of her mom she thinks she knows where to find her mom. Before they find Caroline’s mom Kalinda confesses she loves Caroline, too. They have to hurry in to get the search done because a storm is coming. They do find her mother but her mother has another family. Her mom left because she tried to kill herself when she found out that her husband and Caroline’s father was cheating on her and was in love with someone else. Her mom said she knew she would try again if she stayed so she left. Kalinda left before she saw Caroline and her mother unite. Caroline couldn’t forgive her mom. She doesn’t feel like anyone loves her or cares so she lies down in the bottom of her father’s small boat in the middle of a tropical storm, letting fate do what it wants to her. When she gets up, she sees no land anywhere around her and falls out of the boat and sinks down again seeing the woman in all black. She wakes up in a hospital bed. She was found on the shore. She starts to think of the spirit as an angel. Eventually, she lets her mom back into her life, even wanting to know her family, she wants to know her half-sister from her father’s affair as well, Kalinda and her send letters to each other, Anise moves away, and Caroline graduates from the school with the mean teacher. Her life is no longer filled with hate, abuse and abandonment. She has many places to belong and more that are just starting to open up.

Title: A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review:  This beautifully written novel was a sad, funny, and a little serious look at this little girl’s life.

Title: Obie is Man Enough” by Schuyler Bailar
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review: I really enjoyed this book. It was about a middle school transgender male. He is struggling to feel “man enough” because his former swimming coach kicked him off the team basically for being a transgender male. Coach Bolton is someone he respects and when that coach uses his deadname and says “You’re never going to be a real man…unless you can beat every boy on this team.” It was a beautiful book. I got to see Obie’s journey, how young he knew he was a transgender male and The Year as he refers to it, which he must have told everyone and started transitioning, and how much bravery that took. It cost him a friendship with a person that becomes a bully to him but he learns to stand up to. Another friendship he almost loses. Then, he finds so many good things: a new swim team with new fiends on it who like him for who he is, a girlfriend that likes him as he is, a completely supportive family even though one grandmother is Korean, she takes it all in stride. It taught me so much more about how it must feel to be and live as a transgender person, but also just how strong and empathetic you can be in the midst of just growing up and becoming who you are. I’m glad that he thinks he is enough in the end because he is more than enough anything and everything. He no longer needs that Coach’s approval in the end.

Title: Felix Ever After” by Kacen Kallender
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review: I loved this book. The main character is an African American transgender male who goes to a private art school where one day he walks in and finds photos of himself before he transitioned with his deadname. All of these pictures were blown up like they were artwork hung up in a gallery and he and his best friend scramble to get all of them down before people can see them, but everyone is in class right now so they must have seen them. So, who put them up? That becomes one of the biggest mysteries in this book. Also, this character wants to fall in love but doesn’t feel like it’s possible or like they deserve it. He says he has too many different identities, it would be too hard to love him. But, then it turns out his best friend has loved him all this time and he has to decide if he is brave enough to accept a love that he does deserve and answer in his heart, does he love him back? All this time he can not stop thinking about him. His mom abandoned him when he was young and his dad doesn’t use the right pronouns or his new name, but once his dad does and Felix can accept himself, he is ready to accept love, too. I honestly never would have guessed who did the gallery and then you have to wait and see what happens with Felix and his love life. It’s a beautiful love story. I felt the same way, that it would be too hard, too difficult to love me but you have to give people a chance. I felt I understood Felix a lot even though our backgrounds are very different. Another beautiful book that taught me more about transgender identity.

Title: King and the Dragon Flies” by Kacen Callender
Category: Middle grade or YA novel
Review: King lost his brother, Khalid and his family is falling apart. Nobody talks about it. They just want to create a new normal. His dad told him boys don’t cry and when he turned 12 he could no longer help his mother do dishes, that wasn’t men’s work, even as it looked like his mom was about to collapse. King is convinced his brother is a dragon fly now, and goes to watch dragon flies every day after school to find him. King used to have a friend, Sandy who told him in secrecy that he was gay and King told him he might be, too. Khalid had heard this and told King never to hang out with Sandy again because you don’t want people to believe you are gay, too. So, King shuns him and becomes scared to be different, stand up for himself and others, as well as to stand out until Sandy goes missing because he ran away from his father who beat him for being gay and told him to stop being gay. Sandy didn’t back down and said that’s who he was. King becomes braver, eventually out to people he trusts, and his family takes time to remember Khalid and King talks candidly about being gay with his parents and they tell him they still love him. His father and him cry, his dad cooks, and things change for the better. They take Sandy away from his father to a family he is safe to live with. It was a beautiful tale. I know what it’s like to be in a household that is not dealing with things that need to be dealt with. I never had to lose a sibling, yet. That would be hard and at such a young age. They talk about how he is African American and that alone will be hard for him and then being gay on top of that will be even harder. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it seems to be true. Coming out isn’t easy; being a minority and coming out would be harder. I think he is a brave boy and I’m glad that the author wrote this sort and that I read it.

Title: Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
Category: NYT Bestseller
Review: I wanted to read this book before I watch the movie. It took a little while to get into, but it quickly got exciting and I couldn’t put it down. I loved this book!

Title: The Five People you Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom
Category: NYT Bestseller
Review: This is a very interesting fiction perspective on what happens to a man after he dies. A light read but brings attention to how little things you say or do may resonate to many people, in many different ways, and for different lengths of time. Great book that is simple to read but will make you think about your actions in life.

Title: Love & Other Disasters” by Anita Kelly
Category: A book about food
Review: I loved this book! The two main characters, Dhalia, a queer woman getting out of a divorce, and London, coming out as nonbinary are both contestants on a reality cooking show called Chef’s Special. The winner will receive $100,00. Dhalia is going to use it to pay off student loans and figure out what to do with her life and London will use it to start an LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization. London falls in love with Dhalia, not thinking it could be possible for their feelings to be returned but finds out they are. Both of them have to realize that they are both worthy of love, be very honest and vulnerable with one another and be willing to take the risk to be with each other. It’s a beautiful love story. I will read anything by Anita Kelly again.

Title: A Wild and Precious Life: A Memoir by Edie Windsor with Joshua Lyon
Category: Recommended by a Friend
Review: This book was a joy to read. Edie was so full of life and she took 0 crap from anyone. I love her heart. She was passionate and fierce, but she had a temper. Before this book was done, Edie passed away, but Joshua found a wealth of files about her that told her story, plus he interviewed the people who had known her so you get to hear several first hand accounts of her and what she was like. Her one true love was Thea and it sounds like they were quite a pair, both beautiful and intelligent. Later, Thea needed a lot of help from Edie because they found out that Thea had MS. Edie was one of the first women to really gain as powerful of a position as she did in IBM. She was very intelligent when it came to numbers and was proud to be part of Lesbians Who Tech. At first though, both Edie and Thea hid that they were lesbians. In the 1980s, Edie started being an LGBTQ+activist and when Thea and Edie got married in Canada, Edie put the wedding announcement in the New York Times. When Thea died, Edie inherited Thea’s possessions and wealth and had to pay taxes on it, which wouldn’t have happened if they were a heterosexual married couple, so Edie sued the United States. Through this lawsuit, the Federal government acknowledged same-sex marriages to be lawful in 2013. This led to each state declaring same-sex marriage lawful and the famous Obergefell case in 2015. Anyone wanting to know about LGBTQ+ rights and one of the women in the middle of it all should read this book. Nonfiction isn’t usually my cup of tea, but this book is really well written and very easy to read and enjoy.

The reading challenge invites you to read a book for each of the following categories:

  • New York Times Bestseller
  • Middle-grade or Young adult novel
  • Short Story collection
  • Takes place in a rural setting
  • A book about food
  • A mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman
  • A western
  • Historical fiction not set in WWII
  • Recommended by a Friend
  • Title with Five or More Words
  • Published the decade you were born
  • Told from multiple perspectives

The idea is to shake up the way you choose what to read next, perhaps introducing you to a book you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. For each book read, you can enter a drawing for a Salina Area Chamber of Commerce gift card. You can also leave a review of the book you read. Happy reading!