Title: The Painted Bird
Author: Jerzy Kosinski
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction
Content Warnings: Graphic violence, graphic rape, animal cruelty, abuse towards women and minors, racism, pedophilia, anti-Semiticism, depictions of war.
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for The Painted Bird.
Synopsis: A harrowing story that follows the wanderings of a boy abandoned by his parents during World War II, The Painted Bird is a dark novel that examines the proximity of terror and savagery to innocence and love.
Words cannot accurately depict the visceral disgust that I feel towards this book.
I don’t even know why I picked up this book from my local library. I believe I was on a horror-kick or something with my reading list, and I was recommended this book online. I am so glad that I only checked out this book instead of wasting the money I would have spent to purchase it.
The problem with this book is not so much the subject that is being written about; historical fiction holds truths about events and eras within our history that are important to keep alive in our works. There is no question in my mind that World War II brought forth some of the most atrocious accounts of violence and human depravity in our world’s history.
However, where I have issue with this book is the wildly grotesque depictions of violence that the narrator, an unnamed child, experiences and witnessed throughout the course of the novel for seemingly no reason. There is also not one sympathetic character in the entirety of the book that the narrator meets. Every other page or so, this boy is being either cruelly assaulted or watching someone else be graphically beaten up and/or raped. Kosinski truly went beyond just saying that World War II brought out the perversion of humans: Kosinski actively tried to show us by attempting to bring this perversion to life through the illustration of words. He painted out some of the most horrific images in his scenes, images so vile that they made me feel physically ill at times.
Additionally, there was criticism about Kosinski passing off this book as an autobiographical story, or at the very least not denying that this was not a true story based on his own experiences. The fact that Kosinski profited off the events of the Holocaust and World War II by trying to pass this novel off, with everything contained within, as something that happened to him is repulsive.
This book was very nearly added to my DNF list, but to give Kosinski’s writing a fair chance, I read through until the end. I can now say that I would never recommend this novel to anyone, and am incredibly glad that I didn’t spend any of my own money on this book.
I joined The Young Folks for a brief time in 2018 before taking some time off for work and grad school. In 2021, I rejoined the incredible TYF Books Team as a Young Adult Book Reviewer, and I have had an amazing time discovering and promoting new releases, putting together fun feature articles and lists, and even interviewing some of my favorite authors!
I want to provide a master-list of the articles I have written and/or been a part of at The Young Folks in 2021.
I am confident that 2022 will bring about more books, fun experiences, and writing!
Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Gisselle's Rating: 3/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for We Were Liars.
In brief summary, there is one word that I can use to describe this book: Ouch. But the word itself carries multiple meanings for how I felt about We Were Liars, and not all of them are good.
E. Lockhart's We Were Liars takes us to the tropical and beautiful Beechwood Island, a piece of land owned by her the patriarch of the Sinclair family. The Sinclairs are tight-knit and close family, spending every summer together at Beechwood Island, reuniting the Sinclair family once more as well as the Liars, a group among the children that consisted of three cousins and their friend. But something happened to Cadence (or Cady) last year on Beechwood Island, something apparently so horrible that everyone refuses to tell her. Nothing is as it seems within the Sinclair family, and by the time the story ends, you will wish you remained in the sunny bliss of Beechwood Island.
Title: The Witch Haven
Author: Sasha Peyton Smith
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Witchcraft, Mystery
Gisselle's Rating: 3/5
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for The Witch Haven.
I'll be perfectly honest, I stopped reading this book about halfway through. As I type, it's open on my Kindle and I am planning on finishing it for sure, but I've been trying to finish this book for two weeks now. I'll come back with edits to my review once I finish it.
I'll start with what I enjoyed so far. I love fantasy and magic and witches in my stories, and that's primarily what drew me into this story. I LOVE stories that focus on the gritty and grim side of magic and those that world it, and with this story's setting in early 1900s New York, there is plenty of grim and gritty to go around. Sasha Peyton Smith does a great job at illustrating the darkness in the city and in the emotions of our protagonist, Frances. The pacing of the beginning was incredibly well done, and the beginning packed a powerful punch (warning for distressing themes such as sexual assault and murder).
Unfortunately, the beginning is mostly where my enjoyment of the book has been limited to thus far. As the story progresses, the pacing becomes a little more erratic and uneven in compassion to the beginning. The introduction of characters such as Maxine and Lena felt half-executed and their development did not feel complete. As a result, I didn't find myself relating to anyone or really caring for them.
Additionally, it feels as though the author dances around a lot of great topics that are introduced but never fully explored. For example, the concept of feminism, especially during the early 1900s with the women's suffrage movement, is mentioned through the book in pieces, and Frances finds that even the fanatical world of magic was submissive to the world of men; she learns only what she can use to make her life as a housewife and lady easier, such as how to clean, sew, and arrange flowers with magic. Yet, for the first half of the book, that plot point felt like it was acknowledged, but never actually discussed it the confines of the characters' voices. There was even a mention of acknowledging the existence of transwomen and non-binary people in the academy, but there is no attempt at further exploration.
Also, maybe it'll get better in the second half of the book, but Finn having the ability to dream-walk and the revelation that he had been visiting Frances in her dreams felt more like a violation than anything romantic to me. He felt like an Edward Cullen archetype, just Irish and with magic. I just wasn't sure of him or his motives.
I'll continue reading to give this book a fair shot, but these are my thoughts after the first half of the book. The rest is still to be determined.
Title: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre(s): New Adult Fiction, LGBTQA+, Romance, Politics
Gisselle's Rating: 5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for Red, White & Royal Blue.
I was a little late to the Red, White & Royal Blue hype-train, but I finally managed to read through McQuiston's debut novel after finishing One Last Stop and, let me tell you, they did not disappoint!
Red, White, & Royal Blue follows the life of Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States and oldest child of the President, Ellen Claremont. After nearly a full term of living at the White House under his mother's Presidency, Alex knows how to conduct himself and what is expected of a socialite in his standing, especially when it comes to international affairs; however, he cannot seem to shake his disdain for the Prince of England, Prince Henry of Wales, someone Alex believes to be incredibly stuck-up, posh, and cold. When a photograph of Alex and Henry caught mid-confrontation at the Royal Wedding is leaked to the presses, both the United States and England are forced to execute damage control. Their solution: stage a close friendship between Alex and Henry to quell any rumors of antagonistic feelings between the two men. Yet, the more time Alex and Henry spend with one another, they closer they become, and soon both men are thrusted into the complex world of navigating a relationship out of sight of the public and their respective families.
Title: The Garden House
Author: Marcia Willett
Genre(s): Adult Fiction, Grief, Family
Gisselle's Rating: 3.5/5
Release Date: August 17, 2021
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for The Garden House.
The Garden House by Marcia Willett is a tale of love, grief, death, and secrets uncovered. Fresh out of university, El moves to the small town of Tavistock following the abrupt death of her father, Martin, and inherits his home in the countryside called the Pig Pen. Grappling with her new reality after her father’s death and figuring out what to pursue in life after university, El accepts the help of her stepbrother, Will, in maneuvering through her grief and sorting through Martin’s belongings. When El finds Martin’s phone and discovers coded text messages from someone called “J” within, El realizes that there was more to her father than she knew. As El and Will work to decipher the codes in the texts, they get closer to the truth, to the mysterious “J,” and to each other.
Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1)
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
Gisselle's Rating: 4/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for Stalking Jack the Ripper.
Victorian London has always been one of my favorite eras to visit when reading novels, and in Stalking Jack the Ripper, the first installment in a series, Kerri Maniscalco brings us the high brow, wealthy society of the upper class in London in the midst of the Jack the Ripper murders.
Audrey Rose Wadsworth is a young English woman that comes from a prosperous family in the late 1880s. She is also apprenticing under her Uncle Jonathan in his forensic lab, dissecting cadavers and analyzing the manner of death, a entirely unsuitable for a young woman of her status. When a string of brutally murdered women are brought into her uncle's laboratory, Audrey Rose is wrenched into an investigation of what - or who - could have caused these vicious killings. Inspired by the real-life unsolved case of the Jack the Ripper killings, with some chapters prefaced by grim period photographs of the time, Maniscalco tells a fictional tale of who was the true monster that was Jack the Ripper and of a woman who tracked him down.
Title: And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga #1)
Author: Kiersten White
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Religion, Elements of LGBTQA+, Romance
Gisselle's Rating: 4.5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for And I Darken.
During my undergrad studies, one of the books I enjoyed reading the most in my curriculum was Bram Stoker's Dracula, and it was especially compelling to learn that it had been inspired by a true figure in history: Vladimir the Impaler. Yet, I did not understand the intricacies of the stories involving Vladimir, or exactly what he was famous for in history. This novel, though a fictional retelling with many creative liberties taken, depicts that era and its characters, and Kiersten White does a fantastic job at bringing these historical figures back to life in such a raw and human way.
White's And I Darken is the first installment in a series called The Conqueror's Saga, a trilogy which recounts a fictional retelling of Vladimir the Impaler, Mehmed the Conqueror, and other historical figureheads of the Ottoman Empire. While this is a retelling of historical accounts of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, and other events, there are quite a few liberties that White takes in the telling of her story. For one, White makes the decision to change Vladimir the Impaler into Ladaslav the Impaler, a daughter (rather than son) of Wallachia. There are also adjustments made to the timeline in which certain events unfolded in history to better fit White's narrative, and as there isn't true historical documentation of exact conversations or encounters that these characters may have had with one another, White focuses on possible motivations that would have impacted their actions taken during their lives. Ultimately, it is important to remember that while this story has its roots set in true events, it is a fictional piece.
Title: One of Us is Lying
Author: Karen M. McManus
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Gisselle's Rating: 4.5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for One of Us is Lying.
The first novel that I read of Karen M. McManus was One of Us is Lying, following the recommendation of my younger brother. Similarly to my response of The Cousins, McManus captured my attention from the beginning of One of Us is Lying. I was riveted by the plot and the story's concept did not allow me to truly put the book down. If I had my physical copy, I would read without pause, and when I couldn't physically be reading, I would instead turn to the audiobook. I could not help but keep myself tuned in with One of Us is Lying's story: five teenagers stuck in after-school detention... and only four emerge alive.
One of Us is Lying follows the lives of teenagers Bronwyn Rojas, Nate McCauley, Addie Prentiss, and Cooper Clay as they deal with the aftermath of their classmate, Simon Kelleher's, death during detention. They don't just grapple with the sudden trauma of witnessing a classmate die, but must also abruptly adjust to scrutiny from the public eye after their images are featured in the media and in their school, labeling them as either possible suspects or unfortunate scapegoats by the local police. One thing was apparent, though: someone in that detention knew what happened to Simon, and no one is immune to the uncovering of secrets that they would rather keep buried.
Title: Kingdom of the Wicked
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Elements of Horror
Gisselle's Rating: 5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for Kingdom of the Wicked.
If you are a fan of witches, elements of fantasy and horror, magic, and forbidden romance, this book is most certainly for you.
Kerri Maniscalco's novel Kingdom of the Wicked tells the story of Emilia di Carlo, a woman living in Italy with her family. Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are streghe -- witches that live among humans, but must hide their magical abilities in order to avoid prosecution and death. After Vittoria is missing from a family dinner one night, Emilia discovers her twin has been murdered, her corpse desecrated and her heart missing. Twisted by grief, Emilia vows to find her twin's murderer. She will stop at nothing in her quest for answers, even if it means turning to dark magic, a forbidden practice that she was warned all her life to stay away from, and teaming up with Wrath, a Prince of Hell and a creature of the Wicked.