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EMPTY SMILES by Katherine Arden

New York Times bestselling author Katherine thrills once again in the finale to the critically acclaimed, spook-tacular quartet that began with Small Spaces.

It’s been three months since Ollie made a daring deal with the smiling man to save those she loved, and then vanished without a trace. The smiling man promised Coco, Brian and Phil, that they’d have a chance to save her, but as time goes by, they begin to worry that the smiling man has lied to them and Ollie is gone forever. But finally, a clue surfaces. A boy who went missing at a nearby traveling carnival appears at the town swimming hole, terrified and rambling. He tells anyone who’ll listen about the mysterious man who took him. How the man agreed to let him go on one condition: that he deliver a message. Play if you dare. 

Game on! The smiling man has finally made his move. Now it’s Coco, Brian, and Phil’s turn to make theirs. And they know just where to start. The traveling carnival is coming to Evansburg.

Meanwhile, Ollie is trapped in the world behind the mist, learning the horrifying secrets of the smiling man’s carnival, trying everything to help her friends find her. Brian, Coco and Phil will risk everything to rescue Ollie—but they all soon realize this game is much more dangerous than the ones before. This time the smiling man is playing for keeps.

The summer nights are short, and Ollie, Coco, Brian, and Phil have only until sunrise to beat him once and for all—or it’s game over for everyone.


Title : Empty Smiles
Author : Katherine Arden
Series : Small Spaces (book four)
Format : physical
Page Count : 205
Genre : MG paranormal fantasy
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young 
Release Date : August 9, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

I honestly thought this would edge out Dead Voices as my favourite of the series. Until the story wrapped in the span of ten pages and the book abruptly ended out of nowhere. And when I say out of nowhere I mean it because there were sixty plus pages of previous-instalment excerpts at the back of the book. Which I definitely thought would be plot or reveal or explanation related.. but no. Just filler.

I am.. disappointed. I feel like we’re left with more questions than we started with because we had so much unexpected smiling man character reveal over the course of the book four and yet it turned out to just be a tease. And all that beautiful tension, the creepiness, the clowns!, it all just fizzles out and poof, the end.

But.. for 80% of this? Solid. Eerie. Fun. So I won’t round down but just.. brace yourself.

Also, I know I hinted at it (and I mean, the cover is r i g h t t h e r e), but seriously, if you fear or have an issue with clowns? Middle grade or not, this might legitimately terrify you because some of those scenes? Oh yeah, they were creepy.

I definitely see myself rereading these, maybe next year for a spoopy readathon or something. They weren’t brilliant but they were a good time (and had some good spooky moments!) and, as I’ve said a million times, nostalgic for those of us who lived through the Goosebumps era of storytelling.

JADE WAR by Fonda Lee

In Jade War, the sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Jade City, the Kaul siblings battle rival clans for honor and control over an Asia-inspired fantasy metropolis.

On the island of Kekon, the Kaul family is locked in a violent feud for control of the capital city and the supply of magical jade that endows trained Green Bone warriors with supernatural powers they alone have possessed for hundreds of years.

Beyond Kekon’s borders, war is brewing. Powerful foreign governments and mercenary criminal kingpins alike turn their eyes on the island nation. Jade, Kekon’s most prized resource, could make them rich – or give them the edge they’d need to topple their rivals.

Faced with threats on all sides, the Kaul family is forced to form new and dangerous alliances, confront enemies in the darkest streets and the tallest office towers, and put honor aside in order to do whatever it takes to ensure their own survival – and that of all the Green Bones of Kekon.

Jade War is the second book of the Green Bone Saga, an epic trilogy about family, honor, and those who live and die by the ancient laws of blood and jade.


Title : Jade War
Author : Fonda Lee
Series : Green Bone Saga (book two)
Format : physical
Page Count : 590
Genre : fantasy
Publisher : Orbit
Release Date : July 23, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

So, funny enough, this wasn’t quite the war-filled book I expected based not just on the title but also where we left things in book one. Things had definitely built up and my expectations that things would get even more brutal and intense were definitely unrealized; at least for most of the book. The war, again, with some exceptions, was really less in your face and more sneaky and guerilla style. Which is fine! And it makes sense based on the clan’s goals. However, I’ll admit I was rather disappointed by this read for a good chunk of this chunky book. With the exception of one event, I was pretty ambivalent by both the plot and characters until well after the half-way mark.

My enjoyment, and the rating, is all because of that last 30%.

I’m still not loving these characters, and there’s so much detail and complexity and politics — also world/geo-political stuff — that honestly some of the close-to-home stuff gets drowned out. It’s one thing to flesh out a world and give things scope but you can also lose some intensity and momentum and that definitely happened here.

That said, there were just enough unexpected turn of events, not to mention some high stakes moments, to keep me pushing through, which stopped me from putting this down too many times. I still remain, for the most part, emotionally hands off with the characters but they do have their moments.

I’m, of course, immediately diving into book three (or, rather, as it’s after midnight on a work night I will be immediately diving in to book three on my lunch break tomorrow!) and can only imagine what awaits me in the seven hundred pages to come.