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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.

DARK WATERS by Katherine Arden

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces and Dead Voices.

Having met and outsmarted the smiling man in Dead Voices but fearful of when he’ll come again, Ollie, Brian, and Coco are anxiously searching for a way to defeat him once and for all. By staying together and avoiding remote places, they’ve steered clear of him so far but their constant worry and stress is taking a toll on their lives and friendship. So when Ollie’s dad and Coco’s mom plan a “fun” boat trip on Lake Champlain, the three are apprehensive to say the least. They haven’t had the best of luck on their recent trips and even worse their frenemy Phil is on the boat as well. But when a lake monster destroys their boat, they end up shipwrecked on a deserted island. This isn’t just any island though. It’s hidden from the outside world in a fog and unless everyone works together to find a way to escape, they won’t survive long. 


Title : Dark Waters
Author : Katherine Arden
Series : Small Spaces (book three)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 256
Genre : MG paranormal fantasy
Publisher : G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young 
Release Date : August 3, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

First of all, that cover? Amazing. It’s definitely my favourite of the series. But this didn’t nudge out book two for sheer spooky creepy excellence, unfortunately.

Now spring (following fall and then winter themes for books one and two), this trio of besties are still researching ways to defeat their nemesis the Smiling Man. Their adventures have taken a toll, as has their preoccupation, and so they jump on the opportunity to spend some time outdoors, away from small spaces and mirrors and any situation that might provoke another encounter, and go sailing. But they still can’t escape a brush, and more, with the otherworldly forces.

This particular scary story didn’t grip me quite the same way as the last book; Arden still did a great job with the vibe, and sending a few twists along the way (the ghost in this story was so good, and heartbreaking), but the story didn’t feel as tight or focused. I wish it had been longer, had spent more time building some suspense, digging into the feeling of isolation or more. But maybe that’s just the adult in me talking. That said, this did feel more like a build up to the cliffhanger and thus the big finale to come in book four. I still did enjoy it, though, and especially loved seeing the parents get mixed into things, as well as a new friend. Mostly, I’m just excited to reread/binge this series when book four comes out.

If you, or the younger human in your life, is into the spookier side of things ala Goosebumps, I definitely recommend.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **