Reviewing: Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

Content warnings: References to hereditary disease, drug use, child neglect, death of animals

My Rating: 4 out of 5 books

Highlights: 

  • Genuinely haunting 
  • Great sense of claustrophobia and tension 
  • Family relationships in close detail 
  • Fantastic building of suspense
  • Character driven
  • Unreliable narrators are my favs
  • The real horror is that she’s an antivaxxer tbh

Something followed them from Russia…

It’s getting chilly out, and my craving for spooky books has arisen. This is the ideal book to read if it’s snowing out and you want to feel the festive fear – it’s set during a Christmas blizzard – so it might have been a little premature to read it in October, but I do what I want. A Mind of Winter is a very small book, but it packs a hell of a punch. I think I finished this book and then just stared into space for a few minutes. 

Then started my next book, because dammit I have deadlines on this blog. 

Holly and her husband adopted their daughter Tatiana from an obscure orphanage in Siberia years ago. Fast forward to Christmas day, Tatiana is fifteen and she and her mother are left to prepare Christmas dinner while Eric collects various relatives from the airport. That is where the comfortable family Christmas element ends. Holly wakes up disoriented and afraid, unable to shake the idea that all those years ago when they collected Tatiana form the orphanage, something evil followed them home. This is a slowly unravelling story, with elements of the family’s past emerging slowly throughout the entire book. A mysterious door in the orphanage that Holly refuses to think about, the death of a family pet whose name and fate haunt her. You need to be patient with this book, believe me, it’s in no rush to finish. 

Pretty much the entire book takes place inside Holly’s head, and from the very first time she opens her eyes it is clear this is not a narrator you want to trust 100%. She’s disorganised, distracted, itching to write down the nightmare that clung to her even as she woke. Haunted by her family history of familial illness and loss, Holly has a very intense and complex relationship with her daughter. Things between them get more and more tense as the snow falls outside, and the trapped, frantic nature of it all made for a stunningly stressful read. I was not relaxed for a single, solitary page of this. And the ending, oh boy the ending. 

If repetition annoys you, this book has a LOT of it. The phrase ‘something had followed them from Russia’ and the mysterious Pokrovka Orphanage #2 are mentioned constantly, and Holly’s mind revisits the same things over and over again, with more detail each time. This was something my brain flagged every time it happened, so it did distract me a little, but I genuinely enjoyed this book so it didn’t ruin it for me at all. 

Overall this is a slowly forming, twisting narrative with some very intense and upsetting themes and it achieves what is for me the primary goal of horror: it physically unsettled me. As I finished it, and my mind flicked back through and found all the elements that foreshadowed what would happen, my mind was blown. Honestly, reading this in the dark of the autumn/winter is an experience for sure and there was a knot of tension in my stomach as it got more and more strained and intense. This is another of those books that will stay with me, for sure. 

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