"She woke up late that morning and knew:
Something had followed them home from Russia"
--Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke
So begins Mind of Winter, a riveting new novel by Laura Kasischke. It's a snowy Christmas morning and Holly and her husband wake up in a panic. Eric runs out the door, late to pick up his elderly parents and although Holly wants to find a pen and paper and capture these strange thoughts, she has a houseful of company coming--Eric's parents and siblings, his annoying co-worker and family, and Holly's friend and her partner with their little daughter. Holly is surprised her teenage daughter Tatiana didn't wake them up but 'Tatty'--adopted from a Russian orphanage as a baby, seems distant and different today. Peaceful snow soon turns into a blizzard, Eric is stuck at the hospital with his ailing parents, and it becomes apparent that no one will be making it to Christmas dinner. Holly is left in the house with an ever-changing Tatiana and the suspense builds as quickly as the storm outside.
"Laura Kasischke, the critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling poet and author of The Raising, returns Mind of Winter, a dark and chilling thriller that combines domestic drama with elements of psychological suspense and horror—an addictive tale of denial and guilt that is part Joyce Carol Oates and part Chris Bohjalian.
On a snowy Christmas morning, Holly Judge awakens with the fragments of a nightmare floating on the edge of her consciousness. Something followed them from Russia. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband Eric adopted baby Tatty, their pretty, black-haired Rapunzel, from the Pokrovka Orphanage #2. Now, at fifteen, Tatiana is more beautiful than ever—and disturbingly erratic.
As a blizzard rages outside, Holly and Tatiana are alone. With each passing hour, Tatiana’s mood darkens, and her behavior becomes increasingly frightening . . . until Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter."
When I signed up for this book tour I was looking for something scary and liked how this novel was described as a psychological thriller with elements of horror. In my mind I was picturing a creepy tale, similar to the film Orphan--probably due to the Russian orphan thing. Although weighted more on the domestic drama/psychological suspense side of things than truly horror-book-and-movie-scary, Mind of Winter is definitely eerie. The suspense is built page-by-page with a few twists and turns, and plenty of questions about what is real and what only exists in Holly's mind. The book is told from Holly's point of view going between current day and the past, both Holly's tragic life before Eric and Tatiana, and the couple's experience of adopting Baby Tatty and her childhood. Since we meet Tatiana through Holly's eyes, it is hard to form a strong connection to her but this works for the suspense as we begin to question what is driving her strange behaviors. When those behaviors are cataloged in Holly's mind along with the small odd things that have been happening over the years since they returned from Russia, she begins to question if she really knows her daughter. The ending hits with a bang and a bit unexpectedly, but in going back and thinking about the book there are subtle clues that lead up to it. The ending was a little frustrating for me--answering some of my questions but leaving me with many more. It just added to my overall angst and feeling of disquiet but that is certainly suitable for this kind of story and how it should leave the reader feeling. ;-) Mind of Winter is my first book from author Laura Kasischke and it won't be my last--her writing drew me in and made this novel hard to put down.
Author Notes: Laura Kasischke teaches in the University of Michigan MFA program and the Residential College. She has published seven collections of poetry and seven novels. She lives with her family in Chelsea, Michigan.
For my usual dish inspired by the book, I needed something comforting to soothe my angst. The food mentions in the book were mainly related to the holiday dinner Holly was preparing and nothing really caught my eye there. One of the most comforting dishes I can think of is a creamy rice pudding. At one point, Holly is looking out at her dormant roses, covered for the winter in her yard, and one of them was called Cherry Parfait. I decided to make a rice pudding with cherries and I love the pairing of cherry and pistachio.
For the base rice pudding, I used a recipe I tagged to make in a new-to-me cookbook, Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking by Mary McCartney--found the discount table at Barnes & Noble for $7.98. (A happy find since I had picked this one up a few times but just couldn't justify the full price in my budget.) The Coconut Rice Pudding with Chocolate Sauce caught my eye and although the chocolate sauce topping sounded great, I went with dried cherries plumped up nicely in the pudding and topped with more cherries, chopped pistachios and some additional coconut pieces. My changes to the recipe are in red below.
Coconut Rice Pudding with Dried Cherries & Pistachios
Adapted from Food by Mary McCartney
1/2 cup aborio or short-grain rice
1 (14.5 oz) can coconut milk (+ extra if needed/desired)
2 Tbsp water
1/4 cup raw superfine sugar (I used 2 Tbsp agave)
1 tsp vanilla extract
(I added 1 tsp almond extract)
2 Tbsp dessicated coconut (optional)
(1/3 cup dried cherries + a few extra to garnish)
(2 Tbsp each chopped pistachio & coconut 'chips' to garnish)
In a large-ish, heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the rice and coconut milk, rinsing out the empty coconut milk can with 2 tablespoons of water and adding it to the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Stir well, then add the sugar (agave) vanilla extract, almond extract and coconut if using.
Simmer gently, stirring often for 15-20 minutes or until rice is cooked through and liquid absorbed. (Add dried cherries for last 5 minutes of cooking time. Note: If needed or you like a 'wetter' rice pudding, add additional coconut milk or water to get your desired consistency.)
Serve in bowls with a few additional dried cherries, chopped pistachio and toasted coconut 'chips' on top.
Notes/Results: Creamy comfort-food goodness, sure to soothe any angst or calm those book-shattered nerves. I have used coconut milk often in my rice puddings--I prefer the sweetness it lends to the dish. Adding the dessicated coconut gave it another layer texture that was nice with the creamy rice and juicy pieces of the plumped up dried cherries. With the pistachio and the crunchy larger 'chips' of toasted coconut on top, this rice pudding was quite tasty. I do plan to try the chocolate sauce-drizzled version but I was very happy with my changes and would make it again.
Note: A review copy of "Mind of Winter" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of the Book Tour and what other readers thought here.