What the Dead Want by Norah Olson #Review @TheNorahOlson


Gretchen is a 16-year-old photography enthusiast, living in New York City with her oft-absent father. Her mother, renowned owner of the Mona Axton Gallery, disappeared without a trace nearly five years earlier. Gretchen is surprised to receive a call from her Great-Aunt Esther—a woman she doesn’t know—informing her that she is leaving the Axton Mansion, which Gretchen will inherit as the last remaining member of the Axton family. Gretchen agrees to go and help Esther with the house, and the next day she is on her way.

Contrary to her expectations, Gretchen arrives at her family’s ancestral home to find a dilapidated, 150 year old house that appeared ready to collapse. The interior of the house wasn’t any better. Papers and books lay in piles everywhere, and the house was cluttered with countless objects all over the place, looking as if nothing had ever been thrown out once it was brought into the house. Believing she came here to help clean up the house and help Esther move, Gretchen is overwhelmed—then she discovers that’s not the sort of help her Great-Aunt requires of her after all.

The Axton Mansion holds the key to a terrible secret from the past. Somewhere, hidden within old documents, the faded letters and journals of Gretchen’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Fidelia Axton, and horrific photographs from the past lies the answer to an unsolved tragedy that occurred at the nearby church. A tragedy that the dead—and the living—cannot escape, even after 150 years. In order to free them all, Gretchen must discover and expose the truth of the evil deed.

What the Dead Want is a fascinating paranormal young adult mystery. Olson dives into the action almost immediately, and there’s never a dull moment. Gretchen’s story in the present is  interspersed with glimpses into the past,  through the letters and journal entries of Fidelia Axton and other relevant documents. Rather than being an unwelcome interruption, each piece is a crucial part of the story, taking the reader one step closer to solving the mystery.

The one thing that prevents me from giving this beautifully written story a full five-star rating is the inaccurate usage of the word racism. Fidelia uses this word several times in her letters and journals, which were written before and after the American Civil War. It seemed out-of-place as I was reading, and after I finished the novel I looked it up. The original date of its first usage was either in 1902 or 1927. I was unable to find a definitive answer on which date was correct, but either way, it was long after the time period in which it was used in the novel.

I feel very strongly that historical writing must stay true to the time frame it portrays in every way, but especially when it comes to word usage. Using a word that didn’t exist during the time frame you are writing about is a guaranteed way to throw your reader out of the story every time they see it. It’s always an unfortunate thing to run into, but it’s even more disheartening to see it in an otherwise wonderfully written story.

The out-of-place usage of that single word is my only criticism, however, and I still highly recommend this book.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Katherine Tegen Books via Goodreads Giveaways.

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Author: Norah Olson

Title: What the Dead Want

Published: July 26, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the Book

16 -year-old Gretchen takes photographs to understand the world around her, a passion her mother Mona fostered and encouraged when she was still around. Since her mom disappeared years ago, Gretchen and her dad have lived on their own in New York City, haunted by Mona’s absence.

When Gretchen’s great aunt Esther calls unexpectedly to tell her that she has inherited the pre-Civil War mansion on her mother’s side of the family in upstate New York, Gretchen understands nothing except that her aunt needs her help. But what she finds there is beyond her imagination. The house is crumbling apart, filled with stacks of papers and journals from decades, even centuries past, and it’s crawling with rodents. It’s also full of secrets and a legacy of racism and violence so reprehensible that the ghosts of the past are exacting revenge on the living.

Somehow the mystery of Mona’s disappearance and the atrocities that happened on the land during the Civil War are inextricably intertwined, and it’s up to Gretchen to figure out how…before even more lives are lost.

About the Author

Norah Olson is a former journalist who covered criminal cases for a regional New York newspaper and received a prestigious fellowship for her work. She was educated in New England and lives in Manhattan. Her novels for young adults include Twisted Fate, Before Now, and What the Dead Want.

Author bio via HarperCollins.


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins #Review

Mockingjay cover

This review was originally published on Goodreads on May 6, 2012.


This review contains spoilers.

I finally have the time to post a proper review of this book, and I’ve just sat here, thinking, for quite some time. The only clear thought rolling around in my mind is to wonder what in the world I should say?

The first thing I had to do was change my rating for the book. I had a terrible tendency to give an automatic 5 star rating to most books that I enjoyed reading, overall. I’m trying very hard to bear in mind that 5 stars = amazing. So as I wondered what to write, a small part of myself was asking: Was it truly “amazing”? And you know what? It wasn’t. It might have been, but there were so many little disappointments scattered throughout the novel that it doesn’t quite qualify for such high praise. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading it; I did. Just not as much as I thought would when I cracked open the cover and started reading.

So what was disappointing about this book? I guess the most crucial disappointments concerned Katniss and Haymitch.

Katniss – She spent an awful lot of time feeling sorry for herself and being angry at others for using her, than anything else. Oh, and let’s not forget all the time she spent being prepped for the cameras. Instead of indulging herself in feeling defeated, she could have spent her time devising ways to bring down the Capitol, or insisting more strenuously that she be allowed to take part in the fighting.

Haymitch – It was hard to accept that someone who had been a barely functioning alcoholic 98% of the time in the previous two books would have been able to secretly plot to bring about a revolution, without Peeta and Katniss catching on to something being amiss. And the Haymitch we see in Mockingjay seems so much more calculated and deceptive than he’s ever been previously. There were times I was seriously expecting him to stab Katniss in the back… I kept feeling as though he might be plotting against her, somehow, for most of their exchanges in this book. I don’t know why I distrusted him so much, but I did.

Gale – The loss of the closeness he and Katniss shared. I had always felt that one day Katniss would figure out that she truly loved him, and expected it to happen now that they were both in 13. But once Prim died, and Katniss put together why the method was so familiar, I knew the possibility of them pairing off was as dead as her sister.

I could add more if I thought on it a bit, but that’s enough time spent on the “disappointments list”. On to the rest of the review…

The after-effects of Peeta’s torture was disturbing, to say the least. It was difficult to see him so willing to kill Katniss after all the time he spent doing whatever he could to protect her from harm. It wasn’t quite as unexpected as it could have been, however. The more I read of Katniss’ expectations of what he would say or do the moment they were reunited, the easier it was to figure out that it was going to be the complete opposite of a happy reunion. This is one place where the reader would have been much better off not being privy to every single thought Katniss had about it. Instead, we got to read through 4 or 5 happy scenarios that played through her mind, which was an instant tip-off that things were definitely NOT going to go well at all.

The deaths of Prim and Finnick really bothered me. I know when you’re reading a book concerning a war of some kind that there are bound to be casualties among important secondary characters, but still, these deaths were unexpected. Prim’s, especially. I suppose since Katniss had done so much throughout the trilogy to protect her and keep her safe, I just assumed she would be safe from any kind of serious harm. (I guess I should have known better, since it did make for a good shock.) Finnick’s death was just as sad… I’d really been rooting for him to make it through and return home to Annie, after having suffered so much at the hands of the Capitol already since he became a victor in the games. He certainly deserved more time to be happy with Annie than what he actually got, and because of this his death was more heartbreaking to me than Prim’s. Hers was just as shocking, but Prim didn’t go through nearly as much suffering as poor Finnick.

So now Finnick, Prim, and countless others are dead. The war is over, and Katniss has been seriously burned and slipped back into a drug-hazed depression, wandering aimlessly around the mansion. She finds President Snow, and he informs her that President Coin of District 13 is the one who dropped the bombs that killed her sister and so many of the Capitol children. Then comes the meeting with Coin, where she asks the six remaining victors to decide whether or not there will be a final Hunger Games, using the children of the people who held power in the Capitol. 4 votes either way decides. Johanna and Enobaria vote yes. Makes sense… neither has a love of the Capitol and figures it would serve them right. Peeta, Beetee, and Annie vote no. Then Katniss and Haymitch both vote yes, so it is decided; there will be another Hunger Games. Seems out of character for Katniss and Haymitch to vote yes, doesn’t it?

Well, maybe not.

Here’s my take on it: I think Katniss was already devising a plan against Coin. That she feels certain Coin’s rule will be just like Snow’s… and the Hunger Games will go on, only the Capitol children being reaped instead of District children. As I read it, I felt certain this is what her thoughts were pointing to, and I became even more certain when I read the line:

This is the moment, then. When we find out exactly just how much alike we are, and how much he truly understands me.

(Mockingjay, page 370.)

So when Katniss shot Coin, rather than Snow, I was not the least bit surprised. (Which is kind of a shame… it would have been a truly shocking plot twist, had I not already guessed it was coming.)

The final chapter of the book, and the epilogue, alternately interested me and bored me to tears. Maybe I just felt that way because the action was over, and I just wanted those few loose ends to get tied up neatly and quickly. Those last few pages dragged a bit here and there for me.

I was pretty sure that it was going to be Peeta who returned to District 12, and not Gale, so no shocker there. I was surprised that Buttercup made a reappearance, though… never expected that old cat to show up back there. It was good that he did, though… I think he helped Katniss finally release the grief she felt over losing her little sister. It was nice to see Katniss open her heart to Peeta, and finally love him as he loved her for so long… to finally admit to herself that she would have ended up with Peeta no matter what. It made me smile to read about the two of them, loving one another and raising a family. Peeta and Katniss didn’t get the ‘happily ever after’ that comes at the end of fairy tales, but they did get happiness… and they deserved that.

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Author: Suzanne Collins

Title: Mockingjay

Series: The Hunger Games #3

Published: August 24th 2010 by Scholastic Press

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the Book

My name is Katniss Everdeen.
Why am I not dead?
I should be dead.

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss’s family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans–except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay–no matter what the personal cost.

About the Author

Suzanne Collins
Suzanne Collins

In 1991, Suzanne Collins began her professional career writing for children’s television. She worked on the staffs of several Nickelodeon shows, including the Emmy-nominated hit Clarissa Explains it All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. For preschool viewers, she penned multiple stories for the Emmy-nominated Little Bear and Oswald. She also co-wrote the Rankin/​Bass Christmas special, Santa, Baby! with her friend, Peter Bakalian, which was nominated for a WGA Award in Animation. Most recently she was the Head Writer for Scholastic Entertainment’s Clifford’s Puppy Days,and a freelancer on Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! While working on a Kids WB show called Generation O! she met children’s author and illustrator James Proimos, who talked her into giving children’s books a try.

Thinking one day about Alice in Wonderland, she was struck by how pastoral the setting must seem to kids who, like her own, lived in urban surroundings. In New York City, you’re much more likely to fall down a manhole than a rabbit hole and, if you do, you’re not going to find a tea party. What you might find…? Well, that’s the story of Gregor the Overlander, the first book in her five-part fantasy/​war series, The Underland Chronicles,which became a New York Times bestseller. It has been sold into 21 foreign territories.

Her next series, The Hunger Games Trilogy, is an international bestseller. The Hunger Games has spent over six years to date on The New York Times bestseller list since publication in September 2008, and has also appeared consistently on USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. It has been sold into 56 territories in 51 languages. In 2010 Collins was named to the TIME 100 list as well as the Entertainment Weekly Entertainers of the Year list.

Lionsgate released a film adaptation of THE HUNGER GAMES on March 23, 2012, directed by Gary Ross who also shared screenplay credit with Suzanne and Billy Ray. It broke multiple box office records and went on to become the 14th highest-grossing North American release of all time on its way to generating nearly $700 million at the worldwide box office. Lionsgate released the second installment THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE worldwide on November 22, 2013, directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael DeBruyn and bringing back stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz along with new cast members Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright. It was the highest-grossing domestic box office release of 2013 and the 10th highest-grossing domestic release of all time. Lionsgate will release THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 on November 21, 2014 and THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 on November 20, 2015, also directed by Lawrence. All four films are being produced by Nina Jacobson of Color Force and Jon Kilik.

In September 2013, Suzanne released a critically acclaimed autobiographical picture book, YEAR OF THE JUNGLE, illustrated by James Proimos. It deals with the year she was six and her father was deployed to Viet Nam. It has been sold into 12 territories in 11 languages. Her first picture book, WHEN CHARLIE MCBUTTON LOST POWER, about a boy obsessed with computer games, was illustrated by Mike Lester and came out in 2005. It has been sold into 4 foreign territories.

Her books have sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

Author photo and bio via author’s website.

The Giver by Lois Lowry #Review

The Giver cover

This review was originally published on Goodreads on  May 7, 2012.

Imagine you are living in a place where there is no hunger or pain. No crime or poverty. No pain or divorce. A place where everyone is always polite, always courteous, always respectful. A place where there is no such thing as unemployment or struggle of any kind, where everything runs smoothly, and everyone follows the rules.

Welcome to Jonas’ world.

Jonas’ world is where Sameness reigns. Where no one can see colors. Where they have felt neither the warmth of the sun, nor the cold of the snow. There have no weather, no animals. No music. No books. Nothing but a carefully regulated existence where love no longer is known. But no one misses these and countless other things, because they aren’t even aware they used to exist. The only person who does is the Receiver of Memory… a highly honored, if mysterious, person within the community. And Jonas has been selected to replace him.

As the successor, Jonas is trained by the previous Receiver of Memory, known to him only as The Giver. As The Giver slowly transfers to Jonas all the memories of the way it was before the Sameness, Jonas begins to learn and experience a multitude of things denied to everyone else within the community. Sometimes the memories are pleasant, such as when he first experiences what love feels like. Others, like memories of war and starvation, terrify him. But the more he learns, the more he becomes convinced that he must do something to change the Sameness, especially after finding out the horrible reality of what Being Released really means for a person, be they young or old. That is when Jonas, with the help of The Giver, comes up with a plan to change things once and for all.

This is the first book in a series of four. I’m not sure when I’ll get my hands on the rest of the series, but I’m very anxious to read them. Kudos to my son, for introducing me to yet another very engrossing book. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to give it a chance!

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Author: Lois Lowry

Title: The Giver

Series: The Giver #1

Published: August 1st, 1994 by Dell Laurel-Leaf

Rating: ★★★★★

book worth reading

About the Book

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

The Giver is set in a future society which is at first presented as a utopia and gradually appears more and more dystopic, so could therefore be considered anti-utopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. Jonas’ society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness”, a plan which has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of “Receiver of Memory,” the person who stores all the memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. As Jonas receives the memories from his predecessor—the “Giver”—he discovers how shallow his community’s life has become.

About the Author

Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry is known for her versatility and invention as a writer. She was born in Hawaii and grew up in New York, Pennsylvania, and Japan. After several years at Brown University, she turned to her family and to writing. She is the author of more than thirty books for young adults, including the popular Anastasia Krupnik series. She has received countless honors, among them the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the California Young Reader’s Medal, and the Mark Twain Award. She received Newbery Medals for two of her novels, Number the Stars and The Giver. Her first novel, A Summer to Die, was awarded the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award. Ms. Lowry now divides her time between Cambridge and an 1840s farmhouse in Maine.

Author photo via Goodreads. Author bio via BookBrowse.