July 21, 2011

Review: Envy by Gregg Olsen

Murder is such a dirty word…
New York Times bestselling adult true crime author Gregg Olsen makes his YA debut with EMPTY COFFIN, a gripping new fiction series for teens based on ripped-from-the-headlines stories…with a paranormal touch.
Crime lives--and dies--in the deceptively picture-perfect town of Port Gamble (aka “Empty Coffin”), Washington. Evil lurks and strange things happen--and 15-year-olds Hayley and Taylor Ryan secretly use their wits and their telepathic “twin-sense” to uncover the truth about the town's victims and culprits.
Envy, the series debut, involves the mysterious death of the twins' old friend, Katelyn. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Hayley and Taylor are determined to find out--and as they investigate, they stumble upon a dark truth that is far more disturbing than they ever could have imagined.
Based on the shocking true crime about cyber-bullying, Envy will take you to the edge--and push you right over. (goodreads.com)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When I found out via Daisy Chain Book Reviews that one of my favorite true crime authors was now delving into the world of young adult fiction I was way excited!  Who better to weave together true crime, mystery, and paranormal fantasy into a fast paced young adult novel than Gregg Olsen?  For years young adult mysteries have languished being replaced with the ever -popular paranormal romance.  While these books have had elements of mystery in them they are mainly focused on the romantic entanglements of humans and otherworldly creatures such as vampires and werewolves.  What happened to just a good old-fashioned mystery?  One where you have to piece together clues and sort through the red herrings to figure out who-dunnit?  Now that Gregg Olsen has entered the YA fray with Envy, the first installment of his Empty Coffin series, there is a fresh new voice that expertly encompasses all of the elements of a “can’t put the book down” mystery mixed with all of the things we love about YA novels. 
Port Gamble, Washington is not your average scenic small town.  Bad things happen there.  Behind the historic homes and beautiful beaches there is evil, and the first thing one learns is that evil never takes a holiday.  Things were not going well for Katelynn Berkley.  She was depressed and lonely, shutting herself off from everyone who once cared about her.  Former friends Taylor and Hayley Ryan knew that Katelynn needed help, yet they had a difficult time accepting that Katelynn’s unexpected Christmas evening demise was actually a suicide.  First there was the manner in which Katelynn supposedly used to kill herself, an espresso machine in the bathtub.  Next, were the cryptic messages they were sure Katelynn was sending them from beyond the grave.  Messages they felt would unlock the mystery behind Katelynn’s untimely death.  As twins, Taylor and Hayley share a psychic connection beyond the boundaries of normal sibling relationships.  They have kept the extent of their connection a secret from everyone except each other.  How would anyone else be able to understand that they can catch glimpses of the past and future and possibly receive messages from the dead?  Their gift has been something that they never gave much thought to until the death of their former friend.  Taylor and Hayley want to know the truth behind Katelynn’s death and agree to use their abilities in solving what they come to believe is her murder. 
The idea of psychic twins might seem a little far-fetched, but Gregg Olsen does a masterful job of creating a subtly to their messages that makes the storyline completely believable.  The messages Taylor and Hayley receive are little more than feelings and glimpses they get when they come into contact with something that belonged to Katelynn.  These bits of information are what help to propel them in their quest to discover the truth about Katelynn’s death.  The cast of characters who reside in Port Gamble are brilliant.  Every family has a secret they wish to keep hidden.  This not only adds to the creepy factor of the story, but also sets up numerous plotlines for future installments.  One of my favorite characters was Starla Larsen.  Her name alone is genius.  What better name than Starla for a girl who feels that she is better than everyone around her and will stop at nothing to get what she wants.  Starla is the proverbial “mean girl” in the story and she plays the part well.  A villain the reader will relish to learn more about. 
One of the things that make Envy an engrossing story is the way in which Gregg Olsen weaves fact with fiction throughout the book.  While Port Gamble and its residents are his own creation the plot is loosely based on the true story of Megan Meier.  Megan was thirteen years old when she committed suicide after being horrifically cyber bullied.  Her case brought attention to the cruelty that can be perpetuated by both teens and adults through the various social media outlets many of us innocently enjoy.  By using what he knows best, true crime, Olsen creates a story that keeps the reader captivated until the very end.  Some of the plot choices he makes are extremely bold and refreshing in that he chose not to soften the events of his story just because it is being written for a young adult audience.  There are more than a few OMG moments throughout Envy!
While Katelynn’s story comes to a satisfying resolution not all loose ends are tied up in the final chapters of Envy.  The second novel in the series, Betrayal, is set for release in the fall of 2012 and promises to deliver on some of the edgier themes touched upon in the first book.  Might we see the very first well -done young adult serial killer novel?  I hope so!  Gregg Olsen definitely has the experience and talent to tackle a topic of that magnitude.  I definitely recommend Envy for any reader who loves to be scared, but you might just want to sleep with the light on! 
Envy is set for release in September 2011.  Click HERE to watch the trailer!


  1. This one sounds great! I love books like this. Can't wait to start reading it. Great review, as always. :)

  2. There's something just wrong about Gregg doing teen fiction! Say it isn't so!!

  3. He does an excellent job!!! Don't write him off before reading the book. His experience as a true crime writer definitely influences his YA debut.