8

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Rating:                              8

General Rating: A page-turner that all begins with a game. Then gets worse.

Skip factor:  5% I skipped a tad of description and protagonist thoughts between pages 150 and 280. Up until then, nothing. After, just a tad as I dashed toward the meat of the story.

Who should read:  Mystery and thriller fans, and writers who enjoy good writing/description.

Summary: A sexy new neighbor, Angelica Roux, turns up on Amy Whey’s doorstep on book-club night. She completely obliterates the night’s agenda and initiates a game…Never have I ever…seems she knows a little bit about the book-club members. The game resembles truth or dare, only with a handful of adult women who are hiding more secrets than thought possible in one upper, middle-class neighborhood.   

Characters:  Here’s a first. I grew to dislike the main character, Amy. Fond of her in the beginning, by page 150 I’d decide I didn’t care for her at all. I actually loved this about the book! Here are a few of the characters and for the first time ever, I’m beginning with those I liked the least.

Roux is the antagonist, who is blackmailing several women. She’s beautiful, fit, and cunning. She rents a home in the neighborhood with her son Luka. Readers quickly gather the only reason for her rental is to blackmail Amy. She’s abrasive and curt. You dislike her instantly.

Panda and the other neighbor ladies are interspersed throughout. I didn’t care for any of them. Snobby and uppity, when the story reveals a few of them were being blackmailed, too, I could have cared less, which is what I’m sure the author intended.   

Amy is the main character. She is the wife of decent and kind Davis, mother of eight-month-old Oliver, and stepmother of fifteen-year-old Madison. From the beginning, she is a loyal friend to Char, but as the pages slip quickly by, you realize she has a coldness about her, a detachment.

Char is Amy’s best friend. She’s pregnant, a tad matronly, and the perfect organizer of the book club. Strung a bit too tight, right off the bat you know her gorgeous husband might cause her some strife.

Luka and Maddie are the teenagers who drift in and out of the story. Luke is Roux’s son, nice-looking, fairly respectful but you’ll worry about his intentions. Maddie is Davis’s daughter and Amy’s stepdaughter. She portrays a too-kind-to-her-stepmother teenage girl, affectionately referring to Amy as stepmonster, hardly ever defiance in her. (Having raised two daughters of my own, this was unbelievable to me.)

Davis and Tig are the men in Amy’s life. Good guys. I liked them both.   

Storyline: This is a book you spend dissecting, trying to understand the characters. Everyone has a past they’d like to sweep out the front door, and Roux knows it. She’s a professional blackmailer and infiltrates Amy’s world because, well, you just know Amy has a secret. Roux also gathers dirt on several of the other neighbor ladies and uses the information to blackmail them. However, the entanglement at the end—revealing Roux’s own sordid past–will surprise even the best mystery solvers.

What kept me reading, was Jackson’s unveiling of Amy’s backstory. I read the first half of this novel quickly to decipher what her secret was.

Writing:  I absolutely loved Jackson’s writing. She uses metaphors for description to perfection. The story too, is infectious. Once you’re exposed to the characters’ plights, you become thirsty for more. So thirsty, that in the second half of the book, despite loving her writing, I found myself skipping all of that wonderful metaphor-laden description, which seemed too weighty when all I wanted was more clues to the suspenseful storyline.

In the end, I juggled the 5-star good writing and great storyline against the unlikeable characters and believability factor (could there be that many dark secrets in a circle of friends?) and I landed on a solid four stars.   

Read this author again? My response may be a little odd for my 4-star rating…hmmm…probably yes.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.