Cover Image: What Never Happened

What Never Happened

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Member Reviews

A great start to the story, but then it slowed down, before speeding up again.
A good story, but maybe a little too slow paced for me.

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This one started with a bang and then has a slow burn. The ending kind of rushes up but it was still pretty good. I did this as an audiobook and I did enjoy the narrator and it was easy to follow the story. Even though this one does mention Covid, the early days, but it's interjected in ways that felt natural and added to the plot (and especially the news accounts sporadically on the tv or on the radio really felt ominous because of what we know).

This one was pretty good, I enjoyed it!

A huge thank you to the author and publisher for providing an e-ARC via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion regarding the book

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First, the title is just so fitting. The book itself was entertaining and quick to get through though the pacing felt off sometimes. I liked this book overall but was not fully invested.

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The description and cover of this book had me hooked. I think the plot was good, but the writing somehow didn’t ever draw me in like I wanted. This was a story I had to focus and force myself to read instead of a story I got lost in. I really liked the concept and the characters were interesting. The story moved very slowly until about the last quarter. I did like the bits of humor and I loved the obituaries that the main character wrote. Coco hasn’t returned home in years but when the aunt that raised her after her family was murdered starts to lose her memory she has to return to her home to care for her. But her aunt Gwen doesn’t appreciate her returning and reminding her that it is her home. And when the man convicted of murdering her family is found to be not guilty Coco is determined to find justice for her family. And while investigating she notices that there seem to be some suspicious deaths of elderly women. But someone doesn’t appreciate Coco poking around.

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Colette "Coco" Weber has returned to her Catalina Island residence, a place that holds memories of a tragic home invasion two decades earlier, where she was the sole survivor. Seeking solace and distance from her ex, Coco's primary goal is to reconnect with her aunt Gwen and immerse herself in her craft—writing obituaries. Luckily, her college best friend, Maddy, who owns the local paper, offers her a job that involves documenting the deaths of the island's elderly residents.

However, as Coco delves into the circumstances surrounding these deaths, a disconcerting pattern emerges—indicating that they are not natural. Matters take a chilling turn when Coco receives a malevolent threat in the mail: her obituary. Drawing connections between a serial killer's spree and her family's past tragedy, Coco becomes increasingly fearful that the secrets lurking on Catalina Island may be too ominous to confront.

While I enjoyed the book, its length, exceeding 400 pages, contributed to a somewhat sluggish pace. Trimming the narrative might have enhanced its momentum. The mystery itself was compelling, with two distinct threads to unravel—the original murder of Colette's family and the current string of deaths upon her return. Despite occasional suspicions about certain characters, the revelation of the true villain surprised me. Despite the occasional sense of sluggishness, the well-developed characters, intriguing mystery, and atmospheric portrayal ensured an overall enjoyable reading experience.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This was pretty fast paced, but I don't feel like this book was for me. The references to COVID-19 were tiring for me, and I am not a fan of reading books that reference COVID anymore. The female main character was very strong, and I appreciated reading the female empowerment for that, but I just found this book to be for a different audience, and that is not me.

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This was requested when I first found out about NetGalley and I had requested so many ARCs that I could not get to all of them before they were archived. I really wanted to get to this one, as it seemed interesting. If I can find this somewhere for a reasonable price, I will try to get it! I am giving this book three stars, as I don't want to give it a good or bad rating, since I did not get to it and we have to leave a star rating.

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Twenty years ago, Colette “Coco” Weber survived the mass murder of her father, mother, and brother on idyllic Catalina Island off the coast of California. The man accused of the murder is now in prison and Coco, who moved away, married, and is now separated from her husband, has returned to the island hoping to jumpstart her life again.

But Catalina, so pretty with its colorful homes and eclectic boutiques and restaurants, has undercurrents as well. Sure some things haven’t changed. Her Aunt Gwen, who became the caretaker of Coco after the murders, still resents her and is hiding secrets possibly about the ownership of the house where she lives. At first it seems lucky that Coco is still best friends with the owners of the family run island newspapers who hire her to write obituaries—a special skill that Coco excels in. But rampant Realtors are buying up the quaint cottages that line the hilly streets of the island, turning out owners and repricing them at astronomical fees. Catalina, it turns out, may not be the place soon for anyone but the very wealthy.

That certainly includes Gwen, a former house and hotel cleaner with a penchant for stealing both baubles and expensive items from the places she cleans. It’s in a small part, a payback for all the scorn people in her position endure particularly those of color. But it’s also part of Gwen’s sneaky nature and her disdain for most people including her niece.

Before long Coco is involved with a handsome rich guy who works at the paper as a lark. His parents make enough money that he really can just dabble in whatever interests him. Soon, though, Coco suspects him of lying to her about his whereabouts at certain times when he goes radio silence so to speak and doesn’t answer his cell phone. And why has he chosen Coco when there are all these luscious beauty queen types in his past.

“As for her choice of jobs, her family's obituaries were not special and didn't capture who she knew they were. And now she has a chance to do for others what she wished had happened for her,” says Rachel Howzell Hall, an award-winning mystery writer about her latest standalone novel, “What Never Happened.” “This is also a story about a woman who's trying to figure out where she belongs.”

Determining where she belongs also means figuring out who to trust and as she becomes immersed into island life during the isolated time of Covid, she soon learns that’s not easy to do. One big question is who is sending her threatening obituaries—her own—outlining the day of her death. It turns out there are many secrets and as she writes obituaries, Coco notices a stunning similarity in the deaths of many elderly women. They have refused to sell their homes which now are worth small fortunes. But unfortunately, it’s hard to get someone to believe her.

“Coco has been stunted in her growth and her ability to figure people out—she lost her parents during the time when they should have been guiding her and her aunt begrudges having to take care of her,” says Hall, who lives in Los Angeles and has visited the island on field trips with her daughter and also conducted extensive research that goes beyond the tourist brochures. “The way her family was taken away from her left her not knowing who she can trust and that becomes even more so with all that is happening on the island. And then she learns that this person she thought—and the law thought—killed her family, did not do it.”
Determined to find answers, Coco takes chances in trying to solve the mysteries swirling around her. She knows that is the only way she can remain on the island and survive.

Follow Rachel Howzell Hall at rachelhowzell.com

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The writing style here was not my favorite. I am of the opinion that ellipses are one of those types of puntuation that should be useed sparingly, and they were on practically every page of this.

I thought this book started off strong with the murder of a teenage girl's entire family and had a lot of potential, but it just fell flat for me after that. Plotwise, this just had way too much going on and could have easily been a hundred pages shorter. The whole plotline with Colette's ex ended up going nowhere, and I felt like this taking place during the beginning of the pandemic was just thrown in for no reason. I also found most of it to be pretty predictable.

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I loved that the main character was an obituary writer, and the obits included in the book were entertaining. I did like this book, and was definitely curious as to who the murderer was. But I found the family dynamic between the main character and her aunt a bit frustrating. I would say this was a 3.5 star read for me. I wanted to finish it (and I did), but I didn't find myself gripped in the way that I prefer my thriller/suspense novels to do.

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Rachel Howzell Hall's "What Never Happened" engages readers in a suspenseful exploration of secrets and consequences. The plot is skillfully crafted, with well-developed characters. However, the pacing occasionally falters, and the resolution may feel rushed. Hall's narrative offers a satisfying but not groundbreaking experience, appealing to those seeking a solid yet familiar mystery.

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This book starts off with a bang young Colette “Coco” walks in on her entire family having been brutally murdered while she was out partying. We jump 20 years ahead Coco makes is back on Catalina Island where the scene of the crime that took her family took place. Her marriage on the rocks, all she has left of family is her Aunt Gwen. She has hope of fixing her aunt’s house, of course with the money from the ring she stole from her ex.
She finds a job at the local paper writing obituaries, Coco is kept busy because a lot of the elderly are suddenly dying on the island. Things take a dark turn when Coco starts getting racist threats, which isn’t that uncommon in the island but then she receives her own obituary delivered to her. Catalina is a small island that’s being a big secrets. Will Coco ever learn the secret surrounding the murder of her family, and who is threatening her and killing the elderly on the island? This was a quick read for me I loved it and I didn’t even guess the killer!!

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What Never Happened has an interesting plot and has a ton of potential, however, it fell a little flat for me. It was at times a bit confusing to follow, I can definitely see how many people would enjoy it!

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This twisted tale was so fun to read. I love the always lyrical yet down-to-earth voice of Rachel Howzell Hall. This time, the exotic locale, pandemic setting, and cast of wacky characters really captured my attention. Howzell Hall gets you rooting for her very real, very fed-up heroines like no other. In this book, Coco is navigating a bad breakup while returning to the scene of a brutal crime from her childhood. I was captivated by the plot and by Coco's voice. Howzell Hall has become an automatic read author for me. She never disappoints, and the ending of this one is pitch perfect!

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I've got some mixed feelings about What Never Happened.

There were times when I was confused as the story jumped back and forward a bit, especially at the beginning, thus requiring a higher level of concentration to connect to the goings on which are significant.

As the story progressed and the mysterious goings on increased, clues began to drop but it was difficult to determine which were red herrings. However, this made me more invested and determined to follow Coco as she wound her way through her daily life, often reflecting on the past.

There was a change in tone in the final part of the book which, imo, made it easier to unravel the mystery...but you'll have to read it for yourself to find out!

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Did not love. It felt scattered to me and hard to keep up with. I actually liked the beginning, then it just veered off track quickly. I was able to get through it, but it was not a favorite.

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What Never Happened was quite the ride. The first few chapters set the tone for the book. Coco's tragic history plays a significant role when it comes to her experience on the island of Catalina. The fact that it takes place on an island shortly before the pandemic adds to the suffocating atmosphere of the story. Things get off to a somewhat slow start, but it is to better acquaint the reader with her life on the island and those who inhabit it. As the story progresses, the pace picks up and becomes abundantly clear that things (and people) are not as they seem. By the end of the story, I couldn't put the book down as things begin to unravel. I felt transported by Hall's description of Catalina. Coco's story, as well as those associated with her, became more intriguing as the story progressed. Overall, a good read for those who want a slow burn mystery where the setting plays a role and characters have questionable motives.

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This was a gripping read - compelling, likable characters, an interesting story line, and a plot that kept me engaged. I loved the quirkiness of it while also being a solid thriller.

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First time delver into RHH's work, I was initially taken aback by the unconventional beginning and had to pay close attention early doors. However, once I found my bearings, the narrative which unfolded was profound and captivating. While Coco stood out as a memorable character, others gradually faded in appeal as the story developed. The vivid portrayal of Avalon and Catalina made me want to explore Southern California in the flesh - which is the sign of brilliant writing. I eagerly anticipate exploring more from this author. Highly recommended.

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WHAT NEVER HAPPENED by Rachel Howzell Hall starts out with a bang. Coco wanders home in the middle of the night after slipping out to drink with local kids. Coco, a recent import from Long Beach, wants to fit in but finds Catalina Island a challenge, particularly as her family comprises a fair percentage of the island’s miniscule Black population. Coco walks in on a horrific scene at home: her father dead in a pool of blood in the kitchen. Coco discovers that her mother and brother have also been murdered, before narrowly escaping the killer by hiding in a closet. Nineteen years later, Coco has come back to Catalina to claim the house her family was supposed to move into all those years before. Coco is leaving her husband Micah who has dreams of becoming an actor on her dime. She worked as an obituary writer for the LA Times but was downsized. A job offer from her friend Maddy solidifies her decision to move back to Catalina Island.

Shortly after she arrives on Catalina, she finds out that the man who was arrested and convicted of killing her family has been released based on the sudden reappearance of the murder weapon, a knife that contains DNA that doesn’t match the suspect’s. Also, there's a strange occurrence happening in town; elderly people are dying under unusual circumstances. None of them die at home and no one seems to know why they may be at the locations where their body is found. Coco becomes suspicious after hearing about the strange deaths as the writer of their obituaries. At the same time, the country is starting to shut down due to the Covid 19 pandemic. Coco has to add sleuth to her resume as she tries to determine why her family was the targeted victims of a fatal home invasion, staying two steps ahead of her conniving husband and trying to determine if a serial killer is on the loose.

This was my first time reading one of Hall's psychological thrillers, and I was hooked from the start but at some parts the story lagged and seemed to get off course. Hall knows how to create a tense and captivating atmosphere. The book also touched on some relevant issues, such as racism, domestic violence, and the impact of the pandemic on people's lives. I thought the book was well-written and engaging, with some twists and surprises along the way. I was left with a few unanswered questions as some of the storylines were not wrapped up. This will not be my last read by this author.

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