Watching You

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Thank you to Atria Books for providing me with a copy of Lisa Jewell’s latest novel, Watching You, in exchange for an honest review.

A brutal murder has taken place in one of the beautiful Victorian home in the affluent Melville Heights neighborhood in Bristol, England. In acclaimed novelist Lisa Jewell’s latest crime novel, Watching You, the reader quickly realizes that there are as many suspects, as there are potential victims and we will not know the truth of the situation until the final moments of the story.

I’ve read several of Jewell’s previous novels and she is simply a master at writing crime fiction. This is not a genre that I often read, yet I am thrilled every time she publishes a new book, because I know that I will love it. Watching You is no exception. Jewell knows exactly how to pace her novels to keep readers engaged. She always has a twist that is unexpected, yet makes perfect sense when you rethink through the hints that she has been cleverly dropping throughout the entire novel. At the very start of Watching You, we are told that a murder has taken place and we know that one of the characters is being questioned as a suspect, yet we do not know the murder victim until the last chapters of the novel. It’s brilliant.

More than a crime novel, Watching You is a solid drama. Jewell’s characters are having affairs, teenagers navigating first love, and families in crisis. The drama is as equally important as the crime element. I feel that this is a strong reason for why I gravitate towards Jewell’s novels. She has rich, well-rounded characters who are facing difficult situations. The crime element ups the stakes and intensifies their troubles, but it is not the root or only cause of tension in the story. Jewell’s characters are complex and troubled, even if murder wasn’t on their street.

Watching You is creepy. It has themes of power and dominance, especially through the character of Tom Fitzwilliam, a school headmaster in his early 50’s. Tom has a history of showing attention to young women. He’s charismatic and someone that women, young and old, tend to crush on. Throughout the entire story, we never quite know if Tom is a villain or victim. Is he a predator or misunderstood? The character of Tom reminded me of one of my college professors, who lost his career for predatory behavior. I never had an inappropriate situation with him, but I did get swept up by his charisma and when he was very publicly fired, it was both a shock and not a shock at all. I kept imagining this professor, every time Tom was on the page.

Culpability is a theme throughout Watching You. The recently married Joey Mullens, Tom’s neighbor, is enchanted by Tom and has an affair with him. She knows that she bears blame for this decision, yet she can’t help but focus on Tom’s power over her, as if she is possessed. Another character is confronted with her extreme bullying behavior as a teenager. Many decades have passed, but she never took responsibility and now her past has come back to haunt her. As the title implies, we are all being watched and cannot hide from our sins.

Watching You is a page turner and I was enthralled until the last word. I think this might just be my favorite Jewell novel yet.

The Party

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Thank You to Gallery, Threshold, and Pocket Books for providing me with an advance copy of Robyn Harding’s novel, The Party, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Kim and Jeff Sanders are doing everything possible to raise their children right. Despite their Silicon Valley wealth, they throw a simple sleepover for their daughter Hannah’s Sweet Sixteen. Hannah has invited over a few friends and the girls are going to have pizza and watch PG-13 movies in the basement. Hannah’s parents have been very clear with the rules = No drinking, no drugs, and no boys.

Hannah’s parents trust the girls and go to bed. They are awoken in the middle of the night to learn that one of the teenagers in their care has fallen through a glass coffee table, and is seriously hurt. This accident will change the Sander’s family forever.

LIKEThe Party is a page-turner. Harding does a fabulous job at teasing out information that kept me turning the page. For example, early in the story we learn that Jeff’s younger colleague has turned him on to microdosing LSD, a new trend in Silicon Valley that is supposed to foster alertness and creativity. This is something that Jeff has done a handful of times and although he does not have a drug problem and this has nothing to do with the accident that occurred at the birthday party, this decision will continue to haunt him. The Party is filled with little decisions, seemingly innocuous decisions, that will have a negative impact. It’s about the fine line between perceptions and the truth. It will make you consider your own decisions. It’s quite maddening!

Harding’s characters are rich and memorable. A large chunk of The Party deals with popularity and bullying, both with teenagers and adults. It’s cynical, but also rings true. A theme of The Party is kindness, which seems to be in short supply with many of the characters.

The Party is reminiscent of one of my favorite films, American Beauty, with regard to tone and themes.

DISLIKE– I’m torn about the ending. Although I felt it was a realistic scenario, it didn’t sit well that an accident turned into a punishment/reward scenario. The very last scene was a shock. It made me want to shake the character involved. Was nothing learned?

RECOMMEND– Yes! The Party is fast-paced and thought-provoking. This is my first time reading Harding and I will definitely check-out her other novels.