reviews

Watching You; Lisa Jewell

Watching You: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2018
Pages: 324
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Slytherin

Tom Fitzwilliam has enjoyed a successful career as a schoolmaster, being placed into struggling schools across the country and fixing them up again. And the women are taking notice even today. New neighbor Joey isn’t sure about her marriage, but Tom sparks something inside her that she hasn’t recognized in her own marriage. Teenage Jenna helps deal with the reality of her paranoid mother by hanging out with her friend Bess–who also seems to harbor an interest in their teacher. And then there’s Tom’s son Freddie, who watches everyone and everything play out within his neighborhood…including a seemingly fraught relationship between his mother and father.

It isn’t long before someone’s obsession reaches a breaking point when someone is killed in the Fitzwilliam house. Soon neighbors and friends find themselves questioning each other and wondering how far is too far.

Watching You is an interesting twist on the mystery thriller that brings several different stories together and turns them into one. Many people have roles (albeit sometimes small) in this neighborhood of colorful homes. The title manifests itself in different ways; watching a love interest, watching your neighbors, and even keeping an eye on your family and friends.

The novel reads like a thriller or character study rather than a mystery. It focuses more on the events themselves then it does with the police procedural, though chapters are interspersed with interview snippets. Readers don’t even know who was killed. I had the “who” and the “why” about midway through, but Jewell includes other twists and last-minute thoughts that will shock even the best detectives.

And because they don’t know who for most of the book, it presents itself as more of a character study. This isn’t a bad thing here, though, because I found most of them to be interesting and not caricatures. I liked that Tom wasn’t the perfect definition of handsome as you might expect. I liked getting a glimpse into the life of semi-popular-but-not-entitled Jenna. Overall, Jewell does a great job writing characters as unique people. The character who fell a bit short for me was Joey and sometimes I found myself being bummed out when the chapter changed to to her arc again. I initially thought it would mostly be her story since we spend a lot of time in her perspective in the beginning, but it isn’t. There is nothing new about her affairs and watching her miss her dead mother (yet another “missing parent” subplot I thought was unnecessary).

Yes, there are certainly a lot of stories here! One might even wonder if there are too much. By the end of the book it was pretty clear to me that a lot of the chapters were filler meant to serve as red herrings, which I guess is a good thing if you like to challenge yourself to solve the plot before the pages end. However, again, the characters were for the most part interesting and I didn’t mind. On the other hand, some of these subplots stray considerably from the main storyline. Freddie, Tom’s son, is an awkward teenager who struggles with the fact that he may have Asperger’s. He also struggles with dating, and while they do give some interesting insight, they add nothing to the overarching story. Entire chapters are devoted to his dating life and probably weren’t needed. It’s some nice representation, but it should have been tied into the novel. I was also questioning why he suddenly started acting according to his new label after he realized he had the disorder. Overall, everyone has a part to play even though I felt at times like Jewell went out of her way to include stories for the sake of throwing us off. Of course, then the book would be a lot smaller, so I guess it kind of works.

As for guessing? This could either be an easy or challenging book to solve, depending on your experience with the genre. I read one sentence or two that blew the thing open for me, but then again I could just be speaking for myself. One aspect of there being several characters to hear from is that everyone has a reason for having a motive, from Jenna’s paranoid mother to Joey herself, and that adds an extra challenge as well as a new level of interest.

Watching You is a somewhat slow burn, but it does begin to get interesting in the second half. which I liked better. I don’t have a lot more to say about it than that other than it’s an interesting look at obsession with interesting characters, and if that’s your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this one.

3 stars

SONG OF THE NOVEL: Every Breath You Take

Book Club Questions (spoilers obviously)

  1. There is a lot of “watching” to be done in this book. Who watches who? When is it harmful and when it is okay? Does social media make it more acceptable for us to spy on people?
    1a. Did you ever learn something about someone else that you weren’t supposed to by watching them? What was it? How did things play out from there?
  2. Who did you first guess to be the murderer? Who did you think was murdered?
  3. Think back to a time in school when there was a big scandal. What happened and what came of it, if anything?
  4. Rebecca has a clear-cut motive for what she did. Do you think that she is a good or bad person? What would have been a better way to go about it? What would you have done?
  5. How much was Tom to blame in any event described in the novel? Do you think he was involved in Viva’s death, directly or indirectly? Was he an intentional womanizer or just a victim of his circumstances?

reviews

Someone We Know: Shari Lapena

Someone We Know: Shari Lapena
Genre: Mystery/suspense
Published: 2019
Pages: 292
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Ravenclaw

In the dark of evening, a teenage boy sneaks into his neighbor’s house and hacks into their computers. Just for fun.

Right after that, a body of someone in the same neighborhood is discovered. Amanda was pretty and flirtatious, and the women hated her. She flirted with everyone’s husbands, and now she has been murdered.

So the question is, who did it? Who is keeping secrets? It turns out that pretty much everyone has something to hide, from Amanda’s ex-husband to the boy’s mom to the new woman across the street. And what did the teenage boy discover that could help or hinder the investigation?

Murder mysteries never really appealed to me. I thought, what kind of entertainment was it to see people getting killed and to figure out who did it? Isn’t that making light of something serious? But this isn’t what Someone We Know tries to accomplish. Instead of glamorizing murder, it struck me as a cautionary tale about lying and keeping even the smallest secrets from family and neighbors.

We’ve seen most of this before. There’s a suburban vibe to things, a neighborhood where nothing rarely ever happens. But…*gasp!…people are hiding secrets. Most of what drives the actions is based on an affair, too, something we’ve seen plenty of times before. As a result, the first half of the book was pretty bland. Readers are introduced to the families on the block, though we don’t know a lot about the families other than that they’re suburban neighbors. Then we have the two detectives who question everyone; readers see the first questioning and then the detectives talk about it amongst themselves. Then this process is repeated with more families. So it gets kind of repetitive in that way, but beginner readers might like the chance to have the information repeated and discussed.

As for the characters themselves, while not interesting, I did find myself caring about what would happen to them. Olivia struck me as a moderate Republican with a baby-boomer the-world-today-sucks attitude and I didn’t like her, originally (not necessarily because of party). Carmine was new to the neighborhood, so you wanted to root for her, but she was such a busybody. One detective, too, seemed to play the obligatory role of the guy who just seems to be there to taunt people and get them in trouble. Actually, there aren’t too many characters here that I really liked. On the other hand, I didn’t despise reading about them either, like there was just enough to be interesting. I was especially interested in Raleigh, the teen hacker who sneaks into people’s houses. At first I didn’t understand how the two stories interacted, but I apprenticed it more when he started playing a role in the mystery. I was disappointed that most scenes involving him were left as cliffhangers, particularly one where readers actually see him break into a house. I would have liked more tie-ins to his storyline. Still, I found myself becoming very drawn to these characters and as a result, got more and more into the book as it went on.

The first half was very generic, but when things pick up, it’s harder to put down. Lapena is good at utilizing twists that make you go back and forth; it’s no longer a straightforward book. Just when you think you know who did it–bam, another piece of evidence comes up. I did figure it out well before the book ended, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing with mysteries. Part of the fun is trying to get ahead of everyone else. Of course, I don’t know whether I first pieced it together because of the clues, or rather, because of the writing and the way that Lapena drops in seemingly useless details. But then you get to the end only to have another whammy revealed, leaving readers with a chill. THIS is the way to end a thriller. You give the characters their ending, and there is closure, but there is still a sense of something wrong that’s a little different. Many authors lately have failed to achieve this balance, and it’s led to hasty endings. Will there be a sequel?

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I wasn’t expecting much, but as things started to come together, it improved and I enjoyed trying to guess who was behind Amanda’s murder.

4 stars (upgraded from 3.5)

SONG OF THE NOVEL- Somebody That I Used to Know

Book Club Questions (spoilers!)

  1. The novel deals with keeping secrets and telling lies. Describe a time you told a lie or kept a secret that had more serious consequences than you expected. Is it ever okay to lie?
  2. Which characters, if any, did you relate to? Which did you dislike? Do you think that their pasts might have shaped the way that they acted?
  3. Who did you originally guess to be the murderer? Why?
  4. If you discovered tomorrow that your best friend committed a heinous crime, could you still be friends? Why or why not? What if it was your significant other, or a family member?
  5. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the novel is that characters’ judgments aren’t wrong about Richard Pierce, as seen in the epilogue. Where do you see things going next? For other characters?