Book Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Content/Trigger Warnings: ALL OF THEM!  This book touches on rape, gore, murder, drug use, etc. 

I have not read any of Jennifer Hillier’s previous books, but I was “introduced” to her earlier this year when her latest release, Little Secrets, was all over Instagram.  Hillier participated in an author chat with Abby (@crimebythebook) and between their discussion of Jar of Hearts and the number of recommendations in the comments, I knew I had to get my hands on this book.  Lucky for me, it is also the September pick for #readwithCBTB (Crime by the Book’s book club).  I ended up reading the book in two days and then had a week-long book hangover…yes, that is a very real thing!

Back of the Book:

Angela Wong – one of the most popular girls in school – disappeared without a trace.  Nobody heard from her again – not her best friend, Georgina Shaw, and not Kaiser Broder, who was close with both girls. 

Fourteen years later, Angela’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home.  Kaiser – now a detective with Seattle PD – finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer.  But back in high school, he was Geo’s first love.  Turbulent and volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met up until the night Angela was killed. 

Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one.  For years, Geo carried the secret of Angela’s murder until she was arrested and sent to prison.  And now, just as she’s being released, new bodies are turning up, killed in the exact same manner as her best friend.

There are dark secrets buried deep…and what happened that fateful night is more complex and chilling than anyone really knows. 

Review:

I had to sit with this book for quite a while after finishing because I was so shocked and needed to digest what I read.  Georgina “Geo” Shaw is one of the most complicated and complex characters I’ve encountered in recent memory.  Her story is an emotional rollercoaster and we sit front and center for every twist and turn.  I went from feeling sorry for her, to judging her, to fearing her, and then sympathizing with her.  I haven’t experienced such a wide range of emotions about a fictional character in a long time. 

The chapters devoted to Geo’s incarceration provide a gritty and realistic glance into prison life.  We walk through the front doors and follow her as she adjusts to her new surroundings and forms friendships with other inmates.  I’ve read about the relationships formed behind bars, as well as the challenges and traumas experienced.  Hillier’s descriptions do not shy away or spare us any details.  In fact, Hillier does a great job humanizing the inmates and presenting them as people, not criminals.

When Geo is released, the world is a different place, but one thing remains the same… bodies are discovered behind her childhood home and the crimes are mirror images of Angela Wong’s murder.  Her relationship with Kaiser Brody may be different and somewhat strained once she’s out of prison, but we can sense the longing and friendship between the two characters.  Kaiser is the perfect balance to Geo and their dynamic was well written and believable. 

Hillier did an incredible job crafting the secondary characters, which added another layer to the story.  One character that was extremely well written is Calvin James.  He is a serial killer.  We obviously loathe him because he is despicable and disturbing.  Hillier’s descriptions of his crimes take that abhorrence to the next level, but she also presents a flip side of him, which makes us take a step back to reconsider.  For what it’s worth, I still hate him, and he makes my skin crawl!

Writing this review is challenging because I feel like anything I say will give away twists or the ending.  I had my guesses early on about where the story was headed, but that switched toward the end of the book.  The last fifty pages absolutely blew my mind!!  I seriously don’t remember the last book I read that had me saying WTF repeatedly and screaming out loud. 

I could rave on about Jar of Hearts for pages, but then I’d probably slip up and expose the one major detail you’d need to solve the ending.  I highly encourage everyone to READ THIS BOOK!  However, as mentioned in my content/trigger warning, please be mindful that several sensitive subjects are included throughout the book and some are described in graphic detail.  This is easily my favorite read in August and one of my top three for 2020 (yes, I know it’s not even September yet).  I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks!

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