5 star

Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

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

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?

This was one a friend suggested, and she was totally right about it! This is such an exciting thriller, and even though it is a tiny bit longer than the typical thriller I read, it really provided the experience I wanted, and so much more.

Jar of Hearts revolves around the protagonist, Georgina Shaw, who is a witness to the murder of her best friend Angela when she was 16. She alone knows the truth, and the book starts off with her testimony to put Calvin James in jail for the murder of Angela. Geo ends up in jail for a reduced sentence and the novel follows her journey before, during, and after prison, as well as flashbacks of the past she held so close to her heart for years. When more bodies start turning up, Kaiser, who was best friend with Georgina and Angela when they were young, is on the hunt for Calvin when the bodies turn up the same way Angela’s did. More and more of the truth comes out about the past as Geo continues to make her way through life as an ex-convict.

The story starts off with such an interest premise, where the murderer is kind of made clear from the very start and there is not really a mystery there. Yet it is still thrilling as Geo has to navigate her life from the top of a financially well-off company into prison for five years. The book is split into different sections and each is a slightly different time period as she enters jail, until she finally is set free. The characters are all very interesting (and somewhat mysterious) as more and more knowledge of the past comes forth through Geo’s perspective. This eventually sheds more and more light on the nature of everyone involved, leading up to the final climax.

The suspense was great in this book. Despite it being slightly longer, I was definitely hooked from the very first few pages, wanting to know how it all turns out in a book where the beginning starts off with a trial and a murder conviction. Also, it is clear that the whole truth didn’t come out at the trial, just enough to convict Calvin. It is this mystery that we slowly learn more and more about until the end where everyone’s perspective finally comes together to form the complete picture.

The gruesome things that happen in this book were also nothing short of horrifying, so that really added to the drama of it all. There was a surprising amount of romance-related material in the book too, not that it ever really got super explicit but the way it focuses on their relationships is noteworthy. I definitely didn’t see the ending coming, though towards the end when more information was made available I did see a couple of things ahead of time. That being said I still wondered how it would all go down even if I knew the gist of what would happen, which for me is good enough.

There were some scientific(ish?) things in the book that really threw me for a loop, as a science major. There was just a slightly implausibility with the way it was handled, but putting my degree aside, assuming I can take what was said at face value, it is fine. I almost considered lowering the rating just for that, but decided to be more forgiving with it and gave it the full five points. I really did enjoy the story and it did have some nice twists and turns that really added to the drama, and it kept my attention all the way to the very end. It had very good pacing and the information came out at a good rate, which is the sign of a well-paced book.

Overall Recommendations

Jar of Hearts is a story of the past coming back to haunt our protagonist, Georgina, when the body of her best friend is finally found and she is forced to take a plea bargain to convict her former boyfriend and go to jail herself for five years. For years Geo had kept the secret of what happened deep in her heart, but the truth slowly re-surfaces, as more bodies are found, killed in the same manner as her friend all those years ago. Just how long can Geo run from the past, and what will happen when it all comes bubbling up to the surface? Full of intrigue, suspense, plenty of twists and turns, and a dash of romance, if those things are your jam, this is the book for you!

3 star, adult

Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.

Although I have heard my share of woes over this one, I did have one friend who asked me to read it, so I did it. Unsurprisingly I didn’t enjoy it that much. It wasn’t horrible by any means but if compared to his other book, this one definitely pales in comparison!

The Maidens has an interesting premise whereby there is our main character is who already gung-ho set on a professor being a murderer. It’s fair, since he has a group of young female students whom he calls “The Maidens.” Of course they are all young, rich, and beautiful, and Edward Fosca seems to have them all within his grasp. Our protagonist, Marianna, also faces her own demons from her past as she navigates a new series of murders at her old haunts. Too many coincidences add up…maybe she should get out before it’s too late.

The characters, on their own, were fairly well-crafted and I enjoyed this aspect of the book. Full of clearly flawed characters all trying to get by, while keeping too many secrets, I thought the tensions in the book were excellent. There was even mention of the main character of his other book, and the conversation was so much more chilling having read that book already. But I liked the link between the two books! However, the relationships between the characters might have been a little bit too unbelievable. Without spoiling too much, it just felt like the relationships were more convenient for the plot than out of what was believable. I forgot to mention I just couldn’t really get behind the main character either, she’s just a little bit too paranoid and stubborn for me. You’ll see what I mean about that.

The plot was also okay. I am not a fan of these kinds of stories where you start off having a huge focus on this professor being the murderer and basically never deviating from this story. It felt so forced (because it was), and whether it turns out finally to be the professor or not, either way it wouldn’t be satisfactory. If it was the professor, then we knew it all along; if it wasn’t, it was obvious from the beginning that it wouldn’t be. See how that is kind of lose-lose (at least for me) here? The suspense was fine, but I think as the plot went on it kind of felt like it wasn’t going to go anywhere exciting. I wanted some fireworks kind of ending, and it just kind of fell short of my expectations, unfortunately.

The ending definitely was too unbelievable for me. If anyone has read it, you probably know what I mean. I just didn’t buy it. It wasn’t deus ex machina, but honestly, I felt that it was pretty close. And the punchline that was supposed to be chilling and be that kind of final hit on your psyche didn’t land at all on me. Instead it made me just feel kind of confused. I could see how it could work to be scary and thrilling, but it just totally missed the mark for me. I don’t particularly recommend this one beyond just the face value of it being a thriller suspense novel; in that sense it was good!

Overall Recommendations

The Maidens is a story of a serial killer running loose at Cambridge University. Our protagonist is sure she knows who it is and chases them down. Full of suspense and dark intrigue, the story is certainly full of suspenseful moments as the paranoia within Marianna’s mind builds up more and more up to its finale. For me, there were a few too many moments that were not believable for me to fully enjoy it. Maybe I’m just a little bit too picky, and you may have more luck with it than me!

5 star

Review: Verity by Colleen Hoover

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

A couple of people have recommended this one to me and boy did it not disappoint. I had no expectations going in and honestly I didn’t even know it was a thriller until I started it. Overall it was a fantastic surprise and I can say it really was one of the best (or at least most exciting) thrillers I’ve read in a while, that really elicited some emotional reactions.

Verity is a story of a struggling thriller writer who is suddenly whisked away to write for a an author (Verity) renowned for writing thrillers from the perspective of the villain. Our protagonist, Lowen, arrives at Verity’s house to do research for the upcoming writing projects, but the home is the site of many recent tragedies, including the death of their twin daughters followed by Verity’s accident, leaving her unable to finish writing her series. Lowen finds Verity’s autobiography, detailing the events of meeting her husband and even through the deaths of her children, hidden away in her office. The house gives Lowen an eerie feeling, and maybe or good reason. Just what happened with Verity, and is there something much more sinister lurking behind each corner? What is the truth, and do we really want to know what it is?

The characters were all great in this book. Honestly I found most of them at least some base level of despicable. However, it was still written in such a way that I really enjoyed reading and I struggled to put it down (though I did, explained later). Usually in a book where I can’t really relate to any character or “get behind” their perspective, I usually don’t enjoy the book. However, the characters in this novel were all flawed in believable ways, and it just made me feel like an innocent bystander who couldn’t help but watch the train wreck unfold. For a thriller, we got a lot of time to dive deep into many of the characters because of the nature of having the autobiography retelling everything. This was definitely unique to the book and I really enjoyed the dual perspectives.

The plot was very good. I was instantly enraptured and it was really hard to put it down, because I just needed to know the ending or at least discover what the truth was. The suspense was extremely well executed. Just enough paranoia, mixed with the protagonist’s sleepwalking history, mixed with the accident-prone family, and the fact that the deal was too good to be true really had me suspicious from the very start. The book really leads you down a path which seems normal at first but with each page becomes more of a shocking horror. Kudos to the author for genuinely spooking me with this book (in a good way!)

The ending was also phenomenal. One of the best thriller endings I have ever read to be honest. On the spectrum of too much left hanging versus everything tied up too well, it reached a very very happy medium. Overall it just really baffled my mind and was a type of ending that I really didn’t see coming. The author really took the train of thought I had and then turned it around halfway and jammed it onto itself–can you tell I was really affected by it? Anyway, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending, but I really felt that it added a whole extra level of horror that I haven’t experienced in a while.

Overall Recommendations

Verity is a suspenseful thriller novel revolving around a struggling writer, Lowen, who gets asked to finish a famous series of thrillers written in the perspective of the villain. As Lowen enters into the headspace of the original author, Verity, especially by reading her unpublished autobiography, dark things begin to become clear. What is the truth behind the tragedies in Verity’s life and is it more sinister than what it appears to be? Find out in this exciting thriller that you won’t want to put down!