Book Review: Jar of Hearts

This book jolted me out of my usual nonchalant attitude towards romance novels because that’s what I initially thought this novel was about. I admit having not read the book blurb when I purchased it, which I normally do to rid myself of expectations. So yes, I heartily thought this was a romance novel, with no hint whatsoever that it involved gruesome tales of murder and dismemberment. With my initial thoughts at hand of the novel’s predictability, I was mistaken. I loved this book. I have not read anything of this kind yet. The narrative was coherent but filled with raw emotions and unpretentious dialogues. There was an utter chill to the story that for me will bite the readers hard, and could strike a chord setting off triggers long dormant. I am of course referring to our skeletons in the closet because who doesn’t? Although the ending may have gotten differently than what I had in mind, it still ended irrevocably well.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The story was set in the present time at the trial of Calvin James, a.k.a The Sweetbay Strangler, who was convicted of the murder of Angela Wong which transpired fourteen years ago. Georgina Shaw, Angela’s best friend, was charged with a five-year sentence in prison being Calvin James’ accomplice. She was sixteen at that time. Geo was at the trial narrating how she was there when Calvin murdered Angela, dismembered her body and buried the body parts in the woods close to her home. Geo’s testimony and conviction ended all the privileges she had in life as a big-time executive, earning a mid-six-figure salary, and concluded her engagement to Shipp Pharmaceutical’s CEO, Andrew Shipp. A five-year stint in prison may not be long enough, but it meant losing grip of any future life could give her. Geo’s other best friend, Kaiser Brody, who was the detective on the case, was disgruntled and furious at her for having lied all those years about Angela’s death. Fourteen years ago, the three of them: Angela, Geo, and Kai were the best of friends. They had a solid friendship which ended when Geo chose to keep quiet.

Geo’s life at the Hazelwood Correctional Institute was nothing short of what she expected. She knew she had to tough it out otherwise her every move could be her demise. She was sexually assaulted by one of the inmates but her decision to ally herself with Ella Frank deposited her in all the right places, making her life in prison livable and bearable. Kai once visited Geo demanding if she had been in contact with Calvin after the man was convicted of his crime. Geo was taken aback and denied any communications with Calvin. When Kai asked her again about the note that Calvin slipped into her after the trial, Geo denied the incident but she was fully aware of the words Calvin had written her: “You’re welcome.” Kai warned Geo that she had to be careful because Calvin escaped from prison and could be after her.

Geo’s five-year sentence went by but what was supposed to be her new chance at life inched her back to the horrors of the past. Two new victims were discovered nearly at the same place where Angela’s remains were found. This time, the victims were a woman and an almost two-year-old child. Kai attributed the murders to Calvin because the victims were killed similarly to Angela Wong. Kai was once again on the hunt for Calvin and could not help but connect Geo to the murders. Geo assured Kai that she had no contact with Calvin whatsoever but she was quite disheveled of the murder clues that somehow felt related to her. On the child’s chest was drawn a heart with the words “See Me” reminding her of Calvin’s penchant for hearts. It was also discovered that the lipstick used to etch the heart was a part of Geo’s product line when she was still working at Shipp’s Pharmaceuticals. Kai soon found out that the murdered woman had a prior relationship with Calvin and that the murdered child was his son, who was sent up for adoption. Things turned for the worse as Geo reaped hatred from her neighbors who wanted her out of the neighborhood. She also had to endure the repeated attacks of hate vandalism and the constant rejection of her job applications.

Kai started to reconnect with Geo in a way that he had always wanted ever since they were in high school. Geo had always known about Kai’s love for her, but she ended whatever hope he had for them. But having Kai around made her realize that she wanted him after everything around her fell apart. They made love and Kai had no qualms given the circumstances. Geo was the woman he had loved since he was fourteen and he felt he had no choice but to be with her.

New murder victims were found: another woman named Sasha and a four-year-old child. It was soon confirmed that the girl was also Calvin’s child but was sent up for adoption. Two similar cases which led Kai to probe further. When Kai visited Sasha’s grandmother, he learned that before him, there was a young man from social services who was also looking for Sasha wanting to find out what had happened to her child. This information sheds new light on the case, and Kai’s partner hinted Calvin James may not be the culprit after all.

Geo’s thoughts went back to the night of the murder. She recalled being drunk at Chad Fenton’s party that she decided to leave. She looked for Angela and found her with her so-called boyfriend, Mike, and told her she had to go. It was then that Kaiser found her, alarmed that she was wasted. He led Geo to the laundry room and offered to take her home to which Geo declined. It was then that Kai opened up about his true feelings for her but Geo dismissed him saying she loved Calvin. Kai was obviously hurt but he kissed her and Geo kissed him back. It was a gentle kiss unlike how she felt with Calvin, but Geo soon pushed him away and ended whatever it was Kai was hoping for to happen. Geo was leaving when Angela caught up with her. The two girls decided to go over at Calvin’s place. At Calvin’s, Angela was her usual flirty self when she wanted something and it was quite obvious to Geo what she was doing. Angela turned up the stereo and started dancing while Calvin flirted with Geo. Bolstered by the booze, Geo and Angela decided to heat things by making out which visibly turned on Calvin. He soon joined the two girls but Geo excused herself when she suddenly felt the room spinning. The last thing she saw before she passed out was Calvin pulling Angela closer and wrapping his arms around her as they danced.

By the time Geo woke up, the music had stopped and all she could hear was a grunt, followed by heavy breathing. It was when she spotted Calvin on the love seat on top of Angela thrusting himself into her. At first, Geo could not believe what she was seeing but it wasn’t for long before she sees Angela’s eyes as if begging Calvin to stop. It finally dawned on Geo that the sex wasn’t consensual but forced.

Angela was whimpering as Calvin in defense explained to Geo how Angela wanted it. Calvin even called her a “whore” to which Angela screamed that he raped her. Geo knew what was coming. She wanted to warn her best friend – to ask her to stop screaming at Calvin because she knew the monster within. Angela went on with her rage when Calvin suddenly punched her in the face. Angela made a run for the door but Calvin caught up with her and with the use of his belt, he strangled Angela to death. Geo could not believe what was happening. All she could remember was Calvin asking her to help him with Angela’s body. Her thoughts were scattered but her mind was suddenly alerted to the situation. She directed Calvin to the woods near her house where they buried the body.

When news of Angela’s disappearance reached everyone’s ears, Geo kept mum on the subject. She gradually pulled away from everyone. It wasn’t just her guilt about what happened to Angela. Not just her fears of being found out – of being dragged to jail for what she and Calvin did. She pulled away from life when she found out she was pregnant. It happened a few days after Angela’s death when Calvin sneaked into Geo’s bedroom. He just wanted to ask Geo how she was and she told her that she could take no more of the lies. Calvin reminded her to say nothing or else they will both go to jail. He came to say he loved her and that he had to leave and even asked her if she would go with him. Geo would have just let him go but Calvin took whatever was left of her that night – her innocence and whatever goodness she had left of herself. He took her virginity without her consent. He raped her just as he did Angela.

Geo may have taken part in burying Angela’s body but she was no murderer. She decided against abortion and connected herself to an adoption agency to choose her child’s would-be adoptive parents. She interviewed several couples and finally decided on Nori and Mark Kent. Her decision had nothing to do with the couple’s eligibility, she chose them simply because she trusted her judgment. Geo gave birth to her son and was soon handed over to his adoptive parents. They named him Dominic John and they all agreed to a semi-open adoption that would allow Dominic to get in touch with Geo should he decide on his terms.

She held on to the pile of letters she had received while she was in prison. Letters which she couldn’t bear to read while she was there. By now, she was able to read them all. Letters that were sent to her by her son, Dominic. It turned out Geo made another error in judgment when she chose Mark and Nori instead of older, more qualified foster parents. In the years that followed after the couple adopted Dominic, Mark and Nori got divorced. Mark went off with a new wife while Nori, devastated, had several boyfriends, one of whom, sexually assaulted Dominic. Nori died in a car crash leaving Dominic under the care of foster services. How could Geo have known that she had delivered her son to a life she never wanted him to have? She decided to get in touch with her son through Facebook holding on to the slightest possibility that she could still make things right for him. Dominic was quick to reply. Geo would have wanted to meet him but she wasn’t sure if Dominic would be up to it. He might not yet be prepared or may not want to. Geo was wrong because her son wanted to meet her that day.

Dominic John was a spitting image of Calvin. He went inside Geo’s house, admired the family photos, and soon after began questioning her about his life, his family, his father. Geo answered Dominic’s questions truthfully. But the questions became harsh, accusing, but it wasn’t until Dominic started asking about the murders — how her son relayed the facts about how his father had killed the women and drew hearts on the children’s chest with lipstick, that the truth finally dawned on her. The details were not revealed to the public. The cases were still being investigated. The only explanation as to why her son could have known about everything as if he orchestrated it all. Calvin was not responsible for the recent murders. Geo realized that her son had become a monster just like his father. But he didn’t get it all from his father because the moment the murder victims were discovered, how the bodies were cut into pieces, she knew Calvin didn’t commit those crimes. Her son got it from her instead.

It was revealed that Geo was the one who decided to cut up Angela’s body into pieces. That it wasn’t Calvin at all. He was, for a lack of a better term, a wimp. When Geo asked him to cut up Angela, he was hesitant. It was the first time Geo felt how vulnerable Calvin was and how strong she appeared. She had the guts to finish what Calvin started. Geo cut up Angela’s body with ease while Calvin was left to dig the earth.

Dominic pinned his mother on the floor, licked the side of her face with the tip of his tongue, with one hand at her throat while the other hand yanks her leggings down. Geo fought back hard. She saw the monster in his brown eyes – eyes that her son got from her. She was gradually slipping into oblivion when she felt Dominic being ripped away. It was Calvin. Father and son. Calvin had just saved her but Calvin had no idea who he was protecting her from. Geo uttered the words, explaining to Calvin that Dominic was their son. Calvin was shocked. She had gone to explain how and why things had to end this way. Dominic laughed. A sinister one. He revealed how much she hated Geo–how much he despised her for sending him up for adoption to parents who just made his life miserable. He hated the fact that Calvin’s children had good mothers but he couldn’t. Dominic murdered those children to hurt Geo, not Calvin.

Calvin asked Georgina to leave but she knew that they will kill one another once she does. Calvin implied that she should go, that people like him and Dominic should not exist. She stared at her son and Calvin, and she knew they were both irredeemable. They have become monsters who can no longer be pardoned. That hurt people will continue to hurt others. She knew what she had to do. She got the gun she had long been hiding under her pillow and fired twice. One aimed at her son and one at Calvin. Geo took her son in her arms and cradled him. She sees Calvin twitch then fires another one at his head.

Geo stands before Angela’s grave. She had brought roses and began scattering the petals around. She said “I love you” to her best friend out loud and smiled. She then moved to her mother’s grave under the shade. She sat in between her mother’s and the one nearest it. Dominic laid under the marble grave that she recently had made. Kaiser calls her asking if she was alright. She said she was as she touched her growing belly.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Author: Jennifer Hillier

Genre: Mystery & Thriller

Length: 306 pages

Publisher: Minotaur Books

ISBN-10: 1250154197

ISBN-13: 978-1250154194

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