Review: Jar of Hearts

I’ve received a lot of thrillers and books that fall under the heading “women’s fiction” lately. Some are more original than others — Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier being one of that select group.

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This book isn’t slated to hit shelves until June 12, but I received an early copy after winning a Goodreads giveaway. (Had some pretty great luck with giveaways in January/February and have been in a dry spell ever since. Ha!) I didn’t know much about the novel, only that it promised to be a thriller (um, I’m in) and the title is evocative of Christina Perri’s hit song (yep, definitely in).

Sometimes I have a hard time focusing on books that start in “the thick of it” if I don’t go into the novel with a lot of background information. I get antsy, wondering what the heck is going on; often I have to fight myself to not look up the blurb on Goodreads. (Anyone else have this problem, or am I just a weirdo?) Jar of Hearts starts in this manner: a bit obscurely, and definitely with more than a hint of suspense. I suppressed the urge to Google for more info, though, and I’m so glad I did. This is one of those books that is better if you just go in blind, you know?

But for those of you who want to know a little more, here’s the important stuff:

Georgina “Geo” Shaw is 30 years old and the formidable driving force behind Shipp Pharmaceuticals in Seattle. She’s got it all — a powerhouse fiance, a noteworthy career, Louboutins. What could possibly slow her down?

Readers are thrust into Geo’s past (and present, and past, and present) as the novel opens during a trial in which Geo is a prime witness — and also a player in one of the most heinous crimes committed in the PNW in recent decades. The book makes leaps between Geo’s former and prsent lives to unwrap the neat package that is her hidden history . . . and a series of highly compartmentalized secrets that just won’t stay buried.

I don’t want to give away too much, so I’m going to end the synopsis there — trust me when I tell you this is one book you’ll want to go into blindly. I will, however, highlight a few components of the novel below, for the sake of the review.

The Good: This book is seriously one of the most original thrillers I’ve read in many moons. The plot is unexpected — I guessed very, very little of what would come as the story unraveled — and characters are unconventional. Some tropes are present (the “bad boy” man candy and picked-on-kid-turned-cop), but they worked for this book. Geo’s development is captivating, and I found her a refreshing deviation from the typical female leads that seem to dominate the thriller genre currently.

The Bad: In my humble opinion, Hillier’s editor did her a disservice by not convincing her to cut the epilogue. It’s maddeningly convenient and unnecessary, and I rolled my eyes the whole time. In an otherwise thrilling and enjoyable novel, the epilogue is a sharp reminder that books do not need to end neatly in order to be successful.

Overall: 4 stars. Read this book if you like twists and turns, tv shows like Law and Order: SVU or CSI, and dark (but compelling) narratives.

Review: Behind Her Eyes

Disclaimer: There will be spoilers at the end of this post. These spoilers will be preceded by a warning — do not read past that warning if you do not wish to discover the spoilers! The bulk of this post — including the verdict/rating at the end — is safe for those who have not yet read the novel.

Well, friends — I did it. I bought another thriller, despite the fact that I’d adamantly decided against doing so in 2017. Book of the Month Club’s February selections included a mysterious-looking thriller titled Behind Her Eyes, by author Sarah Pinborough. The novel has been touted by many as the closest rival to Gone Girl, a masterful piece of domestic noir fiction, and a thriller that will keep readers guessing until the end.

Only one of those is accurate.

Behind Her Eyes opens in modern-day England with a some very cryptic quips from “then” and “later” and “now.” The novel then switches back and forth between past and present, as well as main characters Louise and Adele. Louise, a divorced mother of a young son, lives a woefully mediocre life. Though she works only a few days per week, she is still supported financially by her ex-husband. One evening, Louise meets a handsome stranger in a bar, shares a stolen kiss, and arrives at work the next morning to discover the man is her new boss, David. To make matters more awkward, David is accompanied on his tour of his new workplace by none other than his flawlessly beautiful wife, Adele.

David and Louise struggle to resist temptation as their work environment draws them closer to one another. Meanwhile, Louise has formed an extremely unlikely (and idiotic) friendship with — you guessed it — Adele. Louise becomes trapped in a double life of sorts, unable to resist the companionship both David and Adele bring to her formerly lonely existence. Although she is guilt-ridden by both relationships, Louise’s need for intimacy overrides her conscience. Her desperation for friendship, coupled with David’s unhappiness in his own marriage and Adele’s equally intense need for companionship, creates a perfect storm of events that lead to the story’s unforeseeable climax.

The GoodBehind Her Eyes certainly delivers on the promise that readers will not foresee the story’s conclusion.

The Bad: The novel’s writing felt sub-par at best, to me. I condede that Pinborough manages to establish an unpredictable plot and three extraordinarily unlikeable characters (who still manage to spark readers’ curiosity); however, the diction itself is infuriatingly simple. Often, I felt like I was reading the diary of a teenager, or a poorly educated adult. This sounds harsh — I know — but when I read adult novels, I want to be inspired by the beauty and complexity of the author’s writing. As a high school student, I adored classical literature for the depth and vibrancy of the writing; as an adult, I am still enchanted by the world J.K. Rowling creates in her Harry Potter series, because the writing is vivid, descriptive, and beautiful. Pinborough’s book brought none of that to the table (which is mostly true to contemporary thriller form), and I had a hard time getting past my annoyance with this aspect of the novel. This was compounded by the frequent use of the F-bomb, which lost its weight with excessive utterances. Other frustrations: see spoilers.

The Verdict: 2/5. Nope, nope, nope. This BOTM pick was a miss for me. I was never truly absorbed by the story — the first half was tediously slow and I struggled to become invested in the plot. When the plot finally picks up at the end, the author makes choices that seem ridiculously over-the-top and woefully forced to achieve that #WTFThatEnding reaction.

 

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Caution: Spoilers ahead! Discontinue reading if you plan to read the book and don’t want the ending spoiled.

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The supernatural elements woven into the novel were a major miss for me. Louise suffers from night terrors, and is counseled on how to take control of her dreams by Adele, who suffered from the same affliction as a young child. With practice, the two characters are able to exit their bodies during sleep, and wander the outside world. Their abilities play a dark role in the outcome of the novel — a body swap, of sorts. This thread is strikingly similar to the concepts of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, which also just didn’t do it for me.

Louise’s character was also far too pathetic for me to enjoy or relate to. I had a hard time connecting to an individual who is lonely, but unwilling to find a job that would introduce her to more friends/provide more stimulation throughout the week. Louise’s perpetual wine drinking is also eye-roll worthy. Nearly every scene that includes Louise also includes a bottle — or two — of wine. While this all contributes to the development of her unhappy and pathetic existence, I have developed a strong sense of distaste for our generation’s glorification of women who love nothing but drinking wine in excess and grumbling about how much they hate their lives. Louise falls a bit into that category and was simply far too annoying for me to connect to or even sympathize with.

And finally, as I mentioned previously, the ending of the novel just felt completely forced and ridiculous to me. Perhaps this is largely due to the fact that I wasn’t a fan of the dream-state body-switching element of the story; perhaps my annoyance is due to the fact that I found all of the characters over-dramatized and unenjoyable. Either way, while I was surprised to learn of Adele’s true nature, I wasn’t invested enough in the characters or plot to truly experience that “WTF” reaction that apparently so many of the novel’s readers so greatly relished. Guess I’m in the minority, on this one!