Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
Publication Date : April 21st 2020
Publisher : Random House
Genre : Mystery Thriller
Pages : 496
Stars : ★★★★☆ (4.25)
Two wildly different women – one a grifter, the other an heiress – are brought together by the scam of a lifetime in a page-turner from the New York Times bestselling author of Watch Me Disappear.
Nina once bought into the idea that her fancy liberal arts degree would lead to a fulfilling career. When that dream crashed, she turned to stealing from rich kids in L.A. alongside her wily Irish boyfriend, Lachlan. Nina learned from the best: Her mother was the original con artist, hustling to give her daughter a decent childhood despite their wayward life. But when her mom gets sick, Nina puts everything on the line to help her, even if it means running her most audacious, dangerous scam yet.
Vanessa is a privileged young heiress who wanted to make her mark in the world. Instead she becomes an Instagram influencer—traveling the globe, receiving free clothes and products, and posing for pictures in exotic locales. But behind the covetable façade is a life marked by tragedy. After a broken engagement, Vanessa retreats to her family’s sprawling mountain estate, Stonehaven: a mansion of dark secrets not just from Vanessa’s past, but from that of a lost and troubled girl named Nina.
Nina’s, Vanessa’s, and Lachlan’s paths collide here, on the cold shores of Lake Tahoe, where their intertwined lives give way to a winter of aspiration and desire, duplicity and revenge.
This dazzling, twisty, mesmerizing novel showcases acclaimed author Janelle Brown at her best, as two brilliant, damaged women try to survive the greatest game of deceit and destruction they will ever play.
*** Note: I received e-copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to PRHGlobal for free copy. ***
Pretty Things was slow-burn mystery thriller that revolved around two women from different background, one a con with plan of heist and other rich heiress spending her time in loneliness. It was about grift, con, gap between rich and poor and their mindset about it, social media and its illusion, pretty things and its not-so-pretty reality, dysfunctional family, friendship, love, deceit and betrayal.
Writing was beautiful, descriptive and often lyrical. I love it when there’s more than just story and characters. Deep, thought provoking and meaningful messages and quote worthy line are something I always appreciate it most in book and this had it in abundance.
Plot was interesting. Story was first person narrative from Nina and Vanessa’s perspective. They were given few chapters each sharing their view points on their present situation, telling their life story, how their path collided and what happened after that.
Pretty Things had intriguing beginning with Nina swindling a young rich Russian along with her Irish boyfriend, Lachlan. Nina conned rich people to pay her mother’s medical bill, but had set of rules- “Don’t take too much and only con those who deserve it and can afford to replace things they stole”. But when police came knocking at her door and sending her on run, they had to break the rules for one last big grift with more than enough cash that can help her mother’s treatment and give her new start. So, they decided to con Vanessa Liebling, young privileged heiress of Liebling estate, Stonehaven at Lake Tahoe. Now Nina has history with this place and she hated Lieblings. I was curious to find out what was the history, why she hated the rich and specially Lieblings so much, what they did to Nina?
This was character driven story. Most part of the book was character building and development. First 50% of the book told about present life of characters, their childhood, past, what happened in their lives that shaped their present and their mindset. This was slowest part and long chapters didn’t help in speeding the story.
All characters were flawed, complex and complicated. It was interesting to read their life stories, their mindset, insecurities and strength. The story was written in such way that my likeness scale kept tipping from left to right.
At first I didn’t like Nina. She was presumptuous, judgmental and selfish. She saw the world in only two shades, poor and rich and defined life based on that. Her judgement was fractured once she got involved with Vanessa in real life, living with her at Stonehaven with her.
The cold judgement she formed based on Vanessa’s Instagram v-life warmed eventually and she saw the reality of Vanessa’s life, her pain and emotions. I liked her development from this point onward. After major turning point she discovered many secrets that shattered the definition of world she created. I loved her for trying to do right thing at the end, taking decision that was hard for her. It steered her away from what she did whole life. At the end I loved her.
It’s easiest to judge from distance. That’s why the Internet has turned us all into armchair critics, experts at the cold dissection of gesture and syllable, sneering self-righteously from the safety of our screens. There, we can feel good about ourselves, validated that our flaws weren’t as bad as theirs, unchallenged in our superiority. Moral high ground is a pleasant place to preach, even if the view turns out to be rather limited in scope.
Vanessa was vulnerable, lonely woman desperate for love and appreciation. She was privileged and she knew she could get everything with money and looks. She used it to hide her flaws, her insecurities and lack of any talent. Circumstances lead her towards Instagram influencer life that gave her fame and illusion of world where people loved her and appreciated what she did, until it was shattered by one tragedy after other. She believed what her parents said and taught and one of those thing was Nina Ross ruined her brother- Benny’s life.
It was easy to like her and empathize with her. Her only flaw was she had low self-esteem and lot of self-doubt. She was naïve and stupid. Maybe not totally but I didn’t like how she turned blind eye to all the signs. But then again I liked her once the fog of naivety was cleared and she started using her brain.
Benny was diagnosed schizophrenic but he was most smart and sane person in the book. I felt for him. I wish he stood up against his dad all those years ago but at the same time I could see he was just boy whose parents didn’t understand him.
I blame adults for everything wrong happened to Vanessa, Benny and Nina. Liebling family was typical rich dysfunctional family and had major impact on Benny’s mental condition and Vanessa’s self-esteem, while Nina’s mother was no better.
Perspective is, by nature, subjective. It’s impossible to climb inside someone else’s head, despite your best-or worst-intentions.
What I liked most was characters’ background and development and description of Lake Tahoe. It was both beautiful and atmospheric setting. Along with the luminous water of the lake, beautiful peaks of mountains, there lurked the darkness and coldness of Stonehaven. I liked the descriptions of Stonehaven and all the antiques there.
Another thing I loved was deep insights on social media and rich life, how people view it from outside and how the reality of pretty things are so different when you get close to it, and how actions of parents causes horrible consequences for their children.
Second half was brilliant, fast paced with surprises and twists that made me appreciate that slow first half. I liked character development and redemption arc in this part. The way Vanessa and Nina realized their mistakes and cleared misunderstanding was amazing. Turning points, surprises and twists were well written without giving away true intentions of characters and what they were going to plan next, and how they will come out of the mess they created.
Nothing is ever as pure as it seems at first glance; there is always something more complicated to be found when you peel back the unmarred surface of pretty things.
Climax was tense, surprising and brilliant. At this point I knew what they were going to do and what will be the end. End was good. I like it when characters get what they deserved. Epilogue was best, I liked how characters pulled their life together and tried to form a bridge over their differences.
Why 4.25 star-
First half was too slow. It took me more than 1 hour to read 10% of the book. I thought I would rate this book 3 or 3.5 at 50% of the book but then I loved second half and I could see how important the first half was, it helped in understanding characters and what was going on in their mind. I appreciated all those back stories. But then there was a little repetitiveness in first half which was, I think, because of narration style.
Overall, Pretty Things was impressive, deceitful, and twisted tale of two women with lots of secrets. I recommend this to fans of this genre, specifically those who don’t mind slow pace and descriptive, philosophical writing.
What do you think about the book? Have you read it already or any book by the same author? Have you read a book(s) featuring social class differences and if so which is your favorite?
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