REVIEW: PRETTY THINGS, BY JANELLE BROWN

 

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.

Pretty Things is a story about dreams, identity, and the fears that drive our journey. How Vanessa and Nina originally connect is at the heart of the story. Nina was a young girl exploring love and searching for her place in the world and struggling to separate from her con artist mom. That girl is tossed aside by the Leibling family, which fuels her rage and her resentments.

Vanessa, feeling unloved unless she is the star of her own dream world, creates fantasies and then believes they are her reality. But disappointments, loss, and rage lead her to seek revenge against Nina.

Nina and Vanessa’s stories are told in alternate sections, and as we begin to really know them, we think we have a handle on what they will do next. But there are just enough twists that we are not sure if we are being conned, or if we might trust the picture they are painting for us.

Throughout the journey, I felt empathy for each of them at different times, but never lost track of the damages at the heart of them. A core of vulnerability, mixed with the hardness created by time and numerous life injuries, made them intriguing…and potentially dangerous. Could either woman redeem herself? I kept reading, hoping to find out. 4.5 stars.

***

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