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.

***

REVIEW: I INVITED HER IN, BY ADELE PARKS

 

Imagine the worst thing a friend could ever do.

This is worse.

When Mel receives an unexpected email from her oldest friend Abi, it brings back memories she thought she had buried forever. Their friendship belonged in the past. To those carefree days at university.

But Abi is in trouble and needs Mel’s help, and she wants a place to stay. Just for a few days, while she sorts things out. It’s the least Mel can do.

After all, friends look out for each other, don’t they?

My Thoughts: I Invited Her In opened to cozy scenes in the home of Ben and Melanie Harrison. They have settled into a suburb an hour from London, with Liam, Melanie’s 17-year-old son, and Imogene and Lily, their children together. Melanie loves her life, but when she gets the email from her university friend Abigail Curtiz, she is curious and intrigued.

Abigail arrives on the scene full of chatter and delicious treats, and the two women catch up on the years they were apart. Abi’s broken marriage has brought her to a sad place but remembering the good times will help…so she insists.

But soon Ben is anxious for the interloper to go. He misses his cozy times with Mel and the kids, and he doesn’t have a good feeling about Abi’s intentions.

Melanie is still eager for the party to continue…but then things begin to happen that are disturbing and uncomfortable. Soon she sees her old friend for who she truly is.

What secrets from the past will reveal more about Abi’s intentions, and how will Melanie find peace and family time again?

A stunning surprise at the end changed the tone of the story, but even with that snippet, I couldn’t help but really hate Abigail and her plots and evil plans, while rooting for Mel’s happy ending. A 5 star read.

***

AMSTERDAM: A REVIEW

51zZnhjXbLLFriends and former lovers are gathered together, along with her husband, to honor the dearly departed Molly Lane. The day is a chilly February, and as a couple of the former lovers commiserate about the rapid onset of the disease that killed her, we see that something else is taking place.

They each, separately, and over the next few weeks, ponder their own mortality, as sometimes happens when a friend one’s age has died. And they each feared the kind of loss of faculties that Molly had suffered, rendering her virtually a prisoner to her possessive husband George, at a time when she had no control over her own life.

Clive is a renowned composer, while Vernon is the editor of a newspaper that has seen better days. Julian is a politician with a secret…one which someone will use as leverage against him.

None of these men can overlook their fragility at this time in their lives, and their fears and insecurities will lead them to take drastic actions with tragic consequences.

How will Vernon strive to save his position at the newspaper, and what will he risk? What will Clive do to exceed his previous efforts with his latest creation? And what surprising turn of events will unite George and Julian, as they converge on Amsterdam to retrieve two surprising passengers?

In the beginning, Amsterdam: A Novel, did not grab me, but then as Clive and Vernon started plotting, I found the pages turning rapidly; I then engaged with the characters, their vulnerabilities, as well as the streak of evil that turned them toward revenge. It was easy to see how the pivotal moments after Molly’s death transformed them toward their darker sides. At the end, the intriguing plot twists had me shaking my head in dismay. I enjoyed this one overall, but offer four stars.

THE HIGH COST OF BETRAYAL — A REVIEW

719A3ndYaSL._SL1360_Revenge is best served cold…this seems to be the credo of famous comedienne Lila Carmichael, when she invites six former college friends to her weekend retreat in the San Juan Islands. For it has been fifteen years since they all betrayed her, while they were each aspiring actors enjoined in the production of Picnic.

They are each hoping for something from Lila…something to enrich their lives and help them move up in their careers.

What they get instead is a wicked parlor game that turns ugly. And deadly.

Throughout the story, we catch glimpses of what formed Lila: her restrictive and religious upbringing; her insecurities; her issues with her weight. And then we see how one horrible prank that the others scarcely even recall set her life on its course. One that led to bitterness and joy in hurting others, and to the vengeful weekend.

The setting for the weekend was lovely, however, and I did enjoy the journey there, as well as the beautiful surroundings. Even though the weekend was stormy and cold.

Parts of the story were intriguing, but soon I felt bogged down with the flashbacks that could have been more interesting earlier in the tale. Innocent Little Crimes is a character study that showcases errors in judgment and the high cost of pranks, especially when played on someone vulnerable.

None of the characters were likeable, in my opinion, and even as I felt some empathy for Lila’s childhood, her reactions to it only made me dislike her. The same could be said for most of the others. In the end, each one is left with much less than he or she had…and I had to wonder if any of them learned their lessons. This one was a book that made me ponder consequences and left me feeling relieved to turn the last page. 3.5 stars.