Book Review: Pretty Things by Janelle Brown

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Publish Date: April 21, 2020

There are winners and losers in life, and not a lot of space for anything else in between.” – Pretty Things

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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.

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I really enjoyed Janelle Brown’s previous book, Watch Me Disappear. Her writing drew me immediately into the story of a beautiful, charismatic Berkeley mom who went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished. That story was complicated, layered, and engaging, so I was very excited to be able to read this new book.

Pretty Things is the tale of two women, the men that they love, their memories, and how their paths cross through their past and a con. The story has many aspects of the high life – gorgeous women, styled hair, dewy make-up, dazzling jewelry, designer clothes, exquisite shoes, high-end tipple, and stunning backdrops. It also shares a peek into the life of an Instagrammer – the all-encompassing world of followers, likes, comments, the right lighting, background, and hashtags – and how this environment is so shallow, superficial, and fickle.

Janelle Brown’s writing in Pretty Things is spectacular. Her main characters, Vanessa and Nina, are fleshed out fully and you understand them completely. The story is told from Vanessa’s and Nina’s perspectives, and the reader is privvy to their thoughts, feelings, motivations, personalities, flaws, vulnerabilities… everything. It makes them likeable, even through their darkest moments.

The story also centers around a huge, historical, beautiful, and slightly creepy mansion on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe. I’ve been to the area many times and am familiar with the locations and landmarks, but even if you’ve never been to Lake Tahoe, Janelle Brown paints the house and the area so vividly that you can picture it in your mind. This aspect was a highlight for me.

The reader is introduced into the art of grifting through Lily (Nina’s mom), Nina and her boyfriend Lachlan. They make a living out of preying on rich people. They are masters of disguise, and they are constantly looking over their shoulder. They are amazing actors. This kind of lifestyle is nerve-wracking, guilt-ridden, and adrenaline-fueled.

My favorite quotes:

“Cons recognize cons when we see one.”

“Don’t take too much; don’t get greedy. Take only what won’t be missed. And only steal from those who can afford it.”

“Love can be anything you chose to wrap around the word, as long as the two people involved agree upon the terms.”

“The world can be divided into two kinds of people: those who wait to have things given to them and those who take what they want.”

 “When you’re documenting everything that you do, you stop living life for yourself and start living it as a performance for others.”

This book is about social media, mental illness, marriage, money, greed, motherhood, family dynamics, hierarchy, legacy, art, betrayal, and wealth. It has so many great themes and quotes that I had a hard time choosing my favorite ones. The ending was satisfying and brought closure to a lot of open storylines in the book.

I liked Pretty Things even more than Watch Me Disappear. I highly recommend it. Janelle Brown’s books are a bit longer than average, but if you can spare the time you won’t mind the extra minutes in this spellbinding story.  I hear that this story is being made into a series adaptation on Amazon starring Nicole Kidman, and I can’t wait to see this come to life.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 5 Stars

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley exchange for an honest review.

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