Review: Pretty Ugly Lies by Pamela Crane

It seems like everyone who settles down is miserable. They’re either broke or stressed or plagued with a sense of duty to someone who doesn’t appreciate them.

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★★★½

Bloodhound Books | 2018

Opening Hook: Kill your family for freedom!

Main Characters: Whiny bitches, but like, I totally get it.

Plot Twisty-ness: Twisty, but almost doesn’t make sense.

This book is going to cut with different women in different ways because the content is so heavily focussed on the various “caregiver” roles that women play. Wife, mother, friend, sister, lover.

It focuses on those roles with a decidedly negative lens. Like, suuuuuuuper negative. Like, if you were thinking about getting married, this will give you pause. If you were are on the fence about having kids, this will confirm your worst fears.

The story is told by four women – Jo, Shayla, Ellie and June – who all live on Oleander Way. Some know each other, some don’t, but they are connected by their neighbourhood.

We open on a murder. A husband and two children have been gutted in their home in the middle of the day. But who’s husband and children? And why did it happen? As the story unfolds, this mystery seemingly becomes less important than all the other crazy shit that happens to these four women.

Someone’s having an affair with an obsessive stalker. Another’s 3-year-old daughter is kidnapped. Another’s husband is having an affair and murder/suicide starts to look like a good option to fix that. And another is so burnt out by her life, and probably undiagnosed PPD, that she seriously contemplates filicide.

It’s like, maybe you’d read four books and each one would have one of these plot lines, but one book with all four can start to feel a little banana sandwich, but like, in a good way.

Try living with the same person day in, and day out and have kids and chaos and financial stresses and months on end without a night out, much less a good banging, and rushed dinners and falling asleep in front of the tube nearly every night like two fossils in an old folks’ home.

If this book has one thing going for it in spades, it’s that the pace is off the charts. It’s not necessarily always thrilling, but it is consistently compulsive, always moving forward with plot development. Because of this though, I did feel that the book was a little sparse on the development of more character-driven aspects – like relationships and personality.

The four women would be hard to tell apart if it weren’t for the chapter headers. Defining speech patterns or personality traits were seemingly forgotten. And this didn’t just apply to the main characters, but to secondary characters as well. The husbands were all pretty cookie cutter and inconsequential. All of the “we used to be in love and I loved him so much” sentiments fell pretty flat because the subject of those feelings was bland.

And the children – while the one teenager did have a clear voice because she was a fucking brat – seemed to express themselves very similarly to the adult characters. There was no time taken to create a younger, more believable, personality for even those that required one to feel true-to-life.

At one point, a ten-year-old boy is threatening someone with a gun and in his emphatic cries about what he’s going through, I didn’t hear a confused ten-year-old, but an adult female writer who didn’t know how to adjust her tone to the truth of the character. The child sounded like an adult and made statements that were well-beyond what his capacity for explaining himself should have been.

Moments like that took me out of the story, but overall, everything moved so quickly that I was able to fall back into it without too much issue.

The kids make it so you are both so drained caring for their constant, incessant needs, you can’t fathom meeting another’s in that one hour of downtime before sheer exhaustion drags you into a restless slumber. And then it starts all over again. Day after mind-numbing day.

The answer of who killed the husband and kids was a twisty surprise and I could understand the motivation once it was explained, but my problem with it was the overall build-up. The reason this person did what they did wasn’t even hinted at throughout the book. It was believable, but also came out of nowhere.

There’s a difference between a twist and a plot point that comes without red herrings or clues. Just because you couldn’t see it coming at all doesn’t necessarily qualify it as a twist.

Again, I think this author sacrificed detail, and interpersonal development between characters, that would have given more depth and footing to the chaos of circumstances, for the sake of plot pacing. And in the process of doing that, also sacrificed the red herrings and nuanced hints that would have lent more history and understanding to the outcome, instead of it being a “twist” that was mostly just confusing because it was not tethered to the rest of the story.

My rating lies at 3.5 stars – just a little over the middle line – because each issue I had with the story was offset by other elements that were done really well. I’ve bumped it up a little bit because I felt that the women of the story were relatable, sometimes too relatable.

These characters spend a lot of time complaining about their choices in life, about being unappreciated or their marriages being lackluster after so many years together. I think these are thing we can all see ourselves in, one way or another and it’s why being a “wine mom” has become a new fad. We can all relate, even if we’re lowkey admitting to being alcoholics.

drunk julia louis dreyfus GIF by TV Land

At points, the complaining can be a little bit over-the-top and can feel like #firstworldproblems, or like these ladies can’t see the forest for the trees. I was sometimes annoyed by the inability to be grateful for anything, or to recognize that they made a choice and they should just deal with it.

As a fulltime stepmother, I completely understand the feeling of being unappreciated by your kids, but I’m also an adult who realizes that I didn’t truly appreciate my own parents, including my step-fathers, until I had to start raising someone else’s kids. I don’t know too many parents who are so daft as to not understand that kids are just not going to get what you’re going through. It’s such an adult experience that requires an adult brain. You can feel like shit about it, but it’s certainly not the children’s fault.

So, there was a distinct lack of self-awareness on the part of these characters in that regard, that if applied, would have toned down the annoying aspects of their whining and complaining and instead elevated their problems to a level more worthy of commiseration. But still… like, I still TOTALLY GET IT, too.

Bottom line: it’s a fun thriller with relatable women’s issue that any wife and mother might see themselves in. But it is heavy on the negative aspects of those side of life, so if you’re like me and don’t really see yourself having kids, this will probably cement that decision for you.

🔪🔪🔪


What causes a woman to murder her whole family?

Jo’s idyllic life would make most people jealous. Until one day her daughter is abducted and the only way to find her is to unravel her dark past.

Ellie is a devoted wife… until she discovers the pain of betrayal. Now vengeance is all she can think about.

Party-girl Shayla knows how to hide her demons. But when she’s confronted with a life-shattering choice, it will cost her everything.

June knows suffering intimately, though the smile she wears keeps it hidden.

Soon the lives of these four women intersect and one of them is about to snap…


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