Beautiful Lies: A Novel
by Lisa Unger

Published: 2006-12-05
Paperback : 384 pages
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An Instant New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

A Best Novel Finalist in the International Thriller Writer Awards

A Bookspan International Book of the Month

A CBS Best Summer Read

A Cosmopolitan Hot Book

A New York Post (Page Six) Hottest New Thriller

A BookSense Best Book of the Month

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An Instant New York Times and USA Today Bestseller

A Best Novel Finalist in the International Thriller Writer Awards

A Bookspan International Book of the Month

A CBS Best Summer Read

A Cosmopolitan Hot Book

A New York Post (Page Six) Hottest New Thriller

A BookSense Best Book of the Month

An Amazon Top Ten Thriller of the Year

What if your family was a lie? What if your name was a lie? What if your whole life was just a pack of Beautiful Lies?

If Ridley Jones had slept ten minutes later or had taken the subway instead of waiting for a cab, she would still be living the lie she used to call her perfect life. Instead, she's in the wrong place at the right time to unleash a chain of events that begins with a mysterious package on her doorstep. A package that informs her that her entire world is just an illusion. Forced to question everything she knows about herself, Ridley wanders into dark territory, where everyone is hiding something.

Sexy and fast-paced, Beautiful Lies is a true literary thriller. Lisa Unger takes us on a breathtaking ride in which every choice Ridley makes creates a whirlwind of consequences that are impossible to imagine.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Chapter One

It's dark in that awful way that allows you to make out objects but not the black spaces behind them. My breathing comes ragged from exertion and fear. The only person I trust in the world lies on the floor beside me. I lean into him and hear that he's still breathing but it's shallow and hard won. He's hurt, I know. But I can't see how badly. I whisper his name in his ear but he doesn't respond. I feel his body but there's no blood that I can tell. The sound of his body hitting the floor minutes before was the worst thing I've ever heard. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. One of the novel’s main themes is choice, and how both big choices and little ones can have a profound impact on a person’s life. Did Ridley have a choice in finding out the truth about her past? If she’d chosen to ignore the first picture and note, could she have avoided all the questions and secrets that arose?

2. Would it have been possible for Ridley to ignore the events of the past and still have developed a true sense of self? Would you be able to?

3. On page 17, Ridley says, “Freedom, I’d have to say is probably the most important thing to me, more important than youth, beauty, fame, money.” Does this freedom Ridley craves influence the lies that have been told to her her entire life? Or is this freedom what could have protected her from asking questions about her past?

4. Throughout the story, the author compares Jake to Zack. Are there any similarities between the two men? In the beginning, what does Ridley admire about each of them?

5. Why did Jake keep the truth from Ridley for so long? Would it have been easier to tell her who he was from the start? Would she have believed him? Would you?

6. The author brings up the idea of parental (and adult) control over children, even after these children have grown up. Is there a control parents will always have over their child? Or at some point is control relinquished to the child to live his/her own life? How could Ridley’s parents have handled the situation differently? Would it have worked?

7. On page 51, Ridley says, “When you love someone, it doesn’t really matter if they love you back or not. Having love in your heart for someone is its own reward. Or punishment, depending on the circumstances.” By the end of the novel, has Ridley’s view of her family and Jake altered this idea of love? How has it altered? If her family and Jake followed the same definition of love, would their views have been altered by the events of the story?

8. What do you think of the nature of Project Rescue before Teresa Stone’s murder? Was there another or better way to protect children from abuse or neglect? What do you think of the systems in place to protect children today in your own society?

9. Do you believe Ridley’s father and Max should both be penalized or blamed for what happened? What about Ridley’s mother and Ace? Did any of these people have a responsibility to tell Ridley what happened to her? Why or why not?

10. If you were Jake or Ridley, would you have looked into all the cases of missing children, as they did, or would you have focused solely on finding the truth of your own past? What was to gain by looking at all the cases? Could they have found the truth about their own life without looking at the others?

11. Do you think Ace’s drug addiction and problems with his parents were related to Ridley’s history, which he overheard their father and Max discussing one day? How do you think Ridley would have handled the truth had she been told by her parents instead of finding out the way she did?

12. On page 252, Ridley says, “I was operating under a faith that the universe conspires to reveal the truth, that lies are unstable elements that tend toward breaking down.” Do you think the truth would have revealed itself to Ridley without Jake’s involvement? Would it have been easier or more difficult to take without Jake?

13. On page 368, Ridley asks, “Isn’t that so often true with family, that we see them through the filters of our own fears, expectations, and desire to control?” How does this apply to each of her family members? How is it affected by the truth that’s come out, and how will it affect their relationships moving forward? Can Ridley, or anyone, project fear, expectation, or desire to control onto how she views anyone else now?

14. By the end of the story, what do you think of Zack’s and Esme’s role in Project Rescue? Was it right for Esme to help Max as she did because of her love for him?

15. On page 369, Ridley says, “We don’t have control, we have choices.” And on page 371, she says, “In life there are only good and bad choices. And sometimes even choices can only be judged by their consequences. And sometimes not even then.” Is it really as simple as a matter of choice? How would any of the characters agree or disagree with these ideas?

16. When Ridley confronts Jake on the Brooklyn Bridge, she wants to know how he found her to begin with. He tells her that he saw her picture in The Post, just like Christian Luna. Can this be the truth? Or is Jake hiding more than Ridley ever realizes even as the book ends?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A Note from the Author:

was in a weird place when the idea for BEAUTIFUL LIES struck me. I was very mindful of my own past and how it had shaped me, trying to decide what I wanted to take with me and what I wanted to leave behind. I had been married just a couple of years; my husband Jeffrey and I were thinking about starting our own family, calling into focus a lot of issues from my childhood. I was really deep in thought about who I was and who I wanted to be as a parent.

During this time, I received one of those mailers ... it had an advertisement or something on front and, on the back, there was a picture of a missing girl. It was one of those terrible age-graduated photos. Those images always make me so sad, always make me stop and think: Someone’s child is missing and has been for years. Someone had to imagine what their child might look like five or ten years later. What could that possibly be like? What kind of questions must they ask themselves every day? I was standing in my kitchen and this time, as I was looking at it, I had a strange thought: What if I looked at this mailer and recognized myself? That was the germ for BEAUTIFUL LIES, the place from which the plot evolved.

I had been away from New York City for about three years, living near the beach on the Gulf Coast of Florida. When I left New York, I was tremendously burned out on the city ... everything about it seemed like an assault on the senses; I felt as if the day-to-day of living there ... the subways, the homeless, the odors, the noise ... was taking everything I had. I felt separated from nature, from myself. Financially, I was on a treadmill ... always doing okay but never getting ahead. So Florida – though it seemed insane to everyone I knew that I would actually move there – felt like paradise to me. Palm trees and white sand, the beach a quick walk from my house on the Intracoastal Waterway, a blue, blue sky that I could actually see. I felt like I could breathe again. But you know what they say: You can take the girl out of New York City ...

New York City was the natural setting for BEAUTIFUL LIES; I know it so well. I mined the memories of my life there. Everything from Ridley’s (my main character) East Village apartment, to Five Roses Pizza, from Van Cortlandt Park to the Brooklyn Bridge, were all big parts of my life, had tremendous personal meaning. I know the sights and sounds and smells of that city. If I close my eyes, I’m there. I think it’s the distance that makes it possible for me to write about it well. Sometimes we need to step away to really see.

Ridley inhabits that old life but she’s not a past version of me. I see her as somewhat naïve, someone more comfortable in denial that in reality, someone who’s life has been fairly idyllic – until a single event changes everything. And personally, I don’t connect with those things about her ... but I really love spending time with her. She’s funny and stubborn; she’s deep, a thinker. A great deal of her observations on family and what binds us together, on love, and most especially on the idea of choices, the paths we choose in our lives, are close to my own ... without being exactly me. She’s her own person, fully evolved and independent.

If you asked me what BEAUTIFUL LIES is about, I could give you a run down of the plot ... but other people might do it better. For me, it’s about family, what binds us and what tears us apart from the people we know best ... and the impossibility of shifting off those relationships even under the most desperate circumstances. It’s about choices, how the tiny decisions we make affect the course of our days and our lives and have consequences we could never predict. And it’s about identity; when everything that defines us is stripped away -- our family and relationships, the past events of our lives – what’s left is the true self. We are more than the sum of our parts. There’s something victorious about that ... don’t you think?

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

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by Erika F. (see profile) 07/31/18

by Rose A. (see profile) 06/10/18

Great mystery.

  "Fast Paced Good Reading"by Becky F. (see profile) 02/29/08

Kept you guessing ... on your toes and made you think of "who" we are

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