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Book Review: Lori Nelson Speilman’s ‘The Life List’


I never liked the book description, “women’s fiction.”

It is the literary equivalent of the pink aisle in toy stores, no boys allowed. The funny thing is I have yet to see a book described as men’s fiction, but I am assuming it would involve fast cars, loose women and a lot of laser guns.

I can’t help but think that this idea of women’s fiction is based on outdated gender stereotypes. And as a father of a little girl, I find that separation disappointing. It is 2013, people. Yes, my daughter plays with dolls and princesses, but she also can wield a light saber, pretend to be a monster and make a mess just as good as any boy I’ve met.

Many times the themes in women’s fiction deal with, not surprising, love, but also with finding meaning, discovering oneself; all things guys have to grapple with too. The human experience. These are books that don’t take place in fantasy lands, but in our reality, making the better ones feel that much more possible.

Local author Lori Nelson Spielman’s “The Life List” is categorized by the genre of women’s fiction, with even a quote on the cover emphasizing that point, but I hope that doesn’t scare anyone away. What the book actually is, for both genders, is a fun, insightful and sometimes very moving book about self-discovery. Yes, this dude was moved by moments in this book.

Brett Bohlinger’s mother has just passed away. Brett assumed she was about to inherit her mother’s successful cosmetics business, but her mother had other plans for her. Inspired by a list of wishes that Brett created while as a teenager, her mother has come with an alternative to what Brett thought she wanted. Through her will, her mother forces poor Brett to check off the uncompleted entries on that old list before she can inherit the fortune. And Brett has only one year to do it.

Some of the points seem easy to do, like get a dog, while others sound daunting even for those with not having a fortune on the line, like fall in love and have a baby. Oh, and she also needs a horse.

“The Life List” is a book made for a long car drive or a day at the beach. And while it is fun, with some surprises, there are some pretty emotional passages in it as well. Brett is realistically grieving her mother throughout the book and she experiences the different stages of it.  Also, some of the people she meets are going through hard painful times of their own. One of the sad lessons Brett learns is you can’t save everyone, luckily though there are a few she can help along the way, including herself.

One of the impressive things Spielman has done in her debut novel is create a very realistic character in her heroine. By the end of the story, you will feel you know Brett, she is a friend, someone you can call, or at least she feels that authentic.

Through the book’s wonderfully personal narration, you feel you vividly share Brett’s experiences as she deals with each of the points on her life list. And while the ending feels like something you would see in a Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks film from the 90’s, you don’t begrudge her that happiness one bit. It’s that kind of a heartwarming book and you will cheer Brett on, I promise.

Sometime we all need happy endings I guess, even us guys.

Current State contributor Scott Southard is author of the novels “A Jane Austen Daydream" and “Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare." More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.

Current State contributor Scott D. Southard is author of A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors, and Megan. Scott received his Master's degree in writing from the University of Southern California. More of his writing can be found at his blog, The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard.
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