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The Life List

The Life List

4.7 49
by Lori Nelson Spielman

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In this utterly charming debut—perfect for fans of Cecelia Ahern’s P.S., I Love You and Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life—one woman sets out to complete her old list of childhood goals, and finds that her lifelong dreams lead her down a path she never expects.
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In this utterly charming debut—perfect for fans of Cecelia Ahern’s P.S., I Love You and Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life—one woman sets out to complete her old list of childhood goals, and finds that her lifelong dreams lead her down a path she never expects.
1. Go to Paris
2. Have a baby, maybe two
3. Fall in love
Brett Bohlinger seems to have it all: a plum job, a spacious loft, an irresistibly handsome boyfriend. All in all, a charmed life. That is, until her beloved mother passes away, leaving behind a will with one big stipulation: In order to receive her inheritance, Brett must first complete the life list of goals she’d written when she was a naïve girl of fourteen. Grief-stricken, Brett can barely make sense of her mother’s decision—her childhood dreams don’t resemble her ambitions at age thirty-four in the slightest. Some seem impossible. How can she possibly have a relationship with a father who died seven years ago? Other goals (Be an awesome teacher!) would require her to reinvent her entire future. As Brett reluctantly embarks on a perplexing journey in search of her adolescent dreams, one thing becomes clear. Sometimes life’s sweetest gifts can be found in the most unexpected places.

Praise for The Life List

“A wonderful, touching story that reminds us to live life to its fullest.”—Cecelia Ahern, New York Times bestselling author of P.S., I Love You
“Spielman’s debut charms.”Kirkus Reviews
“You won’t want to miss Lori Nelson Spielman’s remarkable debut, an intensely emotional novel of transformation and trust. It’s about how we let go, and how we never let go. The Life List has great heart, and even greater soul.”─Sarah Addison Allen, New York Times bestselling author of The Peach Keeper
“Irresistible! Everything I love and look for in women’s fiction. A clever, funny, moving page-turner.”─Susan Elizabeth Phillips, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Escape

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A wonderful, touching story that reminds us to live life to its fullest.”—Cecelia Ahern, New York Times bestselling author of P.S., I Love You

“Spielman’s debut charms.”Kirkus Reviews
“You won’t want to miss Lori Nelson Spielman’s remarkable debut, an intensely emotional novel of transformation and trust. It’s about how we let go, and how we never let go. The Life List has great heart, and even greater soul.”─Sarah Addison Allen, New York Times bestselling author of The Peach Keeper
“Irresistible! Everything I love and look for in women’s fiction. A clever, funny, moving page-turner.”─Susan Elizabeth Phillips, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Escape

Kirkus Reviews
Devastated by her mother's death, Brett Bohlinger consumes a bottle of outrageously expensive Champagne and trips down the stairs at the funeral luncheon. Add embarrassed to devastated. Could things get any worse? Of course they can, and they do--at the reading of the will. Instead of inheriting the position of CEO at the family's cosmetics firm--a position she has been groomed for--she's given a life list she wrote when she was 14 and an ultimatum: Complete the goals, or lose her inheritance. Luckily, her mother, Elizabeth, has crossed off some of the more whimsical goals, including running with the bulls--too risky! Having a child, buying a horse, building a relationship with her (dead) father, however, all remain. Brad, the handsome attorney charged with making sure Brett achieves her goals, doles out a letter from her mother with each success. Warmly comforting, Elizabeth's letters uncannily--and quite humorously--predict Brett's side of the conversations. Brett grudgingly begins by performing at a local comedy club, an experience that proves both humiliating and instructive: Perfection is overrated, and taking risks is exhilarating. Becoming an awesome teacher, however, seems impossible given her utter lack of classroom management skills. Teaching homebound children offers surprising rewards, though. Along Brett's journey, many of the friends (and family) she thought would support her instead betray her. Luckily, Brett's new life is populated with quirky, sharply drawn characters, including a pregnant high school student living in a homeless shelter, a psychiatrist with plenty of time to chat about troubled children, and one of her mother's dearest, most secret companions. A 10-step program for the grief-stricken, Brett's quest brings her back to love, the best inheritance of all. Spielman's debut charms as Brett briskly careens from catastrophe to disaster to enlightenment.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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5.42(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.76(d)

Read an Excerpt



chapter one

Voices from the dining room echo up the walnut staircase, indistinct, buzzing, intrusive. With trembling hands I lock the door behind me. My world goes silent. I lean my head against the door and take a deep breath. The room still smells of her—Eau d’Hadrien perfume and goat’s-milk soap. Her iron bed creaks when I crawl over it, a sound as reassuring as the tinkle of her garden chimes, or her silky voice when she’d tell me she loved me. I came to this bed when she shared it with my father, complaining of an ache in my belly or monsters under my bed. Each time Mom took me in, holding me close and stroking my hair, whispering, “There will be another sky, my love, just you wait.” And then, as if by miracle, I’d wake the next morning to find ribbons of amber streaming through my lace curtains.

I kick off my new black pumps and rub my feet in relief. Scooting backward, I settle against the yellow paisley pillows. I’m going to keep this bed, I decide. No matter who else wants it, it’s mine. But I’ll miss this classy old brownstone. “She’s as sturdy as Grandmama,” Mom would say about her home. But to me, no house, no person, was ever as steady as Grandmama’s daughter—my mother—Elizabeth Bohlinger.

Suddenly I have a thought. Blinking back tears, I bound from the bed. She hid it up here, I know she did. But where? I throw open her closet door. My hands grope blindly behind designer suits and dresses. I yank at a rack of silk blouses, and they part like theater curtains. There it is, nestled in her shoe rack like an infant in its crib. One bottle of Krug, sequestered to her closet for the past four months.

Once it’s in my clutches, guilt infests me. This champagne belongs to Mom, not me. She splurged on the outrageous bottle on our way home from her first doctor’s appointment, and promptly tucked it away so it wouldn’t be confused with the regular bottles downstairs. It was a symbol of promise, she rationalized. At the end of her treatments, when she was given a clean bill of health, she and I would open the rare champagne as a celebration of life and miracles.

I finger the silver foil and bite my lip. I can’t drink this. It was meant for a celebratory toast, not for a grieving daughter too weak to make it through a funeral luncheon.

Something else catches my eye, wedged between the spot where I found the champagne and a pair of suede loafers. I reach for it. It’s a slim red book—a journal, I suspect—secured with a faded yellow ribbon. The leather cover is cracked and weathered. To Brett, she has written on a heart-shaped gift tag. Save this for a day when you are feeling stronger. Today, raise a glass to us, my dear. What a duo we were. Love, Mom.

I trace my finger over the handwriting, never as neat as one would expect from someone so beautiful. My throat aches. Despite her assurance of a happy ending, my mom knew the day would come when I would need rescuing. She’s left me her champagne for today, and a sliver of her life, her inner thoughts and musings, for tomorrow.

But I can’t wait until tomorrow. I stare down at the journal, desperate to read her words right now. Just one quick peek, that’s all. When I tug the yellow ribbon, though, an image of my mom takes shape. She’s shaking her head, gently chastising my impatience. I glance at her note, telling me to wait until I’m stronger, and I’m torn between my wishes and hers. Finally, I set the journal aside. “For you,” I whisper, and tap the cover with a kiss, “I’ll wait.”

A moan rises from my chest, cracking the silence. I slap a hand over my mouth to catch it, but it’s too late. I double over, clutching my ribs, and literally ache for my mother. How will I ever manage to stumble through this world without her? I have so much more daughter left in me.

I grab the champagne. Holding the bottle between my knees, I pop the cork. It shoots across the room, knocking over a bottle of Kytril from my mom’s bedside table. Her antinauseants! I scramble to the bedside and gather the triangular tablets in my fists, remembering the first time I offered one to Mom. She’d just had her first chemo treatment and was full of false bravado for my sake. “I feel fine, really. I’ve had menstrual cramps that have given me more grief.”

But that night, nausea hit her like a tsunami. She swallowed the white tablet, and later asked for another. I lay with her while the drug mercifully took effect and allowed sleep to come. I snuggled next to her, in this very bed, and stroked her hair and held her close, just as she’d done for me so many times. And then, raw with desperation, I closed my eyes and begged God to heal my mother.

He didn’t listen.

The pills stream from my palm into the plastic prescription bottle. Leaving the lid loose, I position the bottle on the table’s edge, close to her bed, so she can easily reach them. But no . . . my mom’s gone. She will never take another pill.

I need the champagne. “Here’s to you, Mom,” I whisper, my voice cracking. “I was so proud to be your daughter. You knew that, right?”

In no time the room is spinning, but my pain is mercifully eased. I lower the champagne bottle to the floor and pull back the down comforter. The cool sheets smell faintly of lavender. It feels decadent to lie here, away from the crowd of strangers one floor below. I burrow deeper under the covers, indulging myself in just one more moment of silence before returning downstairs. Just one more minute . . .

A loud knock startles me from my stupor. I sit up. It takes a second before I realize where I am . . . shit, the luncheon! I bolt from the bed, stumbling over the champagne bottle as I lurch for the door.

“Ouch! Oh, damn!”

“You okay, Brett?” my sister-in-law Catherine asks from the open doorway. Before I can answer, she gasps and rushes into the room. She squats before the damp rug and lifts the bottle. “My God! You spilled a bottle of Clos du Mesnil 1995?”

“I drank a good bit of it first.” I plop down beside her and dab the Oriental rug with the hem of my dress.

“Jesus, Brett. This bottle cost over seven hundred dollars.”

“Uh-huh.” I drag myself to my feet and squint at my watch, but the numbers are all blurry. “What time is it?”

She smooths down her black linen dress. “It’s almost two. Lunch is being served.” She tucks a stray curl behind my ear. Even though I tower over her by a good five inches, she still manages to make me feel like I’m her unkempt toddler. I half expect her to lick her fingers and pat down my cowlick. “You look downright gaunt, Brett,” she says, repositioning my pearl necklace. “Your mother would be the first to say that despite your grief, you must take care of yourself.”

But that’s not true. My mom would tell me I look pretty, even though my makeup has been cried off. She’d insist that the humidity has enhanced my long auburn waves, not created a frizzy rat’s nest, and that my puffy, red-rimmed eyes are still the soulful brown eyes of a poet.

I feel tears threaten and I turn away. Who’s going to boost my confidence now that my mom’s gone? I bend down to grab the empty bottle, but the floor wobbles and lurches. Oh, God! I’m on a sailboat in the middle of a cyclone. I grab hold of the bed frame like it’s my lifeline and wait for the storm to pass.

Catherine cocks her head and studies me, tapping her bottom lip with her perfectly manicured nail. “Listen, sweetie, why don’t you stay put. I’ll bring you up a plate.”

Stay put my ass! It’s my mother’s luncheon. I need to get downstairs. But the room is fuzzy and I can’t find my shoes. I turn in circles. What was it I was looking for? I stagger to the door barefoot, and then I remember. “Okay, shoes. Come out come out wherever you are.” I squat down and peer under the bed.

Catherine grabs me by the arm and pulls me up. “Brett, stop. You’re drunk. I’ll tuck you into bed and you can sleep it off.”

“No!” I shake off her hold on me. “I can’t miss this.”

“But you can. Your mother wouldn’t want you—”

“Ahh, there they are.” I grab my new black heels and work to plant my feet into them. Jesus, my feet have grown two sizes in the last hour.

I barrel down the hallway as best I can, my feet half in, half out of my pumps. With both hands outstretched to steady me, I stagger from one wall to the other, like a pinball. Behind me, I hear Catherine. Her voice is stern but she’s keeping it low, as if she’s speaking through clenched teeth. “Brett! Stop right now!”

She’s nuts if she thinks I’m going to skip the funeral luncheon. I have to honor my mother. My beautiful, loving mother . . .

I’m at the staircase now, still trying to push my swollen feet into these Barbie doll pumps. I’m halfway down the staircase when my ankle twists.


At once a sea of guests, all who’ve come to pay tribute to my mother, turn to watch me. I catch glimpses of horrified women raising their hands to their mouths, and men gasping as they rush to catch me.

I land in a heap in the foyer, my black dress hiked to midthigh, minus one shoe.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“Irresistible! Everything I love and look for in women’s fiction . . . a clever, funny, moving page-turner.”—Susan Elizabeth Phillips, New York Times bestselling author of The Great Escape
“A remarkable debut . . . The Life List has great heart, and even greater soul.”─New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen

Meet the Author

Lori Nelson Spielman, a former speech pathologist and guidance counselor, currently works as a homebound teacher for inner-city students. She enjoys sailing, running, and reading, though writing is her passion. She lives in Michigan with her husband and a very spoiled cat.

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The Life List: A Novel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easily one of my all time favorite books! Lori creates a story that grabs you from the beginning and has you rooting for the main character Brett the entire way. Brett's mother leaves her "Life List" she wrote when she was 14 years old and is asking her to complete it 14 years later in order to receive her inheritance. Whenever Brett completes a task her lawyer opens and reads aloud a letter from her mother. This is a story of loss and new beginnings with the lesson that its never too late to start over and do what makes you truly happy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy read, couldn't wait to read the next chapter! Hope to read more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The "Life List" is for SURE one of my favorites!!! It was hard to put down after I began reading it. Would love to see MORE books by this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! The plot sounds similar to others, but it's developed totally differently. Poignant with plenty of surprises and humor. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was absolutely breathtaking! It started slow but once it got going it was a hard one to put down. It really makes you think about what you dream and how if you really could re-do how things would end up! This was definitely a page turner. I cannot wait to read more from Lori Nelson Spielman!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic! Hard to put down, finished it in one day. Looking forward to more novels from this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!  I read it in one day and have already recommended it to my friends. I look forward to reading more books by this author
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BeachRead245 More than 1 year ago
Thank you to Librarything and Random House for sending me two copies of The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman. I have two copies to giveaway. Synopsis: Brett is mourning the death of her mother, her boss, and confidante. She barely makes it through the funeral. The reading of the will is the following day. Brett sees herself as the new president of Bohlinger Cosmetics which her mother founded. When the will is actually read Brett does not get the job but gets something else instead. A Life List that she wrote when she was fourteen years old with goals. These goals must be completed in order to get her inheritance. Will Brett follow through? How will her life change because of these goals? My Thoughts: An interesting story by author Lori Nelson Spielman. Half the fun when reading covering a topic such as this is what ends up being on the Life List. Is there any outlandish goals? Or are they simple and easy to complete? The author does a great job of creating complexity in the plot to keep reader guessing. Will Brett be able to complete the task or not? The only part that wasn’t my favorite is the fact that I read a novel like this before. In other words the plot is not new to me. The descriptions and the tone of this story create a setting that you are ready imagine yourself part of. The novel is still a good read and worth picking up!
itsJUSTme-wendy More than 1 year ago
Very well done! This book flows right along and makes you want to keep reading. The story line, having to complete a list before getting your inheritance, is not exactly a new idea, but there was plenty of new ideas in this book to make it a very good read. At first I thought, this poor woman, how unfair to have to complete this bucket list right after her Mother's death. I didn't think I was going to like it at first. But the list became very real, the list itself almost became a separate character that you wanted to hate or love at times. Even though the mom has already passed away before you start reading the book, you get to know her through her letters to Brett. She was a very good mom and a very smart lady. She sure knew what was good for her only daughter and you can see how her love continues on even after her passing. I thought the character development was very good. There were a couple of characters that I thought, at the time, could have been developed better, but now I think maybe we were not meant to get too close to them. The main character, Brett, you got to know very well. I really liked her. She seemed a bit spoiled and selfish at first, but her inner heart came out and she really grew on me. Brett became a home-bound teacher to complete one of the items on her list. This was my favorite part of the book. I loved getting to know the kids she was seeing. Each had such a unique personality. I thought this part was very well done... then I read that the Author herself was a home-bound teacher! A-ha, no wonder. It is a very good idea to write about something you know. You all know I love sad books. This book is sad in spots, but also heartwarming, suspenseful, and interesting. I read this book while vacationing on the coast pf Maine . At one point I thought I was gonna start tearing-up. That would have been embarrassing on a bus in front of 40 other people, but I held it together! And - I love the cover! Isn't it gorgeous, I just love daises. I really hope this author continues writing, I would love to read more by her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't like many modern-set novels. I usually find them too dark and depressing. Lori Nelson Spielman's "The Life List" easily stands out from the rest like a refreshing breath of air. Spielman is able to capture the essence of human emotions (whether they be happy or sad) and writes them in an uplifting and entertaining way. Spielman's debut novel is a clear success and will leave you feeling fulfilled after reading it. If you are on the fence about whether you should get this book or not, I would recommend that you do. You will not be disappointed!
thebookwormNJ More than 1 year ago
In The Life List Brett Bohlinger is expecting to inherit her mother's fortune and become CEO of her company, but instead what she inherits is a list she wrote as a fourteen year old. Brett receives instructions to finish completing this itemized "life list" within one year. Her mother saved this list for years and felt like Brett lost sight of the dreams she once had. This life list has things on it like getting a horse, becoming a teacher, having a baby and falling in love. Grief stricken and in shock, Brett begins to work on finishing up the list and winds up going on a personal journey. She received her teaching degree years ago, but never worked as a teacher. She has a live in boyfriend, but wonders if she is really in love. It seems her mother is orchestrating some of what is going on in Brett's life now through this list. Once each item on the list is finished, Brett receives an envelope with a personal letter from her mother. The letters are delivered through a young lawyer whom Brett's mom leaves in charge. Along the way Brett meets new people and finds out what is really important in life. I found The Life List to be bittersweet and sometimes funny. It was nice chick lit. I felt like everything that was happening in the story was picture perfect though, no matter how tough situations were, they always worked out well for Brett. But I didn't mind it, I enjoyed the twists and turns the story took as Brett found herself and completed items on the list. It all comes together nicely in the end and the book has a satisfying conclusion. Brett realizes there is more to life than money and a large inheritance. I wondered how she could possibly finish up the list within one year, and it was nice to see it all come together. Author Lori Nelson Spielman weaves a sweet story here, one that is highly readable and entertaining. I recommend The Life List to fans of women's fiction and stories about finding oneself. disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any type of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. While I receive free books from publishers and authors, such as this one, I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I got my copy of The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman free via AmazonVine.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book touched me from the first page to the last. Loved the story, loved the characters, loved the way it made me feel! Hope to read many more novels by Lori Nelson Spielman.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This would make a great movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little bit too predictable but certainly very enjoyable read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fabulous story! Makes you appreciate your mother and remember she always knows best. Loved this story and it made me cant wait to be a mother some day!
Kenzer More than 1 year ago
Such an amazing book. Finished within 2 days and could not put down. 
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Have you ever lost someone and still wanted to be able to call them up for advice?  Brett Bohlinger has lost her mother to cancer and through fate and some expert planning, her mom is able to guide her through the first year that Brett must live without her mom there to guide her. 
Anonymous 10 months ago
Loved this - once it got going, i couldn't put it down!
Anonymous 11 months ago
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Anonymous 12 months ago
Very enjoyable. Couldn't put it down. I was hook on the story immediately...always a good sign. Lots more to come from this first time novel author.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well worth reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great story! I was totally rooting for Brett! This story made me want to make my own life goals. Two thumbs way way up!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was interesting and different . Kept my interest until the very end . Thank you for a nice escape