Pretty Little Snippets

Refreshing the eye, the heart, and the imagination.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How I Discovered My Personal Style - and How You Can, Too!

Have you ever bought a trendy outfit or accessory only to wear it once and never again? Or have you ever bought a top in a daring color to perk yourself up only to realize that it's not "you" at all? Do you find yourself staring at your closet wondering what on earth to wear, even though the closet is full? I'm sure most of you have been there. I know I have. So I decided to do something about it; I discovered my personal style.

What is personal style? Personal style is how you feel best presenting yourself to the world. It means wearing clothing that fits you as you are, not how you wish you were. It means being consistent with the message you offer to the world when you step out your door. It means taking pride in your appearance. Personal style is presenting your inner self in a visual way that is distinctively you.

Personal style does not mean spending beyond your means. It does not mean being boring or the same all the time. It does not mean owning a lot of clothing. It does not mean not participating in trends. It does not mean spending a lot of time thinking about what you are going to wear or how you are going to look - at least not after the initial effort.

With that as a working definition, here are the steps I took to discovering my own personal style. 

I decided how I felt best presenting myself to the world. I began noticing which clothing I wore again and again, and why. I considered the clothing I didn't tend to wear so much and asked myself why I wasn't comfortable wearing them. I realized that I feel more comfortable and more myself in classic, slightly tailored clothing than in more whimsical or bohemian clothing. Armed with this knowledge, I defined my personal style as Sophisticate Gamine. This simply means that I like to present as elegant and competent yet a little mischievous and fun-loving, able to laugh at myself. Every woman's personal style definition is going to be a little different. Here's a brief list of words that can jump-start your own definition.

Rock 'n' Roll


I found a few style icons. Audrey Hepburn is the ultimate picture of the Sophisticate Gamine. Her style never seems to go out of style. More modern muses include Miranda Kerr, Ines de La Fressange, and Emma Watson. Studying these ladies' style helped me pin-point just what exactly I love about their clothing: 

Structured tailoring
Body-flattering but not too snug; feminine
Classic, timeless pieces
Lots of black, white, and denim
Sensible yet delicate shoes
Peeps of lace
Natural fibers
Mix 'n Match items

I realized which colors make me feel and look best. I definitely feel more myself in solids over prints any day. I adore the way I feel in all black; I always have. It makes me feel strong, confident, and a little sexy. (Yes, it's ok to feel sexy!) It also is super easy to mix and match. My skin tone is neutral, so I can get away with most any color, but the colors I wear the most and feel best in are the colors at the top of this post: cream, gray, blush pink, orangey red, navy, and black. The only prints I tend to love are stripes and leopard print (for accessories only!). I can also be a sucker for ikat, in small quantities. The fun thing is, all these colors can mix and match and look fantastic. And I can reserve the right to throw in a few pieces that mean a lot to me, even if they don't match my color palette.

I determined which fabrics drape best on me, and which fits I prefer. There are some fabrics that itch all the time, or never seem to fall quite right, no matter how pretty they are. I try to stay as far away from those as possible. I tend to love natural, breathable fibers: cotton, silk, tweed. I also love jersey blends. I've had great success with these over the years, so I make it a point to look for natural fibers whenever possible. I also looked at the clothing I had that I felt most comfortable in as far as fit. Turns out I like drapey silk camisoles, skinny jeans, trousers cut a wee bit loose in the hips but snug on the rear, loose cardigans (not button-up), and blouses that fit a little looser over the belly.

I considered my lifestyle. I'm fortunate that my personal style rather closely matches my lifestyle. It fits in well with my jobs: a professional office setting and a creative entrepreneurship. My outfit choices would probably not work quite so well for a grad student or a stay-at-home mom, although they could certainly be tweaked to fit these lifestyles. For folks who identify with, say, the sporty, athletic style, it gets tricky when their career demands a more professional look - but it can be done! You do not have to sacrifice personal style for a uniform. But that is a different post.

I thought about my goals for my wardrobe. Obviously my wardrobe has to get me to the office, to networking events, and back home again, but there are a few other things I wanted from my closet. I didn't want to keep spend a lot of money for a lot of clothing. For me, a few quality items I can invest in and wear forever is better than a lot of cheaper quality items that I have to get rid of every couple of years. I wanted to have a minimalistic wardrobe. Everything has to mix and match, both for ease of dressing early each morning, and for the sake of my budget. I wanted a wardrobe that could grow with me, both professionally and stylistically. I wanted a foundation.

I edited my closet. Severely. Anything that did not fit right, needed mending I wasn't willing to do, or did not match my personal style had to go. No reservations. The only things I saved outside these parameters were sentimental pieces or colorful pieces that I can weave into the whole.

I made a list of classic items within my personal style I need and want. One of my goals going into this project was to create a wardrobe that was simple: mix and match items, classic pieces, minimal. I don't need a closet stuffed to the gills with this ideal. I simply need pieces that can go from work to play to evening effortlessly. If they can transcend seasons, so much the better. Here's a sample list of items that I put on my must-have list. Some of them I already had, some I still have to find. 

Trousers: Black, Navy, Gray,
Jeans: Dark Blue Skinny Jeans, White Skinny Jeans, Light Blue Skinny Jeans, Black Skinny Jeans
Camisoles: Black, Cream, Navy, Blush Pink
Blouses: Blush Pink, Cream, Navy
Shirts: Black, Navy Striped, White Button Down
Sweaters: Navy and Cream Striped, Navy, Gray
Blazers: Black, Navy
Skirts: Black, Navy, Blush Pink
Cardigans: Blush Pink, Gray, Cream, Navy
Dresses: Black, Navy
Coats: Cream Trench Coat, Black Coat
Accessories: Black Flats, Orangey Red Tote, Nude Pumps, Metallic Sandals, Leopard Print Clutch, Leopard Print Pumps, Delicate and Vintage Jewelry
I made a list of shops that carry the styles I like best.  Unfortunately, my taste can run expensive. Fortunately, I don't need much, and there are plenty of stores that carry good quality for less. My go-to stores are J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor. My best advice for shopping is this: know what you are looking for, know which stores make items that fit you well and match your overall style, don't settle for less, and subscribe to e-mail updates from the stores who carry your style when you want to add another item to your wardrobe. I'm grateful that my go-to stores regularly have 40% off sales and final sales where items can be marked down 40-50% off clearance price. (But in this case, be absolutely sure the item fits you well and that you totally love it, because you won't be able to return it.)


I considered how my hair and makeup fit in with my look. I don't like to mess much with hair and makeup. I'm learning how to do my makeup better, though, so it fits with my overall aesthetic. Emma's look above is perfect: luminous skin, a dark-lined eye with neutral shadow, and a red lip. I often forgo the red lip in favor of a slightly darker than my own lip shade just to keep things easier. Natural, classic, and put together is my makeup style. My hair is where I get to play, or not, as my mood and time decide. The pixie style can be sleek or messy, professional or funky, and that's how I like it. Sophisticated and gamine. Be sure your hair and makeup fit in with your personal style, or your look will always be a little off.

I took time to figure it all out, and am taking time to build my wardrobe. It has taken me years to figure out what exactly I feel most comfortable with style-wise. The core was always there, but I liked to experiment. That's ok. I'm well into my 30's now, though, and honestly, I'm a little done with experimenting. The occasional fun makeup or printed blouse will still make the rounds, I'm sure, but my foundation will be there, making getting ready for my day super easy. Yes, I would love to have an instant wardrobe with all the pieces I mentioned above, and more, but I know that it takes time to build quality. It's ok to take your time figuring it all out and then building it. That's kind of the fun part, right?
So, to find your own personal style, follow these tips (the first six don't have to be completely in order): 
  •  Decide how YOU feel best presenting yourself to the world
  •  Find some style icons to study
  •  Figure out which colors make you look and feel your best
  •  Determine which fabrics and cuts you like best on your body shape
  •  Consider your lifestyle
  •  Think about your wardrobe goals
  •  Edit your closet
  •  Make a list of items you need to round out your wardrobe
  •  Create a list of shops that carry items that appeal to your style and budget
  •  Consider how your hair and makeup fit in with your style
  •  Take your time
When you're ready, I'd love to know what style your discovered as your own personal style, and the journey you took to find and build it. Or, if you are struggling with discovering your personal style, please share, and maybe we can figure it out together.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Reading Room - June Edition

Welcome to The Reading Room, where I review the books I read each month. I'm a little late with June's review, but better late than never, right? And in case you're wondering how I manage to average 3 to 4 books a month, it's because of two main things: breakfast and weekends at the pool. I like ritual, and breakfast is one of my favorite rituals. I get up early enough before work to make a full breakfast to linger over with a magazine or a book. It makes mornings so much more enjoyable. My husband likes to spend weekends at the pool, so I tag along sometimes (poor me) and gobble up books while he's in the pool. I also prefer to end the day with a bit of reading, but that tends to be a lot rarer than I would like. How do you squeeze reading into your day?

She's Got Issues: Seriously Good News for Stressed-Out, Secretly Scared Control Freaks Like Us  - Nicole Unice. My best friend got this for me. (Does she know me, or what!?) The author shares examples of her own "issues" while helping us confront and deal with ours: control, insecurity, comparison, fear, and anger. Each chapter is devoted to an issue, first the realization of the issue and how it manifests, and then ways to overcome it. This book is definitely more along the lines of "Bible study" book. There are Scriptures to go along with each issue, and invitations to repent of the heart problems at the root of each, complete with prayer, but there are also practical methods of dealing with our issues, which I found to be quite helpful. Ironically, during the introduction, being introduced to the various issues resulted in more insecurity, fear, and feeling out of control. "One MORE thing I'm not doing right!?" But after that it got better.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World - Bob Goff. A friend recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad she did. Have you ever seen the movie, "Yes Man?" This book is like that movie, only with a slightly different reason behind it. This book is a series of stories from Bob Goff's own life, and does this man have stories to tell! He operates under the premise that love is not something that is meant to be thought about, but is something to be done. He decided that if God can come up with the wildest ideas and do them (Himself, as man come to earth to die, just for us? Making such things as people, and wombats, and seashells because it's enjoyable?) then people should do the same. Bob lives with whimsy, excitement, and more than a little daring. It means pushing limits (he got into law school by sitting at the dean's office for over a week and literally bugging him to get in). It looks like giving grace (he got hit by an elderly lady while driving and told her it was the most fun he'd had ever). It looks like being a friend (he encouraged his kids to write to world leaders offering to meet with them to know what they hoped for - and then went to meet those who responded and became good friends with them). This book will make you question your "safe" life and make you dig deeper into those dreams you had as a child - and perhaps still hold onto deep inside. This book has only one caveat: the author is of the upper classes and money does not hold him back from doing whatever jumps into his head. Most people will have to adjust their dreams somewhat to be actually doable. But the point is, if you dream it, you most likely can find a way to do it, even if it doesn't come as easily to you as to others. And it is most likely worth it, especially if it puts a sparkle in your eye. The world needs people with passion and excitement.

The Paris Wife  - Paula McClain. If you know anything of Ernest Hemingway's life, then you already know that this book is not an uplifting one. McClain tells the story of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley: how she was madly in love with him from the beginning, and remained that way until the end. Hadley, a sensible Mid-Western girl, gave herself up to love and passion in a young man who himself was full of passion and dreams of grandiosity. She followed him to Europe so he could find inspiration for his writing, and put up with cold, drafty apartments, mood swings, and the ever constant knowledge that she would forever be second to his writing. It turns out that she was second to his writing and his fleeting passions, for he divorced her to marry another woman when she refused to live in an open marriage. Hemingway would live to regret his decision. This novel offers a tender look at the unraveling marriage from Hadley's perspective. The reader appreciates her stalwartness and practicality, and winces for her when Hemingway behaves badly, which he often does. Yet Hemingway is portrayed not as the antagonist, but as a troubled man with night terrors after The War who is trying desperately to make a name for himself. Hadley's love for him spills over onto the reader until the very end. That in itself is a feat.

Hemingway's Girl - Erika Robuck. After The Paris Wife, I had to continue on a Hemingway spree. This book was an easy read, and nowhere as traumatic as the previous one (reading intimately about a marriage falling apart was hard). The story takes place in Key West, while Hemingway is married to his second wife (he had four). Mariella is a local girl, a hardworking teen who recently lost her father in a boating accident. Her mother is grieving too much to keep things going, so it's up to Mariella to support her mother and two sisters. She does so by obtaining a job as Hemingway's housekeeper. But Hemingway notices her too much. They both are attracted to each other, mostly because they see a lot of themselves in each other. Mariella ultimately has to decide between Hemingway and a World War 1 vet with honorable intentions. The plot itself is not difficult, and the writing is not awe-inspiring, but the story is a fun read, and quite poignant in its portrayal of family love, the will to work hard, and the aftermath of war on the lives of veterans. This novel is perfect for the beach.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spicy Grilled Peaches with Lentils

I know, it's about time for another Reading Room, and I promise I'll get June's up before July is over. I'm just being really lazy about writing it. How's that for honesty? In the meantime, here's a recipe to tide you over. This is another one of those "wander through Whole Foods and come up with a hare-brained idea that is surprisingly good" recipes. Yes, there is such a thing. Apparently.

This seasonal recipe includes fresh peaches, figs, and basil, three of my favorite summer offerings. Nothing in this recipe really seems to go together, but somehow they do. It got the husband's approval, anyway. So here goes.

1 lb Black Lentils
2 Peaches
1 Serrano Pepper (or Jalapeno, if you prefer), seeded and diced
1 Onion, chopped
4 Figs (fresh or dried), sliced into quarters
Olive Oil
1 oz Crumbled Goat Cheese
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
Fresh Basil Leaves, sliced

Cook the lentils according to package instructions. Meanwhile, halve the peaches and grill them until slightly charred (or have your husband do it). Let the halves cool. Heat about a Tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and sautee the onions and pepper until the onions are translucent and the pepper is fragrant. Add the figs, sea salt, and black pepper. Mix the onion blend into the cooked lentils and stir in the fresh basil leaves. Spoon into shallow bowls. Slice the peaches and arrange them on top of the lentil mixture. Crumble goat cheese on top.

You will have some lentil mixture left over for lunch later. (Yum.) I recommend serving this dish with Basil Bourbon: muddle fresh basil in a glass, add ice, and pour bourbon over it, garnishing with basil leaves. So much summer goodness!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Stop the Comparison Game and to Start Encouraging Ourselves and Others

Photo by Henri Cartier Bresson, Via

"Comparison is the thief of joy." Theodore Roosevelt may have said it, but thousands of women are reminding themselves of it in an age of isolation and social media windows into each others' lives. I've been there. And I would bet that you have, too - probably more often than you'd like to admit. It's so easy to pop onto Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and see how everyone's lives are picture-perfect. We know deep down, of course, they are not, but we give in to the status update or the smiling photo and let ourselves think, "if only...." And thus we rob ourselves of the joy and the beauty in our own lives, in our own moments.

Or perhaps you have the twin problem: the judgment problem. Maybe you follow people's lives and feel better about yourself by putting people down. "I can't believe she did that!"  "Well, at least I'm not like that!" When we compare, we either put ourselves down or put other people down. Neither is "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or praiseworthy."

How do we stop this? The quick, trite answer is to stay off social media. But that doesn't really solve the problem, does it? We just as easily transfer our comparison/judgment game to what we can see in real life. We compare our homes, our appearance, our job performance, our families, and each time we come up short somewhere, or we best the other and feel superior. The next level of answer, minding our own business, doesn't work either. It parades as a great solution, but it isn't. Isolation is never the answer. It makes our hearts hard and proud, and does no one any good. In fact, it makes things worse.

So what is the solution? If you want to stop comparing yourself to others, you must know them. Get out of isolation. Invite them in to your life, and ask them to share theirs with you. Don't just "friend;" be friends. Get to know their story; tell them yours. Everyone has a story to tell, and stories are powerful things. They break down barriers of our imagination and open wide a world of meaning.

You didn't want that to be the answer, did you? It's hard. It means vulnerability. It means both learning to listen without judgment and learning to share without fear. It means stepping forward and owning the ugly, dirty parts of your story, and accepting the ugly, dirty parts of other peoples' stories as well. Everyone has something: family illness, insecurity, secret vices, crippling debt, loneliness, fear, bad relationships.

We can own the ugly and the hard and follow up with, "And yet..." And yet this part is good, or that part is beautiful. We can do this for ourselves, but more importantly we can do this for others. We can build each other up. We can meet each other at the weak points in each others' lives and breathe life, beauty, and encouragement into them. We can remind each other of the good parts when the bad parts threaten to overwhelm.

"But wait," you say. "I have 500 friends on Facebook. I simply can't get to know them that deeply. And what's more, I don't want to. And in real life, I don't want to know what's going on in her life, and I don't want her to know what's going on in mine." I get it. We aren't meant to be best friends with everyone; we have to have some boundaries. On Facebook, that might look like utilizing filters and feeds. In real life, it might look like cultivating healthy respect by remembering that each person has a story, no matter how they come across, and by breathing a blessing over them when we find ourselves starting to compare or judge. It sounds simple, silly, but it makes a world of difference.

Have you struggled with the comparison/judgment game? When did you truly realize what was going on, and how did you overcome it?

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Reading Room - May Edition

Welcome to The Reading Room, where I review the books I read each month. Here's May's round up: a selection of books I would put on everyone's "Must Read" list.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat off the land alone? To not go to grocery stores or to fast food joints, but to eat off the land you and your neighbors live on? Barbara Kingsolver and her family did just that for a full year, and this book is her chronicle of that year. The ground rules? 1. Eat only food that is in season (ie. growing in the garden). 2. Eat local (minus coffee, chocolate, and a couple other goods that they sourced from eco-friendly and fair-trade businesses).

Kingsolver takes us on a hilarious and educational tour of life on a Virginia farm:  her family's farm. We learn that there are lean times when fresh fruit would be amazing, and overflowing times when looking at another tomato or squash might make one go crazy. We learn that no, bananas are not local, but cherries can be wonderfully delightful. We learn that raising chickens and turkeys brings the food chain home in a very gruesome yet satisfying way. We learn that digging potatoes can be wondrously exhilarating. We learn that vacations while farming are rare, but can happen with careful planning in the right season. We learn that making one's own cheese is not hard or time-consuming.

We also learn that the food economy in the United States is based not on the seasons, or on health, but on money. We learn about GMO and Monsanto's quest to monopolize the food economy. We learn about heirloom varieties of vegetables and livestock (did you know there is such a thing as an heirloom turkey?), and how they are better tasting and evolved, but are being replaced with generic plants and animals that can be mass-produced, often in large, unsanitary plants. We learn about the up-swing in the rate of obesity, about the large number of children with diabetes, about how the next generation is the first one expected to have a shorter life span than our own because of the effects of what we feed them.

We learn that the seasons are meant to provide balance to our lives and our cravings. There is a season for asparagus, and just as we get sick of the thin green stalks, the season is over. And we wait for the next year with anticipation as the season (after a winter of little fresh greens) approaches. We learn that this is part of a rhythm of seed, shoot, fruit, root, and each season feeds our bodies what they need when they need it most.

I can't recommend this book enough. It ingrains a longing, if not already lodged in your heart, for a seasonal life lived close to the earth, with lots of hard work, sure, but also a deeper appreciation for what feeds us, body and soul. Of especial usefulness is the series of recipes scattered throughout, which you can also find on the author's website. If they don't make your mouth water, I don't know what will.


An Altar in the World - Barbara Brown Taylor. Have you ever heard someone say they are "spiritual, but not religious?" Or have you ever left church feeling up-lifted, but immediately feel an ache for something "more?" How do you carry over the spiritual into the mundane? Barbara Brown Taylor tackles this beautifully in this little book. The answer isn't in mysticism or states of ecstasy. Neither is the answer in doing more, but in doing with more intention.

In the introduction, she writes, "What is saving my life now is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world." Her answer to the desire for "more" is "live in your skin, and pay attention to each experience." Nothing is not sacred. Every breath, every blade of grass, every touch is an altar of worship. Our lives are living, breathing connections to God. It's the way we live them and pay attention to them that determines whether we live in communion with God or not.

Everything is holy: the dirt under our nails, going for a walk, bowing in prayer (really bowing the body, forehead to ground - feel it!), meeting someone from another culture and recognizing them as beautiful, washing the dishes - again, hanging laundry on the line. Everything is a prayer, an extension of spirituality: "Whether, then, you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31), marries, " Pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17). Prayer does not have to be words. Worship does not have to be confined to a church, temple, or synagogue. They can be a way of life. This book puts it beautifully.


Goodnight June - Sarah Jio. Sarah Jio's newest release (May 27) is one of her best novels yet. Who doesn't remember growing up with the children's book Goodnight Moon? Or has been introduced to it through their own children? And how many people have wondered where the story might have originated? Jio takes on this origination story and entwines it with her trademark mystery blending the past with today.

June is a financier in New York City who is really good at what she does, which is foreclose on small businesses who can't keep up. But she's burnt out, and not being true to who she really is. Where did her heart go? When a series of panic attacks align with news of her Aunt Ruby's death in Seattle, June faces a decision to close her Aunt's bookstore for children and keep up the fast-paced life she's come to rely on or to keep the bookstore running.

When she arrives in Seattle to manage Ruby's estate, she has her mind made up: sell the bookstore, reap a profit, move on. But when she learns that Ruby has left her a series of letters between herself and the renowned children's author Margaret Wise Brown, and that there is a big secret that could impact not only the bookshop and literary circles, but also her own life, she begins to remember her love of a good story, and her true heart. But is that enough?

This story weaves literature, sisterhood, and friendship into a not-to-be-missed tale that will leave the reader's heart yearning to pull out childhood books and remember a simpler time, to go back to writing real letters to girlfriends, to call a sister to catch up - or forgive.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Taking Chance (2009)


"Without a witness, they just disappear."

Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (Kevin Bacon) has held a desk job for some time, and feels guilty about the number of young men and women who come back from combat in body bags. When the opportunity to accompany the body of  Chance Phelps to Wyoming arises, Strobl takes it. Along the way, he observes how U.S. citizens react to him, to the fallen young man, to the military, to life. The journey and interactions across country deeply move him and provide meaning and context for his own service.

Sometimes the witnesses to the lives of the fallen may feel like they aren't enough, that they haven't done enough. But the heroes need witnesses to honor them.

This weekend, my thanks goes out to all the service men and women of the United States Armed Forces. We see. We bear witness. Thank you!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Reading Room - April Edition

Welcome to The Reading Room. The Reading Room is where I review the books I've read for the month. Even with everything that happened in April, I still made time to read. Here's a look at the line-up.


The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband. - David Finch.  David knew something was wrong with his marriage. His wife, Kristen, knew something was wrong, too. Instead of giving up, they set about solving the problem. Kristen figured out her husband has Asperger Syndrome, which means that he relates to the world a little differently: not very empathetic; obsessive compulsive about non-essential things and glib about essentials; rather self-absorbed; without what most would consider common sense. This freed her to accept David for who he is. David, however, decided to become a better husband by learning a bit more about NTs, or neuro-typicals, as those without Aspergers are called, and how to at least copy them.
This book is his journal about his efforts. It's humorous, honest, and inspiring. Here is a man who cannot relate to the world the way most people can, but his love for his wife propels him to do better for her. At the same time, his wife loves and accepts him for who and how he is, but gently and lovingly pushes him to be a better man. She doesn't accept less than what she deserves. The path for both of them is hard, but they keep at it. They don't break up. They work hard at their marriage. 
This may be a book about Asperger Syndrome, but it's more a book about love, marriage, and commitment, and well worth any married couple's time. 


The Language of Flowers. - Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Victoria has grown up in foster care, and has a really, really hard time trusting people. She doesn't love anyone, and has convinced herself that no one can ever love her. She's not worth it; she messes it up each time it's offered - sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not. When she ages out of foster care, she has nowhere to go, and the only skill she has is flower arranging and flower care. She gets a job at a local florist, and introduces the neighborhood to the language of flowers, once popular in the Victorian era, but lately out-of-favor. She is amused to see how the suggestion of a flower's meaning can change people's lives, but what she doesn't know is how a flower's meaning can change hers as well. 
As the story develops, we get glimpses into Victoria's past. We learn why she loves flowers so much, and why she believes she is not worthy of love. We begin to hope that she blooms like her beloved flowers. 
This book is one of my favorites this year so far. It's a tender look at mental health, the foster care system, and real love - not the mushy, storybook kind of love, but real, hard work love. I don't go out and buy many books anymore, but I'll be adding this one to my bookshelf. Also, this book will forever change how you look at flowers. 


The Goldfinch. - Donna Tartt. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year, so I was super curious to read it. Let me start by saying that the best thing about this book is the cover; I could sit and stare at it for days. The next best thing about the book is the beginning. 
Theodore (Theo) Decker is a 13 year old boy who is on his way to a school meeting with his mother for a discussion about his recent suspension. With time to spare, they visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but his mother never comes out alive. Just before they are about to leave the museum, bombs go off, killing many. Theo survives. Kind of. 
He manages to sneak out of the museum, a painting (Fabritius' "The Goldfinch") in tow, not realizing that his mother is dead. By the time reality sets in, he is frantic, held together only by the allure the painting, his mother's favorite, has for him. Like the bird in the painting, Theo is chained, but to this tragic event. He cannot fly away to live a free life. He finds himself on the Upper East Side of New York, taken in by wealthy friends. When his deadbeat, alcoholic dad shows up, however, his world is once more turned upside down as he leaves the city for Las Vegas, a wide open, empty and lonely desert where his only friend is a Russian teen who introduces him to drugs of all kinds. By the time Theo makes it back to New York to take up residence with a kindly antiques restorer many years later, he is almost unrecognizable: an addict with a secret. For of course he never returned the painting to the museum, and it haunts him. 
The Goldfinch starts out brilliantly. The bombing of the Met is beautifully written. The reader can feel and see the horror, can taste the metallic blood, can feel the panic and the shock. But then, perhaps like Theo himself, the story drags on through almost random, meaningless whirlwinds of events, leaving the reader feeling detached and hopeful for some good end. The people, except for the antiques restorer, are not at all lovable, and their characters do not develop. Life seems to just happen to Theo; he is pushed and pulled along the torrent of events without much intentional interaction on his part. The scenarios Theo finds himself in, particularly in Vegas and in Amsterdam later in the book, are fantastical at best. It's rather like one long drugged trip. The reader wants to get out, but can't, because the end: there has to be a good end. 
But the end is not good. The end of the actual story is ok, in and of itself, and if the novel had stopped there, it would have been passable. But the end of the novel is terrible. It becomes a philosophical sermon, spelling out what readers used to be trusted to figure out without a "P.S. This is what my book is about." The ideas are great, don't get me wrong. There are some fine points and questions to consider. But the last chapter changes voice slightly and assumes the reader's reluctance or inability to understand what has just been read. A great novel - even a good novel - would have simply ended, lingering in the reader's mind, bringing up these questions and considerations without having them spelled out.