Great reads for late summer days and nights

"French Lessons" by Ellen Sussman, Ballantine Books, $15.00, Paperback, August 2011

A staff pick at Bank Square Books, "French Lessons" by Ellen Sussman is a book to read with a café au lait and an imagination that you are sitting in a Paris café. Set in Paris, Sussman takes you through a day with three Americans and their language tutors as they explore the streets of the City of Light. Something about being a French tutor opens up secrets and intimacies in the three Americans, making French Lessons an evocative and charming summer read. While learning the magical language of France, Josie, Riley and Jeremy uncover long-buried part of themselves. This would be a great book club pick.

"The Summer Garden" by Paullina Simons, William Morrow, $16.99, Paperback, July 2011.

The third title in the enthralling trilogy of historical fiction just arrived last month. Paullina Simons takes us through the lives of Tatiana and Alexander beginning with "The Bronze Horseman," "Tatiana and Alexander" and now "The Summer Garden." All three of these novels are fabulous! Epic, love stories you just cannot put down. We begin with the Siege of Leningrad in 1941 when Tatiana meets Alexander, a soldier in the Soviet Army whose very existence, not to mention attraction to Tatiana, could be a danger to her family. Despite the war, famine and the freezing winter of Leningrad, their loves blossoms and we find them together in "Tatiana and Alexander." Alexander is arrested and held in a Stalinist prison while Tatiana escapes to New York City. The war ends and they marry and have a son. Reunited they struggle against their very existence and World War II. Compelling, unstoppable read no matter how many pages. I can't wait to read the third, "The Summer Garden!" It is on the top of my vacation pile.

"The Blind Contessa's New Machine" by Carey Wallace, Penguin, $14.00, Paperback, June 2011

I read "The Blind Contessa's New Machine" in a few hours and absolutely loved this novella set in Italy during the 1800s. The young contessa Carolina is going blind and neither her family nor her much sought after fiance believe her. Only her best friend and eccentric inventor Turri helps her by inventing a typewriter so she can write letters, inducing a lighting-bolt-effect love affair between the two of them. Carolina's dark world turns to her vivid and real dreams, and to the passionate love of Turri. I couldn't recommend this novel highly enough!

"The Arrivals" by Meg Mitchell Moore (Reagan Arthur Books, May 2011, $24.99)

This is funny, heart-wrenching and a depiction of every family's nightmare all at the same time. Ginny and William Owens have retired into their peaceful life in Burlington, Vermont when one by one their adult children come home bringing their own young children and all their problems. Running from her one-time adulterous husband, Lillian arrives with her two young children but tells no one of her husband's dalliance. Stephen and his pregnant, high powered Wall Street wife arrive next only to have Jane soon placed on bedrest, displacing Lillian from her bedroom and sending her to the pullout couch in the den with her kids. Lastly, Rachel appears, broke and silently pregnant by her unpopular boyfriend. Nerves are jangled, the kitchen is a sticky mess with unwashed dishes everywhere. William and Ginny find that their quiet, contented life as grandparents has taken a huge step backwards, at first. True-to-life dialogue, the reader feels like they could be in this story as any one of the characters. Moore has nailed the family dynamic on the head in "Arrivals" and writes this as a novel so familiar to us all that we cannot let go until the very end.

"The Language of Flowers," by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Ballantine Books, $25.00, Hardcover, August 23, 2011

Vanessa Diffenbaugh has written an extraordinary debut novel with "The Language of Flowers" where she brings forth in elegant prose the emotions of anger and mistrust, love and loss. During the Victorian Era flowers conveyed expression of love and were often used as a form of communication whether it be a Bird of Paradise to express magnificence, or Stephanotis in a bridal bouquet symbolizing happiness in marriage. "The Language of Flowers" is the unfolding story of Victoria Jones, an abandoned child who has been kicked out of group home after group home in her anger and grief. Elizabeth, a matriarch of a family vineyard who is dealing with her own grief with the estrangement from her sister, takes her in. After an emotionally devastating turn of events, Diffenbaugh takes us to Victoria's 18th birthday when she is emancipated from foster care and turned out on her own. With no resources Victoria lives in a local park, surrounding herself by plants and flowers she steals from public gardens making her feel safe. Plants, however, cannot protect her from the vagrants and Victoria finds a job with a caring florist and rediscovers her talent in making floral arrangements with flowers that send a particular meaning. Life takes a major turn when she is recognized at the early dawn flower market by a friend from her life on the vineyard. Victoria must confront what happened nine years ago with Elizabeth in order to learn how to love and trust someone again.

I read this book without stopping and found myself fascinated and entranced by the language of flowers. (I have already purchased a copy of Kate Greenaway's "Language of Flowers" book in order to learn more and make my own bouquets.)

In her novel, Diffenbaugh has done an exemplary job showing us how flowers can communicate emotions and feelings in a way that we as human beings have a difficult time putting into words. This is a book that will resonate with you for a long time and find you searching for that just right flower when you need to send a message to someone you care about.

Annie Philbrick is the owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic. Her reviews appear in each issue of Grace.

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