Tuesday, July 5, 2011

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

Title: French Lessons
Author: Ellen Sussman

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Paris / Romance / Americans Abroad)
Publisher/Publication Date: Ballantine Books (7/12/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal!
Did I finish?: Yes, another quick three hour read (this time, inhaled at a local coffee shop).
One-sentence summary: A single day in Paris, following three pairs of people -- Parisian language tutors and their American students -- as they experience love, loss, desire, fear, and hope.
Reading Challenges: None.

Do I like the cover?: Yes, although I don't think it really hints at any of the characters in the novel.  I actually prefer the cover of my ARC, which is whimsical but fits each of the three stories featured.

I'm reminded of...: Diane Johnson, Melissa Bank

First line: Brilliant sunlight spills through the windows of the Vivre à la Française language school.

Did... I love the small maps that outlined the walk taken by each pair?: YES. That the routes taken in the novel are real made the stories feel a bit more romantic and real and certainly makes me yearn for a trip to Paris!

Did... I really like all the characters?: YES.  Even though I'm totally a judger when it comes to infidelity, I found I liked, related to, and cared about everyone in this novel.

Did... I want to run away to Paris after reading this book?: YES.  That's a given!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow -- this is a totally fun summer read, great for sharing among friends. 

Why did I get this book?: I'm a Francophile and I especially love stories of Americans in Paris.

Review: This delightful book is my kind of beach read: fabulous urban location (Paris!), seemingly uncomplicated characters who actually have great depth, lovely language, and heady discussions of love and loss written in an accessible and deft way.

Initially, I thought I wasn't going to dig this book since infidelity was clearly going to be a theme of the novel but I found Sussman's writing and characters had depth and complicated back stories (presented in a clear, light, moving way).  Even if my puritanical self was initially resistant to feeling sympathy for Josie, the American teacher mourning in Paris after losing her married lover, Sussman provoked me into caring for her as her lovelorn language tutor, Nico, found things to empathise and admire in her.  Every character in this novel felt immediately familiar and yet did something to surprise me, and I literally inhaled this novel in hours.

Based on Sussman's previous books, it's obvious she likes sex and the frisson of desire, and she's unabashed about that in these three stories. It might be a little too graphic for some readers, but I didn't mind: it moved the plot, felt appropriate to the story and characters, and was sexy and sad in equal part which made it all the more poignant (to me).

I went to sleep thinking of this book and woke up wanting to read it, and that's the sign of a totally great read.  I was apprehensive that the three couples and their vignettes wouldn't come together for a satisfying conclusion but Sussman pulled one together that was just what I wanted.  Highly recommended for anyone who wants a summertime armchair escape.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of French Lessons to a lucky reader!  Just leave a comment with your email address to enter.  US/CA readers only, ends 7/22.


  1. I want in on this definitely. Your review has definitely piqued my interest. Though I hate hate infidelity in novels (and oh boy is it everywhere it seems like) this seems excellent.

  2. Jessie -- I know, I just can't stomach infidelity but Sussman makes most everyone interesting and real enough that I cared about their story, even if I judged their behavior. This really was a great escapist read.

  3. No need to enter me in your giveaway, as I will be reading this one soon. It does sound like a great read, and though, like you, I don't really care for infidelity, I think I might be able to overlook that if the book engages me, which I think it will. Fantastic review on this one. Glad to hear that you loved it!

  4. Thank you for the giveaway!

    vanessanicole21 at yahoo dot com

  5. Sounds like you really had fun with this book, infidelity issues aside. I'd love to read it, and I think my sister would enjoy it, too. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  6. I am Sooo excited to see Canada included on this one. I really want to win! Thanks for the giveaway!


  7. I love your review and anything about paris! thanks for the opportunity :D


  8. I like these quick reads of yours that you just read at once :D

  9. What a great recommendation for a book, and I'm particularly intrigued by the little maps...hmmm...please enter me.

    savvyverseandwit AT gmail

  10. Anything about Paris has got to be good.

  11. I probably would not have gone for this book if I had seen it on a bookshelf, but after reading your review, I definitely want to read it! Thanks for a great review and a chance to win this book:)

    jwitt33 at live dot com

  12. oui, oui, OUI. i like the sounds of this one.
    vvb32 at yahoo.com

  13. Thanks for the great review and chance to win the novel. French Lessons definitely sounds like a fun read.


  14. have read many wonderful reviews of this novel...including yours :)

    thanks for the chance to read it.

    kmkuka at yahooo dot com

  15. I have this on my list of must-reads. Thanks for the giveaway.


  16. (No need to enter me.) I liked this one too. As I read it thought, I found myself picturing it as a film, and my one quibble is that I wish the stories would have interspersed to flip back and forth between the three stories.

  17. Sounds great! Thanks for the giveaway.


  18. I would love a chance to read this! Sounds awesome.


  19. Bonjour! Je voudrais "French Lessons," s'ils vous plait. :-)

    arcookson at yahoo dotcom

  20. This sounds like MY kind of beach read as well.

    So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for being on the tour.

  21. OMG!! Thank you for the chance!

  22. This sounds like a really good book! Thanks for the giveaway!


  23. French lessons is just what I need.
    Please enter me in your giveaway

  24. Love, loss, and Paris? My kind of book! Please enter me--thanks!

    Shana S

  25. Thanks for the chance to win.

    Jill at

  26. This sounds fabulous. I have added it to my TBR list based purely on the fact that this book made you want to go to Paris to visit!

    Don't put me in the giveaway as I am not eligible.

  27. You know, I never considered myself a Francophile until I became more and more interested in the life of Julia Child (random, I know!). Sounds like a great read -- thanks for the chance!

    writing.meg [at] gmail.com

  28. This sounds like a book I would enjoy! Thanks for the chance.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  29. Thanks for the giveaway!
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com