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Lessons in French

3.15  ·  Rating details ·  1,358 ratings  ·  231 reviews
A sophisticated and page-turning debut novel about a young American woman’s coming-of-age in Paris.

It’s 1989, the Berlin Wall is coming down, and Kate has just graduated from Yale, eager to pursue her dreams as a fledgling painter. When she receives a job offer to work as the assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous American photographer in Paris, she immediately accepts. It’s
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Simon Schuster (first published July 1st 2012)
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3.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,358 ratings  ·  231 reviews

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Lynne King
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: france-et-al
This is another case of where I came across a Goodreads’ book by chance. I liked the cover, and the title, and as the content appeared interesting, I pre-ordered it for its publication date of 5 March. It also came with the backing and marketing of the publishing house, Simon & Schuster, which brought to mind Lynne Truss’ brilliant book ,“Eats, Shoots and Leaves” when she discusses the survival of the book:

“…The book remains static and fixed … Holding the book, we are aware of posterity and
Jessica Jeffers
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
It’s 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to come down, and young ingenue Katie has been offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as an assistant to a famous photographer in Paris. Drama and hi-jinks ensue.

The thing about asshole characters is that, in order for me to care about them and want to know what’s going to happen to them, I need to understand a little bit about why they’re assholes. Maybe they had a tough childhood, maybe they’ve had one too many broken hearts, maybe they’ve been diagnosed
Connie G
Kate, a new college graduate, has received a job offer to work in Paris as a personal assistant to Lydia Schell, a famous photojournalist. Kate has mixed feelings about her time in France as a child while her father was terminally ill in the United States, but she did learn to speak French fluently. She is eager to please and soon finds herself involved in the lives of all the members of the Schell family. The Schells are pretentious intellectuals, self-important and demanding. Kate gets caught ...more
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“Art is about framing, not about where you stood” is a key quote and eye-catching motif in Hilary Reyl’s debut novel set in 1989 Paris. Likewise, it translates into a life lesson for young American Kate, as life and art coexist in the fashionable Latin Quarter of her adventurous new job. As a recent Yale graduate, Kate returns to the City of Light as an assistant to ex-pat Lydia Schell, a famous but fading American photographer. Kate carries memories of the two poignant years she spent here as a ...more
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Debut novels, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, are like chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

As a reader, what I expected to get was a relatively well-written light-hearted story set in glamorous late 1980s Paris with rather predictable lessons of what it means to come of age.

What I DID get was far more rewarding and far more nuanced for many reasons. Yes, there are the Paris scenes and Hilary Reyl knows the scene well; those who have been to Paris will delight in the many references t
Lolly K Dandeneau
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I gave it full stars because I didn't want to put the novel down. I felt like I was in France and I related to her youthful naivete (well okay, her complete ignorance). The longing to embrace the things you don't have while hating yourself for wanting them was expressed perfectly. Kate is like many young women ,be they well educated or not, who are thrown into an unfamiliar world and make mistakes along the way due to lack of experience and wisdom. Intelligence can only take you so far, wisdom i ...more
Heather Platisha
Mar 05, 2013 rated it liked it
For her first novel, Hilary Reyl, like her main character Kate, needs to find her style and her voice.
Kate/Katherine, a character so spineless and weak. Here she is in Paris, for the second time in her life, with a group of abusers and she just takes it. I don't understand how someone like Kate, who lived apart from her family as a young girl could be so unsure of herself and weak. I would a imagine a person who had gone through what she had she would be able to handle the Schell family. That a
Sienna Logan (Lost to Books)
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When I got this book in the post I was really excited to start reading it. The cover looked interesting like a sweet romance, something I would like - and I really did want to like this book even though I couldn't bring myself to by the end of it. No matter how much I wished I could engage with the book and grow to love it I just couldn't.

The main thing I struggled with while reading this book was the language. The author seemed to us
Betsy Hover
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own-read-already
I was delighted to receive this book as Goodreads giveaway! The author, Hilary Reyl, penned a fantastic book with the backdrop Paris and a recent graduate of Yale, Katie. Katie has recent accepted a job offer as an Assistant to famous American Photographer, Lydia Schell. Katie goes thru a self-discovery of whom she is and why she allows others to treat her the way they do
Feb 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In 1989 as the Berlin wall is about to fall and Salmon Rushdie's life has just been upended by a fatwa, Kate, a recent Yale graduate, is in Paris working as the personal assistant for a talented but self-centered photographer who is trying to capture the shifting zeitgeist on film. Lessons in French takes an inside look at the artistic, intellectual, and political circles of Paris during the late part of the last century, which would make it interesting even if that were all it had to offer, but ...more
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it

1) As I was reading I kept thinking about how this book reminded me of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, in that it is very character-driven, and focuses on one girl in her twenties who is influenced by other characters and the general setting (in this case it was Paris, not NYC). Anyway, I read the "acknowledgments" and Reyl actually thanks Towles so it is possible that his writing had some sort of influence on her.
2) Reyl can seriously write good dialogue, which is hard to come by.

Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Lessons in French is the ultimate sophisticated coming-of-age novel. Paris and its inhabitants are painted skillfully, with compassion, romance, humor and incredible humanity. You will feel nostalgic for your time spent abroad, even if you have never spent a year abroad. You will not want this book to end.
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you have ever dreamed of living abroad in Paris after graduation, this novel is the next best thing. It is 1989 and recent Yale graduate, Kate, has been invited by the renowned NY photo-journalist, Lydia Schell, to work as her assistant in Paris for a year. Kate's mother isn't encouraging her to go, but Kate is enticed by the allure of living in a Paris garret and meeting the writers and artists of Paris.

One of the charms of the book is the vivid way the author brings Paris to life. You can s
Hannah Nordhaus
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Lessons in French tells the story of a young, unformed woman coming into her own in a Paris full of twists and treachery and painfully teachable moments. It is a smooth and seamless read, with lovely writing, that engages in complicated ideas without confounding you or boring you or hitting you over the head with it. The characters were well formed and believable, the pace brisk. It was fun to pick up and hard to put down! Lydia, Kate's boss, teacher and nemesis, is a particularly juicy, lovable ...more
Apr 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book. I like her descriptions of Paris. However, I found the storyline too predictable, and I'm dense when it comes to literary devices. I found the characters too forced at times, and I really was hoping for more of a historical perspective of being in Europe during the fall of the Berlin wall, rather than a family being constantly more bitchy than 7th grade girls and people who refuse to change or learn from their mistakes. I was just so frustrated with Kate by the end of ...more
This book was ALMOST one of my favorite books of the year. Many descriptions and reviewers have called it a coming-of-age story set in Paris. True, but there's much more going on. The lead character, Katie, isn't just coming of age... she's moving beyond childhood trauma and rejection, learning how to not be a people pleaser and really own her power as a human being. In that respect, the book reminded me of The Language of Flowers or even some of my favorite YA fantasy novels. The author pulls a ...more
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I received Lessons in French as a First Read giveaway. I had no idea what to expect:

Kate wants to experience life after graduation from Yale. She takes the opportunity to make a connection with a famous photographer and move to Paris to be her assistant. Story may sound bland on the initial look but the diversity of the characters and the depth of the deceits are remarkable.

I found the protagonist, Kate/Katherine/Katie sheltered and naive and yet hungry. She is looking to experience life and ha
Oct 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this advanced copy through a First Reads giveaway, thank you!

I feel a book is well written when you have strong emotions for the characters. I definitely had strong emotions for all of the characters in this book, and not always positive. At times I definitely didn't like the path Kate was choosing and the way she was prioritizing her friends and family.

I never really went through a stage similar to Kate's nor have I been anywhere outside of North America, so it makes it difficult fo
Laura Power
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Lessons in French is a bit like a Devil Wears Prada story as we follow a young woman, Kate, in her first job as an assistant to a powerful and mercurial photographer in Paris. As a Yale grad, her vision of this job falls far from the reality. At times she is the artistic assistant and at other times she is the dog walker. Kate Is often placed in the middle of a family drama and must tiptoe around all of the eccentricity and turmoil. Her need to please is a trait that she discovers can be a hindr ...more
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Lessons in French is a wonderful journey. As a woman who came of age in the same time period, I identified fully with the protagonist Kate who is more assured of her youth and promise than of her own merits and position as an artist in a community that cherishes images and intellect.
Kate brushes elbows with the major cultural figures of the day while not knowing exactly how she fits in as the assistant of a high strung yet brilliant photojournalist. In the end, it's the relationships and experie
Patricia Locati
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What a beautifully told story. Here I am ... once again ... reading a book that's actually not written by a foreign author, but a book that totally takes place in a foreign place - Paris. By the end of the book, I felt I knew Paris like I know Seattle. The French language, when spoken well, is so beautiful and the same is for this book ... it's like it rolls off your tongue (or your eyes!). I read this book in 2 days ... reading late into the night ... which is unusual for me. I got totally abso ...more
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
I was fortunate to win this book in a Goodreads giveaway, & I appreciate the opportunity to have read it before it is published. This is the author's first novel, & I thoroughly enjoyed it. At times her main character is not so likable, but she reminded me of someone that I know, around the same age, & I could appreciate the growing she had yet to do. Hilary Reyl's writing was descriptive, so that I felt as though I could envision Paris as if I was there with Kate, seeing what she sa ...more
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved Hilary Reyl's debut novel! I was given an advanced reader's copy and as soon as I started reading I felt an instant connection to the main character Kate. Reyl's descriptions of Parisian life in the late 1980's transported me back in time and the images she paints of the food, culture, and city streets made me want to start planning my next trip to Paris. A beautiful coming of age story that I would highly recommend to all my Francophile friends.
Gary Shapiro
Mar 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written story of a young American woman,Kate,living in Paris and working for a famous photographer. Kate struggles to make sense of her own creative instincts, her losses and her need for love and family.
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am very appreciative to have received this prior to publication as a FIRST READS giveaway from GOODREADS - thank you!

Having added French as my second major in college, I enjoy a chance to revisit the language & Paris via a good book & that was certainment the experience with LESSONS IN FRENCH! I was savoring the food & cooking discussions, the culture, the literary references as well as the shopping & dining experiences. My only Paris experience was brief but exciting -- a few
Paris is not a city that attracts me, yet it does fascinate me. It's not a place I long to go (one brief visit in the 1970's has allowed me to say I've been there), but it's a city I do love to read about. Whether historical, twentieth century, or current, the nuances of culture never cease to give much to contemplate. Hilary Reyl has managed to capture a believable Paris of 1989-90 and present it to her readers, along with tasty morsels of the time: the fall of the Berlin Wall, Salman Rushdie ( ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: france
If you throw Paris or France in a title, you can know that I will probably seek this book out and give it a read. And I will probably like it, no matter how badly written it is. I just like reading about Paris.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I found this book. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that I read it. Nor will it be a surprise that I liked it.

But I’ll go a little farther with this book. You might like it, too. Turns out that author Reyl writes as if she has lots of actual experiences i
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have just started reading this wonderful book. Hilary Reyl was kind enough to send me the first three chapters, and I am hooked. This book is rich--the imagery, the smoothness of Hilary's words do better than set the scene...they place you right there, in Paris, with Kate. I am off to purchase the book--along with a pain of chocolat...I will have to walk longer tonight, but it will be well worth it--oh, and then I will READ!!!
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Such a delightful read. I was drawn into Kate's story from the first chapter and believed at the end that her lessons. and especially her Paris, were mine as well. Reyl skillfully summons marvelous characters, big and small. As Kate's life in Paris, (and her predicament!), deepens, I came to relish each character's re-appearance, especially the imposing and irresistible, Lydia Schell, who looms over them all. 'Lessons' is the fluent work of an assured talent. Highly recommended.
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
From the skillfully wrought characters to the beautifully evocative depictions of the Paris, its denizens and, most particularly, its marvelous food, Lessons and French is a delight from start to finish. I'd say it was the perfect holiday book, but I found it so gripping that I found it hard to put it down to leave my hotel room. A must read.
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