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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Language of Flowers
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90 of 94 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 25 September 2011
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
It was, I have to say, incredibly easy to fall in love with this book which was a haunting, intelligent and compelling read. The story starts with Victoria leaving the foster home where she has been living as she comes of age, and then goes back and forth in time as the strands are brought together so that we can understand how she got to be the person she is. During her turbulent life Victoria has learned the almost forgotten language of flowers, where every bloom expresses something different. As she finds work of sort with a florist she finds ways of expressing herself with flowers and the past will come back to her in a way she hasn't imagined. Will she find her place in the world and why does she struggle so much with the past? A strong story and interesting characters kept me turning the pages to find out.

Victoria was not an easy character to understand at times - I wondered if the author had drawn on her own life experiences to show someone afflicted with what seemed to be a form of attachment disorder. Some of the parts of the book were almost painful to read but throughout everything I wanted things to work out for Victoria. The author managed to conjure up a whole cast of believable and sympathetic characters along the way - from Renata the flower shop owner to Grant the strangely familiar market stall holder, and the book was well paced and beautifully written. I enjoyed every single page of this book (including the flower dictionary at the end of the book); having read glowing reviews before I read it I was somewhat worried it would disappoint - it didn't. Highly recommended this is an excellent debut from an author from whom I would like to see more.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Victoria Jones lives in San Francisco, where she has grown up in group care homes and has been passed from foster home to foster home, never managing to stay in one place for long. She has no family of her own. When she is ten years old she has her last chance at securing a foster placement, with a woman named Elizabeth. Moving forward several years, Victoria is leaving her last group home aged eighteen, and is now completely on her own in the world, without the support of her long-term care worker Meredith. In chapters alternating between the younger Victoria's time spent living with Elizabeth, and what happens to Victoria from being eighteen and leaving the last group home, we learn about the experiences that have shaped her troubled youth and about how she now spends her days as an adult, including experiencing homelessness. As suggested in the title, the language of flowers plays a huge role in the novel. It is, or has been, a means of communication between various characters. For Victoria, flowers are the only things that she feels comfortable with, and through them she connects with life and with others. At the back of the novel is a brief flower dictionary for the reader, compiled by the author. This is a welcome addition to the book for the reader and I referred to it several times whilst I was reading the novel.

This is a moving, emotional novel. There is much sadness, but there is also hope. In particular, in Elizabeth and Renata, Victoria meets some kind souls who give her opportunities and chances to make steps into the world where it seemed like there would be none for her. I like the fact that the author has tackled motherhood from this angle, and her portrayal of how Victoria reacts. I also like the way she demonstrates through Victoria how hard and terrifying it can be to grasp potential future happiness and kindness if you have you not been used to it in the past and have come to feel that you must be undeserving of it.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2011
A red rose means love, everyone knows that. How about Canterbury Bells or Mistletoe then? Most people know that flowers convey certain feelings and while we still revert to a floral language by giving flower bouquets on special occasions, much of the meaning behind the individual flowers has been reduced to a very limited and generalized one since Victorian times.
Mandy Kirkby presents a wonderful book with The Language Of Flowers: A Miscellany, the official companion to the novel of the same title by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Enveloped with beautiful illustrations and poetry, you learn about the meaning and history of fifty different flowers. Short and crisp the author introduces each flower in a perfect blend of information and fascinating references of how a certain flower makes an appearance in certain books, poems, or even paintings. An emotional dictionary and the suggestions on composing posies for specific occasions such as courtship, births, or funerals round off this miscellany.
Just like similar books were meant for the coffee table, to be studied and indulged in, in Victorian times, this adorable book has invited me more than once to browse in it since first reading it. If you've ever been fascinated by flowers and their meaning, I can only recommend this lovely compendium. It goes without saying it also makes for a lovely gift to a good friend. Just don't forget to include a freesia when you present it!
In short: A gorgeous gift book in best Victorian tradition!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Pan MacMillan. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 8 September 2011
The Language of Flowers is one of those vastly hyped books with all these glowing reviews that makes you wonder if it's really as good as everyone says. The answer is, yes! And yet, the plot is incredibly simple, there isn't a great deal that happens in the book and there are no great surprises, so at the same time I do wonder why this particular book has attracted so much attention.
BUT, I loved it. I think the biggest surprise about it is that somehow it gets under your skin and is positively charming. I loved the characters and I loved the references to the meanings of the different flowers, which I never thought I would be interested in, and I have already been checking out the meanings of the flowers I| have in my house in the glossary at the back. And will be sure to check next time my husband buys me flowers!
It's a lovely book, I had originally thought from the blurb that it might be a little depressing, but it isn't at all, it's lovely, uplifting and enchanting, and definitely recommended.
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45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A very unusual novel set in modern day Northern California. This took me by surprise as I had (stupidly) thought the book to be either a non fiction book on the language of flowers, or some kind of historical romantic tale.
Fortunately for me it is not.

This is the story of Victoria a young girl who has lived her life in the Californian state care system. Either being fostered or put into girl only care homes. She has been moved around a lot of times and is a very angry and isolated young person.
The book has two time lines, in the first we meet Victoria about to be emancipated from the system and has to leave the care home. She is 18 or thereabouts. Her exact birth date not known.
When she leaves the home she will be moved into a halfway hostel and is expected to find a job and pay her way. There doesn't seem to ever be any kind of practical guidance given to her from her social worker Meredith, who has been a constant though unloving and very disliked presence in Victoria's life.

In the other time line we are moving along her childhood towards the event that will define the rest of her life. When she was age 9 Victoria was delivered by Meredith to Elizabeth, a woman who lives on her own in her own vineyard. She has family nearby but is not in contact with them. This is integral to the story as it unfolds.

It is Elizabeth that teaches Victoria the language of flowers.

The writing is clear and precise just how I like it.
I found validity in the story from reading the author's background which includes her teaching art and writing to youths in low income communities.

Although the novel is about people in trouble it is also about people trying harder to communicate clearly. The flowers are the device to explore what we find so hard to say or even feel. It is also about how deep and meaningful it is to be understood. In this book it doesn't come easily. Which makes the book better and more satisfying to read.

It gets very sad and real. I cried. I knew I was going to and kept putting the book down, then picking it up again eager to get to the next part. I don't want to spoil any of the plot with spoilers, so I will just say that it does become very emotional, and anyone who is a mother or daughter will be particularly affected as this the core of the book.

I think its a great novel, because it made me feel things so deeply and its an original story. I don't see much or any real resemblance to the book Chocolat. I think this is the better book, but its so different you can't really compare.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Having just read this book, I find myself confused by so many glowing reviews. Were we reading the same book? Or are our interpretations different? I bought this book as it was on sale at the Kindle store for 99p. To be honest I'm glad I never paid full price for it, as I'd feel a bit shortchanged. The story is bout 18 year old Victoria who we meet on the day of her state emancipation being released from the American foster care system. The book juts backwards and forwards from when Victoria was 10 being placed in a foster home with a homely spinster called Elizabeth to eight years later. Elizabeth teaches Victoria the old (very aptly named Victorian art of using flowers to communicate emotions). I enjoyed discovering this art and thought it complimented the book well, as did the flashback scenes.

There were more than a few character and story flaws that really irritated me. The biggest being, I wasn't sure what time frame modern day was set in? I'm guessing 80s or 90s because there was no reference to internet or computers but still use of phones and televisions. I don't know why it annoyed me so much but it did. Perhaps it was Victoria's simplicity of not needing modern technology to communicate but being modern day I thought I would find a computer or internet reference somewhere but the author was very careful not to give this a particular decade in time. So I felt a bit lost.

Having never been in or had any relation to the foster care system, I cannnot be as sympathetic with Victoria as I would like. I was irritated that she always seemed to land on her feet, not looking for a job while she was in the last chance saloon home for girls before making it on her own. Things just seemed to come a little too easy for her. First day after CHOOSING to live on the street (or park as case may be)she finds a sought after florist job with a bit of a pushover boss (Renanta) who takes her under her wing giving her a job and shelter and she throws back in her face towards the end. She makes and breaks ties with people wherever the wind takes her (the romantic interest being Grant a flower seller she meets on the market)and is ALWAYS forgiven. Even when committing two heinous crimes against humanity.

I found myself wanting to give her a good slap and begging her to quit her whinging and see how good she had it compared to others in a similar position. I felt sorry for Renata, she gave Victoria everything she could ever want or need and she repays her in selfishness and sullenss and more often than not having a 'woe me' attitude to life and the people around her.

Perhaps this sounds mean but I wanted her to struggle a bit ad only when she was truly down on her luck to be offered a sliver of hope. Maybe then she'd be a little more grateful. She just got handed everything on a plate. Although it was set in America so land of opportunity and all.

It was a good book and stayed with it to the end, just don't expect it to change your life. A good holiday or commuter read as it can be put down and picked up easily and I did learn about the language of flowers which was interesting.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2012
I was interested in this book because of the unusual subject matter and, having some experience working with young people who have been abused/in care, I wanted to see how this young woman's life would develop.

I continued to find the subject itself interesting and would happily read more on this once-popular topic. However, I think I am in the same boat as several others who, despite enjoying the book itself, just didn't warm to Victoria. It's hard to explain - I wouldn't necessarily warn anyone off reading the book, but I do think many readers will struggle to relate to someone who, regardless of the allowances we could make for her difficult start in life, presents as an unlikeable and unsympathetic character.

The point is, Victoria DOES have people in her life who care very much for her and who give her unconditional love and support, often inexplicably, as few of these people have any obvious motivation for doing so. For example:

***SPOILERS***

Renata - happy to allow this sneering, scruffy stranger to lollop about her shop, risking her livelihood and paying over the odds for the privilege. Sticking around to support Victoria and her new baby when this help is consistently thrown back in her face. Continues to be a friend even when Victoria blatantly sets up a rival business to hers! Huh??

Grant - attracted to this stroppy thing who does everything she can to make herself look unattractive, and continues to pursue her even when she blows him out over and over again.

Elizabeth - appears to be in desperate need of some therapy for abandonment issues of her own, nonetheless channels all her love into the young Victoria, cultivating a bond between the two of them to the point where Victoria finally feels like she has a home... then for NO apparent or believable reason, Elizabeth decides to balls up the one thing that will cement Victoria's security and happiness. This part of the book really made me angry and was a particularly weak plot device on which much of the storyline seemed to hang.

As I said, having worked with vulnerable young people I am only too aware of how much they can lash out at life and seemingly want to hurt those who would give them what they fundamentally crave. However, this is not really explored in any depth and Victoria seemingly falls on her feet by the end. With no effort whatsoever, she creates a successful business of her own, yet leaves another vulnerable young person in total charge of it while she hides in bushes (not a joke!) and does nothing to credit the poor girl for all her hard work!

Additionally, having hidden both her pregnancy and birth, and refused all medical attention, Victoria manages to avoid the inevitable knock on the door from Social Services/the police and instead, fobs the child off - unattended for hours - to the baby's father who, hitherto, had been told nothing of his daughter's existence! He goes along with this without so much as a 'WTF??!' and forgives Victoria for everything, leading to a highly contrived happyish ending.

Admittedly, a sad ending to this tale would have been even more unsatisfactory, but it just felt that there was no character arc for Victoria, no journey of redemption whereby she could resolve her inner demons and accept the love that was there. I finished this book feeling very much like Victoria herself - as an outsider looking in with no vested interest in the outcome.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a lovely book. It centres around Victoria, a young girl who has obviously had a troubled childhood and spent time in and out of foster homes.

The story runs with two parallel timelines - her experiences at one particular foster home (where everything seems run smoothly) at the age of 11 and then her current life. Throughout everything, flowers and their meaning play an important part.

The language used is lovely and the story is compelling, giving a credible insight into how foster/troubled children think and act. This isn't a thriller or a particularly action-packed novel - simply a book that tells a rather lovely story. I liked it :)
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Before coming to this book, I had an interest in the Victorian language of flowers - I have two beautiful Victorian books on the subject already. I was intrigued to find out how an author would use this folklore to develop and add to a story. I was also expecting the story to be a little bit like Joanne Harris's CHOCOLAT, only with flowers instead of chocolates. What I discovered with THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS was something more.

The main character, Victoria, has grown up moving from one foster home to another. As a young girl, she is alone; angry at everyone and recoiling from the touch of others. Just before she turns ten, Victoria goes to live with Elizabeth and it is shut who teaches Victoria the language of flowers. Fast-forward to when Victoria turns eighteen, she is alone (again), with only her gift of floristry behind her. When a florist discovers the gift Victoria has, she not only offers her a job, but sets her onto a path which will culminate in her past catching up with her.

That is a very brief, vague outline of the plot. I don't want to give too much away with this novel. Diffenbaugh tackles a lot of themes - identity, love, family, motherhood and forgiveness to name a few. And throughout all of these, the Victorian language of flowers is used as a way for Victoria to express her emotions. Yet, even though the heart of this novel lies within the language and sentiment of flowers, there is nothing 'flowery' about this book. Diffenbaugh does not shy away from the darker side of human life and relationships - the selfishness of love, the fear of motherhood.

I really enjoyed this debut. I would recommend it to others and I will look at what Diffenbaugh has to offer next.
I may also go and add to my own collection of botany books, especially ones which look at the lanaguage of flowers. . .
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2013
What a superb read. Highly emotive but sensitively written, this novel opens your eyes to the reality of those in the care system. I cried often but was ultimately satisfied with the resolution reached by all characters. Highly recommended.
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