REVIEW: A novel about opening up

Aug. 08, 2014 @ 10:27 AM

SUMMER READING: The staff of The Herald-Sun Books section shares our recommendations for great summer reading all summer long.

“The Art of Arranging Flowers”
by Lynne Branard (Berkley/Penguin, softcover, $15)

A novel under a new name but by a familiar author, “The Art of Arranging Flowers” is a gentle, comforting read about small-town life and opening up. The author is Lynne Branard, which is the married name of author Lynne Hinton, whose novels include “Pie Town” and “Friendship Cake.”
A little different than her previous novels, “The Art of Arranging Flowers” is set in the Pacific Northwest fictional town of Creekside -- a place where there’s routine even in the abrupt life events. A florist knows there will be weddings, funerals, births and celebrations all year, and Ruby is at the center of it all.
Ruby leaves a law career to become a florist, because it’s the flowers that saved her after her sister died. Ruby uses flowers to help save others – their friendships, their relationships and their special occasions. Her florist shop is more than just a business. She hasn’t raised the rates in years, and gets return business because they all know and love her. However, she artfully arranges bouquets for their love lives while her own goes untended. What’s interesting about “The Art of Arranging Flowers” is that the love that blossoms in Ruby’s life as the story unfolds isn’t necessarily romantic love, but love in other kinds of relationships. She begins a friendship with an older, retired astronaut, Dan, who gently urges her to look beyond herself. Not just to the skies, but to what she could have if she opened up a bit like the blooming flora that surrounds her.
There seems to be a bit more to “The Art of Arranging Flowers” compared to Branard’s recent novels also set in a small town, “Pie Town” and “Welcome Back to Pie Town.” The conversations are a bit deeper, the characters more intriguing, the effects on the reader are more lasting.
While the story is about life events, death is a significant portion, too, particularly how people exit the earth. It’s interesting to read characters’ explorations of their feelings about their own mortality as well as the impact of others’ deaths on them.
Branard was born in Durham and worked in ministry in North Carolina and the Southwest. She was ordained by the United Church of Christ and is trained as a hospice chaplain. Her Hope Springs series, as Hinton, includes books with “cake” in the title. She has also written mysteries as Jackie Lynn.
“The Art of Arranging Flowers,” though it includes a years-later epilogue, could still be the beginning of a series about Creekside and the characters there. The novel also includes a reading guide, and the issues it brings up – family, death, letting down walls – would make for a good book club discussion.

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