Lila Nova has just gotten divorced from her husband and moved into a sterile and boxy New York apartment. One day as she is perusing the outdoor market, she comes across a plant stall run by the outdoorsy and rugged David Exley. When Exley convinces Lila to purchase an expensive tropical plant, she quickly becomes enamored both of her new bird of paradise and the handsome man who brought it into her life. Though things with Exley don't go as planned, Lila soon discovers a strange and charismatic man named Armand who runs a laundromat overrun by tropical plants and discovers the potent myth of the nine plants of desire. When Exley uses Lila to gain access to Armand and the nine plants, Lila is left responsible to replace the powerful and magical nine. Soon she is traveling to the jungles of the Yucatan with Armand, steeped in danger both from the people who protect the plants and the jungle and wildlife surrounding it. It is in this exotic locale that Lila not only finds the secrets she is searching for, but also finds a chance at a once in a lifetime love. In this clever and visceral novel, Berwin brings to life the magic and myth of the nine plants of desire and the powerful struggle that Lila must face to regain them all and bring them home.
About a year ago I made the great discovery of an independent bookstore in the downtown area of my city. When I went in to check it out, I discovered this book, just released in hardcover, on one of the front tables. The gentleman behind the counter told me it was a wonderful book and I quickly took it to a comfy chair and began checking it out. Though I didn't leave with it that day, I added it to my ever-growing wish list and told myself that it would definitely be a purchase sometime soon. So, when I saw that TLC was doing a book tour of this title, I quickly asked Trish if I could join in. I was really excited to get the chance to read this book, and despite some mild setbacks, I found that it truly didn't disappoint.
When the story first opens, Lila is wandering around the confines of her life and it is obvious that she is searching for something. Though she has a great job and interesting friends, there seems to be a hunger in her to connect more fully with the world around her. It is about this time that she discovers Exley and his plants and really begins to get embroiled in the events that will change her life. I felt I could really sympathize with Lila. For one, she was a smart cookie who felt an inexpressible longing to break out of her boundaries. Though at times she could be a little myopic, she seemed to have good intentions and was ever struggling to make more of herself and to encounter new situations. I felt a little anxious for her as she realized that Exley had used and duped her, and also felt that although her new friendship with Armand was a positive thing, there was something a little fishy about him. Armand saw a very different side of Lila and it wasn't exactly flattering. At first I was confused about his perceptions of her, but later on in the book, Lila seemed to shed the nice girl attitude and become a more fully realized and complex character who was at times manipulative and conniving. This was harder to get used to because I felt like I was sure I knew Lila and this new attitude didn't really fit with my experiences of her. Once Lila had begun to morph though, the wild ride of her adventure was set to begin.
As Armand and Lila head off into the Yucatan, the story starts to flower, so to speak. Lila's task is to locate the nine plants of desire. Once the plants are collected, the magic combination promises to bring untold rewards to the owners of the plants. I really began to sit up and pay attention once these adventures began. For the most part, the rain forest and jungles that Lila explored became a character in itself. It was full of life, both the quiet and peaceful kind and the violent and destructive kind. Reading about the oppressive heat and insects made me feel like I was right there alongside Lila, cutting my way through the vegetation and slapping the bugs away. Though I enjoyed the adventurous trek through the jungle, other parts of Lila's quest were a little harder to handle. There is a small part of this book that deals with the unfortunate fates of the dogs that are used in harvesting one of the nine plants. Coming across this section and its bizarreness and violence actually made me very angry and made me want to abandon the book. I didn't feel like there was a reason for this plot device other than to provoke and inflame the reader, and as it stood, this one piece of the the book did end up tempering my enjoyment of the whole.
There was a lot of raw sexuality and carnality in this book, which although I didn't expect, actually heightened my enjoyment of it. I thought it was very cleverly done and not at all inappropriate or gratuitous, when it could easily have been both. As it was, it gave the narrative a sexy and provocative vibe and did a lot to demonstrate the chemistry and passion between two of the main characters. This didn't feel like any cheesy old romance; instead it felt more like a natural progression of the attraction that the last half of the book focused on. It was a great culmination of all that had come before and these aspects felt very organic and well written. Additionally, the sexuality of the book was not confined to the humans in the plot. In what I can only describe as an amazing feat of creativity, the personalities and aspects of certain plants also spoke of desire, attraction and sexuality. This specific function and behavior of some of the plants was intensely interesting and thought-provoking to read about and did a lot to take the story to the next level.
There was also a lot of action and adventure in this story and these sections kept me involved and wondering just where this story was heading. I will say this for Berwin's writing, it is not in the least predictable and it has an originality that often pleased and awed me. Most of the action was set in the jungle/rain forest sections, making these sections doubly interesting and pleasing for me to read. I often found the action riveting and it captured my interest not only for its quirkiness but for its ability to transform my prior expectations and its power to get me to suspend my sense of disbelief. It was a great book to get lost in and an entertaining read all around, and as Lila hunted her way through the Yucatan, the plants and animals that came out of the woodwork to challenge her brought a feeling of exoticism and novelty to the book.
While I was less than happy with once aspect of the plot, the majority of the book managed to enthrall and excite me. I think this is a book that straddles many genres, including romance, adventure and women's fiction, and I am happy to say this made a great summer read. I think many different types of readers would enjoy this book, and for those who are looking for a story that excites and will keep you guessing, this would make a wonderful read. Perfect in its inventiveness and its action, Houthouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire is a entertainingly stellar read.
Good news! The wonderful people over at Vintage Contemporaries is generously providing me with one copy of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire to give away to my readers! If you would like a chance to win a copy of this fabulous read, please leave me a comment on this post that includes your email address. You must leave a valid email address to be entered in this drawing. The winner will be determined with the help of random.org on September 1st, 2010. Good Luck to all entrants!
|About the Author
Margot Berwin won a merit scholarship for creative writing from the New School and earned her MFA in 2005. Her stories have appeared on Nerve.com, EssaysAndFictions.com, The New York Press and in the Anthology The Future of Misbehavior. She lives in New York City.
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|A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.