I have never met a houseplant I couldn’t kill. Seriously. If you visit my home, you will see lovely yards, expertly cared for by my wonderful gardener who trims, fertilizes, transplants, and adjusts the timing of the automatic sprinkler system. Inside? There are no plants because I have the world’s brownest thumb. I prefer to live in a house with plenty of windows from I enjoy the beautiful flowers and trees in my yard.
So I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to read, much less review Margot Berwin’s debut novel, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire, because I really don’t have any knowledge of or interest in horticulture. But after some urging by the folks at TLC Book Tours, I relented. And I’m glad I did!
Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
Lila Nova is a 32-year-old divorced, childless advertising executive. After four years of marriage, her alcoholic husband left her and, in short order, left the next woman with whom he became involved, as well, which gave her some degree of satisfaction. Her newly renovated New York City studio apartment has absolutely no character. It’s a box with white walls, parquet floor, and low ceilings. She decides that some foliage will “spruce the place up, no pun intended,” so she stops at the Union Square Green Market. There she encounters a vendor named David Exley who convinces her to purchase a bird of paradise plant because it can thrive in her new apartment with its ample light and southern exposure.
~~ Armand in Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
Shortly thereafter, Lila happens upon a laundromat with lush, moist moss on the floor, tropical plants hanging from the ceilings, and green grass atop the washers and dryers. Bees, butterflies, and other creatures abound. It is a most unusual establishment where patrons line up outside the door in order to experience the tropical wonderland the eccentric proprietor, Armand, has created right in the middle of Manhattan. They also seek Armand’s advice and counsel.
Hanging in the front window of the laundromat is a rare fire fern, from which Armand gives Lila a cutting. He instructs her to put it in water and keep it in a completely dark room — and let him know if she manages to get the clipping to take root. When she succeeds, Armand tells her about the myth of the nine plants of desire which, to Lila’s surprise, he has managed to collect and keeps in the back room of the laundromat. The nine exotic species are so powerful that when one person amasses one of each of them, he or she will have everything that he or she desires, and eternal luck and happiness. But Armand will not let Lila see the plants yet and warns her not to tell anyone else that he has them.
Naturally, Lila does not heed Armand’s warning … and the adventure begins. Before it is over, Lila will have braved the Mexican rain forest and learned the truth not only about Armand and the nine plants of desire, but also … about herself.
It’s “Romancing the Stone” meets “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” complete with mystery, intrigue, romance, a devilish villain, shamans, spirit animals, and the most exotic location imaginable full of dangerous, wild creatures like scorpions, rattle snakes, and panthers. Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire is a fast-paced, unforgettable and genuinely mythic adventure. It is also incredibly funny, thanks to Lila’s observations of the outlandish circumstances in which she finds herself and her tendency toward outbursts that reveal Lila and the reader are thinking the same thing at the same moment!
And then there’s the plant mythology, all made up by Berwin. Armand DiMele was her real-life psychotherapist from whom she sought advice and counsel following her 2005 divorce. “He turned me on to plants,” according to Berwin, a native New Yorker. “Whenever he would take this little scissor and start cutting them, I would get very focused on the plants and I was able to retain whatever he was telling me. The plants held my attention in a way nothing ever had.” Walking through Manhattan one day, Berwin happened upon a laundromat in which there were a lot of plants. The Columbian owner told her that they thrived because of the mist from the washers and dryers, and gave her a cutting from one. That’s how she got the idea for the character of Armand and the story of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire.
From there, she began researching exotic plants and actually cared for a bird of paradise. “It got so big I used to sit underneath it when I was writing the book,” she said.
Berwin thought of the nine things she believes people want most, and then searched for a flower whose characteristics matched each desire, inventing the myth about finding true happiness and contentment upon acquiring all nine varieties. She selected the plants “by intuition, from dreams and gut feelings:”
There is one additional plant that figures prominently in the story, but to tell you what plant it is or how it figures into the tale would spoil part of the fun of reading the book.
And fun is the best way to describe Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. It is pure escapism that will keep you guessing — and squirming as Lila encounters various creepy crawling creatures and even creepier humans, and gets herself into all sorts of awkward, terrifying situations and places.
Nonetheless, Lila’s journey is epic. She learns the importance of knowing whom you can trust and, above all else, learning to trust your own instincts in order to discover who you really are and what will make you truly happy.
The movie version of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire is already in development with Julia Roberts scheduled to play Lila. And Berwin is planning to write a sequel to her dazzling, unusual, and thoroughly entertaining debut novel.
Enter to win a copy of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire
Fun is meant to be shared! So the author has graciously provided one (1) copy of the book for me to award to a lucky winner whose name will be selected at random!
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Books can only be shipped to United States or Canadian addresses (no P.O. boxes).
Wednesday, September 15, 2010, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)
The winner will be selected at random and announced soon thereafter.
I read Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire free of charge from TLC Book Tours as part of the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”