Book Review: Hothouse Flower, by Margot Berwin

On a whim I picked up Margot Berwin's novel, "Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire," (Pantheon, 2009). It was on clearance at a book store and I thought it might make a nice summer read, with no greater expectation of romance-novel fluff.
It does have elements of that, most definitely, but it's a deeper, darker read, laced with a bit of the mystic, touches of desire, and if you love plants or gardening, it could very well make you take root and read through at a feverish pace.
I plucked it up one night, expecting little from the bold, brash cover, but was swiftly swept away. The protagonist, Lila Nova, is in advertising and recently divorced. She one day happens by a plant seller and picks up a tropical plant, a bird of paradise, and discovers a green thumb she never knew she had. Soon she's picking up other plants, and semi-flirting with Exley, the man who sold her that first plant.
One day, by chance, she stumbles upon a Laundromat filled with plants. She steps in, surprised at the moss-covered floor and the flora throughout and strikes up conversation with Armand, the mysterious owner. He ends up giving her a rare fern cutting and tells her to keep it in a dark room, and to come back when — or rather, if — it sprouts roots. She does as he instructs, and in the meantime begins to learn about the mysterious and fabled nine plants of desire. Each plant is sought after for its qualities that mankind wants — love, fortune and so on. Armand tells her he may show her his collection of nine plants, if she is worthy.
The fern obviously takes root, and with that complications ensue. Lila lets Exley know about Armand and the nine plants, which Exley has heard of, and Lila feels excitement at her attraction to Exley and this shared mystery. But soon she betrays Armand, unintentionally, and is betrayed, intentionally, by Exley.
Her desire to set things right takes her to Mexico, in the Yucatan, to reclaim the nine plants. Lila tracks through miles of jungle, runs into snakes, scorpions and (of course) plants, plus has to battle her own weaknesses and Exley's deception. She also meets Diego, a hot man of nature and the son of a mystic healer, who guides and tantalizes her throughout her journey.
It's a sultry read, though I wouldn't call it super sexed-up or anything, but it's a fun little adventure in the streets of New York City and in the jungles of the Yucatan, peppered with interesting plant lore. It's definitely a fun little escape.


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