Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Romancing the Stoma…

You know that feeling, when you look at a book’s cover, read the jacket copy, and think, “Okay, I know what to expect here.” That’s what I thought entering into Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. I was expecting some light chick-lit with a fish out of water bent. And to a degree, that’s what I got. But I also got a whole lot that I didn’t expect.

Divorced Manhattan ad exec Lila Nova is a sympathetic character, but she was… harder than I expected. As the novel opens, she’s trying to adapt to a new life alone in a featureless white box of an apartment. On a hunt for a little greenery to spruce the place up, she meets ruggedly handsome greensman, David Exley. It’s easy to buy what he’s selling, and what he’s selling is a bird-of-paradise. It’s Lila’s first tropical plant, and it brings her a peace and comfort she never would have expected. She finds herself interested in learning more about tropicals and more about the tropical plant salesman—despite his mixed signals.

Walking home one night, Lila spies a gorgeous plant in a laundromat’s window. Entering the establishment to see it closer, she enters a whimsical oasis in lower Manhattan. Warm air from the dryers and humidity from the washing machines help support a tropical paradise. There’s soft moss on the floor, grass growing on top of the machines, tropical flowers and plants of every kind hanging from the ceiling, and even animals in this urban ecosystem! The proprietor of this odd laundry is an even odder character named Armand. I expected him to be a kindly old mentor type, but Armand defied my expectations at every turn. He was fascinating, strange, disturbing, mystical, and compelling. On their first meeting, Armand gives Lila a cutting from the plant that drew her in and challenges her to grow it. He tells her if she succeeds that he’ll show her the “nine plants of desire” he keeps locked in the back room, and warns her to tell no one about them.

Infatuated Lila is indiscreet, and suddenly both Exley and the plants are gone. Lila feels terrible, and Armand uses her guilt as leverage to talk her into a frankly crazy journey to the Yucatan to hunt for replacement plants. Off-balance in Mexico, Lila meets the hot and erotic Diego, and it’s non-stop adventure, romance, and mysticism from there. I couldn’t help but think of the film Romancing the Stone, but with plants as the treasure instead of jewels.

This is a quick read. I’d be shocked if it took you more than five hours. It’s just the right length to stay light and entertaining. I have a very limited tolerance for the type of mystical mumbo jumbo that some of the characters espouse, but the plants were great and the men were hunky. So, I chose to just sit back and enjoy the scenery on this magical mystery tour.

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