Lila Nova needs some beauty in her life. After an ugly divorce and a move to a lonely, characterless studio apartment, Lila wanders into a New York City market and begins to transform her barren home with a tropical plant—a bird of paradise. Lila’s impulse buy  becomes a source of therapy, a relief from a life filled with so much that’s ugly: the divorce, a cutthroat advertising career and a boss who’s a pervert.

With her newfound love of plants fresh on her mind, Lila encounters a Laundromat filled with tropical flowers, so lush and verdant that it feels more like a greenhouse than a place to clean your clothes. The curious owner, Armand, teaches Lila about the mythical nine plants of desire. Each plant is a key to the things people most desire—fortune, immortality, love and so on—and that’s something Armand has learned first-hand. He owns the plants and credits them with his quirky Laundromat’s success. But when his plants are stolen, Lila takes a chance and travels to Mexico with Armand, prepared to unearth the mythical nine plants—and herself.

First-time novelist Margot Berwin’s descriptions are as luxurious as the tropical plants themselves in Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. When she describes a character, Berwin writes in such sensuous detail as to bring the person to life, as though you hold not a page but a stage with live actors.

That’s to be expected from a woman who has written scintillating essays for Nerve.com, a saucy website dedicated to sex and culture. But while the characters in Hothouse Flower find plenty of reasons to sweat in paradise, it’s Berwin’s very real love of plants that focuses the novel. Berwin combines her gardening knowledge with adept storytelling to weave together a tale of romance, adventure and intrigue that will enchant readers, green thumbed or not.

Carla Jean Whitley writes from Birmingham, Alabama, where she has never grown more than potted herbs and ferns.

 

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