Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Revelation on megabus and the 9 plants of desire

I was given the book Hothouse Flower and The 9 Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin to review. The publisher's synopsis is:

Lila Nova is a thirty-two year-old advertising copyrighter who lives alone in a plain, white box of an apartment. Recovering from a heartbreaking divorce, Lila’s mantra is simple: no pets, no plants, no people, no problems. But when Lila meets David Exley, a ruggedly handsome plant-seller, her lonely life blossoms into something far more colorful. From the cold, harsh streets of Manhattan to the verdant jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula, Hothouse Flower is the story of a woman who must travel beyond the boundaries of sense and comfort to find what she truly wants.

I'm going to talk about my own personal take. I enjoyed the book overall; it was an engaging, quick read. I read the first half on megabus on the way to Chicago and the second half at the Lurie Garden in Chicago.

In fact, I left the book tucked in some calamint at the Lurie when I was done, hoping it would make a nice surprise for someone else.

I liked how the book tied people's love of plants to their growth as people. I was amazed by how much in the book resonated with me and was struck by how many quotes really hit home.

One of the characters thought technology was superior to the natural world, and that nature was useless. When Lila's cell phone battery oozed and disintegrated in the jungle, she thought "The old nature kicked the new nature's ass." It reminded me of a caption to a photo a friend once took of grasses growing over an old tractor: "When the works of nature cover the works of man, that's progress."

In one scene Sonali tells Lila, "Once you make a decision, you must stop thinking about it and take action without any regret toward the outcome, regardless of that outcome" (emphasis mine). In other words, once you make a decision, don't waste time and energy focusing on what if. Own the decision. This really, really hit home and was just what I need to hear right at that very moment.

Sonali continued, "Regrets are for people who believe they could have done something differently. If you think carefully about your actions, and then you act, you will have no regrets because you will know that you were as careful as possible when you made the decision."

It was also cool to find out my last name is part of the Spanish word for seeds, semilla.

I really liked Armand and Sonali's deep love and passion for one another. It was nice to see such depth of feelings between older, outside-of-the-norm, squishy-around-the-middle people. That true love is not only reserved for the young, hot, and fit.

I also liked the idea of flower versus root people, with root people "drawn to the darker side of things, the underground or unseen aspects." I'm definitely a root person.

I love Diego's take on people losing their personal identity, in favor of being what society wants, a little bit every year like a zipper slowly closing the person up in one of those full-body, "mummy" sleeping bags. He was very much into knowing who you are and being that person.

He told Lila, "Believe me, when you know yourself, you never want to pretend to be anything else ever again because it is better than anything you have ever pretended, or dreamed up, or imagined, or become." That so resonated with what I've been working toward over the last 8 or so years, I got all misty-eyed, right there on megabus.

The book really helped me tie some loose ends in my mental ether, and for that I'm in Berwin's debt.

Edited: Frances asked what the nine plants are, and of course you guys are gonna wanna know that. How silly of me! They're:

Gloxina, Gloxina speciosa, love
Mexican cycad, Zamia furfuracea, immortality
Cacoa, Theobroma cacao, wealth
Moonflower, Ipomoea alba, fertility
Sensemilla, Cannabis sativa, female sexuality
Lily of the valley, Convallarria majalis, life force
Mandrake, Atropa mandragora, magic
Chicory, Cichorium intybus, freedom
Datura, Datura inoxia, adventure

And a tenth: the passion plant with no name whose form curls inward like a mandala.

Stop reading now if you don't want spoilers!

Being who I am with no regrets, I admit some scenes at the end of the book were hard for me to accept. I understand the book is light reading, escapist or fantasy but not literal, but I got a bit lost somewhere between the realistic beginning and the magical, mystical end.

I was on-board with Diego drinking with the deer; he is connected to the land in a way Lila is not, and getting a group of harmless animals to accept you, versus run away from you, is one thing. However, I did not buy that a black panther would lead Lila, an urban dweller with no animal whispering skills we knew of, to David's house instead of, say, dousing her in BBQ sauce (metaphorically) and having her for dinner (literally).

I was puzzled by how they got the deadly scorpions into the piñatas without getting stung. I wondered how the scorpions survived for days or weeks, and why they didn't chew their way out.

I got the feeling I was supposed to like or relate to Lila, who consistently did more harm than good. I didn't. I wanted to kick her really hard for feeding the mandrake to Diego. Perhaps she was a metaphor for how developed nations perceive and impose their views on developing countries.

Ever since Diego mentioned, when he first met Lila, that one of the nine desires was knowledge, I waited anxiously to discover what the corresponding plant was, but it was never revealed.

I also thought Lila going back to NYC the day Armand told her to was out of character after all she supposedly learned and changed. I suspect, in fact, she did not return to Mexico after all, and fell back into her NYC life.

On balance, I have no regrets reading the book and came away with a lot from it. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to review it.


  1. Sounds like a good book for you to read it so fast. I hope whoever found it took it as a gift and enjoys it too! Flower people vs root people?:) Sounds kind of like avatar.

  2. That is so cool that you left the book at the Lurie, Monica! I hope someone found it and rescued it before it got wet. I will imagine that they did. I wanted to know the 9 plants, did they name them or was it a metaphor? It sounds like you were meant to read this and be inspired. I am so glad. :-)

  3. Tina, I did like it but the end kinda left me "eh."

    Frances, they did name the nine plants, which I've added to the main entry. Lol, *of course* gardeners are gonna wanna know that!

  4. Hi Monica, I rarely read fiction. For one reason and one reason only, after the first chapter I often become disinterested.

    I have to say I loved reading your was not boring and held my interest right until the last word.

    I remember an elderly woman saying to me many years ago 'we are all actors and actresses dear, we play the part that we think others want to see.'
    She was a very wise old lady.
    As I have said to you before Monica....I am at last my own person, and I have never been happier.I am quite a bit older than you, so perhaps in time you will achieve your personally goals emotionally.

    I do not live with regret. We all make mistakes and to honour them, perhaps we must just learn from them and move on.

    I wish you well in your soul searching.....BTW crying is very good for the soul.

  5. Sounds like an interesting book, Monica. I should take inspiration from the quote about making decisions--I spend far too much time worrying about whether I've made the right choices. Only you would think to leave the book at the Lurie:) Some lucky visitor is probably thanking you right now.

    I had a great time this past Saturday; so glad you invited us all! I'm trying to get a post together, but discovered I've run out of photo storage--technology can be so maddening.

  6. It sounds like an interesting book Monica and I hope the peson who found it enjoyed it too!

    A couple of those quotes resonated with me too, even though I am very comfortable with who I am nowadays! I might well treat myself to a copy :)

  7. Hello there!
    I'm the author of Hothouse Flower and I really love your review. It's incredibly satisfying as a writer to have someone relate to your work.
    I'm also love that you left the book in calamint for someone else to find. I do that with books too. I'll usually hand a book I like to a stranger sitting next to me at a coffee shop or bar.

    It's interesting to me that the parts of the book you liked the most were actually the hardest to write. I'm glad someone out there enjoyed them!
    To be honest I NEVER thought about that scorpion thing before. maybe someone put food in the pinata for them-But you have a point there!

    as for Lila-yes, i've heard this before. My next book has a more likable protagonist (i hope)

    Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to write an insightful and thorough review. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

    Margot Berwin
    Hothouse Flower and the nine plants of desire

  8. Cheryl, I rarely read books full stop, which I maybe should have mentioned. I like young-adult historical fiction, esp. Ann Rinaldi, and I have read a LOT on the Holocaust, but I can't remember the last "adult" fiction book I started, let alone finished. I think my life journey is going well and I mostly like who I am. (Though I have my moments!)

    Rose, it was great seeing you and Beckie, too. You guys are a lot of fun. I admit I did find leaving the book a stroke of genius, lol!

    Nutty, life's a journey, innit?

    Margot, Thanks for reading and commenting on my review. I found the book engaging and the fact that I got worked up about the characters just shows you it pulled me in. I'm glad that's the way you took it, because I didn't mean to criticize the writing; it's just that everyone approaches books (and life!) from their own perspective and experience, so different things are going to resonate (or not) with different people.

    In many ways, what we take away from an experience depends a lot on what we brought into it.

  9. Hi, Monica;
    I LOVE the fact that you left that book in the garden as a sweet surprise for another flower lover.

    Also ~ great review. I read Bloomingwriter's review, as well. (You two think alike. :) Since 'escapist' stuff is very welcome during the snowstorms of February, I still might put it on the list.

    Hope you're swell.

  10. Thanks for the book review, Monica. It is always good to get a review for a book I might otherwise not see. My selections usually are whatever I can find at Goodwill, but when I get one recommended to me, I will order it from

  11. Monica, This book does sound interesting as a light read. And even a light read can leave you with words of wisdom. I don't see you as a root person looking for the dark. I see you as flowering wherever and under what ever conditions life gives you. Now if think of stable and nurturing roots, that's how I see myself.

    Thanks for such a grand time Sat. It was wionderful to see you again and of course the others. Always such a pleasure to see gardens with other gardeners!

  12. Will be on my Kindle list for sure. Sounds right up my alley. Which quote were you referring to yesterday - the one about regrets? Because that's pretty awesome. I also think you're awesome for paying it forward at the Lurie Garden.

  13. Loving this blog! Added you to my blog roll:)

  14. I tried to read this book over the summer. I had to give up. I can't read a book where the characters behave so stupidly. I just wanted to slap the main character upside the head. I'm glad you found redeeming qualities to the book. I gave up when she was driving through the jungle and stopped the car.

  15. I'm so glad that you found some things that really resonated for you in this book! Thanks for being a part of the tour. :)

  16. It sounds like a decent read Monica and worth the time especially when we walk away with a new understanding about life and ourselves. Thanks for the review~Just in case I stopped at the spoilers~gail

  17. Sounds perfect for holiday reading Monica. Have made a note of the title. What a lovely find that will make for some lucky passer by.

  18. Funny how the reviews are so varied on this one. I actually disliked it quite a bit, tried to be diplomatic and see the good aspects of it when I wrote my review, but ultimately--this is one of about half a dozen books I've read for reviewing purposes over the years that I have thrown across the room, and then left outside in the rain. I was going to donate it to the local library. But then I was afraid someone might read it and think it was what good writing is supposed to be like. It is much more useful as compost.

  19. Das klingt nach einem interessanten Buch. Wie schade, dass ich nicht da vorbei gelaufen bin, wo Du's zurück gelassen hast. Ich hätte mich darüber gefreut, so wie jetzt sich hoffendlich jemand anders darüber freut.
    Toll, dass Du reviews schreiben kannst... das ist ein spannender Job, vor allem wenn man gerne liest.
    Liebe Grüsse aus der Schweiz

  20. Great story and great book review.
    Now I know why you made some room in your garden:)
    Thank you for your comments.
    LG Gisela

  21. Don't know what to say because it doesn't sound like 'my kind of book' but I'll say hello.



  22. Kate, it was hard to relate to the first 2/3 so well and then get angry at the last 1/3!

    MGRR, I don't actually read a lot full stop and I can say the book was compelling enough to go quickly.

    Beckie, I like to find wisdom wherever I can! Thanks for thinking I'm a flower. You may have inspired a post on how I see myself versus how others see me. :) (Cuz, yeah, everyone's really gonna care about that, HA!)

    Katie, I guess I just didn't want it weighing down my bag... um, I mean, YES! I was paying it forward. Yep, that was it.

    FF, thanks.

    MMD, for the first 2/3 the stuff the resonated with me was important. I never liked Lila but when she fed Diego (ah muy guapo y inteligente Diego) the mandrake I would have stopped reading if it weren't for the review.

    Heather, you're welcome.

    Gail and Anna, you might find the end frustrating!

    Jodi, it really was a mixed bag for me; I really liked Armand, he reminded me of my bff.

    Alex, eigentlich lese ich sehr wenig; hauptsaechlich Sachbücher und historische Romane fuer Teens (z.B. Ann Rinaldi). Dieses Buch sagte mir, das belibt eine gute Idee fuer mich! ;-)

    Gisela, hallo! Gut wieder zu hoeren.

    Lucy, hello! ;-)

  23. Sounds like a book I'd resonate with Monica. I love your review, and love that you left the book at the Lurie.

    To me, one of the best things about life is no matter where we are in our enlightenment, there is always more to learn, and more ways to grow. Life is meant to be a continual, beautiful process of letting go, and regrets are some of the best things to let go of.