Hothouse Flower

So, I do enjoy blogging, and employed in the publishing industry but with few occasions to write, I have been thinking that it might be a good idea to start looking into more professional-like opportunities related to garden writing. I have previously signed up to be on the list of book reviewers for Washington Gardener magazine, but I haven't heard anything from the editor yet--I think there's a large list of book reviewers already.

So when MrBrownThumb tweeted an opportunity to review a plant-related novel, which seemed like a right romp based on the paragraph-long description of it, I jumped on it. I'm toward the end of a long line of garden, travel, and book bloggers who are reviewing this novel on this online "book tour." The brief description of the book and the full list of "stops" with links to the respective reviews can be viewed here for your pleasure. Go check it out now before you read my post, because it'll give you the tiny bit of background needed, but I have to get into the meat of this review before I blow a gasket.

For the first several dozen pages, I wanted to gouge out my eyes. A few friends got the brunt of that frustration while I described the story with wild gesticulations and (what seemed to be to them) hilarious metaphors.

The character development was tedious. The only scene that seemed to have any flow, character, LIFE was one in which the protagonist found out that her boss peeked up supermodels' skirts using hidden cameras. I think that was a factor of the author actually having experience in the advertising industry in New York City and with such men. The rest of the book seemed very... L'Etranger--y'know, except how that was a masterpiece and intentional. And yet, I actually connected with Meursault in that novel. Despite the author intentionally creating a character distant from what one generally considers proper and rational social behaviour, Meursault seemed at least to be a human being--or maybe it was because others around him in the novel reacted in a more human, expected fashion that it made him seem plausible.

Lila Nova and her cadre of coworkers and plant friends aren't, however. The dialogue felt forced. Descriptions of characters, whether emotionally, physically, or mentally, seemed pretty haphazard. I still have no idea really what the main character looks like. She's a chick with at least shoulder-length wavy blond hair. Oh, and she has nipples. I assume she's white, because of the blond hair, but being a New York City advertising copywriter, the main character could have dyed blond hair and be of Indian or Japanese descent for all I know. Although there's mention of her maybe being Jewish, it's phrased in such a way that I'm not really sure whether that person is saying that he knows she is or not.

I mean, I guess it's a literary device to leave descriptions out and allow the readers to supply them, drawing them in by allowing them to fill in unsupplied details with those of their own to better identify with the characters. So, I'll give the author that one, grudgingly.

But, I'm not a 30-something recent divorcee from New York City, and after feeling almost forced to read this book (I want to read it, I want to give an objective review, I want to do this professionally!), I couldn't help but nitpick.

(Small side-track with a purpose: When I got the book in the mail, the advertising materials started by calling the book "The sizzling beach read of the season." I said "Uh oh" to myself. "I thought this book was about plants and mystery?")

I almost started counting how many times "sex" and "sexual" were used in the book.

Sheer forceful repetition does not make a steamy novel. The book, really, is about how this main chica is really horny--the plants and the trip to Mexico are only secondary. The entire book's plot stems from her wanting to get nailed by a, and I quote from the second page of the book, "country-sexual" plant dealer.

After she does, she then proceeds to have dream-sex with a panther, become aroused by a friend's wife, almost jump on a dude who has a gun pointed at her and then poison him almost lethally to get him to sleep with her, then have her entire naked body rubbed (with special attention to her nipples) by that poisoned dude's mother, and then almost have a threesome with a rattlesnake and the "country-sexual" dude. Oh, and there's some plant lore thrown in there, too.

Now you know everything about the book: awkward sexual relations. Do a few Google searches, find a few new-age plant dealers and mash up their product descriptions within quotes at somewhat odd times during the story, throw in some 1.5-dimensional characters with stilted dialogue and little development, and you have "Hothouse Flower."

After a conversation or two with another blogger who is also a stop on the "book tour," I gained a slightly different perspective about this novel. When I picked it up the other day, after putting off finishing it for weeks, I stopped nitpicking as much and enjoyed it as I enjoyed the movie "Elektra": not for the intended entertainment of mystery and romance, but for the situational comedy the author seems to have created and the pure ridiculousness of it all.

And here's a little side-rant that I had originally intended to be the meat of my post because, hey, I'm a garden blogger and the plants were what got me interested in reviewing this book in the first place, but this content got shoved aside as my ire at the other parts of the book grew: Although it seemed quite obvious to me that the author lifted product descriptions from plant catalogs to weave the mystique into her created myth of the "nine plants of desire," the reactions people had to some of those and other plants in the book seemed ridiculous to me. For example, the "country-sexual" plant dealer flips out on the main character, offering her $500 on the spot for a rooted cutting of Oxalis hedysaroides "Rubra." Which you can purchase on eBay for $5.99. It's not like the book's mythical nine plants of desire are especially rare or anything, either. (Also, guess what? I'm growing Datura, one of the nine plants, right now at Mr. Yogato, and above, in the photo, you can see my Sinningia, another of the nine plants of desire, just about thinking of going dormant.) I told myself, "Okay, y'know, the author is using plants that exist in our universe to create a different universe that has the same societies and plants, but some plants are just slightly more rare and a bit different than they are in our universe. Okay, fine..." But when, at one point, the main character's plant friend (not the "country-sexual," because by this time, he's the bad guy) tells her that they are going to buy one of the nine plants of desire, I thought "Wait, hold the frikkin' phone. These people traveled all the way to Mexico to find these crazy plants, and he's just going to buy them? Why the heck didn't they go on eBay in the first place? Anyone could find these plants and have their desires fulfilled, then!?" I was frustrated anew.

I appreciate a little fantasy in my thriller, a little scifi in my horror, a little somethin' in my somethin' else. I love cross-genre books. I do not love this one. It tried too hard to be something that it failed to be anything much.

I can't recommend this book, really, unless you know nothing about human interaction or plants, or unless you are at least a little masochistic (or you're interested in steamy bestial panther-sex).

Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

8 Responses to Hothouse Flower

  1. LMAO! I'll hold off on this one :)

  2. Arrrghhhh...It's never fun to wake up to a bad review, especially such a LONG, bad review...:)
    But, that said, I appreciate the sincerity and I want to say thanks for taking the time to write the piece.

    Margot Berwin

  3. the camus comparison is great. :)

  4. Excellent review! It's great to see another critical review on the circuit (I posted one earlier at

    The comparison to L'Etranger blows my mind! Lila is so similar to Meursault -- just going through the motions of life, feeling nothing. Really smart.

    I actually spoke to another blogger about how the cuttings retail for so little. I think the story would have worked better if a fictional plant were used there, don't you think?

  5. Erin, if you'd like, I'll let you borrow the book. No need to hold off! :P

    Margot, I appreciate your comment. I look forward to seeing future works (and maybe the movie, just to compare the two pieces), because you now hold a special place in my heart of "first experiences," but this particular novel really rankled me.

    Catherine, you are extraordinarily fluffy (inside joke, forsooth). I'm glad you and Kate liked the comparison. By the way, Kate, I appreciated your post--it was truly well done, and I wish I had organized myself a little better, as you did, but to be honest, I finished the book at 10 PM the night before my post was due. There were a lot of examples (such as the outrageous reaction Exley had to the Oxalis plantling or how Lila hesitates at buying a $200 plant but barely thinks about leaving her surely insanely priced NYC apartment for an unknown period of time, clearly having to pay rent on the empty space while not working and with no sure prospect of employment upon her return--which just seems a bit nonsensical, but I guess not out of character for her) that I would have liked to include to support my overall claims of "Aaaaarrghghhh!!!", but, well, I didn't.

    One of the things I definitely discussed (ranted? gesticulated wildly? many things, but "discussed" is a nice, neutral word) with friends and another blogger or two was the length of time it took to shift from "our universe" to "the book's universe." If the plants (not just that Oxalis, but almost all of them--such as the mystical 10th plant of desire with no name) had been fictional, then that shift would have been less bumpy, definitely, and then I think I would have not liked the book, but maybe not totally disliked it as much as I do. The tiny incongruencies in the beginning, and the randomness of the words (such as capitalizing "Laundromat" in every single instance [which was frequent]), really set my view early on and made me more critical of the book.

    I have a pile of other books I plan on reviewing for personal reasons (not on a virtual book tour!). Those will definitely not be as inciteful as this was for me, I'm certain!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. It's never fun to feel like you HAVE to finish reading, but I do appreciate you getting through the book despite your many issues with it. Thanks for being a part of the tour - hopefully next time we can find a book that is a better fit for you. :)

  8. I'm with you on this one, Kenneth. It puzzles me that this book has been as lauded as it seems to have been; but then I think sometimes people get given something for free and they are afraid to say anything about it lest they not get any more free goodies. I've certainly lost my respect for a few bloggers, including gardening/plant bloggers who I've read for years, because they're so besotted with getting freebies that they're shilling for all kinds of (sometimes dubious) on Open Sky and Amazon and so on. And that includes with book reviews.

    Funny how Margot Berwin commented on your review, which was funny and snarky and honest, but not on Mr. Subjunctive's or Adventurous Kate's. Maybe when someone has been primped as being the latest wunderkind, they can't take a little criticism. I do wish her well, and hope the next book is an improvement.


Swedish Greys - a WordPress theme from Nordic Themepark. Converted by