Book review: ‘Hothouse Flower’ by Margot Berwin

Lila Nova lives in a drab, drab world. Stuck in a mediocre job in New York City, Lila installs herself in a new apartment after divorce — and settles into her colorless world. It’s not until she meets David Exley, an easy-on-the-eyes plant-seller, that she begins to breathe life back into her days . . . and that may come in the form of vegetation and love.

But greed gets the better of Lila when she stumbles across a special Laundromat brimming with plants — and meets its owner, Armand, a sort of shaman in possession of the mystical and highly-prized Nine Plants of Desire. Their friendship grows stronger — as do Lila’s own plants — until one terrible misstep destroys the Laundromat and its treasures. Consumed with guilt, Lila will do anything to right the wrongs she’s helped commit — even if it means traveling to the rain forest alone and tracking down salvation herself.

In your own backyard, start out by placing a terracotta pot in direct sunlight. Grab seeds for magical realism, women’s fiction and erotic romance (!), bury into the rich soil, water and cultivate . . . what sprouts will be Margot Berwin’s Hothouse Flower, an incredibly strange but engrossing read that killed a six-hour plane ride for me in no time.

Lila is a damaged, crazed and especially vulnerable woman. As she tries to change and move on, she feels a kinship with the plants she purchases from David Exley — an unusual man who doesn’t seem interested in our heroine until he discovers her connection to the Nine Plants of Desire. Desire is a funny word in this book, because it’s everywhere . . . love and raw sensuality run through the novel like a current, drawing readers into a supple world where plants inspire amour and urges won’t be denied. I’ll be frank: I didn’t expect so much sex in this book, but sex was there to be had. All over the place. Like, a lot.

Ahem.

But there was plenty more to this story, too. The novel takes an incredibly weird turn halfway through as we journey to the Yucatan Peninsula with Lila and Armand, and it’s there that we learn more about the Nine Plants and their properties. The descriptions were absolutely intoxicating: dreams the plants can help you discover; fears you can overcome; love you can inspire, all with a cutting from a fern. It’s too fantastical to be believed, though, right?

Right?

Lila doesn’t think so — and, confronted with hard proof, she knows Armand’s crazy stories about the plants must be true. Hothouse Flower is richly atmospheric and interesting, but it also left me deeply unsettled — especially after a certain drug- and dog-related scene toward the latter part of the novel (awful). It felt sort of like an acid trip: all Technicolor scenes, strange occurrences, magical plants and sexy sex time in the rain forest. What started out as a simple post-divorce story in New York City morphed in a wholly unexpected way . . . and I’m not sure I dug it.

But I did tear through this like the hounds of hell were on my trail, and that’s saying something. I consumed the entire book on my plane ride home from London — hours in which I could have been getting some precious and much-needed sleep. Once I’d started, I couldn’t set it down (except to get a little in-flight milky tea; caffeine and I go way back).

Say what you will about it, but I doubt you’ll ever read another book like Hothouse Flower — like Armand’s plants, the premise and product are one-of-a-kind. And that makes it worth a read for me.


3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0307390543 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonPublisher Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Bumped’ by Megan McCafferty

I’m going to be straight with you: when it comes to Megan McCafferty, I am not an unbiased reviewer.

When a copy of her latest novel — and first departure from the beloved Jessica Darling series — arrived in my mailbox last fall, you could probably hear me hollering from here to California. Not to go all breaking-the-fourth-wall-and-getting-fangirly on you guys, but when I started write meg! years ago, I had absolutely no idea that I’d someday find myself in a position to receive a book like this.

And I say that not to brag. Merely as a frame of reference for — ahem — my aforementioned bias.

All of that being said, I’m never going to lie to you. When I began McCafferty’s Bumped, the first in a new young adult series, I was . . . confused. And for about 100 pages, pretty unsure.

Unsure of the story. Unsure of where this all was going. Unsure of whether I actually . . . liked this book.

It’s true. My initial reaction? Lukewarm. I wasn’t feeling a connection with the characters or storyline, which seemed outside my comfort zone and realm of comprehension. I’ve read a few dystopian books in my day, sure, and never had much trouble grasping what was happening. But this? Well. This was proving troublesome.

Here’s the rundown: in McCafferty’s less-than-ideal future, a virus has run rampant and rendered anyone over the age of eighteen infertile — both men and women. Considering no one is cheering for the demise of the human race, teenagers — the only people still able to conceive — have become hot commodities. The government has had no choice but to legalize “transactions” between prospective parents and the teens they contract to give them a child.

And you know what that means? Sexy sex sex. All the time. Everywhere. Encouraged — no, demanded — of high school students, young women and men who are now being represented by, um, “talent” agents garnering the best deals possible for the product of a union between desirable teens. Every couple wants the perfect “pregg,” of course, and those with the funds will stop at nothing to get it.

Enter Melody Mayflower, considered by many to be the perfect candidate for “bumping.” Smart, beautiful and independent, Melody was the first in her high school to “go pro” and enter a contract to conceive for money. After signing with a wealthy couple looking for the perfect offspring, Melody’s adoptive parents encourage her to keep her virginity until a suitable suitor comes along to contribute his part of the deal. And though she’d have a willing candidate in her best friend, Zen, his desirable biracial background isn’t enough to save him from his main genetic issue: he’s short.

As Melody is waiting and debating, she gets a surprise: the arrival of her identical twin, Harmony, a young woman raised in a religious order. In a future where premarital sex is glamorized and seen as a responsibility of teens, residents of Goodside shun this sinful lifestyle, marry young and reproduce within the safe confines of their own organization. Harmony hasn’t questioned the world in which she was raised until she goes in search of her twin, hoping to bring Melody out of the darkness of immorality and into the good, clean world of Goodside.

The world has other plans, of course.

McCafferty’s novel, like many others, left me at a loss for words. For all my early inability to process Bumped’s unique brand of slang and unusual circumstances, once I got the story straight and grasped the whole “pregging” situation, I raced through this one like my pants were on fire. As always, McCafferty’s wit and humor shine through in her sophisticated, sassy heroines, and I’m pleased to say that plenty of Jessica Darling’s snark and spitfire is visible in our main twin, Melody.

The world of Bumped is cleverly drawn and realistic, and what I loved best about the book was the scary way in which I could really see this happening. As a sensible-minded woman living in 2011, I can’t say that parts of the story didn’t horrify me — but I think that was the point. With songs encouraging teens to “do it,” fake “Fun Bumps” designed to show girls how their own pregnant bellies will swell and all the talk of being “fertilicious,” any adult would read this book and think, “Um, really?”

But yes. Really. It’s slightly deranged and creepy, sure, but also somehow . . . plausible. And fascinating. And addictive. That’s what made it work.

There’s so much to take in with Bumped: religious implications; moral implications; government manipulation; the disturbing way in which teen girls are used for their wombs — and not much else. But McCafferty packs it all in with humor and wit, and I was left breathless on several occasions waiting to see how the stories — and love stories — would play out.

Of course, I can’t talk about my favorite author without talking about my most favorite of her creations: Marcus Flutie. The dashing, rebellious and unbelievably hawt hero of her Jessica Darling series, Marcus has pretty much ruined me for all other literary love interests. That being said, Zen Chen-Chavez — Melody’s best friend and purveyor of giving young women “everythingbut” — is pretty swoonworthy. I love his dedication to his friends and the sweet, sensitive side we see when no one else is looking.

Is he Marcus, with his red hair, Barry Manilow obsession, swagger and sensuality? Nope. But that would have been a tall order to fill — even by the author herself. And I certainly don’t hold that against Bumped.

Was this review long enough? I think it was long enough. In summation: loved it.

Grab your copy on April 26.


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0545230500 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The DUFF’ by Kody Keplinger

Bianca Piper has always basked in her camaraderie with Casey and Jessica, her gorgeous (and blonde) friends at Hamilton High. Maybe she’s a little on the larger side than they are, sure, and her hair doesn’t have that same sleek, flowing quality. Perhaps she’s a little bitter, a little jaded — but it’s not like she doesn’t have a reason to be, okay? Her mom is, like, not around. And her dad has tons of issues of his own. And if she finds solace in folding and re-folding clothes at the foot of her bed and indulging in a little daydreaming about Toby Tucker, a cute classmate, who’s to judge her?

Well, Wesley Rush, for one. Wesley — all womanizing, skeezy charm and disarming good looks. Curly dark hair; awesome body. Wanted by half the female population in Hamilton and already enjoyed by the other. Wesley . . . who informs Bianca — unprovoked, unsolicited — that in her group of friends? She’s the DUFF.

The designated ugly fat friend.

If life was coasting along for our narrator up until that point, Bianca’s world suddenly comes crashing down. Issues with self-esteem bubble up and pop, forcing an unstoppable stream of venom in Wesley’s direction. Because she hates him, you guys. Like, really, really hates him. Despises him. Thinks he is the worst.

Except, you  know, not so much.

Kody Keplinger’s The DUFF is a novel about a high school student that was . . . well, written by a high school student. And you know what? It reads that way. This is both good — mostly realistic dialogue; somewhat believable teen characters — and bad. Because I felt like I was reading the diary of . . . well, a teenager. Of myself. And in the parts that were actually tender, there was truth there.

After all sorts of off-handed comments on Twitter, I’m going to try and keep my snark here to a minimum. I didn’t hate this book and I sincerely don’t want to be a hater, but I’m not sure I understand the hype surrounding this title. Though entertaining, The DUFF lacked a little something I like to call nuance. Something for readers to glean between the lines, if you know what I mean. Puzzles for me to figure out. Behavior for me to decipher. Clues as to the bigger picture — a picture I didn’t want to the author to spell out for me in pain-staking detail.

As Bianca and Wesley’s “relationship” heats up — and that’s not a spoiler, friends, promise — I would have loved to actually sit down and try to figure out why our narrator was sleeping with someone she claims to loathe. Not all sexual encounters are motivated by love — I can respect that. But the sound of his voice makes her sick, Bianca says. She can’t stand to look at him. He makes her crazy. He’s disgusting.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
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