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Themed fiction, where there is a clear obsession with a specific topic can be a bit hit or miss, but in the past I have enjoyed ones that focus on books (Book Lover) and shoes (Clicking Her Heels) and especially food (The Food of Love). The key in my mind has always been to write about something other people obsess over, establishing an immediate bond between reader and writer. This title falls into this category but with a rather unusual and specific fixation: tropical plants. I know little about these, and have never really wanted to change that fact, but though I didn't share the author's fascination initially, by the end of the book I was hooked.
The link between a newly divorced and somewhat grumpy advertising exec and the colourful world of exotic blooms is not immediately clear, but in the book it seems like the most natural thing in the world. A chance encounter at a street market, followed by a domino rally of events and coincidences sends Lila away from the cold, concrete jungle of New York City and deep into the humid, tropical jungle of Mexico's Yucatán. The contrast between the two places is immediate and stunning but the parallels are equally striking, and it is entirely believable that a city girl could hold her own in the sultry rainforests one country over.
This book is simply exquisite. It has a perfect combination of skilful writing and delicious plot twists from murder and betrayal to crimes driven by both passion and greed. It is hilarious and poignant at the same time, full of suspense and intrigue but warm, enviable relationships too, and yet despite combining all these elements in one sole story, it never seems like it's gone too far or tried to cram in too much.
The flowers in the book are as important a part of the story as any of the other characters, but made accessible for non-botanists through easy descriptions and little nuggets of information at the start of each chapter. Though there was a little over-reliance on fables and folklore, and the power of fate, I very much enjoyed the story and didn't want it to end.
As a side note, I was thrilled with the representation of Mexico, a county I've just moved home from, and one that is so often portrayed poorly by American writers in particular. A good chunk of the book takes place there, and I found the descriptions realistic and enticing. The author's passion for the country and for its flora and fauna really shone through, and the excitement was contagious. I wanted to book a flight back immediately.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
Buy it on Amazon for about a fiver, until the mainstream paperback comes out in April 2010.