First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

In North Carolina, in the backyard of the Waverly home, there is a magic apple tree that blooms in fall and throws apples at the men that the Waverly women marry. Waverly women are known for each having their own magic abilities as well. Claire Waverly makes delicious foods, including the old family recipe of fig and pepper bread, and is famous for her different candies that can quiet children, give people a sense of happiness, or make them think of their first loves. Her teenage niece, Bay, can tell exactly where things, and people, belong, which can be very difficult and embarrassing when she tells her crush that he belongs with her. Bay’s hairdresser mother, Sydney, struggles with having another child, and her tension that builds from a difficult co-worker and the tension leading up to first frost are putting strange red highlights into her hair. As first frost approaches, and the older Waverly sisters think back to their mysterious mother and reclusively odd grandmother Mary who raised them, a stranger comes to town who makes them all question the importance of asking for help when it’s needed, and how deeply family roots a person in whom they eventually become.

Recommended Readings:

Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper, and Lost Lake are all books also by Sarah Addison Allen.

Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman is also about the relationship between a mother and daughter, with a hint of magic and the difficulties of life, especially the old, secret fears of a mother who wishes to protect her daughter from her own past, but still allow her to grow in her own knowledge and appreciation of folklore and history.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is also about a granddaughter piecing together her grandmother’s secrets in a beautiful setting of the family’s old house with its enchanted garden and unexpected challenges.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is also about magic, from the perspective of a man reflecting on a strange event in his childhood that involved a powerful magical family of women who helped save him from an evil that had invaded his own family’s life.

Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty is a teenage love story with an intelligent, snarky narrator, much like Bay. It also chronicles a teen girl’s unusual interactions with a teen boy, as well as her pursuit of the right place to fit in among an odd family, and on the cusp of the world.

Themed Recipe:

In the back of this novel is a recipe for Fig and Pepper Bread, so to offer something else to bake that sounds a little less adventurous, (especially for those who are intimidated by bread baking), here is a super-easy recipe for lemon lavender cupcakes, which combine two of Claire’s most popular candy flavors into one delectable cupcake.

Lavender Lemonade Cupcakes

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 ½ blocks (4 oz and 8 oz) cream cheese, divided, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
  • 4 lemons, juiced and zested, divided into 2 lemons each
  • 1 tbsp LorAnn lemon baking emulsion
  • 1/8 tsp lavender oil
  • 4 cups powdered sugar

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Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream together the 2 sticks of salted butter, ½ block of cream cheese (4 oz), and the cup of regular sugar on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the juice and zest of two lemons, a tsp of pure vanilla, the lemon emulsion, and lavender oil, and mix on medium-low for about a minute. Continue mixing, and add the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated and you can’t see the yolks separately anymore.
  3. Add the baking soda and baking powder. Drop the speed to low, and add the flour in thirds, allowing each to be fully incorporated before adding the next. If you need to stop the mixer to scrape down the sides because the flour is sticking to the sides of the bowl, do so. Bake the batter in paper-lined muffin tins two-thirds full, at 350 for 18-20 minutes. (The cute little purple polka-dot cupcake liners I used are on the link at the right.) Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before frosting.
  4. For the frosting: Mix together the full 8 oz block cream cheese and one stick of butter on medium high until fully whipped together, about 2-3 minutes.
  5. Decrease speed to low, and add the zest of two lemons and juice of one, followed by two of the cups of powdered sugar. Combine on low speed for a minute or two, until the powdered sugar isn’t loosely sitting on top, then increase to medium. Stop and add the rest of the powdered sugar and the tsp of pure vanilla, and mix on medium-low. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Discussion Questions:

1. The Waverly sisters grew closer as adults than they ever were as children, because they realized that you had to choose to love, accept, and be close to family. What things in their past do you think might have prevented that in their earlier years? What makes us realize this as adults, but not often as teens or children?

2. How important is it for teens, and even adults, to have a “thinking place,” like Bay had her apple tree? This place gave a her a sense of home, of belonging, that is pivotal to the development of a child into an adult, but why? And what made it a place Bay loved so dearly, yet her own mother Sydney avoided?

3. Evanelle believed that who she was, being a Waverly with a strange intuition about gift-giving, was “a stone deep inside you. You can spend all your life trying to dig that stone out, or you can build around it.” How did that philosophy apply to each other the other Waverly females, and impact who the adult women became?

4. Violet “thought that everything wrong with her life was the fault of this place, therefore happiness would surely be hers if she could only escape.” What is wrong with that perspective? What things could be right about it as well? How does that contrast with Sydney’s perspective that a person needs to change before circumstances will?

5. Henry is a calm contrast to Sydney, strange in his lack of strangeness. How does this make him perfect for her, yet slightly insecure about her interest in him? Why do you think a woman like her would find a man like him so appealing, considering her past? Is she merely running from that, toward an opposite type of man, or do you think Sydney truly appreciates Henry’s unique qualities?

6. Josh states that “it’s remarkably easy to fall in love with someone who is already in love with you. It’s a little like falling in love with yourself.” How does this statement make him similar to his own father? Does it seem inevitable then, that he would give Bay a chance, especially after reading her letter to him? Why?

7. Sydney notices the similarities between fairy tales and rural roads in that, “the beginning is always beautiful, a ruse to draw you into something you aren’t anticipating.” How is this a premonition of other characters later in the story, or even the story itself? Could this argument be made for all good novels as well, and even the bad ones?

8. Henry warns Sydney that she “can’t fix things that aren’t broken yet. You’re only going to make yourself miserable.” How does this advice explain her relationship with Violet, as well as parallel the similarities the girls share at that age?

9. Bay says it’s easier for her “to tell where people don’t belong, because it’s an uneasy feeling…” Have you ever felt this way about something? Are there biological reasons for this, or is it mostly intuition and past experiences, and if so, how would that explain Bay’s ability?

10. Bay tries to explain Josh that talking and laughing are part of “belonging” together, but equally, so is the quiet sometimes as well. Why is being still together with a loved one sometimes so important to them and us, and ultimately, the relationship? Who might Bay have learned this from?

11. Claire smells certain things (smoke, beer, her mother’s lip gloss) when Russell is around. Why is it that these are the strongest in her memory of him, and not an image of a face? What is the connection between memory and smell-is it stronger than any connection to any of the other senses, especially in infants? Does this perhaps affect her realization of the truth?

12. Some of the things Sydney wondered that Mariah could have as an ability are drawing realistically and solving homework problems exceptionally quickly. What did her true gift turn out to be? What do you think yours would be, if you were a Waverly-is there anything you’re naturally particularly good at?

13. Why is it true that there is no better way to get a vain woman (like Mary)’s attention, than to ignore her? What kind of man would take advantage of that truth, and what does it say about his character? How many beautiful women have you heard of that found themselves in relationships with such men?

14. Was there any great advice you took away from this book, such as “…happiness isn’t a point in time you leave behind. It’s what’s ahead of you. every single day” ? or Bay’s advice to Josh to not “define yourself by what you don’t want to do. Define it by what you do want to do.”

15. Anne decides she wants “a life not full of things, but stories.” What in her life led her to that point? Is that something we all should aspire to? Why or why not?

16. Josh wondered if maybe people don’t fall in love, maybe they jump. Maybe it’s a choice. was it a choice for any of the Waverly women? What about for you-do we, in some sense, choose who we love?

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