Josey Cirrini’s mother is a bitter, wealthy woman who judges her daughter incessantly, demanding to be chauffeured to social events, and in waiting on her, Josey missed having a life of her own. At thirty, Josey spends all of her free time alone, hiding in her secret closet filled with the forbidden sweets and travel magazines. One winter afternoon, Josey opens the closet to find a waitress from the local diner, soaking wet and pleading to hide out for a few days from her abusive ex. But Della Lee’s brutal observations embolden Josey to finally speak to the cute mailman with curly black hair and a limp, whom she’s had a crush on since he arrived into town. By asking Josey to sneak out to the courthouse’s cafe for the city’s most delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, Della Lee also spurs Josey to meet Chloe, her first (non-servant) friend. Chloe could also use a good friend, after just having broken up with the lawyer-boyfriend who cheated on her right after a huge case. Adam is determined to make up with Chloe, a woman whom books follow and electricity actually sparks up when they’re together. The Sugar Queen is an endlessly entertaining novel about friendship, risks, and how sometimes the color red can bring good luck.
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Garden Spells and First Frost are other novels also by Sarah Addison Allen, both about a family where each member has their own magic abilities, and is searching to find their place and let go of the past. Sarah Addison Allen has also written Lost Lake, The Peach Keeper, Waking Kate, and The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Also, Madame Bovary is mentioned in this novel as one of Chloe’s appearing books.
The Lake House, the newest novel by Kate Morton, is also about old family secrets and the healing and freedom that can come from learning the truth and letting go of the past. It is about a detective named Sadie who discovers a beautiful, abandoned home, still fully furnished in the woods near her grandfather’s home in Cornwall. She decides to find out what really happened to the little boy that lived there, and disappeared one night at a midsummer’s eve party.
The Drowning Tree by Carol Goodman is a novel about the sacrifices that friends endure for each other, and two best friends involved in a tragedy. One disappears after a college lecture where she reveals secrets about the founders that may have endangered her life. The other must find out the truth her friend uncovered, and use it to try to save her.
Little Women is one of the most loved stories ever written about best friends and sisters, and the challenges and choices of adulthood.
Peppermint Cocoa Cupcakes with Peppermint Whipped Cream Frosting
Because one of the first things Adam noticed about Josey was that she always smelled like peppermint, those are in both the cupcake and the frosting. Also, her favorite item to wear around him was her “lucky” red sweater, so the frosting is dyed to look like a peppermint swirl candy using gel food coloring. You can leave this out if you wish. Chocolate cupcakes were chosen because Jake remembered Josey as having stolen his chocolate cake, and he mentions the incident several times, as well as a craving for some chocolate cake again.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- ⅓ cup dry fat free skim milk, plus 2 tbsp
- 2 sticks salted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3/4 cup milk
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 ½ tsp peppermint extract
- 8 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Add the flour, sugar, ⅓ cup fat free dry milk, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder together in a bowl. Cream butter and sugar together on low in the (separate) bowl of a stand mixer. Move to medium speed for 2 minutes. Switch back to low speed, and add 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp peppermint extract, and milk. Continue at that setting for about a minute, then move up to medium for one minute. Stop the mixer and slowly add the dry ingredients in 3 separate increments, mixing on medium low. Distribute batter evenly in paper-lined (or greased) cupcake tins and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out with crumbs, not raw batter.
For the frosting, combine 1 ¼ cup whipping cream, 8 tbsp powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp peppermint extract, and 1 tbsp fat free skim milk powder in a mixer, and whip on medium speed for about 2-4 minutes, until fluffy peaks form. Pipe onto cupcakes using whatever tip you’d like, and the frosting will keep its shape, and still retain the fluffy, whipped texture!
- Josey wondered about the power that beautiful mothers held over their less beautiful daughters. Was it really just her former beauty that gave Margaret power over Josey? If not, what else contributed to it?
- Books liked Chloe, and followed her whenever she needed them. Was there ever a time when you found a book just when you needed its message? What was the book, and the advice you needed? What gives books such power? Do some people know how to pair up books with people, or do you know anyone who ever gave you a book that you needed, or that became a part of you somehow?
- When Della Lee offered her sandwich to Josey, she thought about how it would make her feel better and worse. “It was a familiar dilemma. She’d never experienced anything that was simply and entirely good for her.” Why was that? did she eventually? Does such a thing exist, and if so, what would some examples be?
- How are Adam and Margaret similarly driven-by fear? Yet how does that same drive cause each of them to treat Josey differently?
- Chloe didn’t want to forgive Jake because she felt it was her only choice, “that didn’t make it forgiveness, that made it desperation.” Why was she so desperate with him? Why was Josey with Adam?
- Josey always made Adam “smile and remember things he hadn’t thought of in ages-Christmases, hot chocolate with his family, schnapps at lodge bars.” why does smell have such a powerful effect on memory? Is it stronger than the other senses? What does science say about it? Was that part of Josey’s attraction for Adam? What are some of your favorite or most comforting smells? What do they remind you of?
- Kyle’s father warned his son that if he had ever cheated on his wife, he never told her about it. Who had the better approach? Is ignorance bliss, and do his parents seem to have a blissful marriage? Or is it better to face potentially splitting up for the sake of honesty? If Chloe had found out on her own, much later, do you think she would have stayed with Jake, or left him? Why?
- Chloe felt odd about the books that appeared for her, so she never shared the fact with anyone. She wanted to know that strange things happened to other people too. Who else had strange things happen to them? Has anything strange ever happened to you?
- Why did Margaret continue her monthly luncheons with Livia, and allow he to maintain her power, even after her husband passed on and could no longer harm Marco?
- Livia noted that her daughter, Amelia, wasn’t pretty, like Josey, and that “they need to stay that way to stay home and take care of us.” Why? Was that something Margaret was consciously doing as well? was Josey really not pretty, or was that just something her mother told her? Why?
- Josey, with ice cream and noodle soup in hand, told chloe that she had only ever been sure of one thing: “Food makes everything better, at least until it’s gone.” Why was food her way of finding comfort? Did it help Chloe? Did it really help Josey? What foods do you use when in need of comfort? Do certain things work better with certain personalities, or is it more about experiences?
- The couple who owned the house Chloe wanted also loved books. They make several interesting observations about them. One is that “books can be possessive…a certain one will jump out at you…just to get your attention. Sometimes what’s inside will change your life.” What books do you think might have changed Chloe’s life, or Josey’s? Is there a certain genre that might appeal to each of these girls? What about to Margaret, or Della Lee?
- George and Zelda also agreed with Chloe that “sometimes it’s a comfort just to have a book around. Many of these books haven’t even had their spines cracked. Their daughter often asked them why they bought books they didn’t read. Why do you think books are a comfort, or why people buy books they don’t read-or is it just that they haven’t gotten around to reading them, yet? What books might be a comforting story to each of the main characters in this novel? Are any books a comfort to you? Is comfort something that makes some books classics, and if so, can you name some that might be?
- Why did Helena hide her real name for so long-was it out of spite or humor? What other secrets do you think she kept from Josey and Margaret? Why did she notice Della Lee, but Margaret never did?
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