Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is one of the top reads in 2012 and absolutely viral in nature. Anyone who read it was anxious to pull others into its vortex, to share in the delicious, twisted secrets. It’s distinctive cover was seen in airports, on newsstands, in doctor’s offices, and on every subway. It was inescapable—and for good reason.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.
Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
Employing her trademark razor-sharp writing and assured psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.
LitLover’s has an excellent reading guide here.
For a deeper conversation, consider these additional questions:
- Flynn reveals everyone’s character flaws piece by piece. How were you drawn in, not knowing all the facts right away? Were you anxious to learn more or irritated?
- Amy is essentially a child celebrity. In today’s fame-fueled society, do you think children are protected from or exploited for fame? Would Amy be the same person today if she wasn’t featured in her parent’s books?
- How does marriage define a spouse’s character? If you are married (or have been married), how have you been bettered by your spouse? What bad habits or character traits have you inherited?
- Can you ever truly know the other person? Have you ever been blindsided by someone? What blinds us to seeing a betrayal coming?
- Do you need a protagonist to root for? Most the characters are unlikeable. Did this diminish your enjoyment of the book or were you still fascinated?
- Was there a moment when you stopped feeling sorry for Amy? When did you start feeling sorry for Nick?
- Who would you cast in the movie roles of Nick and Amy?
- Treasure hunts are typically considered romantic, yet Amy manages to make it predatory and calculating. How does Amy’s preplanning make her crimes even more disturbing?
- Flynn has said about the ending, I wrote the ending that was the most unsettling to me. I am a big fan of the ending of unease. To me it feels real and it feels unnerving. Because you may not know exactly what is going to happen next in Gone Girl World, but you know it’s not good. What kind of endings do you like best?
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn earned its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Because of its twisted and surprising revelations, it is this decade’s Sixth Sense, in literary form. On Wednesday, the Readable Feast will feature Wedding Cake Petit Fours.
Take a preventative approach and create a book club menu of memory enhancing foods, including:
- Sunflower seeds
- Lean beef
- Green tea
A delicious dessert choice is a moist but firm Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake. It is perfect with a cup of coffee or green tea. And it’s pretty as well.
Blueberry Buckle Bundt Cake
Preheat oven at 350 degrees and grease a bundt pan.
- 1-1/4 cup sugar
- 1 stick of butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup milk
Sift together and stir in:
- 3 cup flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
Spoon half the stiff mixture into the base of the bundt pan. Pour 3 cups well drained blueberries into the pan and add the rest of the dough mixture.
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¾ stick butter
Add crumble mixture to the top of the bundt pan and press gently. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before turning out.
**You can also use a flat 9 x 13” glass pan instead of the bundt pan.
Whether you choose Boston Cream Cupcakes or Blueberry Buckle Bundt cake, you are guaranteed to have a rich conversation when discussing Still Alice.
May words nourish your soul.
There aren’t many foods mentioned in Still Alice so I took our book club recipes in two directions. First up is Boston Cream Cupcakes, giving homage to Alice’s familiar hometown. Tomorrow, I will post the recipe for Blueberry Buckle Bundt cake which is a top power food which enhances memory.
These cupcakes are delectable, delicious, and to die for. They are pretty as well.
(Adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe)
1/2 cup milk
6 Tablespoon butter
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 packet instant vanilla pudding
1 cup milk
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon corn syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 24 cupcake tins with paper cups.
In a microwaveable bowl, combine butter and milk and microwave for 2 minutes.
Add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, mixing until smooth.
Add in eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well.
Spoon batter into muffin tins, only filling about half full.
Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Allow to cool completely then cut out the center of each cupcake with a knife, creating a cap.
In a small bowl, mix a packet of vanilla pudding and only one cup of cold milk, stirring until thick. (This is less than the recommended amount on the box.)
Dollop pudding filling in each cupcake hole and top with the cupcake cap. Some cream will remain showing.
In a microwaveable bowl, combine chocolate chips, cream, and corn syrup. Microwave for 2 minutes, stirring gently until combined.
Drizzle the ganache over the top of each cupcake, allowing excess to run over the edges.
Let cool fully and store in the refrigerator.
These are best served after a few hours or overnight, so the chocolate hardens and the pudding moistens the cupcake. Whip these Boston Cream Cupcakes up the night before your book club meeting and wow your fellow readers.
May words nourish your soul.
Still Alice is one of my favorite book club reads ever. I have a personal tie to Alzheimer’s, which slowly dissolved away my paternal grandmother, Isabelle. In an atypical disease such as this, many moments are true—even if the experience wasn’t exactly the same as rendered in the book. Telling the truth in a novel is exceeding difficult.
I was deeply touched by the care and research put into this book by Genova. As a neuroscientist, novelist, and activists, the book is equal parts fiction and education.
Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph.D in neuroscience from Harvard University.
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what’s it’s like to literally lose your mind…
From Simon Schuster
Lisa Genova’s publishing company, Simon Schuster, has a full Reading Group’s Guide here.
To add more personal questions to the conversation, consider the following discussion questions related to Still Alice.
- Do you know anyone who has suffered from Alzheimer’s? How did it affect their loved ones and you? How did it affect them?
- What are the stages of grief family members and the patient must travel through when facing Alzheimer’s? (Five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.) What stage did each family member reach? What about Alice? Can you get stuck in a phase, or repeat a phase?
- To what extent are we made of our memories?
- What are some of your fondest memories? Do you have a memory you would like to completely erase from your memory? Do you think your personality/self would change if a bad memory was removed?
- It is rare that an Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t consider suicide. Were you relieved she was thwarted or gladdened that Alice survived?
- Do you empathize with the idea of controlling your own death, when faced with a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer’s? What about other diseases? What makes the difference for you? Where do you draw the line?
- If you have children, your children often feel they have a different parent from their siblings. If you have children, due to different circumstances, how are you a different mother to each of your children?
- Oldest memories are the last to go for those with dementia, along with scent. What scents bring back memories for you? What is your earliest memory?
- John carries on without Alice, making decisions without her. Does this bother you or do you empathize?
- How would this story have changed if told from another perspective beside Alice’s?
Happy reading and discussing.
Keeping track of your wine glass or coffee cup is a challenge when the book club conversation starts. I crafted these simple but adorable book club wine charms in less than hour. They can be used meeting after meeting and create a fun conversation piece.
- Jewelry wire
- Assorted beads
- Oval jump ring
- Silver charm with open insert (I found these at Hobby Lobby)
- Magnetic closure jewelry finding
- Jewelry pliers and wire cutter
- Photo copies of book covers (suggested books with lovely covers: Life of Pi, Still Alice, Night Circus, Alice I Have Been, Room, Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Hunger Games, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Fault in Our Stars, A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, and Water for Elephants)
- I chose a selection of popular book club covers and printed them to fit inside the open charm. I cut them out in ovals and pushed them gently into the open charm. I added a silver jump ring to the top of the charm so it could be threaded onto the wine charm ring.
- Cut sections of jewelry wire to 3”. Add one magnetic closure to one end and string various color-coded beads onto the wire, leaving enough room to add the second magnetic closure while twisting the end shut.
- Center the charm on completed wine charm ring and reclose the silver jump ring.
- Click open the magnetic closure to add wine charm to your wine glass or coffee cup.
Display on a jewelry tree for guests to choose their book wine charm on arrival. These can even be given as gifts to your favorite author or book lover.
Tags: A Grown Up Kind of Pretty • Alice I Have Been • and Water for Elephants • book club charms • book club wine charms • hunger games • Life of Pi • Night Circus • Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake • Room • Still Alice • The Corner of Bitter and Sweet • The Fault in Our Stars • wine charms
Carrot pudding? Really? It doesn’t sound appetizing but trust me when I say this is a decadent dessert which is perfectly sweet, balanced, and spicy. (And the photo from my phone’s camera isn’t the best. The dessert is a vibrant sunset orange which perfectly sets off the lime green from crushed pistachios.)
Adapted from a private recipe used in a now-closed Indian restaurant
6 medium carrots, shredded
2 cups half and half
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup melted butter (or ghee for a more authentic taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pistachios, crushed
Over medium-high heat, bring carrots and half and half to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently. Boil until all the half and half is absorbed within the carrots, about 45 minutes. Read excerpts from The Blessings of the Animals while you stir.
Fold in the brown sugar, raisins, butter, spices, and salt. Stir thoroughly.
Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is the consistency of pudding (about 15 minutes.)
Pour into serving bowl and garnish with pistachios. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or alone.
Challenge your book club to taste test this Indian treat. Gajar halwa is featured in a beautiful chapter within The Blessings of the Animals. By crafting this time-consuming but delicious dish, you will have firsthand knowledge of what it means to persevere.
May words nourish your soul.
We are starting off the Readable Feast with a favorite author of mine. Katrina Kittle is a local Dayton, Ohio author and even though I don’t live there anymore, she has earned her place on my book shelf. I was lucky to take several writing classes with her, which did more for my writing journey than my college degree.
The Blessings of the Animals is her current women’s fiction book and is a perfect book club choice. Her other books, in particular The Kindness of Strangers, are also excellent group reads. If you haven’t yet discovered Katrina Kittle, please check her out.
From Katrina Kittle, critically acclaimed author of The Kindness of Strangers, comes a wry and moving story of forgiveness, flexibility, happiness, and the art of moving on.
Veterinarian Cami Anderson has hit a rough patch. Stymied by her recent divorce, she wonders if there are secret ingredients to a happy, long-lasting marriage or if the entire institution is outdated and obsolete. Couples all around her are approaching important milestones. Her parents are preparing to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. Her brother and his partner find their marriage dreams legally blocked. Her former sister-in-law—still her best friend—is newly engaged. The youthfully exuberant romance of her teenage daughter is developing complications. And three separate men—including her ex-husband—are becoming entangled in Cami’s messy post-marital love life.
But as she struggles to come to terms with her own doubts amid this chaotic circus of relationships, Cami finds strange comfort in an unexpected confidant: an angry, unpredictable horse in her care. With the help of her equine soul mate, she begins to make sense of marriage’s great mysteries—and its disconnects.
-From Harper Collins
Katrina’s publishing company, Harper Collins, offers a comprehensive Reading Guide.
To add to the discussion, consider the following discussion questions as well:
- Animals love us in a completely different way than humans. We often adopt a pet before considering children or when we face divorce or widowhood. Why did the animals in the book offering healing that Cami’s loved ones could not?
- Which animal did you love or relate to? How have animals played a role in your life?
- Animal rescue is never ending, as is being a medical doctor. How might have Vijay’s and Cami’s relationship played out if they had pursued their relationship.
- What are the blessings of the animals? What gift does each of the three main animals (Moonshot, Gerald, and Muriel) give to Cami? How do these rescue animals end up rescuing her? What final gift or lesson does Luna bring at the end?
- How does the Bobby chapter affect your reading of the story? Without his point of view, what would be different for you? What does he think that you wish he’d tell Cami? What things do both Bobby and Cami misinterpret in each others’ actions?
- Would you have felt differently about Bobby if he hadn’t found someone else?
- How do we react as we watch people making bad decisions? ie. Bobby breaking up with Zayna and then getting married in Vegas.
- Bobby doesn’t tell his family and leave a message for his daughter. How is Cami the parent in their relationship? How is the balance of power in a relationship a tricky prospect?
- What does a successful marriage look like? Is marriage as an institution out of date?
- Why do we risk so much on something that has no guarantee? How are the rewards worth the risk?
- Adoption plays a part in this book as well. How is adoption a parallel to marriage?
- In what ways do the Davids epitomize the marriage vows they are not allowed to make?
- Divorce almost always has collateral damage, in this case, Gabi. She said “No man is going to wreck me.” Why does a personal relationship (marriage) have such outreaching tentacles—causing people to take sides, etc.
- Davy refers to a cheat sheet that he could pass along to his students, to save them from their mistakes. What advice would be on your cheat sheet?
- Cami regrets, but still performs euthanasia on ailing animals when necessary. How does she face hard decisions in her career but struggle with hard personal decisions?
- Cami’s church is the stable, in the presence of animals. Where do you feel closest to God?
- Short cuts are frowned up on this book—in such things as properly cleaning the wounds and making the gajar halva (Gaa-jer Hull-wa). Why are short cuts so tempting?
On Wednesday, I’ll be sharing the recipe for gajar halva for your book club.
Happy reading and discussing.
I have hunted for years for a relevant topic which I could seamless write about, without wearying. Because a topic could not be found, I stumbled and floundered, at loss for words.
And then, as all epiphanies appear, I suddenly connected several random puzzles pieces together and had an Ah! moment.
Pushing Food and Books
If you have met me in person, you know two things. 1.) I am going to attempt to feed you or tempt you to my house with the promise of food. And 2.) I am going to recommend a book to you—probably a long list of books.
As my family and I have moved from state to state, my constant community is constructed of book people. Whether it‘s moms discussing books during playdates or formal book clubs, books are my link to socialization and community.
I am a book pimp, a pusher of words, and a full-fledged addict.
Because my community spans multiple states, includes all walks of life, and is constantly growing, I’ve decided to reposition my blog as a virtual community for other book addicts.
So today, I launch the Readable Feast. This is what you can expect:
Mondays: Book reviews of popular book club reads, recommendations, interviews with authors, and discussion questions
Wednesday: Recipes related to book club books—tying your book and foods together
Friday: periodic thoughts on creating and participating in community, finding connection, and other random thoughts
I have a year’s worth of books, recipes, and thoughts lined up but I’m always open to suggestions.
Whether you read alone, run a book club, or just enjoy a new recipe, hopefully you will add Readable Feast to your RSS feed, sign up for our (upcoming) monthly newsletter, or check in occasionally. If you are a book enthusiast too, I hope you will spread the word by sharing www.readablefeast.com with others (which redirects them to here, www.nicoleamsler.com.)
I look forward to this new journey and the impending calories.
May words nourish your soul,