"The Hazel Wood" Book Discussion and Butter Pecan Cupcakes Themed Recipe
“I turned slowly in place, alone in a clearing in the deep dark woods. That was when I entered a fairy tale.” Alice has been on the run from bad luck with her mother, Ella, since she can remember. Her grandmother, Althea, was once a famous author for her book Tales from the Hinterland, a novel of dark, adult fairy tales that has slowly been disappearing in the many decades since its release.
Alice has never been allowed to meet the grandmother who lives in the hazel wood, though a kind red-haired man did once try to take a young Alice there in what looked like a kidnapping. But one day the man returns to the coffee shop where she works, reading a copy of the mysterious book, and leaves without a word, only a comb, a feather, and a bone on the table by his empty cup. Then, Ella disappears, and her wealthy fiance demands that Alice leave the apartment for good.
Stranded, Alice reaches out to the only friend she has, who also happens to be the wealthiest boy at her prep school, Ellery Finch. Ellery is a super-fan of the Hinterland, who's thrilled to assist Alice with finding her mother and the truth behind the odd book’s origins. With clever twists, quick suspense, and engrossing tales interwoven in the storyline, will make you yearn for answers from grim stories you’ve truly never heard before. The Hazel Wood
The Hazel Wood Discussion Questions
- “If you’ve spent your whole life running, how do you learn to stand still? How do you figure out the right way to turn your straw into brick?” Was running the real problem? From what were Ella and Alice running?
- There were 12 stories in Tales from the Hinterland: The Door That Wasn’t There, Hansa the Traveler, The Clockwork Bride, Jenny and the Night Women, The Skinned Maiden, Alice-Three-Times, The House Under the Stairwell, Ilsa Waits, The Sea Cellar, The Mother and the Dagger, Twice-Killed Katharine, Death and the Woodwife. Which were told in this novel? Which would you most like to read, and why?
- Alice complained about not having a copy of Tales from the Hinterland to read, and instead decided to read The Blind Assassin because “If you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.”What did she mean by that? Have you ever felt that way, perhaps while awaiting a book that wasn’t yet released?
- Finch once had a copy of Tales from the Hinterland. What happened to it? Why was it so difficult to acquire a copy of this book? Was it really for the best?
- Is the Hinterland a place we can get to from here on earth?
- How do you play Memory Palace, and why did Alice get upset with Finch and stop playing?
- Alice had a “dark continent at the core of me, a lawless place I tried never to visit...as familiar as the taste of medicine.” Why was she so angry and prone to bouts of rage? What did Ella teach her to do to try to subdue it?
- Finch thought that he and Alice had no choice but to keep going on their journey and could never return to New York. Alice, however, believed they had a choice, “and we’re choosing it. This isn’t fate, this is getting bullied by supernatural a**holes.” In what way were they both right? How much did fate play a role in each of their lives?
- What happened to Katherine when Alice slapped her? Why?
- What was the significance of doors, bridges, and “sewing the worlds up with thread”? Who played those parts or used those items, and what were the consequences?
- What were some of the things Alice recited in her head to keep her thoughts within safe borders? Can lists like this help with anger as well as anxiety? What are some things that might help you in a similar situation or other recommended lists?
- What are some of the flavors that the “truth serum” tasted like to Alice? Why? What might yours taste like? (Bonus: If you’ve read Harry Potter, how is this like the amortentia potion?)
- How do people become ex-story, and what happens to them afterward?
- What was Althea’s connection to Janet?
- Who had been sending people to destroy Althea’s book, and why?
- What were some of the modern stories and songs Alice sang or told for the bartender? Why do you think she chose those? What songs or stories do you know well from beginning to end?
- What happens when you finish a story in the Hinterland? Until when? What do stories do for this magical land when they’re being told?
- What had happened to the people in the castle? Why?
Butter Pecan Cupcakes With Honey Lavender Frosting Recipe
Alice drank her coffee at Harold’s with milk and honey. One of the smells of the streets of New York was the scent of sugared pecans in your face. During the game Memory Palace, Alice also chose honey for H because she liked it so much.
At the diner with Finch before they made it to the Hazel Wood, Alice had waffles, “lacy and buttery and studded with pecans.” There was also an off-the-menu latte Alice made for herself at Salty Dog, with honey and lavender syrup, and when she tried chipped ice (or a snow cone) for the first time, hers had cream and honey and lavender syrup. To combine those ingredients, using candy flavoring oils (not essential oils, as most are not safe to ingest), I created a recipe for butter pecan cupcakes with honey lavender frosting.
Cupcake and Frosting Ingredients
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 14 tbsp (about 1 1/3 cup) salted butter, at room temperature, divided
- 3/4 cup pecan halves, plus more for garnish if desired
- 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 tsp vanilla extract, divided
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tbsp raw honey, local preferred
- 1/8 tsp lavender flavoring oil
- 2 drops butter rum flavoring oil
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350° F. In a small saute pan over medium heat, toast pecans for about 3 1/2–4 minutes total, flipping every minute to prevent burning. If they start to blacken at all, remove from heat immediately. You don’t want them burned. When they have cooled at least ten minutes, roughly chop them into pieces. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, combine the brown sugar and 6 tablespoons of butter for about 2 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the dry cupcake ingredients: 1 1/2 cups of AP flour, baking powder, and baking soda. To your mixer, add the sour cream, milk, butter rum flavoring, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. When those are completely combined, drop the mixer speed to low and add the flour slowly, in thirds. After all the flour mix is incorporated, crack the eggs one at a time and add them to the mixer, still on low. Combine just until the eggs are mixed in. Then using a spatula, gently fold in your pecans just until evenly distributed. Scoop into paper-lined cupcake tins and bake for 16–18 minutes or until an inserted toothpick in the center of the cupcake comes out clean of any raw batter.
- For the frosting: in a clean bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, combine the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter with the honey. Drop the speed to low and slowly add half of the powdered sugar, the heavy cream, the lavender flavoring oil, and the remaining 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. When those are combined, add the last of the powdered sugar and the 2 tablespoons of flour. Frost onto completely cooled cupcakes. Garnish with extra pecans and a drizzle of honey, if desired. Makes about 20 cupcakes.
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Other books and authors referenced in this one were:
- The Blind Assassin,
- A Little Princess,
- Andrew Lang,
- Jane Eyre,
- Wilkie Collins, and
- the Harry Potter series.
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon also contains a book that has slowly been disappearing and a dangerous man who haunts the steps of the boy trying to discover what happened to the author, while hiding his only copy of the book from the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
- The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield also contains a story within the story, a book of tales that is missing the last one. A young adult woman is allowed to interview the reclusive author of the tales, though she cannot ask the questions, and finds out how many mysteries the reclusive author has raveled so tightly around her life.
- Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier and In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip are fantasy novels about fairy tale creatures who are trapped by other-worldly evils or spells and must find redemption, often with human help.
- “If you’ve spent your whole life running, how do you learn to stand still? How do you figure out the right way to turn your straw into brick?”
- “If you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.”
- “His expression mirrored what I felt—the black-hole suck of exhaustion that strikes after a trauma. When everything has changed and your messed-up brain is flying around the stars—then your body and all its needs imposes itself, cutting you off from madness.”
- “I’d let myself drift too close to the dark continent at the core of me, a lawless place I tried never to visit.”
- “Look until the leaves turn red, Sew the worlds up with thread, If you’re journey’s left undone, Fear the rising of the sun.”
- “I turned slowly in place, alone in a clearing in the deep dark woods. That was when I entered a fairy tale.”
- “Do you know what you do when you can’t find a door? You build a bridge.”
- “You’re a story, but that doesn’t make you any less true.”
- “I was slow to anger now, more circumspect. I didn’t live like each day was a fuse to burn through and forget.”
© 2018 Amanda Leitch