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"Love and Ruin" Book Discussion and Easy Orange Poppy Seed Muffins Themed Recipe

I am a voracious reader who loves to bake and enjoys books from almost every category of fiction, as well as biographies and memoirs.

Below are "Love and Ruin" questions for your book club.

Below are "Love and Ruin" questions for your book club.

Ernest Hemingway


Many people have romanticized the life of Ernest Hemingway, admiring his great works but missing his many human flaws. One of these people, initially, was the woman who would become his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, or Marty.

Through her eyes, we are exposed to the savage side of Hemingway and his tenderness. He is a justice fighter reporting alongside his young wife, a kind father, and a generous animal lover. At times, he can become a depressed, angry man who struggles to find purpose and inspiration for his next novel.

Marty, too, is a writer who wants to pour her life experiences and emotions into her characters, but her novels aren’t met with the same success as her husband’s. So she becomes a female war correspondent, sometimes to her detriment, revealing the complexity of a woman’s desires for a successful career and a happy home and the struggle of trying to balance both.

Part narrative of the pre-WWII Spanish war, part love story and tragedy, Love and Ruin is a raw and heartbreaking historical fiction, exposing war, death, and the things that give life worth.

Discussion Questions

  1. Marty’s father told her that she was “collecting people” because she needed their opinion about her, and that it wasn’t pretty to watch.” What did he mean? How would she repeat this pattern, and then see Ernest Hemingway do it as well?
  2. How was Cuba ninety nautical miles and half a world away? Is it still, and in the same way?
  3. The “damndest year” of Hemingway’s life was the one his father killed himself. How did that color his view of himself, of forgiveness, and contribute to his depression? How did their tragic relationships with their fathers bring Ernest and Marty closer together?
  4. Why did Marty want to badly to be on the battlefronts, with the people in the villages, telling their stories?
  5. What did Ernest mean about his new novel “not costing me enough”? And then, about accidentally walking into a skylight in Paris when things were very dark for him, he said Freud might say he “wanted to...break through to the hurting place”? How was his depression connected to his writing?
  6. Did strict accounting, or even drinking, help Ernest and others documenting the war to keep them from thinking about the actual people who have fallen? Why? Which people stuck out most in Marty’s mind?
  7. Why was it “far worse to be in a bad place in your mind when you were alone”? How did this contribute to Ernest and Marty’s relationship? What other things did as well?
  8. Of whom did Marty say:“They didn’t have an endless supply of bravery, because no one ever did. When courage failed them, they would find a way to stand their ground anyway and fight on spirit alone. They had that in spades—grit rather than bravery”? Were there other people in other wars, in other countries, of whom this could be said as well?
  9. Marty admitted: “My father hadn’t lived to see me redeem myself. I still wanted to feel his pride and validation.” How did she redeem herself, and why did she seek his pride in her work? Might that have influenced some of her decisions, since she couldn’t have her father’s approval, she wanted someone else’s?
  10. “If the same awful story could happen to him twice, there might be something twisted up in him, possibly from the beginning.” What was the awful story that “happened” to Hemingway? Did he create it himself? What was twisted up in him [some of his moods later: “bitter, wheedling, threatening, guilt mongering”]?
  11. Why, for a writer like Marty or Ernest, isn’t there “anything better. I have a sense there isn’t a bottom to any of it. That I can just throw my line down day after day, and the words will still be there”? How was the opposite one of their greatest fears?
  12. What was the “book of Ernest’s life”?
  13. What paradise was Marty speaking about when she said “Paradise was always fragile. That was its very nature”?
  14. What happened on board the ship that Marty said “something that might not be fully comprehensible to anyone who had not come through it. That was the thing about experience. It took distant strangers and made them a family. A family of one moment. There was no other way to see it, even as we scattered to the wind” ?
  15. Why did Marty feel about Hitler that “it should have been impossible for him to do as he did and think as he did, and be at home anywhere, be loved or cared for by anyone”? How was that possible?
  16. Did the Russian soldiers truly understand why they were fighting Finland? What had they been told? How was this a “war of gluttony” for men like Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin?
  17. Why did Ernest want a daughter so badly, and what did Marty see about him with his other children, and his freedom, that she would lose if she had a child?
  18. Why did Marty admit to Ernest, and what did it mean: “I would rather be darkly and dangerously happy, like living on a knife’s edge, than lose my way and forget my nature”?

The Recipe

After Marty saw her father in the hospital and “felt that all truly would be well,” Marty and her mother stopped at a German bakery for poppy-seed cakes.

At Valencia when reporting on the Spanish war, and before being in the reporting trenches at the hotel with Hemingway, Sidney picked up Marty, and she noticed his car was heavy with supplies, including fresh oranges, coffee, cured hams, and other things.

In Teruel, there was a bag of frozen oranges that for Hemingway to eat them, you had to hold the fruit over an open fire to soften it. After he’d eaten it, he could still smell the citrus oil on his hands.

To combine these, I created two options for Orange Poppy-Seed Muffins.

You can make these two ways: using a boxed mix, or from scratch. The recipe directly below is super-easy using a boxed mix I found at the local grocery store. I substituted the water in the recipe for orange juice, but the other ingredients are the same as those listed on the box, with the addition of vanilla extract. Trust me, you want to add this, even if it's imitation vanilla. It will bring out the flavors better. The other version is using flour, sugar, etc. but if you're not in a hurry, and you want to take the flavors to the next level, I HIGHLY recommend it instead. If you can't, I won't judge. Just enjoy your breakfast or afternoon tea, or, as they would in Cuba, con un cafecito!

Easy Orange Poppy-seed Muffins



  • 2 large navel oranges, zest and juice
  • 1 box lemon poppy-seed muffin mix
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl using a whisk, just to combined. The orange juice replaces the water required on the box. If you find yourself short on liquid, you can add regular orange juice, milk, or water to make up the difference.
  2. Scoop into muffin tins either lined with papers or coated with olive oil ( or canola oil) spray. Bake as directed: 350° F for 16-20 minutes. Makes one dozen muffins.

Rate the Recipe

Recipe from Scratch

If you would like to make the recipe fresh without a boxed mix, you can use the following recipe:


  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest and juice of two large navel oranges
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds


    1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed using a paddle attachment, combine oil with the 3/4 cup sugar for about two minutes. When those are combined, add the full teaspoon of vanilla extract, followed by the sour cream.
    2. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour with the baking powder and soda. Begin to slowly add this in quarter increments into the wet ingredients of the mixer while the mixer is on low speed. Halfway through, pause to add the orange juice and zest, then finish with the flour. Then add the eggs, one at a time. If some of the ingredients are sticking to the sides of the mixer, stop it and scrape down the insides with a rubber spatula. When all are completely combined, scoop about 3/4 into cupcake liners in a muffin tin. Be careful not to overmix. Bake for 16-19 minutes.
    3. For an even simpler version, you can use a boxed mix and simply add the orange juice, extract, and zest, replacing the milk in the recipe (or water) with the orange juice (if there isn’t enough orange juice to replace the entire amount of boxed liquid, a combination of milk or water and oj will be fine). Makes about 18 muffins.

Similar Reads

Other authors mentioned within this book are George Eliot, Keats, and other works are Candide, and Leaves of Grass.

More books by author Paula McLain are The Paris Wife, (also about Hemingway and his other wives), Circling the Sun, A Ticket to Ride, and her real memoir about being in foster care, Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses.

For more books about the life of Martha Gellhorn which inspired this author, try Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life, Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn, The Hemingway Women by Bernice Kert, or Hemingway and Gellhorn by Jerome Tuccille.

Works by Marty Gellhorn include the following, recommended by the author of this book: The Trouble I’ve Seen, A Stricken Field, Liana, The Honeyed Peace, The Heart of Another, The Face of War, The View from the Ground, and Travels with Myself and Another.

Another fantastic book about war, Cuba, love, and tragedy is Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton.

Carnegie’s Maid is another recently published historical fiction about love affairs and the power of a woman over a powerful man.

Notable Quotes

“You’re collecting people because you need their opinion about you. It’s not pretty to watch.”

“Beginnings are important too, darling. You should be patient with life.”

“If you were a writer, you pummeled your own soul until some words trickled out of the dry stream bed, enough to fill a saucer or a teaspoon or an eyedropper. And then you wept a little, or gnashed your teeth, and somehow found the fortitude to get up the next day and do it again.”

“I’ve been wanting something to care about for a long time, something larger than myself. It makes me afraid to go home again.”

“The interesting thing about chaos is that it provides perfect privacy.”
“Every death was equally horrible.”

“Dirty, hungry-looking children perched on pyres of rubble to watch us pass. Their eyes were huge and slightly accusatory—not because we’d done anything wrong, but because we had the freedom to come and go this way, leaving only a spiraling arm of dust behind the car to show we’d been there at all.”

“Maybe you have to be truly lost before you can find yourself again.”

“No other person can actually fill you up.”

“Real writing...was more like laying bricks than waiting for lightning to strike. IT was painstaking. It was manual labor. And sometimes, if you kept putting the bricks down and let your hands just go on bleeding, and didn’t look up and didn’t stop for anything, the lightning came. Not when you prayed for it, but when you did your work.”

“Loss happened the way the tide did, again and again, washing the white sand flat.”

“Franco took everything that was good. How can you miss what no longer exists?”

“A more charming man never lived, but he seems to demand a great deal from the woman in his life.”

“Writing is one way to keep certain places alive.”

“Perhaps anyone could get used to anything.”

“Governments and world leaders should be punished, not men.”

“I want to find the story I’m meant to write.”

“Even when other things come in loud, we have to keep choosing each other. That’s marriage. You can’t only say the words once and think they’ll stick. You have to say them over and over, and then live them out with all you’ve got.”

“When she flies, it’s not because she’s cruel or cannot love the man, or because she loves another, or for any reason, really, except that she’s a bird. She is what she does.”

“If we could lean on each other, we could bear anything, anything at all.”

“Why is it that a man can do his work and just get on with it, but a woman has to drop everything for her place at home or else she’s selfish?”

“My mind knew it was all finished, but the heart never knows, or if it does, it does only at the very last possible moment.”

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the most important thing you learned from reading the book Love and Ruin?

Answer: From reading this book, I learned a lot about Ernest Hemingway and the type of conflicted man he was, and even more about the power of the human spirit, particularly Martha Gelhorn's, and what things can be accomplished through determination and hard work, and what things, unfortunately, we must let go of.

© 2018 Amanda Lorenzo


Pamela Lorenzo on May 21, 2018:

Great discussion questions and yummy recipe.

Naude Lorenzo on May 21, 2018:

Must cubans like to read any book to do with Hemingway,with hes many faults, he lived a very interesting life. This recipe sounds delicious and for sure I will make it this week end. Thanks Amanda.