"The Ghost Orchid" Book Discussion and Vanilla Chai Cupcakes Recipe
Ellis Brooks is an aspiring writer at the Bosco artist’s retreat in upstate New York. She is working on an account of a real event that happened there many years ago, involving a wealthy family who lost three of their children, and a medium who was brought in for a seance, where an artist died suspiciously young of a heart attack.
Along with the other three writers at the retreat, one of whom is writing a biography of the wealthy patroness, plus a garden conservationist, and the owner of the estate, each individual has a powerful connection with a person present at a tragic event that happened there nearly a century before—one whose unresolved ghosts will do anything to have their story told, and their spirits released by the woman who keeps them buried below the hill in the garden’s intricate pipes.
The other narrator of the story is Corinth Blackwell, a medium who suffered many great tragedies in her life, including a lost lover, Tom Quinn, whom she discovers now working for a sensation novelist living with Aurora and Milo Latham, a very wealthy, powerful couple who have called on Corinth to release the spirits of Aurora’s dead children from the garden.
As each woman’s past grippingly unfolds, the parallels in their lives merge into a heart-pounding apex that combines Native American folklore, a family’s secrets, and the deepest bonds of a mother to her daughter. A ghost tale for those who love a bit of history, suspense, romance, and art, is one of Carol Goodman’s most cleverly layered and riveting novels. The Ghost Orchid
Perfect for fans of
- historical fiction
- family secrets
- Native American folklore
- Native American culture
- writer's retreats
- historic art forms
- ghost stories
- gardens, fountains, and mazes (especially as metaphors)
- the movies The Illusionist and The Prestige
1. Did you find yourself looking up terms like “giochi di aqua” or “fontanieri”? Do you think that the author researched her details well?
2. The tea cups that they all used for meals were white china with “flow blue.” Corinth observed, “if only all mistakes looked so lovely.” Are there any other mistakes found in art or nature that perhaps make them more beautiful that they would have been if they were more perfect? Do you think David truly felt that way about the overgrown gardens?
3. Aurora describes experiencing extreme grief over the loss of her children, but seeing the statue of Egeria “seeing something so lovely...I felt an easing of my pain.” Has there ever been a statue, painting, piece of art, or place in nature that did the same for you? How do you feel about the power of art to console grief?
4. Corinth likes the appeal of living in one place, instead of moving around a lot, “so that if her soul ever left her body again, it would know where to come back to." Can you understand the appeal for her of staying in one place?
5. Did you feel any sort of sympathy for Aurora when you discovered the number of miscarriages she’d had? What did you think about her re-using the names of her dead children—is it morbid, desperate, sad, thrifty? Do you think there are any clinical mental disorders that Aurora might have?
6. Corinth keeps seeing a girl in white, which sometimes turns out to be stones, or the ghost orchid, or nothing at all. Do you believe she is having supernatural experiences? Have you ever had one?
7. Corinth’s mother calls “children who never lived to breathe outside their mothers’ watry wombs” “water spirits”. How does this differ from typical definitions of a water spirit? Do you think this is a better definition? Why?
8. When did the events of the past begin to really parallel from Corinth’s time to Ellis’s? It even permeates the relationship of Ellis and David to be like Corinth and Tom. Why do you think this happened?
9. When Alice’s hair is unpinned and unveiled to Corinth, did you begin to see their connection, or was it later? How did the author create a viable explanation for this?
10. Are the the living’s demands of ghosts more easily satisfied than ghost’s demands of the living? Why do you think Corinth feel the way she did? Would Ellis agree?
11. Why is there a common stigma that those who take their life, or who have unfinished business on earth, can never be free of this earth? Are there any sources that promote this idea? What do you think about it?
12. Why do the three Latham children come as stone, water, and wood—is it all Corinth’s attributing these symbols to them, or does Aurora seem to have created the same connection? Are these appropriate symbols, or can you think of better ones? Are these the connection which make it possible for Ellis to find and finish the work?
13. Tom sells an item to get enough money to help him and Corinth escape. After he does so, he gets what she calls “the money-glitter that she’s seen in men’s eyes before.” Why do you think she chose this name? How often do you think she’s come across it? Are there other “glitter” looks that men, or even women, get in their eyes?
14. Daria says that ghosts, like the people who call her office, “want their murderers unmasked, their bones found and buried, and their stories told.” How important is it to people to have their stories, especially tragic ones, told? Why is this?
15. Do you find it twisted logic, or the rationing of an already skewed mind, that Aurora “lost a little of her sanity with each” child, and thought that if she could sicken and save the last ones, “Then it would be as if she’d saved the others”? Does any part of you sympathize with her, after having lost so many? Does this make her a villain, a victim, or a little of both? Why?
16. Was Aurora's husband partially to blame for their children’s deaths? Could she have felt it was a slap in her own face that he kept sleeping around while she was trying to keep and save his children? Are Aurora and Mr. Oswald truly alike, in that he needed to “blame someone else for what he had done”?
17. Ellis struggles to explain that Aurora’s spirit was trapped in the hellebore root which kept blooming and re-growing each time it was hacked apart by David’s scythe. Why did it seem to her that it would be easier for the others to understand David’s possession by Milo, than the hellebore’s possession by Aurora? Why is it sometimes easier for people to believe in a human’s possession than for a spirit to come as an element such as stone or water?
18. Do you think that, by Ellis acting as Corinth, telling Tom the truth about his daughter, she actually changed his mind and the personal history of them all? Is such manipulation of the past dangerous? How did Corinth’s revelation actually help of each them?
19. If you could attend an artist's retreat anywhere in the world, where would you like it to be and what would you like to create there? Is that something you could try working towards now, a little at a time?
20. What do you think of Nat's "recovered memories"? What are the theories from other books and movies on altering the past and memories?
If you have time, read the short story, “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson. What parallels do you see in these two tales, in the characters, and in the events that unfold? Do you think this story could have partially inspired the author?
Throughout the book, the scent of the ghost orchid is described as a spicy vanilla mixed with cloves, and the scotch that most of the men, and some of the female writers, drink also has a spicy taste to it, like peat moss. To create a combination of these flavors and smells, and because the piped icing on top is reminiscent of a little white orchid, I chose the following recipe:
Vanilla Chai Cupcakes with Vanilla Chai Spice Frosting (with strong notes of vanilla, cloves, and cinnamon).
Vanilla Chai Cupcakes with Vanilla Chai Spice Frosting
Homemade Chai Spice
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp allspice
For the cupcakes:
- 1/2 stick (4 tbsp) salted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (vanilla) Greek yogurt or sour cream, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup chai tea, freshly brewed, but cooled to at least room temp.
- 1 tablespoon homemade chai spice
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the frosting:
- 2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, at room temperature
- 2 1/2 teaspoons homemade chai spice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon chai tea, cooled to room temperature
Vanilla Chai Cupcakes with Vanilla Chai Spice Frosting
- Combine the chai spice ingredients in a small bowl. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, 1 tablespoon of chai spice, baking powder, and soda. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about one-two minutes. Add the vanilla extract and sour cream (Greek yogurt). Mix one more minute, scraping down the insides of the bowl if needed.
- Drop the speed to low and add half the flour. Combine for one minute, then add the tea. Combine for one minute, then add the flour. Mix on low for one minute, then increase the speed to medium-high and whip together for two minutes, making sure to first scrape down the insides of the bowl. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and add the eggs, one at a time. Scoop into paper-lined cupcake tins and bake for 18-20 minutes. Cool completely before frosting, at least fifteen minutes. Makes about 16 cupcakes.
- For the frosting, whisk together butter and vanilla extract on medium-high speed until fluffy, about two minutes. Add the chai spice, half of the powdered sugar, and mix on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Add the tea, followed by the rest of the powdered sugar, and mix starting on low, then increase speed to medium-high once the sugar begins to disappear. Combine for another two minutes. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes using an XL rose tip.
Rate the Recipe
Vanilla Chai Cupcakes with Vanilla Chai Spice Frosting
If you enjoyed this author, The Sonnet Lover is similar in that it is both incredibly suspenseful as it unravels personal histories, and it also incorporates much of the arts—from tapestries and marble floors to, plays and, of course, sonnets.
Also similar in theme is her novel The Lake of Dead Languages, told from the viewpoint of a college professor returning to her old Alma mater, but who is being forced to relive the horrific tragedies of her last college days by an unknown specter who also demands a voice and her story to be told.
Authors mentioned within this book are the poet Yeats, Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, Edith Wharton's ghost stories, the Hardy Boys, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, The Bog People by Peter Glob, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
Another artist's retreat exists in the book Tiffany Blues, where the inventor of the Tiffany glass and we all know left a home to be used by artists, but a terrible tragedy surrounding a dangerous love triangle and art competition transpired instead.
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova is not a ghost tale, but is a suspenseful tale of an artist tortured by the woman who he is compelled to paint, and the ancient connection between them that the man’s psychiatrist pieces together, with the help an ex-wife and an ex-lover, to help the brilliantly mad painter, Robert Oliver, who attacked a painting in the National Gallery of Art.
The Tollund Man and the novel The Bog People are also mentioned in Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson.
Duma Key by Stephen King is another ghost story in which art plays a large part, and is located in a descriptive, beautiful setting, but in the Florida Keys. A man recovering from a terrible accident goes to an island to paint and find peace, but instead is met with a long-waiting, supernatural force. It at first inspires him to paint the most brilliant surrealist art, until Edgar Freemantle is finally forced to confront and, with the help of a friend, confine an ancient evil.
The Shining is also a classic ghost story by Stephen King, about a man who chooses to take along his wife and young child and become the caretaker of a haunted hotel whose apparitions take advantage of their isolation and his alcohol recovery, in order to add to their ghostly number.
For a very dark supernatural suspense about a serial killer, read Adam by Ted Dekker. It also traverses across time, revealing the gathered fragments of the history of the killer who monthly takes the life of a young woman, pieced together by the FBI agent who is tracking the elusive murdered, and will be faced with supernatural powers he never imagined existed.
"I came to Bosco for the quiet. That's what it's famous for. The silence reigns each day between the hours of nine and five by order of a hundred-year-old decree made by a woman who lies dead beneath the rosebushes."
"I've heard voices all my life that issue forth from no human lips."
"I can feel the wind go to ground, its voice muffled at last by the webs the tunnel spiders spin in the underground pipes of the old fountain. Tomorrow, it will rise again, carrying voices with its coppery breath..."
"...from the bottom of this dank tunnel something is looking back at me. A man's face, carved out of stone but so covered in green lichen that it blends into the surrounding greenery, and it's impossible to tell where the stone foliage that encircles his face leaves off and the actual underbrush begins."
"The Native Americans had another name for it...Ghost orchid, because if you saw it through a misty bog it would look—like you'd seen a ghost."
"The eloquence of water fills this hill,/ its history as winding as a maze,/ and influential yet, from vanished days/ that echo in the present, lingers still,/ like ripples in a river..."
"The third line is the prisoner of the rhyme."
"The ghostly spring still murmurs; water moves/ with atom-knowledge old as heat and light/ along the grotto's ancient limestone grooves/...a soothing blood for ancient bones of Earth..."
"When you have the gift, you can't hide from it. Sooner or later it will come looking for you."
"Elusive, evanescent as twilight,/ this velvet snow obscures this murky bog./ A spirit...moves shadowy and sudden through a fog/ that slithers across a pond's mossy skin/...The spirit is an infant lost at birth,/ forever roaming here..."
© 2019 Amanda Leitch