I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.
Beside an empty motel in New England stands the “Tower of London” in Vermont, built by the motel owner for his wife. A little girl named Amy grew up in a house beside her grandfather's ruined dream, raised by her grandmother, who kept the many secrets their family was cursed with. Jason, a neighbor boy whose first kiss had been with Amy as children, is now a police officer who discovers Amy's mangled body in what looks like a wild animal attack. The only surviving daughter he pulled off the roof to safety, but it is Jason’s wife, Margot, and her older sister Piper who will first discover the truth of what happened to Amy that night, and how everything is connected to the mysterious 29th room of the Tower Motel. The Night Sister exposes generations of beastly family secrets and the monsters that hide in dark towers.
Grandma Charlotte said once about Amy’s mom that “My poor Rose was never the same after we lost Sylvie...Never got over it. Some people are made stronger by loss. Others are broken by it.” Who really was broken by loss, and who was made stronger? How do people choose one over the other?
2. Sylvie wrote that in order to be a good hypnotist or good at anything, you must project self-confidence, and have a strong will. “Self-doubt will bring failure.” Was she right about her own circumstances?
3. Rose didn’t think she had any talents, that only her sister Sylvie did, but she was corrected by her dad’s friend Vivienne. “We’ve all got talents, dear. Some are more hidden than others. The trick, you see, is finding them.” What was each character’s talent, especially Rose’s, and how had it taken so long for her to discover?
4. Why was Rose so devastated when Lucy the cow died? How did Fenton try to cheer her up? Did these circumstances contribute to the tragedy that would happen soon?
5. Why did Sylvie write to Alfred Hitchcock thinking that he would understand that “every one of us has evil inside them”? What was she referring to?
6. Why didn’t Jason give the cigarettes to Amy in person? Why was he so afraid of yet intrigued by her?
7. Why had Piper tried to forget everything that happened her last summer at the tower motel? How had that only made the memories stronger, and Amy into “an archetype that she compared everyone else with”?
8. Rose kept the moth in the jar as “a reminder of how we all trick ourselves into believing what we need to believe.” What was she tricking herself into believing? Were there any other characters who deceived themselves from remembering the truth as well?
For Sylvie’s birthday, her mother made a three-layer devil’s food cake with white icing. This cupcake is a representation of that cake, with a vanilla frosting. Fenton and Rose also had hot cocoa in the trailer on one of Rose’s hardest days; it was “sweet and chocolatey and just what she needed.” Jason’s mom “didn’t believe in junk food, so she fed him food food instead: nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.” To represent his character as well, there is a small amount of almond extract in the vanilla frosting.
Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting
- 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) plus 1/2 tbsp salted butter, softened to room temperature,
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
- 1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup 60% bittersweet chocolate chips
- 3 tbsp milk
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 tsp almond extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, combine one cup of sugar and 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter. While those are mixing, in another smaller bowl combine flour, baking powder, cocoa powder, and baking soda. To the butter mixture, add the eggs, one at a time, while on medium-low speed. When those are combined, drop the speed of the mixer to low and add half the flour mixture.
- In a microwave safe bowl, melt 1/3 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips with 1/2 tbsp butter for 20 seconds, then stirring, then another 10 seconds at a time, for a total of about a minute and 20 seconds, or until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Then add the melted chocolate to the mixer and combine on medium-low speed.
- Add the buttermilk, sour cream, and one tsp of pure vanilla extract to the mixer. When the final liquids are incorporated, add the rest of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. If flour or ingredients are sticking to the sides of the bowl, stop the mixer and scrape the insides down with a rubber spatula. Spoon into lined cupcake pans about 1/2 full, and bake at 350° F for 16-18 minutes or until an inserted toothpick in the center of a cupcake comes out completely clean of raw batter. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before frosting.
- To make the frosting, whip 2 sticks (one cup) room temperature salted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about a minute. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and drop the speed to low. Mix for about 20 seconds, then add the milk, and alternate with another cup of powdered sugar. Then add the almond and remaining vanilla extracts, and the last cup of powdered sugar and mix until combined. Frost onto cooled cupcakes.
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Chocolate Birthday Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting
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Other chillingly brilliant works by Jennifer McMahon include the international bestseller The Winter People, Don’t Breathe a Word, The One I Left Behind, and Promise Not to Tell. Within this book, Piper mentioned Trixie Belden books and Nancy Drew mysteries as well.
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton also reveals generations of dark family secrets kept by sisters, as discovered by a girl whose mother once lived with them for a summer during the WWII bombing raids.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban also divulges ancient family secrets, some very similar to those which Rose and her grandmother Oma kept, as well as an abundance of chocolate to counteract traumatic experiences, such as rose went through.
For terrifying stories about haunted hotels, you can always read the story of the same name which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the novel by Robert Bloch. Stephen King’s The Shining is also a wonderfully frightening story about the ghosts that haunt an old hotel in northeast America.
© 2017 Amanda Lorenzo
Pamela Lorenzo on February 27, 2017:
Great book and excellent questions.