For Book Clubs

Almond Cake

Rich and buttery with big almond flavor, this cake is mixed in seconds in a
food processor, but it tastes fancy and sophisticated, and it keeps for days.
Serve it solo with great coffee, or garnish it with fresh fruit, Raspberry
Blackberry Puree or Saucy Berries, poached pears in wine, or any of the
cherry compotes. See the many variations that follow for more reasons to
make it again. The flavor and texture are best if you bake the cake at least a
day before serving.
● 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4.375 ounces) unblanched or blanched
whole almonds
● 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7.875 ounces) granulated sugar
● 1/4 teaspoon salt
● 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
● 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and slightly
● 1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)
● 3 large eggs
● 1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
● 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
● Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Butter the sides of the cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Put the almonds, granulated sugar, salt, and almond extract in the food
processor and process until the nuts are finely pulverized. Add the butter
and kirsch, if using, and pulse until blended. Add the eggs and process until
thoroughly blended. Add the flour and baking powder and pulse just until
incorporated, scraping the bowl once with a rubber spatula to be sure.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 35 to
40 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted
in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.
To unmold, slide a thin knife or a small metal spatula around the sides of
the cake to release it. Cover the cake with a serving platter and invert.
Remove the pan, peel off the parchment liner, and turn the cake right side
up. Wrapped airtight, the cake keeps well at room temperature for several
days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months; bring to room temperature before
If desired, dust the cake lightly with powdered sugar before serving.

Discussion Questions

Chapters 1-3:

  1. Were you immediately drawn into the story—or did it take a while?  
  2. Do you find the characters of Ellen and L’Amie convincing? Are they fully developed as complex human beings—or were they one-dimensional? 
  3. Which characters do you particularly admire or dislike? What are their primary characteristics? 

Chapters 4-6:

  1. How does Ellen change as she becomes a wife and mother? Has she settled for less than she wanted?
  2. Can you pick out a passage that strikes you as particularly profound or interesting? 
  3. What motivates different character’s actions? Do you think those actions are justified? 

Chapters 7-9:

  1. Is the story plot or character driven? Do events unfold quickly or is more time spent developing characters’ inner lives? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment? 
  2. If Ellen’s husband had lived, do you think she would have sued the county to vote?
  3. Do you think Ellen is a good role model for her daughter? Why or why not?

Chapters 10-12:

  1. Ellen enters a new phase of her life and we meet Emily. What are your initial impressions? Do you admire or disapprove of her?
  2.  How do you think Ellen will influence Emily? Or do you think Emily will influence Ellen?
  3.  Do Ellen or Emily remind you of anyone you know? How?

Chapters 13-16

  1.  Are the point of view shifts confusing or do they add to the story?
  2.  How do Ellen, Emily, and Eva’s early lives compare? Who has more family support?
  3.  Who in the book would you like to meet? What would you ask,or say? 

Chapters 17-20

  1.  How do you feel about Emily and Lillian’s relationship? Did it grow naturally or come as a shock?
  2. What are the dynamics of “power” between Emily and Lillian? How does that play a factor in their interactions?
  3. Is the plot well developed? Is it believable? Do you feel manipulated along the way, or do plot events unfold naturally, organically? 

Chapters 21-23

  1. Why do you think the author used Eva’s letters to further the plot?
  2. What is the significance of Emily and Lillian’s trip to Europe? How does it affect their relationship? Their professions?
  3. Why is Eva drawn so strongly to her Aunt Emily?

Chapters 24-26

  1.  How did you react to Ellen’s first trip to the polls? How do you think her voting influenced the other women in her family?
  2.  Does Lillian’s growing success affect her relationship with Emily? How about when Emily’s career stalls?

Chapters 27-30

  1. What is the significance of the title?
  2.  What effect does Ellen’s death have on the family?
  3.  Think about Eva’s relationship with her husband. How might Ellen and Emily feel about that?

Chapters 30-34

  1. As Eva’s children grow, how does she juggle family with profession?
  2. Is the role of wife and mother more important to Eva than it was to Ellen?
  3.  How does Eva plan to infuse her granddaughter with the legacy of strong women in the family?

Wrapping up the book:

  1. If you could insert yourself as a character in the book, what role would you play? 
  2. Consider the ending. Did you expect it or were you surprised? Was it manipulative or forced? Was it neatly wrapped up—maybe too neatly? Or was the story unresolved, ending on an ambiguous note? 
  3. Does the book remind you of your own life? An event? A person—like a friend, family member, boss, co-worker? 
  4. If you were to talk with the author, what would you want to know? I love talking about my book! Email me to have me visit your book club or Skype with you.

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