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"Something Like Happy" Book Discussion and Chocolate Caramel Cupcakes Themed Recipe

I wish to inspire readers, teachers, and book clubs to bake along with their reading and promote discussion about the books we've enjoyed.


Annie is a depressed thirty-something loner who just wants to get through another day at her awful office job, then to the hospital to visit her mother with dementia, and then back to her tiny, damp flat and avoid her happy gay Greek roommate to watch more TV doctor dramas, only to wake up the next day to her same, empty routine. She never expected Polly, a vivacious blonde about the same age with a brain tumor which she’s named Bob, to shove her way into Annie’s life with a chocolate cupcake and an absurd 100 days of happiness challenge. Polly is a regular at the hospital where Annie visits her mother, and has the surly, Scottish Dr. Max who lives on Twix bars show her that Polly’s tumor means she only has about three months left to live. So live each day she will, even if it means jumping in fountains, having a nude portrait done, or adopting a puppy from a terrifying man. Polly has no fear or hardly even any inhibitions, which is perfect for the reticent Annie, who has long needed to stop crying over her life’s tragedies and letting those define all that she is. With Polly’s help, her brother George, the roommate, and even the cautious Dr. Max, Annie and Polly begin an adventure toward 100 days of happiness, even in small ways, and even when chased by the greatest griefs a person can experience. Something Like Happy is uproariously funny and heart-wrenchingly tragic, inspiring tears and laughter, and encouraging us all to find small ways to make ourselves, and those we’re accustomed to not even see, somewhat happier.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why was the “most dangerous London pest” the person who made eye contact and spoke to people on the bus, or even the homeless man on the street, like Polly did? How did these actions/mentalities reflect each woman’s perspective on life at the beginning of the book?
  2. How was Polly given an “amazing opportunity” by not having to deal with “any of that rubbish we spend our time on—bills, pensions, going to the gym”? Why were those rubbish to her? What things might be to you if you had a brain tumor? Do we waste too much time on those or similar things?
  3. What do you think of Polly’s statement “lottery winners go back to the same levels of happiness as before they’ve won. And people in serious accidents do too, once they’ve adjusted to their changed lives. Happiness is a state of mind.”
  4. Polly made Annie a list of “ten things to do at lunchtime within ten minutes from your office: yoga, a singing group, a street market.” Which things did she do, and why? What things could you do at lunch to make your workday more enjoyable, or even happy?
  5. Why did Polly choose Annie to try her happiness experiment on?
  6. Why did Polly’s friends treat her differently, more as if she’d break? Why did that bother her? How had Annie also lost all of her friends?
  7. What happened when annie and Dr. Max tried to return the puppy to a big, burly man?
  8. What was Annie’s tragic, “most pathetic” story, and how had she come to be in the situation she as in?
  9. Would you think it would make any difference to most people living their lives if they were reminded, as Polly said, that they were going to one day? What if they finally realized it and let it sink in? Would some people change some things about their lives? What would you change?
  10. Even though his sister was dying, and prompting everyone to go live their best life and not settle, how was George settling with a bad relationship, and why?
  11. Why did Polly cry about her husband instead of about her cancer when she found out the diagnosis about it?
  12. What were some of the similarities between Polly and Annie?
  13. Why did an ex-coworker come to see Polly, convinced at the eleventh hour that the cure for her cancer was avoiding “meat, sugar, alcohol, gluten, and all additives”? What made people like that think they could show up to see Polly now, now that she was finally dying, and why did making Polly’s tragedy her fault make them feel safer? Why did it make Valerie furious?
  14. Why did people like Polly or Annie live “in London, where we work just to pay for travel and rent on horrible damp flats on the tenth floor? Is that why Dr. Max appreciated his home in the country so much, in Scotland?
  15. Why did it mean so much to the homeless man outside the hospital that Annie talked to him like a person?

The Recipe

Right after Annie meets Polly, Polly asks her if she likes cake and offers her a cupcake, with wavy chocolate frosting. Again later, Annie offers a piece of cake to Johnny, the homeless man who lives outside the hospital. She notes that “Cake was a small thing, in the scheme of things, but she knew from her first meeting with Polly that it was still something.” And Dr. Max was often found at the vending machine with a Twix, sometimes one in each hand. To combine the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting and Twix candy bars, I created a recipe for:

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate and Caramel Frosting

*You can use store-bought or homemade caramel sauce. Homemade is best, and some great recipes for it can be found on the Sally's Baking Addiction or Tasty Kitchen websites.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate and Caramel Frosting



  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, divided
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp plus 1 tsp vanilla extract, divided
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp cocoa extract, divided
  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp hot coffee, freshly brewed
  • (1/2 cup) 1 stick salted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4 tbsp caramel sauce, homemade or store bought
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • a bag of fun sized Twix candy bars, for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine the oil with the brown and granulated sugars in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed for about two minutes. Sift together flour with baking powder and soda and 2/3 cup of cocoa powder.
  2. When the sugars and oil are combined, drop the mixer speed to low and add the sour cream, one tablespoon of cocoa extract, two teaspoons of vanilla extract, and the eggs, one at a time.
  3. When those are fully combined, add in the flour mixture, just until it starts to pull together. Then stop the mixer and pour in the cup of hot coffee. Turn the mixer back on to low speed and mix for about a minute. Then stop the mixer again to scrape down the insides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula and allow them to combine again for one more minute on low. Then scoop the batter into paper-lined cupcake tins and bake for 17-19 minutes, or until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean of any raw batter, only crumbs.
  4. For the frosting, combine the butter with the remaining 2/3 cup of cocoa powder in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, on medium-high speed. Then add the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract, the tablespoon of cocoa extract, and half of the powdered sugar, now on low speed. After a couple minutes, when those are combined, add the milk, the tablespoon of coffee, and the rest of the powdered sugar, and mix to combine, about another 1-2 minutes.
  5. Using a small spatula to scoop the frosting into a piping bag with an XL star tip. Frost cupcakes that have cooled at least fifteen minutes. Then drizzle the caramel sauce over the cupcakes, and garnish with a bit of crumbled or whole Twix bars.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate and Caramel Frosting


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Similar Reads

Other authors mentioned in the book are Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the book Man’s Search for Meaning.

Furiously Happy is a hilarious memoir by Jenny Lawson about living with depression and yet still trying to live your best life. Jenny Lawson’s books are notorious for blending wit, outrageous circumstances, and and tragedy into one moving story.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a hilarious, awkward contemporary novel about an introvert with a tragic history who begins to make some necessary, positive changes in her life, including her gut-busting first time getting waxed at salon, and learning how to even get along with coworkers.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is a contemporary fiction about and old man whose wife has died and feels he has nothing to live for, until an obnoxiously needy yet bossy pregnant neighbor and her family move in next door and save him many times over.

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Notable Quotes

“It was always comforting to see there were people who’d made worse decisions than she had.”

“That’s my brain tumor. I call it Bob.”

“My life, or what’s left of it, is now intensely concentrated, thanks to Bob..And I plan to make the absolute most of it.”

“I wish I’d come here once a week and just looked at this [painting]...but instead I just looked at lots of stupid things—work colleagues I hated and the inside of dirty trains and stupid internet stories about which celebrities got fat...I wasted all that time.”

“It’s normal, this kind of up and down. It’s all the emotions, hitting her at once like a wave. Trying to live your hardest at the same time you’re dying. The old rules don’t apply anymore. You just have to strap in for the ride.”

“People can keep going for a long, long time on autopilot. Hope is the last thing to die.”

“Do you realize you’re going to die? Maybe not today or tomorrow but one day...Let it sink in. Wouldn’t you drop everything and do the one thing you’d always dreamed of?”

“I wanted my life to mean something now, not just after I die.”

“That was what death meant. It meant it was too late for everything.”

“Sometimes our brain can’t take in the biggest thing. It sort of masks it, to protect us. I once cried for three hours because I couldn’t find my left shoe.”

“They’re sort of thrilled by it. Terrified it might happen to them, relieved that it isn’t. It’s voyeurism, really. And if they can think of a way it might be my own fault, that makes them feel safer.”

“You’re the brave one. You’ve had to live with the worst pain I can imagine. One that positive thinking and yoga could never touch. And you’re still going...That’s bravery. That’s a battle...You were swimming against the current, every day.”

“You talked to me. Like I was a person. That means more than you know.”

© 2018 Amanda Lorenzo


Naude Lorenzo on May 11, 2018:

A beautiful book and delicious recipe by Amanda, we look for her recipes all the time, it will be perfect for mother's day. Tanks Amanda

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