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"The Thirteenth Tale" Book Discussion and Orange Ginger Spice Cupcake 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.


A bibliophile named Margaret works in her father’s antique bookshop, also writing small biographies about obscure people long gone. Content in her life, she shockingly receives a letter from one of the most brilliant writers of her time, Miss Vida Winter, notorious for tormenting readers (with her unpublished Thirteenth Tale in a volume of only 12), and journalists (with a new mythological biography at every interview) alike. Miss Winter decides to share the whole story of her upbringing at Angelfield House, and the truth of the characters who have spent her entire life haunting her, waiting for their story to finally be told. But why now, and why to a girl who, until she received Miss Winter’s letter, had never even read her works, or any contemporary fiction for that matter? Margaret will be staying at Miss Winter’s lavish home with an immaculate, dream library, filled with endless wooden shelves of books, cozy chairs, and lamplight. There she will learn the whole, true story that the literary world has been longing to hear, and to find out whatever happened to the elusive Thirteenth Tale, or Tales of Change and Desperation.

With multiple plot twists and deep character development, The Thirteenth Tale will be a favorite that can’t be paused for all Gothic fiction, mystery, and literary fans alike. It is as absorbing, demanding, and tragic as Vida Winter; brilliant and poetic, perfect for those hungry for stories and a clever mystery.

Perfect for Fans of

  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Gothic fiction
  • The Bronte sisters
  • Kate Morton
  • Tales about twins, sisters, or authors
  • Drama/tragedy
  • Mysteries/puzzles
  • Surprise twists

Discussion Questions

  1. Miss Winter asks, rhetorically, “What succor, what consolation is there in truth, compared to a story...When fear and cold make a statue of you...what you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.” How true is this for her, or for Margaret? Why?
  2. Why did Margaret prefer old novels to contemporary ones? What aspects of them did she prefer? Why did that change once she began reading the novels Vida Winter wrote?
  3. Very often people become famous only after death, but Margaret is fascinated by people of the opposite type, whom she calls “also-rans: people who lived in the shadow of fame in their own lifetime and who, since their death, have sunk into profound obscurity.” Do you know of any historical characters who fit this description? What makes them stick out to you?
  4. What did you think about Miss Winter’s first lines in her Thirteen Tales about children mythologizing their birth by not telling the truth, but rather, telling a story? Was this her, in essence, tattling on herself, to all future interviewers and curious readers alike?
  5. Margaret and Miss Winter both agree that “There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.” Where do they each draw the line in what they read and write, and what does this say about their character? Where do you draw the line?
  6. “Of course one always hopes for something special when one reads an author one hasn’t read before…” —Margaret found this delight in Miss Winter’s books. What authors or books have had this impact on you?
  7. 5. Miss Winter notes about her scarred hand that “One gets so used to one’s own horrors, one forgets how they must seem to other people.” Of what else is she speaking? How do we see that in people sometimes, or in their homes or habits?
  8. What are some of the similarities seen from Charlie in Adeline and Emmeline? Do you believe that, for this reason, he probably was the father of the twins? Why or why not?
  9. The Missus surmised that people who are not twins must seem like halves or amputees to the girls, and that “ordinary people, untwins...tormented by their incompleteness, strive to be part of a pair.” Which characters in the story does this fit? How did a turning of the head and a photo in a tin reveal this to Margaret, which she had inexplicably felt all her life? What was “the shadow” her sister had left behind?
  10. Miss Love felt apprehensive about turning the heel of a sock twice, because the first two times had resulted in tragedy for her, yet the third time proved a pleasant surprise. Is there something about the rule of three, as Miss Winter stated earlier in the book when meeting Margaret? Do you think her character significant, or similar to any other characters in any way?
  11. When teaching about gardening, John-the-dig gives the following advice: “how you see it now, from a distance, keep that in your head when you’re seeing it close up.” How and in what other areas of life could this advice be applicable? Would keeping it in mind have helped any of the sisters or main characters, and perhaps given them a better outcome to their stories?
  12. What do you think was the significance of the phrase “the dead go underground” for “Emmeline”? Was it merely the utterance of a broken mind, lonely and desperate, or was there something else to it?
  13. Why did Aurelius go to Angelfield house? How was he tied in to the story?
  14. Why does grief seem to “shroud us in our own separate miseries”? What can we do about it, that even Vida was doing with Margaret? Karen Blixen said: “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story…”
  15. Miss Winter states that “silence is not a natural environment for stories. They need words. Without them they grow pale, sicken and die. And then they haunt you.” Is this why she finally decides to confess all to Margaret? Does Margaret share the same types of ghosts? Who else does?
  16. Dr. Clifton believes that “appetite comes by eating.” Is this finally true for Margaret in the end? Has it ever been true for you, literally or metaphorically?
  17. How is it possible that Miss Winter’s disease was a “distillation: the more it reduced her, the more it exposed her essence”? Does disease ever do that to people, in your experience? Is it sometimes a negative thing?
  18. Both main female characters (Margaret and Vida) believe that “bereaved twins are half souls.” Are they the only ones, or do others feel this way as well?
  19. Hester believes that “destructiveness is generally a side effect of rage” except in Adeline’s case. Why do you think this is? What breaks her of it, or is she ever broken?
  20. Have you ever felt tied to someone, as the twins were, and their mere existence in your life, no matter the distance, made you feel more confident? Has it stayed that way? What made it so for the twins?
  21. Do you think the twins were “resistant to the idea of having an identity separate” from each other? What causes this sort of codependency— is it only from being a twin, or are others like this as well? What happened to each of them when they were separated?
  22. Hester and the doctor develop a bond in working so closely together, that to her, it seems as if they are reading each other’s minds and anticipating needs. Is this solely because of working so much together on such an intense project? Is it possible for people to be so close and still not develop romantic attachments, or was their affair inevitable?
  23. What does it say about the cousin that she remained nameless her entire childhood, and how did it affect her throughout her life? How would you feel about/have been affected by not having a name? Are they tightly tied with a sense of identity, purpose, and importance?
  24. Who do you believe it was that was pulled out of the fire? What do you think Miss Winter really believed, deep in her soul?
  25. How do you think Margaret’s story ended, after the novel finishes? What becomes of her relationship with her mother? With Dr. Clifton?

The Recipe: Orange Ginger Spiced Cupcakes with Orange Ginger Frosting

More than once, Aurelius makes or brings his ginger spice cake to Margaret. Once, at his home, he even makes up a fresh batch of it for her: “He sieved flour, chopped butter into dice, zested an orange. It was as natural as breathing.” He thought that “nine is a bit too adjacent to breakfast for cake…So I thought, invite Margaret back for elevenses. Cake and coffee.” To try to imitate his comforting recipe, the following recipe was chosen, because it also included Aurelius’ secret ingredient of orange zest (which you can also add a tsp or up to a tbsp of in the ginger spice cake as well, if you’d like).

Orange Ginger Spice Cupcakes with Orange Ginger Frosting



For the cupcakes:

  • 1/4 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large orange, zested and juiced (about 1/4 cup juice)
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 1 large orange, zested
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp LorAnn orange baking emulsion, (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger, or 1/2 tsp more for optional stronger ginger flavor


  1. Preheat your oven to 325° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, cream together the butter, sugars, and orange zest for two minutes. Drop the mixer to medium, add the orange juice, Greek yogurt (or sour cream), vanilla, and (optional) orange oil and mix for one to two minutes until creamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and powder, and the spices. Drop the mixer to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, about 1/3 to half of the bowl at a time. When all are combined, add the eggs, one at a time, just until mixed.
  2. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners and scoop cupcake batter into each until about 2/3 full. I like using a large ice cream scoop. Bake for 18-22 minutes until you can insert a toothpick in the center of the largest cupcake and it comes out clean. Cool for fifteen minutes before frosting, preferably out of the tin (but wait until they have cooled at least 5-10 minutes before trying to remove them from a hot tin). Makes about 12-14 cupcakes.
  3. For the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the soft butter with the orange zest on medium-high speed for one minute. Stop the mixer, add half the powdered sugar, the ground ginger, and the orange juice, and mix on low first for one minute, then increase to medium for one more minute. Stop it again and add the rest of the powdered sugar, followed by the orange extract. Mix on low for one minute, then medium for half a minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then increase to medium-high for one minute, after the powder seems to have disappeared. Pipe onto cooled (at least 15 minutes) cupcakes. I used an XL star tip for these. Makes about 12-14 frosted cupcakes.

Orange Ginger Spice Cupcakes with Orange Ginger Frosting

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Similar Reads

For another tale of twins with tragic secrets almost as ancient as they are, read The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. Also by this author is the book The House at Riverton, whose main character and narrator, Grace, is quite similar to Miss Winter in several ways.

Several books mentioned within this one that are particularly similar to it, and probably some sources of inspiration for it, are Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Austen, Bronte, Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are also mentioned several times, as are the novels The Woman in White, The Castle of Otranto, Lady Audley’s Secret, The Spectre Bride, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Also by this author is the novel Once Upon a River, about about a weathered pub beside the Thames river, where stories are told and retold round the bar and a roaring fire, and a man washes up, banged-up and nearly dead, with a very young girl, seemingly as lifeless as a mannequin, and no notion of where they came from. The question of to whom she belongs spurs some controversy in a small town built on stories.

Daphne du Maurier’s short stories collections bear some resemblances with this novel, as do her Gothic novels Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel.

For other retellings of famous stories, like the novels Vida Winter wrote, you can read The Hazel Wood, or any books by Gregory Maguire such as Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Mirror Mirror, Macthless, or Hiddensee. You can also read Cinder for “Cinderella,” Uprooted or A Court of Thorns and Roses or Hunted for “Beauty and the Beast”, a Goblin King like the beast in Wintersong, Wildwood Dancing for “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” Wonders of the Invisible World for a mixture of short stories, mermaids in Dreams of Distant Shores, and something like Snow White in In the Forests of Serre.

Notable Quotes

  • “All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.”
  • “I never read without making sure I am in a secure position...Reading can be dangerous.”
  • “There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
  • “My hunger for books was constant. It was the beginning of my vocation.”
  • “Like flies in maber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic. As one tends the graves of the dead, so I tend the books.”
  • “There is no end to human suffering, only endurance.”
  • “There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.”
  • “Of course one always hopes for something special when one reads an author one hasn’t read before…the lost joys of reading returned to me.”
  • “Tragedy alters everything.”
  • “Perhaps emotions have a smell or a taste; perhaps we transmit them unknowingly by vibrations in the air.”
  • “...what better way to get to know someone than through her choice and treatment of books?”
  • “Readers...believe all writing is autobiographical. And it is so, but not in the way they think.The writer’s life needs time to rot away before it can be used to nourish a work of fiction. It must be allowed to decay...To write my books, I needed my past left in peace, for time to do its work.”
  • “We must seem like halves...people who had lost parts of themselves. Amputees. That’s what we are to them.”
  • “Ordinary people, untwins, seek their soul mate, take lovers, marry. Tormented by their incompleteness they strive to be part of a pair.”
  • “So they became friends, the way that old married couples often do, and enjoyed the tender loyalty that awaits the lucky on the other side of passion…”
  • “Children are capable of great cruelty. Only we do not like to think it of them.”
  • “They were like amputees, only it was not a limb they were missing, but their very souls.”
  • “For it was over, and she had come to life again.”
  • “She suffered longer, and she had suffered an amputee in the days before anesthesia, half crazed with pain, astounded that the human body could feel so much pain and not die of it. But slowly, cell by painful cell, she began to mend...there came a time when even r heart was able, for a time at least, to feel other emotions besides grief.”
  • “He was the first of my ghosts.”
  • “My tears, kept in too long, had fossilized. They would have to stay in forever now.”
  • “Miss Winter’s mouth gaped and grimaced, contorted into wild, ugly shapes by the grief that was too big for it...It was an agony I knew.”
  • “Only broken love can cause such despair.”
  • “Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you?”
  • “Words...were a lifeline.”

© 2019 Amanda Lorenzo


Pamela Lorenzo on November 12, 2019:

Great book and recipe. I love books as well.

Naude Lorenzo on November 12, 2019:

Very interesting book and a delicious recipe, thanks Amanda

Shawindi Silva from Sri lanka on November 11, 2019:

Great and I must try this recipe !

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