Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe

*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Ashton Hall, I provide your book club with a brief summary, food ideas and a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!

Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe
Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe

Ashton Hall is Lauren Belfer’s newest novel. Belfer, the novelist of acclaimed City of Light, has written another historical women’s fiction novel centering on women’s rights in a society and time that stifles them.

Touted by many as a gothic mystery, Ashton Hall has gothic vibes as well as a mystery, but I didn’t feel like that was the primary storyline. To me, it read very closely in feel and theme to The Mystery of Mrs. Christie. While that novel also features a mystery, its core was about women’s rights and independence. I felt the same can be said of Ashton Hall.

In addition to those things, the main character struggles to love her neurodivergent child through his trials and I found her dedication, even through some very tough incidents with her son, to ring true to life. If you have a child with behavioral struggles, you will likely relate to the main character, Hannah, and be glad to see the representation in a novel in a way that mixes the both the frustrations and the joys of loving such a child.

If you love an English setting, gothic vibes, and women’s rights, you’ll likely enjoy Ashton Hall.

With a mystery (hello skeleton), a complicated marriage story, a neurodivergent child and parent relationship, and women’s rights (both historical and present) to navigate, there’s plenty to discuss.

Ashton Hall is a novel chosen through Book Club Bites’ collaboration with The Best of Women’s Fiction podcast. Don’t forget to check out the fabulous Best of Women’s Fiction podcast where Lauren Belfer discusses Ashton Hall and more: HERE.

I’ve provided book club questions and delicious food ideas for Ashton Hall and Lauren Belfer has a special recipe for you! So if you are looking for book club ideas and more, keep reading!

Ashton Hall

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Here’s a brief summary of Ashton Hall:

From the publisher:

An American woman and her son unearth the buried secrets and past lives of an English manor house in this masterful and riveting novel from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Belfer.

“Infused with the brooding, gothic atmosphere of Jane Eyre or Rebecca … a novel that must be savored, one page at a time.” —Melanie Benjamin, author of The Children’s Blizzard 

“How many lives can you imagine yourself living?”

So Hannah Larson wonders. When a close relative falls ill, Hannah and her young son, Nicky, decide to join him for the summer at Ashton Hall, a historic manor house outside Cambridge, England. Hannah gave up her academic career to raise her beloved child, who is neurodivergent and experiences the world differently from others, and she’s grateful to escape her life in New York City, where her marriage has been upended by a devastating betrayal.

Soon after their arrival, ever-curious Nicky discovers the skeletal remains of a woman in a forgotten, walled-off wing of the manor, and Hannah is pulled into an all-consuming quest for answers. Working from clues in centuries-old ledgers and the personal papers of the long-departed family, Hannah begins to recreate the Ashton Hall of the Elizabethan era in all its color and conflict. As the secrets of her own life begin to unravel, and the rewards and complications of being Nicky’s mother come into focus, Hannah realizes that Ashton Hall’s women before her had lives not so different from her own. She confronts what women throughout history have had to do to control their own destinies and protect their children.

Rich with passion, strength, and ferocity across the ages, Ashton Hall is a novel that reveals how the most profound hauntings are within ourselves.

“[Lauren Belfer’s] exquisitely illuminated story offers the vicarious indulgence of a stay at an English country house combined with an Elizabethan-era mystery and a meditation on women’s age-old struggles between independence and motherhood. . . . Belfer shows how history is a tangibly close presence.”—Booklist 

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Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe
Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe

For Ashton Hall Food Ideas:

There is actually quite a bit of specific food mentioned in this novel, which I think adds to the setting quite a bit. If you are wanting to create an English menu for your book club, I think you’ll find plenty of options in this list.

  • Alice organizes a ploughman’s lunch – sandwiches with cheddar and relish and green apples on the side. Brownies for dessert.
  • The local bakery serves gingerbread loaves and chocolate-almond croissants.
  • Matthew makes dinner – chilled gazpacho, salad of curried chicken, apples, and currants, and chocolate cake.
  • Lizzie and Hannah meet at the Orchard Tea Garden – pot of tea and currant scones with clotted cream and jam.
  • Dinner at Lizzie’s – hazelnut dacquoise for dessert.
  • Christopher returns home and regains strength – builder’s tea, with Scottish oat biscuits and homemade ice cream.

Lauren Belfer, spent some time living in England, and shared her love for bread and butter pudding. (Keep reading to see her fun memories!) She also shared tips for variations on the classic English dish!

I’ll say, this bread and butter pudding is wonderful as it is – no extra help needed. It reminded me of a baked French toast (very similar in taste and cooking technique). This recipe includes both chocolate and raisins, although most bread and butter puddings only include raisins.

I say bring on both! But you can eliminate the chocolate if you wish.

Whether you choose something from this list or try your own option, I hope these ideas will get your creative juices flowing to host your book club for Ashton Hall.

Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe
Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe
A few tips on making Bread and Butter Pudding:

Here are a few tips to help make your cooking experience the best it can be!

  1. If you have a large book club, I recommend doubling this recipe. It’s likely enough to feed about four people.
  2. Use a sturdy bread that will hold up to the milk, sugar, and egg mix. Brioche is a good choice.
  3. Cut off the crusts. This makes for a more uniformed texture in the dish. The crusts don’t soak up the milk well.

Whether you choose something from this list or try your own option, I hope these ideas will get your creative juices flowing to host your book club for Ashton Hall.

Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe
Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe

Ashton Hall Book Club Recipe:

Bread and Butter Pudding

Bread and Butter Pudding

This traditional English dessert sits somewhere between a pastry and a custard. Layered with raisins and chocolate, you'll love this Bread and Butter Pudding!
Prep Time 40 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 25 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert
Cuisine British
Servings 4
Calories 387 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 5 slices of buttered bread cut into triangles, with the crusts removed (breadcrusts, especially hard crusts, don’t absorb the liquid very well)
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips optional
  • Grated lemon rind from ½ lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • Butter to grease the pie dish

Instructions
 

  • Butter a deep, 1-pint pie dish.
  • Put in a layer of bread and butter slices, buttered side up
  • Add a sprinkling of raisins, chocolate chips, and lemon zest
  • Continue to add more layers, alternating the buttered bread with raisins and chocolate chips, and ending with buttered bread on the top
  • In a bowl, beat the eggs.
  • Combine the milk and sugar in a pot and heat almost to boiling, then allow it cool slightly.
  • Combine the milk and sugar with the eggs, whisking them together.
  • Pour this over the bread and butter layers and let the mixture rest for about a half hour, giving the bread time to absorb the liquid.
  • Bake at 325-degrees F for 45 minutes, or until the top is puffy and golden.
Keyword Bread and Butter Pudding, Bread Pudding, English dessert
Bread and Butter Pudding
Bread and Butter Pudding

More Fun from Lauren Belfer:

Please insert a short description of your recipe and why it relates to your novel. Include any information you think readers would enjoy!

When my husband and I lived in Cambridge, England – the setting of my new novel, ASHTON HALL – we became obsessed with what the English call bread and butter pudding. We took bread-and-butter-pudding crawls the way some people take bar crawls, making our way from one café and gastropub to the next to try their bread-and-butter-pudding offerings. One Cambridge café in particular, Stickybeaks, surprised us with their varied and superb flavor combinations – mocha, orange, and more, an inspiration for any baker. Alas Stickybeaks no longer exists, but its bread and butter pudding lives in our memories. This recipe is for a very basic bread and butter pudding. Recently a friend suggested adding a thin layer of orange marmalade along the bottom of the baking dish. Another friend recommended adding a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. In my version of the recipe, I’ve included bittersweet chocolate chips as an option, in addition to the traditional raisins. A friend has told me, in strong terms, that I should use one or the other but not both. I adore chocolate, and so I’m using both – the point being that once you have this basic recipe, the permutations are almost endless.

Good food and a good book go hand-in-hand. What is your favorite food to enjoy while reading?

Before I sit down to read a novel, I like to make a pot of strong English breakfast tea. I fill a small pitcher with milk to add to the tea, and I warm the milk in the microwave. I put one or two (okay, three or four) shortbread or ginger cookies on a plate. I reach for my favorite mug. After arranging these various items on a tray, I bring the tray to the small table next to my reading chair. I turn on the lamp … and I’m ready to lose myself in a book for hours.

Did you sample any interesting food while researching this book? Or experience anything exciting while researching?

ASHTON HALL developed from the months my husband and I spent living in England. While we were there, I devoted myself to sampling English food, and my food research continued in the years that followed, hand in hand with my historical research for the novel. I fell in love with English pastries, biscuits, puddings, and desserts – scones of all varieties, trifle, Eton mess, Eccles Cakes, sticky toffee pudding, short bread biscuits, Victoria sponge cake, lemon drizzle cake, and of course, bread and butter pudding. Sometimes I think about setting another novel in Britain just so that I can continue my research into British food.

Ashton Hall Book Club Questions:

*WARNING: May contain spoilers!

These book club questions were kindly provided by the author and/or publisher. Please use only for your book club and do not reproduce them.

  1. There are a number of themes in this book, including marriage, motherhood, family, sexuality, neurodivergence, and the dependence and independence of women. Which of them resonated the most with you? Are there any other themes or ideas that you see as crucial to this novel?
  2. The novel’s characters are distinctive and diverse. Did you have a favorite character throughout, or a storyline that resonated with you the most?
  3. Neurodivergence plays a large role in the story, through Nicky’s character. How did this character impact you? Why do you think the author decided to create Janet as a second neurodivergent character?
  4. Discuss Hannah’s relationship with Nicky. Did you learn anything from it? Did you identify with their relationship in any way?
  5. What are some of the parallels between Hannah and Isabella Cresham, the woman locked away in Ashton Hall? How does Hannah’s time there and her investigation into Isabella’s life help her process her life changes?
  6. In chapter 3, Mrs. Gardner asks: “How many lives can you imagine yourself living?” This question sticks in Hannah’s head throughout the rest of the book, prompting reflections on her “alternate” life that could have been. Do you ever reflect on the other ways your life could have gone? Do you find it compelling, or stress-inducing?
  7. Discuss the role of money, privilege, and class in Ashton Hall.
  8. What do you think of Hannah’s often humorous observations of British behavior? If you’ve spent time in the U.K., do you think they have the ring of truth?
  9. What do you think of the storyline focused on Hannah’s marriage with Kevin? Do you agree with how Hannah handled the situation with her husband’s infidelity? And what about her relationship with Matthew? Would you have handled either of those situations differently?
  10. Ashton Hall is a contemporary novel, but it does deeply explore a historical era, through Hannah’s investigation into Isabella’s life. What do you think of this dual timeline structure? Are there any storylines touched on in the novel that you wish had been further explored?
  11. How has each of the main characters changed by the end of the novel?
  12. What do you think of the book’s ending? Were you surprised by how events unfolded? What do you think of the final chapter, written by Hannah herself? What would you imagine came next for the characters?

Find Lauren Belfer:

Lauren can be found online!

Instagram: @LaurenBelfer1

Facebook: AuthorLaurenBelfer

https://LaurenBelfer.com

Don’t forget to check out the fabulous Best of Women’s Fiction podcast where Lauren Belfer discusses Ashton Hall and more: HERE.

Have you read Ashton Hall? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. In the event of a sale, I will be awarded a small commission (at no extra cost to you or the featured book’s author). All opinions are 100% mine and every book, unless otherwise noted, is handpicked by me to be featured on the site.

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Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe
Ashton Hall Book Club Questions and Recipe

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