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"The Clockmaker's Daughter" Book Discussion and Chocolate Cupcakes With Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting 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.

Book review and discussion

Book review and discussion

The Clockmaker’s Daughter Book Club Questions

Elodie Winslow lives in London, working in a basement cataloging the archives of Stratton, Caldwell, and Co. She’s engaged to a man whose mother is obsessed with her own deceased mother’s musical performances and tragic end. Expected to have an elegant, high-society wedding, Elodie is much more interested in researching the contents of an old leather monogrammed satchel she’s discovered: a black leather sketchbook with an unknown man’s initials, and inside a small silver frame, a photo of a captivating woman and a scribbled, torn note about love and madness. However, what ensnares her most is a sketch of a place her mother described in bedtime stories: a river, woods, and a very detailed gabled house that Elodie had, until now, believed to be fabricated by her mother’s imagination.

“They all have a story, the ones to whom I am drawn...a loss that ties them together.” Another woman also narrates elements of a mysterious tragedy, a ghost who hid behind the name of a deceased friend to attain the life she desired but was denied because of the greed of her captors. She haunts the manor house now, watching the man who is searching for a lost gem, eager for someone curious enough to piece together the missing components of her life and those she left behind.

Filled with all the people across centuries who have suffered loss and lived within the haunted walls of Birchwood Manor, often unknowingly beside its longest inhabitant, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a riveting, revelatory novel that begs to be reread immediately after its layers of secrets have been unpeeled. With a web of characters so intricately interlaced, this story is a treasure of interwoven tragedies and the history of a house’s skeletons.

Perfect for Fans Of:

  • Mystery
  • Historical fiction
  • Artists/art
  • Unsolved mystery
  • Murder mystery
  • Ghosts
  • Gothic fiction
  • Haunted/tragic houses
  • Split-time stories
  • Photography
  • Family drama/secrets
  • The woods/rivers
  • Priceless jewelry
  • Romantic drama
  • Love triangles
  • Overcoming struggles
  • Orphan stories/street urchins
  • Friendship stories
  • Tragedy
  • Suspense
  • Surprises

Discussion Questions

  1. Why would Elodie, who “subscribed to the French notion of...the right to be forgotten,” choose a job that involved the intimate, personal details of someone’s life? Who else subscribed to this idea?
  2. Was it true that “there was love so powerful that its loss could drive a person mad?” Is that what happened to Edward when “Lily” died?
  3. Why did Birdie use the false name of “Lily Millington”? What value did she place on a name, particularly her real name? What was it?
  4. Why were the police reports of the death at Birchwood Manor involving the artist's “works of utter fiction”? Why was that “how things were done back then”? Are things still covered up now, and why might they be?
  5. What was Little Girl Lost, and why did it change to Little Girl Passenger? What were some of the challenges to each?
  6. How did Little Girl Passenger lead to meeting Pale Joe? Why did Birdie continue to visit him? What were his strengths versus weaknesses?
  7. In what ways did Pale Joe know Birdie better than Edward had? Do you think he thought her “a faithless jewel thief who fled to a better life in America”? What became of him?
  8. Who was Ada Lovegrove and how was she, like Birdie and even Edward, another abandoned child? What was the blue light she reached out for and how did her story end?
  9. Who were the Eldritch children, in the old local folktale that Lucy told Leonard?
  10. Juliet told stories of Mrs. Marvel’s garden party to Tip to help him fall asleep at night. Who else told stories to their children? How did the stories connect all of these characters?
  11. Why had Lucy been “very picky about tenants” but then allowed Juliet and her children to come stay at Birchwood Manor?
  12. How did Edward’s paintings convey his emotions, with View from an Attic Window, for example, never being purchased from the gift shop, yet admired in the tour? What emotions did that painting represent? What emotions might his paintings of “Lily” have conjured?
  13. How was Juliet connected to the history of the house through her “Letters from the Laneway”? What was her connection to Elodie?
  14. Why did Thurston refuse to see photography as art, or think that it wasn’t for “communicating on a serious subject”? How has history proven wrong? Are there any photographs or photographers in your mind that stand out for their gravity and seriousness?
  15. What was Lucy’s part in the tragedies at Birchwood Manor, including what became of the Radcliffe Blue?
  16. What had happened with Jack just before he left the police force, and Sarah left him with the girls? Do you agree with what he did and that he was a hero, or with what his wife thought about it?
  17. What secrets surprised you in this novel?
  18. In what ways were each character connected to one another?

The Recipe

“Lily” Birdie was brought cake by Edward’s littlest sister when she sat for him to be painted.

At dinner with her parents, Elodie’s father brought out a dessert of some type of “strawberry concoction.”

When Birdie went with the real Lily to the market, “costermongers lined up by the dozen to buy the best strawberries from the delivery cart.”

Juliet and her children had a picnic with the welcome basket the publican’s wife gave them. In it was a wedge of cheese, strawberries, a pint of creamy milk, and “beneath it all—what joy!—a small block of chocolate,” among other items.

Felix also shared a “cloth-wrapped bundle of strawberries” with the others on the day they all arrived with Edward to see and paint at Birchwood Manor.

To incorporate these ingredients into one cake recipe which could be enjoyed with a cup of tea, I’ve made chocolate cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese frosting.

Chocolate cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese frosting

Chocolate cupcakes with strawberry cream cheese frosting


For the cupcakes:

  • 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 unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup whole milk, heavy cream, or buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup hot, freshly brewed coffee


  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together granulated and brown sugars with the oil on medium-high speed for one minute. In a separate bowl, sift or stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Drop the mixer to the lowest speed and slowly add the flour mix, followed by the milk (or cream), two teaspoons of vanilla, and the eggs.
  2. Allow to combine for about two minutes, until the eggs and flour seem fully incorporated. Stop the mixer to scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula if anything is sticking to the walls of the bowl and not adding in to the batter. On the lowest speed, slowly and carefully pour in the hot coffee a little at a time. When all of it is in the bowl, stop the mixer, scoop any batter from the bottom of the bowl to the top, and then mix for two minutes on medium-low speed. Bake in paper-lined cupcake tins for 16-18 minutes, or until you can insert a toothpick into the center of each cake and it comes out clean of any raw batter or crumbs. Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes.

Frosting Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of salted butter at room temperature
  • 4 oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp plus 2/3 cup whole milk, cream, or buttermilk, divided
  • 1 cup dehydrated or freeze-dried (not frozen or oven-dried) strawberries
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp strawberry baking emulsion or flavoring oil (optional, but preferred)

Frosting Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, cream together butter and cream cheese for two minutes. While those are combining, add dehydrated strawberries to a food processor or blender and pulse until it's mostly a powder. Add this to the mixer on low speed, along with the milk (or cream) and the vanilla extract. Stop the mixer to scrape down the insides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula so that everything is getting incorporated.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, about half a cup at a time. Then add the strawberry baking emulsion. Stop the mixer again to scrape the insides of the bowl. When the powdered sugar seems to have disappeared, increase the mixer speed to medium for one minute. Pipe onto cupcakes that have cooled at least 15-20 minutes (outside the baking pan). I used an XL rose tip for piping, but you can use any you'd prefer, or just cut the tip off a zip-top bag and pipe from it.

Rate the Recipe

The books by Kate Morton most similar to this one are The Distant Hours and The House at Riverton. Her other books include The Lake House, The Secret Keeper, and The Forgotten Garden.

Authors mentioned within this book are Dickens, Bronte, Tennyson, Keats, and Shakespeare with his play The Tempest. Also mentioned are The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells's The Time Machine.

Tiffany Blues also features a summer artists camp at an old family mansion where secrets lie buried, and a famous sapphire is stolen, the Tiffany Blues, much like this novel's Radcliffe Blue.

The Swan Thieves is about an artist who stabs a painting at a national art gallery. He had once been part of an artist's group

The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman also has a mother who every night tells a story she wrote to her daughter to help her sleep, a story about a selkie woman with jewels crusted in her hair into a net of tears, which represents a very real, priceless necklace her daughter searches for, years later, renovating the hotel where she once grew up.

Pale Joe is very much like Collin in The Secret Garden.

Notable Quotes

“Human beings are curators. Each polishes his or her own favored memories, arranging them in order to create a narrative that is the only way that people can live with themselves and the weight of their experiences.”

“What joy, to be released from life’s fear by the simple knowledge of love.”

“There is a wound that never heals in the heart of an abandoned child.”

“The earthy gives up its secrets in good time...and always to the person it intends...Rivers are different...rivers are always on the move. They take their secrets and mysteries with them to the sea.”

“Hora pars vitae...Every hour is a part of life. Serius est quam cogitas...It’s later than you think.”

“The land does not forget...Place is a doorway through which one steps across time.”

“The earth is ancient and it is vast and there is much that we do not yet comprehend….science and magic...are both attempts to understand the way that our world works.”

“One must forgive oneself the past or else the journey into the future becomes unbearable.”

“The truth depends on who it is that’s telling the story.”

“...Death had tied them together. They were two moons bound in orbit around his memory.”

“He’d lost his way, but hope still fluttered in and out of focus like a bird, singing that if he kept putting one foot in front of the other, he might just make it home.”

“Loss leaves a hole in a person and holes like to be filled. It is the natural order.”

“...if one sends enough opportunities out into the world, eventually they come back.”

© 2018 Amanda Lorenzo


Naude Lorenzo on October 30, 2018:

A very interesting book and as usual an awesome recipe, thanks Amanda.