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"The Life She Was Given" Book Discussion and White Almond Cupcakes With Strawberry 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 book club recipe

Book review and book club recipe

The Life She Was Given Summary and Discussion

Lily Blackwood lives in the attic of Blackwood Manor, her parents never allowing her access to the outside world. But a circus visiting town will change the course of her life. Over twenty years later, Julia Blackwood runs away from Blackwood Manor and her controlling mother, only to discover that, at her lowest point, bathing in the sink of a gas station, her mother has died and left her the house which was never a home. Now Julia must make decisions about the race horses in the barn, and find the answer to why her father drank so much every night until he finally died drunk driving. What made her mother so cold and why did her father seem so sad and guilty? What secrets hide in this house, with pictures of an old circus and a ring of keys to rooms she’s never entered? The Life She Was Given is enthralling and tragic, evoking pity and sympathy for both children, animals, and the choices others thrust upon the innocent.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Lily was startled when Glory tried to take her hand or touch her. Why did she balk at human touch or kindness?
  2. When Lily first saw the caged lions, she “stared into his sad brown eyes and saw how beautiful and perfect he was, locked in a cage and filled with sorrow...all of a sudden the walled-in feeling of being locked in her room washed over her, and the heavy, horrible ache of missing home.” Why did she feel that way, especially missing home, despite all she went through there?
  3. What types of things caused Lily’s panic attacks, when “her lungs were too tight and her throat felt like it was closing”?
  4. Blackwood Manor had no pictures hanging on the walls, and the only picture of Julia was on her father’s desk in his den. Why didn’t mother allow pictures on the walls and around the house?
  5. Lily’s bravest ventures were to be with the animals in the circus, especially the elephants. Why was that? What did they understand about her, and her about them, that most of the other people didn’t?
  6. Why wouldn’t Glory leave Merrick, no matter what he did to her, or Lily, or the animals?
  7. Why did Lily’s father wait six years to approach her? How many times had he gone to see her? How did she react to him and why do you think she did so that way?
  8. What was it Lily could do with Pepper that so amazed Cole and the others? Did the two of them have a special bond? Was she that way with all animals? Did Julia have any of that bond with the horses?
  9. What did Julia decide to do to protect the horses at Blackwood Manor and other foals as well?
  10. Fletcher told Julia that “people who were cold and aggressive were not happy people” and they “treated others the way they did because they were unhappy within themselves… those who hurt others had been hurt themselves.” Who was that way in Julia’s and Lily’s lives? Yet why didn’t those women or Glory turn out that way?

The Recipe

Mrs. Benini, co-owner of the snow cone and cotton candy stands, made a white birthday cake with strawberry frosting to celebrate Dina, the Living Half Girl's birthday. This was also the night it was discovered Lily had a special talent for soothing animals. Also, a white birthday cake perfectly fits Lily's demeanor.


For the cupcakes:

  • 5 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup vanilla or plain Greek yogurt or sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, buttermilk, or heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp almond extract, (can be imitation)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp whole milk or heavy cream
  • 1/4 tsp strawberry flavoring oil, or candy oil, optional
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups freeze-dried strawberries, crushed or pulsed in food processor
White almond cupcakes with strawberry buttercream frosting

White almond cupcakes with strawberry buttercream frosting


  1. Preheat your oven to 330° F, and make sure your egg whites (only, no yolks), butter, milk, and Greek yogurt (or sour cream) are all at room temperature. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, cream together one stick (1/2 cup) of butter with the granulated sugar for about 2 minutes. Drop the speed to low and add the egg whites in three portions. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cream of tartar. To the mixer, add half of the flour mixture, and combine on low speed. Then add the Greek yogurt, milk, and the almond extract (I used imitation extract so people with nut allergies can still have these cupcakes, but real extract is fine for those without food allergies).
  2. Next, add half of a teaspoon of vanilla extract, followed by the rest of the flour. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape down the inside and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is combining. Scoop into lined cupcake tins and fill about two-thirds of the way. It should make 24 cupcakes. Bake for 19-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean of raw better. Allow to cool fifteen minutes on a baking tray before frosting. Makes 2 dozen cupcakes.
  3. For the frosting, make sure you use dehydrated (not dried) strawberries, because the lack of moisture helps the frosting to thicken up properly. If using dried strawberries, leave out the milk, and add 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, if needed, to achieve the right consistency. The strawberries will need to be pulsed in a food processor about 5-6 times, to break up any large chunks. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high, whip the two sticks of butter until smooth, 2-3 minutes. Then drop the speed to medium-low and add the strawberry flavoring oil and one-half teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. Turn the mixer down to the lowest setting and add two cups of powdered sugar.
  4. Add the milk (I used 2%, but anything with a higher fat content than skim is fine), followed by the last of the powdered sugar. Allow to combine, and stop the mixer to scrape down the insides of the bowl if needed. Stop the mixer, and pour in the dehydrated strawberries. Mix on medium speed for about a minute, or until the strawberries are evenly distributed. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes using an extra-large star tip or round tip. Makes 2 dozen frosted cupcakes.

Rate the Recipe

Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern are all bestsellers involving the circus, even its dark underbelly. Caraval’s Scarlett escapes an abusive father to see a circus that performs only once a year and involves very personal audience participation. Jacob in Like Water for Elephants loves is a vet who deeply loves animals and wishes them all to be treated well, but he makes the mistake of falling in love with the star of the show and the animal trainer’s girlfriend, leading to tragedy for all. The Night Circus is also unusual in its nocturnal performances and unannounced appearances, and a dark rivalry might lead to tragedy.

Other books by Ellen Marie Wiseman include The Plum Tree, What She Left Behind, and Coal River.

The Distant Hours has an old English manor home where 3 sisters now live, once raised by an eccentric writer father, who pushed each girl to his standards of brilliance, especially in writing. Many decades later, a girl who works in a bookshop interviews the sisters about their father and their unusual childhood in the extravagant home, and she will discover many tragedies, including one about her own mother.

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman is set in a large, but smoldering house in the Adirondacks, where tragedies and secrets must be uncovered by a young woman with a tragic past.

© 2017 Amanda Lorenzo


Hannah Robinson on September 18, 2017:

An excellent book and recipe, couldn't put it down, keep it going Amanda

Naude Lorenzo on September 18, 2017:

Beautiful book and recipe, Amanda is a great writer, love everyone of her books.