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Literary Friday: The Clockmaker's Daughter and The Witch Elm

Friday, November 2, 2018

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!

During Halloween week, I read two books that I thought would be appropriate for the holiday:
The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton, and
The Witch Elm by Tana French.

One of the books was fantastic with a complicated yet genius plot, and the other one was, um, "meh!"

According to Goodreads:

A rich, spellbinding new novel from the author of The Lake House—the story of a love affair and a mysterious murder that cast their shadow across generations, set in England from the 1860's until the present day.

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter. 

My Review:

First of all I must disclose that Kate Morton is one of my favorite writers of all time.  I was so looking forward to reading The Clockmaker's Daughter because it's a Victorian ghost story set (primarily) in the present.  Birdie Bell, the clockmaker's daughter and a ghost, tells much of the story through her point of view.  She slowly reveals her background, love story, and then the story of the "visitors" to Birchwood Manor with whom she's made a "connection."  Elodie also has a tragic background, and she has a connection to Birdie Bell that is slowly revealed in the narrative.  

The plot of this novel is very complicated.  Reader, you must pay attention or you will miss a seemingly unimportant plot point only to realize later that it's an important cog in the mechanism of the story.  The major vignettes are set during the Victorian era (early and then late), shortly after World War I, during World War II, the 1980's, and the present.  The way that Morton interweaves the stories and reveals the connections between disparate characters is sheer genius.  

Not only was I fascinated by Birdie and Edward Radcliffe's love story,  I also enjoyed how a family story told to Elodie by her late mother has a connection to Birchwood Manor; family stories have always intrigued me!  If you enjoy historical fiction and romances, complicated, well-drawn characters, intricate plots, intrigue, suspense, and English countryside settings, then you will love this wonderful novel.  The Clockmaker's Daughter will definitely make my Best Three Books of 2018 List.

According to Goodreads:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden - and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

My Review:

I was so looking forward to this stand alone from Tana French.  I love her Dublin Murder Squad Series (I highly recommend the series), and I couldn't wait to read The Witch Elm.  I even pre-ordered an autographed copy of the book.  Unfortunately I was very disappointed in this novel for several reasons.  The first one is petty, I'll admit, but I have to wonder why throughout the book the tree is called the wych elm, yet the title is The Witch Elm.  Hmmm...

Toby is not a very sympathetic character.  His whole family is a dysfunctional mess: they're entitled, selfish, secretive, violent, and evil.  When Toby and his cousins were kids, their parents couldn't wait  until summer to travel and leave them with their uncle in the family ancestral home.  This book is a super illustration of what happens to young people without appropriate adult supervision because Uncle Hugo did not supervise the kids.

There's a sadistic plot twist late in the book I wasn't expecting, and I almost DNF'd the book right then and there, but I decided to persevere and finish because surely SURELY Tana French wouldn't let her readers down; there MUST be an incredibly GRAND ending, right!?!  RIGHT!?!?!?  

I'm let down.  

In other bookish news...
Stay tuned for an announcement next week about the launch of The Sketchy Reader Book Club beginning January 2019!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. Looking forward to your announcement about the book club, Ricki Jill. I am disappointed to hear about The Witch Elm not being as good as you had hoped. It is on my "to read" maybe I won't bother. Thanks for giving such honest reviews. Every book you have highly recommended that I have read has been great.
    Have a wonderful weekend- xo Diana
    ps- there really is such a thing as a wych elm! lol

  2. You know, I've never read Kate Morton but this sounds really good and ticks a lot of my boxes. Artists, family history, England in those periods in particular. On the list!

  3. Two wonderful, thoughtful reviews! Thanks Ricki Jill. Have a great weekend!

  4. I love Kate Morton and can't wait to read this book! I'll pass on the other one...too many good books, never enough time! I started 3 books that I stopped this week. One I realized I had already read! lol Hugs!

  5. Sound like a couple of good reads. Hope all is well. Happy Weekend.

  6. Two in one week! I am so far behind! I did start a new book today, and discovered that the reason it took so long to finish the previous book was that it was basically terrible! It was by one of my favorite authors, Mary Kay Andrews, one of her Callahan Garrity mysteries, but it went on and on and then all of a sudden it was over with the end making no sense, and left me feeling frustrated. The book I'm reading now I can't wait to get back to so I will grab it often. I am done reading books that don't keep me interested!! I am officially going to be a DNF reader! Once again thanks for your info and honest reviews!

  7. Book Club !!! YES!!! Looking forward to the news!


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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