Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray
Published May 2016 by Alma Books
Rating: 4 stars
From the blurb: Liv Bloom’s life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum’s shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship. One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum’s handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation – but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles on the way.Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are.
How would you describe a recipe book? Sweet, satisfying, and complicated. Caramel Hearts is all those things and more. Set in a fictional area of North-East England, Egerton, fourteen year old Liv has just discovered an old cookbook belonging to her alcoholic mother. Her mother is in a womens home for another attempt at recovery, and Liv's older sister, Hatty, has left uni in Edinburgh to return home and care for her. Her father left when she was two years old and she's grown up knowing her mother blames her for his absence.
I only recently heard of Caramel Hearts but I knew it was a book I had to read. E.R. Murray has perfectly captured what it's like to live and grow up with an alcoholic parent. Liv's house is in a low-income area, and neither she nor the residents of the area are strangers to hard times. Liv and Hatty have been doing ok, but they do clash, both girls struggling to control their emotions, something they learnt subconsciously from their mother. She may not be in the house, but her presence is certainly still felt.
Liv's optimism and enthusiasm was beautiful, but also so easily crushed. Discovering the cookbook sparks something inside her and she longs to be able to whip up the creations she reads about, but funds are tight. She resorts to lying to the cook at school, and later to stealing, to accomplish her dreams. She believes that baking is a way to reach her mum, even if at the same time, she wishes she didn't have to see her mum again.
This is the heart of what it's like to be parented by an alcoholic, you crave their attention and approval, while at the same time you despise their weakness. You pick up their behaviour, that Jekyll and Hyde mentality - one minute you're high as a kite, the next your mood is as low as it can go. From happy to rage in a matter of seconds. Liv struggles with this throughout the whole story and it was frustrating but realistic.
The recipes were a really lovely touch, each of them sounding more delicious than the last. It was a good outlet for Liv, and ultimately a way to bring her closer to her mum.
Caramel Hearts is a touching, heartbreaking, and very true to life look at a family dealing with alcoholism.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for my review copy.
Thank you to E.R. Murray for participating in the following interview:
1. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing with a view to being published since around 2009, but in truth, the written word has always been part of my life. As a child, I was an avid reader and I would devour anything I could get my hands on at the local library. I particularly loved myth and legend, and I wrote lengthy epic poems that filled whole notebooks, packed with heroes and murders and vengeful gods. They were rather verbose (and not very good) but I fell in love with the writing process. I had a few poems published locally at school, but after that, life got in the way and although I remained an avid reader, I forgot about writing for a while. I concentrated on getting through uni, travel and working my way up the career ladder; eventually I realised this was futile and writing returned to me, like an old friend, in my late 20s. Although I didn’t even consider publication at that time, I was just enjoying playing with words, I was hooked and I haven’t looked back since.
2. Why do you write for young adults?
It’s not really a conscious decision; I get the character and mood first, then I find the story by writing lots of quick and terrible drafts. I vomit words onto the page, writing myself into cul-de-sacs so I can find the story. The story then dictates the intended age group of the reader, I do love young adult fiction; I think it’s brave and compelling and exciting, so I’m glad Caramel Hearts joined the ranks, even if it wasn’t initially intentional!
3. What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I hate routine so I try and mix it up as best as I can – routine bores me and makes me lethargic – but I always give the best part of my day, the part when I’m most alert and creative, to my writing. This used to be early morning, around 6am, and that would be when I usually wrote, but these days I’ve found that those early starts aren’t working any more. I think it’s because I’m tired – I’m working on my fourth book in 20 months, with three books published in a 12 month period – and so I’m exploring a different way of working.
I have heard other writers say that suddenly they wake up one day and their usual routine just doesn’t work any more, so maybe I’ve hit that point? Who knows! What I do know is that I’ve taken the pressure off myself – writing shouldn’t feel like a battle – and I’m starting later, at 12 noon (or before if I’m ready) with the morning focusing on walking the dog, the vegetable garden. Going to the gym and swimming pool, and remembering to eat breakfast! I find outdoors and exercise invigorating, and so far so good, though it’s only been a week! Figuring out your process is all part of the fun.
4. Do you plan and plot or just write and see where it takes you?
No plotting or planning at all; I thought this would change when I was working on Book 2 and 3 of my Nine Lives trilogy – seeing as I already had the characters and some of their story – but it hasn’t. I write a first draft of 50-60K words in a month (it comes to a natural end) without editing a thing. I like the frenzy of it, the freedom. It’s so bad, I wouldn’t even show it to my dog, but I need to do this to find the story. Then, I let the manuscript sit for a week or two before rewriting – this is the real first draft, where things start to fall into place. This is a clumsy and messy way to write, and it needs lots of rewrites, but I make huge leaps between drafts and up to now, this is the only way I can work.
5. What are you working on now?
I’m writing the final book in my Nine Lives Trilogy, The Book of Revenge. It’s difficult because although I love trying to wrap up the story of Ebony Smart, I have a new idea that is calling me – a sparkling, shiny idea that is making lots of promises, like new projects do! So far I’m managing to stay focused, but when the manuscript is delivered to my publishers, I’m going on a month’s break to Bangkok to recharge. Then it’ll be back to edits and more edits – only I’ll be playing with my new project during the quiet periods when my book is with my editor. I’m excited!
Seven Irish Young Adults Writers Everyone Should Read
I was asked for five book recommendations but seeing as choosing a favourite book is like choosing a favourite puppy, I thought I’d recommend some writers instead. And seeing as I live in Ireland, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite Irish writers right now… And seeing as I’m cheeky, I decided to sneak an extra two in… (I’d love to see some Australian YA author recommendations in the comments below).
Claire Hennessy: Claire’s latest, Nothing Tastes as Good, is so smart and funny and snarky, it’s completely unique – but Claire was 14 when she was first published, so she has many books for you to choose from!
Kim Hood: for raw, emotional and moving tales of friendship, family and teenage struggles, Kim is a master. Both Plain Jane and Finding a Voice are unforgettable reads.
Ruth Long: If urban fantasy is your thing, check out Ruth’s dark and daring Dublin-based trilogy, starting with A Crack in Everything and continuing on with A Hollow In the Hills. Faerie folk like you never imagined them!
Louise O’Neill: Although completely different in style and theme, both of Louise’s books have won multiple awards; Asking For It is a brutally honest story that explores rape culture, and Only Ever Yours is a brilliant futuristic tale that explores body image and society’s expectations of women.
Dave Rudden: Another fantasy writer, Dave’s use of language is sublime, his characters are gripping, and the overall tone dark and delicious – read Knights of The Borrowed Dark and be blown away!
Deirdre Sullivan: another versatile writer, Deirdre’s books include the witty and wonderful Primrose Leary trilogy (starting with Prim Improper), and the incredible Needlework dealing with the aftermath of abuse; it’s beautiful, poetic and heart wrenching.
Sheena Wilkinson: if you like books that are real, that show life in all its guises, Sheena’s Belfast-based stories are honest, gritty and very, very moreish. Taking Flight is one of my favourites.
To learn more about E.R. Murray visit her website or connect with her on twitter @ERMurray or instagram elizabethrosemurray.
Cover design: Jem Butcher
I love this cover design and it makes for a fun and easy manicure. I started with a base of white polish and used acrylic paint for the hearts