{Blog Tour} Review & Author Interview: Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray

Friday, 5 August 2016

Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray
Released: 22nd May 2016
Published by: Alma Books
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 339
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads | QBD | Book Depository
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 
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Food, friends, fights, family and finding out how to be true to yourself...that's how I'd describe Caramel Hearts in a nutshell. This is a book that has a recipe for success as a YA contemporary - well developed characters within a plot which isn't completely predictable and takes a bite out of some very real issues facing many teens today. 

Even if you don't normally read with snacks nearby, with all the delicious treats which this book has recipes for throughout its pages - you'll definitely want some. What's special in this instance is that they actually do serve a purpose and are fundamental to the storyline. One of my favourite quotes is from this one for Rocky Road:

Because life isn't always straightforward, you need a few treats to remind you that there's still goodness in the world. Make when you're worried, give with love and enjoy with a happy heart.

They symbolise her mother's dreams before she became an alcoholic, and it was endearing to see how Liv found solace in this new hobby; even if it had its own set of challenges. In short, a book with a food focus? I'm in and sold on this one. 

Though 'dysfunctional families' are a facet of many YA novels, I found the sibling relationship between Hatty and Liv especially touching. Since their mother is in rehabilitation, Hatty has sacrificed many of her own aspirations to take care of her sister, and though they definitely had their share of fights (what siblings don't?), it was heartwarming to see how their bond prevailed. As a protagonist Liv was quite complex and faced moral dilemmas relating to how to react against a bully and your friends, when does a lie go too far, and how to eventually make things right. All of these issues are ones which teens will be able to identify with to some extent, and E.R. Murray managed to weave them in without coming across as 'preachy'. I also liked how the story emphasised that everyone has a backstory and reasons behind why they may act out or want to be the 'Queen B', and that putting the people you care about most first can be the best remedy of all. 


Caramel Hearts embodies all the characteristics which its title suggests. Sweet yet chewy, this is a contemporary that leaves food for thought that will soften your heart.

Author Interview with E.R. Murray

1. Part of what makes Caramel Hearts so unique and endearing are the actual recipes scattered throughout which Liv tries to replicate. How did they come to find a place in the story?

The initial idea of adding recipes came to me when I was wandering around London, thinking about the main character, Liv. She had been bugging me for some time and I wanted to tell her story; I knew she needed a voice, and some hope, but I couldn’t figure out what she needed to make it happen. I was cutting through an alleyway in Greenwich, where part of the novel is set, and I got an amazing whiff of warm bagels. It was then that I realised Liv needed cake; something to focus on that gave her a chance to be good at something, but also something accessible that could link to her mum. 

The idea of the handwritten cookbook came straight away, but it wasn’t until I visited the National Library of Ireland to view some beautiful 17th century cookbooks that I realised how integral the recipes were to the story; these old cookbooks each had an amazing voice, with ingredients like ‘frosted plums picked by moonlight’ and I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I realised how powerful the recipes could be for Caramel Hearts, how they could structure and convey the story. 

2. On that note, do you have a favourite recipe in the book? (Understandably, it would be hard to choose since they all seem delicious!)

My favourite is probably the simplest, the peanut butter fudge chunks – but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I add sea salt to mine to give it an edge. I realise most people prefer sugary treats, however, so I left the salt out of the recipe in the book. 

3. I love how the book explores the complex bond between sisters which may not always be perfect, but so significant in the lives of your characters. What are your favourite aspects of Liv and Hattie's personalities?

It might sound weird, but I feel really proud of them as sisters. They’ve been through so much, but you get a real sense of how solid their relationship is. They’re not perfect and they frequently clash, but you can tell that they’re each other’s rock, and that they truly love and respect each other deep down. Liv and Hatty actually really like each other for who they are, not just because they’re related. Hatty is the most reliable, but I like Liv’s spark; I think they complement each other perfectly – and that they know that too.

4. Absent parents, bullying and changing friendship dynamics are all very real and relevant issues which also feature in the novel. What are some important messages you hope teens will be able to take away from Caramel Hearts?

Rather than a message, I want people to come away from Caramel Hearts feeling like they’ve read a really good story. But I do hope the story resonates with anyone experiencing any of these issues – and that they come away feeling like they’re not alone. I grew up in a family affected by addiction and I remember how isolating it was – I often felt completely alone, even in a room full of friends. I didn’t want, or know how, to talk about the situation at home, so instead I turned the anger towards myself and hoped it might go away. It didn’t of course, and those periods of isolation took a long time to overcome. 

I would also like people to come away feeling that there is always hope; and however small, hope is power. In a dysfunctional situation, it’s the only weapon we have. No matter how hard we try, we can never change the people around us, but we can take responsibility for ourselves and even the smallest action can set off a positive chain of events that improve our lives.

5. What are some of the best pieces of advice you received while writing this book, and that you'd pass on to other aspiring authors out there?

I’m very lucky living in Ireland because you get to meet lots of authors; it’s such a great community and we’re all really supportive of each other, so I’ve had plenty of advice and support along the way. I guess the most important advice is to turn up every day – there’s no point talking about writing, you have to get on with it. A book won’t write itself. As you advance in your career, you might take days off, but writing every day is a great way to make it part of your daily routine so you miss it when you don’t get chance. This helps you improve your craft, but also to stay motivated. 

I’d say my ultimate piece of advice is to never give up. If you do, you have zero chance of getting published. But keep going and the odds are in your favour. In my experience, around 80% of the people that started out around the same time as me, those that kept going, have agents or book deals or books on the shelves. Dedication and determination are key ingredients – and I really believe that with some grit and sticking power, you’ll get there. 

6. After this wonderful novel, can you give us any hints on what you may be working on next?

Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate them. I have The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 launching in Ireland and the UK in September this year, and I’m currently writing the final piece of the puzzle, The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3. Once that has been delivered to my publishers, I’m going to play with short stories as I’ve been missing them, and I’ll have to decide on a new book. I have three first drafts waiting, impatiently calling – I’ll just have to see which shouts loudest and longest.

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