Review: Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray

July 28, 2016 | RRP $19.99


caramelhearts_coverI sat down to read CARAMEL HEARTS one dreary afternoon and was transported by the opening chapters and warmed by the bond of the sisters in this book, Liv and Harriet. In a scene from the past, we see these sisters use a secret communication system they have created in order to signal to each other non-verbally when their mother’s mood ‘turns’. This nuance of connection between the two gently sets the tone for the story to come and really piqued my interest.

CARAMEL HEARTS is structured around recipes found in a hidden cookbook, discovered by the main character, Olivia Bloom. The recipes inside are concoctions that were written by her mother in happier days, before Liv’s father left them, and before her mother became an alcoholic requiring institutionalisation.

Very soon, I found myself at the first recipe in the book, and I thought, why not give them a go? My kids returned home from school to find warm, delicious heart shaped cookies for afternoon tea and were delighted. Later in the novel, I came across a fudge recipe. The double batch of the fudge was pounced upon and soon disappeared with requests for more! Even though recipes provide some structure for the book and are integral to understanding a different mother than the one the girls currently have, they are a yummy extra to what is actually a pretty gritty coming of age story.

The story deals unwaveringly with difficult family issues like alcoholism, teen drinking, violence, poverty, single parenthood, domestic violence, friendships and schoolyard bullying. There are many close to the bone scenes of adolescent bullying and cruelty, and one in particular that left me so incredibly glad I didn’t have to go through those years again. Any one who has had experience with an alcoholic will find this rings true.

Liv and her sister are thrust into a grown up world where they must try and manage social services, school, University and their mother’s unpredictable recovery, all while trying to escape the cycle of poverty and find their way. There is real sibling love between the two, the unconditional and warty kind, and this is what makes the book a wonderful read.

The best recommendation I can give, is to tell you I gave it to my teenage daughter to read on her school holidays. She’s not normally a quick reader, but once she started she couldn’t put it down, and she was finished in one day. It left her thoughtful and gave us a lot to talk about, which as any one with a teenager knows is a gift itself!

I am delighted that E.R. Murray has agreed to guest post about Caramel Hearts. Look out for that post in the next week!

ABOUT Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose Murray lives in rural Ireland where she fishes and grows her own vegetables. Her short fiction has been published in journals across the UK and Ireland and has been shortlisted in several competitions including Francis McManus Short Story and Aesthetica Creative Works. Caramel Hearts is her first young adult novel.

© 2015 Melissa Sargent