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Monday, September 12, 2016

Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray - Guest Post, Book Review & Giveaway

About E.R. Murray
E.R. Murray lives in West Cork, where she fishes, grows her own vegetables and enjoys plenty of outdoor adventures. Her debut, The Book of Learning, is the first book in her Nine Lives Trilogy (Mercier Press).

Elizabeth loves travel, and has taught creative writing in schools around the world, including Cambodia. She believes everyone has good stories to tell.

While travelling, Elizabeth also parachuted out of an aeroplane, swam with sharks and stingrays, and ate lots of insects. At home, Elizabeth likes reading to her dog, Franklyn.
Guest post

Food, Glorious Food: Caramel Hearts
by E.R. Murray

I think food is treated badly these days; we need it to live and yet it’s all about denial and restraint. What we put in our bodies is so important, as is the way that we use our body’s fuel – but I constantly hear people talk about food in moral terms.

‘I’m being bad but…’

‘I shouldn’t but I’m going to…’

‘Don’t tell anyone but…’

Sound familiar? But here’s the thing. Food is not a moral choice – it’s a necessity. And I can think of much worse things than eating to be concerned about (Murder? Abuse? War?). The fact that food tastes good is a bonus, it shouldn’t be something we feel we have to apologise for. It’s part of our evolution – tastes bad, don’t eat it (it could be poison), tastes good then enjoy (it probably won’t kill you).

So where has this skewed view of food being good or bad, right or wrong come from? Why are we constantly berating ourselves for eating food?

Yes, health is an issue, but it’s all about balance. There should be more of a focus on how to use the fuel we put into our bodies properly (e.g. exercise). You only need to look at schools to see how confused this is – physical education is such a small part of the curriculum now, and yet, look at the food that being served for school dinners. What message are we giving the next generation?

Eating shouldn’t be seen as a Bad Thing and yet, I don’t know a single person that hasn’t agonized at some point over a portion of cake at lunch time or choosing sugary over diet coke. There is a basic, and frankly, odd, belief in developed countries that skinny is good, not skinny is bad – it doesn’t matter what else you achieve, this will always be commented on. Lose weight and you’ll be congratulated. Add weight, you’ll be judged. Achieve something great – a medal at the Olympics, a Bafta, a PhD, and people will look at your weight. It’s all about control.

I love food and I love books and I think food in fiction can be very emotive. A positive relationship with food was an element that I really wanted to explore in Caramel Hearts. I had the idea of the handwritten cookbook from the beginning, but I didn’t realise how strongly the recipes would feature. This only came about once I started exploring the character of Liv, getting to grips with her situation and feelings, her fears and desires. I realised that she really needed something that would give her the opportunity to find hope, as well as succeed at something. And this turned out to be cake!

Now, I know cake isn’t the healthiest of foods, but it’s been around for centuries and it’s part of our diet. As a society, we like cake. Let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Let’s not turn it into an unnecessary and unhealthy moral dilemma. Personally, I don’t have a very sweet tooth, but Caramel Hearts isn’t about me – this is Liv Bloom’s story.

During the early stages of writing the manuscript, I visited the National Library of Ireland to see some 16th century handwritten cookbooks, and this was the light bulb moment when I realised how central to the story the recipes needed to be. The cookbooks had amazing ingredients like ‘frosted plums picked by moonlight’ and each had such a strong voice, they made me realise the potential for the recipes in Caramel Hearts.

I invented all the recipes that feature; I researched cakes that would be popular at the time and place Liv’s mum would have been baking, and then I read a variety of recipes and created my own versions. I baked them to test them out, and tested them on lots of willing victims, altering the recipe until they got the reaction I was looking for – one that fit the story.

As a result, the recipes have multiple roles in Caramel Hearts. They give Liv something she can focus on, the chance to be good at something, but they also help her connect with her mum who is in a recovery centre, trying to deal with an alcohol addiction. Each recipe had to fit the story and the mood, as well as the emotions of the characters – otherwise they didn’t make the cut! They also lighten the darker sections and themes of the book like bullying scenes and addiction; this was important because as much as I wanted realism, I also wanted an element of hope.

And the reason I wanted hope, is this: no matter what your situation, hope is your only true weapon. You can’t change the behaviours of others around you, but you can change your own actions and reactions. And hope can come in any guises; a friendship, a responsibility, a dream – and if it comes in the form of baking cakes, then so be it!

Some other YA food-related books I’d recommend: 

Butter by Erin Jade Lang, a clever, tender and emotional page-turner about loneliness, social pressures and over eating.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, a smart and gripping look at how futuristic society values women.

Nothing Tastes As Good by Claire Hennessey, which has a snarky anorexic ghost that you might not love, but you’ll never forget.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, which handles body image beautifully with all the feels.
Book Review

Amazon USA Amazon UK

Review by Suze
Liv's mother doesn't handle being a single mother very well. Liv's father left them years ago and never returned. Her mother has been drinking ever since. She's in a recovery center for alcoholics, but Liv doesn't know if her mother can actually stay away from the bottle. Liv is fourteen years old and can't be on her own yet, so her older sister Hatty has temporarily left university to step in. This is to prevent social services from taking over. Taking care of Liv doesn't come naturally to Hatty and they are struggling. There's no normal daily routine and Liv and Hatty don't get along too well.
Liv only has her good friend Sarah to rely on, but that connection is also complicated. They used to be best friends with Maddy, but Maddy has changed, a lot. Liv can use someone to lean on and she badly needs comfort. When she stumbles upon a book filled with her mother's recipes she finds some of that and decides to give baking a try. This is the start of a series of events that completely spiral out of control. Liv is in trouble and she has to discover a way to get out of her tricky situation. Will she be able to make right what she's done wrong and can she make sense of everything that has been done to her?
When I saw the cover of Caramel Hearts I expected a sweet story, but E.R. Murray has written a book that is so much more than just cute recipes and their background story. Liv isn't perfect, which is something I loved immediately. She's impulsive, she sometimes takes the easy way out and she can be difficult. She's also kind and caring and she's often being misunderstood by both her family and friends. She doesn't feel safe anywhere and she's so young while she's already just trying to survive. My heart ached for her. Liv's story is complex and it's easy to forgive her the mistakes she makes, even if they're big and scary. Caramel Hearts is an impressive story about an interesting girl who's been damaged in many ways, but who's also still hopeful that life will have something better in store for her. I loved that E.R. Murray doesn't spare her main character, which results in a terrific honest and raw novel.
While I was reading Caramel Hearts I shed quite a few tears. E.R. Murray writes about difficult topics with empathy and understanding, but also with a surprising frankness that sometimes shocked me. Liv is being bullied and this was terrible to read about. I could feel the effects of dangerous unstable friendships, blackmail and the pressure of possibly being a target. E.R. Murray's writing is so good that the reader experiences all of the effects of the emotional rollercoaster Liv is on. The relationship with her mother is problematic, Hatty is too young to have so much responsibility and she has no idea what Liv had to go through with their mother when she wasn't there, Liv's friendships are puzzling and she has made a terrible mistake. Together this causes a tremendous amount of pain and sorrow. The story isn't only dark and sad though. Because of Liv's strong character and determination to keep going there's a good balance. The result is a fantastic intense story.
E.R. Murray combines Liv's beautiful, complicated story with delicious recipes. They're personal and fun to read. I loved her mouthwatering descriptions of the results of Liv's baking adventures. That she utilizes Liv's mother's recipes as a way to find a connection with the person Liv's mother used to be before she started drinking is very special. I admire the way E.R. Murray defines relationships between her main characters by using contrasts. For example, delicious food is a great way to bond, but it's also something that will put Liv at risk. Becoming good friends with someone might lead to happiness and to being bullied, etcetera. I loved these contradictions and couldn't wait to see how they would develop. Caramel Hearts is amazing, it's a beautiful heartbreaking story with many fascinating layers. I highly recommend this book to both teenagers and adults, it's absolutely brilliant.
One very lucky reader of With Love for Books will receive a paperback copy of Caramel Hearts via the Bookdepository (or a similar website depending on the location of the winner). 

The winner will be notified by email and has 3 days to respond. Please add to your list of approved email addresses. All of our giveaways are international.


  1. This looks like an absolutely delicious read. :)

  2. Sounds like a really intense read. I can't wait!

  3. Hi Ms Murray your book sounds like a fantastic read, definitely something I'd enjoy!

  4. This sounds like a great read, would be a great addition to my library

  5. What a marvelous cover! Can't wait to read the book!

  6. My philosophy of food is: if you're willing to walk ten miles a day, eat what you like.

  7. I love this cover and it really looks like a read I would enjoy!!

  8. This book really resonates with me. I definitely want to read it!

  9. What a yummy sounding book and such a pretty cover

  10. This looks like a great read - keep on writing :)

  11. It sounds like a fantastic book. Thanks for having the giveaway.

  12. This sounds like an amazing book! Hoping to read it after this review.

  13. I think I 'll find E.R. Murray and her book amazing!
    fb name: ΒΑΣΙΛΙΚΗ ΑΡΓΥΡΟΠΟΥΛΟΥ twitter name: @Vasiliki9280

  14. Sounds like a great book, I look forward to reading it

  15. Ms Murray, your book sounds really interesting. I think I would definitely enjoy it!

  16. sounds like an emotional rollercoaster of a read

  17. Lovely giveaway. Sounds like a good read

  18. Sounds so good - a tale of mothers and daughters, sibling love and so much more. Yep, need to read it.

  19. Sounds like a fabulous read.

  20. It would be great to win a paperback
    copy of Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray.
    This sounds like an interesting book.
    I enjoy reading and discovering new authors.
    Thank you for having this giveaway.

  21. Sounds really great, I wish to read .
    Thank you for the review :)

  22. Sounds really great, I wish to read .
    Thank you for the review :)

  23. The book sounds really interesting, thanks for the giveaway.

  24. This sounds so good! I loved reading your post, so well written and you echoed so many of my thoughts about food and people's attitudes

  25. Ms. Elizabeth-- Oh, how I would love to travel around with you! (Endless case of wanderlust/love here.) And I, too, have read to my pets. I have two cats, and I sometimes read "If You Give A Cat A Cupcake" to them. :)

    I quite enjoyed reading the "Guest Post" portion here, and found myself nodding and "mm-hmm"-ing along as I read. One major issue that I have is [what I see as] the extreme overuse of the word "guilt." ("Guilt-free recipes!" and so on.) ...Er, what? And on product packaging, too! There's a certain brand of cereal that says on the back of the box, VERY clearly--
    ...I just went a bit nuts on Google Images, trying to figure out just what it says. :p
    Basically, it says something like "Less [sic] calories, less YOU!" ...Less "you"? Oh, sigh.

    This book looks fantastic, and I hope to read it in the near future!
    Thank you,