I have an interesting book review to write tonight because it’s also a write-up of an experiment with one of the recipes in the book. So it’s a double review, if you like!
The book in question is Caramel Hearts, written by E.R. Murray, and if you like YA fiction with some baking thrown in, this will be a winner for you.
The concept behind this book is a novel one. The main story, narrated in the first person by Liv, a fourteen-year-old being raised by her older sister while their alcoholic mother recovers in rehab, is framed by a series of recipes found in a book her mother had compiled at a happier time in her life. The recipes, all for cakes, biscuits, desserts and other sweet treats, often reflect or suggest what is happening or is about to happen in the story, as Liv tries to navigate her way through life. She finds solace in the baking she does, and discovers that she has a talent for it too – a gift she has no doubt inherited from her mother.
At first I wondered if the novel might be too heavy and traumatic for me, though the front cover does suggest something lighter – a teen romance, perhaps, with the heart motif. However, Murray handles the topic of a parent’s addiction, and the fallout on the family, skilfully, and the story, while evoking sympathy, never falls into depressive territory. The stresses are there – the older sister forced to put her university career on hold to look after Liv so Social Services don’t take her into care while her mother dries out, the mother who swears to get better but always falls off the wagon, and Liv who makes some appalling choices and proves to be as much an antiheroine as a heroine. But this is what makes her human. She is damaged – anyone in her situation would be – plus she has bullying to contend with, so how Liv manages to plod on in spite of all this is amazing and endears her to the reader. Her one huge mistake is frustrating but understandable… but the question is whether she can or will manage to put things right.
As stated before, this kind of material risks depressing the reader, but I never felt that way as there was always a current of optimism underlining this. I enjoyed this novel a great deal and read it in the space of a couple of days. Liv’s voice is unique and Murray keeps the narrative moving swiftly on, slowed only, and strategically, by the inclusion of the recipes. It was a novel (pardon the pun) idea and I think it worked very well and will offer the teen/young adult reader a little something extra when they dip into it!
After I finished reading the book today, I decided to try one of these recipes: ‘Rocky Road’ since Holly has been very stressed and anxious about her forthcoming exams, and the recipe states that: ‘Because life isn’t always straightforwards, 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.’
(Disclaimer: I must also admit that I chose Rocky Road because I am notoriously BAD at baking and the absence of anything that needed raising was attractive. Plus I am hyper-sensitive to the smell of eggs on plates, cutlery, etc, and no eggs were involved in this. Result!)
The recipe calls for 400g of chocolate, 8 bars of chocolate Turkish Delight, a bag of marshmallows and some blanched almonds. I stood, red-faced, at the local Co-op as the checkout girl scanned the products, insisting that I actually ate very healthily despite the obscene amount of sugary goods in my basket. The cost of the Turkish Delight alone came to £6, so this isn’t a recipe to do on a budget!
I came home, thinking this would only take a matter of minutes to prepare, but lack of baking time does not equate short making time. Chopping the Turkish Delight into smaller pieces and then cutting up marshmallows with scissors that are soon so covered in gooey stuff that they cannot cut takes A LONG TIME. And then I made a VERY BAD MISTAKE, mainly that I didn’t take in the instruction to melt the chocolate over a bain marie. Nope, instead I stuck it straight in a pan while I helped Holly with her own recipe (which also involved melting chocolate, but she chose the microwave).
Long story short, I ended up nearly setting the kitchen on fire as chocolate in the microwave or pan burns. Smoke billowed out and we had every window and door open to stop the fire alarm going off. The good news is that we still had enough chocolate left to salvage the recipes… and Holly laughed properly for the first time in a long time. I had to suffer the accusation of being a bad baker – fair enough (I would have done better if this book had been a collection of curries) but the recipe delivered the promise that our troubles would melt away, even if only for a few hours.
Anyway, I mixed all the ingredients into a proper melted-chocolate base and put them into the fridge to set for four hours. This is what came out:
It’s pretty poor quality (photo and presentation) but it tasted like Rocky Road and Holly and Carl enjoyed it. Though I think mine should more accurately be called ‘Boulder Road’ or ‘Avalanche Road’ since the chunks are still pretty … chunky.
This is another charming book by Alma Books, whose list for children’s and YA readers is proving interesting and unique. I can’t wait to see what their next book will be, if this and The Emergency Zoo are anything to judge by.
Please note that while I received a review copy of this book I was under no obligation to review it. All opinions are my own.