Posted in general and welcome, pre-teen, Young Adult

Caramel Hearts… or don’t melt chocolate in a microwave…

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:

rocky road

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.





Posted in general and welcome, pre-teen

Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Tonight’s review is of Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.

image courtesy of

What it’s about (from the publisher):

Everyone tells Sophie she was orphaned in a shipwreck. But Sophie is convinced her mother also survived. When no one believes her, Sophie sets out to prove them wrong. On the run from the authorities, Sophie finds Matteo and the other rooftoppers – children who live in the sky. In a race across the rooftops of Paris, will they help her find her mother, before it’s too late?
A beautiful story about pursuing your dreams and never ignoring a possible.

Holly’s review:

This book is about a girl called Sophie who goes on a hunt to find her mother, which includes going abroad to France. While she is there she meets some kids on rooftops and travels around with them at night.

I loved this book. It was brilliant. I just really love Katherine Rundell’s books and think they are so amazing and out of the box. She just has a really (to me) distinctive type of writing.

Reading this book was like living it, exploring each page like she explored Paris by the rooftops, climbing up each page to get to the top and the end. Each hand hold became a new word and each step became a new page.

I think this book was really moving because of how Sophie kept going, always determined to find her mother. I am willing Katherine Rundell to keep writing on  because I love her books.

Sam’s review:

It’s hard to write something after Holly’s praise but I am totally in agreement with her that Katherine Rundell’s novels for children are quite amazing. She has a unique ability to combine a page-turning plot with poetic descriptions and beautiful writing. Equally, her characters are drawn so vividly that by the end of each book you feel kind of bereft at leaving them to continue their undocumented journey. I loved the descriptions of Paris in this book, of Sophie’s nocturnal escapes and her unerring determination to find her mother after so many years apart. We all enjoyed reading this book together (Holly, me and her father) and I expect we will be watching out for the next one eagerly!

Posted in popular authors, pre-teen

Review: Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, by Judy Blume

Tonight’s review is of Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, by Judy Blume.

image courtesy of


What it’s about: Inside, Sheila Tubman is a fury of fears, including spiders, dogs and water. To hide this from others, she adopts a very self-assured stance in life but this is severely put to the test on her summer holidays, when her family stays in a house with a dog, and Sheila is enrolled for swimming lessons. At her day camp, Sheila tries to run a camp newspaper singlehandedly but runs into trouble and then the real strife begins during a fight at a sleepover. Will Sheila overcome her fears? With her family ready to adopt a puppy at the end of the holidays, she had better try.


Holly’s review:  This book is about a girl called Sheila who goes away on holiday with the rest of her family, the Tubmans. And where they’re staying there is a dog. There are two things Sheila Tubman (odd name I know) is scared of the most, and they are dogs and swimming.

Now this book is not that girly, in fact it’s your average story except I think it’s brilliant. I like this book because there’s a worrier in it and I am a worrier.  I worry, worry. We have lots of similarities especially in the way that we worry. She catastrophises and so do I. But one thing that I am not like her is that when it comes to telling her worries. She lies about them but I don’t. In conclusion, I think this is an amazing book and I definitely recommend you read it.


Sam’s review: I think I read all of ten pages (if that) of this book with Holly because she wanted it all for herself. I can’t really remember this very well from my childhood and wonder if I did in fact read it at all. The parts I read I was silently chuckling to myself at Sheila’s false bravado. It’s funny because my reaction to it was markedly different to Holly’s. I was tutting at Sheila’s bossiness while Holly totally understood why she was like that. I think moments like these when reading books together are the most interesting because these are when you have the most obvious different perspectives on character. Holly certainly is a great worrier so it’s good that she could enjoy a book where a child with a similar personality overcomes her fears. Once again, Judy Blume nails it!

Posted in popular authors, pre-teen

Review: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. By Judy Blume

Tonight’s review is of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume.


image courtesy of


What it’s about (from the publishers): Margaret Simon, almost twelve, has just moved from New York City to the suburbs, and she’s anxious to fit in with her new friends. But when the girls start talking about boys, bras and getting their first periods, Margaret starts to wonder if she’s normal. Not only does she seem to be a late developer, but there are things about growing up that she finds hard to talk about, even with her friends. Luckily for Margaret, she’s got someone else to confide in… someone who always listens.

Holly’s review: Wow. I love this book. It is amazing for girls my age and above. It is about all these girls who are competing about puberty. The main character is Margaret and she hasn’t started puberty yet which makes her feel worried and distressed wondering if she will ever start and she doesn’t want to be late, that’s a definite.

I know this book sounds all girly and weird but it’s not, it’s actually really great. And it is brilliant for girls at the age of puberty because it makes you understand more about what’s going on inside your body. But don’t worry it’s not all facts, it is still a story. Judy Blume tends to base a bit of her books around her and her family. I don’t know why – she just does. Maybe I should ask her.

I like book because … I don’t know why. I don’t see anything not to like about it. It is funny (sort of) and I don’t know… it’s just great to read. A few more things to add to this review is that the cover is incredibly girly but the book isn’t so don’t pay any attention at all to the cover.

Sam’s review: Before I say anything much, I will just qualify what Holly has said about the cover. For ages she was determined not to try Judy Blume because the recent repackaging of the books made her think that they would be all about make-up and fluffiness (not that she doesn’t like those kind of things!). I had suggested Blume’s books because she was starting to hear about puberty at school and talk about it all with her friends so thought she would find these books interesting – I remember devouring them when I was her age. Once we got past the cover (and boy, did we ever battle over that!), she couldn’t get enough of the book. And as soon as she had finished this book, she immediately started over again, separating herself from us at mealtimes so she could sit on a rug in the garden, in the recent heatwave, to read the book and occasionally eat (when reminded).

The cover used over here in the UK is therefore our biggest criticism of this book. Many of the previous ones were, I feel, more interesting and potentially appealing to all sorts of girls, rather than catering to the pink, fluffy brigade. The version I read had this cover:

image courtesy of

I always admired her hair, probably because mine was short!

Anyway… I loved re-reading this book with Holly, when I could wrestle it from her grasp. Even though it was 30 years or so since I read it,  I remembered it vividly and enjoyed all the pre-teen angst and curiosity within it. It was funny in places too and I didn’t feel, reading it again, that I had outgrown it even. (I would love to read about middle-aged Margaret – perhaps with a new chant ‘I must! I must! I must firm up my bust!’) Judy Blume manages to write about what every teenage girl thinks and feels in such a way that it’s like listening to a friend. It never feels preachy nor do you get the impression that you are being subtly told how to feel or think and it deals with a staggering amount of topics – puberty, first bras, first crushes, female friendships, moving house, religion. It’s an all-in-one book on most of life’s major changes, missing out only on death and losing a job.

Since reading and re-reading this book, Holly has moved on to other ones by Blume, including Deenie, Blubber and now Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson, which she has nearly finished. I expect we will be getting more reviews about these sometime soon. In the meantime, I am enjoying revisiting Judy Blume and experiencing a second pre-adolescence!

Which Judy Blume book is your favourite and why?