Author interview with Judith Natelli McLaughlin

dear diary

I was very excited to read Dear Diary by Judith Natelli McLaughlin, when I read  the blurb it sounded like it would be really fun and would take me back to my own teenage years, I was also really eager to get the chance to ask Judith some questions too to find out more about the person behind this fabulous young adult book.

Dear Diary is about Emily Paul Thompson who is given a diary by her mother on her first day of middle school. She embraces the diary right away and writes in it regularly, pouring her heart and soul into what is happening. It’s full of lots of amusing moments between her and her friends which I’m sure many teenagers can relate to… they certainly took me back and made me quite nostalgic! I miss those days of laughing at something so much that it is almost impossible to stop yet when you retell the reason why you’re laughing to someone, they just don’t get it! There were plenty of these moments in the book! As well as laugh at loud moments there were some more serious issues  that many teens go through- friendship worries, changes in our bodies, being interested in boys and who, exactly, is the pupil who keeps stealing random items from the school?

The way the book is written will have any teen drawn in as it’s short and witty, no big overwhelming paragraphs and moves fast enough to capture their attention and want them to read on to find out what happens next.

I really enjoyed reading it, lots of humour, lots of teenage angst that is captured perfectly! I was eager to find out more about the making of the book so was delighted to be able to put some questions to Judith to do just that.

How has 2016 began for you? deardiary

“First off, let me say thanks for hosting me on you blog. I am thrilled to be here and ecstatic you loved my book, Dear Diary! My new year has begun with a rush of excitement, all surrounding the release of Dear Diary.  Blog tours, twitter parties, and the anticipation of my drop day have all been exhilarating”.

We’re very excited to be part of the tour too, it’s going to be a very fun week and we think Dear Diary will be very popular when it’s released. When reading Dear Diary it made me think about my own teenage years and how things can seem so overwhelming at the time, so I wonder, what advice would you give to your own teenage self?

“Read To Kill a Mockingbird.  I skipped the assignment when it was given in the 9th grade, using Sparks Notes instead. I went back to TKAM in my early 20s, reading it in one sitting! It remains one of my favorite books of all time! Hmmmmm, maybe it happened the way it was supposed to. Maybe I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much in the 9th grade.  So, here’s another piece of advice – don’t be so hard on yourself.  It tends to work out.”

Sound advice that I think we could all take heed of! Reading the book as a diary style really made me get my head inside the thoughts of Emily, what made you choose to write the book in a diary style?
“I wrote this book for my daughter Katie when she was in the fifth grade. She was not an avid reader at the time; intimidated by long chapters.  She preferred short entries and she was having trouble finding books to suit her style. So, I decided to write her one using short, funny diary entries.  She loved it (which was gratifying), and was even allowed to do a 6th grade book report on the unpublished book her mom wrote.  Fun stuff.”

It’s lovely that you were inspired by your daughter and I’m sure so many other teens will be exactly the same so will love this format! How did you manage to get into the mindset of a teenager? It’s certainly very convincing from the book!

“Two ways, I suppose:

  1. I channel my teenage self; remembering my antics like it was yesterday.
  2. I am in the process of raising three daughters, so I am never too far away from watching the process of growing up.”

Throughout the book I was really amused by lots of the moments, it made me recall some funny memories with my own school friends. What funny moments stand out from your memories of middle school?
“I remember EVERYTHING!  But if I have to pick one moment, it was the time my religious education teacher made our room dark and quiet. She told us to put our heads on our desks and she proceeded to put the needle down on the record player and out of the receiver came Monk music.  The unfamiliar sound struck my best friend and me as laugh out loud funny; laugh out loud we did.  The more we laughed the louder the music got and the madder our teacher became. But we couldn’t stop! When one of us got quiet, the other snickered and it started all over again.  We made quite a scene. I crack up all over again just thinking about it. Pam? Hello?  Pam? Do you remember?”

Nothing beats those moments when you can’t stop laughing with your best friend!

In the book, Emily often needs reminding to do her homework, piano practice and such. Are you the same do you need  reminding to do things or are you very disciplined? 

“I would have to say I am disciplined.  When I put my mind to something, I get it done.”

 

In 5 words, how would you describe Dear Diary?
“Laugh out loud funny, #middlegrade.”

I definitely agree with that! Now finally, when we first meet Emily she tells  a ‘sort of secret’ (to find this out guys, you need to read the Diary first to know what it is!) I wondered if you could share with us one of your own sort of secrets?

“I cried my way out of getting a D in high school history. The tears were real. So was the D. It turned into a C-.  (Eat your heart out Ferris Bueller).”

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and to be kind enough to send me a preview of Dear Diary. I absolutely loved reading it and I know I’m certainly not going to be alone in this one!

You can follow Judith on Twitter here: @judithnmclaughlin

 

 

 

The Affair by Gill Paul

I have enjoyed reading Gill Paul’s books since I first stumbled upon No Place For a Lady and loved it. I then read Women and Children First which I devoured in days and couldn’t wait to read The Affair, knowing that if it was anything like the previous books by this author that it would be another engrossing read and I was not disappointed… the only disappointment is having to now wait until later in the year for her next novel!

It has been about a week since I finished this book and normally I like to review right away whilst it’s still fresh in my mind but I’ve not been so well so didn’t get the chance… however, luckily, this book is one which was so brilliant that it’s hard to forget what happened and how much i enjoyed it.

The Affair is set in the early 1960’s and really made me realise how much we’ve changed in our opinions since then! Diana Bailey is married to Trevor. They are both history academics although Trevor is quite a lot older than Diana and has very traditional views so when Diana is offered a job on a film set in Rome to work as an historical advisor he is far from pleased and is appalled when Diana accepts the job.

The film is Cleopatra staring Elizabeth Taylor and Diana finds herself in a completely different world surrounded by celebrities, make up artists and producers who’s open outlooks on life help Diana to feel more free but it raises questions about her life back home with Trevor… and then Diana meets Ernesto who is very passionate and makes her question her life even more.

Life on the film set is not all glamour and fun though, there are dark moments, especially when we meet Scott who is a journalist. Scott reveals lots of secrets and undercover operations happening across the city which become interwoven with the events happening in Diana’s life.

What I loved about this novel was how it portrayed the way of the world during this time- where women were beginning to realise their opportunities whilst men struggled with this change andhow the world then was hungry for drama and scandal in the celebrity world.

I struggled to put this book down as so much was happening. Having Scott’s story be told in a way which linked into Diana’s really made this quite a fast-paced read. I kept wondering if the two stories would link together and how without ever preempting it.

As well as finding it gripping it was also really interesting to hear about the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. So eye opening to see that she was a very intelligent woman but the media portrayed her as nothing but a dramatic actress who liked to work her way through men, which made me wonder whether we judge people in the same way today too and why do we do this?!

Yet again Gill Paul has created a brilliant set of characters which make this book a proper rollercoaster of a read. At first I thought Trevor, Diana’s husband, was awful, really mean and selfish for not supporting her job opportunity but then part way through I felt sorry for him and could understand his struggle somewhat and then towards the end I was really proud of him and found myself really liking his character, such a rollercoaster and this was the same for many characters and just reminds you that you shouldn’t judge someone on first impressions!

This is another brilliant creation by this author which had me staying up late again to find out what happened next! It’s a very entertaining and interesting read that’s for sure. I’m now waiting for her next publication which can’t come soon enough!

Available on Amazon paperback £7.99 and Kindle currently £1.49

Fix You, Carrie Elks.

This is a book that draws you in as you get to know the main characters within it so you want to keep on reading to find out what happens to them.

At the beginning of the book we meet Hanna as she goes into Richard’s office and tells him a big secret that will change his life. This immediately makes you want to keep reading as you ask why she has told him this, what happened between them to make this be a secret and what will happen now he knows? But we don’t find out right away of course and that’s what really gets you drawn in.

We then go back to 1999 when Hanna first meets Richard when she is just 17. Then throughout the book it goes forward in time to the main events in their lives over the course of about 15 years. This is a hard task for an author, filling in so many years into just a few hundred pages but it works really well here. Sometimes scenes moved quite fast but that didn’t matter, it meant there wasn’t lots of waffle which sometimes takes away from the main story.

Whilst reading this I really got to know the characters and loved to see how they changed. The first few years they were really well described like teenagers first falling in love and being excited about what lay ahead with university and careers. As the years progressed and events unfolded it was interesting to see how they developed due to maturing and events having an affect upon them.

There were events within this book that made me think back- documenting 9/11, foot and mouth etc which took me back to this  time and grounded the story in that setting.

Because this book is written over a large time it meant the lives of the characters grew on you and the way their families interacted was interesting too. I found the relationship between Hanna and Richard’s mother was really touching and beautifully written and it was interesting to see how solid it was throughout despite all of the twists and turns that happened.

I did find that there were moments when I struggled to put this down, I wanted to know what happened and how people would react to certain news/events, it really did draw me in!

I enjoyed reading Fix You because it was mainly light hearted and those moving moments were written really well. It makes you think about families and their dynamics, how misunderstandings and ruthlessness can affect the futures of everyone and how it’s those who stand by and support their family/friends that reap the rewards- always a good moral.

If you like a story which enables you to get to know the main characters then this is a good book for you. It’s not a complex read so it’s perfect to read when you’re looking for something light hearted without a very complex plot so that you can sit back and enjoy losing yourself in the world of two lovers.

 

 

Vince and Joy by Lisa Jewell

I have recently finished reading this book on my Kindle and I thought it was really good. It was well written with brilliantly crafted characters without there having to be pages full of exciting action, it made a very believable and enjoyable read.

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Choosing this book

I chose this book because I have read other books by Lisa Jewell and really enjoyed them. One of her books that I previously read was The Truth About Melody Browne and I really found that a very absorbing book and since then have read a few others and never been let down by them. I saw that this book had lots of good reviews and so downloaded it to my Kindle for about £3.

The story

There may be some spoilers within this so if you don’t want to find out about them then please don’t read this! The story tells of Vince and Joy and their relationship although they don’t actually have a relationship as they fell out of touch not long after they met. They met when they were teenagers on holiday with their parents. They both felt out of place, not ‘one of the crowd’ amongst their friends and so when they stumbled upon each other in a caravan park in their late teens they had an instant bond. They became very good friends, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other and they lost their virginities together. They talked for hours and the connection was obvious but then the next morning Vince awoke to a letter on the doorstep of his caravan. It was written by Joy but it had been rained on and the only words he could read were “I feel so ashamed”. Joy’s family had left the caravan park and Vince was left with a letter without any details and could only assume that the one he had thought was The One was ashamed of having lost her virginity to him.

Vince, in his thirties, is telling his friends this at a dinner party and they are all mesmerised by the story. They want to know why he never tried to get in touch with her and Vince goes on to tell them about how he happened to see Joy again several years later. During the time that they have been apart lots of things happened to Joy and Vince and when they did cross paths again it just was not the right time for them to stay in touch, too much was happening in their lives that they needed to sort out. Joy was in a disastrous marriage in which her husband made her feel as though she couldn’t so much as sneeze without his permission, Vince was experiencing women problems of his own and questioning his career. Would there ever be a time in which they would bump into each other and both feel ready to carry on their teenage relationship? Or had too much changed them in that time? Was it just a teenage holiday romance?

Characters

The characters of this book are brilliantly formed. Often with books it is just the main characters that are developed but there are other players in this novel and they too are well formed. Vince and Joy are very well created, because we see them through a long period of time- from their late teens to mid 30s you do get to grow up with them and see what they go through so you do feel as though you really know them. Joy was an individual, creative type who was easy to talk to but seemed to shut down and become half a person during her marriage, it made me really get behind her when she was thinking of leaving her husband. Vince who had always come across as being quite caring, nice and not the sort to get into trouble stayed that way throughout but had some very bizarre relationships because he was just too nice and I could see why the kind of women he went out with were attracted to that.

The other characters in the book that were created well were their parents. I felt as though I could see why Vince and Joy were how they were because of their parents and how they behaved, this helped to get a good feel for the book as it gave the background to them and not just a sketchy description on the main characters. knowing their families really helped to make them all round characters. The friends which Vince’s girlfriend/wife ended up seeing were an interesting bunch which were well described too. Everyone in this book was formed really well in a way which you could picture them and judge what they would be like to each situation

Opinion.

My opinion of this book is that it’s a very good one! You don’t need huge dramas to kick off for a book to be a page turner, instead it slowly talks you through the characters and gives you that question of ‘why if they met did they not do anything about it???’ so you keep reading because you want to know why. All the time I was thinking did they eventually stay in touch? Did they get together? And all the time different things were happening to them which made these options not seem very plausible.

It is most certainly not a book where you can pre-empt what is going to happen. There are lots of points where I thought something would happen and then it didn’t and sometimes this frustrated me but in a good way, a way that made me really get behind the characters and wish they could be more open or brave and I think that was the effect Jewell was trying to create.

I really felt as though I knew the characters very, very well when reading this and that really helped me to enjoy the book as I genuinely wanted to know what happened to each of them.

This book also helped me to look at my own life and what I have achieved between my late teens and how old I am now (late 20s) and think about what role fate had in my life and whether or not I believe in it. It is the kind of book where you get involved in other peoples’ lives and think about them as though they are friends. I would love for their to be a sequel. I was left feeling uplifted and positive.

When I wasn’t reading this book I was looking forward to reading it and finding out what happened next. Some nights I ended up going to bed really late as I wanted to keep reading. Chapters were not that long but I was just so compelled to keep reading. I think this is an ideal holiday read as it’s not too heavy or full of detail and has an uplifting feel at the end.

And the best bit was that at the end the last words were not ‘the end’ but ‘the beginning’…

The Island Escape by Kerry Fisher

I downloaded this book after being recommended it and I really enjoyed reading it. It really was a book that offered ‘escape’ as I lost myself in the worlds of Roberta and Octavia.

 

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The story is about two friends who have been there for each other through the ups and downs throughout their lives.

Roberta’s marriage to Scott has come to an end much to Octavia’s relief after years of him making her doubt herself and strip away her self esteem. As Roberta’s life begins to adjust Octavia finds herself more frustrated with her own marriage; Johnathon is forever pointing out various things she hasn’t done around the house and when he becomes redundant his presence at home increases Octavia’s frustrations even more.

The problem is that Octavia has never got over her first love Xaviar who she met in Corsica when she was younger and child-free. Whilst helping Roberta look online for potential dates, Octavia begins to wonder what happened to Xavier and this little wonder becomes an all consuming obsession…

When I was reading this book I was lost in their worlds and really interested to see the dynamics between the various characters. I think it’s very true that when a friend goes through a divorce it can have an impact upon you… seeing that friend suddenly have new social circles and get back into dating again but what I really liked is that despite it all, Octavia and Roberta still stood by each other.

There were various parts to the story that rang true a bit, about how Octavia and Jonathan were so busy living their lives that they didn’t really have time to talk and Octavia wondered if there was anything to talk about other than their children. I think it’s so true that sometimes we’re so busy in our lives that we forget to make time for our partners.

There were lots of amusing parts to the book too, the awkward date that Roberta endured with a vet who had her mixed up with someone else, the teenage son walking in on Roberta during her date with Jake or when we first got to meet Roberta when she was sitting in a police cell worrying about the kind of bra she had chosen to wear.

I really enjoyed reading this book. There were quite a lot of life changing moments within it and I loved the insight into how these changes rocked the boat of friendship. The characters were really well developed which made me keep turning the pages as I wanted to know what happened to them.

I recommend this book for escapism. It would make a perfect holiday read although it is definitely more than ‘just a holiday read’ as it has a lot of depth to it too. I will definitely be reading more from Kerry Fisher in the future.

The Dandelion Years by Erica James

What a way to start this new year- with finishing this book and taking away the inspirational messages with which it holds.

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have read a couple of Erica James’ books and have always devoured them so when I received this for Christmas I was very keen to get reading it. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, I think this is my favourite book written by her that I have read (so far!)

The story is about a rather bizarre set up in a family. Living together in the same house ever since they all lost their wives in a car crash are the grandparents and father of Saskia. Since her mother died in the crash when she was a child, Saskia has found comfort in the fact that both her grandfathers and her father set up a home for her to have the stability she needed. Despite it being far from the normal set up of a family, it has worked and if anything it’s been far more ideal than many other families. There are no written rules but everyone has roles that they’ve filled and they have lots of respect for each other and a huge amount of support and love but at 32 can Saskia really continue to live this way? Shouldn’t she have moved out and started her own adventures by now? Her grandfathers seem to think so and upon finding a mysterious notebook that contains a rather interesting story change begins to happen…

The notebook contains a form of diary written by Jacob Bilinksy during the Second World War. It contains his innermost thoughts about his meeting with Kitty who he instantly falls in love with. Their relationship isn’t straight forward though for her family are upperclass Catholics and he is a Jewish boy from the East End. They face lots of opposition from them and Jacob’s self esteem, which is already very low, takes a battering and makes him doubt himself. Kitty is the love of his life, she’s confident and determined to make the most of the situation they find themselves in and she is very open and honest in her love for Matthew.

The term The Dandelion Years was presented to Matthew by Kitty who said that they are living in a time where their lives could end at any moment and so they have to make the most of the moment. Life is like a dandelion; it can be blown out at any moment but it leaves behind seeds which can grow into so much more.

What I loved about the book was the positivity behind it. Yes there was lots of grief within it and heartache but the feeling you’re left behind after reading this book is one of great optimisim. Things can go very wrong but if you have someone behind you who is supporting you then there is no reason why you can’t find happiness.

There were lots of moments within the book that make you think about your own life and how you can improve it. One being just how Saskia’s family got along and supported each other. There were many events that could have rocked the boat and caused problems- such as Saskia’s father Ralph finding a new girlfriend. This could have lead to his father in law being bitter or Saskia worrying about the change this could lead to but it didn’t. Instead they all respected his needs and spoke about their concerns openly and were more than supportive. It made me think about my own family, how we could learn from that set up- instead of worrying about change we can look for the positives within it and welcome it. The whole concept of the dandelion is a very positive message too which really did make me think about my life. Living with a disease that impacts upon your life like cancer is very difficult. You can easily be miserable and put your life on hold but the concept of the dandelion brings to life the fact that we are all living on borrowed time and should make the most of what we have, to leave behind an impact which can lead to special things. It definitely made me think about what I could achieve in life.

I loved the characters in this book. They were beautifully created leaving you feeling like they were real and as though you know them. I loved the way they interacted with each other, the narrative between the various members of Saskia’s family was very convincing, it definitely reminded me of some of my own family interactions! I thought the way that the self doubt which Jacob suffered from was described brilliantly, you could almost feel his unease and I really wanted to tell him to just relax and make the most of his love rather than worrying… it really was described that well! And this was what Saskia and Matthew (the heir of Jacob’s possessions) took away with them when they read the book too. I think it takes a very clever author who can get a reader to feel emotions like this and really relate to their situations.

This is a really lovely book. I found that there were times when I couldn’t put it down and read on way later than I should do through very sleepy eyes as I just wanted to know what would happen next! I think  both parts to the story- the contemporary and the historical- were interwoven perfectly. I lost myself in both of the worlds and felt for the characters in both.

As I finished this book this morning I was left feeling very positive which is a perfect way to begin a new year. This book is all about not just settling for what you have but taking chances to see if you could actually be happier doing something else. There is a lot to be said for that and certainly a lot that I can draw from it myself which is definitely the sign of a very good book.

I definitely recommend this book to you if you like to read a book that will draw you in, have you fall in love with the characters and find yourself able to grow from the messages within the book.

Beautifully written and 5 stars from me.