REVIEW: The Apprentice Witch

by James Nicol

Pages: 324
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication Date: July 7th 2016

Arianwyn has fluffed her witch’s evaluation test.

Awarded the dull bronze disc and continuing as an apprentice – to the glee of her arch-rival, mean girl Gimma – she’s sent to protect the remote, dreary town of Lull. 

But her new life is far from boring. Turns out Gimma is the pompous mayor’s favourite niece – and worse, she opens a magical rift in the nearby Great Wood. As Arianwyn struggles with her spells, a mysterious darkness begins to haunt her – and it’s soon clear there’s much more than her pride at stake …

The Apprentice Witch is all kinds of amazing and no, my mum didn't just tell me to say that. I mean she did, but I wholeheartedly agree! I'm not normally a massive fan of middle grade books as I find it harder to connect with the main character, however, with The Apprentice Witch it only took a couple of chapters for me find common ground with our girl Arianwyn Gribble. The story is fast paced, full the brim of magical twists and dark turns that will leave you begging for more from the little town of Lull. 

The Apprentice Witch is the story of a young witch who's life never quite goes to plan and this is never more true than on the day of her evaluation when the mysterious glyph that she has seen all her life makes an unwelcome appearance. Due to the events of that day Arianwyn (Wyn) is sent to the town of Lull to finish off her Apprenticeship and become the town witch. Although Lull has been without a witch for some time and within a few days Wyn is up to her ears in witchly tasks and intriguing townspeople. It's not all work for Wyn though as she meets new friends, finds a place she can call hers and acquires a rather charming Moon Hare called Bob. But with dark spirits making more frequent appearances, a mysterious glyph following Wyn like a bad smell and the town of Lull sitting on the edge of the Great Wood it is only a matter of time before this Apprentice finds herself in more trouble that she could have ever imagined. 

I loved this book so much! I mean how could I not? James creates a world that is the literary equivalent to glitter and I couldn't put this book down. Every scene and setting was so well executed to the point that I felt like I was in the town of Lull right along side Wyn and the story itself didn't lull for one second - yes pun COMPLETELY intended. 

This book bought me back to my younger years and the days of The Worst Witch and our dear Mildred Hubble. The story is completely different but a young witch that can't quite get it right no matter her intentions? Arianwyn Gribble is this generations Mildred and I LOVE IT!!!

Overall this book is one of those I can't stop talking about. Yes its middle grade but there is something about it that I think appeals to a wider audience - after all Harry Potter is a MG book, just saying. The Apprentice Witch is fast paced, laugh out loud funny and full of little pockets of magic that will have you smiling from ear to ear.  If you haven't read this book yet I hope you do and for all of you who have... A Witch Alone is out this week! And guys... it's so good! 

REVIEW: Movie Night

by Lucy Courtenay

Pages: 314
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Publication Date: January 11th 2018
Received From: Hodder Children's Books

One: I am hopelessly in love with Hanna Bergdahl. Two: for the first time since our recent reunion Hanna Bergdahl appears to be single. And three: I am in stuck in that inescapable netherworld of demons and acne - the Friend Zone.

Two best friends. One crush.

Sol and Hanna were best friends at primary school and after reuniting at college, they spend approximately seventy per cent of daylight hours together.

When disaster strikes at a New Year's Eve party and Hannah sees new boyfriend Danny Dukas kissing Lizzie Banks, a New Year's Resolution is formed. Sol and Hanna will watch one film a month for twelve months until the next New Year. After all, films hold answers to life's hardest questions. Maybe they'll figure out why they are both members of the dumpee club.

Only Sol Adams has a new year's resolution of his own: to kiss Hanna Bergdahl before the year is over.
When I read The Kiss I was completely enamoured with the way in which Lucy Courtenay constructs a contemporary romance. There was this added element of movie magic and I'm so happy that has carried on to her new book Movie Night. This book is unbelievably cute, laugh out loud funny at times and the quintessential YA will they, wont they romance that will turn your insides gooey. 

Movie Night is told from the perspective for our two main protagonists. First you have Hanna, the sixth form girl who fits in with the popular kids, changes boys like they're shoes and gets along with mostly everyone. Then there is Sol, Sol grew up with Hanna but moved away when he was younger. Now Sol is back he and Hanna are inseparable but he likes to keep things to himself, like the fact he has been in love with his best friend Hanna for longer than he can remember. Then one New Years Eve Hanna sees her boyfriend kissing someone else and on that night while comforting her Sol and Hanna make a pact. For the next year they are going to watch one movie a month together, because movies always have happily ever afters and maybe together they will find the answers they are looking for.  But with Sol trying to hold Hanna at arms length and Hanna slowly realising just how much he keeps from her their friendship is pushed to breaking point. It is a story about friendship, first love and learning to be who you want to be, not just who you are told to be. 

Throughout this book Sol and Hanna grow so much as characters, both together and apart that its hard not to love them. Movie Night is one of those coming of age stories that suck you in because you as a reader feel like you can connect with the characters. The book is written over the space of a year, a year that has our main protagonists applying for university and making big decisions about who they want to be. 

The characters melt your heart and the story keeps up pace throughout. The family dynamics are intriguing and if your favourite thing in this book isn't Nigel then I don't know what's wrong with you. There are moments in this book that show how hard it can be at that age and the pressure of some of the choices that need making but there is also a humour to it as well. It is the mix of depth and light heartedness that really elevated this book for me. 

Overall, Movie Night was one of those books I could read over and over again. It hit me right in the feels and from the very first chapter I needed to know if Sol got the girl. It is hard enough being a teenager but when you're in love with your best friend? Well that's when it gets complicated. 

BLOG TOUR: Orphan Monster Spy

In Celebration 
Female Heroes

Diana Brackley from The Trouble with Lichen

Go back far enough and few fictional characters, especially those written by men, pass muster as truly feminist. Like the mainly white US suffragettes are tainted by the whiff of racism, most writers are products of their time and even the most benign intentions drag the patriarchy behind them like oversized luggage with broken wheels.
However, it is possible for a progressive reading of some of these texts to take place and for us to marvel at the insight of some of the minds behind them, long before they’d be reasonably expected to have got their sisterhood on.
One such work is John Wyndham’s The Trouble With Lichen. What he manages, in his own flawed and very 1950s manner, is to create a feminist character of quite remarkable fortitude, vision and single-mindedness.
Diana Brackley is not like her mother. She is unwilling to define herself solely as someone else’s wife or mother, or to remain in a state of perpetual dependence. But time, she is assured, is the enemy. Time ticks on for women. Their value, their attractiveness, their desirability and their fertility, all are falling away by the second. According to her mother, there isn’t time for a career, especially not for chemistry…whatever that is.
Diana knows that these things are a distraction at best. They’re something to relegate to the future, but she cannot quite shake the sense of the running clock. Men do not have these limitations, so why should she? If only there was more time…so when her diligence and scientific abilities uncover an anti-aging elixir – made from a rare lichen with a critically limited supply – she leaves her research lab and vague love interest, taking her discovery with her.

She creates a beauty clinic. While that appears literally superficial, it’s a wicked subversion of the concept, and since she’s treating these women without their specific consent, it’s a deeply transgressive act. Diana takes on the female condition – as seen through a 1950s filter – and disrupts it for her needs.
She has a vision, not just to extend lives, but to reshape the world. She uses the limited supply of lichen to create a long-lived group of female leaders, untouched by the rigours and judgements of age, who could exist on a level playing field with the men for whom the usual limitations do not apply. Such a cabal could change the world for women, forever.

In comparison, the love interest’s decision, to test it on his children, without their consent, seems small-minded, parochial and even cruel.  
Of course, all this is deeply flawed. The restrictions society placed, and still places on women are entirely artificial and don’t hold up to scrutiny. Even fertility can now be reasonably extended, if indeed the woman chooses that path. Game-changing women do not require eternal youth. Yet even this generation of women still can’t shake the patriarchal obsession with appearance.
But as a product of the late 1950s, with the Second Wave of Feminism in its infancy, Diana Brackley is a game-changer and a formidable warrior for equality.


by Matt Killeen

A Jewish girl-turned-spy must infiltrate an elite Nazi boarding school in this highly commercial, relentlessly nail-biting World War II drama!

After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah--blonde, blue-eyed, and Jewish--finds herself on the run from a government that wants to see every person like her dead. Then Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He's a spy, and he needs Sarah to become one, too, to pull off a mission he can't attempt on his own: infiltrate a boarding school attended by the daughters of top Nazi brass, befriend the daughter of a key scientist, and steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. With years of training from her actress mother in the art of impersonation, Sarah thinks she's ready. But nothing prepares her for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she'd ever imagined.


Matt Killeen was born in Birmingham, in the UK, back when trousers were wide and everything was brown. Several careers beckoned, some involving laser guns and guitars, before he finally attempted to make a living as an advertising copywriter and a largely ignored music and sports journalist. He now writes for the world’s best loved toy company, as it wasn’t possible to be an X-wing pilot. Orphan Monster Spy is his first novel.

REVIEW: The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black

Pages: 384
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: 2nd January 2018
Received From: Hot Key Books

Of course I want to be like them. They're beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him—and face the consequences.
In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Holly Back's Tithe and Ironside are the books that started my love of YA Frey. They are full of danger, magic and lust that completely absorb you into the pages and when I heard Black was making a return trip to the land of Faerie I was beyond excited! The Cruel Prince is fast paced, magical, dangerous and all consuming. The characters are, in my opinion, some of the best she has ever created and the way humanity and power interlink throughout the story made this book unputdownable. 

The Cruel Prince is the first of a new series and it tells the story of an orphaned human girl, Jude, who finds herself right at the centre of the High Court of Faerie. Jude and her two sisters all adapted differently when their parents were brutally murdered by their now step-father and as the story unfolds it’s these differences that leads to Jude’s unlikely story. For you see, Jude has always wanted to be like the Frey. For Jude it was their strength and skill she admired and even though being human is seen as a weakness she was determined to prove she could be one of them. However, with a coronation around the corner, battles for power in play and a prince that can’t stand the sight of her, Jude has more to prove than ever before. 

Jude, for me, was the perfect protagonist! There was something about her that made you want to route for her even when you could see she was making all the wrong choices. She is one of those characters that has a bit of a chip on her shoulder (and rightly so) and finds herself needing to prove her worth to everyone around her. Her two sisters adapted differently to the world on the other side of the hill but it is Jude's need for acceptance from this world that makes her relatable. She is the quintessential outsider, the girl that will never fit in, never given a chance to be more than her preconceptions and that in itself makes her fight even harder. You can't help but adore her and for me that's what makes a YA protagonist special. 

The story itself was full of adventure and interlinking parts that keeps you on your toes from the very first to the very last page. Black never shies away from the brutal side of frey folklore and The Cruel Prince is no different. There were moments that made me wish she wasn’t so damn good as describing things but it is this grittiness mixed with the wonder of the Faerie world that entices the reader. This is one of those books were setting, storytelling, characters and that literary magic all come together to create something rather special.

Overall I adored this book. If I'm honest I was a little worried I had set my expectations too high but Black smashed it and I didn't want this story to end. It is full of peril, trickery, plotting, love and magic. It’s a tale of family value, royal hierarchy and a young girls need to be accepted. The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her best and I'm dying to see what she has in store for us next. 

REVIEW: Before I Let Go

by Marieke Nijkamp

Pages: 358
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: January 23rd 2018
Received From: Sourcebooks 

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter...

This is one of those books that even after you've read the last page the story still haunts your every thought. I was lucky enough to be sent this book after hearing so many positive things from other bloggers and from the second I started reading I was hooked. Now, I know I say that a fair bit but there was something about Nijkamp's writing style that sucked me into the story and I felt like I was living these characters. Before I Let Go is an eerie and beautifully heartbreaking. It is a story you will want to read over and over again.

Before I Let Go follows Corey as she flies back to the town she used to call home for the funeral of her best friend Kyra. However, when Corey arrives in Lost everything is different, the town sees Corey as an outsider, speaking in whispers as she passes. As Lost mourns Kyra, Corey is left with a feeling that something isn't right. The town she left shunned her best friend but the one she has returned to speaks of Kyra as some kind of saint. Nothing makes sense in Lost anymore and the longer Corey stays and the harder she seeks the truth the more dangerous Lost becomes. There are secrets beneath the ice and as much as Corey needs to know the truth what she finds might be more than she can handle.

I honestly don't have a bad word to say about this book. The characters where brilliantly constructed, with ones you loath and others you love and some that will send shivers down your spine. Marieke Nijkamp is able to make the reader feel for these fictional characters as if they were real which is a skill of pure literary genius. The story is unpredictable and unravels into a chilling tale that will have you begging for a happily ever after that you suspect might never come.

The thing that got me about this story was the way in which the town treated Kyra in the time Corey is away. Before I Let Go is told predominantly by Corey but its Kryas story that runs through the heart of the book. I don't want to say too much as to spoil it but there was something quite archaic about how this small town dealt with a girl with a mental disorder, that at times made my skin crawl. It was the desperation of a family that needed to make sense of something too big for their comprehension and a town that found it easier to ignore the girl and simply see an object to be used that made this story unforgettable. As the story unfolded my heart broke for Kyra and forced me as the reader to really connect with the humanity running through the pages of this book.

Overall, this is one of those books that a month down the line I'm still reeling over. It was the most epic start to 2018 and YA this year has a lot to live up to. Before I Let Go is fasted paced, chilling, beautiful and completely unpredictable. It is one of those books that will have you up until the early hours of the morning NEEDING to know what happens next. If you haven't read this book yet I can not recommend it enough! 

BLOG TOUR: Ariadnis/Anassa

Have You Seen This Hero?

My Dad has lots of videos of me from when I was little, but there’s one I remember with particular clarity. Here it is:
A blurry image of a garden: a line of pine trees at the bottom, a pond with a wire fence, two children running up the grass. That’s me, the one that’s spinning, pretending to be stuck in a tornado. Yes, that’s a white petticoat I’m wearing. Yes. Those are my sister’s tights on my head.
My friend Rory, dressed as Peter Pan or Robin Hood, says I need a sword.
I don’t WANT a sword, I say back. You have to rescue me.
What would this year be? 1994? Even at five, pretending to be a girl, I know that girls are supposed to be rescued, and not the ones doing the rescuing. Five year old Rory is as unlike me as it’s possible to be: boyish and boisterous; wooden sword in hand, shield in the other. But he’s far more progressive than I am. He’s arguing why I should have a weapon. Even playing Wendy (or Marian, I can’t remember which one I’m supposed to be) he insists that we go and tackle Captain Hook/Sheriff of Nottingham together.
See? Now that’s a hero. Someone we could really get behind. Rory was - and still is - a hero of mine, but when it came to writing my first male hero, I discovered that making one for my sensibilities now- in present day - was more complicated that I would have initially thought....
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you after that anecdote to learn that I was earmarked fairly on as the gay kid at school. All my best friends were girls, I had a plethora of feminine gestures and word patterns that I’d picked up from those friends; I’d grown up playing with dolls and whirling around my garden in a silk petticoat and tights pulled down over my head to represent long hair.
Pretty gay, right? Everyone else seemed to think so. Any expression of contradiction on my part was met with a kind of squint; an ‘oh okay’, a slight change in their voice that indicated they knew better, or even a hastily stifled laugh.
           How I wished for an older brother. Someone who would have silenced anyone who had the temerity to call my femininity into question. He’d have a black belt in karate, a super beautiful girlfriend (preferably also trained to a high level in martial arts who would think I was cute and let me hang out with them all the time).
The Green Ranger. Tommy the Green Ranger from Power Rangers. That was the ideal big brother.
I’ll skip eleven years - no protective big brother has materialised out of the ether.  In the cafeteria in sixth form, someone, I don’t remember who, said casually: Are you sure you’re not gay?
So the femininity had to go. Above all things, I just wanted some peace. I was so tired of having to defend myself from this question. I began to control my gestures, lower the pitch of my voice, I began to talk loudly, obnoxiously about [straight] sex as if it was something I’d done already. And for the most part, people started to leave me alone. It also meant that when that question resurfaced it felt twice as thorny.
You can imagine how irritated I was then, to find myself, aged twenty-five, falling in love with a guy. I had, since sixth form, become open to that idea, but that didn’t mean I really expected it to happen. What happened next is a long story so I’m going to skip it. What I want to say about that is this:
Gender and Sexuality, as so many people who are on that spectrum understand, is impossibly complicated. But my conundrum was this: my sexuality may not be as simple as gay or straight but who is going to believe me?
When a scientist makes a new discovery it has to be proven multiple times by different people with any number of varying factors. It’s the same with representation.  If you don’t see yourself in films, in books, on TV - it’s hard to believe in you. It’s hard to feel reassured that you aren’t a glaring exception to a rule.
There were no representations of fluid sexuality and/or gender around for me growing up - real or fictional. The few examples that existed when I started the final version of Ariadnis were still just that - too few.
I’d never had any problem subverting gender stereotypes or expectations for my female characters. So why did it take me so long to realise that I could do the same for my male characters? I wrote countless drafts of Ariadnis over something like twelve years, but never once had I thought to subvert masculinity as I had strived so hard to do for femininity.
Like Aula and Joomia, Taurus, my male lead, had already been several different people over the years. When I started writing Aula and Joomia’s story, Taurus was Aragorn in almost every way. A few years later he was more similar to Philip Pullman’s Will Parry and a few after that he was a William Wallace type: angry and war-like, a revolutionary, a tragic hero.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but later I realised I’d spent all this time trying to put that ideal hero on the page: the feminist hero that Rory had shown me boys could be, the older-brother I’d dreamed up for myself - but never in ten years had I put anything of myself into that guy.
Why couldn’t he be a little of both - masculine and feminine and all traits in between? Why couldn’t he be bejewelled, beautiful, funny, sensitive, vulnerable? It was a radical idea to me, then. What if he wasn’t like every hero I’d been presented with?
What if he was unafraid of his own femininity - not just in terms of taking the piss out of himself, but respecting and loving feminine things - owning them, being part of them?  What if he was unafraid of his own sexuality and what if I presented it as something that was entirely unremarkable? What if he lived in a society that made very little distinction between one gender preference and another?
I began to write him from Joomia’s - then Aula’s - and finally, in Anassa, his own perspective - and for the first time since I’d dreamed him up seven years before he lived and breathed on the page.
I’ll leave you with this scene - one of the first I wrote from Taurus’s perspective, which I think perfectly encapsulates who he is and his relationship with his sister. It didn’t make the cut for Anassa but I’m glad to share it here now:

I get up early. Wow, sunshine. The tents glitter with dew. The tree trunks beyond split the young white sunlight into tall beams. I pretend that’s a gift from Ma.Thanks Ma, I think. I neaten my dreads and pull on a tunic and think about how this day could go great or it could go really terrible. Then it’s time to find sis.
I can do this thing which I call compassing. I’ve had it forever but I haven’t always known I could do it. I can find anything you like. Or anyone. It’s useful, I guess. There are rules when I do it:
1. Don’t be stressed
2. Don’t concentrate too hard.
3. Do it barefoot (Actually, this isn’t so much a rule for compassing as a rule for life).
4. Think of the thing, or the person I’m trying to find and… keep them balanced there. (I’m from Metis so I’ve done a lot of balancing on thin branches. That’s what it’s like - the more you do it, the better you get).
5. Don’t be hungover.
I’m hungover, but I try it anyway. It’s easier cause Etain, she’s my sister. I know what to look for, I guess: nerves, a need to be alone. I find her on the edge of camp. She’s standing with her eyes closed and her face tilted toward the sun.
‘Shh,’ she says.
‘I didn’t say anything.’
‘You’re about as quiet as pig with pollen fever.’
‘Oh good, you slept well then.’ I put my hands together. ‘Please Wise One, find someone for Etain to tumble in the bushes with. Help her take the edge off.’
She raises her eyebrow but keeps her eyes closed. Sis needs to let go a bit. She’s got poise for sure. Maybe too much poise. I smack my hands together.
‘Don’t worry, sis. I’m gonna take ‘em in hand today.’
She opens her eyes for that. She says, ‘Thanks, T.’
I bow. ‘My lady is welcome.’
She ignores that. ‘This is gonna work.’ she says, definitely more to herself. What she means is this is gonna work… right? But you have to read between the lines with Etain.
‘Course it is,’ I say. ‘It’ll be fine. If there’s one thing everyone agrees with it’s that they’re sick of sleeping in tents.’
She laughs. ‘Right.’
I punch her on her folded arms, but lightly. ‘Gotta go sis. Don’t mess up those braids eh? They took me ages. I’ll come back later and sort your face out.’

‘You’re my hero,’ she says, ‘Save me some bread.’


by Josh Martin

Page Count: 368
Publisher: Quercus Children's Books
Publication Date: 8th Feb 2018
Less than a year since their cities were joined, the people of Athenas and Metis are still arguing. When the island is invaded by Vulcan, whose resource-ravaged, overpopulated island wants to claim Chloris as its own, Etain's new leadership is compromised. The only way she can restore her people's confidence and save her island is to take up a sea quest to retrieve a magical item from a volcano. Alongside her brother Taurus, Etain sets sail for the volcano. But they soon discover there is more to the quest than they realised. 
It's up to Etain to be the leader she is destined to be. Should she fight, or should she try to unite?


Josh Martin writes and draws his way through life and is currently residing in London. He has aspired to novel writing since he was a tadpole and has since graduated from Exeter University before completing Bath Spa's Writing For Young People MA last year.
His particular interest in heroines, fantasy, environment, gender studies and wisdom led him to write Ariadnis, his first book.
Today was just the first day of the blog tour so don't forget to stop in at these awesome blogs to see what other goodies Josh has in store for us on the lead up to ANASSA hitting shelves on the 8th of Feb! And if you haven't read the first part of this gripping story ARIADNIS is out now!!