Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Blog tour: Review + Guest Blog Post for The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol (Children's, 9 years +, 10E/10E, short 'n' sweet review)

7th July 2016, Chicken House, 320 pages, Paperback, Review copy 

Summary from Chicken House 
Arianwyn has fluffed her witch’s assessment. 

Awarded the dull bronze disc of 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 forest. 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 …
Nayu's thoughts
Wow. I'm a bit blown away by this book. I'm going to use the nickname one of her friends uses, Wyn, for Ariawyn. Wyn's story continuously teetered on the edge of getting too dark and gloomy for me, with small glimmers of hope keeping me going because through Wyn's friends I felt she could survive anything, even though everything seemed to go wrong.

I may be completely wrong in my assumption, but the darkness which Wyn comes face to face with feels like it is a depiction of depression in the non-magical world. It's just the way that Wyn encounters the darkness, the intensity of the feelings she experiences (minus the magical part because sadly real life doesn't have magic!) are key pointers in depression. I cried when she finally realised part of the truth of the darkness, and when she fought it with all she got, because depression is so all consuming that even getting a glimmer of normality back demands a huge celebration.

I also felt that Gimma was possessed by the evil at the end - all I can say is sadly I was wrong. There really are people that mean in the world. I hope that she learns to be kind eventually. Being mean gets no-one anywhere, as Wyn learns first hand when she lets her emotions rule after failing her first evaluation. Her grandmother knew how to handle her though, and always does what Wyn needs, rather than what Wyn wants. Wyn's grandmother is awesome! There's clearly more going on than I as a reader discovered by the end of the book, and I'm super excited to learn more about what makes Wyn unique (I really can't say anything or I'll spoil the plot).

 She deals with a lot of difficult people in Lull, people who pick up on every single thing she does wrong and magnifies them out of proportion. But then there are people like Salle who just want to help Wyn be the best she can be. It's not just humans who help her either, there's two very incredible creatures who Wyn meets that had me smiling at the affinity they have with Wyn. I'm eager to meet them again in the next book! I'm definitely going to be rereading Wyn's tale when I need proof that it's ok to make lots of mistakes as you'll get there in the end in your own way.

Thank you James for such a super book and a guest blog post which is coming right up!

The BEST Best Friends In Children’s Books by James Nicol

There is no more important supporting character in a book than your main character’s best and closest friends. And just like in real life these can come in all shapes and sizes and may not necessarily be the people you always expect to be best friends with.

In The Apprentice Witch, Arianwyn makes friends with Salle, a resident of Lull whom she meets on her first day in the town. They bond quickly over various disappointments and Salle becomes a loyal friend and ferocious protector of the young witch.

Salle is an accumulation of all of my very closest friends but like all great friends she is not just there to cheer Arianwyn on all of the time. Sometimes our friends have to tell us the cold hard truth as well and Salle is afraid to stand up to and for her friend at the right time.

Here are a few of the very best of best friends in some of my favourite books for children. 

1.      Mr Tumnus  - The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I always felt so sorry for Lucy. She was younger than the other three children and nobody believes her when she tells them about finding Narnia in the back of the wardrobe (as if anyone would doubt that to be fact!) and she always seemed a bit lonely to me. Mr Tumnus is the first Narnian we meet in the book and despite the fact that he tries to trap Lucy to hand her over to the very nasty White Witch she forgives him (as good friends always do!) and he then becomes a great supporter of the children, even asking the beavers to look out for Lucy if she returns to Narnia. In later books he becomes a loyal advisor to the children as they become the Kings and Queens of Narnia. Mr Tumnus and Lucy may not get off to the best of beginnings but they find their way together eventually. 
Nayu: read this loads when I was at school, and some of the others too, and was a huge fan of Lucy too (I'd have chosen the beavers as a best friend)

2.      Charlotte – Charlotte’s Web  by T.E. White

There are surely fewer, finer friends in all of children’s literature than Charlotte the spider. (yes that’s right – despite my utter terror of the eight legged beasts I do have a soft spot for Charlotte!)
She saves Wilbur and ensures his life is free from the worry of becoming a string of sausages or a bacon sandwich, with her beautiful web weaving and very wise words. Charlotte is full of wisdom, brave and incredibly smart and she sees the truth and beauty in life – a great set of qualities to have in any friend if you ask me!
Nayu: I actually don't remember reading this when I was at school, maybe I did and just forgot. 

3.      Zach - Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian

I re-read Goodnight Mr Tom for the first time in about twenty-five years recently and was totally heartbroken over the loss of Zach in a way I didn’t remember being the first time around.

Sometimes we have to say good bye to our best friends, sometimes forever. But what happens to Willie after Zach’s death is a beautiful acknowledgment of his friends impact on his life and the fact that those we love are with us always in our hearts. Their friendship is touching, thoughtful and really quite beautiful and it leaves a profound mark on Willies life and on us as readers. 
 Nayu: I read this lots when I was at school, and seen the film too -now it's too heartbraking for me to watch despite the happy ending. Zach was super cool!

4.      James and the Insects – James & The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl 

Friends really do come in all shapes and sizes and young James is so lucky to find himself on an adventure in the giant peach with this cast of wondrous characters all of whom offer him friendship of a very different sort. Like any circle of close friends each one assumes a role. The Centipede is a boisterous rascal generally optimistic and brave, but outspoken and rash. The Earthworm is frequently the most pessimistic of the protagonists, though on amicable terms with nearly all. There is The Old Green Grasshopper  and the Ladybird who assume paternal roles to James and the others. Miss Spider (another spider!?!!) A good- who cares for James but can be fierce and appears a bit scary at first. The calming Glowworm who quietly hangs from the ceiling lighting the interior and The silent Silkworm who assists Miss Spider in the production of thread, both before and after the adventure. Each of them supports James on his adventures as he escapes from his evil and rotten aunts and make his adventure more fun by being part of it.  
Nayu: haven't read this, heard about it and it freaked me out so I stayed away!

5.      Hatty – Toms Midnight Garden by Philipa Pearce 

When our friends move on or outgrow our friendship or find and make other friends it can be difficult for us to adjust. And as Tom makes his visits to the garden and Hatty continues to move forwards in time this is played out. We’re never sure which one of them is truly the ghost of the tale or who’s dream we are in. The farewell between Tom and the much older Hatty at the end of the book is beautiful and touching and shows that age is certainly no barrier to friendship.  
Nayu: Again I think I may have read this, but I can't remember it.

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