Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: The Candy Shop War

Star Rating 3/5

The Candy Shop War

By Brandon Mull

It’s hard enough to resist a good piece of candy, but how could anyone resist a piece of candy that also gave the consumer the ability to run tirelessly for miles or jump from rooftop to rooftop? What about a piece of candy that allowed you to find out what your pet really thought of you? Nate, Summer, Trevor, and Pigeon of Brandon Mull’s The Candy Shop War get to experience all these magical feats and more when candy-making magicians come to their town.

On their way home from school, the four friends decide to stop at the new candy shop that opened up. The Sweet Tooth Ice Cream and Candy Shoppe’s owner, Mrs. White, offers them penny candy and the opportunity to work for some more expensive treats. After a few days of labor, she hints that she has special candy that she doesn’t let the average customer have. The kids can’t restrain their curiosity or appetites and begin doing at first odd and then morally questionable tasks to get her magic candy rewards. Before long the kids are entirely entangled in Mrs. White’s scheme to find the town’s hidden treasure, and, unfortunately, they’ve also realized that Mrs. White is not as kind-hearted as she seemed. Now they have to figure a way out of the mess their insatiable curiosity got them into and retrieve the treasure before she does.

The Candy Shop War puts an imaginative spin on magic use, but lacks depth. Mull’s magic, which is obtained through candy, works best on children. The children who eat the candy, the four heroes and also three bullies, gain special powers to use in their exploits but fail to develop as they partake of the treats and encounter various situations. Barely described, the kids are static types—easy to relate to on a surface level, but unmemorable and largely indistinguishable overall. The lack of character depth and development makes the kids far less interesting than the candy they devour.

While the kids lack personality and believability, the main adults—Mrs. White, Mr. Stott, and John Dart—are intriguing and mysterious. Mull keeps the reader guessing whether or not there is a distinct or true villain. No obvious evil stands out since the words of each adult justify their individual actions and condemn the others’, leaving the reader wondering who, if anyone, really can be trusted.

Unfortunately, the well-written secondary characters and creative story can hardly make up for the cardboard cut-out primary characters. However, perhaps these plain characters are better suited for children—the intended audience. Most any child could identify him- or herself with one of the four heroes. By connecting with a character, the child might then better enjoy the story, which is fast-paced and exciting. The Candy Shop War is a fun, one-time read that merely makes you wonder what candy you would like to try rather than whetting your appetite for more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crossword Christmas

I thought of this craft late at night last week when I was feeding my baby. Ok, so it was sometime really early in the morning actually. Anyway, it's really easy and just takes time. I think the change of font and ink highlight the true reason behind the season like I intended it to do. It's kind of a crossword/scrabble Christmas picture. I hope you like it!

First, figure out the words you want to use and how to arrange them. Create a grid in which you write out all your words. It doesn't need to be fancy, you just need to make sure none of your words are running together.

I created a big list and then I tried to use a crossword generator online. I wasn't pleased with the results, so I ended up figuring it out on my own by cutting out squares of scratch paper and arranging them in different ways. I didn't use all my words, but I made sure to include the ones that I really wanted to and, of course, the highlighted words "Messiah" and "believe." After a lot of trial and error and time, I came up with something I liked. Mine is 14 "tiles" by 14 "tiles."

Second, figure out your measurements. How big is the frame you want it to go in? How many tiles by how many tiles is your crossword? How small will your tiles need to be to fit inside that space and still have a gap between each tile?

My frame (a graduation shadow box I found at a thrift store) fit a sheet of paper that was 10 3/16 inches square, but only 9 11/16 inches square would be seen. My paper tiles needed to be 9/16 of an inch square to fit 14 x 14 with small gaps in between.

Third, cut out your paper and assemble an example lineup. You can use the lineup to make sure your squares will be able to accommodate your whole crossword and to use as a reference so your words are more or less straight on the page.

Fourth, print your letters on your tiles and set them on the paper. I suggest not taping or gluing them down until you have them all set out in case they don't fit exactly like the lineup. I had to move mine over several times because I didn't want to write on my paper to make grid lines or anything.

Fifth, use double stick tape or scrapbook photo squares to adhere your tiles to the page.

Sixth, frame.
Finished! Super easy, huh? What do you think?

Places I've Linked

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Book Review: Sorcery and Cecilia

Star Rating: 5/5
Sorcery and Cecilia Or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
By Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Imagine Old World England where women are brought into society when they come of age and life is composed of horseback-riding, parties at the estate down the lane, and chaperoned picnics; sprinkle in some well-educated, arrogant wizards pouring out spells and giving no explanations; and you have Sorcery and Cecelia. Cousins Kate and Cecilia (also called Cecy) are spending the season exchanging letters since Kate is making her debut in London while Cecy remains at home in Essex. At first they feel as though they’re in for some dull months, but neither is left without exciting news to write about for long. Kate finds her way to the headquarters of the Royal College of Wizards. There she sneaks off into a lovely garden room where she is compelled to sit with a mysterious woman named Miranda. Miranda nearly poisons Kate with chocolate and accuses her of being a wizard by the name of Thomas in disguise. Kate barely escapes the woman but becomes inevitably entangled in her affairs, especially after Kate meets the true Thomas at the next ball. Meanwhile, Cecy is getting mixed up in magic and intrigue of her own when she learns that her newfound friend Dorothea has a spell placed on her by Miranda, the wizard Kate met in London. Local nobleman James Tarleton seems to believe Cecy is working with Miranda and is determined to get in Cecy’s way. Though Cecy is unsure of what to do about James’ mistaken notions and rude behavior or how to help free Dorothea from the spell, she is determined to figure things out and help Kate while she’s at it.
Just as Kate and Cecy sometimes do the unorthodox to achieve their ends, authors Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer craft their tale using the young ladies’ correspondence rather than a more traditional narrative form. The story unfolds as the women write to one another, telling the events of the previous day or days. As each letter is written after the events have transpired, it is clear that all will be well by the end of the letter and that neither writer was seriously harmed since she is telling her tale. While this format removes some of the drama from the story, the loss is hardly noteworthy since it gives the reader a more intimate view of and relationship with each narrator. Reading the letters, we see relationships being built and shifting not only through the occurrences that are described but also through the description of the events and individuals by Kate and Cecy. This structure makes us confidants of the two women, and we witness firsthand the subtle changes in their attitudes and perspectives.
Overall, the interwoven stories are intriguing and enjoyable. They keep you guessing and wondering how relationships will evolve and when the characters will recognize what exactly is happening. The characters are extremely realistic as they slowly figure things out and come to understand their own feelings. It is easy and fun to recognize ourselves and our friends in all of them, not only in Kate and Cecy. Wrede and Stevermer have crafted a truly enchanting read.