Book Review – Z was Zapped

TITLE: The alphabet theatre proudly presents the Z was zapped : a play in twenty-six acts
AUTHOR & Illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHED: 1987

I was talking to a friend of mine about a movie and discovered it was a children’s book first, so I looked the author up and came up with a whole list of titles. But this one is so far my favorite.
In fact, it’s my favorite because the thing reminds me a little of Edward Gorey, except with letters instead of people, which makes it a little more friendly for the masses. In each case, something happens to a letter of the alphabet. Really, there’s not much to say about this one. I hope it’s not too much a spoiler (it should be obvious!) that Z, for instance, gets Zapped.

My only issue with the book is the layout. On the right hand side of the page, we have the illustrations – black and white by the author himself. On the left, we have the text. But in this case, the illustration leads, so when you’re looking at a page that tells you what happens to P, the illustration is showing what happens to Q. When it’s telling you that B is badly bitten, you’re looking at the picture of C being Cut to Ribbons. I wish you were reading and seeing the same letter, you know?

In all, I think it’s awesome. I tried to read it to the baby and he even liked it (he’s seven months old).
If it weren’t for the layout issue, I’d give it a five. Alas.

4/5 pages.

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Book Review – W is for Wasted

Title: W is for Wasted
Author: Sue Grafton
Format: Hardcover
Published: 2013

W is for Wasted is the 23rd book in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series.
In this story, we follow Kinsey Millhone (rhymes with Bone) as a series of bizarre events unfold around her. To start, a homeless man dies on the beach with her name in his pocket. The story flips back and forth between the first person POV of Kinsey (as the entire series was) and the third person POV of something happening to somebody, but you’re not exactly sure who is involved or why we need to know it. Oh, and for some strange reason, Robert Deets is in town, asking Kinsey about the guy who stiffed him on a bill. Eventually it all ties in.

As the story unfolds, Kinsey ends up with a group of unlikely allies – the homeless friends of the dead man. Henry ends up with a cat. And we eventually find out how it all fits together.

I’m trying to not have any spoilers here, so I apologize if the review is vague, but there’s really not a lot of specifics I can give.

I didn’t mind the storyline so much. It was a bit predictable in places – a lot of the third person stuff I had figured out really early on. But then again, this is a cozy mystery, so of course it’s a bit predictable. There weren’t any huge issues, aside from characters that I just didn’t like. But that wasn’t a fault of the author.

I did have a bit of an issue with some of the phrasings in the book and a few of the references. Remember, the series started in the early 80s, and Sue has tried really hard to make Kinsey not age all that much. She keeps her slightly antiquated – she likes using index cards so she can slide them around… She likes the sound of her typewriter – so we don’t feel time as much, but there’s still that little thing in the back of your mind. If Only Kinsey had a cell phone. But then again, if that were the case, she’d be in her 50s, and I’m thinking there’s not that much running down the beach after a guy with a gun that she can do in that state.
Anyway, as I was saying… there were several references that we had to question – some felt too old, some felt too new, some were just weird. Like I said, Kinsey’s my mother’s age, so I kept asking her “would you have ever said…” or “what would you call…”

My biggest problem, though, had to deal with this book versus the rest of the series.
Here’s the thing. When Sue started the series back in the early 80s (it’s almost as old as I am!), the books had a very dedicated format/feel/whatever. The last few, however – since at least Q – have had a different feel than the rest of the series. I’m not saying it’s bad or good, but you sort of want a series to have the same feel all the way through. Maybe that’s the side effect of writing a 26 book series, or the side effect of writing for 30 years on a series. But A, B, C… don’t feel anything like the last half dozen have. (My favorite in the series is still L.)

So this causes the problem of rating the book.
I asked my mother (she read it at the same time I was, which made sharing the book really interesting) what she would rate it and she said 4/5.
As a standalone, I’d agree. The writing is better than the earlier books, and the story is tighter.
As for how it fits the series, I’d only give it a 3/5, if that makes sense.

Book Review – Wonderland Alphabet by Alethea Kontis [and a double Alpha Oops Halloween BONUS!]

Title: The Wonderland Alphabet
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Janet K. Lee
Format: Board Book
Written: 2012
Published: 2012

In the theme of Alice in Wonderland, Alethea Kontis has brought us the most adorable alphabet poem ever.  Janet K Lee’s  illustrations are amazing.  And the layout is incredible.  And there’s nothing about this I don’t like (except, maybe that our alphabet only has 26 letters…perhaps she could redo this with the Khmer alphabet, which is 74 letters long?) Have I gushed enough?

From thieves that run off with parts of letters to grins without cats and playing cards willing to deal the queen’s punishments (see what I did there?), there is nothing about this book that I dislike.  The colors are perfect, the artwork is gorgeous, and the rhyme has no sign of that sickening cutesy that children’s books so often suffer from.  In fact, I think this is truely a book designed for an adult to *want* to read to their children.  Or their cats, cause, you know, I don’t have kids.

I checked it out at the store and did something I don’t often do – bought it at its full cover retail price.  For me.

So the down-low on this book?  Buy it.  Find somewhere that you can display it.  Revisit it once in a while.  Love it, cherish it, share it.  This book would also make a great gift – for a new baby or an Alice fan, or someone who you want to remind to never grow up too fast.

In case you haven’t figured out by now, Five out of Five Pages.

Since it’s Halloween this week, I wanted to give y’all a little bit of an extra treat. (Also, I don’t want my blog toilet papered.)  Reviews of Alethea’s other children’s books!

Title: AlphaOops – The Day That Z Went First
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Bob Kolar
Format: Hardcover
Written: 2006
Published: 2006

Title: AlphaOops – H is for Halloween
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Bob Kolar
Format: Hardcover
Written: 2010
Published: 2010

I’ve known about these books for a while now, and it took me a bit to finally get around to looking into them.  I got H is for Halloween off a used book site, and it promptly became the book that sits on my hearth to round out my Halloween decorations this year.  They’re just that awesome.

In “The Day Z Went First” Z is tired of being stuck 26th in line and wants his turn at leading the parade.  The letters quickly decide that Z has a point, and A steps aside and lets them go backwards – Z Y X W P… um, P?  Yeah, so the rest of the letters get a little upset too, because, well, the letters in the middle are going to always be in the middle, and what if you don’t want to be next to the same letter all the time (or, even worse, what if you do and they won’t cooperate!?). H refuses to go anywhere other than where she should be.  Z starts getting testy, because really, all he wants is the alphabet to be over and with everyone all over the place, nothing’s getting done.  Then some of the letters decide they should stand for more than one thing, V tries for a second turn… One of the letters even gets stuck in the bathroom and has to be tacked on just before A, who steals the show in a most amazing way (see what I did there?!).

In “H is for Halloween” the same sort of chaos ensues.  It’s time to start the alphabet, but A isn’t ready, so they push H out in front because H has top billing.  The best thing about this book is that it’s not your typical letters and words.  In fact, there’s actually a page where J can’t always be a Jack-o-lantern.  While everything is going relatively smoothly at first, there’s a bit of a problem – you see, after K is for Kracken and P is for Pirate…  poor B has to change his costume because he’s dressed as a Buccaneer.     After Y is a Yeti, B has to give up on Bigfoot.  And what about X, who can’t be hardly anything?  (Serendipity! S has an idea!)

There are so many things I want to say about these books, but I don’t want to give everything away.  I like that this is a book about whether or not you can think outside the box instead of following the established order of things.  I mean does it really matter if G and H stick together or not if all 26 letters still make their appearances?

I think these books are great, and I really hope that she eventually makes her way through the whole series.

I’m giving both of them five out of five pages.

***

*****

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