A Series of Unfortunate Events
by Lemony Snicket
At this writing, there are ten books in this series of tragic-comic stories about the trials and travails of the three Baudelaire orphans.
Written by an author whose pen-name is practically a character in itself, this popular series drapes its gleeful description of their
hair-raising adventures in a veil of pretend sorrow and weird, unrevealing revelations about Lemony Snicket himself. Black comedy has now
been brought down to a grade-school level, full of wry wit, colorful characters, and over-the-top plot twists.
The heroes are two sisters and a brother: 14-year-old Violet, a born inventor; 12-year-old Klaus, the bookworm; and the infant Sunny, who
talks in single-syllable sentences and likes to bite things. I couldn't help noticing that Klaus and Sunny were the names of the von Bulows,
the couple whose marriage ended in the murder trial made famous by the award-winning movie Reversal of Fortune. Coincidentally, this
Klaus and Sunny, not to mention Violet, get their own reversal of fortune one day when their kindly, wealthy parents die in a fire.
Each book follows the Baudelaire orphans from one attempt to make a new life for themselves to another. Tragedy piles upon tragedy as a
succession of eccentric relatives try to adopt them and raise them, while the evil Count Olaf dogs their steps. These adventures, stylishly
illustrated and bound in a modern parody of Victorian novels, run as follows:
Book the First: The Bad Beginning.
After their parents' untimely death, the future of the Baudelaire children lies in the hands of Mr. Poe, a banker and the executor of their
parents' will. The family fortune is held in trust until Violet comes of age. Until then, Mr. Poe is supposed to find some relative willing
to raise the children. His first pick is Count Olaf, who happens to live in the same city. But Count Olaf is a nasty piece of work, and Mr.
Poe is deaf to the children's complaints. Just when they seem trapped in a life of deprivation and cruelty, things get even worse. The Count
and his theatrical friends hatch a fiendish plan to trap the children and get their money; and thanks to his combination of guile and
threats of violence, it looks as if there may be no stopping him...
Book the Second: The Reptile Room.
The Baudelaire children have a brief spate of happiness, living with their eccentric Uncle Monty in a country house filled with snakes.
Monty, a.k.a. Dr. Montgomery Montgomery, is a noted herpetologist preparing for an expedition to Peru. The prospects of fun and adventure
are suddenly dimmed when Uncle Monty's new assistant turns out to be Count Olaf in disguise. The Count, alias Stephano, is as horrible and
greedy as ever, and he'll stop at nothing - even murder - to get the three young heirs under his power. It's another wryly funny, wickedly
droll tale of woe, intrigue, and vocabulary-building.
Book the Third: The Wide Window.
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny have another go at forging a new and happy family life, but it isn't meant to be. Their new guardian is boring,
grammar-obsessed, multi-phobic Aunt Josephine, who lives in a house precariously perched on the edge of a cliff over Lake Lachrymose. Too
soon, Count Olaf shows up again in a new disguise: Captain Julio Sham, owner of a sailboat rental business. The next thing they know, the
wide window overlooking the lake has been shattered and Aunt Josephine is gone, leaving a weirdly ungrammatical suicide note entrusting the
children to Captain Sham's tender mercies. Can the children convince the consistently blockheaded Mr. Poe that something smells rotten?
That's the question in this darkly funny, macabre, and goofy story.
Book the Fourth: The Miserable Mill.
The Baudelaire children are sent to their most unpleasant guardian yet (not counting Count Olaf) - the owner of the Lucky Smells Lumbermill
in the paltry town of Paltryville. His face is always hidden by a cloud of cigar smoke, and he goes by the name "Sir" because no one can
pronounce his real name. Not only is Sir a hellish employer, he is an extra-specially-hellish guardian, forcing his wards to toil in the
lumbermill in return for a bunk bed to sleep in, a casserole for dinner, and a stick of gum for lunch. Oh yes, and protection from Count
Olaf - but in that, Sir does not deliver. Count Olaf has assumed his most ridiculous disguise yet, and with the aid of a hypnotic
optometrist named Dr. Orwell and another of his weird henchmen, he makes another grab for the Baudelaire fortune. Three things are certain:
(1) there won't be a happy ending for Violet, Sunny, and Klaus; (2) Mr. Poe will be no help at all; and (3) you'll laugh yourself hoarse!
Book the Fifth: The Austere Academy.
With no other living relatives forthcoming to take care of the Baudelaire children, Mr. Poe places them in a boarding school called Prufrock
Preparatory, whose Latin motto (Memento Mori) means, "Remember you will die." Run by a blithering idiot named Mr. Nero, who thinks he
can play a violin but can't, and populated by dreadful teachers, dreadful students, and dreadful rules, this does not turn out to be any
happier than other recent times for Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. They are forced to sleep on bales of hay in a shack infested with crabs and
drippy fungus, and instead of going to nursery school, Sunny is forced to serve as Mr. Nero's secretary. Even their new friends - the two
surviving Quagmire triplets, Duncan and Isadora - prove to be another source of heartbreak when they get tangled up in Count Olaf's newest
attempt to get his mitts on the Baudelaire fortune. This time, Olaf is disguised as a turban-wearing gym teacher, Coach Genghis.
Book the Sixth: The Ersatz Elevator.
The plot thickens as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to live only a few blocks from where the Baudelaire mansion burned down, taking their
parents with it. Their new address is the penthouse apartment of the very-high-rise building at 667 Dark Ave., and their new guardians are
Jerome and Esmé Squalor. He's a nice but cowardly guy who hates arguing, so he generally gives other people their way. As the sixth most
important financial adviser in town, she's a cold, fickle creature who only thinks about money and what is "in." And once again, Count Olaf
strikes at the weak point, pretending to be Gunther, a barely-English-speaking expert on "in"-ness, while he prepares to use the upcoming
"In Auction" to further his nefarious plans. As usual, Mr. Poe is useless, their guardians are as ersatz as the elevator in their building,
and the children are helpless to prevent Count Olaf getting away with the captive Quagmire triplets in his clutches.
Book the Seventh: The Vile Village.
The Quagmire triplets' single desperate clue leads the Baudelaire children to become the wards of the weird town of VFD, whose name has
something to do with the vast murder of crows that migrate from one end of it to the other every day. As the silly aphorism goes, "It takes
a village to raise a child." In this case, the village handyman does most of the raising, while the children rush about doing chores for
everyone else. But soon, another vile scheme by Count Olaf and his followers leads to the orphans spending Klaus' 13th birthday in the town
jail, waiting to be burned at the stake the next day. The story ends with another daring escape by the evil Count, a.k.a. the flashy
Detective Dupin, a one-way ride on a hot-air balloon that not all the orphans get aboard, and Sunny's first steps!
Book the Eighth: The Hostile Hospital.
As the curtain rises, the Baudelaires are still on the run from the Village of Fowl Devotees, falsely accused of murder, and the objects of
a manhunt. Things have gotten so desperate that they don't even try to get placed in another home; after sending a fruitless telegram to Mr.
Poe, they hitch a ride to the half-finished Heimlich Hospital and pretend to be volunteers. Their filing job in the Records Library leads
them to make a possibly life-changing discovery about the fire that supposedly killed their parents; but before they can do anything about
it, Count Olaf and his henchmen have discovered them! Forced to use disguises, deception, and tricks to escape from a grisly operating
theatre and a burning Ward for People with Nasty Rashes, and still pursued by a mob that believes they are both murderers and arsonists,
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny make their escape by the unlikeliest and scariest means possible - hiding in the trunk of Count Olaf's car.
Book the Ninth: The Carniverous Carnival.
The Baudelaire orphans' ride in Olaf's bullet-hole-ridden trunk ends at the Caligari Carnival, where fortune-teller Madame Lulu has been
feeding Olaf information about where he will find the orphans next. Disguising themselves as circus freaks, the children try to learn more
about the fate of their parents, the meaning of VFD, and other nagging mysteries. But soon, a pride of hungry lions is pacing around in a
pit, waiting for a live person to be thrown to them for the amusement of the crowd (people love watching violence and sloppy eating, don't
you know). And as Olaf and his associates work at increasingly complex cross purposes, the children are faced with moral decisions that
trouble their sleep. To quote Esmé Squalor: "If you don't choose the wicked thing, what in the world will you do?" The story ends with one
of the series' most hair-raising cliffhangers, as we draw inexorably closer to solving the mystery.
Book the Tenth: The Slippery Slope.
The mystery of V.F.D. deepens as Violet and Klaus track the kidnappers of their sister Sunny - namely, Count Olaf and his henchpeople - to
the highest peak of a frozen mountain range. There, the two groups converge with a pair of villains so terrible that they make Count Olaf
tremble, a silly Snow Scout troop populated by some familiar faces, and the surprising survivor of a terrible fire. We also learn of a
schism, long ago, in a secret organization that may or may not be a Volunteer Fire Department - a schism that seems to have something to do
with a stolen sugar bowl - and a series of dreadful fires that were set to cover up even more dastardly deeds. The decision between
being a hero or a villain reaches its climax for the Baudelaires, and, as the tale ends, heroes and villains alike are racing to reach the
"last safe place," wherever that may be. I am told to expect up to thirteen books in this series. Ill be your Robbie-on-the-Spot when the
next one comes out!
*** LATER ADDITIONS ***
Book the Eleventh: The Grim Grotto.
Yes, dear readers, I know it was released, and (as promised) I read it within the first week it was out. The tragic tale
of the Baudelaire orphans continues to what may (or may not) be a turning point. The opening of the story finds them where
Book the Tenth left off: floating down the Stricken Stream in a broken toboggan. Soon, they are drafted into the crew of a
leaky submarine; exposed to an underwater cave full of deadly mushrooms; captured by a suddenly Captain Nemo-like Count Olaf;
betrayed by a new friend, telegrammed by an old friend; subjected to such horrors as Esmé Squalor in an octopus suit and
Carmelita Spats tap-dancing ballerina fairy princess veterinarian dance recital; teased by secret codes; menaced by giant,
horrid things in the sea; and forced to flee back to where it all began, all to find a mysterious sugar bowl before Count
Olaf does. They do not know why its important, but they must make it to the Last Safe Place before the villains burn it to
the ground. Its a tale so filled with shocking betrayals, awful dangers, and perplexing mysteries, that maybe you would
rather read something safe and boring about the water cycle.
Book The Twelfth: The Penultimate Peril.
If you never pitied the poor Baudelaire orphans before, you should pity them now. In their twelfth misadventure, Violet, Sunny, and Klaus
find themselves in the Last Safe Place, also known as the Hotel Denouement where the rooms are arranged according to the Dewey Decimal
System, and where all the surviving characters (good and bad) from the previous eleven books have gathered for a final reckoning. But who
will be calling the shots - the bad guys or the good guys? Count Olaf and his fiendish, fire-starting cadre, or the V.F.D. volunteers who
are fighting for justice? And when most of the people in the hotel are in between and when some of the people who are on one side or the
other are hard to tell apart and when the three orphans are sent in undercover without really knowing what they are looking for or how
they are going to recognize it there seems to be little hope that the Last Safe Place will be safe for much longer. But even more
alarmingly, the children find themselves doubting more and more which side they are on. Are they good or evil? Are they volunteers or
villains? The decisions they make at the climax of this next-to-last book will haunt you until the big finish in Book the Thirteenth, for
now they are fighting not just for their fortune or their lives, but for their souls as well.
Book the Thirteenth: The End.
The woeful adventures of the Beaudelaire orphans come to an end in this story, in which Violet, Klaus, Sunny, and their nemesis Count Olaf are shipwrecked on a nameless isle, an isle where lost things eventually wash ashore, and where a community of castaways live in an apparently idyllic escape from the problems of the world. But actually, everyone in the community has secrets, and a mutiny is brewing, and Count Olaf is stirring up trouble, and even the Beaudelaires themselves bring conflict to this seeming paradise. With the one day a year approaching when escape from the island is possible, and with new information about the late Beaudelaire parents coming to the surface, and with a diving helmet full of deadly fungus and an armed harpoon gun arriving on the island, theres no predicting what kind of end the orphans unfortunate events will come to. Only, it will have something to do with an injured woman who is about to give birth, and with some bitter apples, and with an incredibly deadly viper, as Count Olafs evil plans and the childrens sufferings come to their touching, vocabulary-building, and often darkly funny culmination. Also, look out for a surprise bonus after the end of the thirteenth chapter of the thirteenth book!
Recommended Age: 8+
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