A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning

by Lemony Snicket

Other authorsBrett Helquist (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2003



Local notes

Fic Sni (c.2)





HarperCollins (2003), Edition: Slp, 192 pages


After the sudden death of their parents, the three Baudelaire children must depend on each other and their wits when it turns out that the distant relative who is appointed their guardian is determined to use any means necessary to get their fortune.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

192 p.; 5 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member mybookshelf
When the Baudelaire children, playing at the beach one day, receive the awful news of their parents’ tragic deaths, things seem pretty bad. But this is only the beginning of their tale of woe! Their parents have left a large sum of money in trust until Violet (the eldest) comes of age, and large
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sums of money have a way of attracting the wrong kind of person- in this case, the despicable, dramatic and shiny-eyed Count Olaf.

The Baudelaire orphans are presented as having distinct personalities, each with their own quite separate obsessive interest or talent which they use and develop during the story. Sunny (the youngest) is only a baby; she does not have much dialogue, and what she does say needs to be translated by one of her siblings or the narrator. Klaus and Violet, however, are intelligent and resourceful youngsters, who overtly set out to make the best of the bad lot life has handed them, while continuing to look out for one another.

The three children do not get much assistance during the story. In fact throughout the book all living adults are presented as either useless, dim, or evil (with the singular exception of their kindly neighbour, Justice Strauss). This series clearly demonstrates (justifiably enough, perhaps) that children must learn to make independent choices, because adults, even one’s parents, cannot be relied upon to provide appropriate assistance.

It goes without saying, therefore, that the baddies in this book are the adults. First there is the well-meaning Mr Poe, who makes the initial decision that the orphans must go to live with Count Olaf, then refuses to take their complaints about their new guardian seriously. Hovering around the edges of the story are Count Olaf’s theatre troupe, who manage to embody all the sinister and repulsive characteristics any author could ever dream up. Finally there is Count Olaf himself: the stingy, scheming, slave-driving distant relative who now acts in loco parentis for the Baudelaire children.

One of the distinctive features of this book’s style is the particular ‘voice’ of the narrator. Although not an identified character in the story, the narrator is still very much a part of the story, providing his own interpretation of events even as he claims to be reporting them faithfully as his “sad duty”. In addition, he makes a point of using and explaining some quite complex vocabulary (including in loco parentis!), which readers are then equipped to choose to use in their own conversation or writing.

Despite its cheerless title and many additional claims of gloom and doom, this book is still an enjoyable and humorous read, not least because of the many opportunities it provides for readers to realise how much better off they are than the main characters. I would recommend it to readers who are tired of predictable happy-ever-afters, or who want to learn some cool new words with which to impress their teachers and families. The Bad Beginning is also a great choice to read aloud to an audience aged from age seven up.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
Daniel Handler's approach to children's literature is refreshingly original. He employs a variety of literary devices quite obtrusively, often breaking the fourth wall to explain them to the readers. In this first novel, adults are either flawed so much as to be useless or actively wicked. The
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Baudelaire's parents may have been neither of these things when alive, but their flaw in the book is that they are dead and consequently of no help. In fact, it is their considerable fortune that motivates the evil Count Olaf to threaten, persecute, and attempt to murder their three children.

The humour is of a particular sort and may not be enjoyed by readers preferring a more straightforward or less mannered narrative. Readers who view their lives as a series of unfortunate events often disastrously affected by persons more powerful than themselves but unable or unwilling to act correctly may find the narrative cathartic.

The pleasure of reading is eloquently described. However, an important lesson of this book is that one may read not just for the pleasure of reading and because one is interested in the subject matter but because it may be the only way to discover something of great practical importance.

Even the title of the whole series of books, "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is probably an exercise in irony on the part of the author, since a stronger adjective, such as "awful", "tragic", or "disastrous" would be more appropriate.

The reading by Tim Curry, an interview with Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket's literary and social representative, and the song by the Gothic Archives are all excellent.
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LibraryThing member jegan22280
These stories are formula writing at it's best. Great for kids and young adults. The story has the Baudelaires going through some horrible time in their miserable lives but presents these "unfortunate events" in a way that does not necessarily scare children. A testament to using the desensitizing
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of youth to your best advantage.
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LibraryThing member KhangNguyen
The bad beginning by lemony snicket
The first book in the series of unfortunate event introduces the Baudelaire children, violet, Klaus and sunny. How unlucky they are, their house gets burnt down killing their parent. Leaving them to live with their distant relative Count Olaf, who is a mean and
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nasty character throughout the book all he wants, is to get his hands on the children’s fortune their parents left. It takes all the children intelligence to evade his wicked plans.
This is amazing book because it’s clever, funny, entertaining, imaginative and educational. The narrator of book use allot of difficult words, but takes to trouble to explain their meaning, there are three characters , Violet who liking inventing things, Klaus liking reading and sonny who bites things. The story takes disturbing and unhappy turns and readers with nervous disposition may become very anxious at crucial points. I can assurance that the children survive; readers can work that out that much for themselves because the book series by Lemony Snicket has 13 volumes.
They also take great pleasure in book to educate themselves: their refusal to stop looking for ways to solve problems is admirable and their own strength and creativity. The story acknowledges the existence of terrible events and does not pretend that everything turns out for the best. Children who have themselves loss of parent might find reading this book can be quite comforting.
Overall the whole series is great I definitely recommend giving at least the first one a read, then maybe then you might consider reading the whole series, for the first book it was such a excellent start for a amazing series .
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LibraryThing member lisa211
Written not just for kids, but enjoyable for any sort of age, this is a beginning of a different sort of children's literature. No goblins, no boogeyman, no ghost nor monster lurking under the bed. But mostly telling a story of a harsh reality base fiction about 3 suddenly orphaned Baudelaires
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children; namely Violet (Inventor), Klaus (Bookworm) & Sunny (Biter).

It began with the horrible news regarding the demised of their parents in a weird fire that burnt down their house, leaving them with a fortune that's not spendable until Violet, the eldest, reach the age of 18. Mr Poe, is the one in charged of them until he found a guardian for the kids, which came the character Count Olaf. A count and an actor, who do whatever in his power to keep them as miserble as he could until he could touch their rightful inheritance. And when I say do whatever, I meant whatever! From serving them lumpy porridges, making them do all sort of chores, repairing the Count's manor and to wed the eldest child, Violet.

Another feature of this series would be the introducing of advance vocabulary for the kids, alongside its meaning into the context. It would be a great learning tool for any parents who would like to introduce some major words for their kids, without pulling out a dictionary.
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LibraryThing member lefty33
This book is highly indicative of what the rest of the series is like. The narrative is light-hearted though the story is quite dark. It is a fun, quick read and reread.
LibraryThing member Fionen
Lemony Snicket is extremely talented. I loved his writing style, especially when he would take time to explain the meaning of words. The covers are beautiful and the stories are interesting. It's just that these books really are just a series of unfortunate events. Nothing good ever seems to happen
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to these children. I read the first few books and decided not to go on.
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LibraryThing member stixnstones004
An enjoyable read, this beginning to the trials and tribulations of the Baudelaire siblings is rife with menacing mad men, inconsequential imbeciles, and lots and lots of amusing alliteration. For what it is, I think this series is entertaining and I feel as though the author had a lot of fun
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writing it. All in all, a good children's book, and although perhaps (hopefully) not entirely realistic, it is kind of a relief to read a book without a happy ending every once in a while, as pessimistic as that might sound.
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LibraryThing member sgerbic
Reviewed Jan 2005

First book of the new year and new journal, wasn't sure what book I wanted it to be, thought maybe it should be an Asimov but just wasn't into reading that right now. Nor do I want to start the trend of always starting a journal with an Asimov. Stirling had shown some interest in
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this series, the first movie was released this xmas (badly done?). So it seemed a good time to get the series for him. He read this book on xmas day and I did on Jan 1st. Snicket (can't really be his name) keeps tells us that this is a sad book and to put it down if you want a happy book. Stirling laughed out loud at times, I didn't find it at all funny (Stirling is 14 at this time). The style was different the author often breaks in and reminds you he is narrating the story. He also likes to use "harder" words and then gives the definition, "the word 'blanched' here means 'boiled'." Like the Harry Potter books I was frustrated that the children did not tell adults what was really going on - even when they were able to easily. The character Mr. Poe the man who is executor for the dead parents was an awful guardian, only when the villain Count Olaf almost got the money and said he would withdraw the money from Mr. Poe's bank did Mr. Poe become active. Also the idea that the baby, would be kept in a bird cage with her mouth taped up for 36 hours is awful. Her siblings let her stay that way, just patting her on her head from time to time. Guess this series isn't for adults who over think everything.

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LibraryThing member melydia
When the three Baudelaire children lose their parents in a fire, they are sent to live with distant relative Count Olaf. He is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune, legally untouchable until the eldest child, Violet, turns 18. What follows is a somewhat ridiculous collection of
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torments for the children, all told with the same flowery narration, sprinkled with non sequiturs. The humor is less dark than random, such as the description of Violet being, "like many girls her age," right-handed. All in all I enjoyed it, but I'm not champing at the bit to read the rest of the series. I do, however, wonder how many people read these books expecting a happy ending. And, for that matter, whether the series ends unfortunately.
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LibraryThing member LindsaySC
Even as an adult, I found myself scared for the Baudelaire orphans and frightened by Count Olaf and his creepy friends. I can't wait to read the rest in the series! This would be a fantastic read-aloud spread out over several bedtimes among parents and children.
LibraryThing member kaelirenee
A good read for children not quite ready for something the length of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Harry Potter, but for those wanting more meat in their books than one typically finds in early reader chapter books.
LibraryThing member CMiller86
This book series is nothing like the movie. I was pleasantly surprised to find lots details and very witty humor within its binding. There is a greater story being told here. The book is not only about the Baudelaire orphans but also about the author, Lemony Snicket. From what we can gather Lemony
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Snicket is trying to tell the story of the Baudelaire orphans but somebody does not want the story told. He is communicating with an accomplice who will get the story published while Lemony is doing the detective work. He leaves secret messages for his accomplice to find and hints throughout his writings about a great tragedy which happened in his own life with his beloved Beatrice. It will be very interesting to see not only what happens to the Baudelaire Orphans but also to the man who is telling their story.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
I watched the movie on a whim when sick one day and loved its quirky style so much that I had to go out and read the entire series as soon as possible. I absolutely love Snicket's dark humor, sarcastic tone, and other comic bits dropped here and there (for instance, I love that Sunny's babble often
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makes perfect sense with what she's meant to be saying). The three children are all clever with unique attributes, and the minor characters (including the villains) are all terribly interesting to in their own bizarre ways. The stories are always fairly action packed, making them quick and compelling reads. I'd highly recommend the entire series, but only for people with a taste for quirky or out of the ordinary works.
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LibraryThing member EmScape
Although I am a person who generally enjoys books with happy endings and happy events, and although I am an adult, and not a child, I found myself enjoying this book immensely. Snicket's style of writing, as if having a conversation with the reader, pausing to impart information in a narrative
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voice, is quite engaging. I am entranced by the Beaudelaires, and will not rest (figuratively) until I have perused all of Snicket's tales of them.
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LibraryThing member tigerbuns
Hm. Not really my kind of book. It wasn't bad, but I lost interest halfway through. I thought the storytelling and characters were kind of bland - as interesting as the "tales of woe"-premise sounded, it was the only thing that actually defined the book, and thereby made it predictable.

I don't know
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how kids see this book, maybe it's just their thing, but for me it was not remarkable, and I've read a lot of children's and YA books that were a lot more intricate and gripping (from my adult's point of view). I always feel a little guilty if I dismiss a book as bad or mediocre when it is intended for children, who might love it to death for their own reasons - so this comment is mainly aimed at adult readers who like to read YA and children's books. Anyway, I might read another one in the series if I happen to stumble across it in a used book store, but I won't go looking for it.
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LibraryThing member hartn
I have read the first three in A Series of Unfortunate Events and am in love with the series. Like other creations that perform something similar, the magic of coming so close to explaining that the story is a written piece of fiction while simultaneously building that world of the novel so
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concretely in the reader's imagination is a wonder to behold.
The work that comes to mind is Italo Calvino's If on A Winter's Night a Traveler, and Spike Jones movie Adaptation, starring Nicholas Cage. In all these works the superimposition of the narrator, of the fact that we are reading a narrative, allows the writer to own that space and make the reader follow their lead. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, the foil of the dreaded boring book with its happy endings and serendipitous turns gives the Baudelaire children authenticity and the narrator the space to interpret the many ambiguities of the real world that is so often candy coated for young readers.
Lemony Snickett's interpretation of the ambiguities and sophisticated words, or the baby talk of Sunny, is what hooked me and I found myself completely lost in the telling to the point of having no idea how the Baudelaire children would survive. While very different from the author's Adverbs, his recent novel for adults, the same enjoyment and exploration of language pervades the series and infects the reader. But the children are more typically helpless in their orphaned and wretched state, and the villain is more villainous than any writer should be able to get away with, but it works so well!

The illustrations by Helquist are reminiscent of silent movie tableaus, and the ominous moments captured in the pictures invite the reader's fearful sensibilities to keep reading while delighting their more skeptical abilities.
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LibraryThing member bellalibrarian
The Baudeliare siblings are suddenty made orphans after the death of their parents; they are sent to live with their distant relative, the horrible, Count Olaf. Count Olaf is determined to acquire the children's fortune and has planned unspeakable acts in order to get the money.

This is a rather
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haunting story with a number of essential vocabulary lessons thrown in for good measure. Definitely one of a kind.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I first learned of Lemony Snicket (i.e. Daniel Handler)'s A Series of Unfortunate Events in undergrad, of all places. I don't remember the specific class, but whatever English class it was, the instructor and a couple students raved about it for nearly ten minutes. “It's the funniest thing
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ever,” they assured the class. They were cracking themselves up talking about specific scenes and characters; the rest of the class offered lazy smiles—we were on the outside of something big and we were obviously missing out. Until we read this wonderful book we wouldn't know what was so funny.

I've read the book now. And honestly I don't know what was so funny.

In The Bad Beginning, “Snicket” (I hate calling him that) is traveling a path that has been traversed previously in children's literature—I think specifically of Roald Dahl. This is a story that is dark, never sugarcoated and the humor is rather dry. There seem to be many attempts at wit, but, unlike Dahl's attempts, they fall flat more often than not. The characters don't stand out as much as they probably should. Most of the humor comes from the author's “translations” of Sunny's words, but this gets played out fairly early. At some point, every stab at humor is just a rehash of a joke made earlier in the book. I do like the fact that Snicket Handler incorporates such a heavy dose of metafiction in this work as he may be able to play with it later in the series, but in this particular book it aids little.

My two eldest children, whom I am reading this to, say they love it. If you ask me, they love it because of Sunny; they're able to follow the rest, but they only show excitement when Sunny's on the page. In fact, they proposed an idea for a new series entitled The Adventures of Sunny. I think they may be on to something. So I guess their liking of The Bad Beginning means I'm in it for the long haul. Thirteen books. Here's to hoping "the bad beginning" was a true play on words, and that this series improves.
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LibraryThing member Marse
I first read this book 4 years ago when I was searching for a series for my 7 year old. At that time I didn't like the book. It seemed too dark for my precocious reader who loved Harry Potter. It is the almost never-ending tale of the woes of the orphaned Baudelaire children, the eldest, Violet,
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being 14 years old. The evil Count Olaf, determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune (which will become theirs when Violet reaches the appropriate age) plots to marry Violet through trickery and threats and almost succeeds. There is implied and threatened violence, scary situations (baby Sunny is tied up, put in a bird cage and hung out the window of a tower) and even a hint of pedophilia in Count Olaf's plans. All in all, not appropriate for the 7-10 year old set, but then the narrator intrudes quite often to explain words that would not tax a tweener's understanding, but would be necessary for the average 7-10 year old. Who, then, is this book written for?
Well, now my 7 year old is almost 12. I asked her whether she wanted to read the series now, but after looking through a few of the books, she was not very interested. I decided to reread the first book before donating the set to the local library book store, and I was quite entertained. Reading it for myself, I found the narrator quite intriguing and sly. The little hints about the narrator found in the dedication and little snippets of his biography throughout the series reminds the reader that this is all fiction and a game and once you are in on the game, the fun begins. The situations are, of course, ludicrous, mostly because all the helpful adults are such dolts. But then, as we deal with everyday crises and keeping some semblance of order to our lives, don't we often make assumptions about what our kids understand? We often soft-pedal the harsh truths that children understand better than we give them credit for and ignore their real concerns as if they weren't important, or as important, as our concerns. So, yes. We do act like dolts sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) and don't listen to what is really going on. The children are ingenious at finding logical ways out of the predicaments they are put in, not through supernatural or chance means, but by reading and reasoning. So, who is this series written for? It's for children of all ages (adults too) who are into the 'game' of reading. If your child is sensitive to anxiety provoking situations, then this is not the book for them, but it could be a fun series for the right child.
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LibraryThing member nmhale
This is the book that began a unique series of children's literature, filled with a huge helping of dark humor and a highly intrusive narrator. We start out with the Baudelaire children enjoying a brief respite on the beach. A mysterious figure emerges from the mist, revealing itself as Mr. Poe, an
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old friend of the family. He has awful news to deliver: their house has burned to the ground, and their parents perished in the flames. Nothing remains.

The bleak beginning is lightened by the narrator's silly and surreal asides, and the idiosyncratic nature of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. Nonetheless, this story is quite heavy, definitely the darkest of any book in the series. After Mr. Poe takes them to his home, he finds a guardian that meets the requirements of their parents' will, who is related to them, and lives in the closest vicinity to their house. When their new legal guardian, Count Olaf, comes to collect them, the children do not have a good first impression. He is tall, untidy, and his eyes glint as if he is mad or greedy. As the narrator points out, first impressions are often wrong; sadly, in this case, they are not. Count Olaf is a monster. He neglects basic care of the children, demands that they complete inappropriate and dangerous chores, and is constantly threatening them. He makes it clear that he is only interested in collecting the fortune that was left to the children when their parents died. When Klaus stands up to him, Olaf is physically abusive. The children try to turn to Mr. Poe for help, but the banker is more than inept, and tells them that they must obey their new guardian, as he is their legal father. The only bright spot in their new existence is their kindly neighbor, Justice Strauss, and her clean and welcoming house.

Violet and Klaus make good use of her library, and are especially grateful for the privilege when they need to do research to understand Count Olaf's latest mood swing. One morning, the three siblings come downstairs to find Olaf in a good mood. He is friendly. He made them breakfast. He must be up to something.

Olaf asks the children to be actors in his upcoming play, The Marvelous Marriage. They hesitantly agree, but as soon as he leaves, rush to Justice Strauss's library and begin to search. Their efforts in reading lengthy law books come to nothing, though, until Klaus decides to study a book about nuptial law. Klaus realizes that Olaf has learned a way to steal their inheritance. If he marries Violet, he legally has a right to the money. At only fourteen, Violet is too young to marry, unless her guardian gives permission; Olaf is her guardian. The two older Baudelaires surmise that the play is just a ruse, and that Olaf is planning to actually marry Violet during the proceedings. Their suspicions are confirmed when Justice Strauss reveals that Olaf invited her to play the role of the judge, and asked her to read everything exactly as she would for a real wedding, for authenticity.

Despite the odds being decidedly against them, especially after Olaf holds Sunny hostage in a cage dangling from a high tower window, the children are finally able to prevail and escape Olaf's evil intentions. For the time being. The narrator leaves no question of the fact that more horrible events await the Baudelaires, as Mr. Poe ushers them off to the next relative that can be their guardian, according to the legal requirements of the will. The narrator is basically another character in this book, a feature which only becomes more elaborate as the series progresses and his siblings make appearances in the stories. With his absurd commentaries, and the black humor of the whole situation, the actual author does a fine job of taking very grim subject matter and turning it into an entertaining and even funny story. Despite the narrator's constant assurances that this story has no happy endings, it does: the children outwit Olaf at the last moment. Not a total victory, but a small one nonetheless. With the evil villain, the resourceful children, the tense plot and surprising climax, this book pulled me in and convinced me to keep reading the series. The story doesn't have the depth of later books in the series, but it is a great start.
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LibraryThing member deargreenplace
Once upon a time, Violet (14), Klaus (12) and Sunny (2-3?) Baudelaire lived with their mother and father in an enormous mansion with an enormous library. However, this being a bad beginning, there follows a series of unfortunate events that changes their happy lives for the worse. The bad things
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start when the Baudelaire siblings learn that their mother and father have perished in a fire that also burnt their enormous mansion down to the ground. Things get even worse when the executor of their parents estate finds a distant relative - Count Olaf - to take care of them until Violet is old enough to inherit the family fortune. The Baudelaire orphans are soon very unlucky indeed.

I enjoyed reading this a lot. The author has a wicked way with words that is both suitable for younger readers and amusing for we older readers. He also taps into the fear of young children that something might happen to their parents, whom they depend on for everything at that age. This aspect reminded me of the Grimm fairy tales that I used to find upsetting rather than entertaining as a child, and Snicket has some great pantomime baddies. The Baudelaire children are strong and resourceful though, and they understand that reading will give them knowledge (yay!), and that not all adults necessarily know more than them, which is a scary thing to realise when you're wee.

The worst thing about this book was that it was over far too quickly and I haven't yet bought any of the others. It was gone in one sitting, which is good of course, but also bad. I want to know who Beatrice is, and I want to know what happens next. More!
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LibraryThing member SMW
If I could give this a negative star rating, I would. The reading level was too young for the material (or perhaps the material was too advanced for the reading level), the "definitions" of words were annoying and added nothing to either the style or value of the book.
LibraryThing member KarenAJeff
I wish I hadn't started reading this series but now I have to find out how it ends.
LibraryThing member colinsky
I read this on the train on the way to see Lemony Snicket himself read "The Composer is Dead." Funny book. Even funnier performance.

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