A Series of Unfortunate Events #5: The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket

Read: 14 June, 2017

As the fifth instalment of the Beaudelaire miseries comes to a close, I’m not left with too much to say. I enjoyed this one, as I have all of them. They do seem to be getting even better, which is lovely.

While I know the repetition of these books gets criticised, my kid loves it. He gets a lot out of being able to spot when Plot Point A is building up, or when Character X is about to make an appearance. And, meanwhile, I’m getting more than enough out of the narrative voice for me to enjoy the series as well.

Buy The Austere Academy from Amazon and support this blog!

Continue reading

A Series of Unfortunate Events #4: The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket

Read: 28 March, 2017

Another instalment in the Beaudelaire saga, and likely the last one that we’ll read for a little while. The goal was to read the first four so that we could watch the Netflix show, and now I think that we need a bit of a breather. Not because there’s anything wrong with the series, but simply because we are fickle creatures who crave variety (and because I accidentally stayed up too late one night and put about a bazillion picture books on hold at the library and they’ve all come in at once).

The Miserable Mill changes things up a little, in that we get to meet a new accomplice. Sort of. Because we don’t get very much of Dr. Orwell. But still, she’s an interesting one. She’s different from Count Olaf – smarter, more cunning. I would have liked to see a bit more of her.

Without getting too much into spoiler territory, there’s a rather horrific scene at the end that rather disturbed me. This book has upped how graphic the death and maiming is.

Gender is an interesting theme in this series. We have the ambiguously gendered henchperson, which comes off feeling a bit transphobic (particularly in The Wide Window), and in this book we get a cross-dressing Count Olaf. And I don’t really know what to make of it.

But then there are gender reversals that feel refreshing, like having Dr. Orwell be a woman (which I wasn’t expecting, based both on my own biases and the name), and having the co-owner of the lumber mill seem queer coded (and not be a villain!).

So, as with most things, I think it’s complicated. Snicket is doing a great job sometimes, and riding his own biases at other times.

Buy The Miserable Mill from Amazon and support this blog!

Continue reading

A Series of Unfortunate Events #3: The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket

Read: 13 March, 2017

How fortuitous that we finished this book on the 13th!

I’m not sure if the series is just growing on me or if Snicket is hitting his stride (or, perhaps, a mixture of both), but I really enjoyed this one! It has amazing passages like:

“Stealing, of course, is a crime, and a very impolite thing to do. But like most impolite things, it is excusable under certain circumstances. Stealing is not excusable if, for instance, you are in a museum and you decide that a certain painting would look better in your house, and you simply grab the painting and take it there. But if you were very, very hungry, and you had no way of obtaining money, it might be excusable to grab the painting, take it to your house, and eat it.” (p.136-7)

Even though the stories are a bit formulaic (kids are handed over to a new guardian, Count Olaf appears in disguise, no one believes the kids, guardian dies, Count Olaf traps the kids, the kids unmask Count Olaf, Count Olaf flees), each one is still different enough to feel fresh and interesting.

The stories are dark, but my kid is finding it titillating (possibly hereditary, given my own obsession with Edgar Allen Poe at his age). They’re funny on a kid level as well as an adult level, making them fantastic family read books. And, lastly, they’re wonderful at initiating teachable moments (and handle the teaching themselves quite often, such as when the narrator explains new vocabulary).

Kid and I are both really enjoying the series.

Buy The Wide Window from Amazon and support this blog!

Continue reading

A Series of Unfortunate Events #2: The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket

Read: 24 February, 2017

A solid follow up to Bad BeginningThe Reptile Room follows the Beaudelaire children to a new home, and to new horrors.

The jokes and tone are very consistent with the first, so people who didn’t enjoy Bad Beginning really shouldn’t bother. As it was, we liked it quite a bit. My kid loves the titillation of the horror (which is only just barely stylistic enough to qualify as “for kids”), while I’m enjoying the dark humour in the narrative style.

I love that the series explicitly uses – and even explains – literary techniques. Just as an example, there’s some dramatic irony in Reptile Room that the narrator actually names and explains. It’s such a wonderful way to introduce my youngling to concepts, not to mention to some bigger vocabulary. Plus, “herpetology” is terribly fun to say.

Buy A Series of Unfortunate Events from Amazon and support this blog!

Continue reading

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

Read: 10 February, 2017

With the kid wanting to watch the new Netflix series, it seemed about time to read A Series of Unfortunate Events. I hadn’t read it before (I was a little too old when it came out), so this was new for both of us.

It markets itself as a dark and depressing story, which it is. Mostly by telling us so. The writing style itself is a little too melodramatic to really be taken seriously, but it works well as a “baby’s first gothic” (in the Mysteries of Udolpho sense).

The book has a fairly strong narrator, who will break the fourth wall fairly frequently to comment on the story, or to explain what a word means. Sometimes these explanations are great, as when the definition is tailored to the specifics of the situation in which the word was used. Sometimes, though, it’s more of a straight definition, which is helpful for my five year old, I guess, but sucks the humour right out of it. On the whole, though, I do enjoy visible narrators, and I found that the interjections were usually quite funny.

I like that the children each have a thing to differentiate them – Violet is the inventor, Klaus is the reader, and Sunny likes to bite. But unless the children are actively doing something that fits within their area of interest, they seemed somewhat interchangeable (well, Violet and Klaus, anyway). It’ll be interesting to see if they become stronger as the series wears on.

As for the plot itself, I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Readers are amply (and strongly!) warned that this series is all about terrible things happening to children, but I didn’t think it’d jump right into child brides. Still, it was a legal thing to access their fortunes, fine, but I was reading through a cringe for much of the book, silently chanting to myself “please no wedding night jokes, please no wedding night jokes…” Until, of course, one is made. It’s quick, it’s in passing, I’m 100% sure that my kid didn’t pick up on it, but this kiddie book straight up mentioned child rape, and I’m pretty not comfortable with that.

All in all, I didn’t find this book to be spectacular. It was entertaining, funny at times, and I can see the gothic imagery being very memorable for younglings.

Buy The Bad Beginning from Amazon and support this blog!

Continue reading