Friday, July 31, 2009

The Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket (Snicket)

The Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2002

Although this book of background information (not necessary to the story) was published either just before or just after Carnivorous Carnival, I didn't read it until I was (then) current with all the other books. I didn't want it to give anything away.

Actually, it wouldn't have done that. In fact, it would have been extremely helpful as we finally see that the tattoo of the eyeball on Count Olaf's ankle in the first book and alluded to numerous times in the series looks absolutely nothing like, say, the CBS eyeball, or for that matter any other eyeball that anyone else would ever draw. Or, co-incidentally, the eyeball image used in the film. As mentioned previously, this is the worst kind of retconning, and the sloppiest of plotting and writing.

Handler was obviously running out of ideas but committed to 13 books, which explains why they started coming out a year apart.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Slippery Slope (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Slippery Slope, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2003

When we each received our books for the family reading club, this one was mine, which meant I got to read it first. And because it was the last one available at the mine, everyone was anxious for me to read it. (Envious, really.)

The Baudelaire children, having finally found out what V.F.D. stands for and what it's significance is, start to wonder whether you fight fire with fire or do you fight fire with water. And does fighting fire with fire make you no better than Count Olaf? Or something like that. And since we know what V.F.D. stands for, a new mystery is introduced -- namely, the sugar bowl and what's so important about it. Along with the search for the possibly living parent of the Baudelaire children.

I found it getting tedious, but I figured I was almost done with the series so I plowed through it. I was actually a little upset to discover that there would be a bit of a wait before the 11th book would be published.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Carnivorous Carnival (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Carnivorous Carnival, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2002

This book in the series had the worst example of a retcon, a word here that means retroactive continuity, which happens when you go back in the past and add to or change what has happened and pretend that that's the way it has been all along.

The series is filled with retcons, such as the fire with killed the Baudelaire parents was not an unfortunate event but a case of arson; Count Olaf is not a greedy villain who happened upon the Baudelaire fortune but a murderous, greedy villain who went after it from the onset; Count Olaf was not a murderous, greedy villain who went after the Baudelaire fortune but the member of a secret organization who went after members of an opposing faction of that secret organization; etc.

But this book had the most glaring retcon of all. In the middle of the book, the children see yet another eyeball, as they have seen so many in the past, but when they look upon it very closely, they realize that it isn't an eyeball at all, but rather the letters V - F - D. I had to think about that for days before I could figure out how those three letters could possibly look like an eyeball. I finally gave up and just accepted it, but it still bothered me. It wasn't until I read The Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket that it became clear that the eyeball that I had been imaging in my head for NINE BOOKS -- an image which was also used in the feature film -- was WRONG.

Up until now, the two things that got me to continue with the series were the fact that my kids were reading it (and loving it) and Handler's amusing writing style, but that was almost a deal breaker.

That and the fact that the kids worry that they are starting to become the villains that the press says that they are, which might be because they are doing things like starting fires and hanging around Count Olaf too much.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2001

To be honest, I don't remember much of this book other than this is the one where the kids find a page in a file that suggests that there was one survivor of the Baudelaire fire, but it doesn't say who that survivor might be. Instead, there is just a reference to another page of another file that is never seen.

I guess V.F.D. was getting old as a macguffin, so he switched to the search for a parent, which at least gives the three kids some hope, unlike the search to discover the meaning of the letters V.F.D.

Lots of anagrams and cultural allusions for the adults. I think I remember enjoying this one because I thought that they were getting somewhere ... sooner or later. And I was somewhat surprised because the existence of a parent would be a very fortunate event, which is out of place in this series.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Vile Village (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Vile Village, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2001

Out of relatives for the Baudelaire children, Mr. Poe places the children in the care of an entire town, the Village of Fowl Devotees. Oooh, look! There's that VFD again, which at the moment, still doesn't actually mean anything or stand for anything.

This is also the book where the author starts inserting himself by inserting family members, in this case Jacques Snicket. Things go from bad to worse as the usual cast of characters return. There was enough going on here where "Snicket" could have chosen to wrap some of it up or decide to drag everything out until the 13th book in the series. He chose the latter and is painfully obvious about it. The fact that Snicket is just as much in the dark as to where he is going as the Baudelaire orphans are is also painfully obvious.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Ersatz Elevator (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Ersatz Elevator, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2001

The is the entry in the series that didn't just bend willing suspension of disbelief, but shattered it entirely. The title elevator refers to a hidden elevator that runs from the basement to the 66th floor of a building, a floor where the main occupant is the newly-introduced relative and recurring-villain-to-be, Esmé Squalor, who worries about what is "in" and what is "out", fashionably speaking, but in every aspect of life.

What will have adults -- and probably kids, too -- shaking their heads is that during the course of these unfortunate events, the three Baudelaire not only climb down the shaft the full 66 stories, but they make several trips up and down, including the baby, Sunny, who hangs on by her teeth.

The basement holds secrets and sparks more questions than it provides answers (certainly not to the "VFD" question), fueling the next few books in the series.

One hopes that this basement is the lowpoint in the series. Unfortunately, that might not turn out to be true.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2000

How do you keep a series fresh after four repetitive volumes? Add lots of new characters.

The Baudelaire orphans find themselves staying not with yet another distant relative, but rather at a boarding school. Now, if this was allowed under the terms of the will, why not just give custody to Count Olaf's neighbor from Book One? Okay, let's not go there.

The Austere Academy introduces new tragic figures, such as the two Quagmire Triplets (that's right, two), along with a new nemesis (more of an irritant), Carmelia Spats, a new handy tool, the commonplace book, and a macguffin, the "VFD", which will drive the plots of several books to come even more than finding a permanent home for the Baudelaires.

Up to this point, I was still enjoying the books because, repetitive as they were, they were still written in an interesting style and "Snicket" had a way with words, an expression which means here that he can talk to kids without talking down to kids. But the old storyline was wearing thin and the new plotline didn't seem much better.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2000

Another day, another destination, another guardian, another run-in with Count Olaf.
This book has a building shaped like an eye and a doctor named Orwell. The latter pun will go over kids' heads, but the former will remind them that Count Olaf has a tattoo of an eye on his ankle.

The eye motif really gets going in this book, and it isn't until several books from now that you find out that everything you thought you knew about the eyes is totally wrong.

Not terrible, but you wonder how much further Snicket can go with this.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 2000

I have found that the third installment of the Harry Potter books was not only of my favorite in the series but also the best standalone story. Now there are several theories about this: Rowling was just hitting her stride with that novel, her popularity was such that the editors gave her more latitude, etc. Here's my opinion: It's the only book without Voldemort! Yes, he's mentioned, and you expect him behind every corner because of the first two books, but he doesn't magically reappear (and obviously, that would have been possible).

Likewise, Snicket's third entry might have benefited from a lack of Count Olaf. Barring that, a conclusion to the Olaf saga. We get neither. We only get the knowledge that these same three children will be running from the same villain not for seven books (as in Rowling's case) but for astounding and improbable thirteen books. I hope we can last that long.

That said, the book isn't bad but it isn't up to the standard set by the other two. The biggest problem we see, however, is that more and more of these unfortunate events are less of a case of bad things happening to good people and more of bad people causing bad things to happen to good people. Their unfortunate situation could improve vastly except there is a maniac looking to nab them and their fortune (which they never seem to benefit from) but no one seems to notice.

If you bought a trilogy edition, you may want to stop here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room (Snicket)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room, Lenomy Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), 1999

A pleasant follow-up finds the Baudelaire children with their kind, friendly Uncle Monty, a herpetologist, who raises reptiles. Unfortunately, some unfortunate events happen ... except that these don't seem to be random events. It's the work of the greedy Count Olaf, who is back again to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune.

No sophomore jinx with this book.