Book Review: The Penultimate Peril

The Slippery Slope
A Series of Unfortunate Events #12
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The Baudelaires have reached the Hotel Denouement, where they will take their places as volunteers and try to distinguish friend from foe. Old acquaintances, both friend and foe, appear at the hotel, and the Baudelaires have to make some (hopefully) tough decisions.

I can’t say this is exactly what I would have wanted from the second-to-last book in such a long series, but on the other hand, it’s pretty much what I should have expected from this particular series. The hotel is laid out in a way that is probably supposed to be clever, but I only found it silly. I did appreciate that Sunny kept being the one who figured things out and that it so often went unnoticed by others, or at least unmentioned. It added humor to what otherwise, for me, comes across as the author trying too hard to be funny.

I started listening to this series for only one reason: Tim Curry. Though I had to live with a different narration for 3 books earlier in the series, Tim Curry has been wonderful, even given some of the crazy things he’s had to say or do for the sake of the narration. I’m not particularly excited about the conclusion of the series and, Tim Curry or not, I know I’ll never re-read it.

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Book Review: The Grim Grotto

The Grim Grotto
A Series of Unfortunate Events #11
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, starting with The Bad Beginning.

We find the 3 Baudelaire orphans where we left them—in a toboggan, rushing down a stream, helpless to save themselves. As they try to unravel the mystery of V.F.D. and stay out of the clutches of Count Olaf, they’ll have to navigate dark waters and even darker intentions.

There were some things I actually enjoyed about this book, starting with Tim Curry’s portrayal of Captain Widdershins. I’m pretty sure I would have rolled my eyes at his particular way of speaking, especially when first introduced, if I was reading it for myself, so that’s all the more reason I’m glad I’m listening to this series instead. On the other hand, if I’d been reading instead of listening, I could have skipped entire pages of repetition that I guess Snicket thought would be clever, but only made me question my own sanity. Sunny’s dialog continues to be the only source of humor in the entire series, and I did appreciate a Chekov’s “gum” moment.

I’m a little baffled by the way Snicket is hammering us with this whole, “nobody is completely evil or completely noble; everyone is shades of both” or whatever he’s trying to say, yet one character in this book is practically vilified by the main characters because of a very difficult decision that didn’t go the way the main characters thought it should, even while that character still showed shades of nobility. There were a couple of surprises near the end, though one of them left me scratching my head. Maybe we’ll learn more about that in the next two books…though the way people talk about the end of this series, I kind of doubt it. Guess I’ll find out for myself soon enough.

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Book Review: The Slippery Slope

The Slippery Slope
A Series of Unfortunate Events #10
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Carnivorous Carnival (and possibly others before it).

The three Baudelaire orphans are separated but must find a way to work together to save one of them from the clutches of Count Olaf and his troop. As they close in on some answers, other questions only grow more mysterious.

I don’t want to repeat myself in regards to what I don’t care for about this series, so if you’re interested, feel free to check out my reviews of the previous books. I’ll instead mention a few things that led me to give this book a higher rating than the previous one. I appreciate that the repetitiveness of the formula in the earlier books in the series is a thing of the past. No more new guardian every book, though that does lead me to wonder if Mr. Poe is doing anything to try to find these lost orphans at this point. Yes, he’s gullible enough that he probably believes the newspaper reports that they killed someone, but they were still his responsibility. I hope to see something more from him before the end of the series.

There was a twist in this book that I didn’t expect and something else unexpected happened too. Both bright spots in an otherwise un-surprising plot. I like that Sunny is growing (probably not physically, though), yet the other two siblings don’t change much. “VFD” is becoming my least-favorite acronym, considering how much Snicket forces it into the story. Three books ’til the end, and I’ll probably never re-visit this series.

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Book Review: The Carnivorous Carnival

The Carnivorous Carnival
A Series of Unfortunate Events #9
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Hostile Hospital.

The three Baudelaire orphans continue to strike out on their own, arriving at the Caligari Carnival by stowing away in the trunk of Count Olaf’s car. Disguising themselves using Olaf’s own materials, can they keep their true identities secret? Can they uncover the truth behind the initials V.F.D. and whether or not one of their parents survived the fire?

There were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.” It was interesting that Olaf and his acting troupe were out in the open this time, while the Baudelaires were the ones spying. It was also nice to finally get at least one answer to a series-long mystery. And there were some decent moments in this book, for example a humorous play on the phrase “deja vu.”

On the other hand, this book had whole new, over-the-top annoyances for me. The “freaks” whined constantly about their “deformities” which would have made more sense if one of them wasn’t simply ambidextrous. I’m sure it was some kind of humor that I just do not get, but the fact that both of Kevin’s legs are equally strong is something I really could have done without being reminded about all through the story. And the guests to the carnival were ridiculously blood-thirsty. But at least there’s Tim Curry. Slim consolation prize at this point.

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Book Review: The Hostile Hospital

The Hostile Hospital
A Series of Unfortunate Events #8
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book in the series, The Vile Village.

The three Baudelaire orphans are on their own now, but that doesn’t make them safe. In fact, now they have to be wary of anyone who’s ever read the newspaper, which is just about everyone. Fortunately, they’re able to hide in a group of volunteers who don’t read the paper and whose organization initials happen to be V.F.D. This leads them to a hospital, where they encounter Count Olaf and his associates in full force.

As we continue to progress away from the tired formula that the first half of the series followed, I find the overall story a little more interesting. I still don’t get most of the humor that others seem to like, but I’ll admit I found some of Sunny’s dialog to be funny in this book (I even laughed out loud one time). The V.F.D. mystery is gaining interest for me, and the ending was such a departure that it felt like a breath of fresh air.

In some ways, though, outside of the stand-out things mentioned above, this was still the same old story. Still, I liked it more than most of the previous ones, and Tim Curry singing the V.F.D. song throughout the book was a lot more fun than it probably should have been. (This book is brought to you by the word “spurious.”)

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Book Review: The Vile Village

The Vile Village
A Series of Unfortunate Events #7
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian…town? The children choose the village of V.F.D. as their new guardian in the hopes of finding some clue to the whereabouts of their friends the Quagmires, whose cryptic clue upon being snatched away by Count Olaf was “V.F.D.” But Olaf is still after the Baudelaires too.

It’s a relief to be able to say that this book was much more interesting than most of the previous ones. Several breaks in formula happened, especially at the end of the book. There was a puzzle to solve, and while it was a simple one, I think it’s appropriately solvable for the intended age group. I finished this book with an actual interest in seeing what happens next, which I don’t really think I’ve had since the first book or two.

I wish by this point in the series there would be more to the siblings’ individual identities than inventing, reading, and biting. The kids aren’t really growing or changing as individuals (okay, that’s not really true about Sunny, at least). And though I also wish that it hadn’t taken this long in the series to start to get interesting, at least now I have more than Tim Curry’s voice to keep me going. (This book was brought to you by the word “skittish.”)

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Book Review: The Ersatz Elevator

The Ersatz Elevator
A Series of Unfortunate Events #6
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian and move to their home in a neighborhood that has the most domineering homeowners’ association ever. Rules about what is and isn’t allowed change on a regular basis, but the Baudelaires are more concerned about what happened to their friends, who were abducted in the previous book.

I feel like my reviews for this series are beginning to become redundant. But to be fair, that’s because the books are redundant. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, since a few things did happen in this book that broke away from the formula a little. But it’s just too little to make me suddenly start liking it. Especially given some of the absurd elements of this book, like Sunny climbing up an elevator shaft with her teeth and everything having to do with the red-hot tongs.

Any time I wonder why I keep listening to the series when I’ve disliked it so much so far, I only have to remember Tim Curry doing a purposely bad Swedish accent. It was the best part of the whole book for me, and half a star of my rating is based on his narration. However, even he may not be able to get me to continue this series, if it doesn’t get less ridiculous soon.

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Book Review: The Austere Academy

The Austere Academy
A Series of Unfortunate Events #5
by Lemony Snicket
read by the author

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been sent to boarding school. Except Sunny isn’t old enough for school, so instead she works as an administrative assistant. Yeah. But Count Olaf is there, along with some of his henchmen, and even though the kids have been proven right each time they’ve made that claim in the past, Mr. Poe doesn’t believe them.

The author continues to be redundant, I suppose in an attempt at humor, but it’s done so often it’s just started to bother me along the way. But then again, this is not my kind of humor anyway—far too much injustice and even child abuse, none of which gets addressed or remotely amended, for my taste.

The formula that’s been so frustratingly followed for this series so far is broken slightly, in that the kids actually get to make some friends. But if you think that will work out well, you don’t know this series at all. It didn’t go the way I feared it would, and actually, I didn’t mind the way the story was left in the end, regarding the two friends. What I didn’t like is that the author nearly ruined the mild suspense provided by that ending, what made me feel, for a moment, at least, that I actually have an interest in the next story. Ah, well. I’ll continue on either way, because Tim Curry comes back with the next installment, and his narration is the only reason I got into any of this. I wouldn’t be continuing with this series if I wasn’t being read to by Tim Curry while I go about my day (except for the last 3 books, which I endured for the sake of…well, you get it).

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Book Review: The Miserable Mill

The Miserable Mill
A Series of Unfortunate Events #4
by Lemony Snicket
read by the author

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian, name unpronounceable, who sets them to work in his lumber mill. Yes, including the baby. And they get only gum for lunch. Count Olaf is in there somewhere, but he’s barely needed to make this stop on the Baudelaire journey a terrible one.

I can’t get a handle on these books—since the beginning I’ve struggled to understand if they’re meant to be serious or not. I mean, clearly there’s humor injected here and there, or at least parts that I can tell are supposed to be funny. But is the world the stories take place in meant to be remotely realistic? Is it modern or some time in the past? How does it make any kind of sense that the kids are put to work in a lumber mill? That the workers of this mill are given only gum for lunch and paid in coupons? The absurdity level is too high for me to find any humor in it, especially with the overall serious tone. If there were some kind of payoff, it might work better, but there really isn’t.

One break in the formula in this book, which I did appreciate, is the way the older two kids had to fill the other one’s role in order to escape Count Olaf’s evil scheme. But I still feel like I’m just hanging in there for the series to get good, as some reviews still promise. Handler (the book author’s real name) is not the best at the narration. He’s soft-spoken for the kids’ voices and normal narration, then gets loud for most everyone else. There is something to be said for hearing how a character’s voice sounds to the actual creator of the character, though, and the unnamed caretaker’s voice in this book is certainly unique. Now I’ve got 1 more book to listen to before I can get back to Tim Curry, which was my whole point in starting this series.

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Book Review: The Wide Window

The Wide Window
A Series of Unfortunate Events #3
by Lemony Snicket
read by the author

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Children’s fiction

The three Baudelaire orphans have been set up with a new guardian, Aunt Josephine. She’s afraid of everything, including cooking food, and thus only serves cold food, insists on correcting everyone’s grammar, and lives in a house that’s nearly falling into a lake, of which she’s also afraid. Count Olaf trying to get the kids out of her guardianship seems like a blessing this time, except that he’s happy to commit murder to do so.

I do not get what people have seen in this series that it went as far as 11 books and spawned 2 adaptations. I’m not necessarily against formulaic series—sometimes the formula is what makes something work well, but not when the formula is held to this strictly. Not nearly enough changes, and the “dark” tone is just unpleasant, in my opinion. After the first book, I thought surely it would get more interesting or creative, but it’s really just a rinse and repeat of the book before it. Except that while the guardian in the previous book was a nice, somewhat normal-seeming guy, Aunt Josephine was an over-the-top, ridiculous loony.

What made it all worse for me was that I started into this series primarily because the books were narrated by Tim Curry, but the places I have access to audiobooks for free only have a version narrated by the author for this one and the next 2. I almost ended the series right there, and maybe I should have. But they’re short, quick listens, so I figured I’d stick it out. For now. We’ll see how it goes from here on.

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