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 Reptile Room

The Reptile Room
A Series of Unfortunate Events #2
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, Uncle Monty. He’s interesting, fun, and kind, and the kids are looking forward to going to Peru with him to study reptiles. But oh, this is a Lemony Snicket book, so we’re informed up front that their happiness won’t last. And indeed, it doesn’t.

I suppose I liked this book a little more than the previous. Even though I knew from early on that Uncle Monty wouldn’t signal the beginning of a happy life, I was still glad for the kids that they got a little bit of time with him. I think Count Olaf’s attempt at getting at their money was a lot more half-baked this time, but on the other hand, the way the kids got out of his snare was a little more clever this time. I did enjoy the “friendship” between Sunny and the Incredibly Deadly Viper, and even thought it was pretty great that she…oh, I guess that would be a spoiler.

But just like with the previous book, the highlight of the whole thing, for me, was that it was read by Tim Curry. Half a star of my rating is based on that, because that’s how much I love listening to his voice. We’ll see how it goes from here on.

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Book Review: The Bad Beginning

The Bad Beginning
A Series of Unfortunate Events #1
by Lemony Snicket
read by Tim Curry

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

When the Baudelaire children are orphaned and sent to live with a very odd relative they’ve never heard of, their misfortune is only beginning. Their new guardian, Count Olaf, has designs on the fortune their parents left behind, and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

I’ve never read any of these books, nor have I seen any of the adaptations. It always seemed a little dark and strange for my tastes. And I would have continued in ignorance without any qualms had I not discovered that Tim Curry narrated the audiobooks for the series. I love Tim Curry, and I especially love his voice. And yes, he brought my rating up a half star all by himself. Because overall, the book was only okay, maybe even less than okay. I wasn’t even entirely sure what genre (other than children’s fiction) to put this in, because it seems like it’s supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it all that humorous. And I guess there’s supposed to be a mystery, and I was actually looking forward to seeing what clever way the kids got out of Count Olaf’s snare, only for it to be a really simple, boring solution. Really, it was a little dark for children’s fiction, and Count Olaf’s and his friends were ridiculously and unnecessarily over-the-top mean.

I did like the way the kids stuck together and didn’t give up when things were bleak. I didn’t even mind the way the narrator inserted definitions for some possibly difficult words for kids, though to be honest, I don’t know that it wouldn’t have annoyed me if it wasn’t Tim Curry giving me those definitions. I’ve seen some reviews that say it gets better after the first book, so for Tim Curry’s sake, I’ll keep going for now.

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