Miscellaneous

Top Ten Most Read Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.
These numbers are based on my Goodreads “most read authors” page; because it only counts primary authors, some of these counts may actually be slightly lower than they should be if the author in question is in the secondary author slot in any of their book records.

Kidlit Authors

119+ books – Stan, Jan, and Mike Berenstain, the authors of the Berenstain Bears franchise. Stan and Jan originated the series and co-wrote the books together until Stan’s death. After Stan’s death, he was by their son Mike as Jan’s co-author until Jan’s death. Mike is continuing the series on his own.

66+ books – Mary Pope Osborne, author of the Magic Tree House series and co-author of the Magic Tree House Fact Trackers series, originally titled the Magic Tree House Research Guides series

63 books – Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones, co-authors of the Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series and its spin-offs

56 books – Ron Roy, author of the A to Z Mysteries, Calendar Mysteries, and Capital Mysteries series

42 books – Norman Bridwell, author of the Clifford the Big Red Dog series

33 books – David A. Adler, author of the Cam Jansen series

29+ books – Ben M. Baglio, “author” of the Dolphin Diaries and Animal Ark series. These series were actually ghostwritten, however, and were published under the pseudonym Lucy Daniels in the U.K. Lucy Daniels also “wrote” the Horseshoe Trilogies series.

28 books – Cynthia Rylant, author of the Henry and Mudge series

25 books – Valerie Tripp, author of several American Girl series

23 books – Gail Herman, author of the Scooby-Doo Readers! series

MG & YA Authors

102 books – R.L. Stine, author of the Fear Street and Goosebumps series

98+ books – Ann M. Martin, author of the Baby-sitters Club series

14 books – Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events

14 books – Tamora Pierce, author of the Tortall universe

13 books – Kathryn Lasky, author of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series

11 books – Darren Shan, author of the Cirque du Freak series

10+ books – Carolyn Keene, pseudonym of the ghostwriters behind the Nancy Drew series

8 books – Avi, author of the Dimwood Forest series

7 books – J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series

7 books – Caroline B. Cooney, author of various YA horror and thriller novels

Adult Fiction and Nonfiction Authors

5 books – Dan Brown, author of the Robert Langdon series

4 books – Stephen Woodworth, author of the Violet Eyes series

4 books – Wendy Northcutt, author of the Darwin Awards series

3 books – Sophocles, author of the Oedipus trilogy

3 books – J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings series

So…

As you can see, I tend to binge on the works of kidlit authors, and it helps that kidlit authors tend to pump out so many books in such little time!

On the other hand, the MG/YA section contains authors like Stine and Martin, whose series were long-runners in the 80s and 90s but eventually switched to ghostwriters, unless I’m very much mistaken. There’s a huge jump between those two and the rest of the authors on the MG/YA list because the rest of the authors, with the exception of Ben M. Baglio, tend to write series that have definitive ends. Caroline B. Cooney, meanwhile, is the only one on that list from whom I’ve read mostly standalones.

In the adult fiction and nonfiction category, I could only come up with five authors. I expected more, but I suppose it makes sense; when it comes to kidlit, MG, and YA, I tend to read long series or even binge-read extensive libraries such as the Berenstain Bears. But when it comes to adult fiction, I tend to read either standalones or short series. All the authors on the list wrote short series of three or four books that I read in their entirety. The only exception is Dan Brown, who I’ve read two standalones from and three Langdon novels.

It looks like I definitely need to step up my adult fiction series reading, and maybe spend more time seeking out kidlit authors who only have a book or two under their belts.

Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Tooth Trouble (Ready, Freddy! #1) by Abby Klein


Tooth Trouble is my first experience with both the Ready, Freddy! series and Abby Klein’s work in general, and after reading the short chapter book, I’d say I’m neither really impressed nor disappointed. It’s rather mediocre kidlit, I suppose; some kids and parents will love it, some won’t. Shrug.

The two big complaints that I had were things most people, I expect, will hardly notice. One, the kids really enjoy YELLING SUDDENLY IN ALL CAPS, which drives me friggin’ nuts. Two, various Random Things (insults, especially) were often unnecessarily capitalized for little reason. I found it quite annoying, honestly.

Other than that, I’d say the story itself is like a (lesser, honestly) male-protagonist version of Junie B. Jones. If you’re one of those parents who decries Junie and her friends as foul-mouthed, aggressive, brats (and I’m not joking; I’ve seen quite a few surprisingly impassioned denouncements of Junie B. Jones in the past), you’re gonna hate this series. Junie and her friends say some childish things to one another, but Freddy and his gang run wild with the taunting. Which, I’d like to point out to the pearl-clutchers, is how many (I’d say most) children actually speak to one another.

So if you’re looking for a “first tooth” book, either because your child has lost his or her first tooth or, like Freddy, he or she is upset s/he hasn’t, Tooth Trouble might be a good read for you. Alternately, if you think your child would enjoy the Junie B. Jones books, but you find yourself dealing with the “girls have cooties” response, Ready, Freddy! might be a good alternative (especially if you can use it as a stepping-stone to Junie B. Jones–and more egalitarian reading tastes–later).

As for me, I can’t say I’m sorry to have been born the decade before these were published; at least with Tooth Trouble, I’m not yet getting the sense that I missed out on anything significant by not reading these as a child. But, of course, I’m certainly not going to swear off the series, and I’ll likely come back to it at some point. Possibly soon, depending on what’s available at my library.

And who knows? Maybe Klein will surprise me in the sequels.

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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager


A copy of this book was provided free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Tale of Two Mommies is the F/F counterpart of Vanita Oelschlager’s other picture book about same-sex parents, A Tale of Two Daddies. It’s just as adorable as that story, showcasing a loving non-traditional relationship as seen through the eyes of their child. It’s told in rhyming questions and answers, with the young son of the couple responding to two other curious children during a trip to the beach.

If you’re looking for a picture book about female/female parenting couples, A Tale of Two Mommies is a fine choice. The illustrations are adorable and the story is quite simple but a great way to introduce a young child to the concept of same-sex relationships.

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Miscellaneous

[TV Review] American Horror Story: Coven


I am a late-arrival fan to American Horror Story. I actually didn’t start watching the show until Coven, the third season, was airing, and what won me over (I don’t watch a lot of television, so I give shamefully few new series a chance) was actually the commercial/trailer embedded above. Between the eerie charm of the song and the visuals, it piqued my interest enough that I decided it was finally time to look into what the heck this American Horror Story thing was all about and determine whether or not it was any good.

American Horror Story is a whole mess of good.

As of today, there are three seasons released, with a fourth coming out this fall. These are, in order, Murder House, Asylum, Coven, and the upcoming Freak Show. I’ve seen all three available seasons, and I watched them in the “proper”, so to speak, order–that is, I watched season one (Murder House), then season two (Asylum), and finally season three (Coven).

Murder House won me over almost immediately, and by the time I was finished with it, I knew that this AHS thing was a show I wanted to stick with. Murder House was pretty damn awesome, as far as television goes; well-written, well-acted, and above all else, very entertaining, it managed to make a fan out of me. I went into Asylum eagerly, and if Murder House was “pretty damn awesome”, Asylum blew me the fuck away. It was a pile-up of villains and gambits, but it was done in a spectacular way; it was gross, gory, and verging on genuinely frightening; it was, again, well-written, well-acted, and kept me entertained throughout pretty much every twist and turn of the plot. Murder House made me an American Horror Story fan, but Asylum made it onto my list of best television seasons/arcs ever.

So, coming off of the bloody awesome that was Asylum, perhaps I expected too much of Coven. Whether or not that’s the case, American Horror Story‘s third horror story left me very, very dissatisfied. It’s not that it’s a terrible story, exactly; Coven offers a lot of entertainment. If it were a standalone series, a spiritual successor to earlier feminist fantasy show like Buffy or Charmed, I would’ve been on board with it. But as a season of American Horror Story, which I expect to bring the full package of brilliant writing, brilliant casting, brilliant acting, etcetera, to the table… it was really disappointing.

Most importantly, the plot lacked the complexity that I’m looking for in a show. While other viewers might be looking for sympathetic characters, a certain tone, a certain morality, or other story elements to make or break a show for them, what appeals to me most is complexity. I want intricate plotting. I want a story that is going to leave me speechless with its intricacy, its foreshadowing, its scope, and its twists, and while Murder House and Asylum both satisfied me in that respect, Coven didn’t. It fizzled. It introduced more than enough plot points to build the kind of story that I wanted it to tell, but the writing simply fizzled. Instead of taking everything they introduced and weaving it all together with expertise, the writers simply let threads drop, dangle, and disappear, deciding instead to focus on what I’ve seen called–both hilariously and quite fittingly–a mystery that boiled down to “America’s Next Top Supreme”. And frankly, by the end of the story, I didn’t give a shit who became the next Supreme.

Perhaps this is mostly because–and this is your spoiler warning–the Supreme’s identity was obvious. It’s the kind of solution I expect from a teen mystery novel, not American Horror Story; whoever’s the least foreshadowed but still possible candidate is the ultimate choice. Sarah Paulson’s Cordelia was the Supreme, and the writers tried to keep it a secret by making sure none of the characters guessed it ’til the end, which made it obvious–at least to me–that she was going to be the one. Which, I will add, also annoys me by itself; I appreciate premise of American Horror Story–that is, keeping the same core cast and setting them up with new roles to play. Evan Peters, for example, plays Tate, a sort of antivillain in Murder House, and then plays Kit, one of the heroes of Asylum; I love that. But Coven didn’t address that issue properly, either.

Most glaringly, Sarah Paulson’s character, Lana Winters, was the protagonist of Aslyum. She had previously played a minor character, Billie Dean Howard, in Murder House, so I quite enjoyed seeing her play such a different character–the focal character, at that–in the next season. But she returns in Coven to play the protagonist again, with her character, Cordelia Foxx, getting to be the super special Supreme witch at the end, and it’s actually kind of annoying. There’s a lot of talent in the cast, and seeing the same actor get the pivotal role two seasons in a role… well, it irks.

But it’s not only Paulson’s character that came across as retreading previous American Horror Story territory. After Cordelia, the other two most primary characters could be argued to be Jessica Lange’s Fiona Goode and Taissa Farmiga’s Zoe Benson. Jessica Lange appeared in both Murder House and Asylum; in Murder House, she was an antagonist in the form of a wealthy, bitchy Southern queen bee, while in Asylum, she played a tragic villain who slowly morphs into an antihero. But in Coven, she’s back to playing a wealthy, bitchy, queen bee antagonist. To make matters worse, both her Murder House and Coven characters have a pathetic, almost stalkerishly devoted suitor played by Denis O’Hare. It’s like friggin’ déjà vu.

Then, as I said, there’s Taissa Farmiga’s character. In Murder House, she plays Violet Harmon, an outcast teenager in a relationship with Tate, played by Evan Peters. She doesn’t appear in Asylum, but she returns in Coven to play Zoe Benson, an outcast teenage witch in a relationship with Kyle, played by Evan Peters. It’s like friggin’ déjà vu.

Seriously, if I see Farmiga/Peters and Lange/O’Hare brewing again in Freak Show, I’m calling shenanigans–and that goes for Sarah Paulson and/or Taissa Farmiga as protagonist(s), too. Let someone else shine, guys.

My complaints don’t end there, much as I wish they did; there’s other, more minor stuff on my bitch list. Evan Peters’ talent was wasted as Kyle. Zoe Benson was a fairly boring decoy protagonist. The Zoe/Kyle/Madison relationship was riddled with consent issues, making it one of the few cases in which I’m fairly grossed out by a canon trio. Most of the characters were unsympathetic, and that includes Cordelia, who was an irresponsible and self-absorbed excuse for a teacher or mentor to the young women in her care. And Zachary Quinto was nowhere to be found.

(That last one’s mostly a joke, but, yeah, I missed him!)

But what bothered me the most was the plotting. In American Horror Story, I expect there to be a series of interlocking plotlines, and while this season had multiple threads, they came across as messy and stunted instead of artistic or even properly executed. There wasn’t enough focus on the important subplots: Queenie’s emotional trouble was mostly off-screen, the witch hunters came into play too late in the game to be significant players, and too much time was wasted on the teen romance. (I don’t turn on American Horror Story to see romance, guys. I really don’t.) The repercussions of Nan’s murder of Joan should have been more significant, the conflict with the witch hunters should have been more pressing and dangerous, and Marie’s broken deal should have been huge. Instead, everything seemed to be rushed and half-assed so the plot could focus on the Supreme mystery, with some points being forgotten entirely (Marie’s stolen baby, Cordelia’s fertility woes, etcetera). And the deaths–Nan’s, Misty’s, and Marie’s in particular–were downright disrespectful to the characters. Nan was essentially forgotten, Marie died off-screen in spite of being a pivotal character, and Misty’s fate was extremely and unnecessarily cruel. When all was said and done, I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything and everyone were shortchanged in favor of Cordelia, Zoe, Fiona, and the Supreme story.

All that said, there’s still good here. The team-up between Marie and Fiona was awesome, and I wish it could have lasted. Lily Rabe and Frances Conroy were as spectacular as ever, and both Angela Basset and Kathy Bates were clearly having a ton of fun with their characters. As I said, if this wasn’t an American Horror Story season–if it was instead the premiere season of a new, Charmed-style witch show–I wouldn’t be so critical. But Murder House and Asylum were spectacular television; I know what American Horror Story is capable of, and it dropped the ball with Coven.

So what’s the word on Freak Show? Me, I’ll be watching, but after hearing that it’s slated to be written in a similar tone to Coven, I’m not getting my hopes up. If Freak Show follows in the footsteps of season three instead of one or two, I expect it’ll be my last season. But I’m going to hold out hope that Coven was just a fluke, not a shark jump. Season four could surprise me, after all.

Most importantly, I’d like to see the writing return to its earlier standards. No more puttering through a story as if lost; write with conviction, damn it! Know the twists and turns before the thing goes to air, please? Let Peters play a straight villain, which he hasn’t done before, and let Jessica Lange play a straight hero. Let Alexandra Breckenridge play someone besides “the other woman”. Write a genuinely loving mother; with the exception of Grace, who died when her son was a toddler, all the mothers on the show so far have been some degree of abusive or neglectful. (Constance, Fiona, and Delphine were abusive to their children. Vivien was emotionally neglectful. Hayden was an unhinged stalker who tried to use her unborn child as blackmail. Nora didn’t seem to have much interest in her son until his death. Lana kills her son while he’s unarmed and sobbing in her embrace. “Anne Frank” couldn’t connect with her baby until her lobotomy–though hers is justified by a case of postpartum disorder. Alma murders the other female member of her ménage à trois and never sees her child again. Marie ritually sacrificed her infant and plenty of others. Joan murdered her son to keep him quiet. Kyle’s mother sexually abused him. To sum up, mothers in American Horror Story suck.) Give Lily Rabe and Frances Conroy more screen time; they’re both fucking awesome actresses.

…and for the love of horror, bring Zachary Quinto back.

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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Rayne Shines by Bonnie Ferrante


Rayne is bored with life, until a new family moves in next door. Why do they look so happy? Rayne wants to know their secret. Rayne Shines is a humorous and thought-provoking picture book for ages five to seven.


A copy of this book was provided free by the author in exchange for an honest review.

As a person who tends to fall into the “cynic” camp, I was a bit hesitant about Rayne Shines. The story follows a young frog whose family’s outlook on life is always negative until she befriend a new neighbor who brings her around to positive thinking. My worry was that the story would be heavy-handed in its message, as are most of the moralistic picture books I read (I’m looking at you, Berenstain Bears); to be perfectly honest, I was expecting a simple story about a cynic who changes her ways rather easily and without much authentic character development so that the book can teach its moral.

Happily, Rayne Shines was a pleasant surprise. Instead of Rayne meeting Sunny, her neighbor, and instantly changing her mindset after a glimpse of the other girl’s lifestyle, the book manages to transition Rayne and her family from negative to positive in a way that’s reasonably organic and gradual, given how short the story is. Meanwhile, the “negativity versus positivity” issue is fairly well represented; instead of taking a traditional “pessimists versus optimists” angle, it manifests more as a moral of relaxing the urge to preemptive judge experiences and letting oneself have fun. I have to say, I much prefer that approach to a more straightforward and reductive “well, just look on the bright side!” story.

The only issue I have with the book is that the art style (as seen on the cover above) isn’t appealing to me. Otherwise, though, Rayne Shines was a fairly entertaining way to spend a few minutes of my time; if you’re looking for a picture book with a positivity moral and are interested in buying something Indie, Rayne Shines might be a good place to start.

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Miscellaneous

Top Ten Books About Friendship

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

The Secret of the Attic is the first book of the Magic Attic Club series and introduces the four original girls: Heather Hardin, Keisha Vance, Megan Ryder, and Alison McCann. In the book, Heather’s the new girl, and while the others are very friendly and even invite her to join in their Christmas festivities, she’s uncomfortable–mostly because she doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

But after a trip through the magic mirror in their neighbor’s attic, their friendship solidifies and Heather finally admits what’s been bothering her. After that, they’re close friends for the rest of the series.

My review of The Secret of the Attic can be read here.


Wait Till Helen Comes is a ghost story from Mary Downing Hahn. The protagonist, Molly, and her brother, Michael, have just welcomed two newcomers into their family: a stepfather and a stepsister named Heather. But Heather’s young and immature, and she has a very difficult time accepting that her father’s remarried; though she’s terribly lonely, she wants nothing to do with her new stepsiblings. Instead, she befriends a mysterious girl near a burned-out, abandoned building: a ghost named Helen who seems friendly enough… but who definitely isn’t.

Wait Till Helen Comes is what you get when you mash-up a friendship/sisterhood story and a children’s ghost story, and it’s a pretty fun read–or at least it was when I read it in elementary school.


The Wig in the Window is a MG mystery novel with a friendship subplot. The main character, Sophie Young, gets in a fight with her long-time best friend, Grace Yang, and during their separation, Sophie finds herself befriending another girl, the very unpopular Trista (who is an awesome character, by the way). Because it’s MG, I don’t think it should surprise anyone that Sophie and Grace work through their issues, but I find the Sophie/Trista friendship to be every bit as interesting and important as the Sophie/Grace friendship.

My review of The Wig in the Window can be read here.


Meet Marie-Grace is the first book of the second most recent (as of today!) American Girl series; set in 1853, it tells the story of Marie-Grace Gardner and Cécile Rey, two young girls growing up in New Orleans. Though they’re from different worlds–Marie-Grace being White American while Cecile is Black American–they become good friends in Meet Marie-Grace and spend the next five books dealing with slave-catchers, orphans, and 1853’s deadly yellow fever epidemic.

Meet Cecile, the second book in the series, retells the story from Cecile’s perspective.


Snap is a MG novel about friendship and grief that deals with Eddie Beckey, an eleven-year-old girl obsessed with list-making, whose best friend Sally’s grandmother–a woman Eddie and Sally both love deeply–falls fatally ill.

It definitely made an impression on me when I was around the protagonist’s age. Not so much when I reread it as an adult, but I suppose that’s to be expected.


When I sat down to read the Dimwood Forest series, having read Ragweed, Poppy, and Poppy and Rye as a child, I didn’t expect a series about mice to have such an emotional ending. Poppy and Ereth, however, really got me emotionally.

When Poppy’s husband Rye dies, her grieving process is interrupted by a run-in with a bat. Ereth, believing Poppy to be dead, takes it upon himself to put a truly spectacular memorial service together in her memory. The entire story is about gruff, cranky old Ereth’s oft-hidden love for his aged mouse friend, and it is so utterly sweet that I nearly cried.

The last time I got that teary-eyed reading a book was when Harry revealed Al’s middle name.


Mary Anne Saves the Day is the fourth Baby-Sitter’s Club book. By this point in the series, the friendship between the four original sitters–Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Claudia Kishi, and Stacey McGill–has already been established. The first three grew up together, and the latter was fairly quickly welcomed into the group.

But in Mary Anne Saves the Day, the girls end up in a fight that threatens to tear the club apart. During the rift, Mary Anne warms up to the new girl, Dawn Schafer.

Again, since it’s a MG novel about a baby-sitting club, the Baby-sitter’s Club gets back together by the end, and Kristy, Claudia, and Stacey welcome Dawn into the fold.

My review of Mary Anne Saves the Day can be read here.


Define “Normal” is a MG coming of age novel about two unlikely friends: prissy Antonia Dillon and punky Jasmine “Jazz” Luth. Antonia thinks her meetings with Jazz are peer counseling sessions to help the punk deal with her “rough” life, but it’s really the seemingly perfect, straight-A Antonia whose world is spiralling out of control.

The friendship between Antonia and Jazz is filtered through the lense of “don’t judge a book by its cover” and, obviously, the question of what exactly “normal” is, but it’s a friendship story nonetheless.


Kirsten Learns a Lesson is the second American Girls: Kirsten book. While Meet Kirsten chronicled Kirsten’s immigration to the U.S.A., Kirsten Learns a Lesson has two intertwined plots: Kirsten’s efforts to learn English for school and her friendship with a young Native American girl named Singing Bird. By the end, Singing Bird and Kirsten are close friends; the former refers to Kirsten–Yellow Hair, as she calls her–as her “sister” and wants the Swedish American girl to join the tribe when it travels to new hunting grounds.

Though Kirsten obviously decides not to go, Kirsten’s friendship is treated as genuine, emotional, and important–especially considering the terrible stereotypes her friends and family hold about the indigenous people–and Singing Bird reappears in Kirsten on the Trail.


City Dog, Country Frog is a surprisingly emotional story about two friends who are–you guessed it!–a dog from the city and a frog from the country.

I won’t run the story for you, but I highly suggest reading it in you enjoy picture books that (try to) have an emotional impact.

Miscellaneous

[Book Review] Changes for Caroline (American Girls: Caroline, #6) by Kathleen Ernst


Caroline receives a letter asking her to come and help on Uncle Aaron’s new farm. Although she hates to leave her family, Caroline is pleased to see her cousin Lydia–and to meet Lydia’s pretty cow and sweet baby calf! Determined to help out in any way she can, Caroline keeps watch when a thief starts sneaking around the farm. Then she makes an unexpected discovery–and learns that some things are not as simple as they seem. When Caroline returns home at last for an Independence Day celebration, she is treated to a wonderful surprise.


Changes for Caroline is the last of the American Girl: Caroline books–or at least, the last book of the series proper, as there is already one spin-off Caroline book in the American Girls Mysteries series–and so far, it’s been a series I’ve quite enjoyed. Unfortunately, I found Changes for Caroline to be the weakest of the lot.

The story follows Caroline to her cousin Lydia’s new home, a farm that Caroline is going to help her relatives get up-and-running. It’s an Independence Day story, which fits the patriotic theme of the series, and quite moralistic; the main plotline deals with thievery, the needy, and how to deal with theft committed out of desperation–though, admittedly, it’s a child-appropriate and thus simplistic exploration of the topic. And while it’s not a bad story by any means, I’m kind of disappointed.

Caroline‘s main plotline is the War of 1812 and its effects on the town of Sackets Harbor, but Changes for Caroline uproots the main character to another location entirely and focuses on a conflict that has nothing of importance to do with the military conflict. It almost feels like a non-ending from the perspective of the series as a whole; after five books of dealing with the war, I find it very strange that the final book–which would normally (and should, as far as I’m concerned) wrap up the overarching plot in some capacity–all but forgets that premise to tell much more simplistic story about morality.

Honestly, I just think it’s a really weak ending to what has so far been a very enjoyable series, and I definitely think Ernst could have chosen a much more climactic, interesting story to tell. Alas.

In any case, I look forward to reading Traitor in the Shipyard, Caroline’s book in the Mysteries spin-off series, and I can’t wait to see who’s next in the line-up. I’m hoping for an Asian American this time around; perhaps a Chinese American girl in the transcontinental railroad era or a Japanese American girl during World War 2?

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Miscellaneous

[Book Review] The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) by Lemony Snicket


The Bad Beginning tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of the book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.

In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.

It is Lemony Snicket’s sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.


There are many, many types of books in the world, which makes good sense, because there are many, many types of people, and everybody wants to read something different. For instance, people who hate stories in which terrible things happen to small children should put this book down immediately.

That is the kind of story can expect if you’re going to pick up A Series of Unfortunate Events. It’s a story that’s equal parts sorrowful and humorous; it’s subtle and clever; and above all else, it warns away its readers in an amusingly snarky bit of reverse psychology (though I’m sure there are at least a few people who have indeed put down the book upon reading these ominous passages).

A Series of Unfortunate Events is the thirteen-book story of the Baudelaire siblings: Violet, the eldest at fourteen and an amateur inventor; Klaus, the middle child at twelve and a voracious reader; and Sunny, the infant youngest who’s a fierce biter and speaks in unintelligible gibberish that sometimes offers the reader clever and hilarious “genius bonuses”. The Bad Beginning is, of course, the bad beginning of their story; they lose their parents and their home, and when they’re forced to relocate to the first of several less-than-satisfactory guardians, they meet the Big Bad, Count Olaf, a vile and abusive man who wants their fortune for himself.

Unlike some children’s series, A Series of Unfortunate Events doesn’t pull its punches. Count Olaf isn’t abusive because he’s mean to the kids. He’s demeaning, creepy, and outright violent; he hits Klaus, admits that he plans to “dispose of” Klaus and Sunny, and has a pretty damn disturbing sexual subtext with Violet… though a reader might not notice the latter until after they’ve grown out of the target audience.

It’s also a very frustrating story. Does the “Adults Are Useless” trope drive you nuts? A Series of Unfortunate Events is made of useless adults; half the point of the story is that the adults in the Baudelaire’s lives fail them utterly and completely, time and time again. And the other half of the point is that you’ll never find a happy ending here.

Now, after hearing that, I can see how someone might want to avoid the story. But if I can talk you out of it, let me. These are good books. They’re quirky and clever, at times somber and at others hilarious, both optimistic and intensely frustrating, and overflowing with enigma. Honestly, I love the books. See those gold stars up there? Snicket earns them, and I honestly wish I’d read these books younger than I did. I would’ve loved for them to be a part of my childhood instead of my adolescence.

Of course, they’re not for everyone. My mother, for example, couldn’t read past the first book, declaring the series too depressing to continue. I don’t prescribe to that; I think the story’s cathartic. Its characters are forever oppressed and overwhelmed, and they still pull through; the mysteries pile up and answers are slow or even nonexistent, but the emotions are poignant and powerful.

I really highly recommend the series for anyone interested in MG. The Bad Beginning suffers a bit of a plot hole issue–Olaf’s plan here doesn’t make a ton of sense when you really stop to think about it–but it’s a reasonable start to what I think is a strong series, and I definitely suggest giving it a try. If you’ve got the time and patience, I’d stick with it until The Miserable Mill, at which point the books break the “Baudelaires go to a new guardian” formula and start hinting at the larger plot.


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