Sunday, May 1, 2016

Nostalgiareads: A Series of Unfortunate Events (#5-10) by Lemony Snicket

I'm back again dear readers and nostalgia fans for another episode of Nostalgiareads, where I take the time to re-read some of my favorite childhood books and determine whether the nostalgia holds up after all of these years. A couple of weeks ago, I took on the challenge of re-reading one of my favorite series: A Series of Unfortunate Events. Since Goodreads still won't let you count re-reads towards your reading challenge, I'm a bit behind on my goal. That being said, it's totally worth it to discover old favorites from a new perspective.

This time, I'm tackling the next five books in the series and continuing on with the unfortunate journey of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.
  • The Austere Academy (Series of Unfortunate Events #5) by Lemony Snicket

The Austere Academy is not one of the most memorable books in the series, but it does signal the point where Lemony Snicket breaks with his plot trend where the Baudelaire orphans are taken to a new guardian, everything seems perfect until Count Olaf shows up in a disguise, and then the children are forced to reveal Count Olaf's treachery by any means necessary. Here Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are taken to Prufrock Preparatory, lead by Nero, a man full of self-importance, but lacking in violin playing skill. The children start to get used to the unorthodox nature of the school and even make friends with the Quagmire triplets sans one triplet. Of course that all changes with the arrival of a new coach.

Does the nostalgia continue to hold up? Of course it does! Every book in this series seems to be a new adventure. In fact, this feels like a series marketed to a middle grade audience, with a hidden tongue in cheek entertainment value for adult readers. All I remember about this book as a child was that this was where I learned what the word "quagmire" meant. Like all of the other books in the series, this one has some memorable quotes. My favorite has to be "In the case of this sonata, Nero has apparently been inspired by somebody beating up a cat, because the music was loud and screechy." 

The Austere Academy is also the book where you realize that there is more than one story being told here and that second story involves the narrator, Lemony Snicket, and Beatrice, the mysterious woman he dedicates all of the books to. Here readers learn that Beatrice married another man, not Lemony, and her life was cut short. She also knew Count Olaf in one way or another.  
  • The Ersatz Elevator (Series of Unfortunate Events #6) by Lemony Snicket

Here Lemony Snicket returns to his usual formula when Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to live with Jerome and Esme Squalor. Both seem like decent guardians, granted Esme is weirdly obsessed with knowing what's currently considered "in" by society, I love how Lemony uses her to pick on the nature of trends and fads to an extreme. Apparently, darkness is "in" and so are orphans. 

Part of what I love about this series and this book in particular is the play on words. I had a nice chuckle when I read about Cafe Salmonella. Of course my favorite words of wisdom from Snicket have to be: "There is nothing particularly wrong with salmon, of course, but like caramel candy, strawberry yogurt, and liquid carpet cleaner, if you eat too much of it you are not going to enjoy your meal." Words to life by.

Anyway, here the Baudelaire's discover that maybe some greater conspiracies and nefarious work might be behind the destruction of their home and the death of their parents. The orphans now have to stay out of the clutches of Count Olaf as well as rescue the Quagmire triplets.    
  • The Vile Village (Series of Unfortunate Events #7) by Lemony Snicket

The whole premise of this book begins with the age old adage, "It takes a village to raise a child." In a ridiculous turn of events, an entire village is designated as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny's guardian. The village seems to be ripped right out of a Hitchcock fantasy as this place is the Village of Fowl Devotees. 

Aside from The Miserable Mill, this book has to be one of the less interesting installments in the series. The characters are kind of blah and the village is forgettable. To me, this book functions as the set up for the rest of the series and the overall shift in tone. No longer is the story about the weird and wacky misadventures the Baudelaires have while escaping Count Olaf. Now they are tasked with figuring out what the mysterious organization V.F.D. does and what the initials stand for. 

This book is also where I got the sense that, like Harry Potter, this series and complexity of the plot grow along with the reader.   
  • The Hostile Hospital (Series of Unfortunate Events #8) by Lemony Snicket

The Hostile Hospital is when I really started to notice the shift in the story. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny end up escaping the Village of Foul Devotees and make their way towards a hospital. There they are mistaken as members of Volunteers Fighting Disease. You begin to notice the trend that everything the siblings run into have the initials VFD. While in the hospital, they work with a collection of records, one of which is the highly desired Snicket file. That file is said to help explain the Baudelaire's predicament, Count Olaf's treachery, and the VFD organization. 

This book has the same hallmark humor as all of the previous books in the series, but I can definitely tell now as an older reader that the danger the Baudelaires face is more severe. In fact, the book can be a little bit dark at times. On one hand you've got some funny moments where the Volunteers Fighting Disease don't actually fight disease and instead hand out heart shaped balloons. Not to mention Snicket sneaks in a little detail about how Mrs. Dalloway and Emma Bovary are patients at the hospital. On the other hand, Olaf and his gang plan to cut off Violet's head in an operating theater.
  • The Carnivorous Carnival (Series of Unfortunate Events #9) by Lemony Snicket

Just when I was convinced this series was getting a little too dark for me and I was wondering how my younger self missed all of this, Snicket draws back a little and The Carnivorous Carnival brings back the weird humor and ridiculousness. Here the Baudelaire orphans disguise themselves as freaks in a carnival to hide themselves from Olaf and his troupe while also learning more about the VFD. 

What I enjoyed about this book, which was kind of absent in the last couple of  books is that most of the secondary characters introduced are quite memorable. I don't think I'll ever forget about the carnival freak, Kevin, who is so monstrously deformed because he is ...ambidextrous. Additionally, it isn't any wonder that I was a know-it-all in school when this book takes the time to explain higher level vocabulary words in English and in French. Even the explanation of deja vu is accompanied by a word for word repeat of the first page of Chapter Five. 

I also can't move on to the next book without sharing my favorite Snicket quote: "It is hard for decent people to stay angry at someone who has burst into tears, which is why it is often a good idea to burst into tears if a decent person is yelling at you." 
  • The Slippery Slope (Series of Unfortunate Events #10) by Lemony Snicket

The unfortunate events that plague the Baudelaires continue once the carnival is destroyed. Now Violet and Klaus in a strange turn of events find themselves following Count Olaf in the hopes of reclaiming their kidnapped sister, Sunny, while also beating him to the location of the VFD at the top of the Mortmain Mountains. 

Out of all of the books in the series, this is the one book that I recalled the most about before I started this re-reading journey. I remember in middle school we had to do a report on each book we read before it could be counted towards our reading at home grade. Instead of picking a theme or a character to talk about, I decided to get crafty. I made a replica of the Verbal Fridge Dialogue that Klaus uses to decode the VFD's message, right down to including pictures of all of the items in the fridge. 

This book also does a pretty great job of fleshing out Violet, Klaus, and Sunny's each individual characters. Violet battles with the definition of what it means to be a villain and Sunny develops her own strategy of survival now that she's separated from her siblings. My favorite Snicket line from this book happens to be: " Fate is like a strange unpopular restaurant, filled with odd waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like." Again, what sage advice! 

I figure that's enough for one Nostalgiareads post, particularly since I should probably start thinking out wrapping up April's reads before June comes around. I do have to say that reading this book as an adult is a completely different experience from the first time around. I feel like I'm reading a whole other series of books. I think this is doing much more than affirming my feelings of nostalgia. Tune in again for another installment in the Nostalgiareads series, where I plan to finish up this rather exciting Series of Unfortunate Events!