20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2012
I'm not a kid who grew up with and loved Lemony Snicket's Series/Unfortunate Events...I'm a 40-something who loved them...I was so happy to learn a new series was here...it has all the charm of the previous series and even more...adults are still the inmates running the asylum and from S. Theodora Markson to the "Officers Mitchum" to others, "Snicket" (Daniel Handler) has once again created some absurd, ridiculous, and unforgettable characters. The first appearance of "word which here means..." warmed my heart and soul considerably. There are some true giggle-out-loud moments but I won;t give them away in the review. You HAVE to read the book! In Ellington Feint he has drawn the best femme fatale since Jessica Rabbit and in Moxie Mallahan a sweet and intrepid sidekick. It's a genius of Handler that he captures the innocence and angst of affection between and among teens so well. Can;t wait for book #2. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
55 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Last year I was running a bookgroup for kids, ages 9-12, when the subject of children's books adapted into films came up. We talked about the relative success of Harry Potter, the bewildering movie that was City of Ember, and the gorgeous credit sequence for A Series of Unfortunate Events. Then one of the younger members, probably around ten years of age, turned to me and asked in all seriousness, "Do you think they'll ever make a movie out of The Spiderwick Chronicles?" I was momentarily floored. It's not often that kids will remind me that their memories of pop culture are limited to their own experiences, but once in a while it happens. This girl couldn't remember back five years to that very film adaptation. And why should she? She was five then! So when I see a new Lemony Snicket series acting as a kind of companion to the aforementioned A Series of Unfortunate Events I wonder how it will play out. The original series was popular around the time of that Spiderwick movie. Does that mean that the new series will founder, or will it be so successful that it brings renewed interest to the previous, still in print and relatively popular, books? Personally, I haven't a clue. All I know is that the latest Lemony Snicket series All the Wrong Questions is a work of clever references, skintight writing, and a deep sense of melancholy that mimics nothing else out there on the market for kids today. That's a good thing.
To be a success in Snicket's line of work it's important to know how to ask the right questions. And this is a problem since Snicket finds it difficult doing precisely that. He was supposed to meet his contact in the city. Instead, he finds himself whisked away to the country to a dying town called Stain'd-by-the-Sea. Once a bustling harbor, the town's water was removed leaving behind a creepy seaweed forest and an ink business that won't be around much longer. With his incompetent mentor S. Theodora Markson he's there to solve the mystery of a stolen statue. Never mind that the statue wasn't stolen, its owners don't care who has it, and their client isn't even a real person. When Snicket finds a girl looking for her father and learns the name of the insidious Hangfire things start to get interesting, not to mention dangerous. Can multiple mysteries be solved even if you keep following the wrong paths? Snicket's about to find out.
What is more dangerous: Evil or stupidity? It's a trick question since there's nothing "or" about it. If there's one lesson to be gleaned from the Snicket universe, it is that while evil is undesirable, stupidity is downright damaging. Many is the Series of Unfortunate Events book that would show clear as crystal that while stupid and ignorant people may not necessarily be evil in and of themselves, they do more to aid in evil than any routine bad guy ever could hope for. In All the Wrong Questions the adults in charge are still inane, but at least the kids have a bit of autonomy from them. Our hero, the young Snicket, is still omnipotent to a certain degree, and only cares to share personal information with the reader when the plot requires that he do so. And because the book is a mystery, he's almost required to move about at will. He just happens to be moving between stupid people much of the time.
Of course the trouble with having Lemony himself as your protagonist is that the guy is infamous for never giving you good news. If adult Snicket is the kind of guy who warns off readers (in a voice that I've always connected to Ben Stein) because of his own sad worldview, reading this series means that we are going to see failure at work. We saw failure at work with the Baudelaires but with them it was always the fault of the universe using them as punching bags more than their own inadequacies. That means that the author's trick with this book is to keep it from disintegrating into depression even as its hero ultimately screws up (yet seems to be doing the right thing the whole time). How do you pull this dichotomy off? Humor. Thank god for humor. Because like other post-modern children's mysteries (Mac Barnett's The Brixton Brothers, most notably) being funny is the key to simultaneously referencing old mystery tropes while commenting on them.
I always had a certain amount of difficulty figuring out how exactly to describe A Series of Unfortunate Events. The term "Gothic" just didn't quite cut it. PoMo Gothic, maybe. Or Meta-Gothic. Dunno. The All the Wrong Questions series makes it much easier on me. This book is noir. Noiry noir. Noiry noirish noirable noir. As if to confirm this the author drops in names like Dashiell and Mitchum, which like all of Snicket's jokes will fly over the heads of all the child readers and 82.5% of the adult readers as well (I kept a tally for a while of the references I knew that I myself was not getting, then just sort of stopped after a while). There are dames, or at least the 12-year-old equivalent of dames. There are Girl Fridays. There are mistaken identities and creepy abandoned buildings. There are also butlers who do things, but that's more of a drawing room murder mystery genre trope, so we're going to disregard it here.
Let us talk Seth. The man comes to fill the shoes left by Brett Helquist. He's a clever choice since there is nothing even slightly Helquistian to this comic legend. This is, to the best of my knowledge Seth's first work for children, though there may well be some obscure Canadian work of juvenilia in his past that I've missed. His work on the cover is remarkable in and of itself, but in the book he works primarily in chapter headings and the occasional full-page layout. The author must have relayed to Mr. Seth what images to do sometimes because there is a picture at the beginning and a picture at the end that continue the story above and beyond the written portions. As for the spreads inside, Seth does an admirable job of ever concealing young Snicket's face. He also lends a funny lightness to the proceedings, not something I would have expected walking into the novel.
There is a passage in the book where Snicket reflects on his life that just kills me. It comes a quarter of the way through the novel and is the clearest indication to the reader that the action in this novel happened a long time ago. It goes on for a while until finally ending with, "Stretched out in front of me was my time as an adult, and then a skeleton, and then nothing except perhaps a few books on a few shelves." Put another way, this isn't your average mystery novel for kids. It's not even your average Lemony Snicket novel. It is what it is, the first part in a new series containing a familiar character that need not be previously known to readers. I have no idea if kids will gravitate towards it, but if you've a hankering to recommend a beautifully written if uncommon mystery to kids that ask for that sort of thing (and they do, man, they do) hand this over. Worse case scenario, they don't like it. Best case scenario it blows their little minds. Blew mine anyway. Good stuff.
For ages 9-12.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2012
Lemony Snicket has always reminded me a little bit of Edward Gorey (which here means creating settings where a boy named Neville might just die of ennui (which here means boredom)) and Roald Dahl (which here means creating adult characters who act mean and stupid because that's what adults are).
His series of Unfortunate Events was immensely popular and as we all know following up one popular series of books with another is not easy. Harper Lee stopped after "To Kill a Mockingbird" which was probably a good thing. Stop while you're ahead. J.K. Rowling decided to write some more which would have only been a good idea if Harry Potter was still somehow involved.
But Lemony Snicket, in his new book "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" may have broken the trend. I found this book very readable (which here means I couldn't put it down) and his characters and setting perhaps more relatable and enjoyable than anything else he has previously written.
Dare I say that the thirteen-year-old Snicket who narrates the book is far more optimistic, caring and kind than his adult persona that narrates the Series of Unfortunate Events? Dare I say that this series may even hold more promise than his last?
There were times when this book reminded me of a twisted version of Encyclopedia Brown with Lemony as Brown and his lighthouse keeper's daughter friend Moxie as Encyclopedia Brown's trusty sidekick Sally. There was even a Bugs Meeny character. I loved Encyclopedia Brown and that this book reminded me of him is a good thing.
There were also times when Lemony reminded me of a young Sherlock Holmes, given his own Irene Adler and his own Baker Street Irregulars in the form of taxi cab enthusiasts Pip and Squeak.
All good things.
And good things make me want to read more.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 2012
This book was really... confusing... I really loved it, but at the same time I found it really annoying. For the most, just the right balance between dark & moody and wit & humor.
Great things in the book:
*) I loved the imagery; the settings were tangible and evocative and surreal - places from everyday life, but with a twist in unexpected ways
*) The word-smithing was delightful... clearly the author has a love of language and does a wonderful job of introducing exotic words (for the target age range) and providing context without derailing the story
Things I didn't like so much...:
*) All the adults in the book are portrayed as bumbling simpletons; it would have been nice to have a couple portrayed with more depth (disclaimer: being an adult myself perhaps I have a skewed perspective ;-) )
*) Despite the mystery and intrigue the story felt shallow in places; I wish there were more background to root the characters as I was often left disoriented
*) The ending left me feeling somewhat cheated... there could have been more resolution without limiting the potential for the rest of the series...
Overall, a good, enjoyable read. I will definitely get the next one in the series, but I'll probably wait to buy it in paperback.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2012
There was a book, and there was a twist and there was annoyance. I was reading said book, I was hit by a twist in it - which here means I was surprised by the writing inside it, not that it somehow managed to bend my body unnaturally - and when I was done with the book, I was annoyed.
I should've asked myself why I ever thought it would be any different than Lemony Snicket's other wonderful books, or why I even supposed it wouldn't be in the first place, but instead I asked myself all the wrong questions and thus I write this review, relaying to you my findings whilst reading Lemony Snicket's brand new book, Who Could That Be At This Hour?
This is a book about a boy in his apprenticeship being sent to an empty town surrounded by a waterless sea and a treeless forest, which are all in turn surrounded by mystifying mysteries extending as far as the non-astigmatic eye can see. The boy's name, in case you were (wrongfully) asking yourself, is Lemony Snicket, and the book contains his account on the finding and losing - then finding and losing yet again - of a seemingly unimportant statue of virtually no price at all.
I must say that I was rather skittish regarding Who Could That Be At This Hour?, as it is a sort-of-but-not-really sequel to Lemony Snicket's earlier-published series, A Series of Unfortunate Events. Seeing as there's a quite enormous gap between one series and the other, one would be prudent to feel skittishness regarding the new series, as sometimes authors lose track of the magic they managed to create at first, only to try and emulate it again and fail miserably at it.
I believed that to be the case as I read the first two chapters, however I was quickly proven wrong, which I consider to be as twisty as plot twists in middle grade books happen (not that I'm an expert on the area of middle grade plot twists, mind you. I'm sure there are loads of people who have profound knowledge of this area, however). Lemony Snicket's new adventure is as full of wonder, secrets, and questions left unanswered as his previous entries, and I was quite pleased to finish this book in total elation of what I'd just read.
However, I did mention that there was annoyance, and it would be quite redundantly neglectful of me to neglect to explain why: I would like the next book in this series, and I would like it as of this second. You've most certainly known people who throw absolute fits of frustration - or maybe thrown a few yourself - so I'm sure you need no help picturing myself as I hurl every object in sight on any flat surface in reach of me until the next book in this series comes out.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2012
When my girlfriend told me to read the article in the newspaper that Lemony Snicket was writing a new book, I was intrigued. We walked to my local bookshop and she got a copy for herself and we both read the first chapter. I was hooked, so I got a copy of my own. This 'autobiography' telling the stories of Snicket's early life was brilliantly written and I can't wait for the next book in the series. If they are All The Wrong Questions, I guess asking when the next one will come out is wrong as well?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2013
I am a HUGE Lemony Snicket fan in general, and the writing in this book is classic Snicket ... such a joy to blanket myself in that wonderful "voice" again! I can't believe I'm writing a less than stellar review of a work by one of my favorite authors, but maybe I can help to set someone else's expectations more realistically ...
My complaint has nothing to do with the writing, which is wonderful. My husband and I added this to the stack of books that we read to each other in the car, and we just finished it last week. We both enjoyed the ride, but we both felt at the end as if the end of the book was simply ... missing. Nothing was resolved. Nothing was really answered. Please don't misunderstand: It's not that the ending is a cliffhanger. It feels more as if someone has just taken a larger story (of undetermined length), cut the first half (or third, or who knows?) out at random, and packaged it to sell as a complete book without considering whether or not it works as one.
So we're a bit disappointed. I don't mind "serial" stories, but I do like to have at least one story "sub-arc" completed in a novel, even if other elements span multiple books.
Consequently, we're feeling a bit gunshy about this series so far ... we'll probably wait to read reviews of the next book to see if early readers have the same kind of experience with that one before we buy it. Again, don't get me wrong, the writing here is marvelous ... and if you're pretty confident you'll enjoy climbing on at Point A and getting carried along without particularly caring whether you ever arrive at Point B, then there's no reason not to board this train. If, on the other hand, you'd like your destination to BE there when the ride ends, you might want to wait for the series to mature a bit first.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I like Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler. Actually, I like and admire him. He is and has been willing to set off in his own direction, at his own speed, for his own purposes without apparent regard for the conventions of children's lit or the lack of precedent for his approach. That said, sometimes his books, especially the later "Series of Unfortunate Events" books, can be sour and brittle or just empty and clever for the sake of cleverness. (Although, you can also say that about authors like Roald Dahl and even Shel Silverstein if you want to get into an argument.)
In this series Snicket has more to work with and has a grander design. What you end up reading is a sort of kid noir magical realism. You have a deadpan, world weary, gimlet eyed 13 year old narrator with a dark sense of humor and a seen-it-all vibe. But, this isn't your typical middle or high school noir in which each school kid plays a younger version of an established noir type, (cheerleader as femme fatale, jock as a goon, isolated nerdy guy as criminal mastermind, and so on). Rather, Snicket sets his deadpan just-the-facts-ma'am hero in an odd, illogical and twisted world filled with fantastical features. It's as though he set a kid's production of "Dragnet" in Oz, (thankfully, without the magic or the flying monkeys).
The effect is a restrained yet surreal tale in which the prosaic and exceptional swirl around to create an unstable world. Sometimes this can be upsetting to adult readers, who expect a cute fun story from "Lemony Snicket". But while they are surprised by the unsettled and contrary Snicket world, kids take to it. Maybe it's because kid readers don't have settled expectations or aren't committed to conventional approaches and so respond well to the freedom of a Snicket book.
These books remind me a lot of Daniel Pinkwater's playfully mystical books, (say, The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and SavedCivilization or Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl), but where Pinkwater is lively and upbeat the Snicket books all have a strong undercurrent of melancholy. That's potent stuff for a younger reader, but there's nothing wrong with a challenge.
So, all of this is the long way around to saying that this book is sort of a mystery, and possibly a fantasy/adventure, and maybe a coming of age story, and conceivably just a big goof on all of us - but whatever it is it seems to me it would be great fun and a bit mind expanding for a confident and adventurous middle level reader.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2013
What a fabulous start to the series. I picked up this book immediately when I read it was a Lemony Snicket book. No questions asked. Not even having read the synopsis. I picked it up and walked straight to the cash register.
Once I was out of the bookstore, I began to have my doubts. I flipped through the pages and the font size worried me. The illustrations even more so. I wondered whether I had erred in purchasing this book without knowing what it's really about or who its intended audience is (which here means I'm 25). It looked like a children's book, and don't get me wrong, it is! Indubitably.
What I failed to remember at the time of doubt was that several years ago I had read and enjoyed each and every one of his A Series of Unfortunate Events books (those had a sizable font and illustrations also). I figured, I will read it and probably conclude it in a matter of hours. I was correct.
However, I didn't think I was going to enjoy it as much as I did! Nor that I would enjoy it - dare I say - even more so than his first series! I was sad to see it end, frustrated at having to wait for another 3 installments, and terribly curious about what happens next!
Thirteen year old Lemony Snicket is a charming, intelligent, witty and quite optimistic young man - that is in comparison to his older self in the Unfortunate series - he is also, as we all know him to be, quite pragmatic. He hooks you in from page 1, and from then on, takes you on a strange and bizarre journey into his world, where you have a rare chance of delving into his mind as he meets some of the oddest characters and makes both friends and enemies.
As a young detective, he learns that he keeps asking all the wrong questions. The series tell the stories of four questions that he wrongly asked, starting with the first "Who Could That Be at This Hour?"
I loved it, and I would recommend it to both children and adults.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2012
There is a book that is strangely addicting and very mysterious. I am talking about none other than Lemony Snicket's latest Who Could That Be At This Hour? which covers Mr. Snicket's apprenticeship with V.F.D. Who Could That Be At This Hour? is the first book in a 4 book series which serves as a sort of prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events. I was very impressed with this Middle Grade mystery which really exceeded all my expectations.
The most rewarding part of this book is really the mysterious and often strange prose. Lemony Snicket wrote Who Could That Be.. in the same style as A Series of Unfortunate Events. The writing is as
oddly brilliant and witty as you would expect from Lemony Snicket. This book is written in a way that really engrossed me and I couldn't stop reading at all.
Everything is not what it seems in Stain'd By The Sea, a strange town that is mostly abandoned. Lemony Snicket recalls his apprenticeship with S.Theodora Markson, a woman who won't admit what the S. stands for! Lemony Snicket needs to solve the mystery of the Bombinating Beast which is looks like a rabid seahorse. Can Snicket find the Bombinating Beat while avoiding asking All The Wrong Questions?
While reading Who Could That Be At This Hour?, I was taken on a journey unlike anything I have read before. Lemony Snicket is as delightfully sinister as he was in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Frankly if you love A Series of Unfortunate Events like I do, Who Could That Be At This Hour? is a must read. Who Could That Be At This Hour is a fast and fun book that you won't want to miss out on. I highly recommend this book for fans of fun mysteries that keep you longing for more. If you're asking yourself "Should I read this book?", you're asking yourself All The Wrong Questions.