Fans of Lemony Snicket's wonderful Series of Unfortunate Events won't be surprised to find that in the sixth installment the three Baudelaire orphans' new home proves to be something of a mixed bag. As our ever sad but helpful narrator states, "Although 'a mixed bag' sometimes refers to a plastic bag that has been stirred in a bowl, more often it is used to describe a situation that has both good parts and bad parts. An afternoon at the movie theater, for instance, would be a mixed bag if your favorite movie were showing, but if you had to eat gravel instead of popcorn. A trip to the zoo would be a very mixed bag if the weather were beautiful, but all of the man-and woman-eating lions were running around loose." And so it is for the bad-luck Baudelaires. Their fancy new 71-bedroom home on 667 Dark Avenue is inhabited by Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor (the city's sixth most important financial advisor), and her kindly husband, Jerome, who doesn't like to argue. Esmé is obsessed by the trends du jour (orphans are "in"), and because elevators are "out," Sunny, Violet, and Klaus have to trudge up 66 flights of stairs to reach the Squalors' penthouse apartment. (Other unfortunate trends include pinstripe suits, aqueous martinis--water with a faint olive-y taste--parsley soda, and ocean decorations.)
As the book begins, the Baudelaires are not only frightened in anticipation of their next (inevitable) encounter with the evil, moneygrubbing Count Olaf but they are also mourning the disappearance of their dear new friends from The Austere Academy, the Quagmires. It doesn't take long for Olaf to show up in another of his horrific disguises... but if he is on Dark Avenue, what has he done with the Quagmires? Once again, the resourceful orphans use their unique talents (Violet's inventions, Klaus's research skills, and the infant Sunny's strong teeth) in a fruitless attempt to escape from terrible tragedy. Is there a gleam of hope for the orphans and their new friends? Most certainly not. The only thing we can really count on are more gloriously gloomy adventures in the seventh book, The Vile Village. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson
From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-In the fourth (HarperCollins, 2000) delightfully doleful tale of the Baudelaire orphans and their wicked antagonist, Count Olaf, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are sent to live with the owner of the Lucky Smells Sawmill and discover that they are to labor in the mill under the most inhuman of conditions. Not only are they given only five minutes for lunch, but lunch is just a piece of gum! Pay consists of coupons ("buy two get one free") the workers can't use. When Klaus's eyeglasses are broken, he is sent to an eye doctor whose receptionist proves to be Count Olaf in disguise. Soon the children realize that Count Olaf and the eye doctor are scheming to get the children's fortune. All the elements of silent movie serials are here: cliff hanging chapter endings, villainous adults, and even a climactic scene in which the one person who has tried to help the orphans is tied to a log and pushed toward a buzzing saw. Fortunately, at the last moment the eye doctor falls into the blade instead. Of course, the orphans escape Olaf''s clutches once again, but he eludes capture and we know it will not be long before the orphans will fall victim to his schemes again. The reader is purported to be Lemony Snicket, and he uses just the right dismal tone to relate these wretched happenings. This audiobook is sure to fly off the shelf in libraries where the Snicket series is popular (is there any library where it is not?), and most school and public librarians will want to add it to their collections.
Louise L. Sherman, formerly Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, NJ
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