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From Barnes & NobleThe Bad Beginning is actually a great beginning. It's the first book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, a wonderfully different and disastrous children's story starring three highly unlucky siblings. In this first book, readers are introduced to the unfortunate Baudelaire children -- 14-year-old Violet, 12-year-old Klaus, and their infant sister, Sunny -- when they learn they've just been orphaned by a terrible house fire.
The executor of the Baudelaire estate -- a phlegm-plagued banker named Mr. Poe -- sends the children to live with a distant relative: a conniving and dastardly villain named Count Olaf, who has designs on the Baudelaire fortune. Count Olaf uses the children as slave labor, provides horrid accommodations for them, and makes them cook huge meals for him and his acting troupe, a bunch of odd-looking, renegade good-for-nothings. When the children are commandeered to appear in Count Olaf's new play, they grow suspicious and soon learn that the play is not the innocent performance it seems but rather a scheme cooked up by Olaf to help him gain control of the children's millions.
All this bad luck does provide for both great fun and great learning opportunities, however. Violet is a budding McGyver whose inventions help the children in their quest, Klaus possesses a great deal of book smarts, and Sunny -- whose only real ability is an incredibly strong bite -- provides moral support and frequent comedy relief. Then there are the many amusing word definitions, colloquialisms, clichés, hackneyed phrases, and other snippets of language provided by the narrator (a character in his own right) that can't help but expand readers' vocabularies. Though the Baudelaire children suffer myriad hardships and setbacks, in the end they do manage to outsmart and expose Olaf's devious ways. But of course, with luck like theirs, it's a given that Olaf will escape and return to torment them again some day. If only misery was always this much fun. (Beth Amos)