Young Readers

The Bad Beginning

by Lemony Snicket HarperCollins 192 pp., $8.95 Grades 4 to 7

Dear Reader, I'm sorry to say that this book is extremely unpleasant. It tells the sad story of three unfortunate but clever orphans who must fend off a wicked relative who is determined to oppress them, steal their fortune, and feed them very cold porridge for breakfast.

Violet Baudelaire, the eldest at 14, has a knack for inventing strange devices. Her 12-year-old brother, Klaus, is a true intellectual and scholar. Sunny Baudelaire, the baby, likes to bite things.

The wheezy villain, Count Olaf, takes the children to his filthy house, which is covered with pictures of eyes. While forcing the orphans to cook and clean, he and the grotesque members of his theater troupe devise a scheme so wicked that I couldn't possibly describe it in a family newspaper. If you want to solve this mystery, you'll just have to ignore my warnings and read the book yourself.

The arch-sounding narrator may seem witty and explanatory, but do not be fooled. This book is filled with disaster and mystery and long knives and poisonous snakes and itchy clothing.

It's the first of Lemony Snicket's new "Series of Unfortunate Events," and I'm sorry to say that his next book is no happier. In book No. 2, "The Reptile Room," the orphans are delighted to find refuge - a word that here means a home far from Count Olaf's dirty clutches - with their uncle Dr. Montgomery Montgomery. (You can say that again.) He's a very fun, but fatally naive herpetologist.

Unlike the good snake doctor, this series promises to have a long, productive life.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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