A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket (actually Daniel Handler, who insists he isn't Mr. Snicket when he does book signings).

  1. The Bad Beginning
  2. The Reptile Room
  3. The Wide Window
  4. The Miserable Mill
  5. The Austere Academy
  6. The Ersatz Elevator
  7. The Vile Village
  8. The Hostile Hospital
  9. The Carnivorous Carnival
  10. The Slippery Slope
  11. The Grim Grotto
  12. The Penultimate Peril
  13. The End

See also: Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography and The Beatrice Letters.

This is a remarkably funny series for intermediate readers. It is sort of an anti-fairy tale, because as the backs of the books and all their introductions warn, there are no happy endings. The villains get away. People die in horrid ways. Ridiculously bad situations occur regularly. And there seems to be no end in sight for the poor protagonists: The Baudelaire orphans.

The story centers around Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire and their eternal attempts to escape the nefarious Count Olaf, who wishes to steal their fortune and cause them bodily harm, preferably in that order. After their parents perish in a house fire, the Baudelaires are taken from caretaker to caretaker by Mr. Poe, their late parents' good friend and Orphan Affairs manager at a bank. Their first guardian is Count Olaf himself, who reveals himself as villainous scum almost immediately as he tries to hatch a plan to steal the fortune that the Baudelaires will inherit when they come of age.

The rest of the series involves Count Olaf tracking the orphans down in whatever bizarre circumstances they've encountered this time. He follows them to every new residence, sometimes enlisting the help of his acting troupe, and dons a ridiculous disguise of some sort as he plots to steal their fortune. No one ever believes that he is really Count Olaf no matter how many positive identifications the Baudelaires get under their belts; he is always able to hide his one long eyebrow and the tattoo of an eye he has on his ankle. The Baudelaires, also having the problems of their strange situations to deal with, have quite a time getting out of their predicaments, but by combining Violet's inventing skills, Klaus's amazing literacy, and Sunny's four sharp baby teeth, they always manage to construct a plan.

Things complicate when Olaf's plans include kidnapping their friends the Quagmire triplets in the fifth book of the series. After that point they not only have to try to track the Quagmires down (and figure out the secret of V.F.D.), but also avoid Olaf and attempt to stay alive despite Mr. Poe's increasingly ridiculous choices of residence for them.

The books contain several idiosyncracies. First of all, Mr. Snicket portrays the events of the Baudelaire orphans' lives as real events that he is personally researching and cataloguing, seemingly very reluctantly at that. He warns you that you should not be reading these and he wishes he was not writing them. Secondly, every book is dedicated to a mysterious Beatrice, with whom Mr. Snicket apparently was smitten. The dedications always mention that she is dear to him . . . and that she is dead. Usually in a very humorous way (such as "For Beatrice--My love for you shall live forever. You, however, did not."). Another common element is the constant definition of unusual words in the story; large vocabulary is sometimes used, and then immediately defined in narration in some silly way. And lastly, since Sunny is a baby, she talks baby talk--usually single-word exclamations that her brother and sister can somehow understand and usually translate.

This series definitely chronicles horrid events, but it is not scary in the least because it is so unrealistic in many respects. Most of the adults in the stories seem completely insane or have unusual hobbies or obsessions (such as impeccable grammar or fashion), and many mysteries are unraveled and hurdles overcome in ridiculous ways (such as Klaus decoding a completely ambiguous note or Sunny climbing up an elevator shaft using only her teeth). These come highly recommended not only for children, who will enjoy the story, but also for adults, because of the obscure references and the off-the-wall humor. There are thirteen books, the first having been released in 1999; beginning with The Carnivorous Carnival, it was announced that there would only be one book released a year. The End is the last volume in the thirteen-book series.