Book the First: The Bad Beginning
The author, Lemony Snicket, lets the reader know right from the start that The Bad Beginning isn't going to have a happy ending, so if that's what you are looking for, then you "would be better of reading some other book." Snicket is very personable and often speaks directly to the reader as he tells these tales of the Baudelaire children. He appears to travel in well-to-do circles, running off on trips and lounging on friend's boats as he writes. He teaches the reader about words by constantly referring to their meaning. For example, when he writes about a meal that includes blanched green beans, he lets the reader know that "the word 'blanched' here means boiled."
The series of unfortunate events all happen to the Baudelaire children. They are Violet, the eldest child, who is a clever inventor, Klaus the middle child, who is a voracious reader and Sunny, who is so young that she only speaks in one-syllable exclamations that her siblings understand. Luckily, Snicket makes clear for the reader what she means. Her talent is biting, which strangely enough comes in useful at times.
In the first chapter, the children are playing at the beach when they find out that their parents "perished in a fire that destroyed the entire house." Mr. Poe, the banker who now handles the children's affairs, tells the children and escorts them to live with their uncle Count Olaf. He's a brutal man who treats the children like slaves. He is an actor and tries to get the children's money by getting Violet to wed him in a play, which through some maneuvering on Olaf's part would be legally binding. Klaus and Violet figure out the plan, but Sunny is held prisoner and threatened with death if Violet doesn't go through with it
The way Violet outsmarts Olaf makes absolutely no sense. I would be surprised if children believed it. Snicket tries to explain it away, but I thought of a number of different, believable scenarios that would have worked, so I was disappointed in the resolution.
One great bit of writing takes place when Snicket conveys Klaus' exhaustion as he reads a law book in an effort to figure out Olaf's plan. Snicket writes the sentence "He found himself reading the same sentence over and over" three times in a row. It made me think I was drifting off and I had a laugh when I discovered what had happened.