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S.Elliott has commented on (24) products.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Signet Classics) by Baroness Orczy
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Signet Classics)

S.Elliott, May 4, 2010

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a daring and romantic adventure — shy on literary merit, heavy in plot — and well worth reading. How is this not even more of a classic? It should be read out loud at nighttime to a group of anxious children in footed pajamas. It should rest alongside Treasure Island and Alexandre Dumas. Major kudos too for the fact that it is written by a woman. Who said men get to write all the fun high-adventure stuff?

I was riveted by this swashbuckling tale, following each twist and turn with baited breath. It took me roughly fifty pages to get a good feel for the pacing, but about 1/4 of the way through, the story took a sudden leap and I LOVED it. Marguerite St. Just is your stereotypical woman in distress and her decision to help the evil Chauvelin in order to save her brother Armand from the guillotine is equal parts heroic and stupid. If she wants to save Armand, she has to help Chauvelin capture the Scarlet Pimpernel. However, as she works with the corrupt Frenchman, she soon starts to realize that she’s in love with the man in disguise. He is everything her whimpy, goofy, annoying husband is not. But THEN…oh well, I won’t spoil it for you…but let me tell you: It’s just one fun thing after another.

What I love most is Chauvelin’s true villainy. He is the embodiment of corruption and evil. Unrelenting and sadistic. He always has a sly smile or he’s rubbing his hands together — spinning his French moustache between his horrible little fingers. This book has clearly defined who you are rooting for and who you are rooting against. And I find that refreshing among today’s contemporary literature that wants to throw any idea of a “hero/heroine” out the window. I get tired of reading books with unlikable characters. Who am I supposed to care about? The pedophile? The shoplifter? The kid who kills animals? Oh…all of them? Ugh.

Sometimes I just want a dashing Englishman to save the day and make an evil Frenchman look stupid.

The Scarlet Pimpernel requires some suspension of disbelief, but it’s totally a fun book. I’m glad I read it.
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Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman
Einstein's Dreams

S.Elliott, May 4, 2010

What if I told you there was a way to make Einstein’s theory of relativity accessible? I know, right? But this book provides the non-physicist a way to conceptualize those theories of time that have long eluded people like me who have taken their notions of time and the space-time continuum from “Back to the Future” and LOST.

Lightman is a physicist and an instructor of Humanities at MIT. And he has written a book that operates on the premise that while Einstein was working on his theory of relativity in Switzerland, he would dream up a new concept of time every night. Those “dreams” are then recorded into these poetic vignettes — and woven between the dreams are small interludes into Einstein’s life.

The book reads quickly — if you have a few hours (on a plane, sitting in a coffee shop) you could devour the whole book in one sitting. I think the book then begs to be read again — it is so ridiculously quotable. I found myself itching to grab a pencil and mark the whole thing up…but it wasn’t my book — and post-its weren’t going to cut it this time. I’ll buy my own copy. It’s worth keeping around on a shelf — to flip through, to ponder. I was fully drawn into the dreams; I was pondering time in new ways. And since I carried this book around with me all during conferences on Thursday and through staff-development on Friday, I had half-a-dozen people say, “I LOVE that book. It’s fantastic!”

Yes, it really is fantastic. Not in a plot-driven way. Not in a development of character way. But in a way that has staying power. In a way that will effect the way you view time forever. Read it. It’s worth it.
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The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig
The Post-Office Girl

S.Elliott, May 4, 2010

I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to this book. Post World-War-I Austria? Dark and despairing? Written and left unfinished by Zweig — discovered after his suicide in a pile of papers? I couldn’t imagine that all those glowing reviews would mean that I would like it — I mean, that hasn’t been a good indication before.

But I love this book. I’m in love with this small book from Austria. It has classic written all over it — it’s quotable and powerful; Zweig had his pulse on the human condition and Christine is a fantastic tragic character. In some ways the story seems cliche: Your basic rags to riches plot. But it’s rags to riches to rags again — and therein lies the emotional foundation where Zweig builds his narrative. It’s fascinating to me that he wrote this in the 1930s, it wasn’t published until the 1980s, and it wasn’t translated into English until 2008. He has been virtually impossible to read in the United States until the last few years — non-existent to American readers. It totally makes me wonder what else is out there waiting to be discovered.

The Post-Office Girl is just as poignant today as it could have been in the 1930s. The themes are universal, timeless. I’ve read so much about the horrors of communism, this book makes one thing clear: Capitalism isn’t a picnic either. Christine takes care of her dying mother in an impoverished Austria; then she lives the dream in Switzerland with her aunt and uncle; then she is discarded like garbage; after that she finds solace in Ferdinand, a rebel from the war. It is with Ferdinand where the book ends — a striking ending, with absolute uncertainty – that buries itself deep within your brain. Is Christine really out of options? Is this ending her only hope?

I’m so sad for Stefan Zweig — who committed to a suicide pact with his wife while living in total fear of a Nazi/Communist world. A Jewish man living in exile of his home country, his deep sadness for the future of the world is evident in this particular book. His legacy as a writer was buried for years, but I hope that a new generation discovers his works and brings his man into the recognition he deserves. Yes, I stumbled across this book…but I’m so glad I did. Pick this up. It will remind you of The Great Gatsby, it will ring with truth and sadness; it begs teaching. Maybe I’m over-selling it a bit, but I hope not. Tonight, when I finished it, I was totally sad it was over.
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In the Memory of the Forest by Charles T. Powers
In the Memory of the Forest

S.Elliott, May 4, 2010

This book is like molasses. Or like a Miramax film vying for an Academy Award for Best Picture — beautiful and evocative, but slow-moving toward its riveting denouement. The book is rich on atmosphere and the characters are fully-formed, the story is sweeping.

But it doesn’t have the break-neck speed of your average mystery novel. I think describing it as a mystery is misleading. It’s a multi-faceted piece of literature, with layers upon layers of story and history: Passion, guilt, cover-ups, Communism, redemption.
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The Bridge at Andau
The Bridge at Andau

S.Elliott, May 4, 2010

Michener is a pro — there is no doubt about that. When it comes to history, the man knew how to suck you in.

There is so much to talk about with this book — so much that moved me and disturbed me. I can picture the brutality of a communist Hungary, the bloodshed during the revolution, and the panic-stricken refugees as they crossed a tiny foot bridge to freedom. I read the final pages of this book bleary-eyed: Stories of parents drugging their children so they could carry them silently past Soviet border guards and a dad who swam three times across an icy river taking his kids in turn to Austria — knowing that if he delayed even for a second, he would be a witness to the Russians gunning them down.

Michener’s account of the refugees fleeing Hungary was firsthand. Communist guards who were sympathetic to the Hungarians solicited his help to carry children across the border. He interviewed these young men and women mere moments after they acquired freedom from a government that oppressed them, lied to them, and killed the spirit of their country.

This whole story is engaging. Read it.
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