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BOOKSELLER EMERITUS - As Joyce Moore's husband, Allen is one of our landlords. Joyce shaped and nurtured City Lights Bookstore for over 23 years before selling the business in January 2010.
Polyglot, ecologist, writer, Mac Wizard, multitalented musician, electrician, plumber, accountant, analytic reader - the list goes on. Allen is a good guy to have around when we get him away from a very busy retirement that includes bag piping, diatom research and writing science fiction.
This latest novel by the author of The Jane Austen Book Club is both one of the funniest and most disturbing I've encountered recently. It reads convincingly like a first-person family memoir – a family united and torn apart by secrets -- told by Rosemary Cooke, long an only child but wondering about a brother and sister who have disappeared and that nobody will talk about. Indirection is a fundamental value in her family (ostensibly to protect her emotionally-fragile mother), and she has learned it well and applies it to telling her story. She begins in the middle and works backwards and forwards -- a plan once suggested by her psychologist father – leaving holes in the narrative for things she didn't know at the time, for things she did know but isn't ready to tell you, and for a few things she thinks she knows but might have dreamed or made up.
I'm not going to spoil the author's plan by telling you too much; spoilers don't usually bother me, but I got a lot of pleasure out of being surprised when she was ready to surprise me. Her writing is great – light, agile and funny – which makes the darknesses all the more wrenching. You'll want to read this book, and you won't quickly forget it.
How much can you trust your own memory when you've barely survived a bullet in the head? Questions like these convolute this mystery-thriller beyond the norm of the genre.
Lighthouses are such a fixture of the North Carolina coast that we take them for granted, but the concept and the technology was developed in England and Scotland, largely through the perseverance and genius of the family Stevenson. Robert Louis Stevenson was a scion of this family, and a disappointment to his father when he showed little interest or aptitude for engineering, showing a bent instead for frivolous pursuits (such as writing classics of English literature). I learned here that lighthouses were not universally admired -- whole towns made their living by salvaging (or pillaging) wrecked ships, and a light to warn away their economic base was the last thing their people wanted. The places where lighthouses needed to be built were another challenge -- the descriptions of the violence of the sea on these exposed headlands makes enthralling reading.
This surprising book, part history, part fiction, and part first-hand observation, presents Mowat's detailed theory that Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador had already been settled by Christian Europeans before the Vikings first visited these places. (Columbus doesn't even merit dismissal as the discoverer of the New World.) Illustrated with maps, drawings, and Mowat's own photographs of dry-stone towers and the foundations of boat-roofed houses, and interspersed with the opinions of archeological researchers, Mowat makes an intriguingly persuasive case that cries out for further study. -Allen Moore
This off-beat Down Under adventure begins in an insular and newly-wealthy fishing village with its own rough ways of enforcing the monopoly on status of the locals, and ends up traversing an awful lot of Australia. The characters are tortured and strange and have some grisly secrets, but their struggles with themselves and each other make enthralling, and ultimately satisfying, reading.
For those of you who enjoyed "The Poisonwood Bible," this is another autobiographical (and less fictionalized) story of a girl growing up in Africa. The viewpoint is quirky -- a white farmer trying to keep his footing in an Africa moving out from under colonial status. No matter what your starting point, this book will challenge your assumptions. But it isn't about the politics, it's about the people -- stubborn, restless, brave, psychotic, ... The author is truly an appealingly tough-minded young woman who has lived through turbulent times with her good humor and her underlying love of Africa intact.
and by the way, I really liked "The Poisonwood Bible" too...
Did you know that it's almost impossible to measure your longitude unless you have a really accurate clock? Preferably one that is not affected by the movement (and temperature changes, and corrosion) on board a sailing ship? This is the story of the seventeenth-century quest for a means, and the battle for acceptance of the inventor of such a clock against the Astronomer Royal, who was sure the same end could be accomplished by astronomical observations on the moon. (It can't.) This book is satisfying for the technically- and historically-minded, but it lives through the human dimension -- the personal struggles, the rivalries, the machinations. The original edition had only a few illustrations of the incredible machinery described, but an illustrated edition is now available.
For those who have read the Patrick O'Brien books, this will give you a new insight into how it was that Captain Awbrey was also an astronomer and a mathematician!
Charlotte Bronte meets Terry Pratchett! In an "alternate reality" England where Wales is an Iron Curtain People's Republic and the Crimean War has been going on for 131 years, heroine Thursday Next goes up against a fiendish villain who is threatening characters in classic works of fiction. Time-travel paradoxes confronted with aplomb, and it's especially enthralling if you don't actually know or remember "Jane Eyre" very well. I enjoyed reading this in parallel with the model, and getting to know Mr. Rochester through the eyes of two (very) different women.
This book is a rare bird: a true adventure about birdwatching. It follows the tribulations of three unlikely competitors, locked in a struggle to beat a previous record and tally the most bird species seen by an individual in North America in a single calendar year -- a record "Big Year" in birding parlance. The author is himself a competent birder, and the story is told authoritatively and with unfailing dry humor. The competitors are quirky and driven, and I soon was caught up in their shared obsession. I learned a lot about birds -- and more about birders. -- Allen Moore
Alice was framed! A refugee princess from a Wonderland brutally conquered by her aunt, the Red Queen, Alice Heart tries to tell her story to the Reverend Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), but he thinks she's making it up and converts her story into a pretty fantasy. The reality is much grimmer, as Alice seeks to right the wrongs and defeat the evil Red Queen and her deadly shape-shifting minion, the Cheshire Cat. Definitely not for children, but highly recommended!
- Allen Moore
The charming portrait of the young Einstein on the cover is a fair foretaste of the contents of this highly readable new look at this iconic scientist. There's plenty about the science to cut through the mystery of what he accomplished - and what he didn't: though he originated the concept of photons as quanta, he never accepted the fundamentals of quantum physics and spent the last half of his life searching in vain for a field theory to displace it. And though he was a gentle and supportive mentor to young physicists, he could be chillingly detached from the people closest to him. But on balance, it seems the man earned much of the adulation he received during his lifetime.
- Allen Moore
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