Okay, here's another semi-annual book report. It seems I haven't done one of these since, let's see, early August? Hmmm. Brace yourselves: that's a lot of reading in these parts.
Walking Through Walls: A Memoir by Philip Smith. This one is hard to describe: the memoir of a guy whose father was an interior decorator to the Miami rich during the 1950s (yep, his dad has a lot of interesting stories to tell). What makes the memoir even weirder, and yet more compelling, is that Smith's father also was regarded as an extremely talented "psychic," for lack of a better word. Through a mystical regime of fasting, yoga and all sorts of New Age exercises, his father transformed himself into a psychic healer. It's really difficult for me to accept at face value all the anecdotes that Smith tells of his father -- an ability to heal people through mental energy? stopping ants from invading your Florida house by "talking" to them psychically? -- but the author seems sincere in his belief that these things actually occurred. Whether or not you accept it as literal truth, it certainly is an entertaining and offbeat read.
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. Mixes the current-day fictional story of a young man who grew up in a polygamous sect with the based-on-history story of Ann Eliza Webb, who was one of Brigham Young's wife (possibly the 19th wife). Fascinating stuff.
Exit Music by Ian Rankin, is the latest in the gritty John Rebus detective series set in Edinborough, Scotland. When this book opens, Rebus is about to retire from the force -- and he, and his partner Siobhan have all sorts of mixed feelings about his imminent departure. You can always rely on Rankin for a solid, entertaining mystery with lots of local color.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. This book, published in the US posthumously, got a lot of press; I found it to be quite a bit overhyped. The beginning is especially slow to get moving, although the pace picked up about a third of the way through. The book begins with a magazine publisher being found guilty of libeling a prominent industrialist, although the reader is told that he was set up. The publisher then gets a strange invitation from another wealthy industrialist to move to his remote village and write a family history -- including solving the long-ago murder of a cousin. Not a bad read, but I had to persevere through the first few chapters. This one needed a good edit.
The Calling by Inger Ash Wolf. Wolf is the pseudonym of "a well-known and well-regarded North American writer." If you Google the pseudonym, you find a lot of articles speculating as to the real identity of the author, but, well, who cares? This is a decent mystery about a Canadian detective who is not the typical protagonist of a mystery novel: in her sixties, with serious back problems, living with her mother. She's tracking a scary serial killer with a religious fetish.
A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read. I got a kick out of this one; another mystery, but the main character is a former debutante, daughter of a WASP family with old money. Her ambivalent attitude toward her family and its social prominence, and the insider's look at what it's like to grow up in a family whose prominence and wealth has faded in recent times, was interesting, and it was a keep-you-guessing-til-the-end kind of mystery.
Between Here and April by Deborah Kopaken Cagen. The protagonist in the book is a mom of two, juggling a freelance career with her struggling marriage and the chaos of young children. When she begins having fainting episodes, she consults a psychiatrist, and discovers disturbing memories of a childhood friend who went missing. Some of Lizzie's turmoil has to do with problems in her marriage, her own mother's failings, and her repression of a brutal incident while on a photojournalist's shoot. But some of what Lizzie investigates is the unpleasant side of being a mom -- i.e. how exhausting giving one's all to a child can be; how childrearing can sap the energy & vitality out of even a good marriage; how even the most loving and doting mother sometimes wants to beat the crap out of her kids because no one else knows how to push her buttons as well as they do. Yep, it's heavy stuff, and a bit melodramatic at times, but thought-provoking.
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (not to be confused with Anne of Cleves). How could I refuse to read a mystery set on the Shetland Isles? I enjoyed the story of a lonely detective oddly named Jimmy Perez, who grew up on the Isles and now investigates crimes there. When a teenager is killed, Perez has to investigate her death, and figure out if recluse Magnus Tait did it -- or if he's been blamed for someone else's crime.
Christine Falls is another brooding mystery set in 1950s Ireland, written by a Booker Prize winner under a pseudonym. The main character is a pathologist who discovers his stepbrother altering a file at the city morgue.
Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina, is part of a series of mysteries set in 1980s Glasgow. Another fast-paced read with newspaper reporter Paddy Meehan investigating the death of her former lover, who was also a journalist.
Goodnight, Irene by Jan Burke. Breathlessly billed on the cover as a favorite of Bill Clinton, this is another fast-paced mystery with a newspaper reporter as the main character. Irene Kelly is a reporter at a small newspaper in southern California investigating the abrupt death of her friend and mentor.
The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman tells the story of a college professor who returns to Italy to serve as advisor for a film about Shakespeare. The professor also is trying to figure out why one of her star students fell (or was pushed) off the balcony of a high building just before he was scheduled to spend the summer in Italy working on the same film.
And yes, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, the teen novel about a high school girl who falls in love with a modern-day vampire.