Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sidetracked by Henning Mankell

Another installment in the Kurt Wallander series. This tough Swedish police detective finds himself up against a mysterious and horrible serial killer who is murdering middle-aged men and scalping them for good measure. For a change, the reader knows pretty well from the outset who the killer is but the police are chasing down dead ends because their killer doesn't fit the stereotype they're looking for.

It took me weeks to read this one as I only had bits of time at bedtime for reading, but it was satisfying enough to keep my interest in spite of reading it in little chunks. I'm enjoying Mankell's books immensely and always keen to get the next one from the library once I've finished a title. Isn't it great when you discover a good writer with a big back catalogue? This series even has a British TV adaptation which I will be interested in trying once I've read all the books and know I can avoid plot spoilers.

Friday, August 06, 2010

A whole bunch of books I've read lately

I'm reading a lot lately but don't feel like I have time to properly review these books. So here's a brief run-down of them.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
The second title in the Flavia DeLuce series about an inquisitive and unconventional girl who solves mysteries in a quiet English village. It was about as amusing and entertaining as the first book: readable and enjoyable, but not in a compulsive sort of way.

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith
I am always happy to gobble up more of this guy's books. They are artless and rarely introduce any shocking or new material but the comfortable familiarity of his writing style and characters make for a satisfying, light and quick read.

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell
This time around Mankell introduces a South African cast of characters who are using a Swedish base to train an assassin. I liked the story and enjoyed reading about South Africa well enough, but I really like Kurt Wallander and wanted to mostly read about him so I got impatient with all the chapters that he didn't feature in. There's something compelling about that guy.

Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum
The librarians suggested I could try this author while I waited for the next Henning Mankell novel, which I had put on hold and was impatient to read. I liked it, and will probably read more of her stuff. Fossum is good at creating an atmosphere.

Tongue of Serpents by Naomi Novik
I am pretty much always impatient for the next novel in the Temeraire series, except when I'm reading one. I think I finished this one in under 36 hours, and probably would have read even more quickly if I didn't have to deal with Real Life stuff (we're moving). Anyway, I really liked it. This novel was a bit of a departure from the Napoleonic War focus of the series, and featured Laurence and a ragtag band of misfits chasing around Australia for several months. I'm hoping to get back to the war in the next novel though as it does create a nice bit of tension and lots of action.

I'm pretty sure I've forgotten a book or two here. It's very difficult to keep track of all this reading; it would be nice if the library were to keep track of everything I sign out so I can browse through my record there and see what I've read already.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Somehow, this novel did not come up on my radar until now, even though it came out last fall; I guess I have been doing too good a job of staying out of bookstores! I've enjoyed all of Barbara Kingsolver's past novels (except, strangely, I never could get into The Poisonwood Bible - I keep thinking I should try it again) and couldn't wait to bury myself in The Lacuna.

Harrison Shepherd is a child of both Mexico and the United States. Born at the turn of the 20th century, he grows up partly in Washington DC and mostly in Mexico, learns to cook, becomes an assistant to the famous painters Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and eventually to Trotsky, who takes refuge in Rivera's household when exiled from Stalinist Russia. Shepherd grows up with a compulsion to write and this novel is a neat mixture of diaries, letters and news articles written by or about Shepherd as he eventually becomes a famous novelist living in North Carolina. The Lacuna is filled with symbolism and political commentary, and gave me some insight into the ideological struggles that took place in the first half of the 20th century in North America.

Like many of Kingsolver's novels, this book is beautifully written and has an epic feel to it. As Shepherd witnesses history and culture, so do we, the readers - there's a great deal of rich detail to help us feel what it was like to live in the times and places she chose to set the novel. The descriptions of Mexico and its people were so vivid that I wanted to jump on a plane and go there to be part of this colourful place, although I've never before had any interest in visiting the country. Harrison Shepherd himself wasn't a particularly memorable character - I found him somewhat bland - and yet somehow this worked really well for me because he is a writer and the story is told mostly through his personal writing about what he sees, hears and feels. In a way I think if he had been too flamboyant of a character the novel wouldn't have worked as well.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed this book quite a bit and I have a feeling it's going to stay with me for a while yet - there's still so much to think about and mull over.

Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson

Charleson is a volunteer search-and-rescue worker who is also a dog lover, and after working closely with a team that included some trained dogs she was inspired to adopt a Golden Retriever puppy and train her.

Scent of the Missing is part search-and-rescue memoir, part dog-training memoir and is definitely targeted towards people who love dogs as Charleson does. She's a gifted writer, and her tales of raising the strong-willed Puzzle to become an adult working dog are detailed, vivid and often humorous. If you like dogs and enjoy reading about dog interaction and behaviour, you'll enjoy the chapters where Charleson describes the interaction between her houseful of rescue Pomeranians and the inquisitive Golden puppy (I like dogs well enough, but have never had one so I have to admit I skimmed a lot of these parts, as cute as some of the stories are.) However, if you're looking for exciting action-packed tales of dramatic search-and-rescue operations, you may be disappointed by this book as there are far more tales of long days in the field doing sweep searches that don't turn up anything of interest. Possibly the most intense search that Charleson describes is the long and emotionally draining search for minute pieces of wreckage and human remains after the space shuttle Columbia disaster. Almost all of the searches in this book take place without the beloved Puzzle, who doesn't become certified as a SAR dog until she's over two years old. I hope that Charleson will consider writing a second memoir giving us a glimpse into her teamwork with Puzzle, who shines through every page as a very intelligent dog with a fantastic personality.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason

I've been waiting somewhat impatiently for the next Henning Mankell novel to come in at the library -- apparently I'm not the only person in my city who is hunting for other good Swedish writers after finishing Larsson's "Millenium" series! Mankell's books have grown on me slowly; after the first one, I definitely wanted to read more, and after the second, I felt like something was missing when I wasn't able to pick up the third right away. The librarians were able to suggest a number of other titles for me to try by good Scandinavian writers, and this one was the first I picked up.

"Hypothermia" is a crime novel with a bit of a twist, because the book doesn't center around a murder but instead, a suicide. The detective, Erlandur, has a hunch about this suicide, though, and with dogged persistence he probes at the dead woman's friends and family members, sure that there is some hidden, more sinister reason why she ended her own life. This persistent investigating uncovers the victim's obsession with the afterlife and near-death experiences, which gives a somewhat creepy air to the novel. Meanwhile, Erlandur is determined to close the books on two very cold missing-persons cases which his colleagues have long since decided aren't worth investigating.

I have tried other Icelandic authors - most memorably Halldor Laxness, whose Nobel prize winner, "Independent People", I wasn't able to finish - but found the books and their characters remote, dreary and forbidding (perhaps the novels of this country are much like the landscape?). However, this novel was a winner, with a great detective. Erlandur is a typical crime-novel hero in a lot of ways, with his failed marriage, lonely life and single-minded determination about his job, but he never felt like a cookie-cutter character. The cold and remote Icelandic landscape definitely plays a role in this book but never to the point where the characters themselves feel cold and remote, too. I understand this title is actually the eighth in the series so I will be happy to go back and read more from Arnaldur.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

I very much enjoyed the second novel in the "Inspector Kurt Wallander" series by this gifted Swedish writer. Wallander is a complex, thoughtful character and in this story he gets swept up into the dangerous intrigue of a Baltic nation in turmoil as it struggles to develop a new identity after gaining independence from Soviet powers. A life raft holding two murdered men washes ashore near the Swedish town of Ystad, where Wallander works as a police Inspector; eventually the victims are found to be Latvian and after an initial, somewhat fruitless attempt to find answers in Ystad, the case is transferred to Riga and Wallander assumes that he will hear nothing more about it. A terrible series of events draws him to Latvia soon afterward and from that point on, I had a really hard time putting down the book.

I don't want to spoil the story in case you're thinking of giving this series a try, but I was really impressed with the way that Mankell conveyed the strange, grim atmosphere of the city of Riga and the corruption within the political system, which Wallander is trying to get to the bottom of, even though he is a complete stranger in Latvia and is putting his own life at risk.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey through China by Jen Lin-Liu

I recently discovered that my local library has an RSS feed where librarians recommend books of all genres. What a genius idea! This book was one of the highlighted titles.

Jen Lin-Liu grew up in the USA as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, but after finishing college she feels compelled to return to China and eventually settles in Beijing, earning her living as a food and travel writer. At some point she decides that she would like to learn to cook, and that's where this memoir begins, as Lin-Liu enrolls in a Beijing cooking college (much to the astonishment of the locals). She sits through endless lectures in the freezing-cold classroom before finally convincing the principal of the school, Chairman Wang, to give her private cooking lessons at Wang's home. Eventually, she learns enough to pass the exam and goes on a journey through China, learning how to make traditional chinese dishes such as dumplings and noodles through internships in various restaurants.

I think I enjoyed the first part of this book, where Lin-Liu is enrolled in the cooking school, the best; the rest was a bit choppier. I would have liked a bit more explanation of how her various travel opportunities came about to help transition the reader between each section. Nevertheless, the people in this book really come to life and I loved getting some insight into the role of food and chefs in Chinese society. On the whole, this was a well-written and very interesting memoir with some extremely tempting recipes scattered through the book. If I didn't have to return Serve the People to the library I would certainly be going on a Chinese cooking spree right about now!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Two books I've rejected lately

"The Other Family" by Joanna Trollope and "Careless in Red" by Elizabeth George.

These are two authors whose other work I've enjoyed -- in fact I've read almost everything else they've each written - but somehow after getting about halfway through each of these recent novels I just didn't feel compelled to finish the books. I can never figure out in those cases whether it's me being in the wrong mood for the book, or the book just not being up to par.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

An enterprising fellow by the name of Mr Chesney has managed (with the help of a powerful demon) to subjugate the entire population of the magical world in which this story takes place. Each year, parties of pilgrims and tourists from our own modern, magic-less world must be escorted through the land and have specific experiences with evil soldiers, dragons, magical beasts and, of course, must have the opportunity to encounter and defeat the evil Dark Lord himself. A contract enforces dire consequences for the locals if the pilgrims don't get everything they paid for.

For the residents of his unnamed magical land, the yearly obligation to entertain these intruders is becoming more and more burdensome. They decide to take matters into their own hands with chaotic and entertaining results. This was a very funny twist on the stereotypical high fantasy novel - lots of parody and absurdity keeps the story from ever getting too serious.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

After reading "Under Heaven", I wanted some time to mull it over and so it was perfect that I had the latest Sophie Kinsella book waiting on my shelf. I know I can always count on Kinsella to deliver some fun reading material that isn't likely to crowd all other thoughts out of my head.

Twenties Girl features Lara Lington, whose life is rudely disrupted by the ghost of her recently-deceased aunt. Aunt Sadie's ghost is irritatingly persistent and for some reason Lara is the only one who can see her. Eventually Lara agrees to help track down a necklace that ghostly Sadie is obsessed with finding, a necklace which turns out to be a clue to a very big family secret.

Twenties Girl was classic Sophie Kinsella - a ditzy heroine who you spend most of the book wanting to shake, but you can't help liking; a budding romance; a fluffy but enjoyable story. I have to admit that this book took a little time to grow on me and wasn't as instantly enjoyable as some of Kinsella's other work, but I stuck with it and finally about 100 pages in I found myself laughing out loud and wondering what would happen next.

I'm looking forward to the next installment of the Shopaholic series which is due out later this year!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

I've never met a Guy Gavriel Kay book I didn't thoroughly enjoy (we'll ignore for now my disappointment with his previous book, Ysabel, which didn't quite do it for me - though I don't seem to have shared that here since I wasn't blogging much when I read it). Any new novel by Kay is a treat so I have been eagerly looking forward to Under Heaven.

Kay's books are difficult to label by genre - call them history laced with elements of fantasy, and his novels are so beautifully written that I think they could be enjoyed by any fan of literary fiction, even those who might not normally be drawn to fantasy or history. Under Heaven is a fine example of Kay's style - he takes a historical period and setting, researches it meticulously, then creates an absorbing and believable world which is somewhat like, but not quite the same as that time and place and fills it with complex and utterly fascinating characters and events. In this case we are treated to a story set in a China-like country called Kitai, which bears similarities to the Tang dynasty. Political intrigue, poetry, powerful (even dangerous) women, assassins, emperors and soldiers are all part of this marvellous tale.

Honestly, I don't know how many more superlatives I can come up with so I will just say that if any of what you've read so far interests you, I'd love for you to pick up this novel and read it and let me know what you thought.

(As a side note, I can't resist sharing that I have had the luck to win seats at an upcoming radio show here in Vancouver where Kay will be interviewed and possibly read from this book. I am so excited - I've been reading his novels since 1993 and will be beyond thrilled to sit in on the program! I will try to share a link to a podcast of the show once it becomes available in a few weeks' time.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin

This is the latest title in the engrossing "Mistress of the Art of Death" series which I discovered (and subsequently gobbled up) last summer. I don't seem to have taken the time to write about this series here before, so let me bring you up to date - these are historical mysteries set in the England of Henry Plantagenet, the forward-thinking king who introduced the concept of Common Law. The main character is Adelia Aguilar, a Sicilian who is fortunate enough to have lived during the time when women were allowed to learn and practice medicine. She has become something of an expert in forensics - hence the name of the series. Adelia is sent to England to help Henry II track down a serial killer, and he likes her so much that he decides to keep her around to help him solve other mysteries. Adelia is unable to content herself with marrying a local noble and settling down to raise a family, so she carries on practicing medicine in a subversive way so that she can avoid being branded a witch by narrow-minded Britons who believe any woman with medical knowledge MUST be evil. The series follows Adelia as she helps out King Henry in various ways, falls in love, becomes a mother and all the while continues to use her medical knowledge to cure those who would otherwise die in a time when religious superstition reigns over common sense.

A Murderous Procession takes our heroine, Adelia, away from 12th century England, for a change - this time she has been asked to be part of the huge retinue accompanying young Princess Joanna, ten-year-old daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, to Sicily for her marriage. Ariana Franklin has a gift for weaving her careful historical research into a story without getting bogged down in the detail, and I was happy to have a chance to read about life in 12th-century France. The cities, the courts, and the lonely villages; the priests, sailors and royal entourage all seemed so real as Joanna and her entourage travelled through the country on their way to Sicily.

As far as the novel goes, it was an interesting read but the "mystery" part seemed to suffer in this installment of the series; it was made clear from the start who the bad guy was, and what his motives were, and he seemed pretty one-dimensional. That didn't stop me from enjoying the book, though - I finished it in a day or so and I will happily pick up the next title in this series when it comes out!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Distant Neighbourhood by Jiro Taniguchi

This is a manga (Japanese comic book) in which a tired 48-year-old businessman from Tokyo finds himself travelling back to the rural town that he grew up in. He falls asleep by his mother's gravestone and wakes up to find himself back in his fourteen-year-old body, except he has retained all the knowledge and experience of adulthood. He has returned to his old life at a pivotal moment, during the months leading up to the day when his father abandoned his family, never to be seen or heard from again. The protagonist, Hiroshi Nakahara, finds himself in the unique position of being able to influence, possibly even change the course of his own life and those of his classmates and family. The biggest question, of course, is whether he can figure out what caused his seemingly happy father to leave and perhaps prevent this from happening.

The premise of being able to go back in time and live your life over again, to maybe correct some mistakes you made when you were younger, is intriguing, so in spite of comics not being my favourite medium I found myself drawn in by this story. What I liked about this manga was its quiet pace and gentle exploration of Hiroshi's life and of the culture of a small city in mid-20th century Japan. Although Hiroshi has some big questions to explore during his time-travelling experience, he also takes the time to enjoy himself, to savor the pleasure of being in a younger body and being a carefree high-school student, without the burdens of a wife, family and career.

The only thing I didn't really like about reading this story (it's in two novels, in case you are thinking of picking it up) was that they "flipped" the manga so that the book is read from left-to-right instead of the usual Japanese style. Although there's a note inside the book saying this was done with the approval of the author, I still don't like the idea that I'm not seeing the images the way Taniguchi originally drew them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

Morning radio superstar Kevin Brace's newspaper carrier turns up one morning to find his customer with blood on his hands. Brace's common-law partner is dead in the bathtub and Brace immediately confesses to killing her. What seems like an open-and-shut murder case becomes more complex and confusing as the police and lawyers investigate Brace's life. A long list of unanswered questions is raised, keeping the reader guessing almost to the very end of the story. Why won't Kevin Brace speak to his lawyer? Why were Brace's ex-wife's fingerprints found on a lucrative but as-yet unsigned contract for a new radio program? What are the murder victim's parents hiding? How did it affect the Brace family when their severely autistic son was taken in by family services as a child?

Thanks to my friend Deborah who has started her own book blog, I found out about this debut crime novel by an experienced criminal lawyer in Toronto. I may live in Vancouver now, but I grew up in the Toronto area and so it was great to read a novel set there and featuring so many intimate details of the city, its landmarks and surroundings. The author's unique knowledge of the inner workings of the criminal justice system help to give this book a lot of fascinating detail and authenticity (well, except for the part where the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, pushing this mystery novel dangerously close to fantasy fiction territory... ha ha!) I look forward to more of Rotenberg's novels!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

It's hard for me to NOT love every novel by this extraordinary, imaginative and hilarious writer. Deep Secret did not disappoint me. I am honestly in awe of Wynne Jones's capacity to come up with completely original and interesting stories and I haven't yet come across a book of hers that seems like a rehashing of a previous tale she has written.

So! Deep Secret. In this book's universe, there are multiple worlds with varying degrees of understanding of magic, and various people called magids whose role it is to practice magic and maintain the balance of magical power throughout the worlds. They're also called upon from time to time to navigate tricky political situations and to find and train their own replacements. Such is the situation that our protagonist, the nerdy, introverted and somewhat grumpy Rupert Venables, finds himself in at the start of this book. One of the magids on Earth has passed away and the galactic empire is in tatters. Rupert tries hard to track down a potential new magid but events just seem to conspire against him. Eventually he hits on the idea of using magic to force all his candidates to attend a Sci-Fi convention so he can observe and interview them. This turns out to be a disastrous idea on many levels, and events unfold in a chaotic and truly unpredictable way. Things really just don't go Rupert's way at any point in this funny and intelligent novel.

I just looked up this book on wikipedia and discovered that Wynne Jones's more recent book The Merlin Conspiracy is considered a sequel of sorts to Deep Secret. I hadn't really noticed the similar universes (I am a pretty forgetful reader) so I think I might track Merlin down and give it a re-read.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

I'm surprised to see that three months have gone by since I last posted here. I've certainly read a lot of books during that time but I guess not much seemed memorable enough to write about.

At any rate, I have been on a quest for more good thriller/mystery novels since finishing the Stieg Larsson "Milennium" series. This is another Swedish writer whom I had heard good things about, so I thought I'd pick up the first book in Mankell's series about detective Kurt Wallander.

I enjoyed the book - it followed the crime fiction template without being too formulaic, and Wallander is a typical (though not boring) lonely police detective with a messed-up personal life and a tendency to workaholism. He's like a Swedish Inspector Alan Banks (of Peter Robinson's series), right down to his passion for music.

Faceless Killers concentrates on the hunt for the murderer of an elderly couple in their remote farmhouse. The story has overtones of racial tension as the backdrop of the story is a Sweden that is rapidly changing due to an influx of refugee claimants. Not all the locals are very happy about this, some of them even resorting to violence in an effort to drive out the migrants. Meanwhile, Wallander uncovers some disturbing evidence about the secret life of one of the murder victims, and tries to come to terms with the failure of his marriage, his troubled relationship with his daughter and his aging father's mental health difficulties.

There was a lot going on in this book that could lay the groundwork for some meaty future stories, so I'm looking forward to reading more of these books. I do have a ridiculously large pile of novels checked out from the library right now, though, so it could be a while before I get back to Kurt Wallander.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

I read online somewhere that Winton is considered one of the foremost fiction writers in Australia. I made up my mind to read something of his immediately, because I have to admit I had never heard of him before.

Dirt Music tells the story of Georgie Jutland, a woman who realizes that her three-year relationship is coming to an end, and Luther Fox, a man who is adrift after losing his entire family in a horrific car accident some years earlier. As two outcasts in a tight-knit Australian fishing village that doesn't take kindly to outsiders, the two meet and begin a tentative relationship.

Winton explores the thoughts and actions of these two characters and the people who surround them with skill and empathy (and with a complete lack of quotation marks -- he doesn't even use long dashes to show dialogue the way Roddy Doyle does! It's confusing, but eventually I got used to it). I found I was enjoying this book on two levels - it's a sympathetically-written novel about two people trying desperately to find their place in the world and to find a direction in life but it's also a vivid portrait of the vast, diverse beauty of western Australia. Winton made the landscape come alive as much as the characters.

I will definitely give more of Tim Winton's books a read.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson

Wow. When I got an email advising me that my name was up for this book at the library (thanks very much to my local librarians for ordering the UK edition and not making me wait for the release of the American edition in May!!) it completely made my month.

This was a fantastic conclusion to one of the best trilogies I've read in years. It jumps right in where book two (The Girl who Played with Fire) left off, and events continue to escalate. I am so glad that I was on winter break and could afford to ignore the world so that I could immerse myself in watching the story of Lisbeth Salander unfold.

I am not going to try to condense this novel without giving away plot points, but if you enjoy an interesting mystery with unusual characters and aren't put off by the occasional unpronouncable Swedish words, I'd suggest you get your hands on this trilogy and clear your calendar.

Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer

My daughter loaned me this one, a sort of historical sci-fi novel for children that she thought I might enjoy. Two British children, Kate and Peter, become victims of the unexpected side-effect of an experimental gravity machine which throws them (and the machine) back in time to the mid 18th century. While their parents, including Kate's scientist father who was working with the machine, sit at home in the present waiting for the police to uncover their children's whereabouts, the children struggle to find a way back to their own time.

I enjoyed reading this novel, but I can't say it was one of my favourite children's books. To me the mark of a great kids' or young adult novel is that I can enjoy it every bit as much as any adult novel that I read, yet with Gideon the Cutpurse I couldn't forget that I was reading a kids' book. The story was just a little too simplistic, I guess, and too many conveniently helpful events took place at *just* the right time. I would have liked to have seen Kate and Peter treated with a tad more suspicion by the adults they encountered back in 1763. Aside from the obvious "bad guys", everyone else was glibly helpful and accepting of the presence of two children from the future.

At any rate, I have decided to follow up with the second book in this trilogy and see whether the series warms up a bit. If I finish it, I'll try to post my thoughts here.

The Believers by Zoe Heller

I found this book on a "best of 2009" list online, thought it sounded interesting and decided to give it a try. It's well-written, but I found it hard to become absorbed in this book. The premise is that a family of liberal, social activist, militantly atheist ex-jews in New York City becomes unravelled when its patriarch is struck down with a coma. Big secrets are revealed, people's lives change, etc etc.

The thing that made it hard for me to get into The Believers was the characters -- they were just so aggressively unlikeable. Although they each underwent some growth during the course of the novel it seemed like most of that took place "off-page", so to speak, and in many cases I felt there wasn't enough explanation of the characters' choices. For instance, one daughter, Rosa, is experimenting with orthodox Judaism. Over and over again she has negative experiences that seem like they should turn her away from this strict religious path, yet she continues to pursue the religion. I was baffled by Rosa, as I was by most of her family members. I really wanted to know why these people did what they did but the story just seemed to leap from one scene to the next, showing what everyone was doing without giving me enough insight into what motivated them. It's frustrating to read a novel by someone who clearly can write well, to want to like the book but to be turned off so immensely by its characters.