A few quick recommendations from recent reading:
This was my first read of the year, and with cats plus Japan it pretty much had my name on it. Quiet, thoughtful, a mystery that still has me wondering, and some truly delightful descriptions of cats and cat behaviour.
I’d been looking forward to Station Eleven for months and I was so happy to find it didn’t disappoint. It’s exquisitely plotted, and most importantly wonderfully characterized. I’d been hooked by the description of the post-apocalyptic travelling Shakespeare company, but in the end what has stayed with me most is the before-and-during the breakdown scenes, the moments of realization for those characters, Miranda standing in front of the mirror saying ‘I regret nothing’. A gorgeous tapestry of a novel.
Mechanique is another book that had been on my to-read list for a while, and another one that didn’t let me down. Steampunk circus, an inventive narrative style that slowly unveils the hearts of the performers and the dark truths that lie at the centre of their troupe, this fabulous novel explores mortality, desire, ambition, and the beauty of flight.
I was first alerted to A Calculated Life via last year’s Kitschies shortlist. This is a story beautifully and simply narrated, the language economical but evocative, and it remains compelling without ever resorting to sensationalism. A coming-of-age tale exploring what it means to be human, it kept me gripped to the end.
I zipped through Escape From Baghdad in under 24 hours, which says a lot as I’m generally quite a slow reader. For a start, it’s great fun – Hossain’s writing grabs you from the opening line:
“We should kill him,” Kinza said. “But nothing too orthodox.”
From this point on the action doesn’t let up, as three unlikely companions navigate alchemists, immortals and deadly intrigue against the backdrop of post-war Iraq. There are some extremely dark moments, and the humour is correspondingly so (see the torturer who complains he hasn’t been given sufficient time to do his work) but when Hossain wants to make a point he allows the prose to breathe and the emotion to come through. One not to miss.