Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Review: The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh by Marina Fiorato

2016  448 pages • Hodder Paperbacks

In early eighteenth-century Ireland, young Irish beauty Kit Kavanagh lives a quiet, settled life in a Dublin alehouse with her husband, Richard. When Richard is suddenly whisked away to join the British army, Kit disguises herself as a man and enlists as a soldier, determined to follow and find her husband across war-torn Europe.

The premise alone sets up The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh to be an exciting and interesting read, and it certainly lives up to its expectations. I mean honestly, it’s about a woman who masquerades as a man to go and rescue her husband – she’s no helpless damsel and she rocks. From the novel’s opening pages, the story immediately takes off and Kit’s life is drastically changed from simple housewife to fearless dragoon, bound to set sail to the bloodied lands of Italy. As a reader, being immediately thrown in to the action is what had me gripped from the start – Fiorato’s writing gives you detail without weighing the story down and it’s very well paced. There’s no dawdling about or useless rambling – just bam, you’re in the action and that made everything so exciting. What perhaps made the story particularly interesting is that it is based on fact, since Kit Kavanagh was a real woman who fought in the British Army during the War of the Spanish Succession. Fiorato’s novel is of course fiction but it’s woven around factual details which gives the story its clarity and makes it feel grittily realistic.

The novel is split in to two parts: the first part focuses on Kit’s life as an army soldier and having to conceal her identity from her fellow officers. The second part leads to Kit once again dressing as a woman when she is recruited by the cunning Duke of Ormonde to be used as a spy against the French. At first, I enjoyed the first half more than the second, but Kit’s double life as a political pawn became equally as entertaining as her life as an army dragoon. The beginning of the second part did feel like things were moving more slowly since Kit had to once again start over and recreate her identity. Having said that, the novel worked well at keeping me guessing and Fiorato succeeds in executing a very entertaining recreation of a real woman’s journey.

Set during the early 1700’s in the middle of a war, the plot is quite history heavy. There’s a lot of detail about why the war is taking place and who is fighting who and even the history of the European monarchy. Being historical fiction, this is somewhat expected, but Fiorato incorporates this necessary detail very well. Plus, the story is principally a tale about Kit’s adventures so you learn everything along with her and it’s fascinating in addition to being vital to the plot.

Kit is a brave and unpredictable heroine and I loved how she continued to grow stronger and bolder throughout. Seriously, she’s so boss and fearless which is everything I love in a female character. She comes across as kind of an Irish Mulan but seeing as they were both women who dressed in men’s clothes and went off to war it’s kind of hard not to see the similarity. Despite her reason for going to war being to search for her missing husband, she comes in to her own and the story takes lots of twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting, but it kept the plot bobbing along very nicely. Kit forms a close bond with her commanding officer, Captain Ross, and their friendship develops wonderfully. Kit and Ross were actually the only characters I was rooting for, since many of the smaller characters – Kit’s comrades and such – are virtually interchangeable.

There are however some wickedly brilliant antagonists who are characterised especially well in that they are both complex but very believable in their actions. A lot of them made me want to get in between the novel’s pages and kick them in the groin, but it’s okay because Kit does that for you and she absolutely rocks at it.

I’m so glad I got the opportunity to read this since beforehand I had never heard of Kit Kavanagh, but this novel just proves that history has some amazing women that went against the grain of convention. 

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

My arc copy of The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh was sent to me by The BookBag and my review was originally published on their website.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Date Finished: 4/2/2016
2015 352 pages  Rating ★★★★

My copy of In a Dark, Dark Wood was sent to me by The BookBag and my review was originally published on their website.

When it comes to contemporary crime thrillers my experience is slim. I usually like my books to be as far away from the modern world as possible, which I why I have such an affinity for historical fiction. Something about this book grabbed me though – it sounded mysterious which is most likely what sparked my interest and it felt strangely fresh to read something that was set comfortably in modern society. References to Twitter and iPhones in books make me feel weirdly at ease and I guess this down to being part of the millennial generation. Anyway, on with the plot:

Nora Shaw hasn’t seen her friend Clare since Nora left school ten years ago and didn’t look back. Now working as a crime writer and living in London, she is naturally surprised when she receives an invitation to Clare’s hen party – a weekend in a woodland cottage in the Northumberland country. Curious as to why Clare would invite her after all these years Nora reluctantly agrees to come, but as the weekend unfolds something goes very wrong and old secrets are slowly revealed.

In terms of the plot itself, this is as much as I’m willing to reveal since to say any more would damage the mystery of the story. In a Dark, Dark Wood is a crime thriller that is gripping and not exactly what I expected it to be, but for all the right reasons. It has a kind of chick-lit feel to it but I think that’s down to it centring on a hen party. The undertone of the story is actually quite dark and suspenseful, and surprisingly I enjoyed it much more than I believed I would since mystery thrillers aren’t usually a genre I go for. For someone who reads these kind of books all the time it might be a bit light for you – not that it’s not interesting but you just might crack on as to what’s happening a lot sooner than I did. However, from the first chapter I was sucked in to the story and it did a very good job at keeping me interested and wanting to know more about what was going to unfold. The novel is very much suitable as a travel or beach read; it’s escapism but still in the twenty-first century and engaging without being overly complicated. Seeing as this is Ruth Ware’s debut novel the quality of writing is impressive in addition to it having a fresh and captivating feel.

This is an incredibly quick read and the plot is a very absorbing, mystery filled page-turner. It is written from Nora’s perspective which I was glad about since I think first person narratives build up the apprehensive atmosphere and make the mystery of the story much more interesting. Set in a modern and desolate holiday home in the woodland, it has an almost creepy and oppressive feel to it and instantly the hen weekend has a sense of doom clouding over it. No one really wants to be there and I think I can guess right when I say we’ve all been in awkward social situations we’d rather get out of. The title of the novel suggests this might be a bloody and gruesome tale, but that isn’t the case – the story is clever and despite the country-house-murder mystery-feel to it, Ware’s writing is gripping and you’re left with a psychological thriller that’s very fulfilling.

There’s an interesting blend of characters that Ware fleshes out very well and there’s an intriguing underbelly of tension between the party-goers. The atmosphere is claustrophobic and gloomy and as far as mystery thrillers go it does a good job at keeping you on your toes which I think is partly due to the narrative style. The chapters spring between past and present and are well balanced enough for the story to flow easily. It’s very subtle and the layers to the plot are revealed slowly, but tactically.

I have to admit, during the final chapters it did wear a little bit thin at piecing together the mystery and although the plot was smart, the ending felt almost rushed. The way in which things came together and finally resolved was satisfying, but felt oddly hurried despite the pace being good throughout. It was overall however, very enjoyable – a thrilling and atmospheric tale that was actually a lot of fun to read.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Date Finished: 1/2/2016
2005 • 533 pages • Rating ★★★

I realise that I’m several years behind everyone else when concerned with this book but it had been on my to-read list for a long time, so last week I picked up my copy and got reading. Admittedly, being super late to the party meant that I wasn’t as psyched to read this as I could have been had I jumped on the bandwagon earlier, but I finally decided to give The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a go and here’s what I thought:

For the most part, I enjoyed it. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is hired by the former CEO of a million dollar company to look in to the disappearance of a young girl in his family, who vanished nearly forty years ago. Lisbeth Salander, a freelance researcher, becomes involved in the case alongside our journalist and they go about trying to solve the case together. As far as the plot goes and the case itself, it was interesting to read about if perhaps very graphic and sometimes a little unsettling. The missing girl in question is assumed to have been murdered and so there is lots of talk about violence – like, a lot. Women who’ve been raped and mutilated and it’s pretty intense so just a heads up because I wasn’t prepared for how graphic the violence is.

Intense as it may be in the long run the plot starts of really slow, and I didn’t really become completely interested in the story until about a third of the way through. But once the mystery of the case started to unravel and Lisbeth and Blomkvist teamed up the pace of the story definitely improved. I guess the slow build up has something to do with effect and creating tension or some crap but let’s be honest, there’s nothing interesting in reading about a guy reading old police reports and newspaper clippings. It needs to be done, I know, for narrative purposes but where is Salander in all of this, dammit.

Which brings me to the next part: Lisbeth Salander is totally boss and a complete fucking badass. She goes through some rough shit but comes back kicking and it’s so awesome. And like I said, it wasn’t until she got involved in the investigation that things really got interesting so that just says what kind of a character she is.

The story is smart and I for one didn’t see the case taking the turn it did, but it lacked something that prevented this book from blowing my mind and I know what it was: the narrative and the absolutely pointless details that just weighed the whole thing down unnecessarily. The clothes everyone was wearing, what they’re eating every minute of the day and oh my God I do not need to know everything somebody makes coffee. I was so tired of reading about the million times “Blomkvist made coffee” or when someone “put water on for coffee”. Completely. Pointless. Information. The book could have been fifty pages shorter if all that drivel had been cut out.

In all this turned out to be entertaining and I’m glad I read it if only to finally see the David Fincher adaptation afterwards, which is actually pretty good - very stylish and edgy. The book is good too; it wasn’t amazing but I feel a sense of self satisfaction at having read it at last.
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