Home > I read it all, memoir, recommended > Mousetrapped, by Catherine Ryan Howard

Mousetrapped, by Catherine Ryan Howard

February 16, 2012

Three big dreams, two mouse ears and one J-1 visa. What could possibly go wrong in the happiest place on earth?

When Catherine Ryan Howard decides to swap the grey cloud of Ireland for the clear skies of the Sunshine State, she thinks all of her dreams – working in Walt Disney World, living in the United States, seeing a Space Shuttle launch – are about to come true…

Ahead of her she sees weekends at the beach, mornings by the pool and an inexplicably skinnier version of herself skipping around the Magic Kingdom. But not long into her first day on Disney soil – and not long after a breakfast of Mickey-shaped pancakes – Catherine’s Disney bubble bursts and soon it seems that among Orlando’s baked highways, monotonous mall clusters and world famous theme parks, pixie dust is hard to find and hair is downright impossible to straighten.

The only memoir about working in Walt Disney World, Space Shuttle launches, the town that Disney built, religious theme parks, Bruce Willis, humidity-challenged hair and the Ebola virus, MOUSETRAPPED: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida is the hilarious story of what happened when one Irish girl went searching for happiness in the happiest place on Earth.

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This is one of those reviews which is very difficult for me to write. There’s a lot to praise in Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida; but there’s also a lot to criticise and knowing Catherine Ryan Howard as I do, I am as certain as I can be that she’d rather hear all of my reservations than be fobbed off with a few kind words. So brace yourself, Catherine: this is going to be tough.

Catherine Ryan Howard has an engaging, friendly tone and the story trips along at a reasonable pace. Everything she writes is infused with a lively humour and she has a natural storytelling ability which I’m sure many writers would envy. This already earned her a recommendation for me (so you can stop worrying now, Catherine). She has the basics right: her spelling and grammar are fine, although the punctuation is flawed and inconsistent. But these problems are few, and are nowhere near bad enough to interrupt the flow of her narrative, or to put off a determined agent.

However, there is an indication of problems to come in the back cover copy, which feels a little repetitive and over-long; to then come across phrases from the back cover copy repeated in the first few pages of the book feels a little wrong: I would expect the back cover copy to be its own entity and not a close copy of some of the passages from the book. The opening of this book is not up to scratch: the pages before she reaches Disneyland are too long, too rambling and once more repetitive.

This doesn’t mean that I disliked the book: but I can see how easily (!) the opening could be tightened up and made significantly more absorbing, and how its lack of focus and clarity might well put browsing readers off.

To continue with my criticisms, the humour is at times rather forced; Catherine Ryan Howard’s bleak first few weeks in Orlando made me feel very uncomfortable and unhappy for her despite the jokes she kept right on cracking; and I found her stories rather episodic, as if this were a collection of short stories or articles rather than a continuing memoir. I would have preferred more variation in tone, and more integration of the book’s various strands: I don’t think either is beyond Ms Ryan Howard as she is clearly a confident, intelligent writer. If these points were addressed (a more concise opening, more variation in tone and a better narrative flow) then this book would be very much improved

Where I struggled was with Ms Ryan Howard’s actions. She seemed to crash off on each new venture with little thought or preparation, which at times made me wonder if she was purposely sabotaging herself. It could just be the natural foolhardiness of the young which caused her to believe behave in this way; but I found it infuriating and anxiety-provoking, and that directly affected my enjoyment of this book. I’ll admit that I am an obsessive researcher, and make thorough preparations before I even brush my teeth: so this could be my natural caution showing through.

On the whole, then, an enjoyable read from a humorous and talented writer, which could be much improved with a more stringent edit to improve the pace, tone and flow, but which nevertheless earns a recommendation from me. Well done, Catherine!

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Note: I received this book aeons ago and its review should have appeared much sooner than this. My apologies to Ms Ryan Howard for the delay.

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  1. February 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Jane,

    Thank you for reviewing the book and not to worries at all with the delay. And thanks for honestly critiquing it, which is what I wanted when I sent it in. To be honest, I wrote this book over two years ago and when I recently read through it, I could see so much I wanted to change. The first chapter is waaaaay too long (as one reviewer pointed out, when I resorted to telling the reader that “we’re almost there”, I should’ve known I’d rambled on about how I got to Orlando in the first place for too long) and rather than write about my experiences in chronological order, I kind of had a “theme” for each chapter which, in hindsight, doesn’t work as well as I thought it would. I think if I was reviewing it honestly myself, I’d it a 3 (ish) out of 5. I don’t think I’d rewrite the whole book because I think there’s a touch of George Lucas about that (!) but I might weed the first chapter.

    The back cover copy is something I never considered, but that’s been causing me problems anyway (Disney fans…) so I might redo it. As for me moving 4k miles away totally unprepared, yes, I did, and no, I don’t do things like that anymore. Although I turn 30 this year so I should hope so.

    I learn so much from feedback like this and I really appreciate you taking the time to do it, and do it kindly. I might have to send you the sequel now…! :-)

  2. February 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Ah: not to WORRY and I’ve GIVE it a 3…. In my defence, I’ve been up since 5am… :-)

  3. Jane Smith
    February 17, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Catherine, I hope you realise that I was much harder on you than I am with almost everyone else I’ve reviewed here, because I’ve realised over time how seriously you take self-publishing.

    Your book could have done with some revision, as you point out: but it’s still better than most self-published books I’ve looked at, and I did enjoy the read. Even though you are a reckless, headstrong and utterly foolish woman. Ha!

  4. alisonwells
    February 18, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I enjoyed the book tremendously and I know that Catherine is very open to any feedback she receives. The points you make, Jane, are important for anyone considering self-publishing (I am). To be honest the strength of Catherine’s lively writing style was more than enough to carry me along and I can’t recall thinking that the first chapter was too long (although it is a while since I read it!) I suppose it could be argued that the initial difficulties she faced had a kind of car crash TV quality about them, we just had to see where it was going and whether she would ‘triumph over adversity.’ Well done to Catherine for her energy and interest in moving from strength to strength. I definitely recommend this book as a great read.

  5. February 27, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    I followed a tweet from Catherine’s blog. Now I’ve followed and bookmarked both your blogs. After reading some of your reviews I’m sure glad I decided to go through another round of critiques. I’m good at grammar and punctuation, but I’m still working on my story structure (too rushed and disjointed) and a few plot elements (too crazy for adults). My last critique group, a class of seventh graders, took it all in stride, but I want their parents to buy and read my books too.

    I knew where my plot was going and why. Now I’m rewriting for the umpteenth try.
    Is there any hope? I mentally sigh. Maybe I’ll get published before I die.

    As if it’s not difficult enough to write a novel in prose, mine also has telepathic verse between the MC and a sentient planet. It seemed like a better meeting of minds than math, science, or music.
    Editing is not the fun part of writing. Back to work.

  6. February 28, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Well done, Catherine! I’m a big fan of yours, largely for your honesty, ability to learn and complete lack of preciousness. You want to be the best writer you can be and no one can ask more. I enjoyed Mousetrapped but would agree with what Jane said about it (and what you’ve said yourself here.) Good work, you and Jane!

  7. February 28, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks Nicola! “Lack of preciousness” —I LOVE it! :-)

  8. Jane Smith
    March 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Here’s an email I received today. I’ve removed everything which might identify the sender.

    I am copying to you an email I sent to Catherine Caffeinated; her article inspired me to check out your site.

    Blessings there Catherine …

    I read your article on “Could Your Self-Published Book Pass THIS Test?” It inspired me; and it humiliated my sense of “good enough”. So I clicked on the link … and I began reading.

    From: http://theselfpublishingreview.wordpress.com/

    Review on:

    Remix, by Lexi Revellian
    Posted: March 1, 2012 in fiction
    Tags: 32 pages read, contradictory, exposition, inconsistent, lacks pace, not credible, poor characterisation, punctuation problems, repetitive

    Her next to the last paragraph ended with this one sentence:

    I’m not convinced that anyone could make a living restoring rocking horses (although I understand that this is a hobby of Ms Revellian’s, which is perhaps why she chose to write about it); and [ tiny spoiler alert! ] as Joe turns out to be living under an assumed name, because under his real identity he has been declared dead, I don’t see how he could have completed all of the paperwork required to bring a stray dog back from France, nor why he would have tried to do so bearing in mind the risk of discovery in inherent in such an act.

    Now for the record, that sentence is 101 words long; too long by any standards I know of.

    For the standard of the Flesch Reading Ease, that sentence came in low at 38.3. I am personally concerned when my writing falls to the mid sixties; I strive for the mid seventies or higher.

    For the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of reading, that too is a disaster, it’s way too high. Her sentence demands a twelfth grade reading level, and no wonder, it’s too long. That reading level is four to five years higher than the national reading average; I throw my sentences like that out and rework them.

    And then, go back and read the last seven words in her sentence. Do we see a problem here? I’ll help you out … “discovery in inherent in”.

    I am choosing to release my writing as “good enough”. It’s not perfect and I know that. But what is important is the message we are delivering; and that people are able to understand it. If we spend our lives making our work perfect by the standards of others, we loose. We tend to loose the essence of our truth and the message itself.

    Blessings on your continued writing

    The author of this email could have alerted me to my typo. He could have read a few other threads here and realised that as I have incipient cataracts, I struggle to find errors onscreen, which is the main reason I only review print editions. Instead he chose to criticise me because I write sentences which he feels are too long, and which don’t pass tests which are used by no reasonable editor or writer I know of.

    He has ignored the fact that Catherine is happy with my review–happy enough to write a whole blog post about it (and more power to you, Catherine, for that).

    He’s ignored the point that while the authors I review here all hope that people will fork out good money for their work, I give my reviews for free.

    And I think he meant “lose”, not “loose”.

  9. March 7, 2012 at 4:53 am

    I think the paragraph about “choosing to release [his] writing” can be summed up as, “If you can’t reach the grapes, say you have chosen not to jump for them, because you’re doing just fine without them, and in any case jumping would have made you lose something far more valuable”.

  10. December 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Fleisch Kincaid is not reliable. It is not only about long sentences but about long words, which could include names. When I wrote a piece on a Greek myth for a literacy card, I ad to change names like Medusa, Perseus, Andromeda and such to one-syllable names to get t to read as Grade 2 level. We used to use this to assess the books for our literacy program, but after many inaccurate results we’re just using our common sense and discussing them.

    Sorry about the Raventracks thing, it’s my WordPress login. Sue Bursztynski here.

  11. December 8, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    PS Sorry for the typos, it’s an iPad predictive thing you often don’t notice till you have hit “publish”. Sue

  12. Jane Smith
    January 5, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Sue, I agree with you about Fleisch Kincaid scoring. Thank you for taking the time to discuss it here. And don’t worry about any typos: iPads are very difficult to touch-type on, aren’t they?

  1. February 27, 2012 at 8:00 am
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