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Mousetrapped, by Catherine Ryan Howard

February 16, 2012 13 comments

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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The Darkness: Bill Kirton

July 22, 2010 Comments off

When Tommy Davidson is found with his throat cut, his brother Andrew’s shock turns to thoughts of vigilante retribution. Known villains, including the person indirectly responsible for the death, begin to disappear. Thanks to the efforts of one of Cairnburgh’s cleverest lawyers, each has managed to evade justice. But not any more. Meantime, rape victim Rhona Kirk starts a new life in Dundee but finds it difficult to shake off her past. As DCI Jack Carston tries to find what links the various missing persons, he’s aware of his own darker impulses and of an empathy between himself and the vigilantes. His investigation becomes a race against time and against the pressure of darkness.

The jumbled and dull back cover copy for The Darkness is no indication of the quality of the text of the book itself: I found a lot here to keep me interested, and would like to see what happens to Bill Kirton’s work when it is passed through the hands of a competent and demanding editor.

The problems I found—a tendency to exposition, a lack of clear characterisation, a couple of clichés and a few punctuation problems—are all fixable because the underlying writing is strong, clear and fast-moving. Kirton has a raw talent which gives an edge to this book that most writers will never achieve: if he focuses on revising his next text to a higher standard I can see him doing very well indeed.

I was particularly harsh with Mr. Kirton in my judgement of his book but despite that, I read twenty-four of his three hundred and thirteen pages. If I had found this on the slush pile, I would almost certainly have asked to see more: as it is, I am going to cautiously recommend this book despite its flaws.

With My Pen as My Witness: Ian Boyd

March 11, 2010 Comments off

A self-compiled collection of modern musings. This publication ranges from the political to the comical, from the dark to the romantic.

Following the author’s journey throughout university we travel through his mind, his nights out and his emotions. While his future wife lives in a different country, he drinks too much, he parties too hard and he tries his best to hide the pain.

We move on through to his questioning of the world around him, his job, his musical ambitions and watch as he moves to the capital in search of dreams.

This ironic but beautiful collection of poems will remind you of the best of times and the worst of times.

This is the first part in an on-going collection of thoughts.

Reading this slim collection of poems I felt as though I was spying on the author: it reads like an adolescent’s journal-scribblings, and just isn’t ready to be published.

Poetry is one of the most concentrated art-forms there is: to work, poetry has to be lyrical, intense, fresh and pure, and I’m afraid that I don’t see a single one of those qualities in Boyd’s work. His poems look like real poetry on the page—or at least, they would if the book had been formatted a little better, and the typesetting had been carried out by someone more skilled at the job—but I’m afraid that’s as far as the resemblance goes.

If Mr Boyd wants to attract a decent readership then I strongly advise him to read a lot of good poetry and to do his best to develop an understanding of rhythm, imagery and depth before he publishes any more of his work. I read just three pages out of thirty-one, despite my repeated attempts at leniency.