Book review

Mousetrapped by Catherine Ryan Howard

Review of Mousetrapped (beware, spoiler alert!)

I’ve just finished reading ‘Mousetrapped’ by Catherine Ryan Howard. It’s a captivating account of a year and a half spent working in a hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, from the stark reality of settling in, to the magic and the mayhem of a girl from Cork, Ireland working and playing in this out of the ordinary setting.

Along with the story we are treated to interesting details about the Disney park, Orlando life and Catherine’s passion the space flight, shuttle launches and the Kennedy Space Centre.

What sets this book apart from other memoirs that I have read is the quality of the voice and the sense of personality that comes through. I’ve met Catherine in person just once but even if I hadn’t the book’s strength is it’s ability to make you really care what happens next and to feel a great affinity with Catherine as she tells her story.

From the practical details of accommodation and driving in the US to the emotional roller coaster of her quest to witness a space launch first hand, the book becomes compulsive reading, you’ve just got to know how it all pans out. And when it came to the final pages, I found myself wishing that we could follow her to her next adventure  (a trip to Central America).

Although it’s mostly a story about Disney magic, what I found very special in this book were Catherine’s poignant but also magical moments of emotional clarity, viewing the space launch but also on a bus listening to John Mayer’s ‘Stop that train’ as the reality of her situation hit home. Catherine’s book makes you think about the choices we make in life, about taking risks and following dreams. Combined with Catherine’s lovely personality all these elements make Mousetrapped a fabulous read.

You can buy Mousetrapped in paperback (US) or paperback (UK) or download for Kindle (US) or Kindle (UK). It’s absolutely worth it.

If you want to read more about Catherine Ryan Howard, Mousetrapped and Mousetrapped’s fascinating publication process, check out her blog Catherine Caffinated.

Review of Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines

Domesticity never takes place upon a large or lauded stage, it is a private, secret world whose interactions and observances are held and carried forward into ‘real life’. Elizabeth Baines’ book places the domestic in this central, core position. ‘A young mother married to a scientist fears for her children’s saftey as the natural world around her becomes even more certain. Until, that is, she meets a charismatic stranger who seems to offer a different kind of power.’

In this novel there is a sense of what was the title of Elizabeth Baines’ short story collection ‘Balancing on the edge of the world’. She subtlely elucidates the tremulous feeling and anxious vigilance of parenthood. There is the impression that threats are always close. What Baines does beautifully is to convey the otherworldliness experience of bringing up small children and their way of making our commonplace world seem bizzare. The not-quite-rightness of the eldest child Danny’s behaviour is imbued with a magical and mystical quality.

This is a book that made me hold my breath. Baine’s gift is to do the literary equivalent of revealing what is on the inside of trouser pockets during laundry, ordinary and sacred things otherwise hidden are carefully revealed. Both these secret pockets and the heart is turned inside out on reading. The main character  goes along the motorway to meet the man she looks to for direction, she stretches the domestic elastic, always travelling back again, she breaks the taboos of suburban motherhood, she risks censure but the elastic tugs constantly. She discovers what is ‘really’ wrong with her child and the threat is now tangible, accessible.

What I found extraordinary as reader and writer was Elizabeth Baines’ ability to convey so skillfully and lightly the nuances of relationships and communication, the small exchanges, the particular words of common conversation that can illuminate the character’s view of each other or irreversibly wound. As a reader it was the kind of book I have longed to read, as a writer, it is the kind of book I would dream of writing. To sum up the strength and marvel of this book is to see it like a dust mote, something mundanely domestic but magical, spinning for long moments in our consciousness.

Too Many Magpies by Elizabeth Baines is published by Salt Modern Fiction