Thursday, 23 May 2013

Chris Kuzneski - The Secret Crown

I have to say, The Secret Crown is one of the best book I’ve read in a while. The two lead characters are fantastic and the way interact often verges on real conversations – albeit the closest I’ve seen to real dialogue. There are several instances where they go off on tangents that don’t necessarily drive the story but they do develop the characters. Their personalities come across almost straight away which is a difficult thing to do.

The story itself is also pretty solid, although it feels quite short. There is a lengthy action sequence in the middle of the book and no last minute showdown when it really feels like there should be. All in all, it feels kind of... easy. The hardships the characters face are more like mediumships except for the one gunfight.

There is one major writing issue that kept bothering me. There are a few telephone conversations throughout the 465 page book. These conversations are always – as they should be – from the perspective of the main characters. This should mean that we shouldn’t be made aware of the facial expressions being used by the person on the other end of the phone. It feels a bit lazy. If you are going to have telephone conversations in a book, one of the sacrifices you should make is removing this kind of description, especially if you’ve already proved your dialogue is strong enough without it. You can emphasise the feelings of the other character through the dialogue or even the intuition of the main character.

There are a few other minor inconsistencies. During some scenes in an old bunker in the mountains there are several doors that are hard to spot and open. However, we get the impression that these giant stone doors have been opened recently so it doesn’t make sense that our experienced protagonists struggle to locate the door and even more, cannot open them.

Also these doors appear to be made of stone with no handles and there is no description given of how to close them which surely must have happened before our protagonists arrived.

On the positive side, there are also some real gems in the narrative. On page 111 there is a joke about Mother’s Day cards and what greetings are not used in them which not only broke the forth wall but was also quite funny. Towards the end of the book there is a dig at the Twilight saga in context which, as you can probably tell from previous reviews, is always welcome.

However, the best bit is the author’s note at the end. Chris shamelessly asks readers to buy 10 plus copies of his book to discuss in reading groups. It is a self-deprecating joke and comes across really well.

To sum up, it’s a solid book, very nearly well written with likable characters and a likeable author. So much so that I ordered his back catalogue when I finished reading simply to learn more about his characters – and he won me over with his author’s note.

The Secret Crown by Chris Kuzneski was published by The Penguin Group in 2010. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Michael McInyre – Life and Laughing: My Story

Life and Laughing: My Story was a Christmas gift from 2010. As stated on previous reviews, namely Frank Lampard’s trip to McDonalds, I do not agree with autobiographies being written by celebrities prior to the end of their career or even their fortieth birthday. Such is the case for Michael McIntyre – at the time of publishing he was the ripe old age of 34.

This is of course okay if Michael McIntyre’s career had died at the end of his 2009 tour. However, the news tells me that this is not the case. 2012 was his biggest year. He played to lots of people a record for performances at the 02 Arena. I can’t find this information in his autobiography. Why? Because it was written before it happened.

He does make a good point towards the end of the 295 page story of his life so far, in that he didn’t write about after he became successful because it is boring to him. Also the audience probably know all there is to know because why would they buy the biography if they didn't know who he was? This should mean that we won’t see a follow on autobiography, but only time will tell.

Anyway, enough of my personal autobiographical opinion and on to the book itself.

The first thing I noticed was the Americanisation of the book. Now after experimenting with my own word processor, it does not pick up criticising as a misspelt word. Nor does it pick up criticizing either. Whereas neither is recognised as a spelling mistake, I believe that McIntyre, as an Englishman, should be using the English version of the word. Incidentally, when publishing this on here, it highlights 'criticising' as incorrect and also misspelt.

During the first few chapters, the book reads as if he is speaking and feels a lot like his stand up material. This is quite entertaining and would have been really good had he managed to keep it up for the length of the book.  Unfortunately he doesn't and the narrative falls into standard prose interspersed with jokes, some of which fail to work on paper.

The first one of these occurred on page 29 when he starts talking about the countdown theme and how Alan Hawkshaw gets paid for every time the theme tune is played.  There are several problems with the attempted joke;
  1. The theme tune is played more than once during the show.
  2. The countdown clock doesn’t reset if a contestant incorrectly guesses.
  3.  I’m going to guess that Alan doesn’t get paid by the second as my other two point lead me to believe that this joke is a joke for the jokes sake to try to funny as opposed to actually being based in truth.
This isn’t the only time this happens. On page 75 McIntyre describes his old home town of Golders Green as having the following shops; C&A, Wimpy, Cecil Gee, Woolworths and Our Price. This joke is aimed at the fact that all these stores have gone out of business. However, just by chance, there is a Wimpy in my home town of Newton Abbot. Wimpy still exists, it has just reduced the amount of stores it owns. I’m being a bit picky here but my point is that whereas these jokes would probably work as part of a sketch, when they are on paper, they do not work as well as they otherwise would.

There is another example of this when he tells about his wedding on page 257. He says there are no horses coming to the wedding, but they have a horse drawn carriage to take them away from the chapel. It’s another technicality but I would expect a little bit more thoughtfulness to go into this seeing as the author is one of Britain’s best comedians.

Not even Michael McIntyre can make interior decorating funny. He still tries though on two occasions and, in my opinion, fails. It feels a little too much like filler that is trying too hard to be funny.

That said, there are a few golden moments, one of which stood out to me but again, I think it’s poorly placed in a novel. On page 100, McIntyre makes reference to the Andrew Sachs, Jonathan Ross, Russell Brand saga by saying, ‘I’d like to add that Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel, is a very fine actor and I’d like to wish him and his family well,’ following on from the events of October 2008. It is quite funny but wouldn't be relevant in ten years time as, I think, many people would not know what this was referring to and as such, it would no longer be relevant.

The book is very targeted in that anyone who is a big fan of Michael McIntyre would want to read it and for this, it is very good. However, as a writer, he goes off on a lot of tangents and this makes the book hard to follow in places. However, it did encourage me to re-watch his Royal Variety performances, which allowed me to forgive the few writing faux pas’ he makes in this book.

Life and Laughing: My Story by Michael McIntyre was published by The Penguin Group in 2010. RRP £20.00 (Hardback)