Today’s book review of a novella is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Be warned: I’m a tough crowd and the lead time for the former is several months. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
A Very Coco Christmas by Robert Bryndza
Synopsis: It’s 1985, and eighteen-year-old Coco is home in London for Christmas after her first term at Aberystwyth University. She has started to write, and fallen hopelessly in love with Daniel Pinchard, a devilishly handsome musician from the wrong side of the river. But Coco’s overbearing mother has other plans and resumes her campaign for Coco to meet and marry the ‘right sort of man’, preferably Kenneth, son of her best friends Adrian and Yvonne Rosebury, who will be joining them for Christmas. As snow falls softly over the city, and Coco tries to juggle a series of hilarious events, the stage is set for a Christmas lunch like no other. With a glorious cast of characters including Daniel’s mother Ethel, sister Meryl – and a turkey called Jean Paul Belmondo…
If you are new to the best selling Coco Pinchard series, fear not, A Very Coco Christmas can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone Christmas treat – and it has zero calories!
I read the opening chapters of this novella while my other half watched a programme on bad 1970s TV and this felt very apt, albeit a decade apart.
Some of the writing was a little cringing, especially Dai’s reaction to Daniel trying to pay.
In the opening passages, I didn’t warm to the main character, Coco, and when she leaves her handbag on the train, I felt little sympathy for her. I do however when she goes home to visit her parents for Christmas, and an argument ensues. She is treated like a Victorian daughter – the story is set in 1985 rather than 1885. Her father is okay, albeit a bit of a pushover, but her mother is horrible and, for me, spoils the story. It felt like a new version of a Christmas Carol, perhaps this was intentional.
Daniel’s mother is just as horrible (and her accent grating*), and normally I would’ve stopped reading the story at that point but as it was a novella – and I was reading it for review – I continued. *The post-story author biography hints at English not being Robert’s native language which could explain this.
And now for writers…
– with the phrases ‘the sun began to shine’ and ‘Daniel started pulling down some mugs’, neither action is interrupted to so we don’t need either ‘began to’ or ‘started to’. There is also ‘the kettle began to whistle’ and although it is removed from the stove, we still don’t need the ‘began to’. A little later, we have ‘began to scream’, and further on, ‘Dad started to open the bottle…’ which could also go.
– there are twenty-seven ‘Well’s as pauses at the beginning of dialogue… far too many for such a short story and in previous reviews I’ve recommended only having one character say ‘well’ in their dialogue… or better still, chopping all of them. We say ‘well’ but we also say ‘erm’ etc. and don’t put them in our writing. ‘Well’ is useful to show a hesitant character but can – was we see here – easily be overdone.
– try to avoid character names that start with the same letter. Here we initially have Tanya and Tania and I was wondering why the author chose names so similar but it turns out that Tanya is Sara and Tania is Keren but no real explanation is given so it seemed pointless to me. It turns out that Coco is actually called Karen, so have those two names (Karen and Keren) in the same sentence would also be very confusing. As well as a Kenneth – too many Ks – there is also Daniel – the main character’s love interest – and the cafe owner called Dai. If Daniel’s name is shortened it becomes Dan… far too close-looking on the page to Dai.
– ‘A few days ago’ is present tense and should be ‘a few days before’. If you’re writing past tense, time frames should be set in the past e.g. ‘the day before’ instead of ‘yesterday’, ‘five minutes before’ rather than ‘five minutes ago’ etc.
– there is a line where the narrator refers to a girl with black lipstick and bright red hair in a huge spike three-feet high. Although it is clearly exaggerated, it made me stop and wonder, which is not a good thing as it pulled me (the reader) out of the story.
– I didn’t spot too many adverbs or clichés, although there was a ‘he worked his fingers to the bone’ is a classic cliché.
One of the few redeeming features was the turkey, John Paul Belmondo. The autobiography at the end of the story shows that Rob is a prolific author, with two Coco novels, which I hope are far better. The male characters in this novel were far better illustrated than the female characters, so perhaps the author being male is why and I wondered whether Rob’s editor – if he has one – is male too. I don’t feel inspired to read any other of Rob’s writing, which is a shame as it appears that writing is Rob’s full-time profession. The biography also says that he is involved in comedy and the scene with a turkey and Chris are funny but it not enough to redeem the story.
There were various points in the story where I wanted to quit but I kept going. By the time I got to the end of it, I wondered why. It’s not the worst story I’ve ever read, but it’s in the top ten. Looking (after writing this review) at this book’s scores on Amazon.co.uk, 55 people have given it a 5* and only 2 to give it a 1*. I’m a tough crowd and am in the latter category, therefore…
Rating: 1 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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