Book Review – The Understudy – David Nicholls

The Understudy – David Nicholls

The first I heard of David Nicholls was in reference to his book, “One Day.” And then, while I was sitting in a pub in the Scottish Highlands recently, a BBC adaptation of his book, “Us” was playing on the screen and I was following along between bites of food (watching the subtitles as there was no sound.) 

So, I went on to amazon and looked for his least reviewed book.  (Don’t ask why, there is no rational explanation for doing such a thing.)

Anyway, the least-reviewed book was, The Understudy.

I was skeptical. Skeptical because my usual type of fiction these days is fantasy. Any type of fantasy will do, but usually it will contain magic and elves, fairies and wizards, gnomes and gods (or other things equally far-fetched and interesting.)

But I began to read. And I was impressed. It tells the story of divorced actor Stephen C. McQueen who seems to have knack for bad luck. The story takes us on an emotional roller-coaster, heart-breaking in places and laugh-out-loud funny in other places. 

It dawned on me while reading that there is a magic in real life and this book captures it. The magic of the ordinary (or not so ordinary). David captures the essence of people when creating his characters, making them real and alive, individual and interesting. He has them talk through the pages of the book. And we follow them through this portion of their lives. We are with them simply by reading the words. Cheering them on, or wishing they’d stop, the story immerses you (well, I was immersed anyway.) 

I’m not one for traditional book reviews (There are enough of those!) I just want to say that this book is skillfully written, it captures the essence of people, the interactions and thoughts and feelings and is very well done.

Check it out on Amazon here: The Understudy on Amazon

And rest easy in the knowledge that I earn nothing from amazon for sharing that link 🙂

I have now started reading the next least reviewed book I could find and am in the middle of Sweet Sorrow!

Anyway, here’s the link again: (change the bit to .com if you don’t live in the UK)

And hopefully check out my book, too, or sign up for my newsletter and get a free short story of mine by clicking here:

All the Best,

M. J. Fraser (



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Book Review – Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere – Neil  Gaiman

I don’t write traditional book reviews (maybe there isn’t really such a thing). I pick a book that I’ve read and do a bit of written rambling about it. Whatever comes to mind falls to the page. Please don’t be offended by this, it’s just what happens.

First of all a comment on Mr. Gaiman’s writing:

There is a certain quality to it that I love. There’s a quality to the narration that is rare yet wonderful. There is a similarity (at least in my view) with Philip Pullman (See my review of the Book of Dust Volume 2) and it makes for some of the best storytelling imaginable.

The way the words are strung together, one after the other, they form such a cohesive whole that I find myself drawn straight into the story, straight into the world that is being built. Masterful.

So, while I am writing particularly about Neverwhere here, there is so much more to explore (most especially, but not limited to, American Gods and Ocean at the End of the Lane as my next favorites.)

Neverwhere. Already the name draws you in. A superb name as far as I’m concerned. You are being taken somewhere, but it’s not really somewhere. 

Richard Mayhew moves from Scotland down to London. I’m not sure why he did that, I prefer it in Scotland. Nonetheless it is lucky for us he did, for I don’t think the same adventure could have occurred in that small Scottish village.

This novel is one of those that I can read again and again. It is something like imagination incarnate. A world brought fully to life. A world that we would somehow love to be real, even though we sort of wouldn’t. A world I’d love to visit, yet would be terrified to visit, and so having it there, wrapped up in a novel, makes the journey an easy one. It’s the type of story I hope to eventually write myself. Well crafted, perceptive, creative.

One passage in the book stands out in my memory – and I think it illustrates my point on the quality of the narration:

“A voice came over the loudspeaker, that formal, disembodied male voice that warned, ‘Mind the Gap.’ It was intended to keep unwary passengers from stepping into the space between the train and the platform. Richard, like most Londoners, barely heard it any more – it was like aural wallpaper. But, suddenly, Hunter’s hand was on his arm. ‘Mind the Gap,’ she said urgently, to Richard.”

(I won’t spoil what actually happens) 

It was this novel that also introduced me to the word “elfin” for the first time. A word I have wanted to use ever since and yet have never managed to accomplish. In case you’re not sure it means: (of a person or their face) small and delicate, typically with a mischievous charm. – what a great word! Elfin was used to describe Door (Also a great choice of name!) –  the character that sets Richard Mayhew on his unexpected and yet life defining journey to London Below. 

Everything about it fascinates – from the mysterious Gap (“Mind the Gap” as mentioned above) to the Angel in Islington. Not to mention the Earl on the train. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about – a read of this book is in order!

It is masterfully done fantasy and a book that is well worth getting immersed in.

That’s about all I can say without diving into the story – and that wouldn’t be fair!

I strongly suggest you read it and have included a link here so you can find it on amazon (No, I don’t get paid if you buy it)

View it on amazon UK

View it on amazon US

As always – keep reading (hopefully read my book – The Hunt –  as well, links are all over the place.)

And if you have already ready my book – please leave me a review on amazon!

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Book Review – Book of Dust 2 by Philip Pullman

Book of Dust Part 2 – The Secret Commonwealth.

If you’ve read His Dark Material trilogy (which will be the subject of a separate post and review) then this is a must read! Of course, you should start with the Book of Dust Volume One if you haven’t already.

The Book of Dust Volume One tells us the story of Lyra as a baby. It tells the story of how she arrived at Jordan College into the care of the old scholars. That is a great story, but not the one I am writing about here. (Check it on amazon: Book Of Dust Volume 1.)

The Book of Dust Volume Two takes us into the life of a now twenty year old Lyra and the adventures she must now embark upon with her daemon, Pantalaimon. After the events of the original trilogy they have obstacles to overcome and they are working hard to try and navigate their new relationship. (I’m trying hard not to give any story away.) What I will say is that they discover much that they didn’t know and people they thought could not exist.

The story telling is masterful. There is something particular about the way that Pullman narrates a story – I find myself immersed in the world that is being written, pulled along as though a silent observer in the world he has created.

This book tackles a lot. Pullan has intricately carved webs of story-telling, layers and twists. In many ways it’s heartbreaking, yet thought-provoking. There’s a magic to it that I find magnetic.

If you’ve read the original trilogy (Northern Lights, Subtle Knife and Amber Spyglass) then you’ll get an idea of what Lyra, as the main protagonist, could be going through ten years later. Now an adult, she is thrust into more dangerous adventures, while simultaneously haunted by a past that lingers.

The story brings real-life issues to light and tackles them head on, issues such as refugees and the immense potential for human greed and cruelty. And yet it casts a light on the nature of the individuals and good they can bring. It is a story that has great relevance to the world we live in now.

A superb read, well crafted and magical in its own right, story telling at its best. Highly recommended. Five Stars.

Check it out on amazon here: Book of Dust Volume Two.


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Forced to run. Hunted like animals. By humans, the unrelenting enemy of vampires.
17 year old Alesco has known nothing else. Hiding, always moving from place to place, never safe. It wasn’t always so. Vampires and humans lived in harmony. Until The Hunt.
Now, 100 years later, things are starting to change.

Can Alesco and her family avoid capture? Who is the Master, Father of the vampires? And how does a simple action by one human hunter set the course for change?
“A riveting read, turning the vampire myth upside down. It raised questions and analogies in my mind, but the excitement of the story overtook them, keeping me hooked throughout.” Elizabeth Bailey, author of the Lady Fan Mystery series

“A thrilling read. This story keeps you on the edge, getting better with each page. A dark story, set in a universe of supernatural creatures, which simultaneously makes you question your own life decisions.”

“A gripping tale that will make you want to keep turning the pages. A pleasurable and satisfying read.”

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