An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘fiction’

URBANE PUBLICATIONS – The Life Assistance Agency by Thomas Hocknell

Today is my second book review for the 52 Books by 52 Publishers reading challenge, and this time the publisher is:




Urbane Publications!



About Urbane Publications:

Are you always searching for that next great book, the joy of discovering a new author, a new plot, thrilling new worlds and characters, or simply enjoying the printed and digital page?

We are. So much so that we decided to start sharing our love of words with you. Urbane Publications is a new and exciting independent publisher dedicated to developing and producing the books you want to read – hip, contemporary, groundbreaking  fiction and non-fiction designed to entertain, excite, and engage.

Our team has been involved in the publishing industry for over 20 years, as booksellers, publishers and even authors. It seemed a natural step to bring all that experience to bear in an exciting new venture to introduce you to the best new creative ventures and valuable content out there.

Words always have the power and potential to excite, involve, inspire – and we live them at Urbane Publications. This is a journey of discovery, finding new voices, defining new genres, and most importantly creating the words you want read.

Urbane Publications is a proud member of the Independent Publishers Guild.

Learn more about Urbane Publications on their website here.

The Book I’m Reviewing From Urbane Publications is…




Do you want to live forever? is THE question facing anyone pursuing immortality. But what happens when eternal life is disappointing, and everyone around you keeps dying?

Ben Ferguson-Cripps, a struggling writer with a surname that gets more attention than his creative endeavours, sets aside his literary ambitions to join the mysterious Life Assistance Agency. Their first case is to trace a missing person with links to the Elizabethan angel-caller Dr John Dee.

Pursued by a shadowy organisation – and the ghosts of Ben’s past – the trail leads through Europe into the historic streets of Prague, where the long-buried secrets of Dr Dee’s achievements are finally revealed, and Ben discovers there is far more to life than simply living…

This book is fab! It’s so rich in culture and magic and intrigue and mystery. The contrast between the mundanity of Ben’s life against the strange world of alchemy and scrying and angels works really well in this book.

I felt a lot of sympathy for Ben throughout the story. He is a bit lost after experiencing a failure after a short-lived rise to fame, and then becomes even more completely out of his depth when he joins the Life Assistance Agency as a staff member and finds himself in danger. He isn’t perfect and makes a fair few mistakes, but he’s still likeable throughout. I would have liked to learn a bit more about Scott, Ben’s co-worker, but the rest of the characters in the book (Dr Dee, his accomplices, Mr Foxe and others) are very well developed.

The narrative is broken up throughout with diary entries from Dr Dee’s wife, written back in the 1500s. This keeps the story varied and intriguing, with a good balance between modern day and the past. The book also has plenty of action and dialogue and lots of varying scenes and settings, which helped to keep it moving forwards.

You are kept in the dark quite a lot throughout the story, despite one or two moments of explanation and clarity, but that only adds to the mysteriousness element. Why is Foxe following the steps of a man who lived centuries ago? Why does he want to scry and communicate with angels? What is he trying to achieve by becoming a modern day alchemist?

There are some very interesting twists at the end of the book that I just didn’t see coming (and one that I kind of did, but only right before it happened) and really breathes a new lease of life into the story. Some are subtly done; some are serious and dramatic. The twists are what stayed in my head long after I finished reading.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s quite unique and breaks the mould. I would certainly recommend it if you’re after reading something a bit different from the norm.

All I will say is that the book really is in need of another round  of proofreading (this probably won’t bother a lot of readers and a lot of readers would probably be unlikely to notice all the missed mistakes that I did. But I’m a freelance proof reader and in-house editor by trade, so it affected my reading) which is really the only reason I’m giving it three and a half stars. This doesn’t discredit the story itself though: once its issues are tidied up on the next print run, it’s definitely a four-starrer for me.






I’m back with an awesome reading challenge

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote, right?!

I tell you, trying to be so IN with the publishing community is absolutely amazing. It also gives me so much to do and so many ideas, with so little time to actually get it done. But I’m going to try my best to continue blogging this year.

I’ve started an AMAZING new job as Assistant Copy Editor at a new mental health publishing company called Trigger Press, so there’s that to deal with too. I will blog more about it later, so watch out for that.

Amazingly, on top of all of this, I’ve given myself quite an ambitious reading challenge for 2017, too, despite having ambitions to do a million and one other things and still find time to work, eat and sleep.

I know a lot of people scoff at the idea of new year’s resolutions, but I love them. One of them for this year is to travel all around the UK and learn about the different places in my own country. I realise I know so little about the UK and so I want to remedy that, and enjoy life outside of work a bit more. Perhaps I’ll blog about that too, maybe. Or I’ll just keep a personal diary for that. I don’t know if I can possibly start a travel blog as well as a fairly quiet publishing one 😮 I’ve done quite well with that so far, as I’ve already planned quite a few trips and already taken my first one to Sheffield.

What I’ve also decided to do is set myself a “52 Books by 52 Publishers” reading challenge. Averaging at one per week obviously, but some of that will have to involve binge-reading on my holidays, but that’s OK. It’s 52 by the end of the year, not 1 a week.


Apologies for the rubbish picture. These will improve.


So far I think I’ve read around 6 or 7, so I’m kind of on target, but I will post the first review up shortly.

Any genre goes. I am mainly concentrating on independent publishers, but the Big 4 will show up some places too. The only rule I’ve set myself is that different imprints that belong to the same publisher do not count. They have to be 52 completely different publishers. Makes things more interesting and more challenging that way.

If anyone feels like being a nosy bugger, here’s my amazon list that shows you the ones I’m looking at buying/asking friends and family to buy me for birthday etc. over the year. I won’t necessarily get them from Amazon every time, as I am trying to visit lots of indie shops this year or buy from the publisher’s website where possible, but Amazon and Goodreads are the easiest place to make a wishlist and probably the easiest way to get others to buy for me (I can just point them towards a list and they can pick which one they want to get me.)

If anyone has any recommendations of books or publishers, PLEASE, holler!

Follow the journey on Twitter @cox_stephanie  #52booksby52publishers








Little Girl Gone by Alexandra Burt



I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying they’re tired of hearing about books with ‘girl’ and ‘gone’ in the title – but ignore them. This book is powerful and breathtaking and you’d be missing out on something very special if you didn’t pick it up due to its title!

A baby goes missing. But does her mother want her back?

When Estelle’s baby daughter is taken from her cot, she doesn’t report her missing. Days later, Estelle is found in a wrecked car, with a wound to her head and no memory.

Estelle knows she holds the key to what happened that night – but what she doesn’t know is whether she was responsible…

Little Girl Gone is another one of those books where I completely forgot to make my usual notes as I go along because I was just far, far too engrossed in the plot line and the story. It is a harrowing tale of a woman who suffers badly with post-partum depression and it sends her spiralling into a pit of despair and desperation. Somebody has taken her baby, quite possibly murdered or hurt her, and even Estelle knows that there is a distinct likelihood that she has done it.

Waking up from a horrific car accident and finding out that her baby has gone missing, Estelle doesn’t remember a single thing about the whole episode. All she knows is that there is no sign of Mia anywhere and very few clues as to what might have happened. As a result, she is admitted into a psychiatric ward and must probe into the depths of her psyche, with the help of her counsellor Dr Ari, to figure out what happened and if she is responsible for her baby’s disappearance, or whether there is someone else involved.

Delving deeper into the labyrinth of Estelle’s mind is an emotional roller coaster and just endlessly fascinating and intriguing. This book encapsulates perfectly just how complicated and mysterious and fragile the human mind can be, especially when that person is going through depression or an incredibly difficult time. It explores the different psychological mechanisms and afflictions that are associated with trauma and actually teaches the reader a lot about the human condition.

I’ve known and heard about people who have had such massive traumas in their lives that their minds have just completely wiped their memories of them in order to cope. But what this book does is show us how and why that process happens. In the book, we have no idea what to believe and whether or not to trust Estelle’s version of events. She can’t even trust herself.

My heart bled for Estelle with every syllable of this book that I read. She hasn’t got a clue what is up or down any more. She feels like she wants to hurt her baby, but we know that it is just the depression getting to her and she’s aware that these thoughts are horrifying and wrong. She can’t trust anybody around her and she can’t trust herself. The author has done an amazing job on conveying what it is like inside her head: you can almost feel the despair weighing on your own shoulders and wrapping itself around your heart as you read through the book.

Estelle’s husband Jack is a difficult man to weigh up: he most definitely has his faults in that he can be controlling and condescending, and throughout the book he does often come across as a real jerk. But I did also feel a strong degree of sympathy for him. Though he handles it utterly appallingly, he does also suffer when Estelle’s depression hits and, having dealt with family depression in the past, I know only too well how upsetting it is. It is not always within the family member’s power to get everything right: they are suffering too. For that reason, I did understand Jack more than I really wanted to. After all, it is also his baby daughter that has gone missing and his instinctive inclination to blame Estelle can’t be entirely blamed.

I won’t give away what actually happens to Mia, but my god, the story is just mind-blowing. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the whole thing. There are few books where I have wanted to skip to the ending as much, although I did restrain myself.

You will adore this book, especially if you are a mystery or crime fiction fan. Little Girl Gone is action-packed, tense, and leaves an impression on you long after you finish reading. It is a stunning book.

Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix

Thank you to Kim Nash of Bookouture for providing me with a kindle copy of this book. I very much appreciate it!

This is a beautiful historical fiction novel, and one which I enjoyed a lot.


Loosely based on real historical people, the novel features two love triangles – one set in Pisa in 1171 between Berta di Bernardo, a rich merchant’s wife, her young lover Gerardo di Gerardo, and her maid and Gerardo’s secret love, Aurelia. The other occurs in the 1990s, between Sam, who is a married mother, her ailing husband Michael and an Italian man named Dario who helps her with a project on the Tower of Pisa.

They are not just merely fluffy love triangles, however – their stories affect and reflect the deeply important work that the individuals are undertaking. Berta falls deeply in love with Gerardo, a young man who strives to follow in his architect grandfather’s footsteps, and the fiery, dominant woman manages to get him his dream job helping to build a magnificent campanile – The Leaning Tower of Pisa. But although Gerardo loves Berta in a way, he is deeply in love with Aurelia and yet cannot find a way out of his predicament: Berta essentially commissioned the Tower project and if he can’t keep her happy he will lose his dream job.

In the present day, Michael is working on a documentary about the history of the tower and the story of its construction, but when he flies out to Italy after confessing to having had an affair, he has a stroke which renders his work incomplete. Having worked in film and TV in a previous life, Sam steps up to the plate and takes over the project, and with the help of Dario whom she meets in Italy she begins to uncover the truth behind the amazing building: the mysterious BB who funded the project and the men around her who received the credit.

I loved Sam’s character and her strength despite being under severe stress and having been heartbroken by her husband. She shows determination and it is mostly borne out of her craving an identity and profession that she lost when she had children. This contrasts nicely with Berta’s story – a woman living in an age when a woman couldn’t realistically have a career and is also unable to have children. How can both women influence what is going on around them? And why is the Tower so vitally important to both of them and the men in their lives?

Berta is an interesting character. For the most part I found her bratty and unlikeable, but I can’t deny that she is impressive in her power and her determination. She also shows a compassionate side which peaks out every now and again and takes you by surprise. Aurelia I found to be charming but a bit whiny, but this just accurately reflects her age and the situation she finds herself in.

The novel is written beautifully, with such vivid imagery that makes you feel like you’re really in Pisa in 1171, and also in the 1990s. The contrast in time periods works really well. This book is a great read!

Room by Emma Donoghue

This book kind of precedes itself, especially since it has now been made into a major film! So I will keep this review short but very very sweet.



There is a reason this book is now a ‘modern classic’. Because it is just outstanding in so many ways. I received it in my delegate bag at the Society of Young Publishers conference in 2015 (one of many pluses of being involved with the committee!) and I am so glad I did.

Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. 

Jack lives with Ma in Room. Room has a single locked door and a skylight, and it measures eleven feet by eleven feet. Jack loves watching TV but he knows that nothing he sees on the screen is truly real – only him, Ma and the things in Room. Until the day Ma admits there is a world outside.

Yes, the story is about abduction and imprisonment, but what makes it so magical and unique is that the trauma and horror of Jack and his mother’s predicament is far less a focus of the novel than their amazing connection and relationship with one another. For this reason, the book is a incredibly fascinating insight into how circumstance can shape human relationships.

Room makes you re-evaluate the world around you, and how much of it you take for granted. Reading it, you feel claustrophobic for Mum, at the same time as feeling liberated and free for Jack. Room is their world now, but Jack has grown up knowing nothing else whereas his Mum knows how devastating their situation is. However, life in captivity has almost become normal for Jack’s Mum too, and her relationship with her captor who comes regularly to bring food and other supplies, starts to resemble an old, stale and boring marriage. It’s so fascinating to see how Donoghue has turned this horrifyingly familiar tale into something completely different by turning it on its head.

The fact that its written in the point of view of Jack makes it all the special: he sees the wonder of everything around him for what they are, and not what he is missing. It puts a whole new perspective on life and material possessions.

If you’re planning on watching, or have watched the film: brilliant! I’m yet to see it but will at my earliest opportunity. But it you haven’t read the book yet, I urge you to do so. As has already been recognised, it truly is a classic and one I know I will keep coming back to and recommending to people as much as possible.



More of Me by Kathryn Evans


Ohh, I enjoyed this book SO MUCH.

“The world must not know about our freakery”. 

Teva’s life seems normal: school, friends, boyfriend. But at home she hides an impossible secret. Eleven other Tevas.

Because once a year, Teva separates into two, leaving a younger version of herself stuck at the same age, in the same house…watching the new Teva live the life that she’d been living. But as her seventeeth birthday rolls around, Teva is determined not to let it happen again. She’s going to fight for her future. Even if that means fighting herself.

If you want to read a book that is utterly unique (and I mean UNIQUE) and really fascinating, pick up a copy of this. More of Me is unlike any other book I’ve read and I absolutely sailed through it.

Teva has to battle with the every-day problems of your typical teenager: struggling with school work, getting into a good college, making friends, and keeping her relationship on track. She even has to deal with arguments and tensions that come with a large family – pretty normal for someone whose family is not mostly duplications of herself.

The book keeps you gripped throughout as Teva searches not only for answers as to why she is afflicted with this appalling condition, but for ways to stop it happening again so that she doesn’t end up like her former selves: imprisoned in a house while the newest Teva gets to go out and life a normal life, for just one year. Sixteen-year-old Teva is determined to not let it happen again to her. She wants to keep hold of her life and keep going.

The brilliant thing about this book is that the author, Kathryn Evans, has managed to take such a unique concept – one that obviously took some amazing literary imagination to begin with – and make it completely believable. She’s also managed to imagine how this condition would affect a young girl and put it in such clear and poetic language so that by the end of it Teva has your heart in the palm of her hands. Even the language that describes Teva’s love for her boyfriend Ollie is beautifully unique in its style:

“Walking up to Ollie was like being pulled into his orbit of normal. He looked up and saw me, his face cracking into the widest smile…I couldn’t help but be lifted by it….

when he gently touched the tip of his nose to my nose; when he twined his fingers into mine, our hands palm to palm, and held me in his gaze…sometimes I thought he half powered my life.”

Teva’s mother has a difficult life: she has to look after, hide and protect all of the reincarnations of her daughter, at each different age of her life, and I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like inside her head. To begin with, it sometimes feels like she is distant or only thinking of herself; but it couldn’t be further from the truth and as the truth unfolds the reader realises just how strong the woman is and how much heartache and trauma she has had to suffer through. She is an inspiration of a female character.

Teva herself is a great character and what makes this book so brilliant is that, because each of her former selves has their own personality, we get to know her in every way that she has always been: the terrified little six-year-old, the nonchalant 14-year-old, the cheeky and overconfident 12 and 13-year-old and the fiery, dominant 15-year-old. No other book can quite show you the many personalities of one person all at once. It really is great writing.

The narrative flows easily, it outlines both the true dangers of today’s digital world and the dangers of a completely imagined and wacky scenario. For this reason, you HAVE to put it on your priority reading list for this year. I absolutely loved it.

Thank you very much to Kathryn and the publisher Usborne for providing me with a copy of this book. This book was released yesterday and you can buy a copy here. Follow Kathryn Evans on Twitter @mrsbung


Introducing Literary Agent Sherna Khambatta

Today’s interview is another international one, with a literary agent based in India. Here Sherna Khambatta discusses her role in the industry and the books and publishing landscape in her country.
SKLA Profhimalaya
Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career.

I started the Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency in 2007 after gaining a Msc. in Publishing. The publishing system in India at that time didn’t have many agents and I thought it would be a good way to bring in a certain amount of structure into the industry and help authors get their work sold.

What were some of the challenges in doing so?
In understanding how the system worked/ works. The main challenge in India is distribution / visibility of books and marketing so for me, once the book has been published, that’s more of a challenge than getting a book sold.

Your website says “Literary agents are a new concept in Indian publishing.” How has the system worked previously and what do you feel your company brings to the indian publishing landscape?

There are a very few agents in India still, some publishers such as Hachette India now only work through agents so I think in a miniscule way we’ve been able to bring in some structure into the system. Previously authors could directly send in work to publishers by mail and now by email.

In what ways do you work as the liaison between the author and publisher?

I negotiate the contract, help out in editing the book, and if there are any issues whilst the publisher edits the work then I step in sometimes as a moderator between the two. I also help out in social media marketing, making sure the books are in store, sending out media copies, arranging interviews, organising events/book signings and with Literary festivals.

What is particularly exciting you about Indian publishing right now?

I think India is a country ever changing and there are so many stories to be told and so many individuals with a lot of talent so it’s always exciting!

How many submissions do you receive a month on average and what is it that you look for in a manuscript?

I receive about 70-100 manuscripts a week on average. I prefer working with non-fiction as I believe that no two people have the same experience and so that’s very interesting for me to see something written with a different perspective. I’m in search of well written narratives which I feel should be shared.

What’s been your biggest success so far?

I’m very proud to have worked on the newest book that we’ve released –  Himalaya Bound by Michael Benanav –  on a tribe in the Himalayas. It’s published by HarperCollins India and has been a very fulfilling experience.
The book The Nanologues by Vanessa Able, published by Hachette India, has had its rights sold in the UK & US by the publisher Nicholas Brealey and re-named ‘Never Mind The Bullocks.’ I feel this has been one of my biggest success stories so far.
You can follow Sherna on Twitter @ShernaKhambatta
Find out more about her company here:

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