Book Review – Digging In

Diggin In is a rare book that emotionally tugged my heart, and the author molded it like clay and breathed new life into it and set it free.

Protagonist Paige experiences a life-altering tragedy, and the story is about how she copes with grief. The author faced a similar tragedy in her life, and her first-hand experience allows her to write with real authority and compassion on this issue.

Humor and hope are weaved skillfully along with grief to create a beautiful tapestry that allows readers to be touched without being drowned in emotions.

I could not put this book down and read it in two sittings. And the story lingers in me still with a pleasant after-taste.

Highly recommend this book for anyone who has lost a loved one and needs a hopeful story to regain your love for life.

Accepting negative reviews

Writing is a solitary journey. We authors think about our characters constantly. Meera and her world enter my reality while I am cooking—walking—in the shower—waiting at the stoplight. They become our friends and family. Then one day, we share our baby with the outside world, with our heart in our hands.

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Then comes the reality all authors must face and dread—a negative review. Such reviews may turn our fight or flight response. Neither is beneficial for our writing journey. Writing a book review with constructive feedback is an art by itself. We should learn to treat these reviews as gifts and cherish these reviewers. This is not easy, and it is okay to call a friend and have a meltdown. Just keep it off social media.

As writers, we want to improve our craft. Constructive feedback gives us a valuable window into the mind of our readers. While we cannot make everyone happy, it is crucial to know what readers of our genre expect.

If a reviewer is malicious, please ignore and move on. Picking a fight is not worth your sanity. The good news is most reviewers are thoughtful.

So next time you get a negative review, bake bread and take your anger out on the dough. Then take a deep breath and understand it is not personal. Read the review and mine for the gold nuggets to take your writing to the next level.

Keep writing! I am cheering for you and looking for the next book to fall in love with.

Book Review – The Animal Court

Animal Court is featured in the San Diego Library Local Author Showcase, so I was excited to read the book. Author S. Faxon weaves an intricate tapestry of political intrigue in her novel.

Gertrude, the protagonist, is a smart woman who has many ideas to improve the lives of the people of Vitenka. If only the men around her listened to her.

I liked how the author equates the royal court to a court of animals. A weak king Herod, conspirers plotting for their own wealth and success, men waiting in the wings to seize power when the king fails, and a political uprising serves as the backdrop to the tale.

Not only does Gertrude need to unravel the web of treachery. She also needs to listen to her heart. Both are easier said than done.

A weighty set of supporting characters in Galina, Sam, Absalom, Herod, and Breyton keep us engaged and hooked to the story unfolding on the pages. Gertrude is a flawed character with a heart, and that makes her all the more interesting. Plenty of action, drama, and love to get us to turn the pages. Writing a satisfactory ending in a tale like this is not trivial, and the author pulls it off.

Recommend: For readers of political intrigues, historical fiction, and lovers of the game of thrones.

Book Review – Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott welcomes you into her life and bares her mind to you in this book. This is no easy task for most of us. It is almost like shedding one’s clothes and allowing the world to see you vulnerable.

Anne shows a budding writer how to do this with humor and self-deprecation. There is nothing earth-shattering revealed in this book about writing. Most of the advice offered here would be familiar to any aspiring writer or an experienced writer wanting to improve their craft.

Still, I found it useful to read this book, if only to know my struggles as a writer are not unique to me.

Recommend: For aspiring and experienced writers who want to hone their craft.

Writing Update

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While I am editing War of the Three Kings, I have also started writing book three. I just wrapped chapter one of the finale. These characters have been with me for over six years now, so I am heading towards the finish line with mixed emotions. I want to complete the stories of Meera, Jay, and others. I want to write other tales about new characters who are whispering in my ears now. But there is sad music playing in the background (in my mind) as I think of the ending and bidding these characters farewell.


In some ways, this does feel like a mother or father sending their child off to college and mourning the lost childhood. In my case, I do have other stories I want to tell. Those nebulous ideas in my head now will grow into faint outlines and then characters with personalities and back stories and story arcs.

War of the Three Kings: Can Meera keep her secrets past and present from destroying Magadha and the men she loves?

Heir to Malla is available on KindleUnlimited and almost everywhere books are sold.

Book Review – Under the light of the Italian Moon

Inspired by a true story, this book takes the reader through world war Italy. A young girl struggles between her love for a man and her duty to her family. This is my kind of story already.

Nina falls in love with Pietro, and her love is rewarded when he comes back from America to marry her. She remains in Fonzaso after her nuptials while her husband returns to the mines in America. The long-distance romance between husband and wife sustained through letters seem surreal in this age of near-instant communication worldwide. Against the backdrop of Mussolini’s rule and world war, we walk alongside Nina as she comes of age.


The author opens a window into the lives of women in Fonzaso and peals the layers to reveal the family ties that sustain them. The matriarch fills the pages even in her absence. Her sternness masks her gentle acts of kindness. This book is a slow seven-course meal that needs to be savored bite by bite. It immerses the reader into the Italian culture and religion, celebrating the resiliency of her people. The streets came to life for me in the words of the author. I laughed and cried as the author take us on the emotional roller coaster of the war. I could picture myself standing in the warm kitchens where women gathered to cook and gossip.

Recommend: Readers of family memoirs, love stories, and world war dramas would enjoy this tale.


Have you read Heir to Malla yet? It is a medieval fiction laced with love. I am looking forward to sharing my second book in the Land of Magadha series with you readers soon.

I post reviews of books I have read, and you can view all my reviews in GoodReads or here in my blog.

Book Review – Farseer Trilogy

I read all three books in the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb this year. Highly recommend this series for all fantasy lovers.

The author builds a vibrant world and populates them with empathetic characters. Apart from Prince Chivalry, who is revered by all, the other characters are flawed, and that makes for a wonderful read.

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As Fitz learns about his magical abilities, so do we. The ending of book two was brilliant. If you have read A Dance with Dragons by GRRM and wonder how Jon Snow is going to come back to life, Fitz’s story provides several clues. The two books have several parallels, two bastards with combined magical abilities from their parents that allow them to save the world. Recommend this series to Game of Thrones fans.

With an epic fantasy, landing the plane at the end is hard, and Robin pulls it off. The ending ties most threads and brings the arcs to a satisfactory conclusion.

Nitpicks: magic has a plot device to save Fitz’s life happens too many times in the last book. Some meandering storylines could have been trimmed in book three.

Writing without judgement

I write medieval fiction. While my story is set in the fictional land of Magadha, it is loosely based on India around those times. As an author, I do have a choice on what aspects of the culture I reflect in my story. Some of these, like polygamy or women’s agency, is not aligned with modern sensibilities. What should a writer do? Write the story they want to share.

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Royal dynasties in the Indian subcontinent commonly practiced polygamy. This practice appears in my books. Whether I approve of it today is not material to the tale. It is a plot device in the hands of an author. I imagine how it must have been for characters to be in this kind of relationship. And I put them in situations that will result in a conflict of their human hearts. I strive to do this without judging them based on my modern awareness.

My female characters inhabit a world where they do not have any agency on their own. They are dependent on their male family members for their authority. Their daily lives differed from mine today. I enjoy writing about the human heart in conflict, the struggle between love and duty, the strife between self and society. For that, I imagine how female characters with different attributes will survive in this world. I place them in harm’s way, tempt them, lead them down wrong paths. And some characters like Meera surprise me with their strength and steadiness.

Readers come to the book with their own life experiences, and once a book leaves my hands, I have to let the readers take it from there. To enjoy, experience, emphasize, fall in love, grieve as they choose.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on how you approach reading books that have practices that we condemn today.


I am an author of medieval fiction “Heir to Malla”, a story of a princess fighting her battles without wielding a sword or a wand.

I am currently writing my second book “War of the Three Kings“, set in the same world.

Guest Blog by Kathleen Marple Kalb

NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S DIVA

(Well, depends on your grandma!)

Your mental picture of an opera singer probably isn’t a slim woman in breeches fencing a bad guy…and that’s just the first expectation Ella Shane shatters on any given day.

            Ella, the main character in my Gilded Age mystery series, is used to being different. She grew up poor on the Lower East Side as Ellen O’Shaughnessy, the daughter of an Irish father and Jewish mother at a time when interfaith marriages were a ticket to the social abyss. She sings “trouser roles,” male parts like Romeo played by women because of the vocal range. And she insists – sometimes at the point of her sword — upon being treated as a respectable lady in a time when singers were still often considered women of questionable virtue.

            All pretty different from a standard diva.

            Not to mention an absolutely unique character.

            She’s a lot of fun to write, because I grew up watching those old movies with the swashbuckling heroes and wondering why the women always had to just stand there. Years later, I read a book on young singers at the Met, and a mezzo-soprano who sings “witches and britches.” Trouser roles. 

            It all clicked.

A woman whose job requires her to dress like a man and fence will be able to credibly do all kinds of exciting things. It’s a great plot device. But Ella is far more than a plot device. She’s a woman who takes male prerogatives, pushing boundaries in a very sexist time. Plus, because she challenges limits onstage, she behaves with iron propriety offstage, which sets up a lot of interesting dynamics. 

            Equally interesting, Ella is a woman in her thirties who’s slowly deciding that she might want to have a child. But that child would come at price of her freedom; a woman legally becomes a man’s property when they marry. As the owner of her own opera company, and an independent woman, she isn’t willing or able to make that sacrifice. Which sounds a lot like a modern woman’s work-life balance battle…from a whole different angle.

Ella’s not my only unusual character. At her side is her cousin Tommy Hurley, former boxing champ and co-owner and manager of the opera company. Described obliquely as “not the marrying kind,” he’s as out and proud as it’s possible to be in 1899, and has a happy and fulfilling life with his friends and family. It works because nobody suspects it from The Champ, and nobody asks too many questions of a good standup guy…with a hefty right cross.

            They’re surrounded by a fun and interesting cast, including several more trailblazing women: a doctor, a reporter and a fellow opera singer who’s curtailed her career just enough to fit in a family. More, we see all of them, male and female, doing their jobs. This is not one of those series where characters have fabulous careers on paper but nobody ever seems to work.

            Of course, I can’t leave out the love interest. If very respectable Ella’s thinking of having a child, she must be thinking of marrying…and until now, there’s been no remotely suitable contender. That all changes when Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith, walks into her rehearsal studio. He assumes “theatre people” aren’t respectable, and our veryrespectable Ella schools him on that — over crossed swords. He’s hooked. She’s interested, but it’s going to take him a long time to earn her trust.

Their first adventure, A FATAL FINALE, features our cast looking into the death of Ella’s most recent Juliet, who drank real poison and died onstage. Turns out she’s the Duke’s cousin, and he’s come to New York to find out what happened to her. The mystery builds slowly, with Ella helping at first only because of her ethical obligation to her late employee, and her kind hope to ease the Duke’s grief. But as we get to know our cast, and they dig deeper into the girl’s life, it becomes clear that this was no accident…and focus their efforts on tracking a killer. 

            It all culminates in a classic Errol Flynn-style catwalk duel, with Ella handling the swordplay and the Duke waiting in the wings. After it’s all sorted out, it’s clear that Ella will be seeing more of the Duke…and we’ll be seeing more of Ella and the crew.

            Speaking of which, book two comes next April. A FATAL FIRST NIGHT features the same loveable characters, backstage drama and slow-burn romance, with a fast-paced interlocking mystery plot – starting with a dressing-room death. More duels – and murders – ahead!

Buy A FATAL FINALEhttps://www.kensingtonbooks.com/9781496727237/

Kathleen Marple Kalb grew up in front of a microphone, and a keyboard. She’s now a weekend morning anchor at 1010 WINS New York, capping a career begun as a teenage DJ in Brookville, Pennsylvania. She worked her way up through newsrooms in Pittsburgh, Vermont and Connecticut, developing her skills and a deep and abiding distaste for snowstorms. While she wrote her first (thankfully unpublished) historical novel at age sixteen, fiction was firmly in the past until her son started school. She, her husband and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.

SOCIAL LINKS: 

Website: https://kathleenmarplekalb.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kathleen-Marple-Kalb-1082949845220373/

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Note from Anna Bushi:

I am an author of medieval fiction “Heir to Malla”, a story of a princess fighting her battles without wielding a sword or a wand.

I am currently writing my second book “War of the Three Kings“.

I feature authors in my blog regularly. You can view all the authors I have featured here. If you are an author and you would like to be featured in my blog, please contact me.