BOOK REVIEW: The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night – pictured with Fido the Saguaro.

There are times when you start reading a book without knowing what to expect. Such was the case with D.E. Night’s young adult (YA) fantasy book, The Crowns of Croswald. It was familiar yet wholly new at the same time – and it turned into an energetic, comfortable reading experience.

This review comes from a writer and reader who rarely dip his toes into the genre. When it comes to fantasy and YA fiction, my experiences primarily orbit Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and the Harry Potter series.

It’s the latter I felt largely influenced The Crowns of Croswald and in the beginning those similarities were strong, even for someone who has not read the Harry Potter (HP) adventures for years. I found myself feeling as though I’d been transported back to those days of Hogwarts, to that memorable era when I read the first three HP books to my daughter. And this was not a bad feeling at all.

In fact, the more I read, the more I was engrossed in Night’s tale, told simply and elegantly, and found myself absorbed by it. This is not HP at all, but an original story told in that cozy YA style (imagine HP as a genre), and done quite well. The author’s world-building game is top notch.

Lovely illustrations adorn each chapter title.

The book’s chapters are dotted at the outset with charming illustrations also reminiscent of the small drawings seen at the top of each HP chapter. Only these illustrations are done to enhance the story of Ivy Lovely, a young woman who has no idea how exciting her life is about to become.  When we first meet her she’s hidden under a magic-killing screen, little realizing her potential as she toils in Castle Plum’s kitchen ensuring each dragon-cooked meal is as tasty as possible. Her only real friend at this point is the woods dwarf, Rimbrick, who offers her hints to her own destiny, not to mention all the books she can handle. It’s when she’s kicked out of Castle Plum that her life begins to change, particularly when she lands in the magical Halls of Ivy, a school where anything can happen and usually does thanks to the scrivenists – sort of like wizards but here the wands are quills – sort of. At school she befriends the witty Fyn Greeley, gets into a bit of trouble, and more importantly seeks to unlock the mysteries of her past, why she was brought to the school, and deal with the nefarious Dark Queen. More happens, a lot more, but readers will have to discover those gems for themselves.

Another point I enjoyed was the use of the name D.E. Night, which readers of Croswald will discover is a name used in the book itself. Early on, in fact, Rimbrick hands off three books for Ivy to read. Each is written by Derwin Edgar Night.  The subtle inclusion of the author into the work reminded me of Doyle’s inclusion of Watson into the classic Sherlock Holmes stories, a trick I can get behind with ease. It’s a great way to supercharge the imagination for readers.

Those looking for a well-paced read in the vein of authors J.K. Rowling and Patrick Rothfuss (without the adult-level syllabus) look no further than D.E. Night’s plucky Croswald series, now at two books and counting.

Check out Night’s website here.

Read an excerpt from Call Down the Thunder: A crime novel by Dietrich Kalteis

Call Down the Thunder
By Dietrich Kalteis
ECW Press (October 15, 2019)

Dietrich Kalteis has produced another gem with his latest historical crime novel, “Call Down the Thunder,” out this month from ECW Press. Read the description below followed by an excerpt of the novel courtesy of ECW. Find your copy here!

Amazon.com description:

Sonny and Clara Myers struggle on their Kansas farm in the late 1930s, a time the Lord gave up on: their land’s gone dry, barren, and worthless; the bankers are greedy and hungry, trying to squeeze them and other farmers out of their homes; and, on top of that, their marriage is in trouble. The couple can struggle and wither along with the land or surrender to the bankers and hightail it to California like most of the others. Clara is all for leaving, but Sonny refuses to abandon the family farm.
In a fit of temper, she takes off westward in their old battered truck. Alone on the farm and determined to get back Clara and the good old days, Sonny comes up with an idea, a way to keep his land and even prosper while giving the banks a taste of their own misery. He sets the scheme in motion under the cover of the commotion being caused by a rainmaker hired by the mayor to call down the thunder and wash away everyone’s troubles.

Author photo by Andrea Kalteis.

Call Down the Thunder book excerpt:

Not getting out of Kansas tonight. The dusk was coming on.

Clara sat on the bumper. The steam had stopped rising from under the hood. Had only been the one truck drive by since she broke down. Likely end up sleeping in the truck.

Then she heard it, coming from a long way off, raising dust behind it. An old Packard with the square cab, the headlights high and on either side of the windshield, the kind of truck they used for delivering the post when she was a kid. This one painted brown, gold lettering down the wood-
paneled sides. The driver slowed to a stop and leaned across the seat, calling out the window.

“Got trouble?”

Some kind of scorn would likely have the man driving off. Clara smiled and said, “Darn thing started clunking and blowing steam, then quit. Sure be grateful in case you got some water to spare, mister.” Clara sizing the man up, medium height with a hawk nose, bug eyes and bushes for eyebrows and sideburns, looked harmless enough.

“Your lucky day. Water’s my game,” he said, pointing at the lettering down the side.

Eugene Cobb, Rainmaker.

Getting out, he stuck a bowler on his head, came around the front bumper and said his name, looking over the old Hudson, never seen something on the road with this little paint left on it.

“Rainmaker, huh?” She smiled and said her name.

“Spoken with the note of the skeptic, Clara.” Pulling open his passenger door, Eugene took a canteen from behind the seat, giving it a shake and offering it to her.

“You make it?” Taking it, she smiled and had a drink. Couldn’t believe how good it felt going down.

“Pumped it fresh this morning.”

“Let me ask, how you go about making it rain, Eugene?” She drank some more.

Crooking a finger, he wanted her to follow to the rear of his truck, flapping back the musty canvas. Behind some packs and tubs of supplies stood a kind of mortar on a tripod, strapped to the truck’s floor. A simple affair of a tripod base, a long barrel and a bipod mount. The thing painted black with his name painted gold along its barrel.

“That like a cannon?”

“Cannon’s more an artillery gun, fires a flat trajectory. Roundshot mostly.” He climbed up in back. “What I fire’s more of a canister shot, what I call my Cobb-busters.”

“Shoot them where?”

“The sky, of course.”

“Can I ask why?” She drank some more.

“Causes it to concuss, see? Makes it rain.”

Clara looked up at the cloudless evening, the moon and stars starting to show.

“Can see you’re a doubting Debbie.”

“Never seen a fella do it, blast the sky, is all.” She looked at the tubs of sulfur and black powder, bottles of colored liquid, some labeled ether.

“Pack them special, my Cobb-busters.” Reaching a hollow tube with welded propellent fins, his name down the side. Cradling it in his arms, he explained about removing the explosive, how he repacked it, then dropped it in the cast-iron tube, how it hit the firing pin and shot into the heavens, the special blast bringing about the rain. Saying, “I calculate the trajectory, windspeed and velocity, you see?” Smiling, Eugene set the missile back down, pushed a pack aside and came up with a jug, sloshing it around, holding it out.

“What’s this?”

“Water . . . for your radiator.”

“You make it?” She smiled again, handing the canteen back.

Tossing the empty canteen to the corner, he hopped down, took the jug over to her truck, looking under the folded hood. He scraped remnants of seeds and nuts from the radiator, pointing to where some rodent had chewed through the tubes.

Clara leaned in and saw what he was pointing at.

“Little buggers built nests, see there?”

“How far you figure I’ll get?”

“Was wondering how you got this far.” Shaking his head, he set the hood down. “Need a new hose, at least that.”

“Saying I’m damn out of luck.”

“Well, I can offer you a lift.”

Clara looked up the road, then back the way she’d come, then at him. “Where to?”

Excerpted from Call Down the Thunder by Dietrich Kalteis. © 2019 by Dietrich Kalteis. All rights reserved. Published by ECW Press Ltd. www.ecwpress.com

BOOK REVIEW: Dim Sum of All Fears by Vivien Chien a tasty recipe for clever mysteries

I dove into Dim Sum of All Fears (the second in the Noodle Shop Mystery series) and found a gem in the contemporary cozy mystery scene. The first in the series, Death by Dumpling, will now be my second to get me back on track with these remarkable stories. That makes sense, right?

This delicious series by Vivien Chien features amateur sleuth Lana Lee, who works at her parents’ restaurant in Cleveland, but wants a little more for herself. What she doesn’t want, but always gets, is to wind up in a mess of drama. Bummer for her, but lucky for us.

In Dim Sum we find Lana running Ho-Lee Noodle House while her folks take a vacation to Taiwan. Add to this the discovery of two corpses in the shop next door, a budding romance with a police detective, and suddenly Lana has more on her plate than she can handle. Who would have thought Cleveland could be this smashing?

For me, a fan of horror and crime fiction, Lana’s adventure was a shift in the type of books I typically enjoy. It’s a good idea to try something new and I wasn’t disappointed with Dim Sum. The mystery is a “cozy,” similar in a way to Agatha Christie or Elizabeth Peters, dare I say Holmes, but with a contemporary style and an appealing sense of creativity. I can see the down-to-Earth, donut-loving Lana among the ranks of Sherlock and Marple in the coming years.

The clever book titles are rich, which is likely what drew me to try the mystery in the first place. This includes the fourth entry, Wonton Terror, which comes out later this month. Now that I’m hooked, I’m looking forward to reading what’s next for the cast of characters at Ho-Lee Noodle House.

Keep serving up the Lana Lee stories!

I never really ended up craving Dim Sum though. Weird.

Michael Newton – a chat with an amazing author

Michael Newton is one of the hardest working writers in the industry. He’s published more than 335 books, some under a different name, including The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, a number of fiction series such as the M.I.A. Hunter, The Gun westerns, and plenty more. His work in non-fiction is as prolific as his work in fiction. He’s written books on the subject of writing, as a matter of fact, which anyone interested in writing should read.


He’s also well known for his contributions to The Executioner series originally created by Don Pendleton and he’s even written for The Destroyer series. Newton got his start as a “ghost author” for the Mack Bolan Executioner titles and has written 131 “episodes” of the popular man-of-action series to date, with more on the way.

Beginning in 2018 and ending this year in 2019, he penned a series of 10 novels for Wolfpack Publishing based on the history of the Federal Bureau of investigations. In Honor Bound is the first of the series. Set in 1917, it follows three law school graduates as they set out to join the fray for World War I. Before they get a chance to register for service, J. Edgar Hoover extends to them an invitation to join the U.S. Department of Justice.


The series charts the Bureau’s history through the lives of five families: the Gantts, the O’Haras, the Giordanos, the Sawyers, and the Babins. Book 10, When Honor Dies, features a world of terrorism threats from the home front and from the Middle East. The fates of the series’ families are revealed amidst the tragedy of 9/11.

I recently had the honor of talking to Michael about his writing. He said he first got the idea for The Bureau series in 1986.


“I’ve long enjoyed similar (much better!) series by Max Alan Collins, John Jakes, Stephen Hunter and W.E.B. Griffin, but I fell far short of their great achievements this time around. Toward the end it felt a bit like Vietnam or Afghanistan: no exit,” Newton said.


When it comes to his writing, Newton said he’s wanted to be a writer ever since he learned how to put words on paper in grade school. He’s currently hard at work on a new Executioner title, the first ever biography of Albert Anastasia, and much more.


“The money [was] also an attraction, freeing me from a dead-end Nevada teaching job in 1986 and allowing me to write full-time ever since,” Newton said. “For years the Bolan work represented roughly half my yearly income, but 2014 took a toll, my Berkley Western editor fired and an ongoing series canceled, then Harlequin bought out by HarperCollins and the end of the Bolan series announced in December. They’ve reconsidered that, as you know, but at a rate of four books yearly rather than 24, so with luck I get one rather than the former three or four.”


He’s recently fallen back into the realm of “writer-for-hire” as well.


“[This includes] three books for an action series forthcoming from Wolfpack Publishing, rumbles of a Western series (also from Wolfpack), and a two-book contract for Berkley under the late Ralph Compton’s name (also Westerns),” Newton said. “All of those pay by the word, and I’m back to the kind of thing that was my staple during 1978-81, before Gold Eagle came along. I don’t know if that’s coming full-circle or just circling the drain.”

Learn everything there is to know about this amazing guy over on his website.

Top 5 Haunted Monterey County – Surprises

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Soledad’s haunted Los Coches Adobe in the rain.

There’s definitely a top five when it comes to the most haunted spots in Monterey County, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Instead, I’m going to get a little personal. I’m going to delve into my thoughts on banging out my upcoming book, Haunted Monterey County (coming October 2019 from The History Press). A Top 5 Most Haunted Monterey County – Locations is coming, however, being that there are easily five that rise to the top – it’s just coming later.

Below are the top five things that surprised me while prepping for the book:

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    Did I pull off the authorly look at a rest stop? I damn well tried.

    Rest stops – If someone told me I’d be writing a book on ghosts and hauntings in the county, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I grew up hungry for Randall Reinstedt’s books. If someone told me that research would bring me to a rest stop outside of King City and that I would actually have fun going there, I would have spit out my coffee. Those who know me know I’m never without coffee. But as Han Solo once said, “All of it. It’s all true.” I did have a good time. It’s always fun to get out on a sunny Sunday for an adventure of the weird kind. You never know what can happen.

  2. The GooglesGoogle may not know I’m working on a book, but the Googles helped me locate many of the sites and forums where Central Coast-specific ghost stories are shared. This means, from now until the Googles is goggled (or the end of time), I will get alerts about ghosts. This isn’t a bad thing really, since I’ve already come across creepy stories I’ve never heard before – usually from places on the east coast. Why the hell is that? I still get alerts about Bakugan too, though it’s been years since my son wanted one.
  3. Excitement and some of the opposite – I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I’d get when news of this new addition to Monterey County’s ghost book collection broke, but the level of interest has given me a little bit of a pre-publishing high. Thank you to everyone who made that happen. There’s the opposite too, some who are less than thrilled to see another book on haunts summoned out of the Netherworld. I appreciate the curmudgeons! I am one. My hope is the book will appeal to them as well. There are stories in it that have appeared nowhere else. There’s history as well, plenty of it, which is why I enjoyed taking on this project. If the curmudgeons come away entertained, I’ll get even more high.
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    A glimpse of Paul’s work on my office laptop.

    Paul’s talent – Just doing the ghost book, and paying tribute to Mr. Reinstedt, was enough, but then the idea came along to get some art in it. There are photos, quite a few taken when I visited the haunted sites (like the rest stop), but having one of California’s top talents on board made it even cooler. Paul Van de Carr is an incredible artist as you’ll see in the pages of the book.

  5. The believers – I’m the first to admit I’ve never had a paranormal experience that I can recall. It’s not that I don’t believe, it’s just I don’t have the eyes for it. I can’t decorate my house in a fashionable way either. Don’t have the eyes for it. But there are plenty who do have the sight. They’ve seen a lot over the years too. While writing this book, I was (and still am) surprised at just how many people have stories, tales of that time they experienced something they just couldn’t explain. This book tells their stories, just as it tells history’s story.