Book Review: Air Born, by J. L. Pawley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_air_bornJ.L. Pawley is a young writer, hailing from Auckland, New Zealand. Air Born first found its wings via Wattpad, where Pawley established quite a readership – and with good reason – before self-publishing her book, then having it picked up and refined by local publisher, Steam Press, and it can now be found in bookstores across New Zealand.

Many of us have dreamed of flying, and for American teenager Tyler Owens, that desire is about to become heart-racing reality.  Despite suffering from recent, almost debilitating back pain, he’s not about to let that stop him from experiencing his first solo sky dive. But it all goes horrendously wrong, when the swelling along his spine ruptures into a glorious pair of wings. With the entire event captured on video and broadcast across the world, Tyler does not have much chance to enjoy his new mutation – instead he’s running for his freedom, pursued by the sinister Evolutionary Corporation and heralded by the  impassioned Angelists.

But Tyler is not alone, because across the world other teenagers – all recently turned 17 – are experiencing similar “wing births”.  These seven teenagers are drawn together, to become a flock (or rather, a flight). Together, in the Californian desert, they must learn how to control their newly-sprouted limbs and master the art of flight, before they are hunted down.

Adrenalin-fueled and engaging, this is an action-adventure that should appeal to fans of the CHERUBS series, and James Patterson’s Maximum Ride. Flying is no easy feat, and Pawley has put a lot of thought into the biology of her icarian race. Whilst the story is fast-paced, and the characterisation strong – I particularly liked the character of Tui, a bold and out-spoken girl from New Zealand – there are perhaps not as many questions answered as I would have liked; there is much to be learned of the background behind these winged teenagers, which I suspect will be explored in further novels.

A strong debut, and I look forward to following the adventures of this Flight further.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Air Born
by J. L. Pawley
Published by Steam Press
ISBN 9780994138798

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Book Review: Kalanon’s Rising, by Darian Smith

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

kalanons-rising-v2-2Darian Smith is a very talented writer, one whom I would rank on par with Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett. His plots are engrossing, his settings highly developed and he has a real knack for immersing you fully into the world.

Kalanon’s Rising is both a murder mystery and a powerful fantasy novel, and Smith displays a considerable amount of talent and imagination at penning both. There are red herrings, false leads, plenty of unexpected twists and illuminating discoveries. Plot holes are skillfully plugged, and tangled webs are woven. He doesn’t go light on the shock and brutality either. Not only that, but Smith really understands the psychology of his characters, and they are all deeply developed and unique.

Sir Brannon Kesh earned the name Bloodhawk during the brutal war against the Nilarian people. He has since put that name, and his past, behind him, building a new life as a physician. He has recently, and somewhat reluctantly, taken on an apprentice − pretty, young Jessamine. However, his other life calls him back when the king’s cousin is violently murdered, the rather-disturbing crime scene suggesting that dark magic is involved, dark magic, and possibly a conspiracy against the crown. Charged to solve the crime, and possibly even save the realm from political disaster, Brannon assembles a small and rather unlikely team.

There is Magus Draeson, the centuries-old mage who helped turn the tide of war, now sporting a younger, handsome body and enjoying the frivolities of the life that comes with it; Taran, a socially awkward priest with an unusual obsession and unorthodox methodology and Ula, a shaman with the understanding − and ability − to bring corpses to life as powerful Risen warriors. Added into the mix is Ylani, the Nilaran ambassador and someone who has real reason to dislike the monarchy, and Letricia, the victim’s widow. As the corpses start to pile up, things become desperate and the kingdom of Kalanon could fall to ruin, or worse.

If you enjoy murder mysteries, intriguing and diverse characters, a gripping story line, conspiracies, and a bit of blood and gore, then you’ll love Kalanon’s Rising. Not only that, but it’s the first in the series, and I really look forward to reading more.

Kalanon’s Rising
by Darian Smith
Published by Wooden Tiger Press
ISBN 9780473366421 (US)

Book Review: Murder and Matchmaking, by Debbie Cowens

cv_murder_and_matchmakingAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

A delicious concoction of Austen meets Doyle. From the opening sentence: “It is a truth universally known that a pug in possession of a good appetite must be in want of a biscuit,” it is clear that you are in for a delightful read, and this proved to be the truth, indeed.

Now, call me a heathen if you will, but I have never read either Pride and Prejudice (not even the zombie version) nor Sherlock Holmes, although I have a fairly decent understanding of both. Pride begins with a young woman of no great beauty, who meets with a quarrelsome, disagreeable man – it is pretty much the basis of the “hate (or, at least, dislike) turns to love” romance trope. Cowens’ take on it is no exception to the rule. Mr Sherlock Darcy proves to be most infallibly irksome, with his lack of social etiquette and the way he looks down his nose at those of a feminine persuasion. Why, I just wished to slap that superior expression from his face – as I am sure did Miss Elizabeth Bennet. However, not only did Miss Elizabeth combat him with her sharp tongue, but also her perception and analytical mind, combining with her stubborn determination to prove him wrong.

There is very little suspense here – from almost the beginning you know who the murderer is – nor do you feel particularly for the safety of the Bennet sisters. However, you are drawn into this tale: by the desire to see the murderer brought to justice, with hope that Elizabeth will solve the case before Darcy and thus prove him wrong and because the prose is just so utterly engaging that you cannot help but be compelled along with it.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Murder and Matchmaking
by Debbie Cowens
Published by Paper Road Press

Supernaturally – Laini Taylor and Elizabeth Knox, WORD Christchurch, 31 August

Laini Taylor is one of my writing idols. When her attendance at the WORDword-LainiTaylor
Christchurch festival was announced I was absolutely delighted. I would like to think I was among the first to purchase my ticket for this event − in which she and Elizabeth Knox discuss the supernatural world of Young Adult writing. This discussion was hosted by local speculative
fiction writer, Helen Lowe.

I enjoy the panel-style format such as this, where it rather resembles a friendly discussion, to which I am a welcome eavesdropper. The camaderie between Elizabeth, Laini and Helen was open and friendly, and it was
wonderful to see that each participant was familiar with the other’s
work. Neither dominated the discussion and comments bounced back and
forth in a lively, animated manner.

Helen’s questions were insightful, both to readers and aspiring authors. She began with asking why they create supernatural/fantastic worlds – in which Laini admitted to tricking people into reading high fantasy (her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy starts from an urban fantasy
perspective). Elizabeth attributed it to her older sister, who made the world magical. Other topics took us through the laws of magic, the hero’s journey trope (which elizabeth_knoxneither author follow consciously), and other such popular Young Adult themes as strong female characters, insta-love and love triangles. Elizabeth Knox (left)  described the latest trend towards paranormal romance as “the cuckoo laid in the nest of fantasy”.

I also learned that the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, one of the
best I have ever read, began when Laini was seeking relief from a
challenging novel and began with free writing and discovery of the
characters of Karou and Brimstone. Certainly a most serendipitous
occurance, and one that I (and I imagine many others) am most grateful
for. Writing a novel, she informed us, is a little like swimming from
buoy to buoy, capturing spontaneity in short bursts.

Overall, a very rewarding discussion that both intrigued me as a reader
and inspired me as a writer. I could have listened to the two of them
all day!

by Angela Oliver, writer, artist and reviewer for Booksellers NZ