Book Watch, New Zealand Herald on Sunday – 13 July 2014

The Martian

By Andy Weir, Random House

This science-fiction adventure thriller is up there with the best in edge-of-your-seat reads, combining imagination, science and a healthy dose of humour. Mark Watney is a botanist and astronaut stranded on Mars, left alone to survive on the Red Planet because of a mixture of bad luck and catastrophe. Will he make it back to Earth? It’s no surprise that a movie adaptation is already in the works.


By Hugh Howey, Random House

A new world and a new story from Howey, the best-selling writer of the Wool trilogy. The author’s strength is his prodigious imagination and he makes use of it again with Sand, combining apocalyptic vision with a story of family and survival. Like Wool this is a highly enjoyable read; I became so immersed I could practically feel the grit and wind.


By Rosetta Allen, Penguin

A fantastic new book from a talented New Zealand author, Purgatory is based on the 1865 Otahuhu murders. Exploring ideas of spirituality, colonial dispossession and the dehumanising effects of poverty and alcohol, the story moves between Ireland and New Zealand, and between bereavement and redemption. Allen’s expressive story-telling will appeal to readers looking for the best home-grown narratives.

At War with Satan

By Steff Metal,  Grymm & Epic Publishing

Another homegrown author but with a completely different focus, At War with Satan is a fantasy tale in the best tradition of Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin, with a lot of heavy metal thrown in. Plenty of puns and gentle jokes at the expense of various musical genres keep this a fast and furious read. The author’s love of the subject matter is infectious, making the war between heaven and hell anything but grim.

My Book Watch column for 13 July 2014, courtesy of the New Zealand Herald on Sunday.

scan of printed Book Watch column

Book Watch, New Zealand Herald on Sunday – 18 May 2014

Engines of Empathy

By Paul Mannering, Paper Road Press

Is New Zealand the speculative fiction capital of the world? This book from new independent publisher Paper Road Press is evidence that we might just be. Witty and fun, with a highly original premise, the author takes us on a journey with Charlotte Pudding, in a world that might be our future or a parallel universe. Charlotte has secrets even she doesn’t know about and now she needs to find out what they are before the dark corporate forces shadowing her do.

Eeny Meeny

By MJ Arlidge, Penguin

The thriller genre is fairly well-worn so it’s nice to come across a new twist, such as the one in Eeny Meeny. Someone is kidnapping pairs of people and forcing them to make a choice: kill or be killed. Detective Inspector Helen Grace is investigating but is she also a target? A suitably macabre and gripping writer, MJ Arlidge knows how to hold a reader’s attention.

Creeks and Kitchens: A Memoir

By Maurice Gee, Bridget Williams Books

Newly released in paperback, this delightful short piece of Gee’s takes us back to the West Auckland of his childhood. It’s a world that will be familiar to many New Zealanders and completely foreign to some. Gee also reveals many of his influences and the connections between his memories and some of his more well-known books. An absolute delight to read.

Boy, Snow, Bird

By Helen Oyeyemi, Picador

Boy, Snow, Bird opens with Boy, a neglected and abused young woman who runs away from big city New York to smalltown Massachusetts, eventually becoming stepmother to the angelic Snow. The birth of her own child, Bird, brings a surprising secret into the open, one that leads to Snow’s banishment from her family home. Oyeyemi weaves elements of both myth and fairytale with stark social American reality in a book that is in equal measures sad and beautiful.

Scan of Book Watch column 18 May 2014

Bookwatch – New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 12 May 2013

Book Watch 12052013 scanned image


By Hugh Howey (Century, $29.99)

The sequel to last year’s best selling Wool, this is an intelligent and intriguing novel of a dystopian future. Howey has created a truly frightening story, one that asks big questions of our present selves. Shift approaches its subject matter from several different viewpoints: the politician who becomes embroiled in plans he has no control over; the worker who steps into a revolution he didn’t even know was coming; the young boy who grows up and lives utterly alone. A compelling read, as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.

A Winter’s Day in 1939

By Melinda Szymanik (Scholastic, $18.50)

Melinda Szymanik is one of New Zealand’s most thoughtful young adult authors, and her latest book is based on the experiences of her father during World War II. The story takes us to eastern Poland in 1939, where Adam and his family are faced with the invading Soviet Army. In time they are forced to leave their home to travel to a labour camp in Soviet Russia and from there they endure a senseless journey that will eventually take them into modern day Iran.

Ghosts of Parihaka

By David Hair (Harper Collins, $24.99)

Book 5 in David Hair’s popular Aotearoa series for young adults, Ghosts of Parihaka’s central character is Matiu Douglas, an acolyte who can slip between two worlds – modern day New Zealand and the parallel country of Aotearoa, a ghost world that combines elements of our history and myth. When his best friend goes missing on a school trip to Parihaka, Matiu has to race to find and protect those he loves. The author does a great job of exploring how two separate cultural identities can be combined into one national identity through shared history and knowledge.

Published May 12 2013. Reproduced courtesy of Herald on Sunday.

My Book Watch for the NZ Herald on Sunday, 21 October 2012

Naked Truth coverNaked Truth: Lifting the lid on the New Zealand sex industry

By Rachel Francis (Penguin, $35)

An engaging and eye-opening social history of the New Zealand sex and adult entertainment industry, this is a fascinating read that tells the stories of several figures from the industry, from Flora MacKenzie of Famous Flora’s to Steve Crowe of Boobs on Bikes furores. Rachel Francis writes with an insider’s view, treating her subjects with honesty and admiration, letting them tell their own stories.


By Sid Marsh (Wooden Shed, $39.99)

As a reader I can tell when an author has gone above and beyond the call of duty for researching their books, and Greyhound is one of those. A compelling, strange war novel, written in thick Kiwi slang and focusing on a Kiwi tanker crew at the end of WWII, it is a difficult but ultimately rewarding read, filled with period detail of New Zealand and Italy.


By Tessa Duder (Whitcoulls, $19.99)

A fantastic new edition of one of New Zealand’s most beloved young adult books, Alex is still a great read after 25 years. It focuses on a wonderfully Kiwi heroine, Alex, who is trying to balance teenage life and love with trying to qualify for the swimming events at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. I loved reading Alex again, almost as much as I loved reading it in 1989! A piece of New Zealand literary history.

Catching Fish coverCatching Fish

My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher

By Tanya Batt (Clean Slate Press, $19.99)

Educational publishers Clean Slate Press have launched a new imprint with new titles, including these two fantastic picture books from Tanya Batt. Catching Fish (illustrated by Natalia Vasquez) is a great read-aloud romp with beautiful collage-like illustrations, while My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher is full of colourful cartoonish illustrations and has the cutest heart-warming story. Perfect bed time story books.

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Reprinted courtesy of the NZ Herald on Sunday.

Book Watch 12 August 2012

Book Watch 120812 scan

The NZ Book

By Jess Lunnon, Sandi MacKechnie, Michael Fitzsimons and Nigel Beckford (FitzBeck, $40)

It’s a New Zealand themed Book Watch this week, starting with this quirky and gorgeous illustrated stroll around our country and culture. It’s the book Kiwis deserve – beautiful and “mildly entertaining” (as the publishers put it). Don’t let them fool you; The NZ Book is a fact-filled fun romp across the country, from town slogans (“You matter in Matamata”) to culture to sports to history. A book to buy all your overseas friends and, more importantly, yourself.


The New Zealand Woman: 80 Glorious Years of Fashion, Food and Friendship From the Pages of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly

By Bee Dawson (Whitcoulls, $24.99)

The New Zealand Women’s Weekly is a venerable 80 years old. First published in 1932, the New Zealand Women’s Weekly is a Kiwi-institution and The New Zealand Woman is the commemoration it deserves. Combining fantastic illustrations from the pages of NZWW with excerpts from issues past and gentle commentary, The New Zealand Woman is a well-produced and fun journey through some NZ social history. It’s also interesting to note the change in focus of the NZWW from the domestic to the celebrity sphere.


Mansfield with Monsters

By Katherine Mansfield with Debbie and Matt Cowens (Steam Press, $25, ebook $10)

Last but most definitely not least in this trio of outstanding New Zealand books, Mansfield with Monsters may owe a debt to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but it proves our writers and publishers hold their own when it comes to messing around with the classics. To put it simply, Mansfield with Monsters is quite brilliant. Funny, dark and seamless – Mansfield’s moody characters only seem enhanced by a bit of blood and gore. Steam Press is really the best new NZ publisher at the moment and I can’t wait to see what’s coming out next.


My Book Watch column for the NZ Herald on Sunday – 8 July 2012

Scan of printed Book Watch column

Wishy-Washy World

By Joy Cowley, Illustrated by Philip Webb (Clean Slate Press, $24.99)

Wishy-Washy World brings together Joy Cowley’s beloved Mr and Mrs Wishy-Washy stories (featuring their duck, cow and pig), previously only available in educational editions. A beautiful hardcover picture book with delightful illustrations by Philip Webb, Wishy-Washy World is only available at Whitcoulls stores and is the perfect read-along book for little kids.


Dragons Away!

By K.D. Berry (Bluewood Publishing, US$14.99, ebook US$2.99)

K.D. Berry is the pen name of Christchurch authors Kevin and Diane Berry, who recently won Best New Talent in the Sir Julius Vogel fan-voted awards for sci-fi, fantasy or horror. Dragons Away! is their first novel and it’s a rollicking adventure with a wry sense of humour. The influence of Terry Pratchett is unmistakable and while it could do with a stronger editing hand to keep the plot on-track it’s still a fun and funny read.


Talulla Rising

By Glen Duncan (Text Publishing, $37)

Talulla Rising is the follow-up to last year’s fantastic The Last Werewolf and, like its predecessor, combines a literary sensibility with an action-packed plotline. Picking up where The Last Werewolf left off, Talulla Rising follows Talulla in the continuing battle between werewolf, WOCOP and vampires. Not for the faint-of-heart or the weak-of-stomach, reading Talulla Rising is a visceral and compulsive experience.


Earth Dragon, Fire Hare

By Ken Catran (Harper Collins, $24.99)

A brilliant young adult novel, Earth Dragon, Fire Hare is set in 1948 during the first years of the Malayan “emergency” (rightly referred to in the blurb as “New Zealand’s forgotten war”). The reader sees the war from both sides: that of Ng, a Communist guerrilla fighter, and Peter, a Kiwi soldier who doesn’t really know why he’s fighting. Catran doesn’t shy away from the difficult ambivalent questions  or realities of war, and in doing so creates a deeply believable story with a spiritual streak.

Reprinted with permission of the NZ Herald on Sunday.