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15 January 2024

Summer lovin': your recommended reads

We asked what titles you're loving this summer, and you delivered: read the list below, starting with the strong cohort of Aotearoa NZ titles.

Better the Blood - Michael Bennett

Reader comment: “Love that a detective thriller is set in Tāmaki Makaurau with a female protagonist and a theme of colonisation. Excellent fast paced writing that means you can’t put it down.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Hanna Westerman is a tenacious Māori detective juggling single motherhood and the pressures of her career in Auckland’s Central Investigation Branch. When she’s led to a crime scene by a mysterious video, she discovers a man hanging in a hidden room. With little to go on, Hana knows one thing: the killer is sending her a message.

As a Māori officer, there has always been a clash between duty and culture for Hana, but it is something that she’s found a way to live with. Until now. When more murders follow, Hana realises that her heritage and past are the keys to finding the perpetrator.

Teaching to the North-East - Russell Bishop

Teaching to the North-East responds to the marginalisation of particular groups of students with a way of teaching intended to increase equity in the education system. Russell Bishop sets out how schools and teachers can respond to diverse groups of students and develop teaching practices that promote learning for everyone. In this approach, students’ prior knowledge, language and ways of making sense of the world are used to inform teaching practices rather than being seen as barriers to learning.

The Axeman's Carnival - Catherine Chidgey

Reader comment: “The best book I have read this year: ten stars.”

Tama is just a helpless chick when he is rescued by Marnie, and this is where his story might have ended. ‘If it keeps me awake,’ says Marnie’s husband Rob, a farmer, ‘I’ll have to wring its neck.’ But with Tama come new possibilities for the couple’s future. Tama can speak, and his fame is growing. Outside, in the pines, his father warns him of the wickedness wrought by humans. Indoors, Marnie confides in him about her violent marriage. The more Tama sees, the more the animal and the human worlds – and all of the precarity, darkness and hope within them – bleed into one another. Like a stock truck filled with live cargo, the story moves inexorably towards its dramatic conclusion: the annual Axeman’s Carnival.

Pet - Catherine Chidgey

Like every other girl in her class, twelve-year-old Justine is drawn to her glamorous, charismatic new teacher, and longs to be her pet. However, when a thief begins to target the school, Justine’s sense that something isn't quite right grows ever stronger. With each twist of the plot, this gripping story of deception and the corrosive power of guilt takes a yet darker turn. Young as she is, Justine must decide where her loyalties lie.

Loop Tracks - Sue Orr

“My sit in the sun book. Great so far, taking me back to my youth.”

It’s 1978: the Auckland abortion clinic has been forced to close and sixteen-year-old Charlie has to fly to Sydney, but the plane is delayed on the tarmac. It’s 2019: Charlie’s tightly contained Wellington life with her grandson Tommy is interrupted by the unexpected intrusions of Tommy’s first girlfriend, Jenna, and the father he has never known, Jim. The year turns, and everything changes again.

Loop Tracks is a major New Zealand novel, written in real time against the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic and the New Zealand General Election and euthanasia referendum.

Rapture: An Anthology of Performance Poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand

From the South Auckland Poets Collective to regional writers festivals, at poetry slams and open mic nights, in theatre works like Show Ponies and Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, performance poetry has taken off in Aotearoa.

In this anthology, ninety performance poets, rappers, spoken-word artists, slam poets, theatre makers, genre blenders and storytellers come together to celebrate the diverse voices and communities within Aotearoa – including Ben Brown and Mohamed Hassan, Grace Iwashita-Taylor and Tusiata Avia, Nathan Joe and Dominic Hoey, Freya Daly Sadgrove, David Eggleton and Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Bird Life - Anna Smaill

Bird Life, the second novel by Booker Prize longlisted author Anna Smaill, is a lyrical and ambitious exploration of madness and what it is like to experience the world differently.

In Ueno Park, Toyko, as workers and tourists gather for lunch, the pollen blows, a fountain erupts, pigeons scatter, and two women meet, changing the course of one another’s lives. As these two women deal with their individual traumas, they form an unlikely friendship in which each will help the other to see a different possible world, as Smaill teases out the tension between our internal and external lives and asks what we lose by having to choose between them.

Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts - Josie Shapiro

Reader comment: “It was fabulous! Had me totally hooked and I finished it in a day.”

Mickey Bloom: five foot tall, dyslexic, and bullied at school. Mickey knows she's nothing special. Until one day, she discovers running. Mickey's new-found talent makes her realise she's everything she thought she wasn't – powerful, strong and special. But her success comes at a cost, and the relentless training and pressure to win leaves Mickey broken, her dream in tatters.

An unforgettable debut novel about change, family and grit, and what it takes to achieve your dreams.

To Trap a Thief - Des Hunt

Reader comment: "A slow burn, but lots of intrigue! "

A man who hands out $100 notes like they were peanuts. A small-town loser robbed of a big lottery win. A young woman held against her will. Liars, thieves, scammers, hijackers...Connor expects little from his campervan holiday with the elderly couple who are soon to be his step-grandparents. 'Mega boring' is how he describes it to his best mate Harvey, who tags along to keep him company. However, when strange emails begin to arrive sending the boys on mysterious missions in search of a super prize, life gets exciting and increasingly dangerous. Connor and Harvey come to realise it is no longer a game - it is a fight for survival!

Katipo Joe: Blitzkrieg - Brian Falkner

Young Joe is living in pre-WWII Berlin, with his British father and NZ mother, attending school and witnessing the excitement of his friends who are enthusiastically joining the Hitler Youth Movement. Joe feels uncomfortable with the growing mistreatment of local Jews, and after the arrest of his father as a spy, he is forced to escape from Berlin with his mother.

Joe is separated from his mother and evacuated to New Zealand, and, while war looms in Europe, he is frustrated by his distance from the action, and his inability to do anything about finding his father. After a harrowing route back to Europe, Joe attempts to infiltrate the Hitler Youth movement in Germany while at the same time searching for his mother and father in wartime Berlin.

Avis and the Call of the Kraken - Heather McQuillan

A fellow children’s / YA author noted she is looking forward to this release in March!

Avis’s life is complicated. Humbert the chocolate-eating dragon is getting bigger and more demanding and wants to test his wings, but he’s distracting Avis from her schoolwork. Then on one flight they see a disturbance in the ocean near an oil-drilling rig and the dragon’s tear Avis and Humbert communicate through starts receiving strange signals. The words follow: Stop them. It’s a kraken and she's called Mother. Her offspring are bent on revenge because the drilling rig is wrecking their ocean home, and Mother needs help. A fantasy adventure bristling with Kiwi courage and can-do – both in the face of an environmental disaster and the antics of a chocolate-deprived dragon.

The Grimmelings - Rachael King

Forthcoming in February and described by a lucky advance reader as “brilliantly beautiful.”

Spellbinding middle-grade fantasy adventure of loyalty, courage, and being careful what you wish for. Thirteen-year-old Ella knows that words are powerful. So she should have known better than to utter a wish and a curse on the same day, even in jest. When the boy she has cursed goes missing, in the same sudden, unexplained way as her father several years earlier, Ella discovers that her family is living in the shadow of a vengeful kelpie, a black horse-like creature...

Phew, what a list! Here are the international titles also recommended by our followers:

The Seven Sisters series - Lucinda Riley
"I’m reading the last in the series: wonderful books!"

The Bookbinders of Jericho - Pip Williams
"Superb writing, fabulous history and fascinating characters within a WW1 setting."

What the River Knows - Isabel Ibanez

The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Dominic Sandbrook

Fourth Wing - Rebecca Yarros

Tackle! - Jilly Cooper

Orbiting Jupiter - Gary D Schmidt

North Woods - Daniel Mason
"Mediative, thoughtful and immersive."

Wolf Pack - Will Dean
“Very invested in this series. Fantastic deaf investigative journalist who obviously doesn’t hear the scary music to know that she’s in deep trouble. Set in remote Sweden.”

The Wren, The Wren - Anne Enright

The Garden of Lost and Found - Harriet Evans

Henry James: A Life - Leon Edel

The Covenant of Water - Abraham Verghese

Adrift: The Curious Tale of the Lego Lost at Sea - Tracey Williams

Impossible Creatures - Katherine Rundell

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace

A Stroke of the Pen - Terry Pratchett
“A Christmas gift from mokopuna. Nice and light and amusing.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

Project Fairy - Jacqueline Wilson

Check out BookHub to see which independent bookstores near you are stocking these titles.