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13 Classic Books From New Zealand

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Love your literature? Lusting for New Zealand ? Then you’re going to adore this list. Kiwi authors from the past and present have made some great contributions to the literary world — even gaining international recognition for their efforts. If you want to close in on the local classics, here are 13 books to add to your must-read list.

Died in the wool (1945), by ngaio marsh.

Ngaio Marsh was one of the greatest crime writers of her time. In Died in The Wool, the author takes things back to her Kiwi roots to produce one of her most intriguing murder mysteries. Set on a South Island sheep station in 1942, the story begins with the disappearance of Flossie Rubrick, a distinguished woman who simply vanishes after going into a woolshed to practise a speech, only to turn up three months later dead and bundled in some woolen bales.

Died in the Wool, Ngaio Marsh

Katherine Mansfield is one of New Zealand’s most prolific writers, and short fiction is where she got her Modernist acclaim. Mansfield’s first short story collection, In a German Pension , is composed of a series of satirical sketches most notable for their clever humour, vulnerability and meticulous attention to detail. Pre-World War I Europe is the main setting for these stories, with a contrast between the Germans and the British being a constant throughout.

Katherine Mansfield

The Haunting (1982), by Margaret Mahy

The Haunting is a fantasy novel by New Zealand children’s author Margaret Mahy. The book earned Mahy a Carnegie Medal the year it was published, and a film adaptation (The Haunting of Barney Palmer) was released in 1987. Its story is centred around a shy 8-year-old boy named Barry Palmer who discovers that he and his family have a powerful connection to the spiritual world.

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The Haunting, Margaret Mahy

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (1983), by Lynley Dodd

This is the first (and most famous) book out of Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary series. For those unfamiliar with the illustrated tales, Hairy Maclary is a Scottish Terrier dog who gets in all kinds of shenanigans with his friends. In Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, readers are introduced to the characteristic rhyming patterns and colourful illustrations that have made these books a favourite among Kiwis of all generations.

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy

Owls do Cry (1957), by Janet Frame

Largely touted as being New Zealand’s first literary great , the modernist Owls do Cry offers a clear depiction of 1950s New Zealand while weaving in the struggles of its main characters. Janet Frame’s story focuses on the Withers siblings and their ongoing battles with financial instability, mental illness, disability, grief and the simple human desire to find a sense of belonging.

Owls do Cry, Janet Frame

Plumb (1978), by Maurice Gee

Maurice Gee was awarded the 1978 James Tait Memorial Prize for his classic novel, Plumb. It is considered one of the finest novels written by a New Zealand author.This is the first installment of a trilogy, introducing readers to irascible clergyman George Plumb, whose sense of morals and self-righteousness are tested as he comes face-to-face with some of his toughest life decisions.

A Quote from one of Maurice Gee’s Books in Wellington

Jerusalem Daybook (1971), by James K Baxter

In the 1960s, New Zealand poet James K Baxter formed a commune near the Whanganui River in Jerusalem (Hiruhārama), where he lived intermittently until his death in 1972. During his commune stay, he penned two major poetry books — J erusalem sonnets (1970) and Autumn testament (1972) — and one piece of prose, Jerusalem Daybook. The book captures Baxter’s thoughts on life, society and his home community.

An Excerpt of James K Baxter’s poem “The Maori Jesus”

Leaves of the Banyan Tree (1979), by Albert Wendt

Albert Wendt is one of the most influential New Zealand-based authors of Pacific descent. Leaves of the Banyan Tree won the 1980 New Zealand Wattie Book of the Year Award and has since been been widely regarded as one of the greatest works of Pacific literature. The epic tale follows a family in Western Samoa and spans across three generations to explore significant themes like colonialism, corruption, greed and exploitation.

Once Were Warriors (1990), by Alan Duff

Once Were Warriors is a bestselling novel which spurred a movie with the same name. Alan Duff’s raw depiction of domestic violence and the social struggles of the Maori population is what makes this book a force to be reckoned with. The story follows the Heke family and conveys the relationship between tradition and an overall loss of a sense of place.

Once Were Warriors, Alan Duff

No Ordinary Sun (1964), by Hone Tuwhare

No Ordinary Sun was the first poetry collection to be published by a Maori author. Not only was this book groundbreaking for bringing a distinctive Maori voice to what was, at the time, a Pakeha (European) domain, it also struck a chord with readers because of its powerful use of imagery, the political undertones, and its melding of indigenous perspectives with Shakespearean and Biblical references.

Hone Tuwhare Plaque, Dunedin

Potiki (1986), by Patricia Grace

Potiki (meaning ‘the last born child’) is the second novel published by internationally acclaimed Maori author Patricia Grace . The story won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction in 1987 and has since been translated into several languages. Its main character, the prophet child Tokowaru-i-te-Marama, shares his people’s fight against the big-money developers who are putting the coastal community’s life in jeopardy.

A Quote From Patricia Grace’s “Cousins”

The Book of Fame (2000), by Lloyd Jones

Lloyd Jones is better known for his Booker Prize shortlisted novel Mister Pip , but this is another work of his that’s greatly revered as a contemporary classic. The Book of Fame is a fictional take on the 1925 New Zealand rugby tour of Britain, where the All Blacks earned their reputation for being strong contenders in the country’s national sport. The novel tells the story of the young players and their quick rise to fame upon landing on lesser-known shores.

Lloyd Jones

The Vintner’s Luck (1998), by Elizabeth Knox

One of the most famous works by award-winning New Zealand novelist Elizabeth Knox. The Vintner’s Luck is an unconventional love story set in 17th Century France. A young vintner comes face-to-face with a mysterious angelic figure, and the angel becomes his main counsel and protector as life’s tribulations, from marriage to the impact of the Napoleonic Wars, unravel around him.

Elizabeth Knox

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17 Amazing Books About New Zealand

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Travel across Oceania with the best books about New Zealand, fiction and nonfiction. These New Zealand books are sure to teach you more and take you there.

Many great books about New Zealand are rich in Maori culture and emphasize themes of race, colonialism, gender equality, and tradition versus modernity.

On the lighter side, explore New Zealand novels that are paranormal thrillers and fantasy stories with quests into mythical vortexes.

Plus, which books set in New Zealand will inspire your next vacation or at least encourage a little armchair travel there?

It goes without saying that with so many wonderful New Zealand books, it’s hard to choose what to read next.

Below, we are sharing just a few of the best books about New Zealand to read now. Of course, “best” is subjective, and we couldn’t possibly name all of the books NZ has to offer.

Be sure to let us know your favorites in the comments as you explore New Zealand authors, mysteries, mysteries, and contemporary fiction. Let’s get started.

Read across Oceania with these books .

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Table of Contents

12 Must-Read Books About New Zealand

By Dagney McKinney

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera book cover with image of person looking to the side wearing necklace in blue tank

1. The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

Eight-year-old Kahu is a member of the Maori tribe of Whangara, New Zealand, and her main hobby is trying to get the attention of her great-grandfather, the chief of the tribe.

Unfortunately, he has no time for Kahu, for he is a traditionalist and believes females to be something of a lost cause when it comes to leadership.

This is a huge problem for him and the tribe because there are no male heirs and Kahu is the only descendant of the chief.

But Kahu is determined to prove herself, and when hundreds of whales beach themselves on their island, she shows them that she truly is destined to lead the tribe.

For Kahu’s people proudly trace their heritage right back to the legendary Kahutia Te Rangi – the famed “whale rider” – and Kahu has inherited his ability to talk to whales.

Many of the best books about New Zealand are rich in Maori culture, and author Witi Ihimaera’s blend of myth and reality is no exception as he explores themes of race, gender equality, and the battle between tradition and modernity.

Read The Whale Rider : Amazon | Goodreads

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton book cover with white face in four different shapes of the moon and yellow stars on blue background

2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

In 1866, Walter Moody arrives in Hokitika, New Zealand as a prospector, looking to take advantage of the booming New Zealand gold rush.

Making his way through the stormy night to the Crown Hotel, he finds himself among the company of twelve men in the smoking room at the hotel.

The group has come to discuss a series of strange and unusual events that have recently taken place.

Among them is the death of a local hermit who was found to have a stash of hidden gold, the disappearance of a well-liked and wealthy young man, and the case of a prostitute who was found unconscious in the road, seemingly having attempted suicide.

As the men go over the incidents from their own perspectives, they find that Walter Moody also has a tale of import to tell, for while he was aboard ship on his journey to Hokitika, he believes he saw a ghost.

Coming in at over 800 pages, this is one of the longest books about New Zealand on this list.

But it is also one of the most loved New Zealand books ever printed, and the mixture of period drama, ghost story, and mystery thriller will have something entertaining for everyone. Read The Luminaries : Amazon | Goodreads

Falling into Rarohenga by Steph Matuku book cover with machine with large hole in the shape of a person's bust with sky

3. Falling into Rarohenga by Steph Matuku

On a day like any other, 16-year-old twins Tui and Kae come home from school to find that it is actually anything but.

Because today, their mother has disappeared – taken from the real world by their estranged father, and pulled through a mystical vortex that has appeared in her room.

Following on her trail, the twins find themselves plunging into the realm of Rarohenga, the Maori Underworld.

Now they have to find her in a world where everything is strange and seemingly no one can be trusted. And if they can’t do it in time, they’ll be trapped in Rarohenga forever.

Falling into Rarohenga is one of the more recent creative YA books NZ has to offer.

The world author Steph Matuku creates is evocatively written, and both the humor and the spirit of adventure needed for an exciting quest story are present. Read Falling into Rarohenga : Amazon | Goodreads

Butcherbird by Cassie Hart book cover with bright green background and sci-fi like sketched creature

4. Butcherbird by Cassie Hart

Jena Benedict’s grandmother is dying, and even though the two are estranged, she makes the journey back to the family farm. Because Jena has questions that need answering.

Jena has been gone for twenty years, ever since her grandmother Rose banished her, following a fire that took the lives of Jena’s mother, father, brother, and baby sister.

Now, after all this time, she wants to know what really happened that night, and the real reason she was sent away.

Another person who wants these answers is Will, Rose’s live-in caregiver. He’s sure there’s something unusual and ominous about the farm and is determined to investigate.

But dredging up the ghosts of the past will have some dire consequences, as Jena and Will must deal with forces beyond explanation in order to solve this mystery.

A tense psychological horror, Butcherbird will be a great read for anyone looking for unnerving books set in New Zealand. Read The Butcherbird : Amazon | Goodreads

Island of the Lost by Joan Druett book cover with ship on darker blue wave

5. Island of the Lost: An Extraordinary Story of Survival at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett

Against all odds, in 1864 two entirely separate crews, those of the Grafton and the Invercauld, were shipwrecked on opposite ends of one of the most remote islands in the world.

Auckland Island is just under 300 miles to the south of New Zealand, by which it is technically governed. But this inhospitable deserted island can feel like the end of the world to anyone shipwrecked here.

Two crews, two wildly different survival methods.

One crew is able to band together and survive. But on the other side of the island, unbeknownst to them, the other crew has descended into chaos and violence.

Island of the Lost is a true story about survival and leadership, and what a fine line we all walk between order and chaos.

This is one of the best non-fiction books NZ has to offer and is a must if you love books about shipwrecks .

Read even more books set on islands , including some deserted ones. Read Island of the Lost : Amazon | Goodreads

A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh book cover with glowing yellow light through person's flowing darker hair

6. A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

When Anahera left her small, coastal New Zealand town of Golden Cove eight years ago to pursue her music career, she vowed never to return.

She was desperate to escape the poverty and lack of options that Golden Cove offered.

But after her wealthy husband unexpectedly dies and she discovers he had a mistress – a pregnant one no less – at the funeral, Anahera decides it’s time to return home and hopefully find some closure.

Golden Cove is a quiet town where very little of note has happened aside from the disappearance of three female hikers 15 years prior, when Anahera was a child.

That’s exactly why Will was banished here after a personal tragedy made him fall apart.

So when Miriama, a Maori girl with a scholarship out of Golden Cove, disappears without a trace shortly after Anahera’s return, Will knows he is in over his head.

And as an outsider, he’s going to have to work three times as hard to get the locals to open up and share secrets.

Nalini Singh is well known for her paranormal romances, but her foray into suspense shows just how talented she is.

A Madness of Sunshine is one of the best books about New Zealand for anyone who loves slow burn thrillers about social issues. Read A Madness of Sunshine : Amazon | Goodreads

Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff book cover with red and black creature with eyes on black background

7. Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff

Set in a squalid and violent housing project, Once Were Warriors tells the story of the Heke family.

They variously try to escape the harsh realities of their existence, find meaning in life, and keep the family from falling apart.

Jake Heke is the patriarch, spending his time getting drunk in the local pub and fighting anyone who he feels steps out of line.

His wife, Beth, is attempting to quit drinking, but finds it hard to avoid relapsing when the pressures of her home life become too great.

The eldest son, Nig, is trying to find the family connections he lacks at home in a street gang, and his brother Mark is in danger of being taken away and relocated by the state.

Only thirteen-year-old Grace shows any sign of wanting to educate herself, despite the odds against her.

It should be said that Once Were Warriors is both tragic and brutal, and one of the most full-on books about New Zealand on this list. However, it tells an important story very well.

This is the first of a series but still works as a stand-alone book. Explore even more Indigenous books, short stories, and poetry collections . Read Once Were Warriors : Amazon | Goodreads

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield book cover with image of person in long red and white flowered robe

8. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield

In the titular story, we follow Laura, the daughter of a wealthy family throwing a garden party.

Throughout the day Laura becomes increasingly aware of her role within society as she is pushed by her family to be more proper and respectable.

In another story, we meet a young music teacher who is devastated that her fiancé has called off the wedding and urges her students to sing sad songs. While other stories are really more musings on life.

As with most short story collections, there are definitely some that are better than others.

However, the collection as a whole certainly offers insight into what life was like as a well off White woman in New Zealand at the time.

Written as she was dying from tuberculosis in Europe, this final short story collection is set around her home country of New Zealand.

It explores many universal themes such as isolation, societal roles, and grief, while at the same the characters often express great reverence for the wonderment of the world around them.

Classics definitely aren’t my thing, but Katherine Mansfield is said to be the only other author whose writing made Virginia Woolf jealous.

So if you love classics, this should be one of the first New Zealand books you pick up. Read The Garden Party and Other Stories : Amazon | Goodreads

Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame book cover with black and white photo of flowers in vase on table

9. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame

Still just as powerful as it was on its first publication in 1957, this seminal and experimental novel follows 20 years of the lives of the Withers family, focusing on the young Daphne.

As she struggles to come-of-age in post-war New Zealand, she is deemed to be mentally unsound, and institutionalized.

Whilst undergoing some very questionable treatments, Daphne’s view of the world distorts as the boundary between sanity and madness becomes blurred.

Containing prose, poetry, and dreamlike imagery, Owls Do Cry doesn’t exactly have a plot, per se.

However, this is a deliberate choice, and it adds to the overall feel of the book, putting us closer to being in the shoes of our main protagonist.

Author Janet Frame drew upon her own experiences in mental institutions to create this tragic tale, a story which is considered to be one of the classic New Zealand books and a modernist masterpiece. Read Owls Do Cry : Amazon | Goodreads

Cousins by Patricia Grace book cover with three white circles filled with colorful pattern inside

10. Cousins by Patricia Grace

Mata, Makareta, and Missy are the three titular cousins in this historical fiction novel that centers Maori culture and history.

The book starts shortly after WWII and jumps forward through several important events throughout New Zealand’s history that profoundly affected the Maori population, such as the 1975 Land March and Maori urban migration.

Through it all, we see this history through the cousin’s eyes as the book’s POV rotates between the three at different times in their lives.

As these events and the cousins’ stories unfold, we also see the effects of colonization on their family and lives.

Patricia Grace is a Maori author, and she writes with love and rage for her people and culture.

Cousins is one of the most eye-opening books about New Zealand’s stolen generation and the devastating ripple effects of colonization. Read Cousins : Amazon | Goodreads

The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman book cover with scene of house and field from above

11. The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman

One evening’s events, and nothing will ever be the same again.

While preparing to celebrate her wedding anniversary, Carla Reid’s farmhouse home is invaded by Ben Toroa and his gang member associate.

After a series of brutal crimes, the robbery results in one person dead, one gravely injured, and Carla’s life in ruins.

But even when the criminals are captured, tried and imprisoned, Carla must still come to terms with how things have turned out.

Even though justice has been served, nothing will bring back the life she had.

And while Ben considers how all his unfortunate circumstances led him to this situation, the two find that their fates have been inexorably combined.

A poignant study of grief, recovery, and the circumstances that lead us to do the things we do, The Last Time We Spoke is one of the most unsettling books about New Zealand and perfect for those who love a hard-hitting thriller.

Just make sure to check for trigger warnings before you go in. Read The Last Time We Spoke : Amazon | Goodreads

Poison Bay by Belinda Pollard book cover with person in orange jacket overlooking dark crashing waves

12. Poison Bay by Belinda Pollard

When you’re suffering from a broken heart, it can be a good idea to get away from it all.

This idea is what spurs TV reporter Callie Brown to join in with a reunion of old friends who have decided to trek into the dangerous and remote mountains of New Zealand.

But what makes this trip even more unusual is that one of them wants the rest dead.

In a similar vein to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None , Poison Bay is an isolated murder mystery that sees a group of people unravelling as secrets come to light and allegiances shift.

Although this isn’t necessarily a groundbreaking addition to the genre, its unique setting in the breathtaking Fiordland National Park makes it worthwhile.

For those looking for fast-paced atmospheric books about New Zealand, Poison Bay is a great option. Read Poison Bay : Amazon | Goodreads

More New Zealand Books

The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King book cover with grayish landscape and mountains with sky

Save The Best Books About New Zealand For Later:

Books Set In New Zealand and Books NZ Pinterest Pin with photos of mount cook or Aoraki mountains with lake and pinkish sky and book covers for Whale Rider, The Garden Party and Other Stories, Poison Bay, The Luminaries, Cousins, The Last Time We Spoke, Island of the Lost, and Falling Into Rarohenga

Grab your favorite New Zealand novels for later:

Thank you to TUL contributor, Dagney McKinney

Writer Dagney McKinney white female with light brown hair wearing a purple shirt and smiling

Dagney (pronouns: any) is a neurodivergent writer who loves all things macabre and weird. She likes outrageously spicy food, long walks through graveyards, and historical tangents. You’ll most likely find her wandering around somewhere quiet or underground, buying salt, or whispering to camels.

What are your favorite books set in New Zealand?

Have you read any of these books about New Zealand, and who are your favorite New Zealand authors? Are there any more New Zealand books we should add to our list? Please let us know in the comments!

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Writer Dagney McKinney white female with light brown hair wearing a purple shirt and smiling

Dagney McKinney

Dagney (pronouns: any) is a neurodivergent writer and book nerd who is drawn to all things weird and macabre. She also loves anything to do with fast cars, unhinged anti-heroes, and salt. When she isn’t working or reading, you’re likely to find her eating Indian food, playing board games, or hiding out somewhere dark and quiet, stuck down an internet rabbit hole. The easiest way to win her over is through cats and camels.

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Best books by New Zealand authors to read in 2020

NZ Booklovers Awards just announced their 2020 shortlist and there are so many titles we can’t wait to get our hands on!

The judges were excited to see the variety of books that our talented New Zealand authors have produced. It was an even more challenging task to decide on the shortlisted books in each category this year, but we are thrilled with the standard of the books. These are books that New Zealand families will read and treasure. Karen McMillan, NZ Booklovers Director

Best New Zealand Adult Fiction Books 2020

books by new zealand authors

T he Claim  by David Briggs – set in a remote part of the Southern Alps, this is a mysterious and captivating story of two people, Evan and Addie. One stormy night, Evan finds injured Addie, rescues her and helps her recover. They become friends but, the question is, will their friendship survive the truth Addie is hiding from Evan?

The Fell  by Robert Jenkins – a brutal boy’s school for difficult kids in an unnamed country, at an unspecified time, is the setting for this fast-paced and brutal, sometimes gripping but always darkly humorous novel.

Lost in the Spanish Quarter  by Heddi Goodrich – Heddi once lived in studied in Naples where she fell in love with Pietro. Wonderful descriptions of the old city, the narrow streets and vociferous, temperamental inhabitants from Heddi’s memories are accompanied by a series of emails in the present.

Meltwater  by Suzanne Ashmore – abused by people she trusted, Elizabeth has created thirteen different ‘selves’ to help her through life’s traumas, but eventually, her psychiatrist will have to unpick them all. Will Elizabeth be strong enough to recover from her past?

Necessary Secrets  by Greg McGee – over the four seasons in a year we are introduced to the Sparks family of Auckland. Patriarch Den is turning seventy and losing his grip on events around him, while his children support him or, perhaps, plot to steal his home. 

The Strength of Eggshells  by Kirsty Powell – Kate is looking for a mother she never knew. Kate’s mother, Jane, was badly scarred in a fire before Kate was born. The grandmother, Meredith, was a settler in a valley off the Whanganui River, left to run a farm by her drunken, unfeeling husband. Confronting stories that weave together to make a brilliant, gritty story.

Best New Zealand Lifestyle Books 2020

books by new zealand authors

Big Ideas for Small Houses  by Catherine Foster – an essential read for anyone considering building their own home with gorgeous photography and innovative ideas.

Homemade  by Eleanor Ozich – a book that encourages readers to ditch pre-made foods in favour of homemade essentials.

Mid-Century Living: The Butterfly House Collection  by Christine Fernyhough – a book that showcases philanthropist Christine Fernyhough’s collection of mid-century New Zealand objects.

Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty – documentation of Rachel’s fascinating global wellbeing journey.

The Recipe  by Josh Emett – a collection of modern classic recipes with mouth-watering photography.

Whole Again  by Bronwyn Kan – a fresh collection of recipes from contributors who are passionate about inspiring others to eat well and embrace wholefood living. Read more about this book in our review .

Best New Zealand Children’s Books 2020

books by new zealand authors

Abigail and the Birth of the Sun  by Matthew Cunningham, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins – richly-illustrated read-aloud story celebrating curiosity and melding the point where science and magic collide.

Dinosaur Hunter: Joan Wiffen’s Awesome Fossil Discoveries  by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris – the remarkable story of Joan Wiffen who, as a child, was curious about rocks and shells and grew up to discover fossils which proved dinosaurs had once lived in New Zealand.

How Maui Slowed the Sun  by Donovan Bixley – a re-telling of the traditional story of how Maui slowed the sun’s daily journey across the sky.

Rugby 1, 2, 3,  Whutupōro Tahi, Rua, Toru by Thalia Kehoe Rowden, Illustrated by Myles Lawford – bilingual (English and te reo Māori) rhyming book that features all things rugby – from balls to boots, match officials to spectators.

Things in the Sea are Touching Me  by Linda Jane Keegan, illustrated by Minky Stapleton – this rhyming story follows the experience of a little girl’s day at the beach with her two mums, as she unexpectedly encounters a range of sea life.

Wildlife of Aotearoa  by Gavin Bishop – a wonderful compendium of all the animals that have graced this land.

books by new zealand authors

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1 Auē by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press, $35)

Published in 2019, the biggest-selling New Zealand novel of 2020, and 2021, Au ē is a modern New Zealand classic, an event, something special. Her amazing essay  published in ReadingRoom in November 2019 was crucial in igniting public interest in her book. It began, “My sister married a Mongrel Mob member more than 10 years ago. Rumour has it she wore a red and black dress. I didn’t go because I wasn’t invited. It’s not that my sister and I don’t love each other, it’s just that we’ve long lived in separate worlds. She got it bad for a patched boy. I got it bad for a rugby boy. I spent many years watching my man play and I cheered for him in his kit, afterwards there were often sculling races and someone occasionally ruined the party by suggesting the girls get their tits out for the boys. I don’t know what my sister’s man might be doing for her to cheer him on, but I do know that the day he called me to tell me he enjoyed reading my novel Auē , he had just come in from fixing his fence. He was pleased with himself and he was keen to have a cold beer. I have heard some things about this man that’ve been difficult to comprehend but I was like, chur bro, hope to have one with you sometime…I thought of my sister and her life when I wrote the chapters in Auē about an unnamed but identifiable gang.”

2 To Italy, With Love by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette, $34.99)

The author took to Twitter the other day to post a photo of herself with her upcoming book, and wrote, “And just like that I got my first shiny copy of my new book on midlife/menopause. I wrote Don’t Sweat It for all the hot, mood swingy, sleepless, brain fogged women out there. Coming your way in January.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it, too, storms the best-seller chart; her novel To Italy, With Lov e, has been number one for the past three months. She writes what a lot of people want to read.

3 Bug Week by Airini Beautrais (Victoria University Press, $30)

Few expected that a collection of short stories would win the 2021 Ockham award for fiction – I thought it would surely go to Pip Adam’s Nothing To See , a work of original genius – but there was no doubting the skill and power of Bug Week . During an interview with the author at ReadingRoom this year,  I asked Beautrais, “Where does Bug Week belong in regards to #metoo? Can it be read, in part, as a #metoo text – aware of sexual politics, the damage of patriarchy, etc?”

She replied, “That’s an interesting question. Yes and no. A lot of it was written during the unfolding of #metoo. At the time I was also dealing with some personal trauma. Being an ‘elderly millennial’ I came of age in one of the troughs of feminism. It was very common for girls to say ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist.’ I think we were conditioned to make excuses for all kinds of shit behaviour. I remember being taught about STIs but not about intimate partner violence. I hadn’t really thought about psychological abuse until a counsellor told me that was what I was describing to him. #Metoo felt like an indicator that things were on the turn and it was no longer mandatory to keep quiet all the time or to make excuses for harassment or abuse.”

4 Cousins by Patricia Grace (Penguin Random House, $26)

First published in 1992, and made into a film this year, reigniting public interest in the Wellington writer’s novel which tells the story of three female cousins over generations. “They got the essence of the book, the essence of the characters,” the author told Noelle McCarthy during an interview at ReadingRoom this year. “And I think they did a wonderful job.”

5 Tell Me Lies by JP Pomare (Hachette, $29.99)

I interviewed  the author for ReadingRoom on the occasion of his father’s horse competing in the Melbourne Cup. It wasn’t a happy occasion.

6 The Last Guests by JP Pomare (Hachette, $34.99)

From a ReadingRoom review by Craig Ranapia of Pomare’s latest thriller: “Cain and Lina Phillips narrate most of the novel. He’s an ex-SAS soldier whose failed business isn’t helping a rocky return to civilian life that includes increasingly pointed questions about his role in civilian deaths in Afghanistan. She’s a paramedic whose own career is about to blow up after a call goes tragically bad. Both have secrets that come to light when they’re not as good at scrubbing their internet histories as they think…. The Last Guests marks a welcome advance in the depth and complexity of the characters. Cain and Lina are intelligent, endearing if terribly flawed, people whose broken marriage isn’t a plot device or a collection of psychopathological bric-a-brac. In any long relationship, sometimes you just end up in a world of hurt.”

7 Quiet In Her Bones by Nalini Singh (Hachette, $34.99)

From a rave review at the New York Journal of Books : “Rai’s mother has been missing since Ari was a teen. Meanwhile he’s become a rich, world-famous author after writing a thriller. He’s moved into a sleek apartment in Auckland. A car accident that hurts his head and breaks his foot sends him back to his father’s home. He’s still convalescing when Constable Neri comes to the door. Nina Rai’s body has been found in her Jaguar, not far from their cul-de-sac. Nina wasn’t in the driver’s seat. Presumably her own murderer drove her off the road… Singh’s brilliant book hooks us from the beginning and doesn’t let go.”

8 Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey (Victoria University Press, $35)

A finalist at this year’s Ockham award for fiction, Remote Sympathy is set in the Buchenwald death camp during WWII. From a ReadingRoom review by  Stephanie Johnson:  “ Remote Sympathy is an admirable and almost majestic book. Themes are grand, characters full-blooded and genuine, humour sly and intelligent humanity unquestionable.”

9 Inside the Black Horse by Ray Berard (David Bateman, $34.99)

In a marvellous piece of memoir writing published in ReadingRoom in April, the Qebec-born author wrote that not long after arriving in New Zealand, “The TAB made me the area manager in South Auckland, supervising 50 gambling outlets. Around then the writing reappeared. Stories about the people I worked with, the events I witnessed, and comparisons with the places I’d left behind. The writing grew into a daily habit. I did character studies of people losing money to gambling, the desperate, the victims, the witnesses, and my fellow staff, especially the Polynesian women. Something about their lives touched a nerve and I began to reflect on my own childhood. My book Inside the Black Horse is a compressed account of years of events I recorded in my diary, compressed into five days after a desperate act by a young man with no options left.” It got turned into a TV drama in 2021, which reignited public interest in Berard’s 2015 crime novel.

10 Loop Tracks by Sue Orr (Victoria University Press, $35)

From a rave review by Paddy Richardson of one of the year’s best novels, and a strong contendor for the 2022 Ockham award for fiction: “Charlie is 16 and pregnant. It’s 1978 and New Zealand is tentatively moving towards the recognition that abortion just may be a woman’s right to choose. The Auckland Medical Aids Centre, the only clinic in New Zealand offering abortion, opened in 1974, but following the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, it’s been forced to close. But the Sisters Overseas Service helps girls to travel to Australia for abortions. Charlie’s parents use their savings as well as borrowing a large sum of money to pay for a return flight to Sydney, and an abortion at a Sydney clinic. But the plane is delayed for hours. Charlie sits waiting with other girls also booked at the same clinic. She gets off the plane. Orr’s portrayal of the motivation for Charlie’s impulsive choice is both heart-breaking and totally convincing.”

NON-FICTION

1 Aroha by Hinemoa Elder (Penguin Random House, $30)

From a  review by Dr Lorna Dyall QSM, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Paoa, for the Mental Health Foundation: “Dr Hinemoa Elder is a child and adolescent psychiatrist. This book is written with aroha, and encompasses the many facets of her life and experiences as a Māori woman, mother, teacher, researcher and most importantly a member of the following tribes: Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kurī, Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi, which are centred in the Northern part of the North Island, or the tail of the fish caught by Māui.

“I found the 52 whakataukī or proverbs included in this small book joyful to read, as they encourage you to reflect on the wisdom of past elders, their observations of life, their spiritual connection to nature, the importance of our role as humans as being kaitiaki – being both leaders and care protectors for future generations and all species on Earth, the planet we all live on.”

2 Lost and Found by Toni Street (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

From a profile of the author at Woman’s Day : “ Lost and Found shed light on the star’s battle with the autoimmune disease EGPA and her surrogacy journey with her best friend Sophie Braggins , who gave birth to Toni and Matt’s son Lachie in 2018. She says, ‘It’s been amazing to know it’s made a difference to other people. I receive messages every single day from people going through similar things, who say my book has helped them feel less isolated and alone.”

3 Supergood by Chelsea Winter (Penguin Random House, $50)

Hot and cold food.

4 Salad by Margo Flanagan & Rosa Flanagan (Allen & Unwin, $45)

5 Steve Hansen: The Legacy by Gregor Paul (HarperCollins, $49.99)

“Hansen is pitched as ‘a deeply considerate, empathetic and compassionate human being’ which he was entirely capable of being. He could also be a bully – a fact noted by the author but largely dismissed, and more than once, as just one of those things”: from less than a rave review at ReadingRoom by good old Scotty Stevenson.

6 Māori Made Easy by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $38)

Te reo made popular.

7 Bella by Annabel Langbein (Allen & Unwin, $49.99)

8 Vegful by Nadia Lim (Nude Food, $55)

9 A High Country Life by Philippa Cameron (Allen & Unwin, $45)

Food with a view.

10 The Abundant Garden by Niva Kay and Yotam Kay (Allen & Unwin, $45)

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The Greatest New Zealand "Fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 200 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process can be found on the rankings page .

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

1. Tahuri by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku

"Tahuri" is a poignant narrative that delves into the life of a young Maori girl navigating the complexities of her cultural identity and sexuality amidst the backdrop of contemporary New Zealand society. The story explores themes of tradition, family, and self-discovery as the protagonist grapples with the expectations placed upon her by her community and her own personal desires. Through her journey, the novel examines the intersections of indigenous culture and modern life, shedding light on the challenges faced by those striving to maintain their heritage while also seeking to forge their own path.

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books by new zealand authors

7 brilliant books about New Zealand

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Recently updated on July 19th, 2023 at 03:27 pm

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books about New Zealand that get you in touch with the people, culture and landscapes. Before you travel to New Zealand , get your head stuck into one or all of these great reads to learn more about the land of the long white cloud .

Let these nonfiction and fiction novels be your New Zealand travel guide as you get lost in the pages before seeing the fantastic country up close and in real life. These New Zealand books will let your imagination run wild, then when you visit you can compare your thoughts and ideas with reality while exploring the north and south islands.

Pounamu Pounamu (1972) by Witi Ihimaera

Written by one of New Zealand’s most famous Maori authors, Witi Ihimaera is best known internationally for his novel Whale Rider that was also turned into a film . Dive a layer deeper and read Pounamu Pounamu, which is considered a literary classic. The New Zealand book is actually a series of short stories that explore what it is like to be a New Zealander, but from a Maori perspective. They examine the crossroads of Maori culture, tradition and family life in the 1960s in New Zealand. 

View this post on Instagram A post shared by So Many Books, So Little Time! (@ns510reads)

The Penguin History of New Zealand (2003) by Michael King

Let this book about New Zealand’s history educate you with the most interesting facts and historic gems. Michael King was a leading historian and this book is an unchallenged contemporary reference on the history of New Zealand. Did you know it was the last place to be settled by humankind? Or that it was the first full democracy? From colonisation to independence, this novel charters everything including the relationships with the indigenous Maori people and all the social and cultural change over the years.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jo Rae Wilkins (@joraewilkins)

Wild Journeys (2018) by Bruce Ansley

If you plan to travel to New Zealand, plan to spend time outdoors. It’s here that spectacular landscapes and incredible moments are made. In this non-fiction book, New Zealand travel guide Bruce Ansley tells the tales of the most iconic Kiwi journeys in history. Retrace the path of doomed surveyor John Whitcombe across the Southern Alps, sail around the north and south capes, hunt for the South Island’s Grey Ghost and so many more. Let these journeys inspire your own exploring.

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RELATED CONTENT: 5 local New Zealand travel experiences you can do that give back to the community  

Wildboy (2015) by Brando Yelavich

Let a young Brando Yelvich be your New Zealand travel guide as he circumnavigates the coastline by foot. In this true story a 19-year-old Brando spends 600 days walking 8700 kilometres across his country. Setting out for the adventure of a lifetime, this book about Brando is New Zealand’s answer to Bear Grylls. Read on as he takes you on a journey through the great outdoors, catching fish and hunting food, coming up close with seals, sharks and more.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Brando Yelavich | Wildboy (@brandoyelavichexplorer)

GET INSPIRED: Contrasts of New Zealand

We Can Make a Life (2018) by Chessie Henry

When Christchurch ws badly rattled by the 2011 earthquakes, Kaikōura-based doctor Chris Henry crawled through the burning CTV building to rescue those who were trapped. In this brave memoir his daughter Chessie interviews her father to better understand the trauma that led to his burnout, unravelling stories about her own family history, and the psychological cost of heroism, home and belonging along the way.

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Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All (2008) by Christina Thompson

Another memoir, this New Zealand book illustrates a cultural collision between Maoris and Westerners from the 18th and early 19th century through to her own love story now. Grown from decades of research, this novel tells the extraordinary love story between Thompson, an American woman, and her husband, a Maori man, while looking back at the relationship between the two wildly different cultures. 

View this post on Instagram A post shared by geistige Tankstellen (@hopscotchreadingroom)

The Luminaries (2013) by Eleanor Catton

If you love a long, challenging fiction read this complex novel twists fate, fortune and New Zealand’s gold rush into a page-turning tale. Set in 1866, a young Walter Moody arrives on a stormy night and is drawn in by a number of mysterious and unexplainable situations. Join him in this world of banking, shipping and the gold rush boom and bust.

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GET INSPIRED: New Zealand Uncovered

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (1954-55) by J. R. R. Tolkien

Okay, so reading about the fantasy set in Middle Earth isn’t exactly going to educate you about New Zealand and its many wonders. But since all three of the films, adapted from the books, are set exclusively in New Zealand, it might be worth brushing up on the fantasy series. There is also a behind-the-scenes book called Anything You Can Imagine by Ian Nathan that goes in-depth into the filming process with cast and crew interviews and more. If you travel to New Zealand and are a big LOTR fan, you absolutely must visit Hobbiton and other film locations.

Hobbiton in New Zealand based on the books

If you are planning to travel to New Zealand, which New Zealand books would you read before departing? Let us know in the comments…

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The Spinoff

books by new zealand authors

Books February 18, 2024

New zealand book festivals: a field guide.

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The lineups are (mostly) yet to be released, but 2024 promises to be another great year for Aotearoa’s literary festival scene. We’ve compiled a list of all* the festivals, when they’re happening, and why you want to go.

Writers / book / literature festivals sound like they’re about books and writers and literature, but really they’re about conversations, and gathering, and tote bags. New Zealand has a healthy smattering of such festivals from February to November to provide a year’s worth of road trips and brain food. Each one has a different flavour and sometimes a specific focus. They can be controversial, unpredictable, even downright loose.

If you’ve never been to a book / writers / literature festival before you might well ask why go to one at all. There are many reasons, but the main draw is that they’re buzzy. There’s nothing like a room full of people all together listening to other, very interesting, people talk about their lives, or debate big (or weird, or hard, or fun) ideas, or perform a piece of writing that will send shivers up and down your spine. These festivals are about being in the moment: off screens, rubbing shoulders with strangers and finding kindred, curious spirits. 

This field guide to lit festivals in Aotearoa is your map to stimulating conversation in beautiful places, and a novel (if you’re a festival novice) way to discover what Aotearoa’s writers are up to. The guide is arranged in chronological order with websites where available. 

Going West Writers Festival

When : precarious and uncertain (see below)

Where : Titirangi and online

What’s the vibe: Going West Writers Festival is Auckland’s first writers festival. It started in 1996 and according to the history section on Going West’s website the first writer to speak was Ngahuia Te Awekotuku in a session called Ngā Kupu Kōrero, which is quite something if you consider the sidelining of kaituhi Māori across most histories of book festivals in Aotearoa. Going West has done a thorough job of audio archiving, with recordings of sessions available online going right back to 2003. The Covid years saw then-director James Littlewood transform Going West into a short film production house. If you go to the website these days you can explore a series of videos of writers exploring the landscapes of West Auckland.

Unfortunately, due in part to the chronic underfunding of Creative New Zealand (a funder of most of NZ’s book festivals), Going West is on ice. Like most festivals Going West is run by a voluntary board, with festival directors and workers in place only when there’s enough funds to support the role. In December 2023 former director James Littlewood wrote (on The Big Idea ) about the festival’s declining funds and how that has affected the organisation: “We obtained our [Creative New Zealand] assessors’ comments and scores, but they don’t add up to much. For the most part, they’re bursting with fulsome praise, identifying our innovations, celebrating our new direction.” What Littlewood describes is a now common scenario: applications are good and the project worthy but there’s not enough money to go around.

In the meantime, though, Going West is busy restoring Maurice Shadbolt’s former home so it can be used as a writers’ residency. More about that here .

Same Same But Different

When: 12 February – 18 February

Where: Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland

What’s the vibe: Peter Wells founded this festival in 2015 and created our first lit fest that celebrates LGBTQIA+ writing in Aotearoa. This year’s theme is Camp Rage which is chef’s kiss on all levels. The festival is on right now and the dynamic set of events is here .

Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts

When: 23 February – 17 March

Where: Te Whanganui-a-tara / Wellington

What’s the vibe: Because this festival is only a week away, they’ve launched the programme – here are the events and tickets . As one of the oldest festivals in New Zealand that has an international focus, this one tends to draw some big literary names. This year’s festival includes Irish novelist Anne Enright (talking with Noelle McCarthy), major US writers Richard Ford and Jane Smiley, and the iconic Sandra Cisneros , too. There are some particularly great workshops on writing for kids and using movement to unlock creative energy. Also, if you love The Spinoff’s column Help Me Hera , there’s a live event with Hera and editor Mad Chapman (rumour is that it’s sold out but worth try). Also Kim Hill is appearing live three whole times so fans can get a fix (Hill is interviewing Patrick deWitt , Emily Perkins and Rebecca Priestley ). The festival at large includes loads of theatre, dance and music programming but we’re solely focused on the writing which is all between 23 Feb – 25 Feb. 

books by new zealand authors

Aspiring Conversations

When: 4 – 7 April

Where: Wānaka

What’s the vibe: Part of the Wānaka Festival of Colour, Aspiring Conversations has a seriously stacked programme (just announced). Max Harris’s event talking about health campaigning from a personal and policy perspective looks excellent, as does the AI vs. librarians session , where ChatGPT and librarians compete to give audience members personalised book recommendations. Our books editor Claire Mabey is speaking with Irish writers Claire Keegan (author of Small Things Like These which has not left the bestseller list in over a year) and Audrey McGee. Also Sam Low , author of one of the best cookbooks in ages! (sorry though, looks like Low’s event has already sold out). If you need an excuse to hang out with some very beautiful mountains and interesting people, consider this your reason. 

Between the Lines

When: 11 April  – 14 April

Where: Central Hawke’s Bay

What’s the vibe: Small book festivals can be gloriously quirky and Central Hawke’s Bay’s beloved Readers and Writers Festival is no exception. The festival is returning for its fifth year with an eclectic mix of visiting authors from across New Zealand, speaking at some wonderfully small and unique venues. Spread over four days, the festival kicks off with a Young Writers programme, giving primary school students the chance to work with a well-known author and ignite their passion for the written word. The 2024 programme is about to drop but we have been told to expect some highly acclaimed authors from the worlds of fiction, poetry, food and screen.

Featherston Booktown

When: 8 – 12 May (including the Young Readers programme)

Where: Paetūmōkai / Featherston

What’s the vibe: As a “booktown” (a network of bookish places all around the world) Featherston has cultivated a special relationship to literature; it has seven bookshops, which is a lot considering it only has a population of around 3,000 people. That means that when you go to this festival you’re really in it: the whole town gets on board and the buzz factor is sensational. The events are always varied and fascinating (check out last year’s festival here , and we think the 2024 programme should arrive in March), and you can get there by train!

books by new zealand authors

Auckland Writers Festival

When: 14 – 19 May

Where: Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland  

What’s the vibe: This whopper of 200+ events and tens of thousands of festival goers generally welcomes a thrilling range of international writers (last year, there was a talk between three Booker Prize winners – stacked guests!), as well as lots of New Zealand’s best writers and thinkers. The winners of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are announced during the festival which is always hotly anticipated – especially since the longlist was announced a few weeks ago. We’re looking forward to what an entirely new AWF team come up with for 2024, especially given new Artistic Director Lyndsey Fineran has come from Cheltenham Literature Festival where she spearheaded a load of inventive collaborations. The programme will be announced on 13 March and we are excited.

Mountain, Film and Book Festival

When: 21 – 28 June

Where: Tāhuna / Queenstown and Wānaka

What’s the vibe: An extravaganza of alpine content, the festival celebrates the cold and the adventurous, with films and books from Aotearoa and around the world focussed outdoor adventure. New Zealand has a great tradition of outdoor writing; some of our recent favourites are Nic Low’s Uprising and Dave Vass’s Not Set in Stone . The festival has an online programme too which this year will run through the month of July.

Marlborough Book Festival  

When: 26 – 28 July 

Where: Te Waiharakeke / Blenheim

What’s the vibe: All the writers want to be invited to this one because it’s set among the vineyards and wine is a flowin’ and no doubt fuelling some future bookish inspo. Most people don’t linger in Blenheim, but this boutique festival is a reason to spend a little more time in the top of the South. To get a feel for the kind of events they put on you can listen to podcasts of past conversations here .

WORD Christchurch

When: 27 August – 1 September

Where: Ōtautahi / Christchurch

What’s the vibe: Fun! The buzz factor is high as WORD events take you around cool and beautiful venues in the heart of Ōtautahi, including their jealousy-inducing (for us Central library-less Wellingtonians) Tūranga library. This festival includes lots of free events, as well as paid ones, with a juicy line-up of international authors alongside heaps of Aotearoa writers. WORD are also responsible for kicking the challenges of covid in the ass with their ingenious Faraway Near in which international writers are beamed into impossibly intimate settings with very small audiences who can ask questions and chat like they’re all in the same room. See their 2023 festival to get a feel for what WORD will come up with for 2024. 

books by new zealand authors

Young Writers Festival

When: September (dates to be confirmed)

Where: Ōtepoti / Dunedin

What’s the vibe: The only festival in Aotearoa that is focused on young writers, this festival is also unique in that it’s entirely free. Last year, there was a fabulous poetry slam and a zine making workshop as well as more traditional talks between writers. In central Dunedin, the festival has a real feeling of aroha and mentorship for younger writers, and being based mostly in two locations means that you run into the same people all weekend. We wrote about last year’s festival here so you can see why we’re excited about going again. 

Kupu Festival

Where: Rotorua

What’s the vibe? A festival of Māori writing, Kupu was formed in 2022 to offer a different space in the literary calendar – with more space for Māori audiences, with sessions at marae and in te reo Māori. We wrote about it last year, and festival trustee and curator told us “Our theme is celebrating Māori writers – past, present and future so we try to ensure that our programme reflects this.” The sessions last year were an amazing mix of literary greats and new voices and we look forward to what they do next.

books by new zealand authors

Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival  

When: October (dates to be confirmed)

What’s the vibe: The festival describes itself as “small but delightful” on Instagram and we quite agree, except we would revise it to “small and delightful”. Last year they had Māori event curators for the first time, with events at the Ōtākou marae, as well as in galleries and theatre spaces around the city. Dunedin is a UNESCO City of Literature so this festival often highlights its literary heritage as well as inviting writers from elsewhere. Excellent excuse to visit the capital of gothic fonts and cheese rolls.

Escape! Festival

Where: Tauranga

What’s the vibe: The Escape festival happens in alternate years to the Tauranga Arts Festival (which includes writers events but alongside music and theatre and dance). It describes itself as “the little festival with big ideas”. The two year cycle is kind of exciting, because it means that there’s a completely new set of books and author hype that’s built up in the meantime. If you want to see something inspiring and the kind of lit-adjancent experience festivals like these can offer, check out this video of a kids’ news show for adults produced as part of the event. Also there’s a poetry slam – we love when non-traditional forms of literature get included in literary festivals. 

Hawkes Bay Readers & Writers Festival

Where: October 18 – 20

Where: Mostly in Karanema / Havelock North

What’s the vibe: Another festival that you could zoom off to saying that you’re super excited about all the stimulating discussion when really you’re equally, if not more, excited about the wine. This cheerful festival leans into its region’s association with vineyards and presents a lovely set of events that match nicely with a pinot.

Pukapuka Talks at the Nelson Arts Festival

When: October 24 – 3 November 

Where: Whakatū / Nelson

What’s the vibe: The programme is still months away, but this festival has historically mostly had free and Pay What You Can events which makes it really accessible. Last year, we loved the focus on workshops, including funny writing for children, new voices of young people with recently published books and the conversation about foraging. 

books by new zealand authors

Queenstown Writers Festival

When: 1 – 3 November

Where: Tāhuna / Queenstown

What’s the vibe: A “mini” festival – it had nine events last year – the Queenstown Writers Fest nonetheless manages to include workshops, talks and a writing competition. Last year it had the incredible Barbara Else talking to Megan Nicol Reed, Michael Bennett discussing the true stories in the criminal justice system that inspired Better the Blood and a book about the legend of some missing gold from a shipwreck in 1866. (The festival director notes, wryly, that finding the gold “would certainly help the Queenstown Writers Festival’s bank balance” – these small festivals make a lot happen with miniscule budgets.)

Verb Readers & Writers Festival 

When: 7 – 10 November 

Where: Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington

What’s the vibe: A highlight is always LitCrawl on the festival’s Saturday night – an evening of simultaneous events in shops, cafes, galleries and bookstores across the central city which always feel impossible to choose between. Verb (founded by Spinoff books editor Claire Mabey and her partner Andrew) also hosts events and writers residencies throughout the year.

*New festivals start up all the time so it’s probable that we’ve missed one. If you are outraged that your local lit fest is missing please contact us and we’ll add it in.

The Spinoff Review of Books is proudly brought to you by Unity Books , recently named 2020 International Book Store of the Year, London Book Fair, and Creative New Zealand. Visit Unity Books Wellington or Unity Books Auckland online stores today. 

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A Celebrity Dies, and New Biographies Pop Up Overnight. The Author? A.I.

Books — often riddled with gross grammatical and factual errors — are appearing for sale online soon after the death of well-known people.

The image includes narrow vertical crops of photos of Toby Keith, Chita Rivera, Tom Smothers and Norman Lear.

By Elizabeth A. Harris

After Joseph Lelyveld, a former executive editor of The New York Times, died last month, his brother Michael Lelyveld went online to see how he was being remembered. He found obituaries in major news outlets, as expected. But he also found other, unexpected portraits of his brother.

At least half a dozen biographies were published on Amazon in the days immediately following Lelyveld’s death. Several of them were available for purchase on the very day he died. The books, he said, described his brother as a chain smoker, someone who honed his skills in Cairo and reported from Vietnam — none of which is true.

“They want to make a buck on your grief,” said Michael Lelyveld.

Books like this are part of a macabre new publishing subgenre: hasty, shoddy, A.I.-generated biographies of people who have just died.

Among the biographies that appeared soon after Lelyveld’s death was “Beyond the Byline: Unraveling the Heart of Joseph Lelyveld: The Man Who Smoked His Way Through History.” According to GPTZero , a program that detects A.I.-generated text, there is a 97 percent chance that the book was created by A.I.

Tom Smothers, of the 1960s “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” television show, was another recent subject. Smothers died on Dec. 26, and that same day, a new book with a clunky and ungrammatical title became available on Amazon: “Tom Smothers: Revealing 4 Untold Truth About Half of Smothers Brother.”

Toby Keith, the country music star, also had biographies show up after his death this month. One came with an unusual disclaimer: “The author and publisher make no warranties about the accuracy or completeness of the content,” it said. “Resemblance to real persons is coincidental.”

Some of these books, like “Chita Rivera: Biography and Memoir of Chita Rivera the West side story star,” were available on Kindle Unlimited, which pays authors per page view. Other titles are available in a Kindle or paperback edition for a few dollars: For $3.25, customers could purchase a Kindle copy of “Biography of Norman Lear a TV Legend Dies at 101: A comedy legend norman lear biography, legacy, achievement and things you probably don’t know about him.”

Amazon declined to answer questions about sales for these books, but their publication does not appear to be a robust business. Few of them had any customer reviews, and those that did fared poorly. Disappointed readers described one book as “a 60-page pamphlet,” another as “a glorified brochure” and a “rip-off.”

Even with such small payouts, the ease of creating these books might make it worthwhile if the sales volume were high enough. One author, listed as Bettie Melton, publishes several books a month. Some of the recent titles published under that name include biographies of recently deceased celebrities such as Henry Kissinger and the musician Myles Goodwyn, as well as books about people who are still very much alive, like the football coach Bill Belichick.

“It’s almost statistically impossible that these were human written,” said Edward Tian, the founder of GPTZero.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing guidelines require that authors and publishers tell the company if their content is A.I. generated. Lindsay Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said that the company allows A.I.-generated books to be sold on its website, unless they create “a poor customer experience.” When alerted to several biographies included in this article — which, according to GPTZero, are all very likely to be A.I. creations — Amazon took them down.

“We have proactive and reactive measures to evaluate content in our store and have removed a number of titles that violated our guidelines,” Hamilton said.

Amazon said it could not supply contact information for those publishing on its site, and it is difficult to identify who produces these books. Frequently, no publishing company is listed and the named author appears to be fictitious, or is even the name of a dead person plucked from the internet.

Lori M. Graff was listed as the author of books on Toby Keith and Joseph Lelyveld, among many others.

But at the top of a Google search for “Lori M. Graff” is an obituary for a woman named who died in 2016.

  More about Elizabeth A. Harris

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Books | readers and writers: collaboration at the heart of new thriller.

Mary Ann Grossman

She was in a room with a low ceiling and concrete walls. A lightbulb hung from a long cord above a metal chair. A camera on a tripod faced the chair. Plastic sheeting was spread on the ground beneath the chair in a sloppy semi-circle. Her heart leaped to her throat. This was a death trap… They were going to torture her and kill her and let the plastic collect her body fluids before they wrapped her body in it. — from “Shepherd and The Fox”

A book jacket featuring an illustration of two people walking into a sunset with the title, 'Shepherdand the Fox,' with authors listed as 'Brian Shea and Kristi Belcamino' and the subtitle, 'A Shepherd and Fox thriller.'

“I hesitate to say anything that makes this book sound like it’s all about me,” Kristi Belcamino says of “Shepherd and The Fox,” the new thriller she wrote with Brian Shea , New England-based former Navy officer and detective whose novels are nonstop action.

Belcamino, award-winning crime reporter and author of dark mysteries about fierce women seeking justice , lives in Minneapolis and is a Pioneer Press reporter . She’s written more than 30 novels, including her Gabriella Giovanni series.

Kristi Belcamino

What’s unusual, if not unique, about this project is that it was born during Zoom talks between four people — Shea, Belcamino, a respected Hollywood producer and a screenwriter. (She isn’t releasing the producer’s name now because the screenplay is still being written based on the book.)

“The intellectual property for the characters is owned by all four of us,” Belcamino explains. “In the contract we are on board for the book being published and a movie deal being sought. I don’t think this kind of situation has ever happened before.”

It all began a few years ago when the producer reached out to Shea suggesting they come up with an idea for which Shea would write the book and the producer would get a movie deal. Shea agreed but he wanted to bring in Belcamino to write the book.

Shea offered Belcamino the job even though they had never met in person.

“Brian had seen my books on Amazon and realized there was a lot of overlap between our readers,” Belcamino says. “A few months earlier he had offered me a different collaboration but I said no because it wasn’t my brand. But ‘Shepherd and The Fox’ sounded exciting, something my readers would enjoy. And it involved Hollywood.”

Once the team was gathered, they’d “hop on Zoom and brainstorm in all directions,” as Belcamino puts it. “We came up with the entire idea with input from everyone.”

“Shepherd and The Fox” features big ex-Delta Force mercenary Adam Shepherd and beautiful Lucky Rodriquez-Toscani, alias The Fox, an accomplished thief looking to avenge the deaths of her parents. They work undercover for a mysterious entity known as the Foundation, run by equally mysterious Uncle Max, whom they have never seen. Shepherd and Lucky have history, teasing one another about how many times each saved the other’s butt. As the book begins, they haven’t seen one another since they were at a bloody massacre in Kabul. They are assigned by Uncle Max to work as partners to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel by moving the cartel’s money. The mission turns deadly when they collide with a very bad guy who wants to take over the entire drug trade. It’s Shepherd and The Fox against a vicious killer with his own private army. Luckily, a tough gang of “loco” women motorcyclists is on their side.

When Belcamino began to write this fast-paced story, she worked from an outline Shea had written, including a couple of paragraphs about who the characters were. “Then I’d build the flesh into it,” she says. “Brian did a lot of work behind the scenes, including plotting action points. We are a good mix; Brian has a strong military and police background so he was great with the action and I had to make the characters come to life, writing their emotions. We complemented each other. He was for action; I want to make you cry.”

Brian Shea

Belcamino admits this genre is new to her but it was fun to write: “In my previous books I skirted around more violent action themes. This one pushed me to grow as a writer. I joined Muay Thai and kickboxing classes to help me figure out how to write action, such as how it feels to kick someone.” (In the book, Lucky is very good at this.)

It was Belcamino who named the novel’s protagonist Lucky, in honor of Jackie Collins’ 1998 novel of the same name, one of Belcamino’s favorite books as a young reader. Collins’ protagonist, Lucky Santangelo, was Belcamino’s heroine: “She was the first Italian-American I read about who was powerful and strong and sexy.”

Although there are brief scenes of lovemaking between Shepherd and Lucky, this never takes away from the deadly danger they are in and how they handle it.

“It’s nice to have romance but that is not the main point of this book,” Belcamino stresses. “I looked at it as an action movie when I was writing. I like the dynamics of Shepherd and Lucky, righting a wrong, ensuring justice. I like that they are doing bad things for the right reasons.”

Belcamino grew up in Paradise, Calif., and fell in love with journalism when she attended California State University Long Beach. She has worked at the Contra Costa Times, Monterey Herald and Carmel Pine Cone newspapers in California, as well as White Bear Press in Minnesota. When she was a police reporter for the Contra Costa paper she looked into the eyes of serial killer Curtis Dean Anderson during interviews. He was a cab driver awaiting trial for kidnapping a 7-year-old girl in a small California town. She and two colleagues broke the story about Laci Peterson’s remains being found in the ocean and she was among the first with news that passengers fought back when United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked on 9/11 and crashed in Pennsylvania.

Belcamino’s debut novel, “Blessed are the Dead,” came out in 2014. It is based on the notes, articles and other material she kept during her time writing about Anderson, who died in prison.

Now that “Shepherd and The Fox” is in the world ( Severn River Publishing , $16.99), Belcamino is working on a domestic suspense novel and finishing a proposal for a nonfiction book about dating for people over 50. She’s also mom to two daughters in college whose father is her ex-husband.

Good question: Will The Four who gave birth to “Shepherd and The Fox” ever meet in person?

“Maybe on the red carpet in Hollywood when the movie comes out,” Belcamino says with a laugh.

Belcamino and her award-winning friend Jess Lourey (“The Taken Ones,” “Unspeakable Things” and other thrillers) will be guest authors at Minnesota Mystery Night on March 18 at Axel’s restaurant in Mendota. The event is sold out, though you can sign up for the wait list.

“Jess is one of my favorite people,” Belcamino says. “I am so grateful for her friendship. She’s an inspiration to me in most areas of my life. And she probably works harder than almost any writer I ever met.”

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