Here are this week’s biggest books, as recorded by the Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list and described by Steve Braunias.

New Zealand Fiction

1 This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman (Penguin Random House, $38)

The winner – deservedly, stonkingly – of the 2019 Ockham New Zealand national book award for fiction. Kidman’s book was named novel of the year at last week’s ceremony with nary a murmur of complaint. She crafts a true-crime narrative – it’s about the second to last man to hang in New Zealand – and evokes the 1950s setting with great skill. This is bound to hog the number one spot for weeks and weeks and weeks – deservedly, stonkingly.  

2 When It All Went to Custard by Danielle Hawkins (HarperCollins, $35)

Her first novel, Dinner At Rose’s, sold 12,000 copies; the Otorohonga author’s latest book – about a woman who discovers her husband has been having an affair, and tries to cope with running a family and a farm – is also doing brisk business. Hawkins tells a good story.

3 A Dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette, $34.99)

This, from Pellegrino’s website: “If you love the Italy of my novels why not come with me and experience it for real? I’m putting together a tour to take small numbers of guests to experience some of the flavours and locations featured in my novels. It’s still early days but I’m hoping my first tour will happen in 2020 and I can promise wonderful food, local knowledge and warm, friendly people. It will be like stepping through the pages of one of my stories!”

4 The Grief Almanac by Vana Manasiadis (Seraph Press, $30)

Poetry, including one set in Holloway Road, Wellington, “in the crease of Aro Valley”.

5 A Mistake by Carl Shuker (Victoria University Press, $30)

Diana Wichtel, in the New Zealand Listener: “A Mistake is the prosaic, triggering title of Shuker’s short, scalpel-sharp tale of misadventure, medical and moral, set in a version of Wellington Hospital.”

6 Poukahangatus by Tayi Tibble (Victoria University Press, $20)

Winner of the best first book of poetry at the 2019 Ockham national books awards.

7 The Gulf Between by Maxine Alterio (Penguin Random House, $38)

Set in Queenstown, London, and Naples. “A wrenching, emotional, tension-filled story about family secrets, cultural expectations and hidden corruptions”: Weekend Herald.

8 The Unreliable People by Rosetta Allan (Penguin, $38)

Atmospheric novel set in Russia. The author is this year’s writer in residence at the University of Waikato; she told the Book Council’s website, “Living in Hamilton is a new experience for me. I grew up in the provinces, so it reminds me a great deal of that time. The beauty of the natural environment is so close. The campus is so pretty, set around two lakes it has the feel of aspects of the Hamilton Gardens. Every Monday is movie night as part of the Hamilton Film Society where I meet people like Doug, a retired scientist who paints portraits in watercolour and writes stories of his own. Monday to Friday I have an office that is growing messier by the week, where I shut myself away to write. I live in a semi-rural cottage where a golden Labrador called Bella comes to visit first thing in the morning, and for a good hour in the evening. Life is good.”

9 All This by Chance by Vincent O’Sullivan (Victoria University Press, $35)

Family saga by the great Dunedin writer.

10 The Imaginary Lives of James Poneke by Tina Makereti (Penguin Random House, $38)

Historical fiction, following a Māori in Victorian London.

New Zealand Non-Fiction

1 The Note through the Wire by Doug Gold (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

Wartime love story.

2 The New Zealand Wars by Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books, $39.99)

Short overview intended for a young audience.

3 The Billion Dollar Bonfire by Chris Lee (Projects Resources, $40)

Lee’s analysis of the South Canterbury Finance collapse includes a haunting chapter on the last days of SFC founder Allan Hubbard. An excerpt ran this week at ReadingRoom, and began: “A year after the fraud accusation in 2010, Hubbard was served with 50 new fraud charges. His private response was chilling. He told me that he would not appear in court to face any charges. He would die instead.”

4 Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter (Victoria University Press, $40)

“A very funny, very powerful autobiography…It’s a confessional, of sorts, but more so it’s a confrontation: he faces up to himself and his life, his music, his relationships, his failings, his drinking, his lost years, his strange, defiant, fragile, brooding, comical, loyal, determined character”: Steve Braunias, ReadingRoom.

5 Purakau by Witi Ihimaera & Whiti Hereaka (Penguin Random House, $38)

Ancient myths retold and set in modern New Zealand, by writers such as Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Paula Morris,  Hone Tuwhare – and Kelly Ana Morey, whose brilliant story, set in the former Kingseat asylum for the mentally ill, appeared at ReadingRoom.

6 Magnolia Kitchen by Bernadette Gee (Allen & Unwin, $45)


7 We Can Make a Life by Chessie Henry (Victoria University Press, $35)

Moving and sometimes harrowing account of the Christchurch earthquakes.

8 Maori Made Easy by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $38)

‘This is not just a useful book, it’s an essential one”: Paul Little, North & South

9 The Plimmer Legacy by Bee Dawson (Penguin Random House, $50)

Story of family who give their name to Plimmer Steps in Wellington.

10 The Meaning of Trees by Robert Vennell (HarperCollins, $55)

We look forward to the forthcoming review in ReadingRoom by genius broadcaster and zoology graduate Graeme Hill.

Steve Braunias is the literary editor of Newsroom's books section ReadingRoom, a noted writer at the NZ Herald, and the author of 10 books.

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