1 The Dressmaker and the Hidden Soldier by Doug Gold (Allen & Unwin, $37.99)

This hugely popular true-romance story set in World War II is set to be the hit book this Xmas. A free copy was up for grabs in last week’s free book giveaway, and interest was very, very high. Readers were asked to share a story about dressmaking. There were a lot of fantastically interesting entries and indeed I was unable to only choose one – and asked Allen & Unwin whether they could stretch to two free copies, for two winners. Splendidly, they said yes.

One of the two winners is author Margaret Mills, who wrote, “Fifty years ago I got a job as an assistant wardrobe mistress on TV series Hunter’s Gold. One day I was given a bolt of black material, a set of measurements and was told to make a very plain dress for a well-known actress who was flying in from Australia the next day. It fitted her like a glove. She preened, admiring her new body, svelte in black. ‘I must give you something,’ she said. ‘Oh, no,’ I said, ‘it was a pleasure.’ But she did. She gave me a virus, A Victoria. I lost 10kg I didn’t want to lose and they told me I was one of the first people in New Zealand to get it.”

Huzzah to Margaret! A free copy of The Dressmaker and the Hidden Soldier is hers.

The other winner is Lee Alice, who wrote an epic. It began, “I have my great grandmother’s primary school sewing prize from 1904. She was Alice Emery and her parents were subsistence farming in South Canterbury. Her career army husband Tom went missing during the First World War, he had been at the Somme. He surfaced a year later in an English hospital long-debilitated by dysentery and what they thought was shell-shock but in hindsight the neurological problems were Huntington’s disease. He was not able to work from then on and Alice continued to support the family (six children) as a dressmaker. She could sew or repair anything.

“My grandmother Mary and her siblings despite being poor always looked smart (she even made their socks). Mary took over Alice’s treadle Singer sewing machine and she in turn taught my mother to sew. Mary dressed my Mum and her sister in home sewn frocks and shorts and tops and even made their nighties. She also made lace net curtains out of the petticoats from under her wedding frock.

“My own Mum died of Huntington’s disease in 2009, her brother long before her, and I have three male cousins from one family that have died of it. The sewing and the heirlooms are happier legacies than the genetic disease. I am lucky to have not inherited it from my mother so I cannot pass it on.

“I would very much like this book about the dressmaker especially since it is associated with war.”

Great story, and huzzah to Lee! A free copy of The Dressmaker and the Hidden Soldier is hers.

2 Summer Favourites by Vanya Insull (Allen & Unwin, $39.99)

3 Te Reo Kapekape: Māori Wit and Humour by Hona Black (Oratia Books, $39.99)

4 The Art of Winning by Dan Carter (Penguin Random House, $40)

5 Fungi of Aotearoa by Liv Sisson (Penguin Random House, $45)

6 Our Land in Colour by Jock Phillips & Brendan Graham (HarperCollins, $55)

7 Whakawhetai: Gratitude by Hira Nathan (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

8 On the Record by Steven Joyce (Allen & Unwin, $37.99)

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

10 From the Pilot’s Seat by Fletcher McKenzie (Penguin Random House, $40)


1 The Bone Tree by Airana Ngarewa (Hachette, $37.99)

“Airana Ngarewa’s dark debut novel has spent five straight weeks at the top of the local Nielson Bookscan fiction chart”, wrote Paula Morris, on Thursday, in her assessment of Māori literature in 2023; today marks its sixth straight week at number one.

To mark the occasion, a free copy is up for grabs in this week’s free book giveaway. To enter, email with the subject line in screaming caps I WANT THE NOVEL NOW IN ITS SIXTH WEEK AT NUMBER ONE, and make any kind of comment about any of three examples of contemporary Māori writing featured at ReadingRoom this week: an essay by Shilo Kino on the power of Māori journalism; the flash fiction story “Reasons why I called in sick rather than go to the mihi whakatau for new employees last Friday” by Jack Remiel Cottrell; or the poem, “Identity Politics” by Tayi Tibble. Entries close at midnight on Sunday, September 24.

2 Secrets of the Land by Kate Mahony (Cloud Ink Press, $29.99)

A lot going on in this historical novel. Blurbology: “Imogen Maguire is bewildered when in 2018 she is accosted in a Melbourne Street by a mysterious stranger who says her grandfather in New Zealand needs her help. But her grandfather is dead, isn’t he? A former journalist, Imogen decides to investigate and travels to Taranaki where she finds that her grandfather is very much alive, and someone is trying to frighten the old man off his farm.

​”A long shadow hangs over her grandfather’s land stretching from 1864, when two young Irishmen join the British army in its fight against the Taranaki Māori, to 1975, when Imogen’s grandparents arrive fleeing trouble in Ireland. Their daughter Aoife, Imogen’s mother, hates the new country her parents have brought her to, yet she knows it is impossible to return to Ireland. The Irish man she encounters sheltering in a hedge is as lost as she is. And why does Matiu, her one friend, warn her off exploring the swamp?”

3 The Axeman’s Carnival by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35)

4 Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $38)

5 Pet by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $38)

6 Kāwai by Monty Soutar (David Bateman, $39.99)

7 A Long Road Home by John Allison (Cold Hub Press, $26)

Poetry, viz:

Flooding back into my mind

came all those precious evenings,

soirees during which I ceased

entirely to believe in things,

even in ideas. Qualm and scruple

were Pentecost to this Priest

of the Absolute.

8 Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts by Josie Shapiro (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

9 The Witching Tide by Margaret Meyer (Hachette, $37.99)

10 Tangi by Witi Ihimaera (Penguin Random House, $30)

“Ihimaera turns 80 next year, and he remains the talisman of Māori publishing. Ihimaera is an ardent champion of Indigenous literature around the world as well as a provocateur and promotional dervish”, wrote Paula Morris, on Thursday,  in her assessment of Māori literature in 2023.

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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