Ten years of NZ books

To mark the tenth anniversary of nzherald.co.nz, we're rounding up some of the highs and lows of the last decade. Below is our pick of the ten best New Zealand books since 1998.

1. The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King

When King's book was published in 2003 few could have predicted how popular it would become. Within 10 days, Penguin Books (NZ) sold out of its entire 10,000 copy run and booksellers struggled to meet public demand.

"This is sophisticated history writing," wrote Kerry Howe in an early review. "Too often these days New Zealand history is regarded too darkly, something Pakeha in particular should be ashamed of, something in need of fixing. The story is not all good, but neither is it all bad."

Following the untimely deaths of King and his wife in a car crash just months after the book was first published, it gained iconic status and became the most popular New Zealand book of 2004, consistently topping local non-fiction bestseller lists and winning the Readers' Choice award at the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

* Review of The Penguin History of New Zealand

2. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

The best-selling New Zealand fiction book of 2007, Mister Pip won the Montana Medal for fiction and poetry at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and won the Commonwealth Prize for writing.

Set on the island of Bougainville during Papua New Guinea's brutal civil war, Mister Pip tells the story of 11-year-old Matilda Laimo, whose elderly European school teacher Tom Watts mesmerises his class by reading them passages from Dickens' Great Expectations.

"An extraordinary novel," wrote Gordon McLauchlan, "real yet touched with magic, intellectually and emotionally satisfying."

* Review of Mister Pip

3. The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

Set in a Burgundy vineyard, The Vintner's Luck explores the relationship between vintner Sobran Jodeau and an angel (Xas) who visits him on the same night every year. As the years progress, Xas becomes Jodeau's confidant on all manner of things ... but gradually it is revealed that Xas has secrets of his own. The Vintner's Luck won the inaugural Tasmania Pacific Region Prize and the 1999 fiction prize at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. The tale is also being made into a film, directed by Niki Caro, which is due out later this year.

"Like a fine wine, this novel reveals its quality and charm in layers, providing richer rewards and delights the further one moves through it. After the initial rapture of experiencing good traditional storytelling peppered with great prose, it is the hidden depths that make this a rich and satisfying experience, one to savour again and again."
- Michael Larsen, NZ Herald

* Article about the film version of The Vintner's Luck

4. Tu by Patricia Grace

This novel tells the story of a Maori soldier (Tu) who saw World War II firsthand when he was stationed at Casino in Italy with his brothers Pita and Rangi in 1944. In the present day, Tu's niece and nephew - Rimini and Benedict - read his war diary, discovering secrets about their family along the way. Tu won the Deutz Medal for Fiction or Poetry at the 2005 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

"Grace's description of battles at Casino lost before they began is superb and sobering. Through Tu's distinctive voice she captures the carnage of warfare, its noise and stench, the feel of boots sinking into soft surfaces that turn out to be lumps of rotting flesh."
- Susan Jacobs, NZ Herald

* Review of Tu

5. Blindsight by Maurice Gee

The winner of the Deutz Medal for Fiction or Poetry at the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, Blindsight is a story about complex family relationships - in this case the relationship between protagonist Alice Ferry and her estranged brother Gordon.

"Gee offers the suspense of watching strong characters try to come to terms with themselves. Alice and her brother are worth the effort it takes to get to know them."
- David Larsen, NZ Herald

* Review of Blindsight

6. Tarzan Presley by Nigel Cox

One of the more unusual novels of the past decade, Tarzan Presley poses the outrageous question: What if Elvis and Tarzan were in fact one and the same? Raised by gorillas in the Wairarapa bush, the protagonist's life takes a dramatic turn when he is "discovered" by a Memphis record producer and finds fame in America.

"To take such an unlikely, attention-getting idea and develop it into such an intelligent book - it's like seeing someone suddenly make a successful film of Lord of the Rings in Miramar. Go back in time a decade and tell people about it, and you'd be laughed right back into the present."
- David Larsen, NZ Herald

* Review of Tarzan Presley

7. A City Possessed: The Christchurch Civic Creche Case by Lynley Hood

Winner of both the Non-Fiction and History sections of the 2002 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, Hood's 600-page account of the controversial Christchurch Civic Creche case - which led to the jailing of creche worker Peter Ellis in 1993 on child abuse charges - sparked calls for a royal commission of inquiry into the case.

"The book is not just about the Ellis case, it is also about the treatment of children and families and how social agendas and beliefs can escalate to have such a powerful negative effect."
- Sarah Farquhar, NZ Herald

* Review of A City Possessed

8. The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception by Nicky Hager

The subject of controversy even before it was published - due to an injunction on some of its contents gained by then National Party leader Don Brash - Hager's The Hollow Men alleged the party had repeatedly mislead the public over its relationship with the Exclusive Brethren.

Hagar said the information in his book was primarily provided by disillusioned sources within the National Party, though Dr Brash claimed the emails, on which some of Hager's information was based, had been stolen.

An investigation of the tactics used by the National Party during the 2005 election, it became one of the most controversial local titles of the last decade.

* Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan's response to The Hollow Men

9. Playing God by Glenn Colquhoun

A collection of poems by Northland doctor Colquhoun, Playing God won both the Poetry and the Readers' Choice awards at the 2003 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

"Very quickly we learn that there is great irony in the book's title, and a sort of gentle ruefulness as well. This doctor's intense, almost fragile self-awareness must make him a caring, empathetic person to see in a time of stress. And while it may be his Achilles heel in terms of his general practice that is what makes these poems so heartbreaking and beautiful."
- Penelope Bieder

* Review of Playing God

10. Stonedogs by Craig Marriner

Winner of the Deutz Medal for best fiction book at the 2002 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, Marriner's debut novel Stonedogs is a violent tale about a dope deal gone wrong.

"For many, Stonedogs will seem overwritten, the tumble of polysyllables and deliberately elevated language ("Mick has relinquished driving duties in search of liquid solace") sitting uncomfortably alongside dialogue which Marriner has heard described as "gratuitous". Faint-hearted readers might wish it came with a censor's warning."
- Graham Reid

* Interview with Craig Marriner

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