Reading is one of life's great pleasures - is there anything better than the pleasure of a quiet hour to yourself to devour a new book? Whether you're looking for stocking fillers or the best summer holiday reading, this is the Canvas guide to the best books of 2019.
BEST ART BOOKS OF 2019
BEST PICTURE BOOKS OF 2019
BEST CRIME AND THRILLER BOOKS OF 2019
BEST FICTION BOOKS OF 2019
BEST NON-FICTION BOOKS OF 2019
BEST POETRY BOOKS OF 2019
BEST SCI FI AND FANTASY BOOKS OF 2019
BEST TEEN READS OF 2019
BEST FOOD BOOKS OF 2019
Reviewed by Peter Simpson and David Herkt
Gretchen Albrecht: Between Gesture and Geometry
by Luke Smythe (Massey University Press, $80)
Gretchen Albrecht's rich career is superbly documented in this sumptuous wide-format hardback, well designed to accommodate her most widely recognised works – the hemispheres (two quadrants bolted to form a semicircle) and the elliptical ovals which succeeded them. The earlier (and later) phases of her practice are also fully covered. Since the turn of the century, Albrecht has often returned to more conventional rectangular formats without abandoning her signature shaped-canvas forms. But if "geometry" has been a constant in her work, so too (as suggested by the book's title) has "gesture" – the free movement of form and colour across the surface of a work, most obvious in the sweeping, squeegee-created curves of the later hemispheres. (PS)
Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys
ed by Mary Kisler and Catherine Hammond (Auckland University Press, $75)
The superb exhibition of the same title has been and gone (now in Dunedin, later in Christchurch and Wellington) but as a record and reminder this fine book remains. It cannot replace "real paint on real pictures", to borrow a phrase from Colin McCahon, but it does offer well-informed essays by local and international authorities, and a plethora of quality reproductions and other visual material (the list of works runs to eight pages). The contributors are a distinguished bunch while Auckland University Press has delivered appropriately high production values for an artist the Spectator in 1946 called "one of the most remarkable woman painters of our own or any country, of our own or any time". (PS)
Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & the London Painters
by Martin Gayford (Thames & Hudson, $55)
Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney are undoubtedly the superstars of post-World War II British art and rightly dominate Martin Gayford's excellent survey of the period from the war's end to the 1970s. Significantly all three, in their very different ways, were figurative painters during a period dominated by American abstraction from Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko onwards. It is widely understood that in this period New York replaced Paris as the world's art centre, and part of the struggle of the British painters was to make their way in an environment increasingly hostile to figuration. The chapters on these three are full of new information, often deriving from the author's personal interviews, but there is much more to the book which makes it a true history of the post-war London art scene. (PS)
Split Level View Finder: Theo Schoon and New Zealand Art
by Damian Skinner and Aaron Lister (City Gallery, Wellington, $40)
This timely book takes its title from a 1966 Theo Schoon painting shown at Auckland's New Vision Gallery in Auckland in 1965, one of the few solo shows of Schoon's painting ever held, and recreated as the centre-piece of Wellington's City Gallery exhibition, of which this modestly scaled, but well-illustrated publication is the catalogue. The exhibition will also be on show at Te Uru in Titirangi from March 7 until the end of May, 2020. The successive chapters, all but the last two written by Skinner and Lister, correspond broadly to component parts of the mosaic-like exhibition. Uniting all these various perspectives achieves a more rounded and comprehensive portrait of this multifaceted and controversial Dutch immigrant – painter, archaeologist, photographer, jade carver, gourd-grower and carver, advocate for and scholar of Maori art – than has previously been available. (PS)
by Justin Paton (Penguin Books/Auckland Art Gallery, $75)
Among numerous McCahon centennial projects, Justin Paton's handsome book consists of 15 brief essays (three to five pages) on Colin McCahon's art, each followed by a suite of up to 15 well-chosen pictures, often around a dozen. Most are full-page reproductions, some are spread across two pages, and a few extra-long works have fold-outs. The quality of the reproductions is excellent and the design is clean and smart. Paton, currently working at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, is an engaging commentator – well-informed, thoughtful, perceptive and often eloquent. Here is a randomly chosen sentence typical of the insights offered throughout: "All the times and places in McCahon Country are available to us at once. We can go to Takaka in 1948 or to Kaipara Flats in 1971. And, just as important, we can move freely from either place in any direction. The body of work is so rich that new sightlines keep opening up." All keen McCahon fans will want to own this book. (PS)
Louise Henderson: From Life
edited by Felicity Milburn, Lara Strongman and Julia Waite
(Auckland Art Gallery/Christchurch Art Gallery, $65)
This book fully documents the splendid exhibition on in Auckland and, later, to be seen in Christchurch. Together with some other essayists, each of the three curators contributes a chapter: Lara Strongman writes about the early landscape paintings in which Henderson, a French-born artist, comes to terms with the new country she has adopted; Julia Waite, deals with the middle years (1950s, 60s and 70s) in which Henderson, now living in Auckland (plus with sojourns in France and the Middle East), makes the transition to modernism through cubism and, later, more purely abstract styles; Felicity Milburn focuses on the last great series the artist completed, The Twelve Months (1987), painted in her 80s – huge paintings with which Henderson crowned a remarkably diverse career, now fully laid before us in this well-designed and richly illustrated publication. (PS)
Colin McCahon: There is Only One Direction, 1919-1959 (volume 1)
by Peter Simpson (Auckland University Press, $75) Peter Simpson's Colin McCahon: There is Only One Direction, 1919-1959 is undoubtedly the most important New Zealand art-book of the year. For the first time, we can begin to see the detailed shape of the artist's career and accurately measure his achievement. The book has been a long time coming; there has been no comprehensive McCahon book for 30 years. Simpson has written a profound, informative and readable book – one that will be foundational for the future. It is profusely illustrated with full-page reproductions of McCahon's paintings and other associated materials. It is not a biography, as Simpson takes pains to emphasise, but the story of the man and his work. Marking the centenary of his birth, Colin McCahon: There is Only One Direction is the first of two volumes with its companion to be released early in 2020. Studded with fresh and previously unknown excerpts from McCahon's unpublished letters, Simpson's archive discoveries add an entirely new dimension to both the painter and his creative work. (DH)
Michael Hill jeweller becomes cartoonist
What the world needs now is love - and strawberries
Comment: Why I threw away my travel guides
Reviewed by Dionne Christian
The House of Madame M
by Clotilde Perrin (Gecko Press, $38)
This isn't just a feat of wild imagination, it's also one of skilful (paper) engineering as Clotilde Perrin, author of last year's similarly inventive Inside the Villains, crafts a magnificent haunted house and conjures worlds within worlds. Suitably spooky, this lift-the-flaps (and open the drawers and read the miniature books) book blends thrills and chills with ghostly goings-on to enchant readers of all ages.
The Fate of Fausto
by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, $35)
Eccentric characters and even more off-the-wall scenarios populate Oliver Jeffers' exquisite books, with the quirky nature of the stories cleverly disguising wry observations about the world around us. So it is with Fausto, a man "who believed he owned everything and set out to survey what was his". Only, of course, it isn't his and Fausto is soon to learn his limits because his fate doesn't matter to the "the lake and the forest, the field and the tree, the sheep and the flower…" Poignant and timely.
Jeffers' fans are in for a treat this summer with the release of The Crayons' Christmas. It's the third in a series written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Jeffers about a packet of crayons with minds of their own. This time, they're helping young Duncan write Christmas wish lists but naturally all is not what it seems.
The Crayons Christmas by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, $30)
I Go Quiet
by David Ouimet (Cannongate Books, $28)
Exquisitely illustrated in sepia-toned and black and white, I Go Quiet creates a fantastical world where a lone girl finds refuge from a hectic world in the pages of books, which helps her face her fears and assuage her anxieties. Original, unusual and very beautiful.
The Cat from Muzzle – A high-country cat's incredible walk home
Sally Sutton, illustrated by Scott Tulloch (Picture Puffin, $20)
Inspired by a true story about a cat called Dwayne who moved towns with his owners but decided he preferred life back on the farm at Muzzle Station. So, the tabby cat decided to return all the way from Kaikoura to Southern Marlborough, crossing mountains and rivers on a five-week walk home. It's a heartland New Zealand tale full of relatable scenes, flora and fauna that will delight young readers.
Things in the Sea are Touching Me
Linda Jane Keegan, illustrated by Minky Stapleton (Scholastic, $19)
There's a temptation when writing books with a Message for children to neglect the story in favour of getting across the important Life Lessons we want kids to take on board. Keegan avoids that trap, writing a story about an anxious child trying to enjoy a day at the beach. She subtly combines a range of subjects to produce a vibrant story that presents social diversity in all its glorious forms.
by Michael Petherick (Massey University Press, $30)
How do you grab the attention of young readers when they're more used to screens and multimedia? You do what Michael Petherick has done with his debut book and write a "multimedia novel" that tells big-hearted stories of community and connection by using texts, Instagram posts, emails, fliers, blog posts, school assignments, a lively community noticeboard and even raps as Newtoun gets ready to commemorate Waitangi Day. It's an Annual Ink title so has the feel of an annual but with a thoroughly modern and endearing twist.
The Adventures of Tupaia
by Courtney Sina Meredith, illustrated by Mat Tait (Allen & Unwin, $35)
A spectacular hardback published in partnership with Auckland Museum to accompany the Tupaia exhibition (now on), this follows the story of Tupaia from his childhood in Ra'iātea to becoming a high-ranking 'arioi and master navigator who sailed with Captain James Cook as part of the crew on the Endeavour. Meredith and Tait incorporate a range of styles in this evocatively illustrated work, which adds nuance to the story of how Europeans put Aotearoa on their maps.
Dinosaur Hunter: Joan Wiffen's Awesome Fossil Discoveries
by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Picture Puffin, $25)
It's not a new format, but this fifth collaboration from David Hill and Phoebe Morris is interesting and inspiring while being entertaining and humorous. Hill's pitch-perfect words are matched by Morris' entertaining drawings which, at times, imagine what it might be like if dinosaurs still roamed Earth.
Swan Lake (The Story of Orchestra)
by Jessica Courtney Flint (Quarto, $33)
The story of the world's favourite ballet has been told repeatedly, but I loved this jewel-coloured picture book, which lays out the basic premise complete with a sample of the music from various scenes. There's information about composer Tchaikovsky, a glossary of terms and explanations of why the music was composed and placed the way it was. A treat for ballet fans and lovers of orchestral music alike.
Three Kiwi Tales: More Fabulous Fix-it Stories from Wildbase Hospital
by Janet Hunt (Massey University Press, $25)
Who doesn't love stories of challenge and triumph especially when there's a national treasure like kiwi central to them? Tales from the frontline of conservation medicine, designed for younger readers, have rarely been as engaging as Hunt, author of How to Mend a Kiwi, makes them in this well-illustrated and lively book.
Wildlife of Aotearoa
by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, $40)
This is destined to become a classic, a book that should take pride of place in family homes, classrooms and libraries around the country. Ostensibly for children, it is for everyone, especially those with an interest in New Zealand wildlife and conservation from our seas through to our homes. It is a treasure box to be delved into, each page read and looked at – and looked at again – with wonder, care and amazement. Amazement that Aotearoa New Zealand is home to such an array of species; amazement that one person was able to bring all this together in vivid and rich detail.
Reviewed by Greg Fleming
by Thomas Harris (William Heinemann, $37)
Thomas Harris is best known for his monsters - Hannibal Lecter being his most famous - but what's often overlooked is the simple beauty of his writing. Stephen King described reading Harris' prose as like "running a slow hand down cold silk". Harris' new monster is Hans-Peter Schneider, a brothel owner who has a liquid cremation machine in his Miami warehouse but it's the spirited eponymous lead who sears into memory. Cari Mora is an ex-Colombian FARC child soldier who, like many of Miami's immigrant population, ekes out a living and tries to keep under immigration's radar. Yes, the finale gets a little gung-ho and the plot, which revolves around $25 million worth of cartel gold, isn't particularly original but this is an entertaining and oddly affecting thriller.
Agent Running in the Field
by John le Carre (Viking $38)
It's easy to take a writer like John le Carre for granted. His output is of such consistent quality that another good le Carre novel isn't at all remarkable but what sets this book apart is its vitality, conciseness and up-to-the-minute subject matter. Some have called this his "Brexit" novel but that undersells it because there is so much going on here: weary spies, venal politicians, a creeping and malevolent nationalism. "What really scares me about nostalgia is that it's become a political weapon," le Carre told the BBC in October. "Politicians are creating a nostalgia for an England that never existed and selling it, really, as something we could return to". A feisty, late-career highlight from the 88-year-old master.
Lady in the Lake
Laura Lippman (Faber $33)
Laura Lippman's last book, Sunburn, was a noir exercise that brought depth and nuance to its femme fatale lead and was a highlight of 2018. This is even better. As I said in my original review this "pushes the crime novel forward into interesting, complicated places". Maddie Schwartz, a 37-year-old Jewish housewife, leaves her husband and child and sets out looking for excitement in a deftly depicted mid-60s Baltimore. What begins as a domestic tale of female empowerment takes some unexpected swerves and explores racism, gender inequality, politics and desire. Lippman presents a compelling portrait of a city she knows well that also draws parallels with today's troubled America.
by Adrian McKinty (Hachette $35)
This was without question the breakout thriller of the year - a whip-smart page-turner with a horrifying premise: if someone kidnapped your child and asked you to not only pay a ransom but in turn kidnap another child before yours is released, what would you do? This elevated Irish writer Adrian McKinty from a critic's darling to an airport mall best seller. Cartel author Don Winslow summed it up best when he called it "Jaws for parents" - great characters, a propulsive plot which plays upon our most primal fears and the best rags-to-riches author story for many years.
City of Windows
by Robert Pobi (Mulholland $33)
A sniper is loose in a New York and ex-FBI agent turned astrophysicist Lucas Page is called in to help. Page is the kind of guy Nasa call when they have a problem, his mind might be razor-sharp but his body betrays his past - an accident that he refers to only as the Event left him with severe physical trauma, one eye and sophisticated prosthetics. Rejoining the FBI is the last thing he wants to do - but when he learns that the sniper's first victim is his former partner - he reluctantly agrees. A cerebral page-turner with a fascinating cast of supporting characters that isn't scared of getting political and the start of an intriguing new series.
Call Me Evie
by J.P. Pomare (Hachette $35)
Winner of the best first novel at this year's Ngaio Marsh awards, J.P. Pomare's Call Me Evie announced the arrival of an exciting new thriller writer. Pomare cites a range of NZ media as influential on the Kiwi section of Evie including Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors, Jane Campion's Top of The Lake, Taika Waititi's Boy and short film Two Cars, One Night. One senses he's set to join them as a part of our cultural landscape. Pomare shifts between past and present exploring issues of memory, perception and power with real skill. Don't start this late at night if you want any sleep. His new book In the Clearing is out early 2020.
Reviewed by Demelza Jones, Kiran Dass, Maggie Trapp, Ethan Sills and Dionne Christian
by Cecelia Ahern (Harper Collins, $33)
This is the sequel to PS I Love You – set seven years after Holly's beloved husband Gerry died. Holly is still coming to terms with being without him. Just as life seems to be moving on, Holly offers to speak about her experience with loss on her sister's podcast. I loved this book but, holy heck, be prepared for tears. The ending is the absolute best. (DJ)
by Jessica Andrews (Sceptre, $38)
If you're suffering a Sally Rooney hangover and wondering where to turn next, Saltwater is the book for you and my novel of 2019. Andrews' writing is intensely beautiful as she examines the intensity and complexities of the mother/daughter dynamic, class, the body, fragility and place. It's a work of autofiction, it's working class and is presented as intensely beautiful clipped lyrical pieces. This novel crackles with raw energy and real feeling. (KD)
by Margaret Atwood (Chatto & Windus, $48)
Readers of The Handmaid's Tale have waited 34 years to discover lead character Offred's fate in the frighteningly recognisible totalitarian state of Gilead – at least in Atwood's world and not in the television series based on her wildly popular novel about a religious takeover of the US Government. While Atwood sprinkles tantalizing clues throughout this sequel, it's not Offred's story told here but equally compelling, possibly more chilling ones, by three female narrators. You'll read it with your heart in your throat as, once again, Atwood conjures up images of a world gone mad. Atwood shared this year's Booker Prize with Bernadino Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. (DC)
I Am Sovereign
by Nicola Barker (William Heinnemann, $38)
Four people walk into a house in coastal Wales for a 20-minute property viewing. It's hardly the most thrilling premise, but, in her 13th novel, Nicola Barker has found a way to take even the most mundane and unexciting of tasks and mine it for all its psychological glory. This is no simple house-viewing. For all four characters, it is a direct challenge to their personal philosophies and those inner conflicts rise to the surface, causing every minor event that occurs to mutate into an assault on their entire beings. It's a joyously witty novella that gets more extreme and outlandish with every page, and the more Barker openly loses control of her characters, the more you know this is a writer at the top of their game. (ES)
by Sally Hepworth (Macmillan Publishers, $35)
Diana comes across as narcissistic and heartless, with a very distant relationship to her daughter-in-law, Lucy, and an even more complex relationship with her own children. The story jumps back and forth, taking in different perspectives so readers learn about each of the characters in detail, including why Diana is the way she is. When she's found dead, the family find themselves turning on each other in an attempt to solve what's best described as their very own Little Big Lies mystery. (DJ)
For the Good Times
by David Keenan (Faber & Faber $37)
This second novel from Scottish writer David Keenan is a harshly brutal but also romantic and sometimes comic insider's account of The Troubles in 1970s Belfast. At the heart of this book is a celebration of the shared experience in small towns; it's about community, family and the meaning of faith. While there is violence, there is much tenderness and nuanced bursts of well-timed humour. Exhilarating and phantasmagorical, this cold-eyed novel with a wild and loyal heart is volatile and vividly realised by Keenan, a thrilling and singular voice in contemporary fiction. (KD)
The Pearl Thief
by Fiona McIntosh (Penguin, $26)
Sad -and by no means for the faint-hearted - the story begins in 1939, where a Jewish family of seven are living through Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia. Father Samuel Kassowicz is trying all he can to protect his family, even sending his youngest boy, Petr, on a Kindertransport to safety. In 1963, the Kassowicz family pearls are uncovered and we learn the devastating tale of loss and determined revenge spanning decades of the Kassowicz family post-World War II. It's an intense read, one I'll always remember. (DJ)
Lucy Ellman (Galley Beggar/Text Publishing, $40)
Clocking in at around 1040 pages, depending on which edition you have, Lucy Ellman's eighth novel is comprised of just eight near-endless sentences. But don't be alarmed or put off; Ducks, Newburyport is immensely readable and is the perfect book for your long, deep-dive summer read. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and won the Goldsmiths Prize - the literary prize that celebrates fiction which opens up new possibilities for the novel form. Our character is a retired Ohio college teacher in recovery from cancer. She bakes pies in her kitchen (the descriptions of food are amazing) and we gain access to her inner world as she muses over what it means to live in Trump's America. Written in a compelling stream of consciousness narrative style, the title comes from an incident where our narrator's mother was saved by her sister from drowning in a lake in Newburyport, Massachusetts after chasing some ducks. Sharp, witty and enquiring, Ducks, Newburyport gives Ulysses a run for its money. It is a novel to be celebrated, a novel for our times and people will still be talking about it for decades to come. (KD)
by Elizabeth McCracken (Jonathan Cape, $37)
After waiting years for her next novel, Elizabeth McCracken fans new and old will rejoice at the droll, inviting story of Bertha Truitt and candlepin bowling, ghost hunting, contortionism, kleptomania, tall tales, spontaneous combustion, melancholia, confidence men, alcoholism, orphans, deep love, and profound loss. This is a story about small-town America, and, in typical McCracken fashion, it veers into magical realism, time travel, ghost stories, spiritual conversion narratives, and intimate reckonings with love and grief. McCracken's trademark fabulism never fails to delight, and the pure pleasure of language threaded through the novel will send you reeling. (MT)
by Nicola Moriarty (HarperCollins, $35)
Georgia, Luke and his ex-girlfriend Cadence are at the centre of this captivating and suspenseful love-triangle. Georgia thinks she has finally met "the one" but as her relationship with Luke blooms quickly, she's forced to deal with threatening notes from his ex, Cadence, a ransacked apartment and threats to the job she loves. Predictable in its first few chapters, twists and turns started coming and kept me captivated. It's a story of love, betrayal and revenge with a nail-biting climax and my favourite kind of ending. (DJ)
Sarah Moss (Granta, $23)
At only 149 pages, this mesmerising novel is slim but packs a hefty punch. Silvie, 17, and her mother are coerced by her domineering father to participate in an encampment run by an archaeology professor. It's the height of a blisteringly hot summer in rural Northumberland, an area known for its dark history of ritual sacrifice. Silvie's father, a bus driver and an amateur historian, is obsessed with British history and it's not long before we realise that behind this obsession is an unhinged dark nationalism. He hates any form of modernity; he hates anything that is not British. So, the subtext of this novel is the dangers of Brexit, abuse, family violence, ritual, sacrifice and the natural world. It's an atmospheric and elemental novel where the natural world is vividly evoked with its arcane, pastoral setting. Ghost Wall is a tremendous mood piece, perfect to be read in one gulp on a summer's afternoon. (KD)
by Carmel Reilly (Allen & Unwin, $33)
Lori Spyker is met outside her Melbourne home by a police offer, with news that her brother Scott, from whom she hasn't heard in 20 years, has been injured and she is the next of kin. This brings back what Lori has long tried to forget. The book starts in the past, as told by Lori's mum, and leaves readers wondering what exactly happened the night Lori made some fateful decisions. Life soon catches up with Lori and two beautifully interwoven storylines come together to paint a picture of survivors' guilt and the damage it can do to someone years later. (DJ)
by Elizabeth Strout (Viking, $35)
This is the eagerly anticipated follow up to Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize winning 2008 "novel in stories" Olive Kitteridge which comprised 13 linked pieces told from a variety of perspectives. Readers will be thrilled by the return of the brusque but endearing Olive. She pulls no punches and is a character that found her way into reader's hearts, helped along by the miniseries adaptation which starred a pitch-perfect Frances McDormand as the titular character. When we last left Olive, her husband Henry had just died. Now, she is settling into life with her second husband Jack, a Republican. It's beautifully observed social realism. With an even hand, Strout tackles class issues and prejudice, and explores themes of regret, acceptance, the parent/child dynamic, and hope in this luminous meditation on loneliness and relationships. Strout is a pro stylist whose crisp and beautiful writing is shot through with black humour and compassion. Here, she writes with warmth, emotional depth and shows she is still terrific at capturing the complexities of character. (KD)
by Carl Shuker (Victoria University Press, $30)
"Mistakes may always happen," it's true, and how her colleagues judge the way gifted Wellington surgeon Elizabeth Taylor handles the fallout of her own and others' errors of judgment reveals much about gender roles in the workplace, about national standards in light of international pressures, about readers' feelings about character likability and about what it might mean to consider versions of the truth. A Mistake is the story of Taylor, who behaves in ways perceived by her superiors to be unorthodox. As the novel progresses it becomes clear that those who can will seek to punish her for the mistakes she is, rightly or wrongly, adjudged to have made. In exposing the minefields in Taylor's life, Shuker also picks at the encrusted layers of assumption that all New Zealanders in this book operate within. (MT)
by Joan Silber (Allen & Unwin, $33)
With this novel, Joan Silber confirms her place alongside evocative writers of daily life like Alice Munro. Reyna, a single mother in New York, tells the story of her connection with her adventurous Aunt Kiki, who once lived in Turkey. We're then ushered into the lives of several complex, hopeful, confused, misunderstood characters as the inconsequential choices they make lead to events that profoundly impact the lives of other characters. They make mistakes, they hurt others but we see them each, in their own way, attempting improvement. The wonder of this novel is that though we watch as the characters singly do what they feel they need to do, we come to understand in ways they can't that their actions are actually not done in isolation. The novel reveals to us the intricate, fragile, provisional web of connections between all these single, yet connected, lives. (MT)
The Orchardist's Daughter
by Karen Viggers (Allen & Unwin, $33)
Set in Tasmania, Miki is being held captive by her brother; Leon is the Park Ranger in a town that treats him as an outsider and young Max continuously yearns for her dad's attention. Karen Viggers skilfully covers the personal and the political – domestic violence, conservation, even facial tumour disease in Tasmanian devils – packing it full of emotion to reach a thrilling conclusion that will make it difficult to put the book down. (DJ)
Reviewed by Jim Eagles, Mark Fryer, David Herkt, Siobhan Harvey and Dionne Christian
CRAFTING AOTEAROA: A Cultural History of Making in New Zealand and the Wider Moana Oceania
eds Karl Chitham, Kolokesa U Māhina-Tuai and Damian Skinner (Te Papa Press, $85)
This major new history of craft in Aotearoa New Zealand spans 300 years and considers, in glorious detail, the relationship diverse communities have with the objects they make and use and the meanings they bring to them. It doesn't just serve as a history of the handmade; it takes a deeper dive into the relationships between Pākahā, Māori and those from the island nations of Moana Oceania and expands the very definition of what craft is – short film, anyone? Thoughtfully referenced and indexed, there's a huge range of perspectives included while it's packed with outstanding illustrations and photography.
THE MEANING OF TREES: the history and use of New Zealand's native plants
by Robert Vennell (HarperCollins, $55)
Robert Vennell makes wandering through our bush seem like a visit to a giant shopping centre packed with delightful goodies. Over there is the Kawakawa store offering everything from an aphrodisiac to a cure for gonorrhoea. Next door is the Tutu cafe where you can enjoy a delicious wine or a refreshing laxative (though the seeds are deadly). Up on the top floor is the Matai bar where the berries aren't to everyone's taste but the bushman's beer is great after a hard day's work and the wood makes flutes and trumpets for your entertainment. Round the corner is the Miro health centre with oil for massages, gum that serves as an insecticide and bark that's good for a stomach ache. Every plant has a story and the result is delightfully informative. (JE)
THE NEW ZEALAND WARS/NGA PAKANGA O AOTEAROA
by Vincent O'Malley (Bridget Williams Books, $40)
When this book arrived my initial reaction was, "Do we really need another potted history of the New Zealand Wars?" After reading it my answer is "Yes, we really do need this one". Partly because there still seems to be an alarming lack of understanding about the origins of the confrontations which occured between 1845 and 1872 and what happened on the battlefields. But also because, as you would expect from Vincent O'Malley, author of the magisterial The Great War for New Zealand, this is an outstanding work. O'Malley calmly and persuasively outlines the background to each cluster of conflicts, what fighting took place and what the outcomes were, all of it marvellously illustrated with contemporary pictures. (JE)
SEA PEOPLE: the Puzzle of Polynesia
by Christina Thompson (HarperCollins, $35)
A marvellously crafted study of the greatest migration in history: the settlement of the remote islands of the vast Pacific Ocean by the Polynesians. Christina Thompson, a distinguished American writer with a Māori husband, traces the efforts of later explorers, anthropologists, linguists, archaeologists, geneticists and sailors to work out how a people with no knowledge of writing or metal could do such a thing. Initially many scholars concluded it was impossible and Oceania must have been a vast continent which sank leaving a few survivors stranded on former mountaintops. But recently modern Polynesian sailors, using traditional vessels and navigation techniques to recreate those ancient voyages, have demonstrated how the impossible actually happened. (JE)
FURIOUS HOURS: Murder, fraud and the last trial of Harper Lee
by Casey Cep (William Heinemann, $38)
A delightful literary weaving of four great yarns. There's the tale of Rev. Willie Maxwell, a charismatic black preacher who seems to have murdered two wives, a brother, nephew and stepdaughter for their life insurance – through voodoo, some said – but got away with it until he was shot by an angry relative. Then there's story of Harper Lee, who wrote the wonderful To Kill a Mockingbird but struggled to produce anything else. Next, we have Truman Capote, who hired his childhood friend Lee to help him with his true crime bestseller In Cold Blood and appalled her by his cavalier disregard for facts. And finally, pulling it all together, there's Lee deciding to end her writer's block with a proper true crime tale about the Rev. Willie . . . but then being unable write it. I couldn't put it down. (JE)
THE ANARCHY: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company
by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, $33)
Say what you like about Google, Facebook etc., at least they didn't get rich by slaughtering tens of thousands of people. The East India Company knew no such restraint. At its peak, the company ruled almost all of India from a London boardroom, had twice as many men under arms as the British army and generated almost half of Britain's trade. Long before the Raj, the company operated a sort of private-enterprise colonialism. The puzzle was how this happened. It certainly wasn't a case of a wealthy Western nation forcing itself on a lesser power: at the time, India was the giant, in population and economically. As Dalrymple tells it, what won the day for the company was a combination of capitalism, in the form of the joint stock company, superior military management, and its ability to divide India's rulers and pick them off one by one. This is history on an epic scale, with a warning about what can happen when multinationals get too big to control or, as in the company's case, too big to be allowed to fail. (MF)
THE IMPOSSIBLE CLIMB
by Mark Synnott (Allen & Unwin, $37)
In the simplest terms, this is about a single, extraordinary achievement: Alex Honnold's 2017 climb of the US rock formation called El Capitan – 880m bottom to top, in less than four hours. What's more remarkable is that he did it "free solo", meaning no climbing partner, no rope, no safety gear, clinging to the rock with just his fingers and toes. In fact, the subject matter is considerably wider than that single climb, as Synnott explores the climbing culture and the – let's say "quirky" – community of outsiders addicted to extreme ascents. The author's own climbing expertise shows through in his descriptions of climbing technique and the way climbers "read" the rock as they plan their line of ascent. Depending on your point of view, all this is either the ultimate adventure or clear-cut proof of insanity, and parts are vivid enough to make vertigo sufferers feel decidedly uncomfortable. Does it answer the "why" question? Not really, as if anything could, but it's as vivid a depiction of the climbing life as you're likely to read. (MF)
by Peter FitzSimons (Hachette, $38)
Maybe this should come with a cautionary sticker - "Warning: Contains imagination." That's because FitzSimons is trying to tell us what sort of man James Cook really was, and running into the usual problem: the great navigator left us plenty of maps but not much of a personal nature. Starting with Cook's boyhood and his early naval career, this book's focus is very much on that first great voyage aboard the Endeavour. FitzSimons wrings as much personal drama as possible from the historical record, filling in the gaps with a little writerly speculation. He makes much of the relationship between Cook – dutiful, verging on dour, the ultimate self-made man - and his companion, the wealthy, womanising Joseph Banks. Nothing-but-the-facts readers may sometimes object but the result is a vivid picture of Cook, the places he explored and the people he encountered. High school history would have been a lot more fun – and more memorable – if this was the Cook we'd been taught. (MF)
THE NOCTURNAL BRAIN
by Guy Leschziner (Simon & Schuster, $38)
The late Oliver Sacks wrote a book called The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; maybe Guy Leschziner could have called his The Man Who Mistook His Parrot's Birdseed for His Dinner. That's one of the more extreme cases in this catalogue of sleep disorders – the man who would rise from his bed, fully asleep, and devour anything even vaguely edible, including parrot feed. There's plenty more where that came from: plain old insomnia; sleep apnoea, sleepwalking; sleep driving; even sleep motorbike riding. Some sleepers have terrifying nightmares, some lash out violently at their partners, some have sleep sex, some have a non-24-hour sleep clock, so they're constantly falling in and out of sync with the world and some sleep almost all day. Leschziner, a specialist in sleep disorders, recounts these case studies in the process of delving into what we know – and the many things we don't – about the science of sleep. For non-sufferers, there's a fascination to these bizarre tales. For the afflicted, while this is no self-help guide, it may suggest a way of finding relief. (MF)
SONTAG: HER LIFE
by Benjamin Moser (Allen Lane, $75)
Susan Sontag was one of the unmistakable figures of modern intellectual life. Striking in appearance, with a mane of dark hair, streaked in later life with a strand of white, she was a familiar presence in New York, Paris, and even in Sarajevo where she directed Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot during the city's long siege. Benjamin Moser's authorised biography of Sontag reveals the woman behind the image. It is detailed and anecdotal. The young ambitious schoolgirl at 17 marries an older academic and writes his most famous book. Exploring her lesbianism in a series of long relationships, Sontag's women (including famed photographer Annie Leibovitz) were often more than her equals in battles of dominance and retreat. Oddly, Sontag never "came out"; her sexual orientation might have been widely-known but she never spoke publicly about it. Moser's account of Sontag's private life is often revelatory, including her quarter century of amphetamine use. Moser's interviews with those Sontag knew and loved are fully utilised; it is rich with people, stories, and glimpses, not the least of Sontag's own contradictory persona. (DH)
ZIGZAGS AND LEAPFROGS
by Maris O'Rourke (David Ling, $35)
This is a powerful account of how a marginalised, migrant single mother of two broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first Secretary of Education in Aotearoa and then moved onto work at the World Bank before becoming an author. But instead of being told in dry episodic manner, Zigzags and Leapfrogs offers its author's life through a bricolage of memoir, fiction, poetry and graphic novel. So, at times, O'Rourke writes a memoir about revisiting her birthplace; at others, she composes a poem about becoming a grandparent. There are further instances of her life in which she appears as a fictionalised character and still others in which she transforms into a graphic novelist heroine, SuperStela. Whether it's through a tough upbringing, surviving the boardroom or being a parent, the author summons upon her inventive life-story through the power of reinvention. (SH)
Peter Wells (Mighty Ajax Press, $40)
The final book from the late New Zealand writer, Peter Wells, is a resounding and imaginative triumph. Following a prostate cancer diagnosis, Wells used his personal Facebook feed to communicate his experiences of diagnosis, hospitalisation and treatment. Using a social media platform in this way gives Hello Darkness a diaristic formal immediacy. Supplemented by photographs and additional writing, Wells explores what it means to face the end. He would launch the book only weeks before his death. Characterised by swift glimpses as Wells records his moves from home to hospital and back, Hello Darkness is a collection of potent impressions. Fellow patients are sketched. Ward nights echo with the movements of nurses. Wells also explores aspects of his own life as a gay man, member of a family, film-maker and writer. His words are finely-honed as he describes New Zealand society as much as he sheds light on his own autobiography. It is a book that goes to the essence of communication – one personal voice in the looming night speaking to an unknown listener. In Hello Darkness, Wells demonstrates just how the journal form can reveal and communicate. It is arguably his most powerful and effective book. (DH)
Reviewed by Siobhan Harvey and David Herkt
by Alexandra Fraser (Steele Roberts, $25)
Her father's photography provides inspiration for award-winning author Fraser in this heartfelt second collection. Images hold metaphor and meaning as the poet explores her ancestry, the Waikato environs of her youth, the shifting landscape of memory and the significance of science and scientists to our existence. The consequence is more public than personal as interlacing poems assemble a narrative of how inquiry, creativity and dissent are necessary to a fulfilled life. Who are we, where have we come from and what might we yet become: this moving collection confronts these and many other important questions. (SH)
By Sea Mouths Speaking
by Denys Trussell (Brick Row, $75)
This handsome hardback volume provides a thorough collection of Trussell's poems and prose. A long-time environmentalist and award-winning writer, Trussell's work is acutely attuned to the New Zealand landscape and its shifting ecological impacts. The work gathered here spans 45 years and showcases important pieces such as sections from the 1999 Montana Book award shortlisted Walking into the Millennium, the epic Archipelago: The Ocean Soliloquies and melodic early offerings like Words for the Rock Antipodes. A weighty tome deserving of one of Aotearoa's finest bucolic, eco-activist authors. (SH)
by essa may ranapiri (Victoria University Press, $25)
Language enshrines the duality of gender and fails those who live outside binary constraints. Enter essa may ranapiri's exciting first collection, a suite of poems engaging with what it means in word and being to be takatāpui (tangata whenua with diverse gender identities). ransack weaves epistolary poems written to Orlando (Virginia Wolf's gender-bending protagonist) with verses examining pronoun use, memory shards and revivifications of Māori mythical tales. The result is beautiful, individual and fresh. (SH)
How to Live
by Helen Rickerby (Auckland University Press, $25)
Often erased, invisible or silenced, influential women in history are voice, identity, exploration and muse in Rickerby's new collection. A poetic her-story ensues. The opening Notes on the unsilent woman, a 58-part ode to ancient Greek philosopher, Hipparchia of Maroneia, is sister to the epic-ending titular poem, a chorus involving Susan Sontag, Simone Weil and others. In-between, George Eliot, Mary Shelley and first known female Chinese historian Ban Zhao speak. Far from exclusively muliebral though, How to Live also converses with Stravinsky, Lacan and Heidegger. Here is a book at turns, deeply philosophical, fine-tuned and creatively formed. (SH)
To the Occupant
by Emma Neale (Otago University Press, $28)
"A body, such a ponderous thing/ to drag along a life in/ this coffin-fat cabinet/ the mind-candle": so begins Neale's strong sixth collection. Body and mind, their experiences and imaginings, their limits and expanses sit at the heart of the poems which follow, structured as they are into three sections: the imaginative A Room that Holds the Sea, the nature-infused So Sang a Little Clod of Clay and the poetic, epistolary Selected Letters. Top offerings, like Dark Glass and Turn, illustrate how Neale's lyricism, strong storytelling and perceptive slant on human nature is everywhere evident in this superb book. (SH)
A Place to Return To
by John Allison (Cold Hub Press, $30)
Allison's fifth collection offers a set of new and unpublished poems powerful in their perception, insight and imagination. For instance, he begins an early poem, Native Country with, I have slipped back …, the kind of short but potent line that speaks to the wider thematic fusion of impetus and retreat present in many works here. Throughout, the author mines memories, past sanctuaries and new experiences, accentuating all with his well-crafted call to landscape, seasons and weather as symbols of mood, image and metaphor. (SH)
by Anne Kennedy (Auckland University Press, $25)
Anne Kennedy's brother, Phillip, died on Guy Fawkes night, 1973, when he was partying on a hill-slope section in Wellington and accidentally fell to his death. He was only 22. Moth Hour contains two poem sequences flanked by a Foreword and an Afterword which tells Phillip's story. The skilled use of structure holds poems of elegiac power. Kennedy's prose Introduction explains the facts simply. She was 14 when Phillip died. "The noisy house went silent. I lay on the red rug in the living room and listened to Beethoven's Thirty-Three Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op 120 – over and over, because it was there." It is a book that will be re-read. (DH)
Annabel Gooder, Ethan Sills and Helen van Berkel
Gideon the Ninth
Tamsyn Muir (Tor Books, $48)
Gideon Nav, reluctant indentured servant of the Locked Tomb, has her escape off planet all mapped out. Her plans are thwarted and what follows is a rollicking skeleton-packed adventure as the heirs to eight houses are sequestered in a ruined castle on a haunted planet. New Zealander Muir embraces half a dozen genres and thumbs her nose at as many more in a first novel that has obviously been a long time coming. Muir has a wonderful sense of pacing and a shrewd understanding of what not to include and the language, from the glorious insults to the Baroque descriptions to Gideon's anatopic snark, is pitch-perfect throughout. A fantastic tale with an irreverent Kiwi tenor to the humour, Gideon the Ninth is the book I most enjoyed this year, and I am very pleased to see the sequel, Harrow the Ninth, will be published in June 2020. (AG)
by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, $35)
This book has stayed with me in a way no other book this year has. What begins with our hero, Taryn Cornick, seeking revenge for her sister's murder, spirals, develops and transforms into a magical, surreal odyssey through our world and those beyond, fuelled by grief, regret and the power of stories. Knox has created a world infused with magic and wonder but her story is more interested in human nature and what defines our species. It is barely a fantasy novel, those elements dissected and reassembled in such a fresh and exciting way that they are almost unrecognisable. It is a book you want to devour and savour all at once, and then force on to everyone you know so you can bask in Knox's grounded magic together. (ES)
The City in the Middle of the Night
Charlie Jane Anders (Titan Books, $25)
One side of the planet January always faces the sun and human colonies survive in the perpetual twilight between light and dark. Sophie, a shy and awkward girl trying to fit in at the university, becomes enamoured of a wannabe revolutionary. When she is exiled to certain death, she is saved by one of the Gelets, indigenous inhabitants of the dark side whom the humans do not recognise as sentient. Sophie meets Mouse, a smuggler moving goods between the estranged cities of regimented, time-bound Xiosphant, and licentious, mafia-run Argelo. As human survival becomes more precarious, the colonists ignore the effect they are having on the planet they barely see and it is up to Sophie to forge a new path. As Anders intertwines the stories of Sophie, Bianca, Mouth and Alyssa, she reveals the interconnectedness of peoples, societies and the planet itself through the details of their languages, stories and technologies. City in the Middle of the Night is a masterful first-contact story that seems certain to become a classic. (AG)
A Memory Called Empire
Arkady Martine (Pan McMillan, $38)
When the Teixcalaanli Empire urgently requests a new ambassador from Lsel Mining Station they send Mahit, but she does not go alone; she carries the hastily implanted memories of previous ambassadors, an imprint now 15 years out of date. Despite Mahit's fluency in Teixcalaanli language and culture, she feels out of her depth at a court where business is conducted through abstruse poetry. Grateful for the service of her assigned cultural aide, Three Seagrass, she finds herself caught up in uncertainty over the Succession, a looming rebellion and technology changes in how the world-spanning city can be controlled. The Emperor Six Direction wants something the previous ambassador promised, someone wants to kill her and Mahit cannot tell if the imperial companion Nineteen Adze is rescuing or detaining her but the Lsel Council are relying on her to preserve their fragile autonomy. Martine, an expert on the Byzantium Empire, blends characters and action into a fascinating and very readable story about assimilation and cultural legacy. (AG)
Kameron Hurley (Saga Press $21.95)
In a corporation-controlled future, Dietz joins the Light Brigade, looking for glory and revenge (and maybe citizenship) fighting against the Martians who obliterated Sao Paulo in the blink of an eye. Soldiers are converted into light so they can be beamed anywhere on Earth - or in the solar system. But on their first deployment, not everyone returns quite right. And as the war drags on, the missions take their toll on morale, corporate propaganda notwithstanding. Light Brigade is in conversation with Heinlein's Starship Troopers and its responses, such as Haldeman's The Forever War and Scalzi's Old Man's War. Like those works, it includes the privations of boot camp, radical new military technologies, comradery and loss and a protagonist grappling with politics and loyalty. And yet the writer to whom Light Brigade really pays homage is CJ Cherryh, both in the disorienting nature of each drop and in the inevitability of the choice Dietz faces. Relentless and fiercely anti-war, this may be the closest thing to hopepunk Hurley has written. (AG)
Light From Other Stars
Erica Swyler (Bloomsbury, $44)
Nedda is in the advance party of an attempt to colonise another planet when their spaceship's engine malfunctions. As the crew works together to keep the mission on track, Nedda must come to terms with the childhood event that made it possible for her to be in space so many years later. When she was a young girl living in Florida her father nurtured her dreams of space, but he also dreaded her growing older, building a device to try and keep her by his side just a little longer. As his invention starts to impact the whole town 11-year-old Nedda, still traumatised by the Challenger explosion, has to find a way to stop it. One of the book's strengths is that although it starts as yet another daughter-and-father story, Nedda's mother Betheen is not absent or sidelined. Instead, she is active in saving the day and is an important part of who Nedda is as a person. Swyler makes science feel like magic as she explores family dramas, hidden trauma, small-town indiscretions and parental sacrifice. (AG)
by V V James (Orion Books, $35)
At a time when witchcraft is an acceptable and regulated part of society, star quarterback Daniel Whitman dies in a tragic house fire at a party of his school peers. It is up to Detective Maggie Knight to determine whether it was an accident or murder. Sarah is a witch and when her daughter Harper, former girlfriend of the dead boy, becomes a suspect in the case, she must use all her powers to get to the truth. The prejudices of her community come to the fore and friends she has known and loved turn against her. And as the community descends into almost Stephen King-esque chaos, divided along high school popularity lines, it becomes clear to Sarah that the Angel of Death may not yet have finished with the town. Dismiss the spells and charms as tosh if you will but there's enough depth here to make Sanctuary a worthwhile read (HvB)
Reviewed by Sarah Pollok, Helen van Berkel, David Herkt and Ethan Sills
by Julie Mayhew (Allen & Unwin, $33)
This is a well-crafted tale of secrets and hidden currents in a close-knit community on the small island of Lark, off the coast of mainland Britain. Julie Mayhew creates a forbidding setting, eerie in the winter cold and mists, and weaves the perspectives of her characters as they experience the same events but interpret them and act on them in different ways. Add witchcraft and religious quackery, tied together with a knot of abusive power, and you have an age-old tale that Mayhew keeps full of suspense until the end. It's well-written, cleverly plotted and although aimed at young adults, is a meaty enough read for more mature readers as well. (HvB)
The Book of Dust
by Phillip Pullman (David Fickling Books/Penguin, $35)
The venerable courtyards of Oxford University, airships, armoured bears, great floods, occult bureaucracies and a young girl at the mercy of forces and plots she barely comprehends. These have been fingerprint features of Phillip Pullman's books. His original His Dark Materials trilogy has been a Young Adult publishing mega-success. Now comes The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of his follow-up trilogy, The Book of Dust. Pullman's parallel universe, where humans and their animal-shaped daemons live in symbiosis, is changing. Lyra, now 20, and her daemon, Pantalaimon, have grown up – and grown apart. Pullman's familiar setting of shadowy religious and political powers in conflict continues as a context for a plot of more personal stresses. It is a story that foregrounds the strains of growing-up and the edge of adult challenges. Pullman's characters have matured and developed; past dilemmas have present consequences. A dizzying journey across Europe to a daemon-haunted city, however, promises an answer. (DH)
The Starless Sea
by Erin Morgenstern (Harvill Secker, $38)
It's been eight years since Erin Morgenstern released The Night Circus, which became the sort of global hit you'd expect the author to repeat with a string of follow-ups riding on its success. Instead, Morgenstern has been carefully crafting her even grander, more eloquent and imaginative follow-up, The Starless Sea. It begins with college-student Zachary Rawlins stumbling across an improperly labelled book in the campus library and explodes into a sprawling tale of hidden societies, magical libraries and intricately connected fables. It's the type of story where every sentence is a clue to the wider mystery, where every answer asks a dozen more questions, and the author's imagination knows no bounds. The importance of stories has been a recurring theme this decade but few have captured the true essence of that idea the way Morgenstern does here. (ES)
Call It What You Want
by Brigid Kemmerer (Bloomsbury)
Is it okay to do something wrong for the right reasons? Should we judge others on one mistake or their full selves? Readers are left to ponder these questions, along with several other mysteries, in Brigid Kemmerer's teen novel. A classic bread-and-butter teen fiction built around the tumultuous task of figuring out who you are and who you want to be, Kemmerer's novel will ring true for any new high-schoolers facing the same questions. (SP)
by Simon Lelic (Hachette $20)
It's London but not as you know it. The government has turned its back on society and adults are too busy looking after themselves to care for youth. So when Ollie Turner's guardian is violently attacked right before him, the orphan takes refuge deep in the sewers under the city. It's here he stumbles upon a secret headquarters who may just offer him the belonging and safety he needs. Run for kids by kids, the Haven protects youth, champions justice and accepts Ollie into its mysterious ranks. But nothing comes without a cost. Fans of rapid-pace novels packed with adventure, thrills, twists and turns will love Lelic's first foray into Young Adult fiction after success in the adult thriller genre.
Watch Us Rise
by Renee Watson & Ellen Hagan (Bloomsbury, $18)
What does it mean to be a young woman today? This is the question that sets up Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan's fresh and challenging novel. Watch us Rise may not be fully innocent of avoiding the young-adult tropes and stereotypes it critiques, but the fierce and timely novel presents younger readers with issues even adults wrestle with. A great choice for young readers who devoured novels like Moxie and The Hate U Give and are looking for their next summer read.
by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury,)
A broken family, a woman with dementia and a girl without a home. What sounds like the opposite of an uplifting story is one of profound courage, heart and forgiveness in Sarah Crossan's latest novel. While the extent of family dysfunction may be foreign for some, Allison's struggle between loving and loathing family and discovery of who she is without them is something all will recognise.
by Rebecca Kauffman (Profile Books, $33)
This may be a story of high-school friends, but don't expect a regular tale of note-passing and locker room gossip. Meet Alice, Jimmy, Lynn, Sam and Mike, a group of rag-tag high schoolers who were inseparable, until the day of graduation. Years later they reunite, but the event is hardly celebratory. Kauffman's blunt yet beautiful prose carries the complex story along at a good pace, giving readers a brilliant introduction into the murky world of drama novels where a happy ending isn't guaranteed.
Reviewed by Kim Knight
For vegetarians and altruists
Bounty: Cooking with vegetables
by Catherine Bell (Epicure Press, $40)
Celebrate New Zealand produce with growing tips for those who really want to start from scratch and recipes that foster cooking by instinct (fresh herbs are measured in "small" and "large" handfuls, for example). Dispatch your gardening gluts (lettuce soup, zucchini steaks, silverbeet omelette, etc) and feel good that all the profits from this book go to Garden to Table, the trust that works with thousands of local primary school children teaching them to grow - and then cook - their own food.
For the thinker who thought they had everything
by Heather Thomas (Quarto Group, $45)
It had to happen. Recipes for mindfulness with actual, you know, recipes. By all means, make a rhubarb and lentil curry, but also ask yourself: Why do we celebrate human diversity but opt for conformism with much of the natural world? (Fact: There are 250,000 known edible plant species and 75 per cent of what we eat comes from just 12 of them). In this book, bubble and squeak is a good way to use up leftover cabbage and also an opportunity to consider "how do the sounds of cooking connect you to the elements?" If you've been looking for a zero-waste carrot powder recipe plus a blueprint for building "a nature relatedness practice through food" this is a must-have.
For your posh friend who did Europe last winter
Silver Spoon Classic
by The Silver Spoon Kitchen (Phaidon, $85)
It's Italy's best-selling cookbook but don't be expecting spiral binding and sponsorship from a baking powder company. First conceived in 1950 for design and architectural magazine Domus, the original Silver Spoon was everything you might have ever wanted to know about home-cooked Italian. This hardback, luxe version stars 170 top-shelf classics from the compilation - panzanella to peperonata, all the pastas and a tiramisu so traditional it doesn't even contain liqueur. Covetable.
For busy name-droppers
Quick and Delicious
by Gordon Ramsay (Hodder & Stoughton, $55)
Proper, crispy meringue takes forever. No problem, writes Gordon Ramsay in this new bible for 30-minute cooks - blowtorch soft blobs of the mixture and title your dish "burnt meringue with poached rhubarb". Everything here is, allegedly, restaurant-worthy and able to be made in around half an hour. There's a lot of this stuff about but I found a swag of things I might actually cook this summer. Banana and avocado mousse for the visiting vegan niece, Spanish chorizo rice (with pre-cooked rice) for late, lazy dinners at the bach and courgette fries because, at some point, there are always too many courgettes.
For social media loving sweet tooths
by Charlotte Ree (Macmillan, $35)
Charlotte Ree loves puns and puddings. She dishes them liberally on her Instagram account and now she's written the book. All the social media classics are there (think popcorn on the caramel shortcake slice and a chocolate amaretti that takes care of every dietary requirement bar nuts) in a thoroughly modern format. The pages are matte, it's heavy on illustrative design and there is quite a bit of brown butter (the baking world's dairy du jour). Like the author says, "Jump on the bundtwagon!"
Eat More Vegan
by Luke Hines (Macmillan, $40)
Every home needs a go-to guide for vegan cooking (because you can't serve chilli beans every single time your vegan niece visits). Last year, I discovered the Leon collection with its miracle carrot "salmon" and this year, it's Luke Hines who's leading me to consider popcorn cauliflower and (I am not making this up) cauliflower cookies. He's better known as an Australian My Kitchen Rules finalist with a penchant for paleo, but this book is fresh and vibrant and has a recipe for crispy eggplant katsu curry.
For anyone with a heart (two 2019 absolute favourites)
From the Oven to the Table
by Diana Henry (Hachette, $45)
Sure, summer is for grilling but why not put those sausages in a pan with lentils and garlic and cider and buy yourself more time for doing absolutely nothing? The cook's cook delivers with a collection of "simple dishes that look after themselves". Henry celebrates the oven as the heart of the home but she also writes with real warmth. It's delicious food with clear instructions in a collection you'll return to again and again.
Eat Joy: Stories and comfort food from 31 celebrated writers
Edited by Natalie Eve Garrett (Black Balloon Publishing, $40)
The next best thing to eating life-changing food is reading about life-changing food. This non-fiction collection of personal essays is sweet and bitter, sharp and sour and gently, softly fraying at the edges. Stories for when you've come undone; food for sticking yourself back together. There are some big names on the cover (Anthony Doerr, Alexander Chee, etc) but this is the literary equivalent of a great restaurant - every dish is a winner.