The finalists in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2006 have been announced.

Over the last five months the judging panel narrowed down 210 entries, the highest number ever, to a group of 26 finalists spread across eight categories.

Lawrence Jones, emeritus professor at the University of Otago and convenor of the judging panel, said 2005 was a great year for New Zealand publishing in terms of quality as well as in quantity.

"The entries for fiction and poetry were especially strong," he said.

"It will be a difficult but pleasurable task to select a winner in each category from among the five distinguished finalists in fiction and the three in poetry and then to select from those two texts the recipient of the Deutz Medal."

Jones is joined on the panel by Linda Burgess, novelist, scriptwriter and teacher of creative writing, and Bob Ross, a publisher with 40 years' experience in the trade.

The judging panel follows a strict set of guidelines taking into account enduring literary merit and overall authorship; quality of illustration and graphic presentation; production values, general design and the standard of editing. The panel will also consider the impact of the book on the community, with emphasis on topicality, public interest, commercial viability, entertainment, cultural and educational values.

The finalists are

Deutz Medal for fiction or poetry:

Fiction Category:

Blindsight by Maurice Gee (Penguin Books)
The Captive Wife by Fiona Kidman (Vintage)
Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox (Fourth Estate)
Responsibility by Nigel Cox (Victoria University Press)
Watch of Gryphons and Other Stories by Owen Marshall (Vintage)

Poetry Category:

Footfall by Brian Turner (Godwit)
Lifted by Bill Manhire (Victoria University Press)
The Time of the Giants by Anne Kennedy (Auckland University Press)

Montana Medal for non-fiction
Biography Category:

Charles Fleming: Environmental Patriot by Mary McEwen (Craig Potton Publishing)
Dingle: Discovering the Sense in Adventure by Graeme Dingle (Craig Potton Publishing)
Sir Edmund Hillary: An Extraordinary Life by Alexa Johnston (Viking)

History Category:

Black November: The 1918 Influenza Pandemic in New Zealand by Geoffrey W. Rice (Canterbury University Press)
Thrift to Fantasy: Home Textile Crafts of the 1930s - 1950s by Rosemary McLeod (HarperCollins Publishers)
We Call it Home: A History of State Housing in New Zealand by Ben Schrader (Reed Publishing)

Reference & Anthology Category:

The Geographic Atlas of New Zealand by Roger Smith / GeographX (Craig Potton Publishing)
Great Sporting Moments: The Best of Sport magazine 1988 - 2004 edited by Damien Wilkins (Victoria University Press)
The Nature of Things: Poems from the New Zealand Landscape edited by James Brown, photographs by Craig Potton (Craig Potton Publishing)

Lifestyle & Contemporary Culture Category:

The Art of Maori Weaving: The Eternal Thread/Te Aho Mutunga Kore by Miriama Evans and Ranui Ngarimu (Huia Publishers)
How to Look at a Painting by Justin Paton (Awa Press)
I Had a Black Dog: His Name was Depression by Matthew Johnstone (Pan Macmillan Australia)

Environment:

New Zealand Birds in Focus: A Photographer's Journey by Geoff Moon (Reed Publishing)
Pohutukawa & Rata: New Zealand's Iron-hearted Trees by Philip Simpson (Te Papa Press)
Swimming with Orca by Dr Ingrid N. Visser (Penguin Books)

Illustrative:

Contemporary New Zealand Photographers edited by Hannah Holm and Lara Strongman (Mountain View Publishing)
Faithfully Mozart: The Fantastical World of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Donovan Bixley (Hodder)
Jeffrey Harris by Justin Paton (Victoria University Press/Dunedin Public Art Gallery)

The winner of the poetry category will be announced on Montana Poetry Day, July 21.

The winners of the other categories, plus the Deutz Medal for fiction or poetry and the Montana Medal for non-fiction will be announced in Auckland at a special awards ceremony on July 24.

- NZPA