The best New Zealand books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about New Zealand and why they recommend each book.

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The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa

By Vincent O’Malley,

Book cover of The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa

Just a few years after New Zealand became a British crown colony, armed conflict broke out in 1845 between representatives of the crown and local Māori. These frontier wars continued to be fought, particularly across New Zealand’s North Island, up until 1872. Understanding New Zealand in the present requires gaining an understanding of the New Zealand Wars. Vincent O’Malley’s book provides an insightful introduction to these complex conflicts. He explores in some detail what caused these conflicts, where and how the various battles that make up the wars were fought, and who might rightfully claim the various victories involved. O’Malley also usefully examines the consequences flowing from the New Zealand Wars. His book is richly illustrated with many evocative full color and black and white images depicting key participants, places, and moments in the New Zealand Wars.


Who am I?

Kristyn Harman is an award-winning researcher who successfully completed doctoral research investigating the circumstances in which at least ninety Australian Aboriginal men were transported as convicts within the Australian colonies following their involvement in Australia’s frontier wars. She has published extensively on historical topics, and currently lectures in History at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. Having lived in both countries, Kristyn is fascinated by the different understandings that New Zealanders and Australians have of their nation’s respective pasts. She is particularly intrigued, if not perturbed, by the way in which most New Zealanders acknowledge their nation’s frontier wars, while many Australians choose to deny the wars fought on their country’s soil.


I wrote...

Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

By Kristyn Harman,

Book cover of Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

What is my book about?

Many people have heard about the tens of thousands of English and Irish convicts transported to the Australian penal colonies. Far fewer are aware that Australian Aboriginal men and Māori from New Zealand were also transported to, and within, these penal colonies. This book reveals for the first time how warriors were arrested and taken into custody following their involvement in the frontier wars fought across Australasia (Australia and New Zealand) between the British colonists and First Nations people, and also following frontier conflict at the Cape colony. Rather than being treated as prisoners of war, these warriors’ militant actions against the invaders were criminalised. After standing trial, a few were hanged. Others were sentenced to transportation. Most Aboriginal convicts died in custody. Very few survived to return home.

Ursa

By Tina Shaw,

Book cover of Ursa

Described as an ‘alternate history coming-of-age YA’, Ursa packs a real punch. Set in a world deeply divided into those who can live freely and those denied all human rights, it shows what happens when the desire for freedom in those oppressed ignites into a revolution. Brutal and unflinching, with important things to say about fascism and xenophobia, you won’t be able to stop reading!


Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, I’ve always been interested in social justice and human rights, and my own writing explores such issues, including who holds the power and who exerts the control. By writing about real-world issues in a speculative future, it allows us to peel back the layers of conditioning and look at ourselves and our actions through the eyes of an outsider – which forces us to examine our best and worst human traits. I love the way speculative fiction can do this, and I love that it challenges us to do better.  


I wrote...

The Nature of Ash

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Nature of Ash

What is my book about?

Ash McCarthy thought he finally had it made: revelling in the freedom of student hostel life. But life is about to take a devastating turn when two police officers knock on his door. Their life-changing news forces him to return home and impels him into a shady world of political intrigue, corruption, terrorism, and lies...so many lies.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the whole country is imploding. While trying to protect his brother, along with strangers Travis and Jiao, his fight to uncover the truth turns into a nightmare race to save their lives. The Nature of Ash is a fast-paced thriller that explores love and loss, assumptions and prejudices, truth and fiction, and the many faces of ‘family’.

Children of the Furnace

By Brin Murray,

Book cover of Children of the Furnace

The first in a trilogy, it takes a little while to adjust your reading ‘ear’ to the strange new language used, but then you’re rewarded by another great speculative cli-fi novel, with complex, layered characters, lots of tension, and a plot that will challenge you to think harder about how climate change may affect the future. 


Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand, I’ve always been interested in social justice and human rights, and my own writing explores such issues, including who holds the power and who exerts the control. By writing about real-world issues in a speculative future, it allows us to peel back the layers of conditioning and look at ourselves and our actions through the eyes of an outsider – which forces us to examine our best and worst human traits. I love the way speculative fiction can do this, and I love that it challenges us to do better.  


I wrote...

The Nature of Ash

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of The Nature of Ash

What is my book about?

Ash McCarthy thought he finally had it made: revelling in the freedom of student hostel life. But life is about to take a devastating turn when two police officers knock on his door. Their life-changing news forces him to return home and impels him into a shady world of political intrigue, corruption, terrorism, and lies...so many lies.

As if this isn’t bad enough, the whole country is imploding. While trying to protect his brother, along with strangers Travis and Jiao, his fight to uncover the truth turns into a nightmare race to save their lives. The Nature of Ash is a fast-paced thriller that explores love and loss, assumptions and prejudices, truth and fiction, and the many faces of ‘family’.

The Raging Quiet

By Sherryl Jordan,

Book cover of The Raging Quiet

A writer of predominantly fantasy and historical fiction, Sheryl Jordan’s books have heart and soul. The Raging Quiet, a fantasy novel, introduces us to outsider Marnie, a young widow living in an isolated medieval community. Her only friends are a priest and a weird, "mad" youth called Raven, who she realizes is not mad at all, but deaf. When she teaches him "hand words" they are both suspected of witchcraft and find themselves under attack. It’s a book that pierces your heart and stays with you for a long time afterward. 


Who am I?

I love Aotearoa New Zealand books! Our writers are brave, feisty, original - and living in ‘the land of the long white cloud’ at the bottom of the globe gives us a unique take on the world that permeates through everything we write. But we struggle to get our voices heard internationally, so far from the rest of you! This is your chance to push out your boundaries and explore stories that derive from a culture very different from your own, while sharing the same human emotions that bring us all together. As one of these writers, I challenge you to check us out – you won’t be disappointed!


I wrote...

Singing Home The Whale

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of Singing Home The Whale

What is my book about?

The extraordinary story of how the arrival of a baby orca whale threatens to tear apart a fishing community and forever changes the life of the boy who finds it.

Will Jackson is hiding out, a city boy reluctantly staying with his uncle in small town New Zealand while he struggles to recover from a brutal attack and the aftermath of a humiliating Youtube clip gone viral. After he discovers a young abandoned orca his life is further thrown into chaos when he rallies to help protect it against hostile locals. The boy and whale develop a unique bond, forged by Will’s love of singing. An exciting plot-driven story full of drama, tension, and romance, this magical book captures both heart and mind from start to finish.

I Am Not Esther (The Esther Series)

By Fleur Beale,

Book cover of I Am Not Esther (The Esther Series)

This gripping psychological thriller centers around a girl who is caught up in a religious cult, her name changed and all her supports ripped away. How will she survive this? Will she be able to escape? Still in print after 20 years, this book won the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-loved Book 2009.


Who am I?

I love Aotearoa New Zealand books! Our writers are brave, feisty, original - and living in ‘the land of the long white cloud’ at the bottom of the globe gives us a unique take on the world that permeates through everything we write. But we struggle to get our voices heard internationally, so far from the rest of you! This is your chance to push out your boundaries and explore stories that derive from a culture very different from your own, while sharing the same human emotions that bring us all together. As one of these writers, I challenge you to check us out – you won’t be disappointed!


I wrote...

Singing Home The Whale

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of Singing Home The Whale

What is my book about?

The extraordinary story of how the arrival of a baby orca whale threatens to tear apart a fishing community and forever changes the life of the boy who finds it.

Will Jackson is hiding out, a city boy reluctantly staying with his uncle in small town New Zealand while he struggles to recover from a brutal attack and the aftermath of a humiliating Youtube clip gone viral. After he discovers a young abandoned orca his life is further thrown into chaos when he rallies to help protect it against hostile locals. The boy and whale develop a unique bond, forged by Will’s love of singing. An exciting plot-driven story full of drama, tension, and romance, this magical book captures both heart and mind from start to finish.

Under the Mountain

By Maurice Gee,

Book cover of Under the Mountain

This book for younger YA’s has some of the creepiest villains you’ll ever meet and knuckle-biting tension as the heroes are chased by the evil Wilberforces, slug-like shapeshifters who live under Auckland’s extinct volcanoes. Their goal is the destruction of the world and only red-haired twins Rachel and Theo Matheson can stop them, with the help of the strange Mr. Jones, who helps the twins unleash their supernatural power.


Who am I?

I love Aotearoa New Zealand books! Our writers are brave, feisty, original - and living in ‘the land of the long white cloud’ at the bottom of the globe gives us a unique take on the world that permeates through everything we write. But we struggle to get our voices heard internationally, so far from the rest of you! This is your chance to push out your boundaries and explore stories that derive from a culture very different from your own, while sharing the same human emotions that bring us all together. As one of these writers, I challenge you to check us out – you won’t be disappointed!


I wrote...

Singing Home The Whale

By Mandy Hager,

Book cover of Singing Home The Whale

What is my book about?

The extraordinary story of how the arrival of a baby orca whale threatens to tear apart a fishing community and forever changes the life of the boy who finds it.

Will Jackson is hiding out, a city boy reluctantly staying with his uncle in small town New Zealand while he struggles to recover from a brutal attack and the aftermath of a humiliating Youtube clip gone viral. After he discovers a young abandoned orca his life is further thrown into chaos when he rallies to help protect it against hostile locals. The boy and whale develop a unique bond, forged by Will’s love of singing. An exciting plot-driven story full of drama, tension, and romance, this magical book captures both heart and mind from start to finish.

Displaced

By Cristina Sanders,

Book cover of Displaced

Displaced is a historical young adult novel rich in detail, atmosphere, and life of a family in New Zealand in the early 1870s.

The main character Eloise is courageous in the way she copes with her life being torn apart by the men she trusted and believed in.

The fate of women in this time in history is completely held by the men of the family.

I loved the characters and I adore historical novels. This one is set in New Zealand when none of the Pakeha (white) settlers had heard the Maori name for the country of Aotearoa. Eloise, the protagonist is a young woman who is forced to forge her own way in an alien society filled with several different, and often conflicting, alien cultures to her. The research the author has done is impeccable so that it’s possible to immerse yourself in the fascinating but difficult life…


Who am I?

I’m a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand and I’ve always been drawn to stories of struggle, especially where a character fights against outside control. I started writing for the high school students I was teaching and got hooked on the YA genre. I love it partly because it crosses all genres – I can write about a 14-year-old girl trying to live in a repressive religious cult but I can also write about a 15-year-old boy who’s a champion kart driver. Karting at top level takes enormous skill as I discovered, but it also has room for dirty tricks.


I wrote...

Juno of Taris

By Fleur Beale,

Book cover of Juno of Taris

What is my book about?

I visited the Eden Project in the UK and got to wondering what life would be like under a protective dome. In Juno of Taris, Juno is one of 500 who lives under a dome on the island Taris that protects them from the ravages of climate change. The rules are strict and they have to be if the community is to survive – however Juno begins to question whether they need to be as strict as they are. But questions are dangerous on Taris. The first question Juno and her classmates want answered is why they must submit to having their heads shaved regularly. They rebel incurring the wrath of the leaders. Danger lurks.

In Search of the Blue Duck

By James Bloom,

Book cover of In Search of the Blue Duck

After graduating, the narrator's family set him up with a job on Wall Street but it just isn't for him despite his upbringing preparing him for this kind of route. A few months later, he sets off on a round-the-world trip. The book features the first eighteen months of this journey spent in Australasia scraping a living in any way he can with occasionally outlandish casual jobs including beekeeping, running a youth hostel, and working on a production line in a cardboard box factory. He comes across a young woman, another traveller, sleeping beneath a table of honey pots and they begin a passionate yet fraught love affair.

Not only is this a great story, it is also punctuated with Bloom's vivid descriptions of landscapes and people he encounters along the way. There are meditations on the quirky details of life and reminiscing on an unusual childhood.


Who am I?

I became interested in the genre of memoir during the lockdown when I found myself reflecting on my past during the extended solitary periods. Looking through a shoebox of old letters put me in touch with the person I had once been. I then discovered that the act of writing down memories opened up areas that I had forgotten about or that had faded almost to nothing, and suddenly they became quite vivid. I decided to create memoirist.org for writing at a more literary level and only publish highly polished pieces. Memoirist now has many followers and some posts have nearly a thousand views. 


I wrote...

A Young Lady's Miscellany

By Auriel Roe,

Book cover of A Young Lady's Miscellany

What is my book about?

When a young teenager is left to her own devices following the disintegration of the family home, things quickly spiral into dysfunction. Neither parent is inclined to help the heroine negotiate the potholes toward becoming a responsible adult so she flounders again and again, often with humorous effect. It is her Cumbrian grandmother, whose door is always open, who becomes the parental figure she comes to rely on.

"A magical transformation of memory's rags and patches into a coherent story: a wonderful account, perhaps the best I've read, of a female coming into her own." Tony Connor, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature 

Two Worlds

By Anne Salmond,

Book cover of Two Worlds: First Meetings between Maori and Europeans, 1642-1772

Two Worlds, by Dame Anne Salmond, is another crossover work—part history and part anthropology. The author, an eminent New Zealand anthropologist, uses her knowledge of traditional Māori culture (what people believed, what they ate, how they lived) to flesh out the historical record left by early European visitors to Aotearoa/New Zealand. The result is a rich, authoritative account of encounters that for far too long have been described from only one point of view.


Who am I?

A dual citizen of Australia and the US, Christina Thompson has traveled extensively in the Pacific, including through most of the archipelagoes in Polynesia. She is the author of two books about Polynesia: a memoir of her marriage to a Māori man called Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All and a history of the ancient voyagers of the Pacific called Sea People. She edits the literary journal Harvard Review and teaches in the writing program at Harvard University Extension. 


I wrote...

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

By Christina Thompson,

Book cover of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

What is my book about?

A thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers, they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history.

How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind.

Aboriginal Convicts

By Kristyn Harman,

Book cover of Aboriginal Convicts: Australian, Khoisan and Maori Exiles

If the British empire’s first historians had a knack for anything it was omitting to mention what some of what their predecessors did for the sake of empire. Aboriginal Convicts is one of those books that really challenges us to rethink the stories we have received about British colonization. By tracing the lives of Indigenous people in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand who were sentenced to transportation as convicts this groundbreaking book turns the table on the way we see Britain’s empire in the nineteenth century.


Who am I?

I’m a professional history nerd who is perennially interested in both sides of the history coin: What happened? How do we know? I’ve got a PhD in sixteenth-century European history, have written articles that cover things from antiquity to Vikings in America, and have written several history books about Australia and its region. I like history that is robust, so I’m always looking for books that make clever use of sources. And I love stories that disrupt preconceptions, so I enjoy researching and writing and reading histories that make you think.


I wrote...

1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia's Beginnings

By Nick Brodie,

Book cover of 1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia's Beginnings

What is my book about?

This is the story of the dawn of a truly global history, told through exploration and encounter. Until Dutch and Spanish voyagers reached the coasts of Australia, New Guinea, and New Zealand the Indigenous peoples of a whole continent and its surroundings were largely cut off from the world’s other peoples and cultures and from each other. This history explores what happened in this region during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by turning the tables on the way Australia’s history is normally told.

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