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Books, New Zealand, Rachel and Rebecca

R ‘n’ R’s guide to (a few) New Zealand authors

28.02.13 | Comment?

Hello! As of tomorrow, it will be (drum roll please) New Zealand Book Month! There’s heaps of cool events happening around Wellington and all over the country. Here in the Central Library we’re hosting a Three Bears Breakfast at 10.30am on Saturday the 9th of March to celebrate a new take on a favourite fairy tale. If that’s not your cup of tea then check out our guide to a few of our favourite New Zealand authors! In compiling this list we realized what an extraordinary range of genres and topics are covered by our homegrown authors. They’re also quite prolific and if you enjoy one, chances are you’ll find some more…

We begin with the names you’ve probably heard:

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsThe magnificent and marvellous Margaret Mahy. My personal favourite novel of hers is The Tricksters which is about the classic Kiwi family Christmas at the beach. Harry (real name, Ariadne) Hamilton is seventeen years old and caught between her two older, more exciting (she feels) siblings and two much younger ones. Feeling alone in a large family she spends her time writing. This Christmas however, the family is joined by three fascinating but rather sinister brothers and Harry finds her stories and reality blurring together in an alarmingly complex way. This is one of my favourite summer reads and will be pulled out again this year.

For more Mahy, check out Alchemy, (which won the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award for best young adult novel), the post-apocalyptic adventure Maddigan’s Fantasia (re-released as Maddigan’s Quest) which also became a tv series and finally, and for slightly younger readers, the Cousin’s Quartet (also about large families, this time without the sinister component); The Good Fortunes Gang, A Fortunate Name, A Fortune Branches Out and Tangled Fortunes.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsKate de Goldi is far less prolific than Mahy but is also incredible. Her latest novel, The 10pm Question, has won a number of prestigious awards and with very good reason. It’s one of those books that is very difficult to put down, it’s hugely compelling. But at the same time, if I had cheated, if I had read the ending first, then the pleasure I got from reading it would have been destroyed. The 10pm Question introduces us to the eccentric but endearing family of Frankie Parsons. With every detail we’re given, there are more questions raised about Frankie’s world. Difficult questions that Frankie doesn’t want to think about but that he knows someone, the new girl Sydney, is going to ask him. The 10pm Question is an expert combination of poignant storytelling and subtle humour that gives the novel a broad appeal. According to GoodReads it “will touch everyone who has ever felt set apart.”

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsAnd back to the prolific: Maurice Gee. You may have read Under The Mountain or the Land of O books when you were younger (which are still awesome when re-read by the way). If you enjoyed them then check out the Salt series which is set entirely in a fantasy universe where one group of citizens, Company, exploit everyone else. However, Hari – one of the exploited groups – has a secret gift: he can communicate with animals. With this and his own smarts he sets out to rescue his father from Deep Salt, the mysterious mines from which no one returns. With him is the beautiful Pearl, born into Company, she runs from a life of subservience as a married woman and has learned forbidden things from her mysteriously gifted maid Tealeaf.

If you like Maurice Gee but not fantasy then check out In My Father’s Den and Crime Story which are decisively set in our world but are also for older readers.

And now the slightly less well known:

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsBernard Beckett has written in an extraordinarily wide range of genres. From the deeply philosophical August to the historically set Home Boys to the thriller Jolt to the comedic Malcolm and Juliet. The New Zealand Book Council praises Malcolm and Juliet for combining “quirky humour with a sophisticated literary and theatrical style elevating the story into something more than simply farce or satire. Cleverly and tightly plotted with strong dialogue reflecting the novel’s origins in a stage-play, this book challenges readers and keeps them guessing. Loose ends are tied up in an appropriately stylised, Shakespearean way.” Don’t let the reference to Shakespeare put you off, Malcolm and Juliet is very easy to read and my favourite of Beckett’s work. It’s funny and fast paced making it very easy to read. If you like this one then check out some of Beckett’s plays.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsJoanna Orwin’s latest book Sacrifice was a finalist in the 2012 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. The book follows Taka and Matu on a quest to find the kumara (called “kuma”) which has died out (along with all the other crops) in their post-apocalyptic world. It is these such details that set this story apart from your typical quest storyline, giving the book a distinctly New Zealand flavour. Owl is based on the Maori myth of Pouakai, a brutal man-eater bent on destruction. It’s about Tama the city kid, and Owl the country kid. They couldn’t be more different, until the discovery of some ancient Maori cave paintings releases the aforementioned monster and brings them together in order to defeat the creature and save themselves. In Out of Tune, a much earlier novel, the link to New Zealand is much less evident. Out of Tune is about Jaz, a teenage girl desperate to fit in with the cool kids at school and get her parents attention. As she spins out of control, the only person she feels she can confide in is her great-grandmother Gi-Gi. Like so many other New Zealand authors, Joanna Orwin explores several genres and by all accounts does so very well.

book cover courtesy of SyndeticsV. M. Jones’ Juggling with Mandarins is a really sweet coming-of-age story about Pip (named because his mum’s favourite author is Charles Dickens) who is a boy who can’t seem to please his overly-competitive father, and learns that he must please himself instead. It is a story about finding the thing that you love, and knowing why you’re doing it. For Pip, that is rock-climbing, not soccer (as his father and brother pressure him into). Juggling is used as a challenge (real and metaphorical) to learn a new skill, to focus, and to stick with it for the right reasons. Pip’s final realization about the differences between himself and his father are profound. It’ll leave you emotional and wanting to know what happens next in which case there is the follow up Shooting the Moon.

This is just a very small collection of some of our favourite authors. There are many, many more gems just waiting to be discovered and what better time than New Zealand Book Month! If you’re an aspiring author yourself then this month is an excellent opportunity to get tips and hints from other authors so check out that events page!

Until next time,

R n R


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