Best Reads This Summer

On behalf of The Read Renée Lang talked to four booksellers about their picks for summer reading a little less than six weeks before Christmas.

Arty Bees, Wellington

First up was Matt Morris (pictured below)  from Wellington’s Arty Bees.


Matt has run the shop for 18 years and although Arty Bees carries a wide range of stock, much of Matt’s expertise lies in his specialised knowledge of the science fiction/fantasy genre. And after talking to him I’d guess that what he doesn’t know about the genre is probably not worth knowing, anyway.

So if you share his passion, make a note of the following 14 titles.

Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin (Matt says they’ve sold 100 copies of this in hardback over the last couple of months).

Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Each of these is the next book in its particular series and thus eagerly anticipated by keen readers.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence: looking for a gruesome hack’n’slash fantasy novel? Then Mark Lawrence is your man …

Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho are two new titles this year by Ben Aaronovitch. The first two in a modern urban fantasy series, they feature a combination of magic and the Metropolitan Police Force.

Phoenix Rising by Philippa Ballantine: this novel falls into the steampunk (Victorian technology) subcategory of fantasy fiction and will probably appeal more to women.

Heroes by Joe Abercrombie is another hack’n’slash fantasy novel, then there is Reamde by Neil Stephenson – ‘a huge book’, according to Matt, and an intellectually challenging one.

Rule 34 by Charles Stross: a particularly prophetic novel set 20 years into the future that, among other things, tells of banks being held ethically accountable for their actions (sound familiar, anyone?).

As for bestsellers, Snuff has been incredibly popular for this particular bookshop, not least because Terry Pratchett has kept his legions of fans waiting for this next book in the series. The same principle applies to Kings of the North, by Elizabeth Moon, which is the second volume of a new series, also eagerly awaited by Moon’s fans.

Unity Books, Auckland

Our conversation with Lily Richards - pictured right -(who freely admits to a strong predilection for non-fiction), from Unity Books in Auckland, reaped some rich non-fiction pickings in terms of her recommended summer reading list, which it should be noted, is not in any particular order and includes books published last year as well as 2011.

It starts with River Cottage Veg Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, which Lily as a vegetarian herself highly recommends. For anyone finding it hard to imagine the meat-oriented River Cottage hero turning his back on meat, Lily suggests they read the Guardian interview with FW in which he expands on his new vegetarian leaning.

Next is Far Out Isn’t Far Enough by Tomi Ungerer, a French children’s book illustrator who after living in New York during the 1970s decides with his wife to move to a strange small community ‘in the middle of nowhere’, which at that time was quite an unusual move. They live without electricity, grow and kill their own food – and the book is an account of that time. ‘It’s a beautiful kind of journal / kind of story / kind of poetry book, which he illustrates throughout’ says Lily. “A beautiful gift book.’

Joan Didion’s Blue Nights is, says Lily, ‘kind of bleak, but I love how you can read it without having read The Year of Magical Thinking. There’s a lot about her role as mother, and about what it is for her to age and her understanding of life … an extraordinary read.’

The Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay is not, Lily hastens to explain, some kind of chick lit given its ‘ladycentric’ cover. Rather, it started life as a thesis and now as a book is effectively a group biography of the second generation of British romantic poets (Byron, Shelley, Keats and Mary Shelley and their circle). ‘She [Hay] makes a really good case for how they were the first people to really push friendships as informative to creative understanding; some of their best works were written because of their relationships with each other.’

Maphead by Ken Jennings ‘charts the wide weird world of geography wonks’ and looks at the history of maps from many different angles, including a story about a high society New York gentleman who made a small fortune by stealing a significant number of ancient maps from various libaries. ‘It’s a very broad look at maps, a real map lover’s perspective,’ says Lily.

The Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie

‘Christmas has started already – the earliest ever!’ notes John McIntyre with understandable glee. McIntyre, who with his wife Ruth (pictured below), owns The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington, where they tend to create their own bestsellers in the shop through assiduous hand-selling efforts. ‘Staff members choose books that they’ve read and then give me a list of what they want me to buy,’ says John.

That said, those picture books moving out the door with noticeable speed include Stephanie Blake’s Poo Bum, Stomp by Ruth Paul, and Marmaduke Duck and Bernadette Bear from Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis.

A new series of five books for young readers featuring Nanny Piggins by R A Spratt is proving to be very popular, too. John reviewed it on his regular radio spot some two years ago and while it’s taken some time to gain traction, it has really taken off now.

Then there’s The Margaret Mahy Treasury, crammed with 11 of Mahy’s wonderful stories, which John says ‘is going really, really well and is the perfect premium gift. There’s a great affection around Margaret.’

For slightly older readers Ruth’s personal favourite is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Nine- and 10-year-olds will love Lauren Childs’ Ruby Redfort as well as Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver. John also mentions The Apothecary by Maile Meloy as a very worthwhile read for 10+ year-olds. T

Then there’s D.E.S.I.G.N., a book from Poland which, according to John, would make a great crossover gift (ie, would be suitable to give to an adult or an older child). ‘It features some of the quirkier interior designs, lots of chairs … extraordinary ideas about how furniture is created and so on.’

John finishes up by saying there’s always a case for putting a classic in your luggage when you’re going away. ‘Treasure Island or Narnia for example; one that you’ve loved that you can read to your kids if you’re going somewhere where there’s no TV.’ Among his personal choices for summer reading are Owen Marshall’s The Larnachs and Witi Ihimaera’s The Parihaka Woman, both of which tie in with John’s passion for New Zealand history. His last personal pick is Small Holes in the Silence, which he loves not least because of the sheer number of people connected to Hone Tuwhare’s poems.

UBS Otago

Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb (pictured below) of Dunedin’s UBS offers an eclectic list with something for everyone, and, like Lily at Unity, her choice is not necessarily restricted to those books published in 2011.  


Her recommended summer reading list starts with Wildwood by Colin Meloy, a story for young adults set in the state of Oregon about a woman whose baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows in Oregon.

This is followed by How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is ‘part memoir, part rant and is about the third wave of feminism … very funny, moving and revealing.’

Next is The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco which, says Bronwyn, ‘is fantastic and is a bit of a follow-on from Foucault’s Pendulum, but it’s even better … and can be read as a stand-alone book’.

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor was first published last year, but now, says Bronwyn, there’s a new small format edition. The book is based on the celebrated BBC Radio 4 series, where they took 100 objects from the British Museum ranging from a chopping tool made some 2 million years ago through to a credit card. ‘It reads very much like how you would talk about an object … it’s highly readable.’

Next up is Janet Frame In Her Own Words by Denis Harold and Pamela Gordon. ‘We think this is a great one for New Zealanders to own.’

As for Lee Child’s The Affair, ‘Everyone loves a new Jack Reacher,’ observes Bronwyn ‘and this one is great for reading on the beach.’

Moving right along, Bronwyn then cites So Brilliantly Clever, in which Peter Graham looks back 50 years at a crime that shocked New Zealand, as an excellent read. ‘It’s not splashy, it’s really well written and really interesting.’ This is followed by A Home-grown Cook: The Dame Alison Holst Story (with Barbara Larsen), which Bronwyn notes ‘is a good read in that it really captures the sense of growing up in New Zealand.’

A novel by the name of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is next and it’s one that Bronwyn thinks will appeal to a lot of readers, not least because ‘it’s a circus that I’d like to go to’.
The last title on her recommended summer reads list is The Margaret Mahy Treasury, which she thinks is ‘the most wonderful gift to give to a child’.


Several of these titles are in the Booksellers NZ summer reads competition - where one person will take home 61 books - that's a lot of summer reading.

Find out what you can win and how to enter

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