Book Reviews

Book reviews for book clubs & suggestions for good reads.

I only review the books I love, and specifically, books that I think make great book club reads. To appear on my pages they need to pass the “so what” test, they need to have characters and stories that are complicated and real and they need to be based on topics that feed into larger conversations.  Good reads for book club evenings, in fact.

Books for men’s book clubs, try Suggestions for a bloke’s book club. Books I might have loved but didn’t are here: Books that don’t make the cut. You might love them. Tell me if I’m wrong.

(PS. No one has paid to appear on these pages. Unfortunately).


Book review:
Ribbons of Grace, by Maxine Alterio
Evocative and transporting NZ historical fiction.

Book review:
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
Bletchley Park without Alan Turing. A long story of the women code-breakers.

Book review:
T
he Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
What does to mean to have black skin? Interesting story about the prejudice of colour.

Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

Book review:
The Secrets of Strangers
by Charity Norman
Well set up, nail-biting hostage drama where you end up feeling sorry for everyone (almost)

Book review:
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville.
Love love love Kate Grenville. The hell hole of Colonial Australia. A bastard and a strong, clever woman. Whooo hoo.

Book review:
Shackleton’s Endurance by Joanna Grochowicz
Man up, you big snowflake, and go south until the ice cracks and your reindeer sleeping bag moults. Bloody crazy adventure and all true.

Book review:
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Despite being a story seeped in truth about some pretty fucked up family experiments, this is a book of wry humour. Good reading.

Book review:
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Good conversation starter but bit of a frustrating book.

Book review:
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
Don’t judge the homeless. Two lovebirds walking through a crisis. And they keep walking. Wonderful story.

This Paheka life Alison Jones

Book review:
This Pakeha Life by Alison Jones
Such a intelligent read, balanced and honest. “What is a pakeha?” doesn’t have to be a loaded question. It defines a relationship.

Book review:
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
Monarch butterflies arrive on the mountain, climate change sending them off-course, and open a woman’s life to possibilities.

Book review:
All Our Shimmering Skies by Trent Dalton
Overblown and succulent. Strangely (and deliberately) fable-y. A bit too lush? It’s Trent Dalton, he’s worth the investment.

Book review:
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
1617, a sea voyage, a Norwegian Island, a storm and a village of women surviving without men. Burn the witches.

Book review:
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Biafra’s rise and fall through the eyes of her people. Important and fascinating.

Book review:
The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
Steady Brian or flashy Wyatt? We learn about Egyptology while Dawn supposedly chooses her way.

Book review:
Let Go My Hand by Edward Doxs
Funny and erudite story of three brothers on a roadie taking dad to Dignitas. Loved it.

Book review:
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Good read, dubious subject matter of multiple choice lives following a suicide attempt. Hmm.

Book review:
State Highway One by Sam Coley
Unsettling, spooky story of an entitled boy on a bender down the length of New Zealand.

Book review:
Love by Roddy Doyle
If your idea of a good time is getting blind drunk in a Dublin pub, go with Roddy Doyle.

Book review:
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
A good, slow burner of a read for a rainy holiday. If you only read one book a year, perhaps not this one.

Book review:
The Bright Side of My Condition by Charlotte Randall
Robinson Crusoe kept his madness at bay. These fellons don’t manage it.

Book review:
Glass Houses by Karen Phillips
Well written NZ stories for middle aged women. Full of real life, told with compassion.

Book review:
The Tally Stick by Carl Nixon
Mystery, crime, survival, coming of age, set in remote NZ bush. One for the hammock.

Book review:
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart
A modern day version of Growing up in the Gorbals. The sad side of Glasgow. Booker Prize winner.

Book review:
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
The lives of twelve British black women, their friends and experiences, remarkably told with clarity and wit. Cool book.

Book review:
Pure by Andrew Miller
A pre-revolutionary Parisian necropolis is leaking centuries of effluent onto the streets. Jean-Baptiste is sent to clean it up. Go wallow.

Book review:
Happiness by Aminattta Forna
A psychologist from Ghana and biologist from Chicago meet on Waterloo Bridge and slowly, via foxes and a lost child, come together.

Book review:
This Farming Life by Tim Saunders
A poet farmer and a farm that’s been in the the family five generations. This is NZ. Terrific.

Book review:
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
A story about Shakespeare’s family and spooky wife. Lyrical. Not enough bard.

Book review:
The Silence of Snow and a Trio of Sophies, by Eileen Merriman
Two fast paced compulsive reads, one YA one adult. Read anything by Merriman.

Book review:
No Friend but the Mountain, by Behrouz Boochani
True story of how this remarkable man comes to be living in New Zealand. Difficult, essential reading.

Book review:
The Telegram, by Philippa Werry
YA fiction bicycling through small town NZ during WWI delivering news. Mostly bad. Well told history for young readers.

Book review:
The Dickens Boy, by Tom Keneally
Loved this. Charles Dicken’s youngest son goes to Australia. Very well told.

Book review:
Hell Ship, by Michael Veitch
Lots of detail on colonial immigration and not enough of the high sea. More non-fiction than fiction. But fascinating.

The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting

Book review:
The Bell in the Lake, by Lars Mytting
Norway, 1880. So cold you need to wrap yourself in a blanket to read it.

Book review:
Jerningham, by Cristina Sanders
Bit weird to review my own book, so here’s one from the outside.

Tidelands Philippa Gregory

Book review:
Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory
Good if you’re a Gregory fan. Probably not if you’re not.

American Dirt Jeanine Cummin

Book review:
American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins
Harsh reality of of woman and her son fleeing from a Mexican gangster

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Book review:
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
Why did Koreans emigrate to Japan and what happened to them when they got there? Be transported

Lennys book of everything by Karen Foxlee

Book review:
Lenny’s book of everything, by Karen Foxlee
Loved this story of a girl whose brother doesn’t stop growing. Harrowing and funny.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Selia Owens

Book review:
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
Ma’s gone wearin’ her gator shoes. It’s a sho’-nuff mess. Jump into the mud marsh. Brilliant book.

Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager

Book review:
Dear Vincent, by Mandy Hager
A beautiful and uplifting book about depression and suicide for young adult readers, with Van Gogh as a muse.

Aue by Becky Manawatu

Book review:
Auē, by Becky Manawatu
Gusty story of an orphaned boy and a family growing up in NZ’s gang culture. Frightening, real, lovable (in parts). Very readable.

Spearo by Mary-anne Scott

Book review:
Spearo, by Mary-anne Scott
Fascinating book about the art of spearfishing (among other things) for teens. If I’d read this before seeing Jaws I would have been a Spearo

Dutch House by Patchett review

Book review:
The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
A house and family, but the essence of this is a boy’s regard for his sister. It’s fabulous

Damascus by Tsiolkas review

Book review:
Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas
A horrible book that revels in inhumanity. It prompted thoughts on the growth of empathy.

Singing the trail by John McCrystal

Book review:
Singing the Trail, by John McCrystal
The best reference book ever. Old NZ maps, meticulously researched and beautifully presented.

sapiens by Harari review

Book review:
Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
A textbook for the modern age, explaining our story. Read it, talk about it, find your own conclusions.

The Music shop Rachel Joyce review

Book review:
The Music Shop, Sweet and fey. If that’s your style, here’s your book.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan review

Book review:
Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan
A boy breaks out of slavery, but it’s not quite that simple.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate review

Book review:
Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate.
Half of this book was excellent. Holiday more than book club.

Adventures of Tupaia

Book review:
The Adventures of Tupaia, by Meredith & Tait. Tupaia’s story, an important part of history, is well told here. Share with your youngsters.

Call me Evie by J P Pomare

Book review:
Call me Evie, by J P Pomare.
A clever thriller, chilling but never gratuitous, with more twists than a remote country road.

Cook's Cook Gavin Bishop

Book review:
Cook’s Cook, by Gavin Bishop
The cook who cooked for Captain Cook, a sophisticated cartoon style children’s history.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton review

Book review:
Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton
Three words for a story. Hitler Invades Poland. Oswald Kills Kennedy. Man Conquers Moon. Boy Swallows Universe

Taking the Long Road to Cairo Ann Balcombe

Book review:
Taking the Long Road to Cairo, by Ann Balcombe. Sail the high seas, face house arrest in apartheid era South Africa, hitch from Cape to Cairo. I wish I’d had this courage.

Book review:
See you in September, by Charity Norman
A cold hitch-hiker accepts a lift with a welcoming bunch of hippies and chills out with them for a few days. It’s NZ, right? Hardly sinister…

Book review:
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
A charming, gay, middle-aged man’s Eat, Pray Love journey of recovery. Less self-indulgent and beautifully written.

Book review:
Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Chris Cleave
Whip smart English story of four young English people in WW2. Cleave is a genius.

Book review:
Attraction, Ruby Porter
A stylish read about complicated young women on a roadie. Very kiwi. 

Book review:
An Officer and a Spy, Robert Harris
If you’re going to read a spy thriller, might as well make it a true one, or what’s the point?

Book review:
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Sanders
Weird, in a Booker prize-winning way. Odd format, not much plot, lots of character. For brainy people, probably.  

Sally Rooney
Book review:
Conversations with Friends & Normal People, Sally Rooney
Happily recommending these to all my girlfriends. Remember being 21? More…
Cyprus Tree by Kamin Mohammadi
Book review:
The Cyprus Tree by Kamin Mohammad
Kamin and her family flee the Iranian revolution in 1979 and she turns English. But she goes back. More…
This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman
Book review:
This Mortal Boy, by Fiona Kidman
1950s New Zealand with Teddy boys, bodgies, widgies, and heartless sexual promiscuity, when we hanged a delinquent youth. For shame.  More…
Birds without wings book review
Book review:
Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières
The end of the Ottoman Empire and the long plunge to the bottom of human suffering as a village’s inhabitants face the horrors of war. More…
Evies war Mackenzie
Book review:
Evie’s War, by Anna Mackenzie
A young New Zealand woman lands in England on the eve of World War One and describes her war in poignant diary entries. Thoughtful YA reading and adult, too.   More…
Gone to Pegasus book review
Book review:
Gone to Pegasus by Tess Redgrave
Votes for women, the power of music and women’s friendships, early lunatics and colonial Dunedin. More…
Smugglers Wife Deborah Challinor
Book review:
Smuggler’s Wife series, by Deborah Challinor
Colonial yarns where a beautiful girl meets a handsome captain, impeccably researched and very exciting. More swash buckle than bodice rip. More…
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Book review:
Unsheltered, by Barbara Kingsolver
What does it mean, to be unsheltered? If everything crumbles down and we are open to the sky? Scary stuff, classic Kingsolver. More…
educated by tara westover
Book review:
Educated, by Tara Westover
She’s a Cambridge PhD and the writing snap-crackles, but she tells the story of a young, uneducated and abused girl from rural Idaho. Her childhood and coming of age. More…
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
Book review:
Elizabeth and her German garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnim.
E.Van A is a cousin of Katherine Mansfield, with a similar gorgeous clarity of prose. Light on plot but good flowers, this is a charming book about enjoying a garden. More…
Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey
Book review:
Elizabeth is missing, by Emma Healey.
A sharp psychological thriller where the chief investigator is sliding into dementia and needs to make sense of herself to solve the mystery. More…
A Gentleman in Moscow Towles
Book review:
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.
Love the recent BBC adaptation of War & Peace? Very different, but strangely familiar. More…
The Sea
Book review:
The Sea, by John Banville.
Facing a quiet afternoon with no expectations of wild adventure? Find poignancy here. More…
The Road
Book review:
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
Dystopic, hopeless. What happened. What happened?  Bleak writing to match a grim snapshot of a future. More…
Mr Peacocks Possessions
Book review:
Mr Peacock’s Possessions, by Lydia Syson.
In 1879 Mr Peacock takes his struggling colonial family to a very remote Pacific Island to build a good life. Spoiler – things doesn’t quite go as planned. More…
Naturalist
Book review:
The Naturalist, by Thom Conroy.
Ernst Dieffenbach goes to New Zealand in 1839, is an outsider, misses home, is torn. Based on fact. A  serious man. We needed more like him. More…
Captive Wife
Book review:
The Captive Wife, by Fiona Kidman.
Early whaling days of NZ and Sydney. What happens to the wife taken captive by Maori? What if she doesn’t want to be rescued? Based on a true story. More…
Eight Mountains
Book review:
The Eight Mountains, by Paulo Cognetti.
Good read for blokes. About friendships and fathers and the Alpine equivalent of a man shed. More …
Decline Fall Savage St
Book review:
Decline & Fall on Savage Street, by Fiona Farrell.
A story told from the point of view of a house, down the centuries. Read as a series of linked short stories. More…
Mr Allbone cover
Book reveiw:
Mr Allbones’ Ferrets, by Fiona Farrell.
Two for Farrell because NZ historical fiction is just so good and she’s a terrific story teller. Learn all about ferrets. More…
Golden Hill
Book review:
Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford.
This is a romp around colonial New York. It’s wild and a lot of fun. Until you realise what the cheque is for. More…
Sticking with pigs
Book review:
Sticking with pigs, by Mary-anne Scott.
Got teenage boys? Read this book! A great story of a boy’s first pig hunt, tight writing, ripping yarn.  More…
Chappy by Patricia Grace
Book review:
Chappy, by Patricia Grace.
A story about losing your roots and finding them again, and realising, perhaps, you fit in differently now. More…
Potiki
Book review:
Potiki, by Patricia Grace.
A New Zealand classic. The developers come to town and exploitation is in the air. Lots to discuss in this one. More…
Winton Boy Behind the Curtain
Book review:
The Boy Behind the Curtain, by Tim Winton.
Short stories from Tim Winton’s life: cars, religion, life swiping you sideways, environmentalism. More…
Heloise
Book review:
Heloise, by Mandy Hager
Just gorgeous. A love affair between two brilliant, medieval French scholars. Shame they didn’t have a Me-Too movement then. Lots to discuss here.  More…
sellout
Book review:
The Sellout, by Paul Beatty.
This one’s different. Sarcastic, racist, black American humour, fast past and cracking with cringe. More…
The Necessary Angel
Book review:
The Necessary Angel, by C. K. Stead.
Complicated love affairs of a kiwi in Paris, rather sophisticated, a book for smarties. More…
Knowledge of Angels Jill Paton Walsh
Book review:
Knowledge of Angels, by Jill Paton Walsh.
One of my favourite books of all time. A wolf child must dis-prove innate knowledge of God to save a life. Wonderfully imaginative and deep topics. More…
The Colour Rose Tremain
Book review:
The Colour, by Rose Tremain
If you emigrate, best if you like the bloke you go with. And what happens when you find gold? More…
Lilac Girls Martha Hall Kelly
Book review:
Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly.
A horrible book about women in war. Not enjoyable in any way, but should be discussed. More…
The Sea
Book review:
The Sea, by John Banville.
Won the Man Booker in 2015. But should it have? More…
The Wish Child
Book review:
The Wish Child, by Catherine Chidgey.
Sieglinde’s father cuts words out of books, like “love”, and “truth”. It’s WW2, a world gone mad. More…
Not Forgetting the Whale
Book review:
Not Forgetting the Whale, by John Ironmonger.
Read this one. You won’t regret it. Lightly written but big issues of a rather British Armageddon. More…