Week in Review

The best-selling books of 2019

The year's biggest-selling New Zealand books, as recorded by the Nielsen BookScan New Zealand bestseller list and described by ReadingRoom literary editor Steve Braunias.


1 A Dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette, $34.99)

The people want food. Pellegrino gave them food, many great steaming plates of it – A Dream of Italy was a feast of Italian cooking, the characters stuffing themselves with it while looking for love and good fortune in a beautiful setting. Pellegrino’s idea for the book was ingenious. The mayor of a small ghost town in Italy advertises homes for one euro. People from different corners of the world take him up on it. We learn about their hopes and problems as they move in and try to start a new life. “Rich and tasteful storytelling,” wrote Azariah Alfante, in her review  at NZ Booklovers.

2 When it All Went to Custard by Danielle Hawkins (HarperCollins, $35)

The Otorohonga author set her book fair and square in middle New Zealand – in the fictional town of Tipoi, half based on Te Kuiti, half Putaruru – and created a hugely enjoyable comic tale of a woman’s fight to rebuild her life after her husband hoofs it. A busy book, Kiwi as, easy to read and supremely relatable.

3 Call Me Evie by JP Pomare (Hachette, $34.99)

This guy is huge in Australia – New Zealand-born, he lives in Melbourne – and destined to get huger. Call Me Evie was easily the best crime thriller of the year. A couple are hiding in a remote house somewhere in New Zealand. Hiding from who, and why? A rave review in the Sydney Morning Herald praised it as “a psychological thriller with shades of domestic noir.”

4 The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (Victoria University Press, $35)

It’s got demons in it, and birds that talk – welcome to Knoxland, a rich world of fantastic imaginings and endless possibilities. From Charlotte Grimshaw’s review in the Listener: “An epic 650-page novel that moves between real and fantasy worlds.... The Absolute Book’s power is in the skill and pace of Knox’s storytelling, the perfect spinning of the intricate plot, the sharp dialogue and luminous evocation of place.”

5 This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman (Penguin Random House, $38)

Winner of the 2019 Ockham New Zealand National Book Award for best novel, and the subject of a rave review in the New York Times. It’s based on Albert Black, who was executed at Mt Eden gaol in 1956 after he was found guilty of murder.

6 What You Wish For by Catherine Robertson (Penguin Random House, $38)

GoodReads is not entirely good for nothing. Two reviews made a pretty fair summary of the appeals of Robertson’s second novel in her series set in the fictional town of Gabriel’s Bay. This one, from Moira: “Another entertaining visit to Gabriel's Bay, a small seaside town. There's a great group of characters and interesting developments. The various storylines move along credibly and with feeling. I enjoyed the moose interlude.” And this one, from Melissa: “Another awesome visit to Gabriel’s Bay. God I hope she writes more about this wonderful place.”

7 A Mistake by Carl Shuker (Victoria University Press, $30)

I fully expect Shuker’s taut, precisely detailed novel of a fatal operation and its aftermath to make the longlist for the 2020 Ockham New Zealand National Book Award for best novel, as well as the shortlist, and I shouldn’t at all be surprised if he wins it: this guy is likely the smartest novelist in the country.

8 Loving Sylvie by Elizabeth Smither (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

Review from Paula Green in Landfall: “It’s all about being loved, not being loved, being capable of love….Smither builds portraits of three women through gradual revelations. Loving Sylvie is an exquisite, heart-activating read.”

9 Whatever it Takes by Paul Cleave (Upstart Press, $37.99)

Latest crime thriller from the Christchurch maestro.

10 Pearly Gates by Owen Marshall (Penguin Random House, $38)

Review by Jessie Neilson in the Otago Daily Times: “Owen Marshall carefully and with quietly dignified humour outlines life in a provincial Otago town.”


1 Vegful by Nadia Lim (Nude Food Inc, $55)

The people want food.

2 The Note Through the Wire by Doug Gold (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)

Hugely fetching WWII true-life romance.

3 Magnolia Kitchen by Bernadette Gee (Allen & Unwin, $45)

The people want food.

4 The Invisible Load by Dr Libby Weaver (Little Green Frog Publishing, $39.95)

Self-helper full of soothing if banal advice on how to understand stress.

5 Rich Enough? by Mary Holm (HarperCollins, $36.99)


6 The Book of Knowing by Gwendoline Smith (Allen & Unwin, $24.99)

Self-helper full of practical ideas on how to deal with anxiety.

7 Straight 8 by Kieran Read with Scotty Stevenson (Upstart Press, $49.99)

Portrait of the All Blacks skipper. Not exactly a happy ending – it ends in tears, with Read weeping in the shower after losing the rugby World Cup semi-final - but the journey is told with psychological insight.

8 Brothers in Black by Jamie Wall (Allen & Unwin, $36.99)


9 Māori Made Easy by Scotty Morrison (Penguin Random House, $38)

Te reo for everyone.

10 Perform Under Pressure by Ceri Evans (HarperCollins, $39.99)

Self-helper full of baffling advice on how to cope with pressure.

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