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Publishers’ Picks 2023

By December 12, 2023No Comments

It’s a tough ask to select just one or two special titles from a whole year’s publishing list but thank you to all those who could bear to choose one or two books to share. Below are a few highlights from 2023 to add to the summer reading pile.

Holly Hunter, Commissioning Editor, HarperCollins Aotearoa New Zealand
It’s been a thrill to see readers embrace Hayley Holt after we published her brave memoir Second Chances earlier this year. With themes of alcoholism and loss, her story is an absorbing and important read.

A Forager’s Life by Helen Lehndorf is one of my favourite memoirs of the year. Helen writes about her lifelong love of foraging and what it’s meant to her through different stages in her life. Her writing is gentle, soothing, and draws your eye to the otherwise unnoticed.

How could I not admire Fungi of Aotearoa by Liv Sisson (Penguin Random House)? It’s a clever bit of publishing and a brilliant package. Liv is a star. Kudos to PRH.

I also adored Pet by Catherine Chidgey (THWUP) and hope to see it make popular beach-read status over the summer.

Melanie Laville-Moore, Director Allen &Unwin NZ
Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts by Josie Shapiro was the inaugural Allen & Unwin fiction prize winner and it’s been so satisfying to see it on the fiction bestseller every week since its release in May. It’s a brilliant read and Josie is such a deserving, outstanding human, much-loved by the whole team. I’m especially pleased for our publisher Miff Hurley who has driven this new competition and made it such a strong success. Here’s to the next winner, Gavin Strawhan’s The Call, due to be published in the first quarter of 2024!

Working on the Topp Twins memoir Untouchable Girls has been a joy from start to finish. From Jools and Lynda hijacking our ANZ sales conference (with a now legendary recovery from publishing director Jenny Hellen!), the rule-breaking media tour, the outlandish point-of-sale and of course all the sales. Just brilliant.

Books by other publishers: Anne Kennedy’s edited collection Remember Me (Auckland University Press) is a sweet, canny and useful keepsake. And there’s been some outstanding children’s books to cheer on this year. Giselle Clarkson’s Observologist is a stunning piece of publishing. Clever Gecko strikes again!

Deborah Coddington, Publisher, Ugly Hill Press
Two books from me:

Summer reading.

Katherine Mansfield’s Europe, Station to Station by Redmer Yska, (Otago University Press).

With so much already published on this New Zealand author one wonders what else could be wrenched from her life but here we learn more, and how fascinating it is. Yska, Wellington historian and most engaging writer, holds the reader from the first line: I’m in the middle of France’s strangest forest, gazing up at the Katherine Mansfield rock. Or is it a fish?

Actually two lines.

Yska, not content with just taking the train into Wellington and browsing the National Archives, journeyed to Europe and traced Mansfield’s final journeys before she died. Cajoling, bullying (kindly) and when necessary paying his way into the places she stayed, he tells her courageous battle to try and squeeze more out of her last months.

The illustrative material, beautifully displayed, adds to the sense we are accompanying Yska in person.

Fabulous book, and printed here in Aotearoa New Zealand, by Caxton.

Book most admired from another publisher:

Without a doubt, Don Binney, Flight Path by Gregory O’Brien (Auckland University Press)

It only took many decades for a major work to be published on this major artist, and then it took many months from go to we-have-a-launch date for the book to be created. But what an astounding result, in every way. O’Brien’s research is exhausting, even to the collection of memorabilia reproduced. The text is not too dry and presumptuous but relaxed and informative; inviting the reader to dip in and out at will.

The design, by Keely O’Shannessy is a triumph – poised, balanced, muscular. The font – both design and size – suits beautifully the genre (nothing worse than a serious art book with tiny over-designed text which scares the reader) and every page has a thought-out, cared for feel.

The embossed case, the jacket, the endpapers – the blues all coordinating with Binney’s art – this is a book which will be treasured down through generations, and goodness knows how the publisher managed to retail this at such a generous price. A Masterpiece.

Nicola Legat, Publisher, Massey University Press
The Crewe Murders by James Hollings and Kirsty Johnston is a masterclass in investigation, one that is acutely aware of confirmation bias and in which the authors wear out their proverbial shoe leather going right back to the very land on which so much blood had been violently spilled.

Rewi Ata haere, kia tere by Jade Kake and Jeremy Hansen is not only about a remarkable architect, Rewi Thompson, but we also got to work with the amazing crew at Extended Whanau on the design. What a joy that was!

AUP’s Gordon Walters by the late Francis Pound is clearly a triumph.

The Team at Penguin Random House
Non-fiction publisher Rachel Eadie says, “2023 highlights from my own list include Fungi of Aotearoa. I couldn’t help but be captivated by Liv Sissons’ delight, curiosity and passion for her subject and it appears Kiwis of all ages have also been dazzled by this magical (pun intended) little book. I am so thrilled at its success and so proud of Liv, who deserves all the recognition she gets.

Adventures with Emilie is another highlight on my list this year. Victoria Bruce lays her soul bare in this powerful story of facing your demons and the restorative power of nature. Victoria’s writing is profoundly beautiful – lyrical and evocative. Nature writing at its best!

I have enormous admiration for the team behind Rewi (Massey University Press) – a spectacular production and thoughtful tribute to an important figure. Confession – I often find myself meditatively turning its pages and stroking the beautiful clothbound cover.”

Children’s publisher Diana Murray says, “Good Sports by Stuart Lipshaw is already a firm favourite in my house. All the stories are fascinating and cover so many different sports and sportspeople, and every single one of them truly is inspiring. My kids love a lucky dip into this book.

Sally Sutton’s Dance Detectives series is just gorgeous – the stories are so engaging and absorbing and fun, with all the right values without being preachy. And the illustrations are priceless. I’ve loved reading these books with my daughter.

And the Observologist by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press) is covetable. I love its invitation to observe all the little curiosities in this world in such a fun and accessible way. This book is a gem.”

Fellow Children’s Publisher Catherine O’Loughlin loved Fleur Beale’s Once Upon a Wickedness – “My seven-year-old was absolutely enthralled by this magical novel, in which an orphan, who has lost everything and everyone, faces down some terrifying bullies and gives as good as she gets! It’s a brilliant take on the way corrupt power tries to silence people, and the power of words. Lily Uivel’s illustrations are wonderful and it’s the kind of bedtime story that will have adults wanting to read on for just one chapter more just as much as their kids!

Gavin Bishop’s Patu: The New Zealand Wars cannot go unmentioned – reading a book like this imprints on your soul, and so it should. Gavin’s words and pictures bring Aotearoa of 200 years ago to life for readers young and old, and show how relevant these events are to our present situation. I hope Patu will find its place in every home, school and library.

And I’m always wooed by books about books, so I absolutely loved The Book Collector by bibliophile Tony Eyre (dad of a friend of mine, also a committed bibliophile!). It’s full of warmth and enthusiasm, and lovingly produced to match by the Mary Egan team. Another book about books that I thought was brilliant was Leonie Agnew’s novel for teens, The Impossible Story of Hannah Kemp (Walker Books). Both of these would be perfect gifts for fellow booklovers.”

Claire Murdoch, Head of Publishing says “Knickers, knickers, knickers! What child of the ’70s wouldn’t put Spike Milligan’s Badjelly the Witch up the top of their list, in a bumper year of storied anniversaries chez nous that included Penguin turning 50 in Aotearoa along with Witi Ihimaera’s Tangi, Hairy Maclary turning 40, Michael King’s definitive Penguin History turning 20 and John Kirwan’s All Blacks Don’t Cry updating for a new generation.

Pacific Arts Aotearoa is an exceptional book by an exceptional all-indigenous editorial/design team and I feel very lucky to have worked on it. The artists’ incredible stories are likes waves, one after another, making up an oceanic history.

And Emma Espiner’s memoir There’s a Cure for This has been as successful as it is beautiful and clever (which is to say, very).

We are deeply proud to publish that sage Hinemoa Elder’s latest, Wawata.

From our fiction list, anyone who missed Carl Nixon’s The Waters or Evana Belich’s How to Get Fired (Kim Hill: “It’s hilarious!”) is really missing something.

I loved/envied Smithy! (Upstart Press) Oh, to have published Smithy. Also Gangster’s Paradise (HarperCollins Publishers), One of Those Mothers (Allen & Unwin), The Axeman’s Carnival (THWUP), Lioness (Bloomsbury), Everything is Beautiful (Allen & Unwin), Anne Salmond’s Knowledge is a Blessing (Auckland University Press), The Bone Tree (Moa Books) and Flora (mwah, Flora Te Papa Press).  Sorry! More than 3.

The Team at Te Herenga Waka University Press
It was a huge year for fiction this year, but we also want to highlight a couple of our favourite poetry collections. One is the mesmerising verse novel The Artist by Ruby Solly. It’s unique, ambitious and rich with precious mātauranga. As Robert Sullivan said in his review, The Artist is ‘an āhuru mōwai, a shelter made from poetry, and is to be celebrated for its craft and heart, and for its whakapapa.’ The other poetry collection that will be a favourite for many years to come is Geoff Cochrane’s Selected Poems. Geoff Cochrane passed away in November last year. Putting his Selected together was at first an impossible task, but slowly a shape emerged through reading and rereading, and remembering. As James Brown has said, so many of us have had a Geoff Cochrane moment that has stayed with us and changed us as readers.

A title we really admired by another publisher is Rewi (Massey University Press), by Jade Kake and Jeremy Hansen. The book has an amazing design and takes a unique collaborative narrative approach. It’s a true testament to the man and his mahi.

Jenny Hellen, Publisher, Allen & Unwin
Love all my authors and their books BUT it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with the two fabulous Dames Lynda and Jools this year and a huge honour to publish their memoir Untouchable Girls. I’ve been trying to tempt them into publication for years now, so it’s very cool to see the NZ public embracing this book so strongly. Jools and Lynda know just the right way to tell a story – which shouldn’t be a surprise given that they’ve been winning over tough Kiwi audiences with their comedy and songs for years. But it was still surprising to me that they could tell SUCH great stories, from their classic childhoods to their political days to their iconic characters. It sounds like a cliché but it really is heartwarming and funny and charming. Thank you Lynda and Jools!

This year, the book I most admired was Catherine Chidgey’s Pet. What an extraordinary writer Catherine is! To follow up The Axeman’s Carnival with Pet is phenomenal – both wonderful books but quite different. Congrats to THWUP for nurturing Catherine’s publishing career so well. More please, Catherine.

Louise Russell, Publisher, Bateman Books
This year I’m extremely proud to have published Saige England’s linguistic masterpiece The Seasonwife, which explores the devastating consequences of 18th century whaling and trading in Aotearoa. Another highlight for Bateman in 2023 was the release of Andrew Crowe and Rick Fisher’s Those Magnificent Voyagers of the Pacific, a book for children that sets the Pacific voyaging story into a global context. My book of the year would have to be Flora: Celebrating Our Botanical World, published by Te Papa Press. No expense has been spared on the exquisite production – just stunning!

Alison Shucksmith, Product and Publishing Manager, Hachette Aotearoa New Zealand
From Little Moa:
The publication of Edmonds Taku Puka Tohutao Tuatahi is a massive highlight. Years in the making, with so many wonderful people involved, this book is quickly becoming a staple in kiwi homes.

From another publisher:
Dazzlehands (Huia Publishes) is a bright, funny, and relatable picture book, and the passion for the book has been shared by many. There are excellent displays, strong social media, and delightful reviews.


Dahlia Malaeulu, Author, Publisher & Director, Mila’s Books
Here’s our highlights and favourite titles:

A New Dawn by Emeli Sione, was a NZ Children and Young Adult Book Finalist, a Ngaio Marsh Book Award Finalist and through our A New Dawn Across Aotearoa Project we were able to send 2000 free copies of A New Dawn to schools, Pasifika community groups and organisations across Aoteaora.

Pasifika Navigators – Pasifika Student Poetry Book, was highly commended at the Storylines Notable Book Awards and acknowledged as a top Children’s book for 2023 by the National Library of NZ.

Named NZ Emerging Publisher of the Year at the NZ Book Industry Awards in August.

Top selling Mila’s My Pasifika Wellbeing Journal Series which has led to Pasifika Wellbeing workshops, are being used as part of wellbeing programmes and prisons across Aotearoa (includes – Teine Pasifika Wellbeing Journal, Tama Pasifika Wellbeing Journal, I am Pasifika Wellbeing Journal)

Favourite titles of 2023: Pasifika Navigators – Pasifika Student Poetry Book and the I am Pasifika Wellbeing Journal, a-wake-(e)nd by Audrey Brown Pereira and How My Koro Became a Star by Brianne Te Paa, (Huia Publishers).

Kat Quin, Publisher, Illustrated Publishing
Kuwi & Friends He Puka Ngohe – Activity Book Nā Kat Quin ngā tuhinga reo Pākehā me ngā whakaahua Nā Pānia Papa ngā whakamāoritanga.

He Puka Ngohe is a fun, easy-to-use activity book for those wanting to learn everyday words in te reo Māori. The activities allow you to practise in a creative way, helping to retain the Māori words you learn. The book is packed with challenges and games, utilising visual cues from the award-winning Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary – He Papakupu Whakaahua, to assist with retention of language.


The team at Gecko Press
A Gecko Press highlight (among many) from this year has been The Observologist by Giselle Clarkson. A joy to make and a joy to see it flying off the shelves; so many people who helped create the book commented on how they would have loved this book as a child. And it sold rights to four languages before publication! A collective highlight from another publisher was Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton from Te Herenga Waka University Press. It made for some excellent shared office space discussions, yelling comments over the bookshelves—have you read this bit yet? How apt was that section?

The Team at Otago University Press
It’s hard to pick a highlight from this year! One we wish to highlight is Katherine Mansfield’s Europe: Station to Station by Redmer Yska. It’s been a huge year for Katherine Mansfield with this being the 100-year centenary of her death and we think that Redmer’s book adds something unique to the current literature out there about Katherine Mansfield’s life. It’s a rich biography of her travels in Europe alongside a fascinating travelogue of Redmer’s own journey following in her footsteps. We are really proud of the production of this book, especially the beautiful illustrations and photographs that accompany Redmer’s informative and engaging writing.

A book we admired from another publisher is The Deck by Fiona Farrell, published by Penguin Random House. We love the way that Fiona Farrell plays with the boundaries of fiction and post-Covid reality. The Deck is rich, timely but prophetic, with a fascinating cast of characters and compelling storytelling.

Alex Hedley, Publishing Director, HarperCollins Publishers New Zealand
My pick this year: Our Land in Colour by Brendan Graham. Watching the 200 photographs in this book come alive one by one was so much fun. Most admired from other publishers: Smithy: Endless Winters & The Spring of ’22. The professor, the architect, Wayne Smith is the man. Very envious. Upstart does it again.

Michelle Hurley, Publisher, Allen & Unwin
Publishing Whakawhetai by Hira Nathan has been nothing but a joy. Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho’s illustrations are a thing of beauty. And it’s also been gratifying to see our debut Fiction Prize winner, Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts by Josie Shapiro do so well – still in the top ten fiction bestseller list seven months after its publication.

I’d have loved to have published Sam Neill’s memoir, Did I Ever Tell This? (Text Publishing), he seems like a lovely human being.


Kate Stephenson, Senior Publisher, Moa Press
This year we launched Moa Press, publishing our first five books, all fiction so far, and nearly all debuts. The Bone Tree by Airana Ngarewa has had a particularly brilliant run at No.1 in the NZ fiction chart for 10 weeks and our latest release The Girl from London by Olivia Spooner is currently sitting in the top spot for the second week running. We have some non-fiction coming in 2024 as well, but it’s been exciting to focus on fiction this year. It’s no secret that it’s tremendously difficult to compete against the international brands that dominate NZ’s fiction market, so I think Allen & Unwin’s commercial fiction prize is a great initiative, and I really enjoyed the brilliant Everything Is Beautiful and Everything Hurts, by Josie Shapiro.