What books to read this summer: we’ve got literary buffs sorted

Our crew of talented wordsmiths might be Australasia’s top copywriters, content strategists and digital marketing nerds, but many of them have successful careers as acclaimed published authors too. We’re really proud of them!  

We asked the incomparable Alie Benge, Lil Cameron and Bethany Rogers to handpick their ultimate page-turners.

Alie’s recommendation: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

While the rest of the team is on summer break, I’ll be in the depths of winter (as I’m based in the UK). Which means beach reads are out and heavy tomes are in.

My ongoing project is to read everything Hilary Mantel has written, so I’ll use the break to finally give Man Booker prize-winner, 'Wolf Hall', a proper go.

This year I’ve ticked off her lesser known books, 'Beyond Black' and 'A Change of Climate' and am appalled by how good she is. The first page of A Change of Climate was so skilfully written I had to send a photo of it to my friends.

I’ve attempted Wolf Hall before but it’s such an enormous book (the first of a trilogy) that I couldn’t take it anywhere. It actually broke the straps of my bag. So I’m saving it for wintry nights inside with a hot chocolate.

Lil’s recommendations: The long-anticipated follow up to ‘I am Pilgrim’, and what to read from local authors.

You know you’re reading a good book when you don’t want to leave the house to meet your social engagements, or find yourself squinting through one eye as you try to stay awake at night because you just. don’t. want. to put it down. That was the epic thriller I am Pilgrim for me, and now after an 11-year wait, Terry Hayes is back with his next book 'Year of the Locust'. I can confirm it is just as good.

Both books are epic journeys of one man trying to track down a terrorist based on the tiniest of clues through places like Afghanistan and Iraq. But what sets them apart is just how smart and well-researched these thrillers are. You’ll be gripped from the beginning.

To change gears slightly, I want to talk about the quality of writing by Kiwi authors. We have a bit of a cultural cringe about reading work by Kiwis, but since getting immersed in NZ’s literary circles I’ve read SO many books from Aotearoa, and I can tell you that we are world-class.  

So, I want to set a challenge for everyone to read a book from New Zealand this summer – whether you want a climate-change thriller like 'She’s A Killer' by Kirsten McDougall, a beautiful exploration into disability by rising star Henrietta Bollinger in 'Articulations' or to dive into the wealth of amazing poets we have – like Tusiata Avia ('Big Fat Brown Bitch'), Freya Daly Sadgrove ('Head Girl', and the performance series 'Show Ponies') or Rebecca Hawkes ('Meat Lovers'). Let’s not forget the bestselling 'Greta & Valdin 'by Rebecca K Reilly. There’s a special thrill about reading a book set in a place you recognise – in this case, central city Tāmaki Makaurau.

Bethany’s recommendations: books that are light, but heavy-hitting

When summer hits, I spend a lot more time outdoors – fastpacking and hiking in Fiordland and Mount Aspiring National Parks. This means my summer reads need to be ‘backpackable’ (I love taking notes while reading, so e-readers don’t cut it). Short fiction and poetry are BIG on my summer TBR pile.

I’ve just finished Michelle Elvy’s 'The Everrumble', a series of poetic flash fiction pieces that tell the story of Zettie, who, at a young age, decides never to speak again so she can focus on listening to the world. And I’m just finishing off 'Grief is the Thing With Feathers' by Max Porter, about a crow who moves in with a literature-obsessed dad and his two sons shortly after the death of his wife.  

On my list to read next are a couple of poetry books. I’ve been meaning to read 'Super Model Minority' by current poet laureate Chris Tse for a while, and I’m excited to get stuck into Sophia Wilson’s 'Sea Skins' (it’s a gorgeous-looking little volume).

Finally, Claire Keegan’s Booker Prize Shortlisted 'Small Things Like These' has been making a splash for its exquisite succinctness, so when I spotted a copy in Dunedin’s University Bookshop recently, I had to bring it home.

Plus - more must-reads penned by our talented BOW authors themselves

Ithaca By Alie Benge

From returning to Ethiopia to find it wasn’t as her memory had left it, to the Australian Army and Bible school, and culminating in an 800-kilometre trek through the Camino, Alie Benge writes of searching and longing for a sense of place – whatever that may be.  'If home is love, can you have a home and yet be lonely? If you’re lonely, are you in some way away from home?'

These nineteen stories are a pilgrimage: a journey of escaping the cycle of displacement, the constant burden of choice, navigating relationships and love, and coming to terms with separation. Benge unravels the elusive idea of belonging in a deeply nomadic account of what it means to find your way home.

Publisher: Te Herenga Waka University Press


'Alie Benge’s essays are jumper cables. In each essay another circuit closes, bringing a jolt of understanding – and heart-stopping, heart-starting wonder.' —Elizabeth Knox, author of The Absolute Book

Buy the book here

Not That I’d Kiss a Girl By Lil O’Brien

By Lil O’Brien

(Lil’s publishing name)

 A heartbreaking and hilarious true story of coming out as gay in New Zealand. Lil O'Brien accidentally outed herself to her parents at the age of nineteen when they overheard her talking to a friend about liking girls. Half an hour later she found herself on the side of the road, with instructions to come back and pick up her suitcase the next day. What follows is a heartbreaking yet hugely funny story of a young Kiwi girl - the deputy head girl from a posh private school - coming to grips with her sexuality in the face of stark disapproval from her parents.

Bit by bit, Lil finds the inner strength to pull herself into an entirely new world. Along the way she's called out for looking too straight in a gay bar, tries to break into the lesbian in-crowd and figures out how to send her internet lover back to America. Lil's story is an insightful and honest look at how you figure out whether you're gay, bi or whatever - and deal with what comes next. It's an essential read for anyone who's had to fight for who they are and what they believe in.

Publisher: Allen & Unwin NZ


'Not That I'd Kiss a Girl triumphantly joins the select few New Zealand examples of the autobiographical coming-out genre. Compulsively readable and very much aware of the world, O'Brien's memoir is suspenseful and engaging.' – David Herkt, New Zealand Herald'

Buy the book here and the e-book here 

Kaleidoscopes in the Dark

By By Bethany Rogers (B.G Rogers)

She says the cat is heliotropic because he can find light even in darkness."

A young woman plots her way onto the latest reality TV programme, where murderers are publicly executed using similar methods to those committed in their crimes.

A child carefully crawls through a world of plastic waste in search of water for her whānau but knows she won’t make it if the blood-drinking seagulls catch a glimpse of her.

Mice conspire with a seamstress to bring her dead fiancé back to life using an old English tradition.

Short. Readable. Nasty. Woven with remnants of ancient fairytales, the short stories in Kaleidoscopes in the Dark paint the darker elements of the psyche in technicolour.


'The book is full of black humour, macabre events and radical reimagining’s of traditional folktales. Her work has been compared to the writing of Angela Carter, the adult work of Roald Dahl (especially his Tales of the unexpected series) and even the darker elements of Dickens.

Buy the e-book here

And for a wrap-up we asked our writers on Slack their must-reads.

Sue - I would normally not read a war book, but here are two fantastic reads - 'The Tattooist of Auschwitz' by Heather Morris (a Kiwi!) and 'Birdsong' by Sebastian Faulks.

Ben - 'Let My People Go Surfing' by Yvon Chouinard. It's an absolute winner about the Patagonia story.

Gazza - 'Astrophysics for people in a hurry'. Neil Degrassi Tyson. Not kidding.

Alex - Lessons in Chemistry. The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

Sarah - Lessons in Chemistry was so good! Also 'Human Kind: A hopeful history',  'Where the Crawdad's Sing'.

Lyn - Murder, mystery and mayhem weave through 'The Thursday Murder Club' while it explores the many facets of aging and love. Read the four books in order because the story builds throughout the series and be warned—they're almost impossible to put down.

Kirsten - ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ was good. And ‘Julia’ — the retelling of 1984 from the female lead POV

Helen - If people enjoy historical fiction the Shardlake books by CJ Sansom are great.  There are seven, the first is Dissolution. They are murder mysteries set in the political upheaval of Tudor England (the 1500s) with an unlikely hero a hunchback lawyer. The books include real historical figures such as Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, and others, as well as fictional characters. The imagery is masterful and the storylines compelling.  And you brush up on history! Of course being English I may be more interested than some, but they are extremely well written and I think anyone would enjoy them.

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