And I’m sure there are others of you out there who are doing the same, so this post’s for you. (You lot who’ve been reserving copies of travel guides to Spain and Croatia and other exotic places can just go polish up your passports or something).
Because I don’t get to go away this summer, I am having to travel vicariously, and in the spirit of the old ad campaign Don’t leave town ’til you’ve seen the country I thought I would have a go at listing some of the great New Zealand books I’ve read recently. I’m talking here about the ones that have that amazing sense of place about them. Ones that really make you feel like you could actually BE in Nelson, or Cape Reinga, or Central Otago. Interestingly, many of them are young adult titles, but don’t (ever) let that put you off.
Rachael King’s books always make me feel like I’m right there with the characters, and her latest, Red Rocks, is one of the best at doing this. Red Rocks actually lives in the children’s area of the library, but the story is a great read for all ages. I grew up in Wellington, and the way Rachael describes the area brings those childhood memories back so vividly I can almost smell the sea and feel those jagged rocks on my bare feet.
Karen Healey has written two books recently that, for me, have a really strong sense of place. Somewhat disconcertingly, her first book Guardian of the Dead is set mainly in Christchurch, but was written before the quakes, so many of the places she describes are not there any more, or are currently inaccessible. This can make for a bit of an emotional read, in ways that I’m sure Karen didn’t intend, but even without this extra layer Guardian of the Dead is and will always be a top pick. Her second book, The Shattering, is set in and around Nelson and the bays, and once again has the power to really make you feel like you can see those beaches and the countryside around you.
Like Karen Healey, David Hair weaves modern European and traditional Maori strands together in an action/fantasy story that makes for a great and gripping read. In book 1 The Bone Tiki, Napier teen Matiu Douglas finds he has power to travel between modern-day New Zealand and the alternate land of historical Aotearoa. Pursued by a powerful tohunga makutu, and aided by spirit warrior Wiri and Pania of the Reef, he must embrace both his cultural backgrounds in order to save himself and his family. In book 2 Mat has travelled to Gisbourne, and faces more danger. Again, I love the way that David Hair can write about places that I know and recognise, and really bring them to life.
And finally, a wee treasure that I’m sure I’ve written about before. How to Stop a Heart From Beating tells the tale of young Solly, who lives in Central Otago. Set in the early 1960’s, and with such a young protagonist, this tale makes me feel not only like I am right there, but am also 9 years old again myself, and living through those long hot summers we used to have back in the olden days.
If you’re looking for a way to travel without leaving home, try one of these top reads, or check out one of our lists on Bibliocommons: we’ve got The Great Kiwi Novel, books with a Christchurch or Canterbury link, and heaps of other EnZed-related booklists.