The wonderful land of Oz: New science fiction and fantasy


Welcome to this our February selection of recently acquired science fiction and fantasy titles. This month, to celebrate the release of Wicked author Gregory Maguire’s latest sortie into the world of Oz, we present to you a short piece on this magical land in literature and beyond.

The first book to journey to the marvellous land of Oz was L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, released in 1901. The book was an instant runaway success from the start, quickly selling out its first edition of 10,000 copies and undergoing numerous reprints, often under the title The Wizard of Oz. This success quickly spawned a hugely successful early musical stage show in 1902 and a further thirteen additional Oz books by L. Frank Baum followed.

The land of Oz has of course a long and magical legacy in film as well as literature, from the classic 1939 live-action film to The Wiz — a 1970s musical financed by Motown records and by Universal Pictures and starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Richard Pryor as the Wizard, set in African American culture.

All of which brings us to the modern cultural phenomenon of the Wicked book series and the unstoppable globetrotting multi-award winning musical that is also soon to be released as two major Hollywood movies. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire is the first in the hugely popular series of books that reimagine the Oz story. The other books in the series are: Son of a Witch,  A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz. There is also a Wicked sequel trilogy consisting of The Brides of Maracoor , The Oracle of Maracoor and the newly released The Witch of Maracoor. As well, there’s also a Wicked childhood prequel called Elphie: A Wicked Childhood, due out in October 2024.

Baum himself cited writer Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm as influences on the book.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been described by the Library of Congress as “America’s greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale”.

Incidentally the stories have become such an important part of American culture that the Ruby slippers from the 1939 movie are now housed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History.

Below is a link to The Witch of Maracoor and our other selected titles for this month.

The witch of Maracoor : a novel / Maguire, Gregory
“Following a confrontation with her reclusive great-grandfather, the one-time Wizard of Oz, Rainary Ko — the granddaughter of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West — has re-upped in a mission to settle a few scores and right a wrong or two. Her memory and her passions reviving, Rain turns her gaze back to her native Oz. Though the Grimmerie, which she had cast into the sea, retains its arcane power over her, the lover she left behind in Oz proves no less haunting. Traveling companions and arrivistes can befuddle a young witch coming into her own, but Rain marshals a steely determination to stare her troubles in the eye and see who blinks first.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Witchwood Knot / Atwater, Olivia
“The faeries of Witchwood Manor have stolen its young lord. His governess intends to steal him back. Victorian governess Winifred Hall knows a con when she sees one. When her bratty young charge transforms overnight into a perfectly behaved block of wood, she soon realises that the real boy has been abducted by the Fair Folk. Unfortunately, the lord of Witchwood Manor is the only man in England who doesn’t believe in faeries-which leaves Winnie in the unenviable position of rescuing the young lord-to-be all by herself. Witchwood Manor is bigger than its inhabitants realise, however, and full of otherworldly dangers…” (Catalogue) Also available as an eBook – The Witchwood Knot

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Secret lives and untold histories: New popular non-fiction

Wondering what’s new this month in our non-fiction collection? Prolific novelist Phillipa Gregory tries her hand at non-fiction in Normal Women, a huge undertaking that puts so-called “ordinary” women at the front and centre of this British history, rather than the usual array of queens and affluent ladies. Mountains of Fire looks to be an adventurous and entertaining piece from the pen of a volcanologist (can we talk about that cover?), while Everything I Know About Books is a treat for any book lover, giving readers a glimpse into Aotearoa’s flourishing publishing industry with a huge number of contributors from around these literary motu. That’s not all, of course — browse our other picks below!

Mountains of fire : the secret lives of volcanoes / Oppenheimer, Clive
“We are made of the same stuff as the breath and cinders of volcanoes. No matter where we live on the planet, these fiery mountains have long shaped the path of humanity. World-famous volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer has worked at the crater’s edge in the wildest places on Earth. In Mountains of Fire we join him on hair-singeing adventures, close enough to feel the heat of the lava, from Antarctica to Iceland, to learn how deeply our stories are intertwined with volcanoes.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

What we remember will be saved : a story of refugees and the things they carry / Saldana, Stephanie
“Journalist and scholar Stephanie Saldaña, who lived in Syria before the war, sets out on a journey across nine countries to meet refugees and learn what they salvaged from the ruins when they escaped. Now, in the narratives of six extraordinary women and men, from Mt. Sinjar to Aleppo to Lesvos to Amsterdam, we discover that the little things matter a great deal. Saldaña introduces us to a woman who saved her city in a dress, a musician who saved his stories in songs, and a couple who rebuilt their destroyed pharmacy even as the city around them fell apart. Together they provide a window into a religiously diverse corner of the Middle East on the edge of unraveling, and the people keeping it alive with their stories.” (Catalogue)

Normal women : 900 years of making history / Gregory, Philippa
Normal Women is a radical reframing of Britain’s story, told not with the rise and fall of kings and the occasional queen, but through social and cultural transition, showing the agency, persistence, and effectiveness of women in society – from 1066 to modern times. This is a book about millions of women, not just three or four. The ‘normal women’ you meet in these pages rode in jousts, flew Spitfires, issued their own currency and built ships, corn mills and houses as part of their daily lives. They went to war, tilled the fields, campaigned, wrote and loved. They committed crimes, or treason, worshipped many types of gods, cooked and nursed, invented things and rioted. A lot. A landmark work of scholarship and storytelling, Philippa Gregory puts women back where they belong in our history – centre stage.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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The Lost Sunflower: our latest fiction titles

Van Gogh Animation GIF

Image via Giphy

Welcome to another selection of new fiction titles. As is now customary, we like to pick one aspect of one of the books on offer and explore it a bit further. The title that caught our eye this month was The Lost Van Gogh by Jonathan Santlofer – a novel which revolves around the discovery of a long-lost Vincent Van Gogh self portrait and the mysteries surrounding it.

The premise to this book is entirely fictional but in reality, there is a lost Van Gogh masterpiece. As well as his self-portraits Van  Gogh was, of course, famous for his luminous paintings of sunflowers . He painted eight in total; six are in major public collections, one in private hands and one is lost.

In 1920 a Japanese collector bought a Vincent Van Gogh painting called Six Sunflowers, painted in 1888, and they took it to Japan shortly after its purchase. It was quite unlike any of the other sunflower paintings – being influenced by Van Gogh’s interest in Japanese woodblock art, and it was framed in a bright orange frame, revolutionary for the time, that complimented the colours used in the work.  Tragically, this masterwork was destroyed in the Osaka fire bombings at the end of World War II in 1945. We are, however, fortunate that some photographs of the painting were taken before it was lost and you can see one of those photographs here.

Van Gogh loved the perceived coarse and unrefined nature of sunflowers’ structure. As well as their colours and relationship with the sun, he also intended them to symbolise gratitude. Indeed, he decorated Paul Gauguin’s room with sunflower paintings when he stayed with him at the yellow house in Place Lamartine in Arles southern France.

We also have copies of  the already heavily  acclaimed Lioness by Emily Perkins just in and a host of other goodies.

The lost Van Gogh : a novel / Santlofer, Jonathan
“For years, there have been whispers that, before his death, Van Gogh completed a final self-portrait. Curators and art historians have savored this rumor, hoping it could illuminate some of the troubled artist’s many secrets, but even they have to concede that the missing painting is likely lost forever. But when Luke Perrone, artist and great-grandson of the man who stole the Mona Lisa, and Alexis Verde, daughter of a notorious art thief, discover what may be the missing portrait, they are drawn into a most epic art puzzles. When only days later the painting disappears again…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Healthy Made Simple: New Health Books in the Collection

It’s very easy for the doldrums to set in when February hits, so what better time to think about learning how to be more healthy.  Healthy eating, exercise, taking care of your mental health, looking after babies and children and living with chronic illness are all included in this month’s new health titles in the collection.  Take a look at these we’ve selected for you:

Healthy made simple : delicious, plant-based recipes, ready in 30 minutes or less / Mills, Ella
“What can you do today that makes life simpler tomorrow? How can you create a healthy, genuinely delicious meal in minutes? There’s no denying the challenge or the pressure to continuously look after your wellbeing, carve out time to exercise, manage your stress, cook healthy meals, get enough sleep and make time for your friends, all while juggling life’s other many demands! Ella wants to make eating well every day a joy, and in Healthy Made Simple she gives you the tools you need to unlock a healthier life.” (Provided by publisher)

How to wild swim : what to know before taking the plunge / Foote, Ella
” Whether you want to explore remote beaches and mountain lochs, improve your confidence in open water, refine your swimming technique, or have a race or long-distance swim challenge coming up, How to Wild Swim offers the perfect practical foundation to help you find your perfect adventure and achieve your goal. This body conditioning sport is praised for not only making us stronger and healthier but also happier too. So no matter what your goal–short wild swims and weekend breaks, to full adventure swimming expeditions and off-grid vacations–dive right in and submerge yourself in this wild, watery, fearless book.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Change your brain every day : simple daily practices to strengthen your mind, memory, moods, focus, energy, habits, and relationships / Amen, Daniel G
“In Change Your Brain Every Day psychiatrist and clinical neuroscientist Daniel Amen, MD, draws on over 40 years’ clinical practice with tens of thousands of patients to give you the most effective daily habits he has seen that can help you improve your brain, master your mind, boost your memory, and make you feel happier, healthier, and more connected to those you love.” (Catalogue)

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Fables, Haruki Murakami and office jobs in space: New graphic novels

Fables, Haruki Murakami and office jobs in space. This month’s new graphic novels have a wide range of stories for you to enjoy. From the darker things in life to funny light-hearted stories, the variety in graphic novels is endless. Check out some of our new graphic novels and see where they take you!

The mysteries / Watterson, Bill
“In a fable for grown-ups, a long-ago kingdom is afflicted with unexplainable calamities. Hoping to end the torment, the king dispatches his knights to discover the source of the mysterious events. Years later, a single battered knight returns. From Watterson and Kascht comes a mysterious and beautifully illustrated fable about what lies beyond human understanding.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Haruki Murakami manga stories / Deveney, Jean-Christophe | eBook available for Haruki Murakami manga stories
“Haruki Murakami’s novels, essays and short stories have sold millions of copies worldwide and been translated into dozens of languages. Now for the first time, many of Murakami’s best-loved short stories are available in graphic novel form in English. With their trademark mix of realism and fantasy, centering around Murakami’s characteristic themes of loss, remorse and confusion.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Space job / Goodman, David A.
“Each day is an exciting new adventure in incompetence aboard the Bush. The Captain with self-centered priorities spends more time on space eBay than in command, the Chief Engineer can’t even fix a chair, the Operations Officer would rather be anywhere else, and the Communications Officer only seems to take personal calls. It’s a wonder they get anything done at all, but surely they can handle a simple cargo run. What could go wrong?” (Catalogue)

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Staff Picks: The Best DVDs of 2023

It’s time once again to present the best films and TV shows of 2023 in our collection, as chosen by our librarians. There were a lot of common favourites among the staff this year, including a few that haven’t made it into the collection yet. I’ve included all their recommendations here; hopefully you’ll find a new favourite film among them.

Shinji’s Picks

The Blue CaftanThe blue caftan
Delicate and tender, this touching LGBT drama centres on a middle-aged married couple who run a traditional caftan shop in Sele, Morocco. Hiring a young handsome apprentice to keep up the demand tests their long, caring relationship and they must face their secrets and reality. The actor-turned-director Maryam Touzani weaves this unconventional love story with great care and compassion. A lot of feelings are going on between the three characters, but Touzani’s nuanced direction, with exquisite tempo, effectively uses their gestures, silence and, most importantly, ‘gaze’ to bring out their deep emotions. It’s a meticulously crafted, detailed work including the lighting and the colour. This is only Touzani’s second feature and will surely put her on the map of world cinema. A little gem.

Catalonian filmmaker Carla Simon’s fresh breeze-like debut Summer 1993 was hailed by both critics and audiences alike, and another sunny pastoral tale about a peach farm family Alcarras, is even more wonderful, but bitter. The Sole (Catalonian for “sun”) family has been farming for generations, but they are now facing eviction just because there is no signed document. The worry looms over this extended family, affecting everyone in a different way, while they try to carry on their life as normal. Simon portrays them with great attention to small moments of everyday life, and her masterful character study allows every member of the family to shine. These non-professional actors, especially children (all from the region), are so natural and alive. Their future looks bleak, but by giving us a glimpse of alluring Catalonian rural life Simon makes what could have been a social realism story wonderfully charming and lovable. This marvellous ensemble drama won the Golden Bear (best film) at Berlin International Film Festival in 2022. Deservedly so.

Icelandic filmmaker Hlynur Palmason gained critical acclaim for A White, White Day and his latest effort Godland, inspired by late-19th century photos of Icelandic countryfolks, is a larger scale, more ambitious work. This historical saga follows a young Danish priest who was sent to Iceland to build a church. As he travels to reach his destination he gets to know and photograph its people, but the stunningly beautiful yet brutal wildness and the tension with a rough-edged Icelandic guide turns it into an ordeal. This harshness and intensity echo some vigorous dramas such as There will be blood or The Power of the Dog and it is indeed a powerful film like them. With some impressive long-take shots, it’s also one of the most visionary films in years, capturing the amazing Icelandic landscape. Showing his unique aesthetic, Palmason takes us an incredible cinematic journey. Brilliant.

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