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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Interview: Andrea Hotere on her book The Vanishing Point

The Vanishing Point by Andrea Hotere is a brilliant, multi-layered historical art mystery thriller set in London in 1991 and Madrid in 1656. The novel boasts two main  protagonists, Alex Johns and the Infanta Margarita, with each character connected by mysteries surrounding one of the most famous paintings of all time, Las Meninas or ‘The Ladies-in-Waiting’ by Diego Velázquez.

Las Meninas is one of the most written about paintings of all time. It hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid and is one of the most enigmatic, mysterious and most talked about works of art of all time. It is superbly painted with almost photographic detail, featuring numerous objects and a large cast of figures in its composition — a true masterpiece. Many of these elements and details raise questions in themselves, however it is the questions it raises about reality, illusion, and the relationship between the figures in the composition and outside viewers that has fascinated admirers and writers on art for centuries.

In The Vanishing Point, Andrea Hotere takes some of the fascinating factual details and mysteries surrounding the painting and runs with them, creating a brilliant literary puzzle.

Andrea Hotere grew up in Ōtepoti, Dunedin, and lives in Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, with her family. She studied history at the University of Otago, journalism at the University of Canterbury and has worked as a historical researcher, journalist, TV producer and author.

We were thrilled when Andrea took time out from her very busy schedule to discuss The Vanishing Point, and we wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to her. For more information visit Ultimo Press.

This interview was done in conjunction with Caffeine and Aspirin, the arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM. You can hear the interview, as well borrow The Vanishing Point by following the links below.

The vanishing point / Hotere, Andrea
“Set against the backdrop of London in 1991 and Madrid in 1656 the novel follows the lives of two women, Alex Johns and the Infanta Margarita, who are connected by a quest to unravel the enigmatic secrets within an iconic painting.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

Best of 2023: Our top non-fiction picks!

Our list of the top 100 non-fiction books for 2023 is here! It includes the best in memoirs and biographies, poetry, local history, science, social history, art and more. We’ve highlighted an exciting mix of new books made up of hidden gems, popular bestsellers, literary prize winners and acclaimed local talents. There’s plenty to choose from for every kind of reader.

2023 Non-fiction Highlights — Browse the full list
Browse the full list with all our picks, or browse just the topic you enjoy!

We were thrilled to watch the ongoing success of many homegrown authors who have generously graced our physical and online spaces this year, including Redmer Yska for Katherine Mansfield’s Europe: Station to Station, Arihia Latham (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha) for her sublime debut poetry collection Birdspeak, and the rousing collection of diverse voices found in the anthology A Kind of Shelter Whakaruru-taha. Here are some more Aotearoa specific highlights that you’ll find within our 2023 best of non-fiction list!

For celebrity biographies there’s no prizes given for which ex-Royal’s book topped most bestseller lists this year, but not far behind a Kiwi talent shone through with Sam Neill’s Did I Ever Tell You This?. We’d recommend listening to the eAudiobook version voiced by the actor for the full experience.

In the world of art there’s plenty of talent to admire in the visually stunning and comprehensive volumes Pacific Arts Aotearoa, and Urgent Moments: art and social change. Then, take an integral look into how Māori artists have adapted age-old techniques in their contemporary practices, forming clay workers collective Ngā kaihanga uku

In Science and Environment, American author John Valiant’s Fire Weather is a must-read and recently won the prestigious Baillie Guifford Prize for Non-Fiction. But for local stories on lifetimes spent in the outdoors and helping conservation efforts, look to Dave Towns’ Ahuahu: a conservation journey in Aotearoa New Zealand and Kennedy Warne’s Soundings: diving stories in the beckoning sea. There’s also The Forgotten Forest by Robert Vennell for those wanting to take an illustrated walk through the bush via the page.

Looking under the health umbrella, local author Kristen Phillips wrote a touching memoir, Dad, You’ve Got Dementia, and Dr Emma Espiner’s (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Porou) There’s A Cure For This highlighted significant problems within our medical system and important improvements that can be made for Māori.

Rugby League in New Zealand by Ryan Bodman sums up a national pride, complete with full page photographs of unforgettable games by legendary players. And don’t miss Our Land in Colour: a history of Aotearoa New Zealand 1860-1960 to see a century’s worth of historic photographs seen for the first time in full colour. Find all these local titles, plus their internationally acclaimed counterparts in our best of 2023 selection. Happy reading!

Tīhema Baker in Conversation

One of the most acclaimed and talked about novels of this year is Turncoat by Tīhema Baker. Turncoat is a book that takes a close look at some of the effects of colonisation, using the lens of satire and science fiction. The book deals with some really big issues but does so in a thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining and funny way .

Turncoat explores what it feels like to be colonised in a distant future, when aliens called the Noor have colonised Earth and the entire human race is struggling to have their voices heard and rights upheld. Much of human culture and society has been replaced by Noor culture, society and language.

The novel’s central protagonist, Daniel, is a young man working inside the bureaucracy of the alien colonisers who wants to ensure the Covenant of Wellington, the document signed in the “birthplace of modern Earth”, is honoured, but he finds the task challenging.

Tīhema uses his own experience as a Māori public servant to inform much of the storyline.

Turncoat holds a satirical mirror up to Pākehā New Zealanders and asks the question : “What if it happened to you?”

The novel is a wonderful concoction of moving, funny, tragic and disturbing and very prescient in a political and social fashion.

Tīhema Baker (Raukawa te Au ki te Tonga, Ātiawa ki Whakarongotai, and Ngāti Toa Rangatira) is a writer and Tiriti o Waitangi-based policy advisor from Ōtaki. He has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington, for which he wrote this novel.

We were thrilled when Tīhema took time out from his very busy schedule to discuss Turncoat and we wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to him. For more information visit  Lawrence & Gibson.

This interview was done in conjunction with Caffeine and Aspirin, the arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM. You can hear the interview and borrow Turncoat by following the links below.

Turncoat / Baker, Tīhema
“Daniel is a young, idealistic Human determined to make a difference for his people. He lives in a distant future in which Earth has been colonised by aliens. His mission: infiltrate the Alien government called the Hierarch and push for it to honour the infamous Covenant of Wellington, the founding agreement between the Hierarch and Humans. With compassion and insight, Turncoat explores the trauma of Māori public servants and the deeply conflicted role they are expected to fill within the machinery of government. From casual racism to co-governance, Treaty settlements to tino rangatiratanga, Turncoat is a timely critique of the Aotearoa zeitgeist, holding a mirror up to Pakeha New Zealanders and asking: “What if it happened to you?” ( Adapted from Catalogue) We also have a Book Club kete of this title if your book club fancies reading this.


Katherine Mansfield centenary: Author talk with Redmer Yska

**Update:** Unfortunately our organised NZSL interpreter is no longer able to be at this event.

We apologise to anyone in our Deaf community who had been planning to attend — we will be recording and uploading this event to our YouTube channel, and providing subtitles for anyone who wishes to watch at a later date.

Join us for a special event on iconic writer Katherine Mansfield at Karori Library on Thursday November 30th, 6-7pm. (Facebook event)

Redmer Yska, author of ‘Katherine Mansfield’s Europe: Station to Station’ will be joined by our Local & NZ History Specialist Gábor Tóth to deep dive into Mansfield’s words, travels and her local Karori connection. Hear how Yska traced and pulled together letters, journals and research to compile this fascinating insight into Mansfield that acts as part travelogue, part literary biography, part detective story and part ghost story.

Redmer Yska is an award-winning writer and historian based in Wellington. ‘Katherine Mansfield’s Europe: Station to Station’ is Yska’s second book on the iconic writer, his first book on Mansfield ‘A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington’ was shortlisted for the 2018 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Gábor Tóth is the Local & New Zealand History Specialist at Wellington City Libraries. He conducts research for both library customers and council staff as well as developing history resources such as the library’s heritage platform, Wellington City Recollect.

We anticipate this event will be very popular and will be seated on a first-come first-served basis, please arrive early to avoid any disappointment.

Signs of life: New fiction

This month’s selection of newly acquired novels provides a rich and diverse collection of wonderful fictional works. It’s an exciting list of books, covering an incredibly wide field of works with subjects, styles, genres, authors and books hailing from across the globe.

First up, we have four fabulous new novels from our own fair shores: Signs of life by Amy Head, a delicious collection of twelve linked stories; The bone tree by Airana Ngarewa, a powerful coming of age story set in Aotearoa; The Waters by Carl Nixon, an epic work covering the fortunes of one Aotearoa family over forty years; and Resonance surge by Nalini Singh, a paranormal romance from our very own New York Times bestselling author. 

Other highlight’s this month include Kate Mosse’s latest compelling new novel in which huguenots, pirates and ghost ships play a major part that novel is called The Ghost ship. We also have a new work from the multi award-winning Scottish author Alan Warner set in the aftermath of the battle of Culloden called Nothing left to fear from hell. Plus works from international writers Abraham Verghese and Eva Baltasar.

Signs of life / Head, Amy
“Christchurch, post quakes, and the earth is still settling. Containers line the damaged streets, whose inhabitants waver – like their city – suspended between disaster and recovery. Tony, very much alive, is declared dead, Gerald misreads one too many situations in his community patrol, and boomer Carla tries online dating. At the epicentre of these taut, magnetic stories is twenty-something Flick who, just as she is finding her feet again, faces another violent disruption – this time in human form – while her mostly-ex gets set to marry.” (Adapted from catalogue)

The bone tree / Ngarewa, Airana
“After the death of both parents, Kauri and Black must find a way to survive in a world that doesn’t care much about them. Kauri embarks on a journey into his father’s past, to come to terms with the trauma he’s experienced in his short life, and to break the cycle of violence he fears perpetuating as he raises his younger brother. The Bone Tree is a gritty coming of age novel, where the unforgettable young protagonist faces immense challenges, and the stakes are life or death – yet it also has a lyrical beauty, and a powerful message of love at its heart. It gives voice to characters who are on the margins of society, raised in poverty, and who have a deep mistrust in the systems that are meant to protect them – and it considers the question of how we can best protect the ones we love.” (Adapted from catalogue)

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