Barbara’s Picks: September 2012, Pt. 3: Haghenbeck, Kristoff, Soli, Welsh, Rushdie, Stahr

Haghenbeck, F.G. The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo. Atria: S. & S. Sept. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781451632835. pap. $15; eISBN 9781451632842. LITERARY
Not long ago, a series of notebooks and sketchbooks were unearthed at Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s home in Coyoacán, Mexico, and although they were never confirmed as Kahlo’s property, award-winning Mexican author Haghenbeck imagines that, after the ever-ailing Kahlo nearly died, she was given one of them by her lover, Tina Modotti. Kahlo then poured her memories, ideas, and even recipes for The Day of the Dead feasts into its pages, so that we the readers of her book are swirled through her relationships (not only with faithless husband Diego Rivera but with Georgia O’Keeffe, for instance) and the development of her artistic gift. Meanwhile, folks from Trotsky to Hemingway, Dalí, and Henry Miller drop by. I’m betting on this because Kahlo is relentlessly fascinating, Haghenbeck comes well recommended, and the in-house support is strong.

Kristoff, Jay. Stormdancer. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9781250001405. $24.99; eISBN 9781250017918. FANTASY
Japanese steampunk? You bet. Since griffins no longer exist, Yukiko and her father are understandably distraught when the cruel and powerful Shogun of the Shima Isles demands that they procure one for him. Still, they obligingly hunt for one, and Yukiko eventually finds herself lost in the wilderness, alone except for a wounded griffin named Buruu. Together, despite betrayal and bloodshed, they challenge the forces on high. This first in the Lotus Wars series has five-star early reviews, and nearly 1000 folks have lined up on Goodreads to crack the covers. Get it.

Soli, Tatjana. The Forgetting Tree. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9781250001047. $25.99; eISBN 9781250019349. LITERARY
On her first time out, Soli made a firm impression with The Lotus Eaters, a New York Times best seller and James Tait Black Prize winner, so it’s good to welcome her back. Here, Claire throws over her high-class education to marry Forster, son of California citrus ranchers, though she knows it means grinding work and worry. Notwithstanding profound sorrows‚ among them the kidnapping and murder of her son‚ Claire loves the ranch, but now am implacable illness threatens to divide her from the land forever. Just as threatening: her mysterious and not always benevolent new caretaker, Mina. With a reading group guide and substantive promotion.

Welsh, Irvine. Skagboys. Norton. Sept. 2012. 560p. ISBN 9780393088731. $26.95. LITERARY
If you love Welsh’s enduringly edgy Trainspotting, you’ll be excited to hear that this book is billed as a prequel‚ and as an alternate. All the lads are here: Mark Renton, whose life soars up (he’s first in his family to go to university), then down (his aspirations are thwarted by Thatcher-era policies); Spud Murphy, facing unending joblessness; Tommy Lawrence, bravely resisting a life of crime; and of course Sick Boy. Here’s how they hoped, and here’s how they fell prey to heroin and despair. Not pretty, thank goodness.

Rushdie, Salman. Joseph Anton: A Memoir. Random. Sept. 2012. 656p. ISBN 9780812992786. $30; eISBN 9780679643883. CD: Random Audio. MEMOIR
Placed under a fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, distinguished author Rushdie was forced underground to save his life. He needed an alias for use by the armed police assigned to protect him and so chose Joseph Anton, which blended the first names of two writers he loved, Conrad and Chekhov. Here he recounts over nine years of moving from safe house to safe house, mastering despair, fighting back, bonding with his protectors, and enlisting the support of governments, journalists, and fellow writers worldwide. His memoir matters not simply because of startling personal detail but because his experience presaged a global battle over freedom of speech that continues today; With a six-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; the extensive publicity includes an NPR campaign.

Stahr, Walter. Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man. S. & S. Sept. 2012. 608p. ISBN 9781439121160. $32.50; eISBN 9781439127940. BIOGRAPHY
Progressive New York governor and U.S. senator, staunch abolitionist (there is a higher law than the Constitution he said of its legalizing slavery), secretary of state under Lincoln and his closest friend and adviser (he persuaded France and England not to recognize the Confederacy, which was important to the Union’s victory), target of Lincoln’s assassin, and facilitator of America’s acquisition of both Alaska and Hawaii, William Henry Seward was a significant figure in U.S. history. He was also, apparently, a grand fellow who enjoyed a good story and a cigar. Not a lot out there on Seward for the lay reader; here’s hoping the author of John Jay: Founding Father will do him justice.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.