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Bring Up the Bodies

by Hilary Mantel |

REVIEWED BY JOSH EMMONS

NOVEL

Set in the early decades of the 16th century, Mantel’s acclaimed 2009 novel Wolf Hall gave a brilliant, vivid account of events leading up to Henry VIII’s decision to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies picks up where Hall left off: in 1535, when the new queen’s failure to give Henry a son has begun a danse macabre between her and the king’s adviser Thomas Cromwell. As in the first book, Mantel writes in the present tense and demonstrates an uncanny knack for turning larger-than-life historical figures into people we might actually know: Anne, for example, “retains her dark glitter, now rubbed a little, flaking in places. Her prominent dark eyes she uses to good effect … she glances at a man’s face, then her regard flits away, as if unconcerned.” What’s being called the Wolf Hall Trilogy is a remarkable work in progress, a series that makes the past feel immediate and-this is the best part-unpredictable. Even if you know the history, you’ll find yourself racing through these pages to find out what happens next.

BY THE AUTHOR OF …

When Women Were Birds

by Terry Tempest Williams |

REVIEWED BY ANNE LESLIE

MEMOIR

Before dying of cancer, Williams’s mother (memorialized in 1991’s Refuge) tells her, “I am leaving you my journals.” But it turns out every page is blank. Williams explores the meaning of those pages in short, lyrical chapters, weaving memory, nature and poetry into the search for her own voice. She believes all women, like birds, should sing their inborn songs. “We can no longer deny the destiny that is ours by becoming women who wait … to love … speak … act,” she writes. Perhaps because her mother didn’t, Williams found a way to put her passions on paper. Lucky us.

Menage

by Alix Kates Shulman

REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

NOVEL

In this wry and delicious novel by the author of Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, a couple in a boring marriage offer to share their lavish home with a celebrated but penniless writer who hasn’t produced a book in years. The trio is not a sexual threesome, but each individual lusts for something, and the household dynamic seethes with the raging needs of their egos as they jockey to get what they want from one another. The characters are selfish and self-absorbed, but the sharp and entertaining satire that emerges from their comic triangle expertly skewers modern notions of marriage, celebrity and success.

Are You My Mother?

by Allison Bechdel |

REVIEWED BY ELLEN SHAPIRO

MEMOIR

Her debut graphic memoir, the bestselling Fun Home, explored the pain of growing up with a closeted gay father; now Bechdel turns to her equally challenging mother, an English teacher who deemed her 7-year-old daughter “too old” to be kissed good night. Drawing on dreams, therapy sessions and quotes from Virginia Woolf and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, the book affectingly captures the enigmatic love and rivalry that defines their relationship. Bechdel’s obsessive self-absorption, though at times heavy going, never overshadows the impressive, unflinching honesty of her quest.