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Local News Matters Arts & Entertainment newsletter

End your week with a bit of culture to unwind and refresh. Sign up for our surprising and inspiring options in our weekly newsletter, delivered on Thursdays with news about Bay Area arts and entertainment.

The Bay Area is a hub of artistic expression, attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the globe to live, work and create. We highlight some of the offerings here

Fight the cabin fever and take flight with your imagination this weekend, as we travel to various places and points in history with these recommended books:

• “The Mirror & the Light” (Henry Holt, $30), just coming out now, completes the fascinating Tudor England trilogy author Hilary Mantel launched so brilliantly 11 years ago with “Wolf Hall” and then followed up with “Bring Up the Bodies.” The new work continues (and presumably ends) the saga of Thomas Cromwell, who rose from impoverished obscurity to power and fame as an advisor to King Henry VIII. An added bonus: PBS made an excellent six-episode series of “Wolf Hall” a few years back starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damien Lewis as the king.

Renaissance Italy comes to vivid life in another new work, “The Borgia Confessions” (St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.99) by Alyssa Palombo. This would be required reading for fans of the three season Showtime series “The Borgias,” starring Jeremy Irons, as it delves into the labyrinthine world of Pope Alexander VI and his historically notorious kin, ladling out the lust, power, greed and love in equal doses.

Closer to home, but just as riveting, is San Francisco author Tom Barbash’s most recent novel, “The Dakota Winters” (Ecco, $16.99), which takes us back to New City in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is set in the famous Dakota apartment building where the fictional protagonist develops an interesting friendship with the even more famous John Lennon. Berkeley author Michael Chabon loved this funny and touching novel, calling it “a skillful evocation of a dark passage in the history of New York City.”

It’s hardly new, but “The Magus,” (Dell, available in several formats, $11.99-$33.51) John Fowles’ 1965 novel (substantially revised in 1985) submerges the reader into life on a Greek island — the sea, the salt, the piercing sun, the food, the elongated sense of time — as we follow a disaffected postwar Londoner who abandons his job and girlfriend to take a post teaching English on Phraxos. There he is befriended by an old and odd island inhabitant who lures him into a series of exotic, erotic and occasionally terrifying experiences. While the novel is crammed with literary allusions and head games (those into Greek mythology and Jungian psychology will have a blast with this), it’s also one of the most evocative and escapist books you will encounter. A 1968 film adaptation starring Michael Caine was a disaster. 

Few authors can match Annie Proulx for establishing a sense of place (often rural to the extreme) that exerts a profound influence on her characters. In “The Shipping News” (Scribner, $11.97-$12.99), a man who endured a series of tragedies returns to his family’s ancestral home in Newfoundland, Canada, where he gets a job at a small-town paper and slowly begins to repair his broken life. The weather, the sea and unforgiving landscape is as much a presence in this engrossing, marvelously written novel as any character or plot point. The 1993 book won the Pulitzer Prize and is a key example of why Proulx is considered one of America’s greatest novelists.