Marianne Peters

One of the great mysteries of the early years of North America’s settlement by Europeans is the lost Roanoke colony. In 1587, 118 people, including children, settled there but later disappeared without a trace. Just a few cryptic clues remained that hinted at their possible fate. What drove them from their settlement? Illness? Native attack? Internal strife?

Essayist and founding editor of Gray’s Sporting Journal Ed Gray dreams up a few possible answers in his first novel, Left in the Wind: The Roanoke Journal of Emme Merrimoth. Gray chooses Emme, an actual Roanoke colonist, as the narrator for his tale. Through her eyes, we experience the new colonists’ distress as they make the difficult crossing from England, their struggle to establish a new home in the wilderness of North Carolina, the dramas and jealousies between families and the disintegration of a community. 

Is Gray correct in his explanation of Roanoke’s demise? It’s impossible to say, but his idea is as good as any. Part historical novel, part detective story, Left in the Wind is filled with fascinating details of colonial settlement life and Native-American culture. It’s a gripping story that readers will have trouble putting down.

 

This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

One of the great mysteries of the early years of North America’s settlement by Europeans is the lost Roanoke colony. In 1587, 118 people, including children, settled there but later disappeared without a trace. Just a few cryptic clues remained that hinted at their possible fate. What drove them from their settlement? Illness? Native attack? Internal strife?

Those of us approaching midlife want good news about the years to come. Is dementia inevitable? Can I continue to thrive despite an aging body? Will I become lonely and isolated as I grow older?

Barbara Bradley Hagerty has some good news for us in Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife. As she sees it, midlife can be a challenging time as we endure many transitions—empty nest, retirement, the deaths of our parents—but these later years can be a time of discovery and reinvention as well.

Hagerty was a journalist for 20 years, but Life Reimagined is not just a collection of reporting. It’s Hagerty’s personal journey as she confronts the challenges of growing older. Her writing is lively and honest, and she manages to ask serious questions without taking herself too seriously. She interviews scientists about brain structure, psychologists about friendships and 21st-century matchmakers at the headquarters of dating site eHarmony. She studies resilience, investigating ways to cope with the difficulties that midlife brings. She proves her point about reinvention when she enters the Senior Olympics after taking up a new sport—cycling.

One touching aspect of the book is Hagerty’s account of her mother, a magnificent, intelligent woman in slow decline. Her mother provides Hagerty (and readers) with a demonstration of aging gracefully and living life to the fullest for as long as we can. She also demonstrates how to let go when it’s time. 

Life Reimagined gave me hope that midlife, even with its struggles, can be a time of growth and deeper joy in relationships old and new.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Those of us approaching midlife want good news about the years to come. Is dementia inevitable? Can I continue to thrive despite an aging body? Will I become lonely and isolated as I grow older?

Lizzie March is not thin when we first meet her, but she desperately wants to be. A lonely high school girl with an obese, ill mother and an absent father, she avoids looking at her own body. Instead, she secretly envies female friends who are sexually bold or especially beautiful. Craving acceptance, she meets guys on Internet dating sites, and later, after dropping out of Catholic school, she brings home older men who don’t seem bothered by her weight. Eventually, she begins to diet, hoping that it will bring her the love she’s looking for.

In 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, author Mona Awad tells Lizzie’s story through 13 chapters in her life as she transforms from a chubby teen to a sleekly fit adult. Throughout these often raw, poignant stories, Awad adeptly skewers the culture of fitness and dieting, a constant battle of self-denial. Awad, who received an MFA from Brown University, illustrates the way that women unconsciously size each other up by appearance or even what they choose on a restaurant menu. For example, in one story, “The Girl I Hate,” Lizzie goes to lunch with a skinny friend who joyously eats fattening food while Lizzie—dieting—nibbles on a salad. 

Lizzie is a frustrating, funny and sad character. However, her story is a deeply true one. She exemplifies the fact that self-acceptance must come from inside ourselves, always separate from the ever-changing bodies we inhabit. Readers who appreciated last year’s Dietland shouldn’t miss this insightful debut.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

In 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, author Mona Awad tells Lizzie’s story through 13 chapters in her life as she transforms from a chubby teen to a sleekly fit adult. Throughout these often raw, poignant stories, Awad adeptly skewers the culture of fitness and dieting, a constant battle of self-denial.

Frederick Forsyth, former RAF pilot and journalist for Reuters, spoke four languages, enjoyed his share of cigarettes and liquor, toyed with members of the East German Stasi, slept with the mistress of a high-powered Communist official and covered a civil war in Nigeria. All before the age of 30. Forsyth shares his adventures in his entertaining new memoir, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, a fast-paced account of his career from post-World War II Europe through the Cold War and on to the present.

Readers who enjoy his political thrillers will particularly appreciate this book, as Forsyth’s own escapades became the basis for many of his stories. The idea that sparked The Odessa File came from a secret organization of Nazis he had learned about while stationed in East Berlin. The Dogs of War originated from harrowing experiences covering a brutal African conflict that nearly claimed his life. In fact, after fleeing the conflict, he returned to England jobless and destitute. So, desperate for money, he penned a novel he hoped would provide some income, based on his memories covering Charles de Gaulle while serving with Reuters in Paris. That novel was The Day of the Jackal, still his most popular work.

Forsyth’s voice is perhaps the most compelling part of his memoir. He writes in muscular, lean prose, with a hint of ironic humor that is mostly directed at his younger self. He is honest about some failed ventures—including total financial ruin at one point—but he saves his harshest criticism for incompetent diplomats, soulless mercenaries and a former Nazi concentration camp guard he encounters one dark night in a German pub.

If you’re intrigued by 20th-century history and politics, Cold War spy-craft or the life of a foreign correspondent, you’ll relish The Outsider.

Frederick Forsyth, former RAF pilot and journalist for Reuters, spoke four languages, enjoyed his share of cigarettes and liquor, toyed with members of the East German Stasi, slept with the mistress of a high-powered Communist official and covered a civil war in Nigeria. All before the age of 30. Forsyth shares his adventures in his entertaining new memoir, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, a fast-paced account of his career from post-World War II Europe through the Cold War and on to the present.

Children’s earliest memories are of their families. Siblings, especially the closer they are in age, are our first friends, the only people in the world who shared the same womb and share the same memories. But what if your only memories of your siblings are how they disappeared?

Mary Anna King’s new memoir, Bastards, is the story of her fractured family. Growing up in New Jersey, she never realized the depth of her parents’ poverty, even when they gave away five of her younger sisters to make ends meet. It wasn’t until one of those sisters returned well-dressed and well-mannered that King began to see her own family through someone else’s eyes. King, as well as her brother, were taken to Oklahoma to be raised by her maternal grandfather and his second wife—a couple with lots of possessions, but not a lot of warmth. Though she was provided for, King and her brother continude to struggle with the memories of the family they left behind, always wondering about the sisters they lost.

King tells her story in straightforward fashion without judgment or regret, though her tone mixes melancholy with moments of hilarity. When she begins to be reunited with her sisters as a college student, there are no sentimental scenes of hugs and kisses. The siblings get drunk, smoke pot, argue and go on road trips, all while trying to fill the holes left by the girls’ adoptions. King is frank about the damage done by her troubled parents, especially her estranged father, and the consequences of their choices. Ultimately, though, the siblings find connection and acceptance, however imperfect, and begin to make new memories as a whole family again.

Children’s earliest memories are of their families. Siblings, especially the closer they are in age, are our first friends, the only people in the world who shared the same womb and share the same memories. But what if your only memories of your siblings are how they disappeared?

In her new book about stage fright, journalist Sara Solovitch describes her earliest memories of the affliction in physical terms. “Pushing myself out of my chair, I felt my thighs cling to the wood. I . . . tried to smile, but my mouth was dry. And now, I realized, my hands were sopping wet. When I sat on the piano bench, I became aware that my knees were knocking and my feet were shaking.” Like many people who struggle with similar fears, she felt that her mind and body betrayed her every time she took the stage to perform her piano pieces, no matter how arduously she practiced. Even playing for a few friends in her own home was traumatic.

Approaching 60, Solovitch decided to try to overcome her stage fright. She challenged herself to play a public concert for a crowd, giving herself a year to conquer her fear. Playing Scared is a compelling account of her journey, from the first awkward piano recitals, to playing in airport lounges for strangers, to booking the hall for her final test. Along the way, she introduces readers to an array of teachers, coaches and experts who help her understand stage fright from all angles and suggest a variety of techniques to improve her performance. As a result, Solovitch’s book is not just a memoir, but a practical guide for the multitudes who share her public-speaking or performing fears. 

One of the unexpected pleasures of the book is Solovitch’s description of playing the piano. Despite her struggles to play for the public, her dedication to her craft and the joy she experiences as she immerses herself in the music are the closest I have ever come to imagining life as a professional musician.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

In her new book about stage fright, journalist Sara Solovitch describes her earliest memories of the affliction in physical terms. Like many people who struggle with similar fears, she felt that her mind and body betrayed her every time she took the stage to perform her piano pieces, no matter how arduously she practiced. Even playing for a few friends in her own home was traumatic.

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