Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cottonwood Summer '45 - Review & Guest Post with Gary Slaughter

Cottonwood Summer '45 by Gary Slaughter
Publisher: Fletcher House
Publication Date:  June 1st 2012
ISBN:  9780974420
Genre:  Historical Fiction / mystery / adventure
Book Synopsis:  Cottonwood Summer '45, the latest novel in the Cottonwood series, continues the tradition of delivering an entertaining, richly-detailed reminiscence of home front America during the summer of 1945, as well as details of the closing events of World War II. The last days of the war have a profound effect on America, as witnessed by the citizens of Riverton, Michigan, and Nashville, Tennessee, the settings of this fast-paced story in which Jase and his best friend Danny, the heroes of the Cottonwood novels, are plagued by yet another passel of bad guys.

When the story opens, Danny has disappeared, along with a desperate German POW bent on making his way back to the Fatherland. With Danny as his hostage, he too falls victim to the wit and valor of the villain-vanquishing team from Riverton.

On their train trip to Nashville, our heroes are robbed but quickly identify the crook. Next, by capturing a nasty Nazi POW, they are awarded the Key to the City by Nashville’s mayor. This action opens the doors to the exciting sights and sounds of Nashville in 1945.

You’ll weep as Danny causes the accidental death of a dear friend. And you’ll marvel at how the duo deals with their first experience with racial segregation. And you’ll laugh aloud at the antics of Danny as his clairvoyance and intelligence bewilder pompous politicians and unfortunate criminals alike.

Gary Slaughter’s previous novels – Cottonwood Spring, Cottonwood Winter: A Christmas Story, Cottonwood Fall, and Cottonwood Summer – were named finalist in six prestigious book awards for fiction writing in the categories of adult fiction and young-adult fiction. Based on early reviews, Cottonwood Summer '45 is his best work ever. Readers are in for a special treat!
My Thoughts:  Cottonwood Summer '45 is a really fun twist on a historical fiction story.  It is by far different from others of the genre that I am used to reading.  This is not a bad thing, but a fun new adventure for me.  This is the first book in the series that I have read, and I am really wanting to go and read the others now.  

Something I really enjoyed was the factual information that the author put in occasionally - I think this is the history buff in me!!  But it goes so far beyond that informative side of historical fiction.  Their is a real entertainment factor involved!  The adventure that involves Danny & Jace is so much fun to follow along!! I found myself not wanting to put the book down.  

The pacing was up and down, but I still had a good time reading the book.  I am one to stick to something, and I am so glad that I did.  I must say that I found this a wonderful way - very different for me - to tell about the WWII times.  Honestly, I have not read much from this time, so it was a great first glimpse for me!!

Escaped Prisoners of War


Gary Slaughter
Author of the Cottonwood Series

The Enemy Among Us

If you grew up Owosso, Michigan during World War Il, as I did, you experienced the War differently than other Americans. We were surrounded by the enemy. We saw him every day. He worked in our factories and on our farms. He rumbled by in army trucks, back and forth to his encampment just outside of town. His guards, Military Police with Tommy guns at the ready, absolutely fascinated me.

I didn’t know it then, but Owosso was among hundreds of American communities where POW camps were established. Counting some 5,000 Japanese, 50,000 Italians, and 376,000 Germans, there were well over 426,000 POWs in America during the War.

The Escape

My obsession with POWs began with The Escape.

On a bright June morning in 1944, the people of Owosso awoke to shocking news! Overnight a pair of German POWs had escaped from Camp Owosso. And, making matters worse they had been assisted in their escape by two young Owosso women who worked with the POWs at the canning factory right in my neighborhood.

My imagination went wild!

But thankfully, by the very next morning, our capable sheriff had captured all four fugitives. Well, actually, he found them fast asleep at a nearby campground where the couples had spent the night with several bottles of wine. Evidently, their intentions were not so much sinister as they were, shall we say, romantic, in nature?

The POWs were returned to their camp where they were mildly disciplined. The two young women were admonished by the sheriff and then released. Pictures in that afternoon’s Owosso Argus Press showed the women with broad grins on their faces as they left the sheriff’s office for home.

But agents from the FBI’s Detroit Field Office were not amused. Within hours, the FBI rearrested the women and charged them with treason! This being wartime, if convicted, Kitty Case, age 20, and Shirley Druce, age 19, faced the death penalty.

I was telling this story during a talk at a service club in Nashville recently. Just as I finished saying the words, “the death penalty,” a gentleman sneezed. Very loudly!

Everyone was startled and distracted. So I turned to the man and said, “Sir, the death penalty is nothing to sneeze at.” It brought down the house.

Now back to the story.

News of the escape and trial made headlines all over the country. Even our fighting men overseas read about the escape in Stars and Stripes, the Armed Forces newspaper.

One former Owosso soldier told me that he was pretty busy fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. But the newspaper story made him so mad that he took time out to write a letter to the editor      declaring that Owosso people were patriotic Americans who would “never condone” the behavior of these two women.  

By all accounts, he was right. Owosso citizens were angry and ashamed of the women and their foolhardy acts.

Ironically, while the women languished in their cells awaiting trial, their two POW pals, Eric Claasen and Gottfried Hobel, escaped for yet another overnight caper. But, early the next morning, they were arrested while making their way back to Camp Owosso. The pair, both still “growing boys” at the ripe old age of 20, told the good sheriff they were eager to get home in time for breakfast before setting off for their jobs at the canning factory.   

So how did the two women fare in court?

Early in the proceedings the Federal District Judge in Bay City, Michigan, noting a lack of traitorous intent on the part of the women mercifully ordered them to be tried on a reduced charge of conspiracy.

The jury found them both guilty. And despite pleas for leniency the judge’s sentences were severe, one year and three months for Kitty Case and one year and one day for Shirley Druce.

If there were ever a single point in the history of my hometown that would inspire me to write a novel this was it. The pure dramatic tension of this situation seized my imagination. And frankly it’s never let go.

The Aftermath

After the case was closed, citizens of Owosso, suffering from embarrassment and shame of the women’s breach of patriotism and good sense, fell silent on the subject. No one spoke of the case until Cottonwood Summer was published, some 60 years later. The younger or newer Owosso residents were incredulous. None of them had heard of the case or of the fate of the women.  

For more information on POWs in America, I invite you to read:  

·         Cottonwood Summer ‘45
·         Cottonwood Spring
·         Cottonwood Winter: A Christmas Story
·         Cottonwood Fall
·         Cottonwood Summer

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