John T. Slania

It’s hard for Keggie Carew to process the jarringly different images of her father. There is the present-day Tom Carew, who likes to sleep in the shed with his dogs, mixes Rice Krispies with dog food, and uses his penknife to cut holes in his clothes and shoes. This Tom Carew is an octogenarian who suffers from dementia.

Then there is the Tom Carew of the past, a dashing British soldier who parachuted behind enemy lines during World War II, first during the resistance against Germany, and later against Japan. He was a highly decorated member of the Jedburghs, an elite special operations unit wreaking havoc against the Axis powers during the war.

It is these contrasting portraits that form the basis of Keggie Carew’s moving new book, Dadland, a memoir that describes a daughter’s evolving view of her father.

Like many children, Carew didn’t think too deeply about her father’s past. She knew him as a charming, funny man with an adventurous glint in his eye. Keggie told her teachers her father was a spy.

It wasn’t until years later, when Tom Carew started to falter because of a series of strokes, that his daughter started to dig into his past. She learned that her father’s war heroics earned him the Distinguished Service Order and the nicknames “Lawrence of Burma” and the “Mad Irishman.” An invitation to the 60th anniversary of the Jedburghs prompts Keggie to find out as much about her father’s past as she can before his memory completely disappears. “As dad slowly leaves us,” she writes, “I try to haul him back.”

Dadland is a poignant look at a child’s changing perspective on her father’s life, a journey many children take as their parents grow older. The happy ending to this story is that Keggie Carew always adored her father, and learning more about his storied past only makes her adoration stronger.

It’s hard for Keggie Carew to process the jarringly different images of her father. There is the present-day Tom Carew, who likes to sleep in the shed with his dogs, mixes Rice Krispies with dog food, and uses his penknife to cut holes in his clothes and shoes. This Tom Carew is an octogenarian who suffers from dementia. Then there is the Tom Carew of the past, a dashing British soldier who parachuted behind enemy lines during World War II, first during the resistance against Germany, and later against Japan. He was a highly decorated member of the Jedburghs, an elite special operations unit wreaking havoc against the Axis powers during the war.

Let author Douglas Preston give testimony to the old adage: Truth is stranger than fiction. As the co-author, with Lincoln Child, of a series of bestselling suspense novels, Preston has explored mysteries involving sorcery, witchcraft and ancient secrets. Now he chronicles his own true-life adventures in a nonfiction book, The Lost City of the Monkey God.

Preston’s quest is to find the ruins of an ancient city in the mountains of Honduras, known as the “White City” or the “Lost City of the Monkey God.” Others have embarked on similar expeditions only to fail, most notably an adventurer who returned in 1940 with spectacular artifacts, but committed suicide before revealing the location of his discovery.

This time, Preston and his team are armed with sophisticated equipment, borrowed from NASA, that allows them to peer beneath the jungle growth to map the contours below. From the air, they detect the outlines of a long-lost civilization. But space-age technology is of no aid once they land and face the perils of the rainforest, including poisonous snakes, vicious jaguars and vengeful drug dealers. Ironically, their greatest danger occurs on their return home, when they are beset with an incurable illness contracted from a parasite. Is this affliction of “white leprosy” a mere coincidence, or a curse?

The Lost City of the Monkey God is more than just an adventure story. It examines such modern  issues as the ethics of archeological expeditions, man’s destruction of the rainforest and the incessant creep of technology and its effects on indigenous peoples.

Readers will find themselves both shocked and captivated by this account of mysteries old and new.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Let author Douglas Preston give testimony to the old adage: Truth is stranger than fiction. As the co--author, with Lincoln Child, of a series of bestselling suspense novels, Preston has explored mysteries involving sorcery, witchcraft and ancient secrets. Now he chronicles his own true-life adventures in a nonfiction book, The Lost City of the Monkey God.

The Roosevelts were arguably the most powerful and accomplished of American families. There was Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, a president remembered for his trust-busting and land conservation efforts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency began during the Great Depression and ended with World War II. Then there was Eleanor Roosevelt, an independent, energetic first lady who became a role model for women. The lives and relationships of these American icons are examined in detail in William J. Mann’s new book, The Wars of the Roosevelts.

This exhaustively researched group biography explores the fascinating Roosevelt family tree: Teddy and FDR were fifth cousins. Franklin and Eleanor were fifth cousins, once removed. Teddy, Eleanor’s uncle, walked his niece down the aisle when she married Franklin.

While there was love, there was also war. Mann writes that the Roosevelts were ambitious and competitive, leading to some bad blood. Teddy was frail and asthmatic as a boy, and brother Elliott was better looking and more athletic. Through hard work and perseverance, Teddy grew to be a sportsman and soldier, while Elliott succumbed to alcoholism and fathered a son out of wedlock. He was hidden away in a sanitarium so Teddy could begin his political ascent free of scandal. When Elliott Roosevelt died at age 34, his daughter, Eleanor, was left with his broken legacy and an illegitimate brother, Elliott Roosevelt Mann, whom she refused to meet.

Eleanor’s remarkable life continued with her marriage to FDR and his rise to the White House. But she also faced additional challenges with her husband’s remoteness and clandestine affairs.

The Wars of the Roosevelts offers a glimpse into the secret lives of a family, which by all appearances seemed happy and successful. Unlike other biographies of the Roosevelts, which focus on their political accomplishments, this book looks closely at the family’s complex, often messy relationships, making it even more impressive that they went so far, considering all the baggage they carried.

The Roosevelts were arguably the most powerful and accomplished of American families. There was Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, a president remembered for his trust-busting and land conservation efforts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency began during the Great Depression and ended with World War II. Then there was Eleanor Roosevelt, an independent, energetic first lady who […]

As Civil War battles go, the Battle of Hampton Roads isn’t among the most memorable. Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg usually take top billing. But author Richard Snow argues in Iron Dawn that Hampton Roads was among the most significant Civil War conflicts because it was the first sea battle between ironclad ships: the Merrimack and the Monitor. The battle lasted only three hours and ended in a draw. But because the two ironclads proved battleworthy, it signaled the dawn of the modern navy and the end to wooden shipbuilding. “Many naval battles . . . have bent the course of history in hours or even minutes,” Snow writes. “But none has fomented in a short day’s work a whole new kind of warfare, has in one noisy morning made an ancient tradition obsolete.”

By the time the two boats met on March 9, 1862, on Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, the Merrimack had already destroyed two wooden Union ships and had its sights set on a third. The Monitor arrived to hold the Merrimack in check. The two ironclads fired on each other for several hours, with little damage and few casualties, before they both retreated to safer waters.

The battle was evidence, Snow says, that many of the most important technologies of the Civil War came from the navy, not the army.

Iron Dawn is a worthy read not only for serious Civil War buffs, but also for those who appreciate how ingenuity forever changed the way the military does battle on the sea.

 

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

As Civil War battles go, the Battle of Hampton Roads isn’t among the most memorable. Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg usually take top billing. But author Richard Snow argues in Iron Dawn that Hampton Roads was among the most significant Civil War conflicts because it was the first sea battle between ironclad ships: the Merrimack and the Monitor.

Like a fast-moving thunderstorm across the Great Plains, The Bones of Paradise wastes little time establishing plot: Two people are found dead in the opening chapter. A white cattle rancher happens upon the fresh grave of a young Native-American woman. J.B. Bennett quickly determines that the woman, Star, has been murdered. But Bennett looks up to see someone he knows pointing a rifle, and feels a bullet pierce his chest. 

A gifted writer, Agee returns here to historical fiction, the genre that served her so well in her award-winning The River Wife. The Bones of Paradise is set in late 19th-century Nebraska in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where some 200 Lakota men, women and children were shot and killed by U.S. cavalry. The tension between the white settlers and the remaining tribal members, who often face discrimination, places a strain on the friendship between Dulcinea Bennett, J.B.’s widow, and Rose, Star’s sister. But the two women are united in their quest to find the killer . . . or killers.

Agee’s fast-paced narrative resembles the expansive prose of Larry McMurtry. Her lyrical writing and attention to detail evoke comparisons to Annie Proulx. There are biblical and Shakespearean echoes here as well: Dulcinea’s two sons recall Cain and Abel, and could somehow be involved in the murder; Dulcinea’s father-in-law, Drum, conjures images of a crazed King Lear. The Bones of Paradise is also a romance, with sparks between Dulcinea and a new hired hand—and of course, there’s that murder mystery. Agee deftly weaves all these plot lines together into a captivating tale of life—and death—in the old American West.

 

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

Like a fast-moving thunderstorm across the Great Plains, The Bones of Paradise wastes little time establishing plot: Two people are found dead in the opening chapter. A white cattle rancher happens upon the fresh grave of a young Native-American woman. J.B. Bennett quickly determines that the woman, Star, has been murdered. But Bennett looks up to see someone he knows pointing a rifle, and feels a bullet pierce his chest.

Racism. Oppression. Violence. Faith. Hopefulness. These themes have defined the black experience in America from the moment slaves touched shore. As African Americans continue their struggle, three new books cast fresh light on the journey from slavery to freedom.

A LOST MEMOIR FINALLY FOUND
Austin Reed’s birth certificate states that he was born a free man in New York, unique for a person of color in the 1820s. But Reed’s struggles in the pre-Civil War era made him far from free. Never before published, his remarkable 150-year-old autobiography, The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, shows that even in the North, hatred and prejudice made life intolerable for African Americans.

Reed’s handwritten account chronicles years spent as an indentured servant and petty thief whose crimes led to turns in a juvenile reformatory and later, prison. Following the death of his father, Reed was made an indentured servant to pay off his family’s debts. When he burned down his master’s house, he was sent to a reformatory, where he was subjected to hard labor. But he also learned to read and write, allowing him to create this fascinating account of his experiences. As an adult, crimes of theft and larceny would return him to prison, where he was beaten and left in solitary confinement.

The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict is believed to be the earliest account of prison life written by an African American. Authenticated by a team of scholars, it helps broaden the historical context of the black experience in America.

BAD SEEDS
Author Karen Branan is forced by two events to confront her prejudices: the present-day birth of her granddaughter and a century-old lynching in a small Southern town. The birth involves a baby girl born to Branan’s white son and his African-American girlfriend. Brenan’s first instinct is to recoil, a reaction that can, in part, be traced to her upbringing in Georgia. It is there, in the town of Hamilton, that four African Americans were lynched in 1912 for their suspected role in the murder of a white man. The sheriff at the time was Branan’s great-grandfather.

Branan, a veteran journalist, decides to confront her family’s past, and her own beliefs, by researching the lynching. It forms the basis for her cathartic memoir, The Family Tree. The book reveals some dark truths. First, the murdered white man, Brenan’s distant cousin, had a history of assaulting black women. He was found shot dead after pursuing a 14-year-old black girl. As the case unfolded, Branan’s great-grandfather, the sheriff, arrested a woman and three men, all black. Then he offered no resistance when a white mob dragged the four suspects from jail and hanged them from a tree. Even more startling is that Branan discovers she is related to one of the lynching victims.

The Family Tree is a fascinating account of a white author’s struggle to examine lynching, racism and the violent crimes of her own family. She strives for healing the only way she can: by uncovering the truth.

AN INFLUENTIAL VOICE
When African Americans began the Great Migration from the South to Northern cities, many found opportunities in Chicago: employment in factories, steel mills and stockyards, a chance to own a home and greater social acceptance. The city’s South Side became a black metropolis teeming with shops, restaurants, nightclubs and churches. Providing news to this emerging group was the newly created Chicago Defender, a black-owned newspaper.

Ethan Michaeli traces the growth of this groundbreaking newspaper in The Defender, showing how the Chicago Defender grew to become a cultural and economic force in not only Chicago, but also the nation. Smuggled copies made their way to the Jim Crow South, providing blacks with much-needed news of the civil rights movement. A team of national correspondents from the Chicago Defender was there to cover the lynching of Emmett Till, the violence against the Freedom Riders and King’s crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And the newspaper played an important role in supporting and promoting the emerging black middle class.

The Defender is a thorough and well-researched account of an important voice in black history.

 

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

Racism. Oppression. Violence. Faith. Hopefulness. These themes have defined the black experience in America from the moment slaves touched shore. As African Americans continue their struggle, three new books cast fresh light on the journey from slavery to freedom.

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