Review: Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy + Giveaway

let me die in his footsteps by lori royFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Dutton
Date Released: June 2, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

On a dark Kentucky night in 1952 exactly halfway between her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays, Annie Holleran crosses into forbidden territory. Everyone knows Hollerans don’t go near Baines, not since Joseph Carl was buried two decades before, but, armed with a silver-handled flashlight, Annie runs through her family’s lavender fields toward the well on the Baines’ place. At the stroke of midnight, she gazes into the water in search of her future. Not finding what she had hoped for, she turns from the well and when the body she sees there in the moonlight is discovered come morning, Annie will have much to explain and a past to account for.

It was 1936, and there were seven Baine boys. That year, Annie’s aunt, Juna Crowley, with her black eyes and her long blond hair, came of age. Before Juna, Joseph Carl had been the best of all the Baine brothers. But then he looked into Juna’s eyes and they made him do things that cost innocent people their lives. Sheriff Irlene Fulkerson saw justice served—or did she?

As the lavender harvest approaches and she comes of age as Aunt Juna did in her own time, Annie’s dread mounts. Juna will come home now, to finish what she started. If Annie is to save herself, her family, and this small Kentucky town, she must prepare for Juna’s return, and the revelation of what really happened all those years ago

My Review:

This is a story about the keeping of secrets, the cost of lies and the sometimes strange power of belief.

There is a big lie at the heart of accepted history in rural Hayden County, Kentucky. It’s a lie that involves three families, the town, and a slice of infamy.

It turns out to be a very big lie.

In 1952 Annie Holleran turns 15, and then 15 and a half. In her small and isolated town, 15 and a half marks the point between girlhood and womanhood. Annie prefers to think of it as the demarcation between childhood and adulthood, and hers turns out to be so, just not in the way that anyone would have expected.

We meet Annie and her younger sister Caroline, but their relationship isn’t sweet sisterhood and mutual support. There’s nothing specifically wrong, but Caroline has always been the pretty child that everyone loves. She also sucks all the air out of the room when it comes to Annie. Because when Caroline is there, people only notice Annie to compare her unfavorably, and Caroline always gets her way because she seems so pretty and proper and biddable.

Annie is striking rather than pretty, and she’s taller than all the other girls (and most of the boys) her own age. But what makes Annie stand out is that Annie isn’t really Sarah and John Holleran’s daughter, and everyone knows it.

Annie is the daughter of Sarah’s sister Juna and Joseph Carl Baine. Joseph Carl has the distinction of being the last man publicly hanged in the U.S. Juna is in some ways even more distinctive. Juna was the local evil witch, and Annie seems to have inherited all of the physical signs that make everyone believe she is every bit as witchy as her mother.

People cross to the other side of the street to avoid running into Annie, just as they did with Juna. People believed that the black-eyed, blonde-haired Juna was the epitome of evil. After all, she bewitched Joseph Carl into fathering her unnatural baby, and he was hanged for it.

Of course, the true story is a whole lot different. Except for one detail – Juna really was an evil witch. Not in the sense of spellcasting. There’s no eye of newt or tongue of frog. Juna is a witch because she manipulates people based on their fear of, and belief in, her terrible powers. Which gives her a different kind of terrible power that she is more than willing to use.

There are two stories in this book, and they run in a kind of parallel. In 1936, Juna and her sister Sarah live through the events of that fateful summer where their little brother Dale went missing, where Joseph Carl Baine came back to Hayden County, and where justice went very far astray.

In 1952, the “sisters” are Annie and Caroline. Annie fears that her long-missing mother will come for her, now that she is of age, and take her away and make her evil just like her mother. Annie, while not precisely happy where she is, feels safe and cared for.

But when Annie discovers old Cora Baine’s dead body, the past, and the truth, invade Annie’s life and her small town. One of the Baine boys comes back to Hayden, and the secrets about Ellis Baine, Sarah Holleran and that long-ago summer reach out from the past to touch everyone who was involved.

And Annie finds out the truth about herself, but at a terrible price.

Escape Rating B: So many of the events in this story happen because people really believed that Juna had evil powers and was perfectly willing to curse people and would be effective at it. It looks like her sister Sarah was the most skeptical of Juna’s so-called powers, while at the same time still caught up by Juna’s very successful manipulation of people and events.

The events in 1952 serve as a way to bring the truth of 1936 to light. They also close the circle on all the open questions, and there are certainly a ton of those. Sarah knows most of the truth, but not all of it. However, her parts of the old story are in some ways the most chilling. Because Sarah acted against her nature in those long-ago events, where Juna acted in concert with hers.

Juna really was evil. Not because of any hidden power, but the very human kind of evil. She enjoyed causing people pain, whether mental pain or physical pain. She manipulates the events of her brother’s disappearance because she wants to see if she can. She wants to see someone hang for her because it makes her feel powerful. But the only injustices done are ones that Juna commits and/or arranges.

The fascinating thing about Juna’s case is how easily people fell in with her manipulation. Even though there are tons of questions about her testimony, and no one likes or trusts her, everyone believes. That willingness to believe her power is probably the most frightening part of the story.

So many of Juna’s real sins are visited upon Annie, and it’s painful to see. Annie isn’t quite an outcast, but people are afraid of her from an early age because of her mother. That Juna is her real mother is a secret that everyone knows and no one talks about. Until it jumps out of the past to bite everyone.

There’s a question throughout the story about whether Annie, Juna and Annie’s grandmother really do have a bit of power, like the stories about “The Sight” in Celtic mythology. Whether they truly do or not is left up to the reader to judge.

Anyone who has read and enjoyed Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series, which starts with If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, will love Let Me Die in His Footsteps.

This story is very loosely based on a true incident in the history of Owensboro, Kentucky, where the last public hanging took place in the summer of 1936. Whether justice was done in either the true or the fictional case is a matter for debate. Some of the media attention in both cases was due to the county Sheriff being female. (Remember this was 1936) Reporters as well as locals wanted to see a woman push the switch to hang a man.

On a personal note, a late friend grew up in Owensboro at the time just after the fictional story takes place. He told me that in his childhood, the “three R’s”, instead of “Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic” were “Reading, ‘riting and Route 42 to Ohio”. If the place was anything like the insularity portrayed in this story, now I understand.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

As a part of this tour, I am giving away a copy of Let Me Die in His Footsteps to one lucky U.S. or Canadian commenter. Just fill out the rafflecopter and cross your fingers!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell

interstellar age by jim bellFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Dutton
Date Released: February 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The story of the men and women who drove the Voyager spacecraft mission— told by a scientist who was there from the beginning.

The Voyager spacecraft are our farthest-flung emissaries—11.3 billion miles away from the crew who built and still operate them, decades since their launch.

Voyager 1 left the solar system in 2012; its sister craft, Voyager 2, will do so in 2015. The fantastic journey began in 1977, before the first episode of Cosmos aired. The mission was planned as a grand tour beyond the moon; beyond Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and maybe even into interstellar space. The fact that it actually happened makes this humanity’s greatest space mission.

In The Interstellar Age, award-winning planetary scientist Jim Bell reveals what drove and continues to drive the members of this extraordinary team, including Ed Stone, Voyager’s chief scientist and the one-time head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab; Charley Kohlhase, an orbital dynamics engineer who helped to design many of the critical slingshot maneuvers around planets that enabled the Voyagers to travel so far; and the geologist whose Earth-bound experience would prove of little help in interpreting the strange new landscapes revealed in the Voyagers’ astoundingly clear images of moons and planets.

Speeding through space at a mind-bending eleven miles a second, Voyager 1 is now beyond our solar system’s planets. It carries with it artifacts of human civilization. By the time Voyager passes its first star in about 40,000 years, the gold record on the spacecraft, containing various music and images including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” will still be playable.

My Review:

I had the same reaction to The Interstellar Age as I did when I went to the Kennedy Space Center a few years ago. I got choked up. Why? Because to this Star Trek fan, space travel is awesome and the future and I’m not going to get to go. Life is too short, and Congress doesn’t give NASA nearly enough funding for space tourism for the middle class to become “real” in my lifetime.

I will tie this back to Star Trek at the end, believe it or not.

But about the book…if you were ever hooked on space travel science fiction, or if you got up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon, or if you’ve ever traveled to see a shuttle launch (or any kind of spacecraft launch) or if you can’t get enough Hubble Telescope pictures, this is a book for you.

While without rockets, it’s just science, this is a science story told through the people who worked on it or were affected by it. While, as one of the researchers says, we shouldn’t try to humanize or personalize the little rovers and probes that form the bulk of our current space program because, and I quote, “they don’t like it”, we can’t help but invest them with personalities and motivations of their own. They represent us. In a slightly robotic way, they are us, or at least the part of us that needs to go out and explore.

Possibly, as this recent strip from xkcd attests, they represent other parts of us as well:

On January 26th, 2274 Mars days into the mission, NASA declared Spirit a 'stationary research station', expected to stay operational for several more months until the dust buildup on its solar panels forces a final shutdown.

Back to Voyager and The Interstellar Age. I want to invoke Star Trek again. Because these are the voyages of the Interstellar Voyager Project, its ongoing mission: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no (Terran) has gone before.”

Voyager 1
Voyager 1

In the past 40 years, and continuing, the two Voyager space probes, and the probes that followed in their wake, have extended human knowledge of our solar system, and are now either completely outside of our Solar System (Voyager 1) or are getting there fast (Voyager 2). We humans have sent a piece of ourselves into the space between the stars, both in the hopes that we can continue to learn from its explorations, and that someday, perhaps, some other civilization in some other star-system will scoop it up and discover who we were.

The project is huge and was in many ways all encompassing for the people who worked on it. There are folks now part of the project who were not born when it began in the mid-1970s. But the story of their involvement, in this thing that turns out to have been the biggest and the best time of their lives, is very human and awe-inspiring in that humanity. It’s impossible not to wish you were there when those first photos of Jupiter’s moons appeared. Or with any of the other many firsts accomplished by these probes and the team that worked with them.

In relating the effect that his personal involvement with the Voyager mission has had on his life, the author shows us not just why this journey was important for him, but why it is important for us all.

Reality Rating A: I have a difficult time separating my feelings about the space program from my feelings about the book. Why? Because I want to have been there, and that still touches me deeply.

There are probably a generation (or two) of us who watched Star Trek as kids and saw the hope that humanity would reach the stars. I think we all wanted it to be in our lifetimes, but that is unlikely to happen.

This is a book about the joys and wonders of “big science”. It takes hundreds if not thousands of people devoting their lives and their careers to making project like the Interstellar Voyager mission a success. Or even a possibility. The Interstellar Age is the story of not just how it worked, but why.

It’s also a 40th birthday paean to the Voyager Program itself, and to the people who built them and made them fly.

As a reader, I occasionally got sidetracked with the names of all the different component parts, but all things considered, The Interstellar Age is a popular science story at its best.

One last Star Trek reference. The first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was released in 1979, two years after the launches of Voyagers 1 and 2. In ST:TMP, at the heart of the alien vessel they find Voyager 6, returning to Earth in search of its creator, NASA.

Voyager 6 from STTMP
Voyager 6 from Star Trek: The Motion Picture


Some day, centuries from now, one of the Voyagers, scarred and pitted by the interstellar winds, might come home – in the arms (or tentacles) of explorers from another star system.

We can dream.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.