Book Review: Furious Hours

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep

This is hands down one of the best books I have read in a while.  I checked it out from the library’s online audio book selections because it was available, without knowing anything about it.  Was it non-fiction?  Fiction?  Did Harper Lee sue someone over book rights?  Was she sued?  I was intrigued in my ignorance.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee

As it turns out, you get two fascinating non-fiction stories for the price of one.  Enter the Reverend Willie Maxwell.  A smooth talking, well dressed man, who supervised a lumber crew by day and preached by night.  And who had a thing for insurance.

As it turned out, over a period of two years, six people close to the Reverend died (five were family members), most in “car accidents.”  Except they didn’t look like your typical accident; the vehicle in each situation was not damaged enough for investigators to believe the accident would have killed someone.  Six people: two of Maxwell’s wives, his second wife’s first husband, his brother, his nephew and his adopted daughter.  And oh, isn’t it interesting that there happened to be multiple insurance policies on each person, purchased by the Reverend, with Maxwell listed as the beneficiary?

The Maxwell case took an unexpected turn, and Harper Lee decided to take a trip to Alexander City, Alabama to research the case and write a book, her first since To Kill a Mockingbird.  Lee had helped her close childhood friend Truman Capote research his best-selling novel, In Cold Blood, and Lee thought that this would be her ticket to her own true crime book.

In addition to the story of the Reverend Maxwell, Cep also chronicles the life of Harper Lee, from her childhood in Alabama, her process of writing and publishing To Kill a Mockingbird, and her struggles after the book immediately became one of the most influential books in history.  Lee was not fond of the fame the book brought her, and began to live as a near recluse, turning down almost all requests for interviews and appearances.

Lee also struggled with profound grief; she had always had a complicated relationship with her mother who died young after struggling for years with mental illness.  She was much more affected when her brother died suddenly shortly after at the age of 30.  He had been her anchor and the sibling she was closest to.  Her father, whom she deeply admired, died after a long, slow decline – even though she was older, his death was hard for her to cope with as well.

Lee’s life was often messy, with decades spent trying to create the next novel to follow Mockingbird.  She developed close friendships with her agents and editors and outlived them all.  She struggled with alcoholism.  She had her ups and downs with Capote, eventually losing touch with him entirely.  She had a love/hate relationship with New York; loving its bustle and culture and the anonymity it afforded her but feeling the pull of small town Alabama.  Her one constant was her family.

The book is candid about Lee’s life, neither idolizing nor maligning her for the way that she lived after Mockingbird came out.  Cep simply tries to tell it like it was.  Cep’s writing fully develops the characters in a way that few authors do, and that is difficult when you are trying to accurately portray real people.  I listened on audiobook and couldn’t wait for my drive so I could start back up where I left off.  Brilliant.

5 stars.


Women I Admire

“The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.” Elizabeth Gilbert

I have to admit, most of my shit has been working out right now (I say while knocking on every single piece of wood I can find anywhere nearby).  I’m happy.  I’m (mostly) healthy – just dealing with the usual pitfalls of being a woman in her 40s.

I never knew how true the saying is – youth is wasted on the young!  Here I want to go and explore and adventure and run races and hike mountains and stay up late reading!  But the reality means I have to pace myself – while kids just want to play video games and wander around saying, “I’m bored!”  If I knew back then what I know now, I am sure I would never have let myself be bored.

Work is challenging at times but good, and I’m content with where I’m at in life.  Of course, I would like to be retired, but that’s a subject for another time.  I miss dad, but the raw ache has subsided for me.

My mom has been living her shit show lately though and she’s been handling it.  It’s been 8 months since dad died, and a roller coaster of all the minutiae of what you have to do when someone dies.  Finances, investments and tax professionals are very few people’s idea of a good time.  Add to that mice in the crawl space, then yellow jackets in the crawl space, and handling all the house stuff that dad used to do.

My uncles have been here a few times and have been wonderful with knocking out a honey-do list of chores.  It has been a godsend for both my mom and me.  But mom is the real superhero.  She just keeps tackling the things that need to be done.  One thing at a time.  One day at a time.  Over and over until the pendulum finally swings back towards the easier times in life.

I know she misses my dad terribly.  I know she feels cheated out of years with him – it’s a reasonable feeling, she was.  She got the short end of the stick.  It isn’t fair, and it sucks.  And there isn’t anything anyone can do to change it.

My mom instilled in me the sense of getting back up when you get knocked down.  She famously told me, “you can do anything for 90 days,” during my divorce.  It ended up taking a year and a half because my ex was being so difficult, but I’m not holding that against her.  As it turns out, you can do some things for a year and a half too, if you need to.  Some days are harder than others, but you just keep doing what needs to be done and maintaining the upward trajectory.

So here’s hoping that the pendulum keeps swinging back towards good.  I love you mom.

Circus Trip 2018: Oldfields Gardens

Day 25, Thursday, August 9, 2018

Indianapolis, Indiana

I went to the Indianapolis Art Museum!  But first, I must try to explain the names…  Newfields is the official name of the Indianapolis Art Museum complex; it is named for the newer house built on the site that the museum is on.  The art museum is just one building on the site, though.  In 1966, Ruth Lilly and Josiah K. Lilly, the younger generation of the pharmaceutical king family, donated the estate to the Art Association of Indianapolis for their museum complex.  The donation included the country homes of the family; the original home was named Oldfields, and the new house was Newfields!

The Newfields complex includes the Oldfields gardens, the Oldfields Mansion (also called Lilly House), which was accessible through a self-guided tour, and the Indianapolis Art Museum, the Clowes Pavilion (another mansion which is currently closed for restoration) as well as the 100 acre Virginia B Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which I did not have time to visit.  Admission is $18, which is high, especially after they had no admission fee for years, but it is incredible!  I feel like that $18 was good for two days, but I can’t remember, and I couldn’t turn up any mention of it on their website.

I started with the gardens, figuring that I could spend some time outside earlier in the day before it got unbearably hot.  Well, to be honest, it was already unbearably hot, but I am nothing if not dedicated to my touristing.

The gardens were designed for the original owners of the home; and include a sunken formal garden, a ravine garden, an orchard, a fountain, the Grand Allée (vista) and a border garden. When the Lilly family purchased the estate in 1933, the gardens were mature and thankfully the family didn’t change the design of the gardens.  It is incredible to have these historic gardens available to the public!

There is a lot to see, and outdoor art installations also add a touch of whimsy to the gardens.  I have to admit though, the brightly colored, nearly life sized bears, alligators, meerkats, turtles and other animals scattered around added a bit too much whimsy for my taste.  I prefer my art a bit more traditional.  It was fun to wander around and check everything out though!



Book Review: What We Were Promised

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan, is a novel detailing the life of one woman in particular.  Lina was born and raised in rural China, and promised to her husband in an arranged marriage.


After becoming successful in the United States, they move back to Shanghai for his work, and Lina’s life intersects once more with her past.  She is bored and disconnected, and she must reconcile her feelings about her life, in order to save her troubled marriage.  The book provides a parallel story line in Sunny, the Chinese domestic who works for them in their luxury high-rise apartment.

The story bounces between past and present, and Lina and Sunny’s lives, telling the tales of their pasts and choices, and how they have ended up in the present.  It hints at the differences between poverty and privilege, as well as the fact that there is usually a hidden story under the surface.

The flaw of the novel for me was that the characters seemed shallow and one-sided, with the author never fully developing them.  Lina’s character seemed spoiled and ungrateful throughout much of the book, but I think the author could have built more empathy for her had she built out the hardships Lina had experienced.

It is an interesting story, and a quick read, but I was hoping for something a bit more thought provoking than what it was.

2 stars.

Circus Trip 2018: Cataract Falls State Park

Day 24, Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Cataract, Indiana

Who knew that the Midwest has such small waterfalls?  I guess it makes sense, being that the Midwest is so very much flatter than the foothills and mountains that stretch out less than an hour from my sea-level home.  I left Marilyn’s house about noon, and made my way towards Indianapolis.  Cataract Falls was along the way!

Cataract Falls State Park contains the largest waterfall by volume in Indiana, a two fall combo that separately measure at 18 and 20 feet, and combine to create an impressive 38 foot cascade!  It is considered to be a little taller than that, because there are a series of smaller cascades over the course of the half-mile of Cataract Falls.  Alright, maybe impressive is a bit of an overstatement, especially for those of us who have seen waterfalls over 600 feet tall at home.  However, if 38 feet is what Indiana has to offer, I’ll go see it.  I wandered around and relaxed a little bit, but it was too hot to hike that day.

The park also has a covered bridge, which largely looks like the covered bridges near Dana, Indiana, except that it a solid red with no white accents.  The Cataract Falls covered bridge was finished in 1876, and is the only remaining covered bridge in Owens County.  It is unusual because of its construction with a Smith Truss design, rather than the more common Burr Arch Truss that is found on most Indiana covered bridges.  It was pretty, but given my experience from the day before, I waited until another man walked inside before I did.  I will probably always do this with covered bridges now.

I also stopped at the tiny community of Cataract just outside of the state park.  They have a historic general store, originally built in 1860, filled with various antiques and snack items.  I didn’t find any antiques I had to have but did purchase a few of their unique soda options – I bought two to try.  That’s one of the nice things about traveling – you get out of your comfort zone and try foods and drinks that you might not otherwise pick at home!

That evening I headed to my friend Will’s house, outside of Indianapolis.  That evening we had turkey tacos for dinner, the first time in almost a month that I actually made a home cooked meal, in a home, with more than a couple ingredients.  It was soooo delicious!

2019 Morgan Cotes du Crow’s

This wine was one of my August wine club selections from the wine shop in town.

Morgan Winery was founded in 1982 in Monterey County; their tasting room is in Carmel, California.  This wine is sourced from their vineyards in the Arroyo Seco and San Lucas appellations of Monterey County.

This Rhone-style blend has a dark ruby red color, and a heavy consistency that sticks to the edges of the glass.  The flavors are raspberry and cherry, along with a light woody tannin.  I opened it on Tuesday, and enjoyed a glass, then got pulled away by life for the next two nights.  It was still delicious on Friday!

This wine was aged in French oak barrels, with 15% new oak that added a hint of spice to the flavor of the wine.  It is not your standard GSM blend, as it contains Tempranillo instead of Mourvedre, but it works for this wine!  The blend: 52% Syrah, 44% Grenache, 4% Tempranillo.

If you have a chance, check this wine out!  You won’t be disappointed.