Who Turned Out the Lights?

Yesterday morning, the Saturday before Christmas, I got up with all sorts of plans for the day. I fed my cat, read my email, fetched my newspaper, and cooked myself an egg and sausage sandwich for breakfast. (Have you seen the “Easy Eggwich” on the nearest As Seen on TV rack? They really work!)

I had barely sat down with my sandwich and my morning newspaper when the power went off. Lights, television, computer, microwave oven. All dark. And unlike the usual aggravating ten-second glitch, nothing came back on.

I couldn’t see to read the paper, so I ate my sandwich and wandered over to the one telephone that works in a power outage to call CenterPoint Energy, which handles all the line maintenance for the Houston area. I reported the outage at 9:45 AM, and even gave the new voice mail system a five star review on their little survey. Little did I know how annoyed I would be by the third time I called for an update and was told they knew of no outages in my area, and would I like to report one.

That first call, though, told me that the outage should be corrected by 12:15, so I decided to go run errands while the lights were off. I wrote and addressed the last of my Christmas cards on the kitchen counter by the questionable light of a battery lamp. I went for a short walk, discovering that the only sign of electrical power on my block was the across-the-street neighbor’s generator. So much for CenterPoint’s warning about the fee I’d be charged if the outage was my equipment’s fault (yes, I should probably have that antique circuit breaker box in the garage replaced).

Fortunately the garage door was up when the power went off, so I didn’t have to disconnect it (and just as fortunately, I live in a neighborhood where I don’t mind leaving the door up if need be). So I went out and mailed my cards, finished (I hope) my Christmas shopping, and visited the grocery store.

When I got back, about 12:30, there was a CenterPoint truck parked near the corner a long block from my house. Not a good sign, and I wasn’t surprised to see that my house was still dark. So much for doing the laundry, writing (at least on the computer), or wrapping Christmas presents. I did put my groceries in the refrigerator, trusting that the outage surely couldn’t go on long enough for anything to spoil.

Called a friend to complain (she was sympathetic—her Internet and cable had been off all morning). Sat by the only window in the house with anything like enough light to see print, and read the newspaper. I had more success reading on my Kindle, which has a light built into its case.

By 2:30 or so I had given up on the possibility of a telephone update, but I was grateful that the dispatcher had better control of the situation. I braved the rather chilly day (if this happened in nicer weather I could have been reading outdoors) and walked down the street to the CenterPoint trucks, where I learned that a tree had fallen across two yards and taken with it the line carrying power into the neighborhood. They knew what the problem was, and there was someone up a pole, probably shutting off the broken line, but there seemed to be no one equipped to cut up the broken tree, and one of the men said it would probably be dark by the time it was fixed.

What is one to do when nothing in the house works, including the electric controls governing the gas heat? One gathers up a blanket and the cat (by now the indoor temperature was down to 65) and takes a nap.

I woke up when the lights came on at 4:45 PM. Seven hours. With the exception of the aftermath of hurricanes, I think that’s the longest the power has been off at my house in decades.

Losing power for seven hours is enough to remind me how little I can do in my house without electricity. But it also reminds me how much more comfortable my house is, even without power, than living conditions in much of the world. Maybe a reminder now and then of just how First World most of our problems are doesn’t do us a bit of harm.

Christmas Bear

Department of Domestic Mysteries

We’ve had a beautiful day today here near Galveston Bay, and I’ve spent much of it catching up on yard work. We rarely have snow here, maybe once every few years, but the drifts of fallen leaves never seem to go away, no matter how often we rake. This morning I went out and mowed my front lawn, more to knock down weeds and mulch leaves than to cut the grass, which really hasn’t grown much in the last few weeks. I stopped in mid-mow to cut the vegetation growing up around a big tree stump, and stuffed a fifty-five gallon leaf bag three quarters full. I left the bag in the rolling trash can on my driveway while I went inside to change from a sweatshirt to a tee shirt and get a drink of water.

When I came back out ten minutes later, the bag was empty. I looked around, scratched my head, and wondered if I was a candidate for the nearest memory care center. There was the bag, in the can, where I had left it in the middle of the driveway, without so much as a twig in it. Finally I realized—at least I hope this is the explanation—that today was trash day (I put mine out on Tuesday, but rarely on Friday). The trash guys must have emptied the bag into their truck while I was in the house, leaving the bag in the can.

Either that or the compost goblins carried my clippings off.

A couple of days ago, when I got home and looked through the usual list of “out of area” and “unavailable” calls on my Caller ID, I found one from Jack C. Hudson at my own phone number. (Shades of that old horror movie: get out! the call is coming from inside the house!) This struck me as particularly creepy, since Jack died in 2002, but I’ve never changed the name on the account. I’m sure I would have been more uneasy if the same thing hadn’t happened to a friend recently. Here’s an interesting article about why (but not how) telephone scammers do this: Why Is My Own Phone Number Calling Me?

This morning I answered the phone out of curiosity when the Caller ID showed an actual name and phone number (albeit in New York City) instead of the usual “out of area” or “unavailable.” After all, I do get an occasional phone call, and NYC is always tempting. Maybe some desperate editor or agent is searching for me. Not likely, but still . . .

Anyway, when I answered this one, a fellow with a distinct accent informed me he was from Windows Technical Department, and he wanted to help me with my computer problem. I, of course, don’t have a computer problem, at least not one I’m looking for help with, and how would he have known, anyway? Not to mention the fact that I’ve heard this guy’s voice before, when I answered the same call at work, where we pretty much have to answer the telephone. I’m no IT expert, but I didn’t fall off the turnip truck last week, either. Someone must fall for these calls, I guess, or they wouldn’t be so common. Here’s an entertaining piece by someone with enough techno-smarts to scam the scammers: Scamming Fake Microsoft Support Scammers. And by the way, I looked up the phone number that fooled me into answering: the number and name were that of a restaurant in New York City, but I very much doubt they had anything to do with the call. Just another example of phone number spoofing.

So be careful when you answer the phone, and watch out for those compost goblins.

Waiting on My Kindle

I’ve been pretty good about not buying more paper books lately. Given that I only manage to read about one paper book a week, I’m already four or five years behind. I haven’t been as restrained with my Kindle downloads. The combination of low price and instant availability is often too much to resist, and many of my friends publish electronically these days. I can’t keep up with all of them, either. I can barely keep up with my own writing.

So I have a few unread books waiting on my Kindle. Oh, who do I think I’m kidding? I have dozens of unread books on my Kindle, so many I don’t even know what’s there. (The Kindle app on my computer is great for that, by the way. I can see all the covers spread across my computer monitor any time I’m brave enough to look.)

Of course it doesn’t help that I get daily emails from BookBub and Amazon Daily Deals. At least once or twice a week Auntie Mamesomething pops up that I can’t resist. This morning it was Patrick Dennis’ hilarious Auntie Mame. I have a paperback copy of Auntie Mame on one of the high shelves in the living room (along with most of Dennis’ other books). It’s so old that the spine is brittle, the pages yellow, and the original price was 95 cents. I’d be afraid to try to read it again. Now I can read it on my Kindle.

A day or two ago I downloaded Petticoat Detective, by Margaret Brownley. I read many of Brownley’s books back in the 90s, light-hearted American historical romances. Then she dropped out of the game for awhile, resurfacing in recent years with an inspirational publishing house. Her latest release, about a female Pinkerton agent working undercover in a brothel, looks like fun.

Southern Comforts, by Nan Dixon, is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading ever since I read the first few chapters as a contest judge a few years ago. On the other hand, Ghostly Paws, by Leighann Dobbs, is a mystery with paranormal elements, by an author I’ve never read, but her ad on BookBub was too tempting to resist.

Gunpowder Alchemy is a steampunk novel set in China, by Jeannie Lin, an author whose China-set historical romances I have Gunpowder Alchemyread and enjoyed. This is something different for Lin, and I’m looking forward to reading it. In recent weeks I’ve also added a couple of paranormal romances (Lorenda Christensen’s Til Dragons Do Us Part and Anna Richland’s First To Burn) and a mystery that I first read long ago (and saw dramatized recently on PBS), Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party.

My Kindle app tells me that I have 263 titles on my Kindle, and I’ve only read a fraction of them. I’ll never catch up, but I’ll never run out of reading material, either.

Hell on Wheels: Ruth’s Decision

I don’t think I’ve written about Hell on Wheels this season, although I’ve been watching faithfully. Last night’s episode, Thirteen Steps, revolved around Ruth Cole, the Church Lady. If you haven’t watched but plan to, you may want to leave now. There will be spoilers.

Ruth Cole

Two episodes ago, in Return to Hell, Ruth shot Sydney Snow, who had come back to town after setting the church on fire and killing (although not intentionally) Ezra Dutton, the boy Ruth had taken in. The fact that Snow was facing off with Bohannon at the time had nothing to do with Ruth’s action. She simply wanted to kill the man who had killed her child.

In last week’s episode, Bloody Kansas, Snow died, despite the best efforts of Bohannon, Durant (who once attended medical school, studying ophthalmology, but never graduated), Eva, and Louise, leaving Ruth open to a murder charge. (The only reason anyone wanted to save Snow’s life, mind you, was to protect Ruth.)

This week, in Thirteen Steps (the number of stairs to the gallows), no one wanted Ruth to hang but Ruth. Bohannon swore that she had saved his life by shooting Snow, but she would have none of it. Governor Campbell was willing, even eager, to grant her a pardon, but, following the letter of the law, only if she would formally accept it. She refused, saying that pardons are for cowards. Bohannon even tried to drag her out of her cell and put her on a train to New York, but she refused that, too. The people of Cheyenne, gathered in the street in front of the jail, holding candles while the hangman rebuilt the gallows that Bohannon had pushed over, could not shake her resolve.

Ruth gave no reason beyond the fact that she was guilty of murder, that she had shot Snow simply because she wanted to kill him.

So many small things made this a fascinating and multi-layered hour of television. Bohannon and Ruth talking in the jail most of the night, he telling her about a botched hanging he had once witnessed, she telling him about the time she slipped in a mud puddle that was really a deposit of horse droppings, the two of them sharing a genuine laugh over her embarrassment—how may times have we seen Cullen Bohannon laugh?

Louise catching Campbell dancing, alone in his room, and telling her that back East, after a hard decision, he would take his wife dancing.

The grave and courteous professional hangman, assuring Ruth that he would be with her, explaining exactly what would happen, patiently rebuilding the gallows Bohannon had pushed down. The hangman’s strange assistant, a little boy wearing the same uniform of black coat and top hat.

The writers on Hell on Wheels don’t pull their punches. There was no last minute reprieve, no miraculous rescue, no sudden change of heart, only Bohannon, who had stormed off, unwilling to be a party to it all, reappearing at the last minute so that Ruth, by now terrified, could see him there before the hood dropped over her head, and we heard the trap door open beneath her feet.

At the end of Thirteen Steps, perhaps moved by Ruth’s insistence that “the brave choice is always family,” Bohannon, who has buried Ruth next to Ezra, tells Durant “I quit,” and heads for Fort Smith, Naomi and baby William.

One more episode this season, and then a final season, another fourteen episodes split between 2015 and 2016 (oh, the waiting!). Will Bohannon find his family? Will the railroad cross the mountains? Stay tuned.

(Kasha Kropinski and Anson Mount discuss the episode and their characters on the AMC Hell on Wheels web site.)

Margaret Maron: Designated Daughters

I’ve been a mystery fan since I was a kid (we won’t go into just how many decades that covers), and I’ve gone through series after series over the years. If I had hung onto all the mystery novels I’ve collected, I’d have something between a dedicated library and an episode of hoarders.

There are series (and authors) I’ve read in their entirety, others I’ve gotten bored with and abandoned. There are quite a few that I continued to enjoy even if the newer novels spend some time on the To Be Read shelf. And, sad to say, there are a few on the To Be Read shelf that I may not get around to—how long is too long in limbo?

Designated DaughtersThe latest in Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott mystery series never stays on the shelf more than a few days. I’ve enjoyed Deborah’s adventures since her first appearance in Bootlegger’s Daughter (1992), and the newest novel, Designated Daughters, is as good as ever.

Deborah Knott is indeed a bootlegger’s daughter, although her eighty-something father has long since retired from that game. She is also a District Court judge in Colleton County, North Carolina, and one of the facets of the stories that I enjoy (and miss when Deborah occasionally travels out of her home territory) is the parade of loons and lost souls through her courtroom. Deborah, the youngest sibling and only daughter in her family, also has eleven older brothers who, along with their various wives, ex-wives, children, and grandchildren, often supply background information in Deborah’s investigations.

Designated Daughters revolves around the murder of Deborah’s Aunt Rachel, a woman already on her deathbed in the hospice wing of the local hospital. Why would anyone smother a woman only days, perhaps hours, from a natural death? Perhaps the explanation lies in the long silent Rachel’s sudden semi-conscious chatter about long ago events. Deborah and her husband, Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight Bryant, set out to unravel Rachel’s rambling remarks, uncovering long-buried secrets and motives.

The novel’s title refers to the caregivers, most but not all of them women, who devote so much of their lives to the care of elderly loved ones, and in this story band together to help one of their own.

Deborah has so many brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews that trying to follow their connections sometimes becomes confusing (Maron generally includes a family tree), but the mysteries are laced with humor, charm, small town and farm life, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

Cheryl Bolen’s Christmas in Bath

Mary Arbuckle and Jonathan Blankenship have been friends for years. Very proper, strictly platonic, intellectual friends, who call one another Miss Arbuckle and Mr. Blankenship. But Glee Blankenship, Jonathan’s sister-in-law and Mary’s old school friend, knows better, and when Jonathan accepts her invitation to spend Christmas in Bath with her family, Glee decides it’s time to do a bit of matchmaking.

A Christmas in BathMary doesn’t really need Glee to tell her that her feelings for Jonathan go beyond friendship, but she’s not a beauty and she has very little money, and on the whole she’s resigned to remaining a spinster. The stab of distress she feels at the thought Jonathan might have found a bride takes her by surprise. So does Glee’s campaign to bring Mary to the attention of the brilliant but reluctant Jonathan.

Jonathan Blankenship is surprised by the twinges of longing he feels when he sees his brother’s happy marriage and growing family. But that’s not for him. He prefers his books, his writing, and his dearest friend, Miss Arbuckle, who will surely never change. What is this stomach-churning distress that attacks him when he sees her in glorious (and revealing!) ball gowns, dancing with other men, clearly in the market for a husband?

A Christmas in Bath is a stand-alone novella, but it is also a Christmas present for fans of Cheryl Bolen’s popular Brides of Bath series (this one is number 6), with a holiday reunion of Glee, Felicity, Sally, Catherine, and their families on a lovely Regency Christmas Day.  Bolen has a gift for bringing the people and society of Regency England to life, and this is just the story to open the holiday season!

Bollywood Books

The Lucky 13s group was abuzz last week with the news that one of our sisters, Sonali Dev, had made the Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014 e-originals list with A Bollywood Affair, a book that hasn’t even been released yet (look for it in a few days—official release date is October 28). I haven’t read it yet (I’ll be A Bollywood Affairsnapping up a copy when I can), so all I can tell you is that it’s a contemporary romance with Indian characters set in Michigan.

When I went to look at the list, I was also pleased to find Susan Kaye Quinn’s Third Daughter on it as well. Although Library Journal mysteriously tags the first volume of Quinn’s Dharian Affairs Trilogy as historical romance, it is actually Indian-flavored science fiction/steampunk/romance (Bollypunk?), set on a world with two moons, six-legged animals, and three Queendoms.

The Dharian Affairs

I read Third Daughter this summer, enjoyed it thoroughly, and reviewed it here. Last Monday, while spending the day at the local Toyota dealership while they performed the 30,000-mile maintenance rituals on my car (no complaints—they must be doing a good job, the car is still serving me well after more than ten years and 186,000 miles), I finished Second Daughter, which ended on such a cliffhanger that I immediately started on First Daughter, the third book in the trilogy (immediate gratification, thanks to my Kindle).

The books are so full of twists and turns that I don’t want to give any of them away. Aniri, the Third Daughter of the Queendom of Dharia, is the protagonist of all three books, and her bumpy romance with the Prince of the mountainous northern Queendom, carries through the trilogy. Her sister Seledri, the Second Daughter, is married to the First Son of the Queendom of Samir, and her dangerous situation, and Aniri’s attempts to help her, drive Second Daughter. Seledri will be Queen of Samir one day—if she survives long enough. As problems mount, Nahali, the First Daughter and future Queen of Dharia becomes involved—but whose side is she on?

All three books are full of romance, adventure, swords and blunderbusses, and skyships. Buy all three—you won’t want to wait for the next one.

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