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.

Another Computer Adventure

Last night when I went to bed, a few minutes before midnight, all was normal on my computer. The background was a lovely beach scene. My email was open and ready to handle all those important communications that come in overnight (mostly ads). All was well with the world.

This morning I got up with plans to accomplish all sorts of things. I only go to work on Tuesdays through Thursdays, so I have four days for reading, writing, shopping, whatever. High on the list for this weekend is judging three long entries for a writing contest and emailing them back to the coordinator (in Australia!) by Monday night. I was halfway through a printed copy of the first one, but the other two were waiting on my computer.

I was not entirely surprised to see a black screen on my computer monitor when I rounded the corner from the kitchen this morning. Happens sometimes, when the monitor goes to sleep. But this time no amount of hitting Enter or jiggling the mouse restored the screen. Nothing there but the cursor.

So I turned the computer off. Had to do it with the on/off button, since I couldn’t see anything on the monitor. When I turned it back on, I saw the Hewlett Packard welcome screen, so I knew my lovely big HD monitor hadn’t died (actually, the cursor proved that). But that’s all I saw, and then it disappeared, leaving me with the black screen again.

So I hit the button again and tried starting the computer in Safe Mode, not entirely sure what to do when I got there. That gave me reassurance that the monitor was working properly, but it didn’t get me into Windows. I tried running the memory check. Took forever, and found no problems.

So the next time I restarted the computer I hit the system recovery key, which took me to a section of the HP help software I’d never visited before. From there I could try System Restore, which also told me that there had been an update from Microsoft during the night. Apparently that update didn’t work, and as far as I can tell, the non-working update was the source of all my problems.

Alas, System Restore didn’t help, either. I tried that twice, using the two latest restore points. Back to the Help Screen. System Recovery was definitely a last resort, since it would wipe out my files and any programs installed since the original set up. The computer is almost five years old. Although I recently ran a USB drive back up of my documents, and I have an external hard drive back up system in place (although I’ve never had cause to restore anything from it), restoring the whole system would be one heck of a job.

Start Up Repair looked promising, so I tried that next. By this time I was looking up computer repair services in my local phone book (see, phone books still have their uses!). By the time Start Up Repair had run twice without success, I had called one of the numbers and gotten a promise of a call back when the phone person found a technician available. I set Start Up Repair running again and retired to the couch with the morning newspaper (which I much prefer to the on line version).

When the phone rang a few minutes later, it was a political call, from a real live person, and I’m afraid she got a rather short-tempered response from me (even though she was with the party I plan to vote for). The Start Up Repair program continued to run, the little green bar going back and forth, restarting the computer once or twice, while I worried about all the things that might not be on my recent back up. How long would it take to reconstruct all the information in my password logger? At least my email, including those unjudged contest entries, was in the cloud. If I had to, I could go into work (thirty miles away) and use the computer there.

By the time an hour and a half had gone by, I was back at the phone books. The Start Up Repair program was still running, and I was seriously considering hitting cancel, thinking it was caught in some sort of circular trap, when suddenly I heard the familiar sound of Windows starting up. My beach scene was back. My calendar program appeared. I called the computer service to cancel.

I still haven’t had breakfast, but I’ve printed out those two contest entries trapped in my computer. I’ve made back ups (both digital and printed) of my password program. I’ve run yet another USB drive back up. The attempts at System Restore said no changes had been made, but I had to reinstall Adobe Reader and the icon for Word has mysteriously changed. But my current work in Scrivener is intact and nothing else seems to have been affected.

I have not rebooted the computer or attempted to reinstall those pesky Microsoft updates. I’m not going to do either one until I’m forced to. I’m just glad to have my digital life back.

And I’m wondering if it’s time to get a wireless router and a back up laptop.


Routing the Cat

I went a few rounds with my work computer this morning, and in the end came up with a remarkably low tech solution (and without the help of the fellow with the thick foreign accent who called out of the blue claiming to be from the “Windows support service”—I didn’t stay on the line long enough to find out how he thought he was going to fix a problem that we didn’t have).

The problem we did have seemed to involve QuickBooks, the bookkeeping software we use for almost all our clients. I’d been having occasional problems with QB locking up or otherwise misbehaving lately, but I just blamed it on the ever-increasing size and complexity of the software. This morning I had entered several long, complicated deposits when the software began locking up on me and then, after I closed the program and/or rebooted the computer, coming up with one excuse after another to keep me out of the client file. QB couldn’t find the file, or I didn’t have permission to use the file, or there wasn’t enough space to record the transaction. Or there was just plain no connection to the office WiFi network and the client files stored on another computer.

After numerous rounds of frustration (and after losing the long, complicated deposit twice), I realized that all the trouble might be related to the network connection. So I went into Jo Anne’s office to see if she was having problems. She was working on the cloud-based version of QB. She hates the cloud-based version, but it was working.

Kiko playing paperweight

Kiko playing paperweight

When I looked around the office to the network connections a few feet from Jo Anne’s computer, I saw Kiko the bad-tempered calico, one of our three Scorekeeper office cats, sitting on the wireless router. She loves the tangle of cords and cables under that table, and Jo Anne and I don’t understand the mess well enough to move the router and the print server to a less feline-accessible location (assuming, of course, that such a place exists). Kiko has been suspected of disconnecting my computer from the print server by sitting on that, so I shooed her off the router, set it upright, and went back to my desk, perhaps thirty feet away. The bars on my network icon had jumped from two to four.

I tried moving the router to the top of a nearby storage carton, but Kiko sat there staring at it, clearly plotting to drag it back down as soon as I turned my back. “Put a box over it,” Jo Anne suggested.

That required laying the router back down on its side on the floor—it may be a “wireless” router, but it’s connected to the rest of the tangle by at least two cables—and covering it with a smallish cardboard carton.

I had no more connection trouble for the rest of the day.

We have no idea what draws Kiko to the router and the print server—warmth? vibrations? secret electronic messages from feline aliens headed this way in spaceships resembling empty grocery bags?—but when I left work this evening, she was sitting on the box over the router. I have a feeling my low tech solution may not be permanent.

Romance in the Old West

Between Heaven & HellHannah, the heroine of Jacqui Nelson’s Between Heaven & Hell, can’t remember her last name. When she was a child she watched from beneath a bramble bush as her parents were killed and her home burned to the ground by rogue militiamen. Rescued by a band of Osage Indians who call her Blue Sky, Hannah finds herself a decade later on the run from Eagle Feather, the warrior she once called brother. Desperate to travel west, she applies for a scout position with a wagon train about to leave Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for far-off California.

Paden Callahan, a former Texas Ranger who lost his wife to a Comanche raid, has taken on the job of wagon master as a favor to his father-in-law, General Sherwood. He’d much rather be back at his new home in Oregon, building his lumber business. Hiring a female scout may be unthinkable (after all, it’s 1850), but keeping the man she would replace, a drunken boor named Dawson, is an even worse prospect.

Paden’s caution is not unjustified. With both Eagle Feather and Dawson seeking vengeance against Hannah, she may be a danger to the wagon train. But Paden is harboring secrets of his own, and an enemy from his past is waiting at Fort Laramie.

Nelson paints a believable and moving picture of the hardships of the mid-nineteenth century, as settlers leave precious possessions behind to lighten their wagons and bury lost loved ones along the side of the trail. While Hannah and Paden do their best for the wagon train, they are drawn to each other and begin to imagine a future together. But with so many forces working to keep them apart, can they make that dream a reality?Between Love & Lies

Jacqui Nelson is also the author of the novella Adella’s Enemy, in the Romance and Rails anthology Passion’s Prize, and the forthcoming Between Love & Lies, set in Dodge City.

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