Tuesday, January 06, 2015

2014 Book List



2014 BOOK LIST

 1. The Litagators   John Grisham   Entertaining and informative as Grisham always is.

2. The Strain   Guillermo Del Toro   First book of a trilogy.  A new kind of vampire.  First half of the 
book is very good. Second half, not so much.

 3. Five short stories from The Best Of P.G. Wodehouse  Always a pleasure.

4. The Rosie Project   Graeme Simsion  Entertaining love story with a mildly autistic/genius narrator. Good fun.

5. A Short History of Nearly Everything   Bill Bryson.  The big picture made clear.  Good stuff.

6. Paper Trails   Pete Dexter  Pete’s newspaper columns.  Great reads.

7. The Intrusion of Jimmy   P.G. Wodehouse  Great fun as always.

8.  How Long is Now?  Tim Freke  Interesting philosophical tome. Worth a look see by anyone.

9. The Goldfnch   Donna Tartt  A deserving Pulitzer winner.  Beautifully written.

10.  Darkly Dreaming Dexter  Jeff Lindsey  Fun, fast read from which the Dexter TV show’s first episode was written.

11. Mary’s Mosaic   Peter Janney   How JFK’s main squeeze was murdered and by who.  Nice companion piece to JFK and the Unspeakable.

12,  Rainbow’s End   Martha Grimes  Another satisfying Richard Jury and Company mystery.

13.  The Little Nugget.  P.G. Wodehouse  Always fun, but this one is not special.

14.  Silent in the Grave  Deanna Raybourn   Mystery set in the 19th century and told by the protagonist, Lady Julia Grey. Plays out in a nice unhurried fashion.

15. The Strain Book 2    Guillermo Del Toro  The story expands, becomes broader in scope.  Just good enough to move me on to book 3.

16. Silent in the Sanctuary.  Deanna Raybourn   Lady Grey solves another murder mystery in her own unique style.

17. Vertigo 42    Martha Grimes  Martha’s latest is one of her best.

18. Silent on the Moor  Deanna Raybourn  Nice wrap up of the trilogy.

19. Over Easy  Mimi Pond  Graphic novel set in a ‘70s diner.  Big fun.

20. The Little Warrior  P.G. Wodehouse  Love and complications around the making of a Broadway play.  Good P.G. stuff, as always.

21. Foul Matter  Martha Grimes  Most entertaining book of the year so far.  Read it all in two sittings. Publishers, writers, agents, editors and …hit-men. Fabulous!

22. Cold Flat Junction    Martha Grimes  More good Martha.  Twelve year old girl narrator solves murder mystery.

23.  The Deer Leap   Martha Grimes  Like I was when I ran out of Dick Francis’ mysteries, I will be when I’ve read the last of Martha’s, sad.  Always good entertainment.

24.  The Man With A Load Of Mischief.  Martha Grimes   Martha’s first Inspector Jury mystery.  I’m caught up now and will let Martha go for awhile.

25.  It’s Only Slow Food Until You Try To Eat It   Bill Heavy  Good writing from a man trying to catch, shoot, grow and forage for his own food.     

26.  The Souls of All Living Creatures   Vint Virga  D.V.M.  Caring for animals and philosophically linking their ways to ours.  Well done.

27. The Road Home  Jim Harrison  A great book.  A long, slow, deep read. I savored it from beginning to end.

28.  Love Among the Chickens  P.G.Wodehouse  Frolics and love at a chicken farm by people who know nothing about chicken farming.

29.   Different Seasons  Stephen King  I had read this collection of novellas before but didn’t realize it until I was well into it again, so I continued on.  Four solid stories and an interesting afterword.

30.  Desperation   Stephen King   Not one of his best, but still readable.











Wednesday, October 29, 2014

PRINCE CHARMING



                           PRINCE CHARMING
                                     By Doc Walton

And they lived happily ever after.

If by ever after I mean about a year.

You see the thing is kids, and you might as well learn this now, Princes on the whole are not really a settle down and live happily ever after kind of royalty.  At least not the young ones.  They are generally handsome, they are generally rich and they are for the most part a fun loving bunch of fellows.  And seriously, why wouldn't they be?  Given that handsome and rich part there is not much in the way of fun that isn't available to them.

Take the case of Prince Charming for example.  You all know Prince Charming.  He's the one that went in search of the foot that fit the glass slipper Cinderella left at the ball.  He finds it, of course, with Cinderella attached and bibbety bobbety boo off they go to live happily ever after…end of story.  Well that's what they would like you to believe kids; they being the writers of happy endings.   What really happened is a whole nother story.  Who here wants to hear it? 

Everybody?  Alrighty then, I can't give you all the gritty details because you are too young for that, but I'll give you the story in short and you can fill in the rest when you are older. 

Cinderella - let's call her Cindy - was in fact a beautiful young woman, especially so when her fairy godmother was seeing to her, but no eye sore the rest of the time either.  For awhile this was enough to keep the prince interested.  He was particularly enchanted by Cindy's lovely little feet which was, after all, why he had hunted her down in the first place.  He would spend time every day caressing, fondling and kissing them.  Cindy, for her part was still flummoxed and bewildered that she was there in the palace for real, so whatever the prince wanted to do was okay by her.  She did, though, secretly wish the prince would move along to other, er, ah, entertainments a bit faster.  Let’s call it dancing.  The prince was a pretty good… dancer.  Months go by and Charming’s foot fetish wanes some and the difference between his upbringing and Cindy's becomes more and more apparent.  He has been highly educated and she barely.  I mean they can only dance for so long and then talking is usually required.  It turns out they have little in common to talk about.  The prince rattles on about history, foreign lands and politics, boring Cindy half to death, because what she wants to talk about is the terrible mistreatment she had undergone at the hands of her step family.  Neither one is interested in the other's day to day chatter and what with that foot thing occurring less and less often, the prince decides that riding about the countryside is more fun than hanging around the house.  Cindy for the most part doesn’t miss him.  She simply reverts to old habits and spends her days cleaning tapestries and polishing the armor of knights long past that are assembled upright in corners here and there about the castle. She has lots of pretty clothes and although it is not a great life, she thinks, it is better than her old one.   

And this, children, is where the story takes a turn.

Bored Prince Charming is out riding one day in a part of the forest that was surprisingly new to him.  He thought he was familiar with every rock and tree but here was a part of the woods he hadn’t seen before.  What he didn’t know was he had wandered into an enchanted glade where a beautiful princess had been cursed by an evil witch and now lay asleep unable to wake for a hundred years unless kissed by a handsome prince.  Curses in those days had to have an antidote and the witch had figured that finding a handsome prince and getting kissed…well, you know, what were the odds?   
Charming wanders around in the magical glade delighted by the birds chirping and flitting about, the squirrels winding themselves around trees, bunnies hopping about and unicorns grazing on the plush forest floor, all the things anyone could ever expect in an enchanted setting and here it was in Technicolor, which as you know kids, is better than real color.  A beam of light beyond a near stand of trees catches the prince’s attention and he wanders over to see what’s what.  There on a bed floating slightly above the ground lies the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  The prince dismounts and kneels beside her.  After gently shaking her shoulder and urging her to awaken he realizes the woman is in some sort of coma.  He decides he needs to ride back to the palace and get help, but before departing he plants a deep, serious kiss on the woman’s lips.  He figures why not.  After she wakes up she might not like him, so this may be his only chance.  He also notes that she has really nice feet.  What he doesn’t know, kids, is that the princess was dreaming in the moment before the prince kissed her and what with her being in her late teens and all those crazy hormones that wash over a person of that age, her dream had taken a quite erotic turn.  I’ll explain what hormones are later.  Erotic too.  She awakes to the prince’s kiss and kisses him back with a passion he had never experienced before.  This kissing part goes on for awhile and then what ensues after that is a serious episode of what I will call shenanigans.  Don’t raise your hands all at once, I will explain shenanigans at some later date when you are older… much older.  What you need to know for now is the prince and the princess agree to meet on a regular basis there in the enchanted forest until they can figure out what to do with the prince’s principal problem.  You know her as Cinderella.

Well this carrying on carries on for a couple of months until our Wide Awake Beauty declares she is tired of living in the woods even if they are enchanted and she doesn’t lack for comforts.  She wants a roof over her head and a castle to princess about in.  She has learned all about Cinderella and she wants the prince to make up his fickle mind.

Charming, for his part, is getting a little tired of trekking into the woods each day to attend to his paramour, that’s girlfriend to you, kids, whose name by the way, is Aurora, so he sneaks her into the palace.  Oh, and here’s another by the way, a palace is actually just a fancy castle.  He takes her to a wing of the building far removed from where Cindy mostly hangs out.  It is, I hafta tell ya, a really big castle. 
This new situation suits the prince for a couple of weeks, but in truth he grows somewhat tired of slipping about and making excuses for his absences.  He declares to both women that he has to go away for awhile on tax collecting business.  The upkeep of a castle requires some funding, he tells them, but he will return shortly.  The fact of the matter is the prince is loaded and doesn’t need money, but it is the best excuse he can come up with that will get him out of the castle without having to take one or both of the ladies with him.  Tax collecting, everybody knows, is dangerous work.

He wanders alone deep into the woods, far deeper than he has ever gone before and one day, when he is nearing what he thinks should be a turn-around point, his steed crests a hill and the prince finds himself looking over a spectacular valley.  He sees on the far side of this splendid basin a cottage nestled among a grove of trees.  As he watches, seven little men exit the cottage in single file all carrying one sort of digging tool or another.  They disappear whistling into the trees to the left of the cottage and the prince notes that as they do a lovely looking woman appears at the cottage door and waves them a cheerful goodbye.

What happens next, kids, is what we now have come to expect, but not precisely in the manner expected.  The prince rides down to the cottage and introduces himself to Snow White, who it turns out, has been hiding with the dwarves for fear of an evil step mother who wants her dead.  Step mothers, you should know, children, are not all evil, just the ones in fairy tales and probably yours if you have one.  The prince is invited in for tea and what with Snow being another extraordinary beauty one thing leads to another.  All right, all right, I’ll explain.

You see, Snow had also reached an age where romance is generally desired and although each of the seven dwarves had made their advances, she couldn’t actually settle with one and break the other’s hearts.  Besides that she had her own idea of what a suitor should look like and it was here that tall, dark and handsome factored in.  The prince fit THAT bill exactly.  Seduction ensued.  Okay, okay!  It means she put the moves on the prince and, of course, horn dog that he was, he caved right in.  Before the day was out and the dwarves returned Snow and the prince were riding off together, hell bent…I mean heck bent for the castle.  Things were about to get complicated.
Like I said kids, it was a very big castle.  Snow White was tucked into yet another wing far removed from the others.  The prince merrily returned to his bed hopping ways.   

What?  Oh yeah, that means he didn’t always sleep in the same bed.  Hey come on kids, he was a prince.  Who cares if he had weird sleeping habits?

Anyway, just like before, he quickly grew tired of this arrangement.  But this time, unlike before, he decided to not ride out but simply bring the women together and select once and for all which one should be his true princess.

Well, you can imagine how that went.  First the ladies got after each other like alley cats over a fish bone, each declaring they were Charming’s one real love.  Eventually, though, they calmed down as this was getting them nowhere and it became clear to all three the decision was really the prince’s to make.  They gathered ‘round him ominously and demanded he choose choose CHOOSE! 

But the stubborn and spoiled prince wouldn’t do it.  He would not commit to one princess and one only and let the others go.  He was, like I told you at the beginning, accustomed to privilege and here were three ungrateful ladies – as he saw it - who he had rescued from dire circumstances now trying to tell him he couldn’t do exactly as he wanted.  He was getting riled and somewhat miffed.  What’s that you ask?  Oh, sure.  Miffed means just a little short of angry.  The prince turns his back to the more than miffed princess wannabes and walks to the nearest castle window.  It is there that he sees something that clears his head and makes him decide what he truly wants to do.
“Guards” he cries out!  “Guards!”  And faster than you can say Rumplestillskin six armed men enter the room.  “Take these women to the tower,” he commands, “I don’t want to see them again.”

The stunned ladies are escorted out while the prince hollers after the guards.  “Put them in Repuzel’s old room.  And make sure they keep their hair cut.”
The prince returns to the window just in time to see the young woman he had spied  a moment ago disappear into the forest.  She’s carrying a basket and is dressed in a bright red, hooded cloak.  Hmm, he thinks.  I do believe it is time for me to ride out again.   

“Guards,” he shouts anew. “Ready my horse.”
And that, kids, is the whole story.

Afterword.

The prince follows - I guess you could say stalks if you want to be accurate, kids - Little Red Riding Hood for a couple of days and learns the location of her grandmother’s cabin.  He thinks it would be a great idea to go there, charm the grandmother and thus smooth the way to getting the girl.  He arrives at the cabin on an overcast, gray sort of day about an hour before Red Riding Hood is expected.  He figures that is enough time to get all his charming done.  When he opens the door he finds it is quite dark inside.  There are no lanterns and what with the day being dark, there is no light coming through the windows.  He can barely see Hood’s grandmother across the room.  She is sitting in a rocking chair.  From what he can tell at that distance, she has large eyes, pointy ears and, when she smiles, quite large teeth.

“Hi there Good Looking,” he says to her in his best oily voice. “I’m Prince Charming from the castle beyond the woods.  Mind if I come in?”

“Please do” says the grandma. “And come closer, I can barely see you.”


Doc Walton  October 2014

 

       
   




      

 


Thursday, October 02, 2014

Steps on the Stair



                                        STEPS ON THE STAIR
                                                            By Doc Walton

He remembers it now. 
His had been an aggressive and pervasive fear, always there waiting to spike at the sound he dreaded, the sound of steps on the back stairs.  The moment the first footfall touched wooden plank, his attention would sharpen, his hearing become focused and acute.  Was it the heavy tread that presaged pain or the lighter one that meant an evening of minding his Ps and Qs and making it safely to bed?  The measure of the steps on the stairwell foretold all.  
The solid whuck of a car door slamming in the drive was the first tell.  He would stop and drop whatever he was doing and become "all ears."  The big man’s tread on the old wooden steps spoke to what the night would bring.  A light brisk, regular footfall meant sobriety and, perhaps, an evening free of violence, an evening in which Mommy smiled and Daddy smiled and he, the good, obedient child, only spoke when spoken to.  A heavy, uneven series of thuds on the stairs meant brace yourself, steel yourself, there would be pain and, perhaps, even blood.  Daddy was home and he was drunk.  Again. 

Daniel was his name, born and dubbed so some twelve years ago to an abusive father and a beaten down mother too frightened to intervene.  His reality from the moment he understood the concept was simply fear, fear of hurt, fear of harm, fear even of death.  And the face of that fear was Danny’s father, a hard man who strode nightly through his house, his kingdom, with the attendant I-am-lord-and-master attitude.  He was a thick man, strong, fearsome and, as Danny was taught over and over, NEVER WRONG.  So take what you had coming and try not to say a word.  Cry a little, cringe a little, show that it hurt, hurt a lot.  If you didn’t, the blows would increase until you did.  Squirm, beg even, but never act defiant, no never defiant, or your life, young Danny knew, could be ended. 


Twelve, though, is an interesting age.  For many it marks a "coming of age," a time when bright kids realize that some decisions are actually theirs to make and they are not just puppets dancing to their parents’ will.  Self determination, at least in part, becomes a goal if not an immediately accessible reality. 
Considering his circumstance, though, it would be harder for Danny to achieve his psychological emancipation and even more difficult his physical one.  Running away, he knew, would not work.  He would be caught and brought back to a hell worse than the one he now occupied.  Telling someone was also out of the question.  Who would believe him?  And even if he was believed, who could take action before his father put his fists to him?  There was in Danny’s mind but a single choice that could free him forever.  Since he couldn’t go… Daddy had to.
His plan was simple and seemingly accidental enough that even if it failed Danny couldn’t be blamed.  In fact it was Danny’s own misadventure, tripping on a low stair and falling, that gave him the idea.  It was winter and snow would fall.  Shoveling the heavy, wet white was his job and he did it diligently.  Along with the sidewalks and driveway the back stairs, all twelve of them, had to be cleared.  What if, Danny thought, Daddy was to slip from one of those stairs, he would surely be hurt, wouldn’t he?  The bruises from his own fall were proof of that.  And what if he slipped at the very top? Wouldn’t he be hurt more, hurt really bad?  Maybe break something?  Maybe even his head?   He could be so hurt, Danny thought, he might be unable to stop what would happen next. 
And so this boy, tired of pain, tired of fear, tired of groveling, waited impatiently for that one day when the snow would come and the temperature would fall and a weatherman promised more of the same.  On that day he would act.
And so he did.
Danny shoveled and then swept the stairs of every last flake of snow.  Not a trace remained.  The water he poured on the landing and top two steps froze instantly and was quite invisible.  His bat, a hefty Big Papi model, was propped inside by the door.  Danny was warmed to a sweat by his work but nevertheless felt chilled inside; cold and determined.  The day was Friday.  The day his dad was always drunk.
The car door slamming was later than usual and, to Danny’s attentive ears, louder.  It was an hour or so past most bar Happy Hours and quite dark outside.  Danny had purposely left the house back lights unlit. This he knew would infuriate his father, but an angry, drunk, careless man was what Danny hoped for.  Muffled footsteps reached his ears as his father stumbled the short walk from driveway to back stairs.  It was with the first step upward that the big man’s cursing began and Danny’s hope and fear shot up simultaneously.

Cluff cluff, the first two stairs.  “Son of a bitch, I’m going to beat the crap out of that little fucker.”  Cluff cluff, the next two.  “Goddamn it, I can’t see shit.”  Cluff, cluff, two more.  “I am truly going to bust his ass.”  Cluff cluff.  Seven and eight.  “Come out here you little bastard!”  Then quickly, cluff cluff, cluff cluff.  “I’m going to teach you, WHAT THE!”
With his ear pressed to the door Danny then heard…was it two or three loud thumps?  He wasn’t sure.  He flipped the back light switch to on, turned the knob and opened the door warily.  His father lay crumpled at the bottom of the stairs, his head twisted at an unlikely angle.  The bat, Danny knew at once, wouldn’t be necessary.  He turned then, back into the house.  “Mom” he hollered to his TV engrossed mother.  “I think Dad has hurt himself.”
 
Yes he remembers it all now, some 15 years later and he remembers it with no regrets.  Why should I feel bad, he thinks, the man was a monster.  If he hadn’t died me or Mom would have.  He was certain of that.  He pushes the memory aside as he hears the sound of laughter ring out from the next room.  His twin sons are happily engrossed in their video game.
“I told you boys to go to bed,” Danny shouts at them with menace in his voice he doesn’t actually feel. “Do it right now.” He knows they will piddle around a little longer until he actually appears and hustles them up to their room.  He doesn’t mind.  They’re good kids.  He thinks, though, for a second, what his father would have done.  He has heard it said, after all, so often, “Like father like Son.” He ponders that for just moment and then his next thought spills out aloud. “Yeah, well not in this house” he declares. “Not now, not ever.”  
September 2014  Doc Walton