Audiobook Review: Daddy Love

15896217I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how prolific and diverse Joyce Carol Oates is, and for me, many of her books have either been completely “off” (them, You Must Remember This, as examples) or they are completely “on” (The Gravedigger’s Daughter, The Falls, We Were the Mulvaney’s). I also have quite a few on the TBR List (The Accursed, Mudwoman, A Fair Maiden). Knowing this, it was perhaps the biggest reason for wanting to go forward with reading Daddy Love. The description and subject of Daddy Love is definitely not for the squeamish and is a parent’s worst nightmare. Its subject matter is not generally something I would willfully subject myself to reading about. However, I was intrigued as it is written by JCO. How would this novel go for me? Off or On?

We first received the title from NetGalley but it was in that dreaded PDF format! I then saw that Audiobook JukeBox was offering it from Highbridge Audio for their Solid Gold Reviewers program. Okay, perhaps listening to it might allow me to stomach the subject matter? (Elizabeth thought I was right off my head when I said I was going to read this, by the way.) I am thinking that it may be a better choice to listen to it? 6 1/2 hours on only 6 CDs seemed reasonable enough to handle. Right?

Here is what Daddy Love offers its readers: Dinah Whitcomb seemingly has everything. A loving and successful husband, and a smart, precocious young son named Robbie. One day, their worlds are shattered when Dinah is attacked and Robbie is taken in a mall parking lot. Dinah, injured, attempts to follow, but is run over by the kidnapper’s van, mangling her body nearly beyond repair.

The kidnapper, a part-time Preacher named Chester Cash, calls himself Daddy Love, as he has abducted, tortured, and raped several young boys into being his lover and as well as his ‘son’. He confines Robbie in a device called an Wooden Maiden, in essence a small coffin, and renamed him ‘Gideon’. Daddy Love slowly brainwashes ‘Gideon’ into believing that he is Daddy Love’s real son, and any time the boy resists or rebels it is met with punishment beyond his wildest nightmares.

As Dinah recovers from her wounds, her world and her marriage struggle to exist every day. Though it seems hopeless, she keeps a flicker of hope alive that her son is still alive.

As Robbie grows older, he becomes more aware of just how monstrous Daddy Love truly is. Though as a small boy he as terrified of what might happen if he disobeyed Daddy Love, Robbie begins to realize that the longer he stays in the home of this demon, the greater chance he’ll end up like Daddy Love’s other ‘sons’ who were never heard from again. Somewhere within this tortured young boy lies a spark of rebellion…and soon he sees just what lengths he must go to in order to have any chance at survival. (From Goodreads)

(So perhaps you see why Elizabeth thought I needed my head examined right?) Christine Williams is the narrator and I fully believe now that she was the intended and best choice. I’m not sure what the process was to audition for this, or if that was what was actually done, but I’m wondering if her narration and its style was fully intended. Christine speaks in a calm, assured, almost hypnotic voice. It’s this hypnotic quality that I’m thinking was the full intention here. In honesty, I believe many times I fell under in to a hypnotic trance while driving and listening to these CDs. If you combine this trance-inducing narration with Oates constant repetition (Mommy, Robbie, Daddy, The Preacher, Daddy Love, all which is repeated and used over and over and over again. At the start of the sentence, in the middle of the sentence, consistently and repeatedly repeated) it’s almost as if you are being pulled in to a trance and hypnotised. “Take Mommy’s hand Robbie. Robbie took Mommy’s hand. Robbie held firm to Mommy’s hand. Robbie liked when Mommy held his hand…” “Daddy Love took his time. Daddy Love does not like disobedience. Daddy Love makes sure he takes his time.”

Joyce Carol Oates was nothing short of extremely methodical and detailed, most especially when describing Daddy Love, his thinking, his actions, his justification for doing what he does. The story begins in Yipsilanti and Detroit, Michigan so I heard many familiar landmarks, streets and settings. Was I sending numerous emails to my fellow hoarders daily calming myself through this horrific tale? Was I 100% invested in this story?  Was I gripping the steering wheel in sheer terror for Gideon and walking quite shakily to my office each morning? Is Daddy Love evil incarnate? Is this not the most greuling and intense story I’ve ever listened to?

And then I woke up one morning thinking…didn’t I feel the exact same way when I was reading The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. And did this novel not receive from each of us here at the Literary Hoarders 5-blazing-stars & a standing ovation? Was I not feeling absolute fear every single time Ras Ballenger hit the page? Was my stomach not clenching and churning in knots whenever he dished out his own brand of evil and excessive abuse?

Did I not feel the same when reading about Brother Ryder from The Whipping Club by Deborah Henry? Did I not cry inside every day for Adrian?

Did I not feel the same when reading Glass Boys by Nicole Lundrigan? What about Hell or High Water by Joy Castro?

The answer to all of these questions above is a resounding YES.

ALL of these books were awarded high & top honours because of the sheer emotional investment to the story, but also because of how exceptionally well written was their subject matter. Their subject matter was so gruesome, so intense they all left me shaking, weak and uneasy.

So did Joyce Carol Oates achieve the same with Daddy Love? Absolutely and then some! How can this novel then not be said to be anything but excellent? (and hey, did you notice, all of the above mentioned books are written by women.)

JCO has mastered the evil and sickness that is Daddy Love. In spades. It was incredible how deep in to his head she went when detailing his madness, his sickness, his justification for inflicting his own brand of evil. However, she has also incredibly mastered the torment and tortured soul and internal death of a young and innocent boy whom grows to adolescence in the arms of an evil, sadistic paedophile. She chronicles the significant change from a small, innocent boy named Robbie, to the eerily quiet, increasingly destructive 11-year-old Gideon. Gideon has steeled himself against the evil of Daddy Love and changes to a boy simmering with hate and spite. I felt nothing but great despair and anger to see how Robbie is forever altered from years of abuse.

She also added further “balance” to this when she took the time to portray the two parents left bereft and broken following their son’s abduction. She did not forget that side of the story, for their tale is an immensely important one as well. Their lives and marriage implode following Robbie’s abduction. She provides perfect detail of the mother’s broken, disabled and disfigured body and mind, following Dinah’s being run over by Daddy Love’s van and being left for dead, over to the father’s persistence in spending every moment of his time looking, searching, finding anything to do that may help in the disappearance of his son. Their marriage crumbles and Ms. Oates has hit on every single member of each of these families and delved deep into their mindsets. It was actually quite intensely incredible to listen to. She brilliantly captures every single character. From what makes them tick, to their mindset, mentality, and behaviour. She also smoothly brings the story full circle and to a close when Robbie returns to his parents, six years after his abduction and how each member of this broken family must heal and move forward. She also expertly addresses the questions that surface in the media and the public. Why didn’t he tell anyone? Why didn’t he run away sooner? And the subsequent media coverage, legal matters and trials facing Chester Cash/Daddy Love.

Oates breaks the story down in to three parts: The abduction, the middle years and finally the return, the return of this forever altered now 11-year-old boy. For Robbie is no longer a typical 11-year-old boy, a boy subjected to the most unspeakable horrors, he is no longer a boy that smiles easily, his eyes too wise beyond his years and he remains sullen and distant. Each part depicted with tremendous and complete detail.

Christine Williams, again, the most brilliant choice for providing the narration to this incredibly difficult story. If Joyce Carol Oates masterfully wrote the story, Christine Williams has done it immense justice by bringing the perfect voice to it. Again, I found myself completely mesmerized when listening to this audiobook. Williams perfectly captured each voice in a very calm, assured and as I noted above, hypnotic manner. When 5-year-old Gideon would answer “Yes Daddy” to Daddy Love, it would send chills racing up and down my spine, for it was impeccably performed. When she would narrate Daddy Love’s voice during those moments of horrifying abuse, I would recoil, shake and grip the steering wheel. She definitely mastered the narration of this tale. And it was a story I was completely invested in, would even drive longer on the way home, or remain sitting in the car for a few minutes before coming in to work.

For all of the above, I must give Daddy Love 4.5 stars. I’m shying from the 5-star because I fear that it would appear I freely seek these unsettling tales of horror and abuse, it was difficult to stomach yes, but you cannot in any way say it wasn’t brilliantly written and narrated.

Now excuse me while I go find Hop on Pop or Green Eggs & Ham in audio to soothe my soul.

There is a US national center for missing and exploited children, their website and hotline information is here.  In Canada, it is called Childfind Canada and can be found here.

Book Review: Afterwards

afterI thought Rosamund Lupton’s novel Sister was fantastic.  A page-burner in every sense.  Terrific characters, compelling plot, unique writing style.  And then, I read Afterwards.  Rosamund Lupton has done it again… for me, perhaps even more so.  Afterwards is whodunit perfection.

From Goodreads: 

There is a fire and they are in there. They are in there…

Black smoke stains a summer blue sky. A school is on fire. And one mother, Grace, sees the smoke and rush. She knows her teenage daughter Jenny is inside. She runs into the burning building to rescue her.

Afterwards, Grace must find the identity of the arsonist and protect her children from the person who’s still intent on destroying them. Afterwards, she must fight the limits of her physical strength and discover the limitlessness of love.

Ms. Lupton’s writing style is addictive.  She shies away from typical narratives, and embarks on much more creative viewpoints.  In this instance, protagonist Grace and her daughter Jenny are not of this world during the bulk of the novel.  Following the devastating fire, their damaged bodies lay in a hospital, hooked to beeping machines.  Grace and Jenny, however, are free of their physical forms, and their spirits wander the hospital.  They are able to observe their surroundings and speak with one another.  If they can tolerate the pain, they can also leave the hospital grounds.  It’s a fascinating setting.

Grace in particular speaks to her beloved husband constantly, even though he cannot hear a word.  The trick of it all is that there is a sinister presence that is trying to harm Jenny.  Grace needs to discover the culprit of the school fire, and the person who is after her daughter.  How do you do this when you’re not able to function in your earthly body?  Since Grace is able to listen to conversations unnoticed, and follow people undetected, she can help propel the investigation.  But how?  How can she communicate with her husband, her son, and her dynamic sister-in-law Sarah, who is a police officer unlike any other?

How can you put this book down?

What struck me most about Afterwards was the unyielding love behind the story.  Rosamund Lupton effectively intertwines Grace’s fierce devotion to her family with a stunning mystery.  You can feel Grace’s determination to protect her children, but you cannot guess the story’s outcome.  The characters are beautifully penned, and the hints of what is waiting ‘afterward’ are inspiring.  This is a whodunit with more heart than a romance novel.  I loved every minute of it.

I could keep gushing over this clever novel, but I’m afraid that I’ll give too much away.  I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun.  I’ll close this enthusiastic review by stealing Grace’s words when she was addressing her sister-in-law Sarah (even though Sarah could not hear her).  Ms. Lupton, “You’re bloody marvelous.”

Can’t wait for your next novel.

5 Stars for Afterwards.

Audiobook Review: The Inquisitor

inquLove a torture novel about a stoic guy who has massive daddy issues?  Are you drawn to characters who don’t blink, are rippled with muscles, and who are calculating to the point of being robotic?

Well, do I have the novel for you.

I have no clue what came over me when I popped this in for a listen.  A story about a professional torturer, who suddenly shows a degree of humanity by saving his latest “Jones;” a 12-year old boy?  Not my normal genre by a long shot.  I don’t mind thrillers, but I think I underestimated this one.

Quick plot summary: the bad guys want to get a hold of a boy’s father.  The father has something that they want. What to do….. what to do… of course.  Kidnap the son while the self-obsessed dad runs for the hills, and then hand that boy over to a professional torturer!  Then they’ll get what they want!

But WAIT — the torturer draws the line at working with children.  What a guy.  Could it be?  Yes.  A torturer with a conscience.  Cue the music.

I listened to the first CD.  Thank you, but I don’t require that much historical detail to get a clear picture about what the “protagonist” does for a living.  “Geiger” is gifted at “information retrieval.”  That’s a fancy way of saying that he’ll insert an acupuncture needle into the top of your spinal cord and will give it a flick if you’re not giving him the information he’s seeking on behalf of his clients.  And don’t even think about lying.  Geiger knows. Geiger senses. Geiger works through migraines without Advil.  Geiger sees a therapist to discuss his dreams.  Geiger built his dwelling by hand, making it double as a bomb.  Geiger can do endless one-armed naked push-ups in his backyard.  (No, I’m not making this up.)

After several chapters of describing Geiger, it struck me that the author may have developed a slight case of hero-worship with the character that he had penned.  He became so enamored with “Geiger” that it was distracting.  Fellow Hoarders Penny and Jackie asked how the story was going at one point, and I told them that I was waiting for Geiger to stand up and whisper “I’m Batman.”

Alas, the fun with needles and other devices (Geiger doesn’t like blood during his sessions) had to come to a halt after a client brings him a 12-year-old boy. Rather than go through with the “session,” Geiger rescues him.  The cat and mouse game begins.  While Geiger tries to think his way out of the situation, the boy, Ezra, is understandably baffled by him, but quickly learns to trust him.  Truly, Geiger shows the boy more fatherly protection than the biological version, so a link was inevitable.  Predictably, the boy becomes attached to this bizarre and seemingly emotionless man.  In actuality, the feelings become mutual, and Ezra brings out the more humane side of Geiger.  Ezra made Geiger face his past, and start to function like someone with a pulse.  No, this was not lost on me.

I will say that the chase was effective, and you do root for Geiger.  That alone is worth merit, as getting people to cheer for a professional torturer is no small feat.  I also appreciated the character development of Ezra, and Geiger’s partner Harry.  The people surrounding Geiger were well-drawn, including the “bad guys.”

The audiobook was narrated by Ari Fliakos, and his work was a true highlight.  Mr. Fliakos had fantastic range.  There are few things more entertaining than a narrator who effectively represents the characters.  His Geiger was spot-on, and his “bad guys” were classic.  He had an impressive range of voices, and masterful inflection.  Well done!

Overall, The Inquisitor was indeed worthy of the thriller categorization.  It kept me listening, even when I was grimacing.  I suppose I could have done with less torture detail (which at times seemed superfluous), but I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I had to know what happened to every character.  For that, The Inquisitor gets 3 stars from this Hoarder.

Audiobook Review: The Absolutist

absolutist If you look at the bottom of this cover, you’ll see it states, rather simply, “Read by Michael Maloney”. No, my friends, this audiobook is not just “read” by Michael Maloney, it is LIVED by Michael Maloney. Maloney reads it with such gusto, enthusiasm, tenderness, exquiteness that it comes as absolutely no surprise to hear The Absolutist won an Earphones Award by AudioFile for Exceptional Audio Performance. Absolutely. Absolutely exceptional. Listening to The Absolutist left me many times with either tears streaming down my face, heart aching, (just aching) or grinning like a fool cheshire cat.

Included in the description at the back of the audiobook is the following statement, “The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep listeners on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and it will stay with them long after they’ve finished.”

Oh how true, yes, it will stay with me long after, as it was a deeply affecting story.

We begin the story with a now 21-year-old Tristan Sadler as he boards a train to Norwich to return a packet of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft. Will is a man Tristan trained with in Aldershot and fought with in France. However, the packet of letters is not the sole reason for going to Norwich to meet Marian, for Tristan plans on finally relieving himself of the tale of his and Will’s relationship and what exactly happened over in France when Will was killed. Tristan feels he has worked up enough courage to divulge the truth and cleanse his soul.

The story then begins to alternate from the time Tristan first meets Will in Aldershot, back to Norwich where he sits with Marian and tells his story. His story begins with some of the events that lead him to enlist and finally up to that incredibly tragic time in France when Will is killed. We never learn of how Will is killed, just that he never returned from France.  The reader does not find out until the very end, and it happens in a pulse-pounding, highly anxious moment. Actually, of the 20 men Tristan trained with, only 2 survive. Tristan and the one chap that went mad and had to be sent home. It is during these moments when Tristan is sharing details of their training in Aldershot and later in France that you get a fantastic dose of Maloney’s narration and how it simply shines. Gleams? It’s just brilliant whatever the word is that you wish to describe it. Their training sergeant is a man named Clayton. Sgt. Clayton leaps out of the book in all his glory and meanness under Maloney’s brilliant narration. It’s just awesome!

Anyway, the story leading up to Tristan’s training and his developing friendship with Will is a heartbreaking one, for certain. His former relationship with his father and family is forever altered by one quick and small event, and when Tristan relates the farewell moments between him and his father, your heart will be crushed.  Just as a side note here, this novel has been listed in the “If You Love Downton Abbey” lists and while I do adore Downton Abbey (wasn’t that season finale horribly heartbreaking?! Why?!) I’m not a great fan of following these lists or the generation/creation of these, but I must confide that I often thought of Thomas when hearing Tristan confide in Marian his heartbreaking tale. For Tristan is gay, and in his relationship with Will Bancroft, he discovers great happiness and self-discovery as well as continued confusion and fierce pain. (However, his true feelings/relationship with Will are never revealed to Marian until the very, very end of the story.)

And, the final moments between Will and Tristan are indeed ones that make your heart pound, and yes, you are definitely at the edge of your seat, breathless, waiting for what is to happen next.  The Absolutist comes to a close when Tristan is in his advanced old age, a celebrated novelist, and is met again by Marian. She has come to see him after reading of his award in the newspaper. To confront him? To resolve the past? She doesn’t quite know herself, but it is for certain her one final visit. And it is in these final moments with Marian that Tristan confides that he has remained alone all these years. He has never considered another relationship, has never sought one out, for the one he had with Will is one that is everlasting. It’s truly a heartbreaking end.

John Boyne’s previous novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is also narrated by Michael Maloney. This had me frantically searching for the audio book about halfway through The Absolutist. I found it! I downloaded it! You know I’ll  be listening to it, but first, I think my soul needs a wee break. The Absolutist is an amazing story, absolutely amazing. It will most assuredly haunt me for quite some time.  Tristan Sadler remains on my mind today. A 5-star read for me.

You must promise that you will do everything to Listen to this story instead of just reading it. You must listen to it! This is absolutely one of those audiobooks that gives the Literary Hoarders every reason to continue their growing obsession and passion about audiobooks. It is a pure listening treat for your ears. Again, Michael Maloney brings this beautiful story to its full life that brims way over the top! You just must listen to it!