Review: Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

persons-0072-1Heather O’Neill is the perfect weirdo. She’s just the right mix of offbeat that makes you want to be her best friend, but it kind of scares you a bit too. Her imagination has the ability to be simultaneously quirky, tragic, surreal, and mysterious, while maintaining a precise control of her storylines. Heather O’Neill, author of the award magnets: Lullabies for Little Criminals and The Girl Who Was Saturday Night demonstrates this ability in her newcollection of short stories, Daydreams of Angels.

At first Daydreams of Angels sounds saccharine and a little cliche for a title, but since it’s Heather O’Neill, you know she’s going to underscore that whimsy with those sharp little jabs of tragedy and realness we’ve come to expect. Her novels tend to go for the sucker punch to the feels, but this collection of (fairy) tales stays put on the whimsical side of things than the narratives that befell Nouschka or Baby in their own stories. While her novels featured Magic Pixie Dream characters caught up in the real world, the contents of Daydreams of Angels are straight up fables for adults where everything is extraordinary.

daydreams1What was Jesus like as an elementary school student, as told by an 11-year-old Mary Magdalene? How does the protagonist of a child’s story feel when that story is left unfinished? How about the history of a small town inhabited by clones? Somehow the stories read as both classic and contemporary, incorporating tufts of inspiration from just about everywhere. They are like stories you would want tell over a bonfire when you’re feeling warm and filled with wine. They’re perfect in a setting when you can forget reality or expectation and just enjoy the ride. You may not remember what you read the next day, but you’ll remember the experience fondly.

Blog tour: Boring Girls by Sara Taylor

Sara Taylor has tapped into the very ugly side of girlhood in her novel Boring Girls. At times relatable and other times deeply unsettling, it’s a dark, bloody, and ultimately very sad coming-of-age story demonstrating the awful power that can come from emotional suffering.

Rachel has a lot going for her. Supportive family, good grades, creativity…but she has difficulty making friends at school and starts to get bullied for being weird and different. Classic, right? Not exactly. The anger Rachel feels after a particularly embarrassing confrontation with the token mean girl starts to fester inside of her. I think everyone can remember those moments of feeling so utterly vulnerable, weak, and powerless, it made you sick. Taylor perfectly captures this mindset in Rachel, but where it takes her is somewhere truly darker and more off-putting than I was anticipating. As most teens do, Rachel eventually discovers something to give her a kind of escape from all the crap in her life: metal music. Serious, screaming, graphic metal music (with some of the most creatively gross names i’ve ever heard). She meets Fern who shares her interests and they become fast friends. Wholly inspired by the metal music scene, they start a band and begin to break into the biz, but soon Rachel and Fern realize that the music industry can be just as traumatic and unfriendly to women as high school.  When shit goes down, shattering their illusions, Rachel and Fern don’t shrink away from it all, they do the exact opposite. And it is a murderous mess.

Image-1This book won’t leave you warm and fuzzy in any way. Taylor takes you on a violent revenge spree of these two girls, who are (obviously) anything but boring. The first paragraph teases a massacre, and they aren’t exaggerating. The girls’ vulnerability and rage leads them on a destructive path towards retribution. It’s actually pretty badass as a fiction story, and also very horrifying when you think about how the actions that take place are (and are a result of) some pretty realistic situations encountered by women all over. Nonetheless, Taylor tackles the tough subjects here with unrelenting prose, and the result is a debut novel that is sometimes hard to swallow but even harder to put down.

Review: The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

This has been my “bedtime book” for a few weeks now, but choosing to read a chapter or two before I go to bed, in my apartment in the middle of Toronto, probably wasn’t the best idea for a good night’s rest. The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi is a thriller that follows 22 year old reporter, Evie, in 1993, when the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka was just starting to crack open. I missed this time completely (I was eating cheerios in a high chair at that point), but that doesn’t mean the effects of this dark period in Ontario’s history didn’t have a ripple effect through my young mother and into my sister and I as we were raised.

Details of the Scarborough Rapist/Bernardo case makes a disturbing and poignant backdrop for Evie’s story. De Mariaffi drops facts from the time to bolster her riveting plot. Evie works as reporter, writing and researching missing girls, which becomes a trigger for her since she experienced a similar situation first hand when her childhood best friend was kidnapped and later found murdered. The excellent tension is derived from Evie’s past trauma, the current atmosphere, and whether Evie’s growing suspicions are a symptom her imagination or real danger. De Mariaffi’s storytelling is sharp and compelling. As genre fiction, it’s takes a left turn from her previous Giller-nominated short story collection, but The Devil You Know offers just as much entertainment.
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