review: what is not yours is not yours

what is not yours is not yours, helen oyeyemi

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published March 8th 2016 by Riverhead Books

Source: Galley giveaway from Publisher


Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side. In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates. In “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments. And in “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think,” a key keeps a mystical diary locked (for good reason).

Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift, or an invitation? What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours captivates as it explores the many possible answers.

My issue with short stories is often -What the heck?!  I want more!  Or often -What the heck – that was so short why was it a story?  

I definitely did not have that issue with this new collection by Helen Oyeyemi.  Some stories like “books and roses” or “drownings” I could have read much more of to get into the worlds she created.  I would love to know more about the wolf present in “dornicka and the st. martin’s day goose”.  But even though I would have read had I had more pages I was completely satisfied with what I read.  The stories were so rich and detailed and captivating.  Even while the puppets weren’t my favorite I still was swept up in the drama and the characters.  The magical realism in these stories definitely carried me away.

The writing was beautiful and mystical and I have so many questions about what I just read. Definitely a book I will be taking time to reread and savor.  The stories were both haunting and delightful.  I definitely will not be looking at my keys in the same way for a while.  

4 stars

Thank you Riverhead Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories, Bonnie Jo Campbell

Published:  October 5th 2015 by W. W. Norton & Company

Hardcover, 272 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Named by the Guardian as one of our top ten writers of rural noir, Bonnie Jo Campbell is a keen observer of life and trouble in rural America, and her working-class protagonists can be at once vulnerable, wise, cruel, and funny. The strong but flawed women of Mothers, Tell Your Daughters must negotiate a sexually charged atmosphere as they love, honor, and betray one another against the backdrop of all the men in their world. Such richly fraught mother-daughter relationships can be lifelines, anchors, or they can sink a woman like a stone.

I hadn’t heard the term “rural noir” until I read the description for this book of short stories and it’s perfect. These stories were of real life, and they were not pretty.  I had to space these out over several days so that I could process the darker ones without being overwhelmed but it was worth the time.  Some of  these stories were just brutal, the emotions were raw, and the writing was excellent.  There was definitely more violence than I expected, but in the end more hope too.  

I wanted to turn away from some of the stories of mothers who didn’t stand up for their daughters – or for themselves, but despite the darkness I am so glad I finished (almost all of these) powerful stories.  These women felt real and will stick with me for some time I think.  If you enjoyed The Shore or short stories then this is a book for you.

4 Stars

Thank you W. W. Norton & Company and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.