At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

Book – I frequently tell people that some of the best science fiction and fantasy is happening in short stories. It seems counter-intuitive that you could squeeze a satisfying world and characters both out of a couple dozen pages, especially when it’s so hard to find a novel that isn’t part of a series, but there’s something about the short format that really packs a hefty punch. Kij Johnson is an excellent example: her stories are complex, rich, and deep, set in spectacular worlds ranging from just different enough from ours to be intriguing to so different they should be hard to imagine (although she makes it easy). And they’ve won three Nebula awards, which is nothing to sneeze at.

The stories in At the Mouth of the River of Bees circle around themes of grief, loss, rebuilding, and the power of story itself to help us through these. In “The Horse Raiders,” a young woman is the only survivor of an attack that wipes out her clan, only to discover that a plague is wiping out their entire planet’s way of life. In “Dia Chjerman’s Tale,” women captives on an imperial spaceship tell the stories of how their ancestors stayed alive. And in the title story, a road trip leads to an unexpected pilgrimage and an even more unexpected chance for grace on behalf of a woman’s dying dog. The characters in these stories are angry, they’re hurt, they lash out and they make mistakes, but they also pull themselves together and carry on.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro

0062266632.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – Tig is a stand-up comedian. She experienced a streak of devastating personal tragedies in 2012, including C-Diff, the death of her mother, the break-up of girlfriend and a stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis. She turned to comedy to channel her grief. The result was a set that went viral and was released as the album “Live,” which was nominated for a Grammy. In her book, Tig recounts her journey. The first chapter depicts her early life and unconventional upbringing and was my favorite chapter of the book. However, after a promising beginning, the book went flat for me. Tig states her feelings, then gives examples, rather than illuminating truths through the story. Other memoirs I have read have been better at conveying difficult character traits of people in their lives, while also managing to express their redeeming qualities. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, I admire Tig for overcoming the adversity she was confronted with and for sharing her personal story through stand-up comedy.

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

maya's notebookBook – What did 19 year old Maya from Berkley, California do to make her a fugitive from the FBI and drug lords and hide out in Chiloé, an isolated island on the coast of Chile? Her heartbreaking story is told as Maya records the torrid period of her life in a notebook that her grandmother, Nini has given her. Her grandparents raised her after her mother deserted her after her birth and her pilot father was rarely home due to his career. Maya’s troubles soon began after the death of her beloved grandfather, an astronomer and Nini’s husband. Maya begins hanging out with the wrong crowd, starts doing drugs, and eventually runs away to Las Vegas. Her grief is so intense that she spirals into a world of addiction, crime, homelessness, prostitution, and near death. Nini arranges Maya’s exile with an old friend, an anthropologist named Manuel. As expected, Maya’s life on Chiloé is very different. Eventually the natives warm up to her and Maya once again enjoys the simplicities of life. But she might not be totally safe . .  Allende paints a rich picture of the healing of Maya and the culture, superstitions, and natural beauty of the island and its people. Though different from the author’s other novels, because it is contemporary instead of historical fiction, it is just as moving as her other books.