Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

A book with such a title and even an exclamation point, describing the Bigtree family wrestling “Seths”, their name for alligators, on their island in the Florida Everglades, suggests something farcical. But the stories told by the youngest daughter Ava in first person and about the eldest boy Kiwi in third person are told in earnest, as their idyllic ideals wrestle with the hard realities of the world. The writing is sometimes distractingly lyrical, but that seemed somehow suitable, evoking dreams of good, bad, and ugly scenes at a tawdry museum in some out of the way place.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

This audiobook of short stories was harrowing and hilarious. The stories all deal with modern immigrant Chinese families, generally told from the point of view of the young daughter. The Dads are mostly educated, unfaithful, yet struggling to support the family in America, working multiple jobs. The mothers seemed hysterical, in the sense of being crazy rather than funny. Sometimes grandparents are as well. Some of the stories include characters with the same names and use similar anecdotes. The sacrifices, the struggles, the anxieties, the family love. Maybe it was like picking a scab, but I found it so compelling.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

This is heart breaking and mind blowing. I think Malcolm Gladwell once mentioned how much sadder it is when the favourite loses. This deals with devastation of one who seemed externally who had it made. I am probably naive, but the story kept surprising me with the revelations about characters. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I was amazed at how he shifts perspectives and whole vistas of a character open up. The political unrest of the 60s seems relevant today. I felt particularly moved by the disillusioned father whose best intentions and efforts are utterly wasted.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I enjoyed this story about a young designer after she notices a large robotic-looking statue on a street in New York. Contemporary in its depiction of social media, in particular YouTube and Twitter, it illustrates the benefits and drawbacks of fame, and the beauty of social problem solving. The mysteries that drove the plot reminded me of digital puzzle games I like to play. It is an thoughtful exploration of contrasting world views, of how to behave when faced with the unknown, — whether it is a powerful alien intelligence or I suppose life in general — with love or fear?

Paper Towns by John Green

An amusing and moving, coming-of-age, romantic mystery adventure. It follows the narrator's pursuit of the mysterious dream girl next door, who is beautiful (of course), socially connected, highly intelligent, and perhaps most distinctively, brave. Maybe I am too old to read about nerdy teens finding themselves and each other, but I really enjoyed this. Isn't the point of reading to crawl inside the heads of others? Or maybe it is just arrested development to imagine an alternative high school life. Maybe I miss the excitement, though not the anxiety, of facing the world when it felt brand new.

The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies

I enjoyed this novel I borrowed as an audiobook from the library. It is written as a first person narrative by a doctor who takes a holistic approach to medicine, in the sense of attending to the psychological or spiritual aspects of a person and not just the physical, though he is also very attentive to that as well. He also ponders the medical ailments of characters from literature. I liked the series of episodes involving different characters as they grow old in Toronto, though I thought it ended a bit abruptly and maybe a little sadly.