The Body by Bill Bryson 383 pages

If you’re a fan of Bill Bryson, and I am, you’ll want to read The Body.  Bryson takes his readers on a detailed tour of our insides and outsides, what works and what doesn’t.  To give you an idea of his exploration, a few chapter titles are:  Down the Hatch:  The Mouth and Throat, The Chemistry Department, The Guts and In the Nether Regions.  The Body not only describes how different parts function, it also relates how some men and women discovered these parts, how they function, what can go wrong and how that can be cured.  And just when this work of nonfiction starts getting a little dry, Bill Bryson drops in an amusing quip or a wry anecdote.

The Body is highly informative and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Body by Bill Bryson 383 pages

Ordinary Girls: A Memoir by Jaquirs Diaz 336 pages

Jaquira Diaz spent her childhood in Puerto Rico and then Miami.  Her mother was a schizophrenic drug addict, her father worked hard but was undemonstrative and insensitive to her feelings and predicaments, and her older brother was physically abusive.  Although she had a positive relationship with her paternal grandmother and her younger sister, their love wasn’t enough to help Jaquira while she was growing up.  She was a juvenile delinquent and was taken into custody numerous times before her sixteenth birthday.  Diaz was a truant who began drinking and taking drugs at age eleven, the year she first attempted suicide.  Ordinary Girls is Jaquira Diaz’s life-its horrors and triumphs.

This memoir is a difficult read.  The author describes her life in harsh, graphic language.  Her upbringing was deprived and violent in so many ways-some of which were her own fault.  , Ordinary Girls is very well written, but it certainly is not for everyone.

Ordinary Girls: A Memoir by Jaquirs Diaz 336 pages

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom 372 pages

Sarah Broom grew up in New Orleans, the youngest of twelve children.  Her father died when she was six months old, and her mother spent almost all of her time keeping her family safe and the house, the yellow house, from falling into disrepair.  Their home was in a poor black section of the city with no zoning, no decent schools and very few city services.  When Katrina, known around New Orleans as “the water,” hit, the yellow house was torn apart, much like the Broom family who dispersed to California, Texas and other parts of Louisiana.

The Yellow House is an interesting, well-written memoir.  However,  parts of it describe areas of New Orleans in detail, and since I have never lived there and only visited once, these sections meant nothing to me.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom 372 pages

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall 333 pages

McDougall, his wife and two daughters live on a large tract of land in Pennsylvania in the heart of Amish country.  One day he is asked to help rescue a donkey from a man who hoards animals.  With encouragement from the youngest daughter, the McDougall’s adopt the donkey, name him Sherman and work to heal him both physically and psychologically. After he is fit,  friends and neighbors help Chris train Sherman and two other donkeys for a world champion race in Leadville, Colorado.  Along the way the author introduces his readers to a number of people who have their share of troubles, but nonetheless want help Sherman and his gang get to Colorado.

The best word to describe Running with Sherman is heartwarming.  If you’re an animal lover and were or are a runner, you will enjoy this memoir immensely.

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall 333 pages

How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo

I usually don’t read self-help or “how to” books, but this one is the exception.  I picked up How to Raise a Reader thinking I would only glance at what it had to say, and I couldn’t put it down.  Paul and Russo are editors of The New York Times Book Review and each has raised a family of readers.  Chapters are divided according to the age of the child, beginning at birth and ending at the teen years.  Most of their advice is practical, easy to understand and carry out and makes a lot of sense.  Also, at the end of each chapter are favorite books for each age – title, author and a brief summary.  At the end of How to Raise a Reader are book suggestions by category, i.e. family stories, tear jerkers, historical fiction, etc.  This is the perfect gift for  parents or grandparents of a newborn who want to pass on their love of the written word.

How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout 289 pages

Olive Kitteridge is back!  She’s older, wiser, still curt, direct and way too honest, but this Olive is a bit warmer and more empathetic.  Like the original, Olive, Again is in chapters-in some Olive is the main character, in others she’s part of a supporting cast.  The entire novel takes place in Maine, mostly in the town of Cosby.  As Olive ages, we are reintroduced to friends and relatives and also meet new acquaintances and family members.  If you liked Olive Kitteridge, Olive, Again is a must.  Every chapter is filled with humor and pathos, and in the center of it all is Olive, a hugely entertaining, sympathetic, unforgettable character.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout 289 pages

Right After the Weather by Carol Anshaw 269 pages

Cate is a set designer who lives in Chicago.  Her ex husband has temporarily moved into her two bedroom apartment with his large, friendly dog and she has just begun a relationship with Maureen, a costume designer who lives the good life but whose values and ethics Cate questions.  Her good friend Neale has sound morals but is too trusting.  Neal has left her back  door open for Cate, but Irene and Nathan, addicts and criminals get there first.  What happens next will forever change Neale and Cate as well as their feelings towards each other.

I liked everything about Right After the Weather-the plot, the characters, the dilemmas and the questions it poses.  If you’re in a book group, Anshaw’s novel should produce a lot of discussion

Right After the Weather by Carol Anshaw 269 pages