Memoir / Autobiography
by Pamela Logan
Idea: This powerful memoir closely details the author’s years of humanitarian work in Eastern Tibet. The author effectively integrates the story of living with, supporting, and educating Tibetan people with her more personal internal journey.
Prose/Style: The book showcases powerful prose throughout, with skillful structure and outstanding descriptions of Tibet, its culture, people, and landscape.
Originality: This is the extremely original story of a woman's commitment to a distinctive region and its people. Logan’s uncommon passion, integrity, and optimism embody the best of humanitarianism. The author may wish to incorporate more of the material that appears in the concluding summary, into the body of the text itself.
Character Development/Execution: This memoir is fluidly written and displays the author’s deep sense of the region’s complex history and vibrant culture. The author’s adventures and moving experiences come vividly to life.
Blurb: A beautifully written, powerful memoir of one woman's stunning quest in eastern Tibet.
by Stephen Lewis
Idea: Stephen Lewis has accomplished a rare feat in writing the slow, painful erosion of Carol, his wife, a sufferer of early onset dementia, juxtaposed with the story of their love and the happy years before the disease stole her from herself. The story of Carol is set forth so vividly that the reader sees her with his eyes, every step of the way.
Prose: Stephen Lewis possesses that rara avis, a writer's writer utterly free of pretension or vanity. The simplicity of language, yoked to his complexity of thought, recalls the words of W.B. Yeats - "A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, Our stitching and unstitching has been naught." Mr. Lewis has not stitched in vain.
Originality: No story of caregiving in this reviewer's experience has ever been written with such an exquisite ear, nor with such an eye for structure and for selecting the quotidian details that transform this from a memoir into a work of art. The subject of caregiving is universal; its expression in this memoir is unique.
Character/Execution: Carol and Stephen will live forever for any reader of this book - an immortality they more than deserve, and one that will greatly enrich the life of the reader. Reading Stephen's description of the life they shared, one wishes one could have known them in the prime of their health and pure joy in one another. Two lives, beautifully lived, and beautifully written.
by Susan Uehara Rakstang
Idea: "I structured this memoir as Beethoven structured his Piano Sonata No. 8," Rakstang explains in the endnotes to her exquisite memoir of love, family, friendship, food, music and becoming a woman whose every thought and action creates art out of life itself. This is a luminous memoir that nurtures the soul even as it pleases the intellect by its aesthetic grace, brilliance and wit.
Prose/Style: The music of Rakstang's prose is like the music that inspires her - simple and understated at times, then swelling into an unexpected lyrical beauty that overwhelms the reader with delight. Among the many hats this author wears - architect, chef, musician, daughter, mother, wife, mentor, friend - must also be numbered 'poet."
Originality: So many shimmering threads are gently woven into this magical narrative, yet nothing seems forced or out of place. The author writes as graciously as she has lived; it is a pleasure to be welcomed into the tenderness of her worldview.
Character Development/Execution: It is Rakstang's gift to be able create the people she loves on the page as vividly as they appear to her in her own memories. The book is beautifully and thoughtfully constructed, with all the patient, painstaking attention to detail the author employs in creating an origami crane, an architectural drawing, a meal that is a feast for both the eyes and the palate, or a life that is rich in family, friendship, and personal fulfillment.
by Nadija Mujagic
Idea: Mujagic offers a rich and detailed account of her experiences during the war in the former Yugoslavia. The author provides a graceful and insightful blend of memories, impressions, and the impacts of trauma, with clear explanations relating to the complex circumstances of the war and its conflicts.
Prose: Mujagic’s prose is descriptive, polished, and features well-integrated historical and political details without ever becoming dry.
Originality: Memoirs relating to experiences during war are familiar, but few focus on the conflicts impacting Sarajevo, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, and few with such a wealth of engaging detail.
Character/Execution: The author excels at personalizing the experience of one's home being under siege through vivid, in-scene descriptions, while also clearly conveying the particular circumstances of the Bosnian war. Mujagic’s framing of her story through the lens of PTSD, allows for greater resonance and relatability.
by Patricia A. McBroom
Idea: This is a fascinating and unique read that challenges many cultural norms, blending personal narrative, gender studies, and anthropological treatise.
Prose: The writing is clean and professional with astute and engaging prose. McBroom imbues the narrative with warmth, while providing an intelligent, academic treatise.
Originality: The book’s blend of gender and ancient history with memoir results in a fully unique, well-sourced and stimulating work.
Character/Execution: The experience of reading this thoroughly researched book feels akin to auditing collegiate lectures with a charismatic lecturer. The book’s exploration of ancient female deities is expertly connected to modern gender studies through personal narrative.
Blurb: A fascinating anthropological read, tailored to the contemporary, that challenges many cultural norms.
by Nita Lapinski
Idea: Lapinski's spiritual memoir, The Knowing, is a powerful, compassionate chronicle of the author's experience with abuse and violence, self-destruction, and ultimate betrayal, as well as a fascinating account of her lifelong gift of clairvoyance and how it informs her choices.
Prose: Lapinski's prose is smooth, lyrical, and layered, while the work is enhanced through a sophisticated narrative framework and stylistic novelty--notably, her nuanced portrayal of the book's central antagonist.
Originality: The author's dual focus on spirituality and mediumship with the story of being victim to a violent predator, is strikingly unique and engaging.
Character/Execution: Readers will value the author's graceful storytelling, tremendous candor, and ability to write about significant trauma in a manner that never becomes overwrought, but instead uplifts the narrative. The author's discussion of "the knowing," is genuine, evocative, and understated.
by Laesa Faith Kim
Idea: This memoir is a candid, moving account of the author’s experience of raising a special needs child.
Prose: Kim’s prose is graceful, fluid, and frequently lovely. She brings to each sentence careful thought, nuance, and awareness.
Originality: While there are many memoirs surrounding parenting a child with special needs, Kim’s book stands apart through its poetic sensibility, depth, and subtle emotion.
Character/Execution: This is a fine, harrowing, and deeply impactful memoir that will offer solace to mothers facing the unique challenges of caring for a child with complex medical needs.
by JuLee Brand
Idea: Wichman’s life is one of the rare examples that naturally reads like a story, so that nothing feels out of place. The events feel like plot points in a gritty drama.
Prose/Style: The author’s prose is simultaneously spare and vivid, lending itself to the thriller-like pace of the story while also slowing down for its more emotional moments. The style is truly masterful, and hardly a word feels out of place.
Originality: The story is greatly inspiring, and the positive representation of sex work is of a complexity and persuasiveness rarely seen.
Character Development/Execution: The author takes pains to represent several facets of each “character,” no matter how minor—from Wichman’s stepfather to his numerous lovers to Wichman himself.
Blurb: A story with considerable emotional power, Every Grain of Sand also serves as a convincingly-argued defense of an underrepresented and taboo subject. Wichman's memoir is alternately thrilling, harrowing, and amusing, describing a life that runs the gamut of the emotional spectrum.
by Efrem Sigel
Idea: Juror Number 2 offers an insightful look at the weaknesses of America's public institutions and the role communities play in shaping individual lives. This is a strong and compelling critique of the system through the window of a single crime.
Prose/Style: Sigel makes very insightful points through strong, clear writing and persuasive arguments about how lasting social change can be accomplished.
Originality: Through his own personal experience of participating in a trial, Sigel offers the reader an inside view of what it's actually like to be a juror. This unique perspective provides the opportunity for sincere reflection on the experience and all the players.
Character Development: Sigel's efforts to go beyond just participating in the trial, but to also understand the ultimate motivations and culture that frame the crime, are both sincere and commendable. The witnesses as characters come alive and demand the reader's empathy.
by Jim Laurie
Idea: The story of Sinan's survival and her ultimate escape from the Khmer Rouge is gripping; it is impossible not to fear for her when the situation is at its gravest, and impossible not to admire her tenacity, her presence of mind, and her resourcefulness.
Prose: Well-paced, riveting, and grounded, The Last Helicopter is clearly the work of a seasoned professional journalist (that's a compliment.) The author does not spare himself for his youthful mistakes and betrayals; his honesty is refreshing. But the story is Sinan's, and the book is at its most vivid and engaging when she tells it in her own words.
Originality: The story has elements that are unlike many other memoirs of the Vietnam era. The fact that the protagonist is a Cambodian woman particularly allows the work to stand out, as does the work's emotional candor.
Character/Execution: While the reader may not admire the narrator, Jim, every step of the way, he does full justice to the courage and strength of character of Sinan, the Cambodian woman he loves, betrays, and leaves behind as the Khmer Rouge takes her city. The narrative sections written by Sinan herself are stunning in their simplicity and power.
by Jean Brown
Idea: This Sweet Life: How We Lived After Kirby Died is an extremely well-written and hauntingly emotional, heartbreaking account of loss. The text expertly combines the memoir of the authors losing a woman who was their daughter and sister with the account of bringing the man who caused her death to justice.
Prose/Style: The authors balance the skills of composing flashbacks combined with present-day events to re-create the life of the subject and walk readers through her tragic death.
Originality: This poignant recount of love and tragedy hits all the right marks. The main suggestion would be that the use of italics for Jean make her sections a little bit harder to read, but that's a minor alteration to what is otherwise a very strong read.
Character Development/Execution: The execution of the book -- alternating written chapters by both mother and daughter – has the potential easily get lost in the timing of the events, but it doesn't. The weaving of both stories and past and present tense is done extremely well.
by M.C. Cauley
Idea: The book traverses a painful and difficult subject - the author's sexual abuse at age 14 at the hands of a trusted man more than three times her own age - with unsparing honesty and a fine ear for dialogue, and a notable absence of self-pity for this serious theme.
Prose/Style: With gripping prose and perfectly paced, this memoir reads like the kind of novel one doesn't want to put down. The author's ability to slip into the skin of her teenage self is uncanny. The dialogue is written excellently, in an authentic manner and pitch-perfect in tone.
Originality: The book is reminiscent of Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss in its exploration of the author's sexual and emotional exploitation by a pedophile skilled at spotting and manipulating a young girl's loneliness and her need for an adult who will pretend to care for her, but manages to be singular in its narration and tone. The author's wracking analysis of the emotional and psychological hold her abuser retained on her is devastating.
Character Development/Execution: The characters are vivid and life-like. It is impossible to read this book without yearning to find a way to go back in time and protect this child from the events that would turn her into the healing and powerful woman who wrote this searing memoir.
by Tricia Frey
Idea: Frey's River Love is a story of rescue - the woman rescuing the dog, and the dog rescuing the woman, both forever having a positive impact on each other’s lives. This is a lovely, gentle, uplifting book that is written with humor, intelligence and a lot of heart
Prose/Style: Frey writes simply, but with an eloquence born of a deep love of her subject - Sheldon, the wandering, terrified Sheltie who strays into her arms and heart. Her spare, yet lyrical prose effectively celebrates her profound bond with her beloved pet, and with nature itself.
Originality: If you're a dog lover who has been hankering for something in the spirit of James Herriot's books - combining great tenderness, an awe of the wondrous beauty of the natural world, and a fierce determination to advocate for any animal that needs a champion and a nurturer - this book will suit you well. While there are a lot of dog books out there, this is one of the best.
Character Development/Execution: Frey shows us her own heart as she describes the endless patience it took to allow this tiny, terrified canine to reach the stage of trust he needed to surrender himself into her home and her keeping. Told with grace and candor, the journey she and Sheldon take is one well worth accompanying them on.
Blurb: A lovely, gentle, uplifting book written with humor, intelligence and a lot of heart. If you're looking for an author who can translate what dogs do for our souls onto the printed page, this book is for you.
by Debbie Ethell
Idea: The Will of Heaven is more than just the standard memoir. It is a double story, that of a woman's recovery from alcohol addiction and of her growing passion and interest in Kenyan elephants. The chapters fluctuate between these themes, and readers will wonder how the author has so seamlessly threaded the African stories together so well without being there --- presumably, newspaper articles, scientific journal articles, and other research methods.
Prose/Style: The prose is exemplary and one of the greatest strengths of this book. What shines through to readers and will stick with them is the passion behind the writing about the elephants.
Originality: This text is quite original, especially in the way it ties together the very diverse themes of alcoholism, trauma and grief, and orphaned elephants so well.
Character/Execution: Debbie's character is quite clear and memorable; she undergoes a huge transformation in her years-long attempts to reach her amazing goals. The elephant keepers and administrators in Africa are also quite clearly portrayed.
by Amy Herrig
Idea: Herrig's narrative of her personal and professional struggles is compelling and keeps the reader riveted from the memoir's start to its finish. Though the work at times veers into overly technical descriptions of judicial matters, readers will remain invested in her turbulent adolescence through the aftermath of her criminal case.
Prose: Herrig's prose is conversational, funny, direct, and engaging--perfect for a memoir. Her voice shines through the stories, making readers both sympathetic and critical of her experiences and actions. One quibble: a run-through by a copyeditor would help to fix grammatical errors and typos.
Originality: This memoir is a roller coaster ride of emotional, legal, and personal struggles openly and honestly portrayed. Elements of seemingly sincere contrition and emotional resonance elevate the narrative, creating a complex and complete personal story.
Character/Execution: Herrig writes about her legal issues and her path toward spiritual and emotional growth in an authentic manner. She confesses her shortcomings with refreshing candor, presenting a nuanced self-portrait. Her depictions of supporting characters--her father, friends, family, and legal associates--are sufficient, yet would benefit from further development.
by David Pietrusza
Plot: This polished and gently humored work of memoir contains two threads: Pietrusza’s personal history of his Polish family between the '50s and today, and the history and decline of the small town of Amsterdam, New York.
Prose/Style: Pietrusza's experience as an author is clear throughout the well-developed text, which offers a graceful blending of personal insights with historical content.
Originality: This history focuses on a small, unique town in New York, and of the personal story of the author's family. The details of Polish community and Polish food (such as stuffed cabbage rolls, pierogi, and many beers) are especially engaging. Pietrusza also discusses at length, and with great nostalgia, TV shows and movies.
Character Development/Execution: The characters, including the author, are warmly and quite fully detailed. The author’s voice as a professional historian is memorable and accessible. Much of the book concerns family background, but the story becomes more universally appealing when discussing the history of Polish settlement, the upstate New York region, and baseball.