Memoir / Autobiography
by Julie W. Weston
Idea: This is a unique travelogue through the American Southwest. The integration of journal entries and photography provides an engaging window into the history of the land and its people.
Prose: The book features some strong writing, from well-structured sentences to skillful description. The dialogue can feel somewhat thin, but still conveys the personalities of the speakers well.
Originality: This work delivers a vital and vivid portrait of one of America’s more ancient places.
Character/Execution: The book is well crafted, presented in short, readable, chronological chunks, and interspersed with appealing photography.
by Phil McDonald
Idea: McDonald’s “journey memoir” unfolds chronologically and engagingly, as the reader follows his career moves and adventures with his family in exotic settings across the globe, never knowing what dangers or challenges might lurk beyond the next corner.
Prose/Style: McDonald’s prose is direct and candid as he informs readers about the foreign places he encounters and his own professional development. His voice is encouraging and his style readable as he combines personal stories with telling dialogue. The narrative integrates work project outcomes and 60 “takeaway lessons,” which are delivered succinctly and in a manner that doesn’t impact the narrative’s flow.
Originality: Unreal rises above dry conventions to combine lively adventure with insight into international places and peoples, tips for living abroad with family, and career and personal reflections. McDonald’s accomplishments are inspiring and his “lessons” are most often noteworthy without being cheesy or preachy.
Character Development/Execution: McDonald and his wife Rebecca are the two main characters who come across admirably in their lives helping others in developing countries, and the foreigners they befriend along the way are diverse and interesting. McDonald and his wife’s decision-making, concerns, responses, and mistakes make them multi-dimensional.
by Richard C Lin
Idea: Lin’s coming-of-age memoir follows his high school days in the early 1980s in Arizona and his affection for a beautiful female classmate. As the author navigates the racial taunts of his youth, his dad’s expectations, and comes to terms with his own identity, the narrative becomes somewhat unwieldy. The work may benefit from a degree of trimming and tightening.
Prose/Style: Lin’s prose is conversational and snappy and creates a vivid portrayal of a teenager’s world. His humor and cultural references of the 1980s enhance the memoir and engage the reader along the way, as well as the dialogue he includes with his classmates, parents, and his love interest. He tells the story actively, which helps to sweep the reader along into finding out what will happen
Originality: Lin’s narrative rises above convention in its exploration of the tumultuous emotions of adolescence, as well as his candid reflections on his Chinese-American background. It engages the reader with its humor and, at times, heartwarming renderings.
Character Development/Execution: Lin’s narrative lends revealing insight into his coming-of-age. He introduces an interesting array of characters; Lesley becomes especially well imagined in the reader’s mind.
by Michael Schauch
Idea: Though this work is uneven, as it progresses, it becomes increasingly fascinating and immersive. The author’s journey is often moving and inspiring, while the setting is vividly conveyed.
Prose: If at moments prone to being longwinded, Schauch keeps the reader engaged in the story. The author demonstrates a clear gift for creating vibrant imagery.
Originality: While stories of self-discovery and transcendence through travel are familiar, Schauch offers an original focus via the book’s striking setting and the author’s refusal to idealize the lives and circumstances of those he encounters.
Character/Execution: Schauch is appropriately cautious in his storytelling, displaying awareness of his position as a cultural outsider and maintaining respect for the nuances of the culture he closely observes. The result is a candid portrait of a place and one individual’s powerful experience of it.
by Ahjo K. SIPOWICZ
Idea: An avante-garde multimedia book from a unique artist’s perspective. The book broaches some deep and personal topics and will stimulate readers’ senses.
Prose: The book contains writing of many different types, but is largely presented through poetic forms. The prose sections are well written and effectively stylized. There are also activity descriptions which encourage readers to participate in the book’s artistic experience.
Originality: A very personal and unique book, full of poetry, visual art, and snippets of memoir.
Character/Execution: While the art and poetry won’t be to every reader’s taste, those willing to give themselves to the spirit of the book, and to participate in the suggested activities, will find a rewarding experience.
by Kawan Glover
Idea: The memoir’s premise is quite unique: the situation of having a stroke at 20 years old, as well as experiencing multiple brain surgeries, is unusual and generates interest.
Prose/Style: There are some graceful metaphors throughout the text, but also some clichés. This book would benefit from a professional copy edit, as the narrative tends to break into expository reminiscence to events far in the past when it should be moving forward; such digression detracts from the momentum. The description of the writer's out-of-body experience during his first brain surgery is the kind of excellent writing the book needs more of in order to fulfill its potential.
Originality: The narrator is something of an Everyman – an otherwise “normal” millennial, a college student and an athlete, placed in a very not-normal situation by a life-threatening medical condition.
Character Development/Execution: Many of the characters here would benefit from more development, rather than only being names on the page. The romance with Sydney is sweet and has moments of great charm and nostalgia.
by M.S.P. Williams
Idea: Listen Mama is a memoir written as a series of journal entries addressed by the author to his mentally ill mother. As the eldest child, Williams, who suffered horrific scarring to his head and face from a burn accident in his infancy, navigates the chaotic waters of his mother’s mental illness, her frequent pregnancies and tumultuous relationships with a series of abusive men, and her financial irresponsibility which often leaves her children hungry or facing eviction, while also facing the challenges of bullying and mockery of the disfigurement left by his burns, compounded by the heartache and indignities visited upon children growing up poor and Black in America.
Prose/Style: The prose is polished, sometime to the point of being unconvincing in the early sections, where Williams does not always sound like a teenager addressing his mentally ill mother; the early journal entries too often serve as a vehicle for exposition. Williams finds his voice around the midway point of the book, emerging as a genuinely decent, warmly likable man doing his utmost to struggle through more tragedy and bad luck than any human being should be handed in a single lifetime, but always doing so with courage, humor and gallantry.
Originality: Some readers may be reminded of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, when reading of the pain, disfigurement, and reconstructive surgeries the author endures after suffering severe burn injuries in his infancy. But these are secondary problems in his life, compared to the quotidian misery and anxiety engendered by life with an unstable single parent who has shot one ex-boyfriend and keeps a stash of guns around just in case she wants to shoot another.
Character Development/Execution: Williams’s emotional enmeshment with his severely mentally ill mother Selita is sadly typical of children who are forced by horrific circumstances to take on the parental role during their childhoods. Like many adult children who’ve gone through such an upbringing, the author is self-aware and self-critical, sometimes to excess, yet frequently self-sabotages due to a misplaced sense that he is the only one who can rescue his family, and from having involuntarily internalized the belief that he never comes first. Nonetheless, Williams grows in strength and stature as the book progresses, thanks to his intelligence, his humor, and his personal integrity.
Blurb: Williams emerges as a genuinely decent, warmly likable man doing his utmost to struggle past more slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than any human being should have to take on in one lifetime, and always doing so with courage, humor and gallantry.
by Dianne Liuzzi Hagan
Idea: In American Dreaming, Dianne Liuzzi Hagan juxtaposes the history of racial violence in America that led to the BLM movement with her personal history as an American woman of white European ancestry married to a Black man. A passionate cry for justice, the book joins the ranks the many voices being raised in this cause at this moment in history.
Prose/Style: Liuzzi Hagan writes with conviction and intensity. Her accounts of the racist aggressions and microaggressions to which she and her family have been subjected are harrowing.
Originality: It would be good to be able to say Luizzi Hagan's story is unique, but sadly for America, that is not the case. However, her method of weaving together general history, personal history, and recollected dreams makes for an interesting narrative.
Character Development/Execution: Liuzzi Hagan is angry, and for good reason. American Dreaming leaves no room for doubt as to who are the villains and who are the heroes of her memoir.
by Grace LaJoy Henderson
Idea: Henderson's story is inherently fascinating, as it journeys through the various stages of wanting to find her mother, finding her mother, and the emotional trip that discovery caused. Unfortunately, the four-book format of the story makes it feel disjointed and disconnected from the strong emotions discussed at the end of the journal section. This lack of cohesion distracts the reader from fully investing in this emotional, dramatic and powerful story.
Prose/Style: The prose has grammatical issues and an overall choppy cadence that makes the reading of it difficult. While the subject matter is infinitely interesting and the conflicted emotions of the author are palpable, those two elements of the story are dulled by prose that could use a professional copyeditor’s review.
Originality: Henderson's extraordinary tale is, at turns, heartbreaking, illuminating, powerful, and relatable. However, both the disjointed plot structure and prose cadence keep the reader from truly immersing themself in the emotions of the overall story.
Character Development/Execution: The author's personality--her conflicted emotions about her mother and her frustrating experience trying to find her--are heart-rending, relatable, and ultimately inspiring. She paints an as-complex-as-possible portrait of the elusive (both personality-wise and mental health-wise) mother in question. The supporting characters could benefit from a stronger showcase, particularly the father's part of the narrative.
by Kaitlyn Jain
Idea: Jain's memoir shares episodes from her numerous experiences traveling both on her own and with her husband and small children. While frequently relatable, the book often reads like a family travelogue holding greater meaning for those along for the journey than for outside readers.
Prose/Style: Jain’s prose has a conversational, lively, humorous tone that is a natural fit for her stories relating to traveling with kids.
Originality: This memoir stands apart from other works through its focus on the joys and trials of traveling internationally with very young children. The author's “Lesson Learned” segments offer valuable tips to other new moms traveling abroad. These pertinent insights might be better integrated into the work as a whole, and the book itself presented in a manner that highlights this focus.
Character Development/Execution: From Jain’s depiction, the reader receives a clear understanding of the author’s love of travel, while the unique personalities and interests of her family members shine through the pages. The anecdotes that the author shares are enjoyable and memorable, though the book might be enhanced through a somewhat more pronounced conceptual framework.
by Randy Rhody
Idea: Rhody’s narrative recalls his late teenage years as a wanderer seeking truth while hoping to escape the Vietnam draft. The memoir unfolds chronologically, luring readers desiring to see what Rhody comes to learn about himself and the world during the process. At times, the narrative flows along with shining clarity; at other moments, the book presents a dizzying array of escapades and people that can bombard and overwhelm the reader.
Prose/Style: Rhody’s prose is descriptive and often poetic in its impressions. He effectively sets scenes for readers that vividly conjure places, people, and situations through active storytelling.
Originality: Rhody’s memoir is, at times, an immersive and poetic look at his restless youth during the counterculture days. Though a more structured story arc may have benefited the narrative, the author serves as an impassioned witness to a complex era.
Character Development/Execution: Readers gradually come to know Rhody through his travel experiences and his thoughts about his parents, his poetry, the draft, and the counterculture of the day. The memoir includes a broad cast of colorfully described individuals, while public figures such as poet Allen Ginsberg are given interesting notice.
by A.M. Grotticelli
Plot: This memoir is based on a strong foundational narrative. Its sharp focus on the experience of fostering children and the nuances of building family, is deeply compelling.
Prose/Style: The prose in this memoir is straightforward, with few errors. While it is not poetic or philosophical, it illuminates all of the major happenings in the mixed family.
Originality: This is quite original material, and the family at its center is decidedly unique. Few authors write about the experiences of foster children. While this personal tale is interesting and effectively developed, the book may appeal most strongly to a niche audience.
Character/Execution: The reader gets to know the author quite well, and the character of the father is also drawn quite clearly. The mother and the other foster children are detailed and explored in some detail, but as there are numerous characters, emotions, attachments, and losses are not made entirely vivid.
by Fred Duffy
Idea: Duffy’s life story is riveting and unique. The book’s wide scope—and the author’s vast, broad-ranging experiences—can cause the narrative to feel somewhat unfocused.
Prose: Duffy's prose is clean, readable, and often clever. An excess of summary as opposed to in- scene development, can sometimes result in moments of bland storytelling and repetition.
Originality: The author’s lived experiences are wholly unique, as is his perspective on pivotal global events and business management and operations.
Character/Execution: Duffy’s grit and determination shine through this work. His admirable professional experiences will serve to inspire budding entrepreneurs.
by Eyad Yehyawi
Idea: Marketed as a “bowhunting odyssey”, the memoir certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front; however, the repetitive structure of each chapter recounting a separate but similar adventure may grow wearying for those less passionate about bowhunting than the author. Readers might find themselves wishing Yehyawi spent more time discussing the parts of his life less directly related to the sport, because these occasional moments serve as points of interest for a broader audience.
Prose/Style: Lush, vivid descriptions of scenery help to balance out the sometimes excessive technical language.
Originality: The most unique feature of this memoir is the author’s sheer volume and variety of adventures, as he travels to distant locations and hunts exotic animals. As previously mentioned, the ways in which these kills are recounted varies little from chapter to chapter so that the book more resembles a collection of related essays than a coherent memoir.
Character/Execution: With such a continued focus on the animals Yehyawi hunts and the methods by which he kills them, his actual character and motivations are obscured for much of the narrative. Only in later chapters, with references to his wife and son, does the reader start to see more developed character traits of the narrator.
by Blanche Haddow
Idea: In this quietly poignant memoir, the author shares her experience of being diagnosed with Asperger's at age 51 and how said diagnosis has altered her understanding of herself and the nuances of human perception.
Prose/Style: While intimate and genuine, the author's casual prose style could elevate the narrative more. Readers with Asperger's – particularly those who are female and received an adult diagnosis – will surely relate to Haddow's thoughts and experiences. However, the work would greatly benefit from a more formal narrative framework and more polished prose in order to expand its readership.
Originality: As females with Asperger's are historically underdiagnosed and under-represented, Haddow's work fills a valuable niche. Adults who may similarly receive an Asperger's diagnosis later in life will welcome the author's many insights.
Character Development/Execution: The author has a warm, candid voice that will prove welcoming to readers. While the author references a number of outside resources relating to the diagnosis of Asperger's, this work is primarily a personal account of the author's diagnosis and unique perspective on the world around her, rather than an informative guide on the subject.
by Joe Field
Plot: This inspiring memoir is something of a Horatio Alger tale, which includes the author's conversion to Christianity and his quest to find the father who abandoned him and his mother before he was born.
Prose/Style: The book showcases a peppy and self-confident tone, and is reader-friendly in terms of its pacing and structure.
Originality: While not the first rags-to-riches memoir, the author's optimistic and engaging storytelling has an effective appeal.
Character Development/Execution: The author takes a clear-eyed approach to writing about his life challenges and successes as they come his way. The book might benefit from deeper self-reflection on the part of the narrator.