Memoir / Autobiography
by Laura Davis
Idea: Written years after her bestseller that assisted thousands of women to cope with and heal from sexual abuse as children, Davis's memoir about maternal reconciliation is heartfelt, moving, introspective, and beautiful. Davis is an excellent author, bringing to life all the characters in her story through verbal exchanges, actions, and subtle nuance. Her book highlights the delicate relationship with a mother who is simultaneously loving and toxic, and the impacts this relationship has on her life and relationships. The reader can walk away from the book with new perspectives that may assist them in their own complex relationships.
Prose: Davis is a master of prose. From the very start of the memoir, she is able to fill it to the brim with metaphor, figurative language, symbolism, and general eloquence. This book reads like poetry, and is a delight - often visceral, tangible in both its pleasures and pains.
Originality: Mother/daughter relationships are conspicuous for their complexity. Two women, very alike and very different, working through their own power struggles, love, confusion, identities. This dynamic is often riddled with pain, so many books have been written regarding its hills and valleys. Davis has plummeted the reader into the midst of her own fascinating, rich, and trauma-filled life.
Character/Execution: Davis does an excellent job of writing both in first-person limited while still allowing her characters to be very much their own people who change, grow, learn, suffer, and experience joy. The interactions between her characters feel very authentic, and it is easy to follow who is talking to whom during conversations.
by Jazzie de Leon
Plot/Idea: Brownsheep is a raw, immaculately written, emotional tale of Filipino immigration, generational trauma, and othering.
Prose: Jazzie de Leon positions her work as an honest, open text about variations in passed down family oral history that intimately explores the trauma of contemporary immigrant life in the United States.
Originality: Brownsheep is explicitly honest about the struggle of emigration, abusive stereotypes, and rape, successfully avoiding the easy American Dream bootstraps trope narrative.
Character Development/Execution: Author Jazzie de Leon intelligently explains immigrant culture and how she was expected to bury the truth in her family, lending credence to her narrative authority.
Blurb: Brownsheep is a brilliantly empathetic narrative of immigration lore by a Filipina author, about the difficult realities of surviving in the supposed melting pot of the United States as an outsider.
by Nadia Davis
Plot/Idea: Home is Within You is author and attorney Nadia Davis's love letter to her three sons about her family history and her struggles with abusive partners, alcohol and drug addiction, and mental illness. The book is a brilliantly executed memoir from start to finish.
Prose: Davis's prose is a perfect combination of direct, confident, unashamed, and sometimes snarky. She has a true eye for gorgeous descriptions and poetic interludes that always enhance the narrative in a meaningful way.
Originality: The author's plain and open honesty about enduring a chaotic life is refreshing and cathartic. Home is Within You also completes the difficult feat of being an immigrant narrative that works against the false forward mobility narrative of the American Dream by highlighting her family's difficulties and flaws.
Character Development/Execution: Davis's memoir proceeds linearly through the story of her parents, childhood, and adult life, but time in the narrative is excellently complicated by intrusions of letters to her sons and commentary about mental illness/addiction--a perfect way to illustrate how past trauma intrudes into daily life on the page.
Blurb: A hybrid memoir that combines poetry, prose, and letters to her sons, Nadia Davis's Home Is Within You is a tour de force work of striking power about learning how to live, thrive, and survive the consequences of childhood trauma, abusive relationships, alcoholism, drug addiction, and severe mental illness.
by Nadija Mujagic
Idea: Mujagic's book will take the reader from Bosnia to Boston on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery, acclimation, pain, and recovery. Her voice is poignant, comforting, and wise; the reader can tell through her suffering how she has grown and learned valuable life lessons and blossomed into an insightful young woman. She elegantly and humbly shares her knowledge with the reader through anecdotal experiences, playful storytelling, and somber realities concerning xenophobia, racism, domestic violence, and war. The book is strikingly honest, and an absolutely charming read.
Prose: The prose feels like the winding roads of Bosnia - occasionally meandering, but with beautiful stops along the way. Mujagic takes the reader on a journey, and the sights are not always pretty or comfortable; regardless, she shares her insights and thoughts elegantly. Overall, the writing is beautiful, poetic, and powerful.
Originality: Being a small, often forgotten country in Eastern Europe, it is rare to find a book about Bosnia, and even rarer to find a book about a woman's experiences between her home country and the US. Mujagic has lived a unique life, and her memoir is equally compelling and original.
Character/Execution: Mujagic has done a beautiful job of sorting through her own tumultuous past, and is very much the center of her own story. Additional characters are finely and organically portrayed.
by C. Vargas McPherson
Plot/Idea: McPherson is raising up and empowering marginalized voices in remembering and dissecting a moment in history that is often overlooked. While exploring the intersecting experiences over multiple generations, she uncovers familial connections and explores the devastating effects of intergenerational trauma.
Prose: The prose is poetic and filled with Spanish throughout, which assists the reader in feeling more present; the book's language is continuously eloquent and flowing. On occasion there are very minute grammatical errors, but these do not detract from the beauty inherent in the writing.
Originality: While many wars have garnered mass amounts of attention from the world, others have not. There have been countless genocides, civil wars, political uprisings, etc. that have caused horrible atrocities in the lives of citizens, and the rest of the world has all but turned a blind eye to them. McPherson has put a spotlight on an experience that has shaped the lives of many, but that has hardly been explored in media. Inheriting our Names is an important book for marginalized voices, bringing to light the experiences of a people often ignored.
Character Development/Execution: The book is beautifully laid out and clear, with fonts pleasant to the eye. The shift between narrators can leave to a degree of reader disorientation, but this is a minor distraction.
by David Beck
Plot/Idea: Petrified of the Light is David Beck's sharp, funny, terrifically honest memoir of being young, gay, drunk and in the arts in NYC. It is also a bittersweet love story between David and his lover of ten years, Luca, a talented fashion designer, and the forces that keep them together as they tear themselves and one another apart.
Prose: David Beck's voice is acerbic and his wit is sharp, and the book is laugh-out-loud funny in spots. It is also an unsparing account of his spiraling into alcoholism and painfully trying, time after time, to get a handhold on sobriety before losing everything he came to New York hoping to find, including the love of his life.
Originality: This may be one of the best memoirs about being young, talented, gay, and risking throwing everything, including love, away that readers will have encountered since Augusten Burroughs' Dry and Magical Thinking, yet it is not derivative in any way. Beck articulates an experience that thousands who've come to New York to hunt fame and success have undergone; his narrative is both totally relatable and uniquely his own.
Character Development/Execution: Fledgling writers are warned by their instructors that "Just because it happened doesn't make it real," but Beck's memoir is real and raw and utterly convincing. Those who have walked New York's streets will recognize their city by sound and sight and smell; those who have lived there for a decade or more, especially those who've been involved in the arts, will recognize the people he describes as friends, neighbors, colleagues and folks they've stood in line with to get tickets to Shakespeare in the Park.
by Sharon Emery
Idea: Emery offers a powerful and gut-wrenching story of personal loss. She chronicles her survival path without minimizing her loss in a way that empowers readers who are similarly trying to cope with any loss or form of devastation.
Prose: Emery is a journalist and a gifted writer. Her prose is concise but not stark, flows seemingly effortlessly, and prompts real tears as she shares her struggles. Despite the painful hand life deals her, Emery discovers an inner strength that comes through in her writing.
Originality: This is a highly personal story with lessons for all. Emery's journey is a distinctive mix of grief and hope that will resonate with readers.
Character/Execution: Emery writes in such a way that her story and those who matter most in it become real to the reader. Hers is a sad but powerful journey that envelops the reader as they vicariously experience her loss and her resurgence.
Blurb: Powerful and raw, It's Hard Being You is a heart-wrenching story of loss and survival, a reminder that our suffering does not own or define us.
by Sondra Charbadze
Idea: Charbadze's The Sea Once Swallowed Me is an impassioned work of personal and travel memoir, in which the author searches for connection to the natural world; a sense of greater philosophical purpose; and--ultimately--romantic love. Her path toward understanding herself, her choices, and the nuances of the world around her, will captivate readers.
Prose: It is apparent that the author has carefully crafted each line of prose. Her words are meaning-laden and potent, with not one wasted word or syllable. The result is a text that reads like a series of poetic, vignette-like moments connected through the work's thematic and tonal cadences.
Originality: Memoirs of travel, growth, and self-fulfillment are familiar. While this work explores familiar themes of displacement, solitude, and the quest for identity, the author's poetic writing and unique structural approach allows this to stand apart.
Character/Execution: This is a memoir that relies less on chronological events and circumstances, than on the author's internal processes, philosophical reflections, and incremental growth. Readers of literary fiction will be particularly drawn to Charbadze's unflinching and lyrical storytelling.
by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski
Plot/Idea: Sochaczewski has crafted a delightful foray into his own private collection of Ganesha statues. This book is full of interesting tidbits about the author, about collecting, about Hindu gods, about travels....and most importantly, about the titular Ganesha. Filled with countless gorgeous photos and interesting stories regarding Sochaczewski's travels, Searching for Ganesha is a charming, unusual, read.
Prose: Sochaczewski is a wonderful writer. He is able to take concepts that may be very distant for the reader, esoteric, strange, or even dull, and turns them into fun, playful stories. His voice cuts through his prose in the best way, and one can only imagine that he would be delightful to listen to over a glass of wine. The book takes what could be a dusty topic and makes it humorous and even enchanting.
Originality: Sochaczewski readily acknowledges that he is an unusual person who has lived an unusual life, and harbors a singular penchant for collecting Ganesha figures. Even readers who are unfamiliar with Ganesha will find the author's enthusiasm to be contagious.
Character Development/Execution: Despite occasional formatting issues, this work is enhanced with striking pictures. The author delivers a wholly unique memoir that combines elements of mythology, psychology, and autobiography.
by Samantha Hart
Idea: Blind Pony is a difficult, yet ultimately triumphant memoir, about the author's attempts to escape family sexual abuse and the harsh years of substance use and drug addiction that follow.
Prose: Author Samantha Hart's prose flows with lush details and descriptions, and she absolutely nails the rhythms of her Appalachian characters' speech.
Originality: Blind Pony is original for its acknowledgment of the slipperiness of truth, as opposed to other memoirs that present themselves to offer direct, unbiased depictions of factual reality.
Character/Execution: Hart pens a well-executed, paced, and plotted text that is both honest about the realities of sexual abuse and also explores necessary coping mechanisms for survival.
Blurb: A spectacularly written memoir about the impact of cycles of abuse and dependence, Samantha Hart's Blind Pony is an intelligent exploration of both runaway teenage years and the ephemeral nature of truth.
by Smiley Thakur, MD
Plot/Idea: Thakur has done a great service for potential medical students, those pursuing their medical degree, and practicing doctors. This book is full of helpful insights and humbling anecdotes that can assist anyone who is considering or currently working within the medical field. The book is eloquently written, and its honesty and transparency about one of the world's most important (and difficult) professions is welcomed. He provides not only a roadmap for considering entering the profession, but also assists the reader in speaking to some of the most challenging conversations regarding illness, death, and grief. As the author offers up examples from his own experience, the reader will relate to Thakur and grow from reading his book.
Prose: Conversationally written, the book is not ostentatious or erudite, while retaining eloquent beauty in its prose. Thakur's thoughts are clear and simply laid out, and the ideas in the book will not confuse the reader. Occasionally he uses an excess of short sentences, which can seem a bit curt, but in general the prose is pleasant, clear, and useful.
Originality: Books truthfully speaking to the experience of being a doctor practicing in North America are rare to come by, and increasingly important as this field shrinks while health issues increase worldwide. Written in the tone of a humble comrade sharing his wisdom, Thakur's book is relatable, unique, and valuable.
Character Development/Execution: A powerful aspect of this book is the titles of the chapters - they are very clear about the content therein, which is useful for the casual reader who may want to skip to a chapter relevant to their own situation. Some of the images in the book are a bit stretched, so they appear somewhat pixelated.
by Jamie Andrea Garzot
Idea: Garzot's inspirational story about changing one's course, going against the odds, and proving to everyone in her life that yes, she can! is a wonderful read. From start to finish, the reader will be enthralled with her interesting insights, delightful and personable prose, and personal anecdotes. It is a breath of fresh air to see a woman taking charge like this and believing in herself - this book is feminist at its core.
Prose: As Garzot emphasizes throughout, she is excellent at customer service, and it shows. Her prose makes the reader feel comfortable, at home, and safe, while also being extremely amusing and insightful.
Originality: Although entrepreneurial memoirs are fairly commonplace, Garzot has presented the reader with a humorous look at a total career transition into a very new (not to mention taboo!) industry. Filled with fun, passion, and brilliance, Garzot is an excellent storyteller and inspiration to all others, especially women, who want to take their lives by the reins and do a complete 180.
Character/Execution: The book is clearly formatted and reads smoothly. Readers will enjoy the author's charming and engaging storytelling.
by Sverrir Sigurdsson
Idea: A detailed and engaging story that offers readers great insight into days of yore life in Iceland. The author delves far back into his family history, which is in essence an adventure story. Oftentimes, family chronicles, particularly those with unfamiliar names, are a tedious bore. Not so in Sigurdsson's capable hands. There is so much here to experience and enjoy, particularly the photos, which greatly enhance an already captivating storyline.
Prose: Beautifully written, this work is a pleasure to read. The author is able to make his subjects come alive, even those from distant ages. Succinct yet detailed, it feels as if the author carefully selected each word.
Originality: This work takes a distinctive and original approach to Viking history, interweaving his family story with his own journey to offer readers a unique perspective.
Character/Execution: The author does a fine job bringing all his players to life, from his ancestors to himself on his life journey. It's because of this skillful ability that the reader stays engaged and interested throughout the work.
Blurb: Captivating and entertaining, this work offers readers entrance into a whole new world. Readers will savor each story as they travel with Sigurdsson as he recounts fascinating family tales and chronicles his own life journey.
by Larry Walsh
Plot/Idea: Suit to Saddle is an engaging story of determination and moxie, as well as a celebration of the human spirit. Walsh, perhaps recklessly, undertakes a significant and difficult journey that he is unprepared for, and his story holds the reader's interest as he meets this challenge head-on.
Prose: The prose here is solid, and the author shows promise as a writer, though there are times when excessive description commandeers the action and derails the storyline.
Originality: This is a unique and personal story that will inspire the readers who experience it.
Character Development/Execution: While there are numerous people that populate Walsh's tale, this is a story of personal development. Walsh does a great job at chronicling both his physical and mental journeys.
by Michael Nanfito
Plot/Idea: Nanfito’s spare, lyrical memoir is finely crafted and thoroughly engages the reader.
Prose: The author has incorporated strong prose and imagery in his writing. The poetic language is very descriptive and complex, but does not shy away from realism. Nanfito is confident in his storytelling.
Originality: Nanfito’s story is personal, vivid, and unflinching in its vulnerability. The author's fine writing allows for his unique circumstances and experiences to resonate powerfully with readers.
Character Development/Execution: Thematic elements and motifs serve as connective tissue throughout the author's story. Some greater degree of connection between parts one, two, and three may benefit the overarching narrative.
by Nicole Bell
Plot/Idea: Unlike so many memoirs, Bell's story is not simply a chronicle of events but a gripping narrative of a complex struggle. Her story is a painful one, but also one of strength and endurance.
Prose: Bell is a talented writer. Her ability to convey complex emotions is remarkable, from Russ's frustration and anger to her own inner turmoil.
Originality: This is a highly original and deeply touching work. While others have written on the topic, Bell's chronicle highlights little-explored aspects of the disease from the caregiver's perspective.
Character Development/Execution: Bell does a superb job of bringing her family to life on the page. Honest and gut-wrenching, this exceptional work takes the reader along a frustrating and difficult journey,