Memoir / Autobiography
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 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 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 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 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 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 Mia Hayes
Plot: While memoirs about illness and marital strife are fairly common, Hayes's Always Yours, Bee stands out for its genuine and straightforward examination of becoming a partner's caregiver after an unexpected accident. Instead of focusing solely on the patient, Hayes's book delves into the trauma she experienced after her husband's wreck, leading to struggles with substance abuse, self-harm, and mental health.
Prose/Style: Clear, direct, and candid, Hayes's prose certainly comes off as sincere and heartfelt, but overall the writing style doesn't add to or detract from the memoir's success in a big way. Hayes excels at reconstructing scenes from memory, particularly through the use of realistic, precise dialogue.
Originality: Hayes's willingness to lay everything on the line about past mistakes, regrets, and flaws feels refreshing and unique in a world where women are expected to be perfect. Her firsthand discussions of mental health struggles, particularly with depression, are both authentic and conscientious.
Character Development/Execution: Hayes's forthright and honest depiction of her own faults and subsequent spiral into bipolar depression is an incredible, nuanced character study about hitting rock-bottom. The stark descriptions of James's character and personality changes after his accident are one of the text's biggest strengths—a frank and unflinching exploration of the consequences of traumatic brain injury on individuals and their relationships.
Blurb: A dauntless and boldly truthful memoir about the breakdown of a marriage and a family after a harrowing traffic collision.
by Pam Saylor
Idea: Saylor is a gifted writer. Her sensory descriptions give the reader a strong sense of place, as if they are right there with her, experiencing all the joyful sights, smells, and tastes of her travels.
Prose: This memoir covers much physical and emotional ground. Braving the World illustrates what it is like to travel with a longtime partner, how to manage a disease abroad, and the pitfalls of trying to plan everything when new places are inherently unpredictable.
Originality: Braving the World is a successfully written non-traditional guidebook. Though the book has the ingredients of a truly good travel memoir, complete with tips, tricks, and even recipes, it shines in its illustrations of the many anxieties of travel planning. On top of being a chronic planner, Saylor is also a Type 1 diabetic—her descriptions of exactly how she made this trip feasible will greatly benefit readers who want to travel the world, but aren't sure if they have a condition that might prevent it.
Character Development/Execution: Saylor is careful to describe herself in an honest way, including her likes, worries, and even character flaws. Her diabetes management gives a greater sense of who she is as a person, and often mirrors how she tackles other challenges throughout her travels. Though her husband Dave could be described more at times, the reader gets a great sense of their relationship and how they move in the world together.
Blurb: A touching and helpful memoir that shows how spending a year abroad can be more accessible than most think.
by Michelle Felix
Idea: Felix has led a complicated, painful, and tragic life - however, through her experiences, she has not given up, and has found solace in herself and her relationship with God. Her writing is delicate, thoughtful, and will leave the reader feeling raw and emotional. She does not shy away from sharing her trauma, but does so in a very matter-of-fact way, accepting that this was her reality without resenting it. One can definitely learn from Felix's stoicism, and resolute drive to move forward through pain.
Prose: This memoir is simply written, with concise, impactful verbiage. For example, when Felix describes her mother's suicide, and the effect that it had on her emotionally, the language is so to the point that it is almost startling--but it works effortlessly.
Originality: While stories of finding personal redemption through the lord are familiar, Felix has led a fascinating and difficult life, and has overcome countless obstacles.
Character/Execution: Felix's memoir is relatable, clearly presented, and ultimately inspiring.
by Kenneth Atchity
Plot: Filled with humorous anecdotes, pictures, and a unique perspective from an immigrant's child growing up in the south, this memoir offers the reader a dive into childhood trauma, and learning to rethink those experiences. Atchity is a seasoned writer and storyteller, peppering his work with homages to the literary greats, such as Homer. The reader will enjoy this novel, and likely come away from it with helpful knowledge to help them traverse through their own life journey.
Prose/Style: Atchity's prose reads like an erudite grandpa telling a story to some curious grandkids. His flowing, informal language mixed with elegant phrasing entices the reader to continue along on his life journey; he spices up the writing with a perfect amount of pictures, poetry, and quotes to keep the reader interested.
Originality: Although memoirs are not uncommon, Atchity has lived an uncommon enough life to make this memoir interesting for the reader. With his unique heritage and complicated parental relationships, his work will speak to a wide range of readers, and offer curious insights.
Character Development/Execution: Being a memoir, this work is mostly focused on Atchity and his experiences. The rest of the characters present more as players in a game that are there to support the story that is the author's life, rather than living their own lives separate from him. However, he presents these characters honestly according to his own perspectives, which provide insight into his development at the various stages of his life.
by Jenny Smith
Plot/Idea: This memoir gives the reader insight into a life few people know or understand. Live the Impossible is inspiring, surprising, and immensely engaging.
Prose: The prose is above average and well-organized; there are not many noticeable errors or omissions.
Originality: This is a unique memoir about living with a severe disability and overcoming so many stereotypes many people have regarding quadriplegics' limitations and abilities.
Character Development/Execution: This author does not let her disability define her. She attempts to do as much as is physically possible, always with quite a positive attitude. However, she is often in pain, often has to have surgeries, and often is frustrated. This side of her might have been expressed a bit more to balance out her formidable resilience. However, as she writes, she is "much more of a thinker than a feeler."
by Mel Laytner
Plot: Laytner's compelling, well-plotted memoir is always engaging and conscientiously structured. By interspersing historical content and journalism with personal accounts and reconstructed memories, Laytner keeps the narrative moving and provokes readers’ curiosity.
Prose/Style: Laytner's prose is precisely detailed and candidly confidential—a careful blend of reportage and opinion that strengthens the project. Alternating between the present and the past tense, Laytner expertly grounds the reader in both the historical sections and the contemporary narrative arc of the work.
Originality: Although Laytner's memoir shares similarities with other stories of Holocaust survival, his extraordinary discovery of primary sources and his stark revelations about his father's hidden character set this book apart.
Character Development/Execution: While What They Didn't Burn focuses primarily on the harrowing and inspirational survival story of Josef Lajtner, author Mel Laytner is also a dynamic part of the work—a well-developed and sympathetic character who struggles and changes while uncovering his father's secrets. Additionally, Laytner smartly uses his father's narrative as a jumping off point to discuss relevant secondary characters, including family members, close friends, and historical figures.
Blurb: A thought-provoking, impressive union of historical information and personal narrative that lays bare the Holocaust's continuous impact on the present.
by Kathy Biehl
Plot: Biehl presents the reader with a fun romp through various gourmet (and not-so-gourmet) experiences, with an appreciation not just for the food but for the overall event and joy of eating out in general. The homey pictures accompanying each chapter, along with her personal anecdotes strewn about, make this book a pleasure to read, with tea in hand and a nice snack.
Prose/Style: Biehl is clearly a seasoned writer; the book is easy to consume, clear, and beautiful. She is able to evoke many senses at once, meeting her goal of providing the pandemic-worn reader a chance to escape into a nice dinner.
Originality: Biehl's book takes the traditional foodie romp through various restaurants, dining establishments, and other eateries and gives it a pleasant, personal twang. Her writing is comfortably informal, making the reader feel very at home, like a fellow diner at her table. The pictures also add to the uniqueness, lending a delightful departure from the usual purely text novel.
Character Development/Execution: The book is pleasantly concocted, and the stories wind throughout the book well. Overall, this is a charming read, and will go down as smooth as a nice glass of chardonnay.
by Sue Marko
Plot: Running a Bed & Breakfast is a romanticized dream for many, so hearing the challenges that soured that dream for the author is an intriguing hook.
Prose/Style: The writing style is casual, likened to an approachable gossip session with a friend. Even if the gossip grows a little mean at times, the reader is invited along to obtain all the dirt.
Originality: So many writers are encouraging and try to guide their readers on how to enjoy similar experiences to their own. Marko is definitely not doing that here! Readers will laugh and cringe along with the author as she makes it plain that running a B&B comes with a lot of unexpected downsides.
Character Development/Execution: There is quite the cast of characters in this story. The author herself is in the leading role, and the reader gets to know her well. The other characters are a series of first impressions. While it is left certain that Marko dealt with some very difficult people, most readers will also be thankful to not have been put in her crosshairs.
by Diane Pomerantz
Idea: Lost in the Reflecting Pool offers excellent pacing, and strong storytelling elements. The reader is drawn in wanting to know how Pomerantz’s partner changes from “almost perfect” to the story’s villain.
Prose: The author’s authentic storytelling invites the reader in, offering a fine balance of descriptors of scenery and fast paced events.
Originality: Lost in the Reflecting Pool is a story that many women have lived, but is full of unique experiences, descriptions, and believable suspense.
Character/Execution: The voices of the narrator, as well as her family members and friends introduced in her story, are well defined and easy to understand. The paragraph structure would benefit from a degree of additional editing to allow for greater storytelling flow.