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Memoir / Autobiography

  • Idea: Told with true grit and unabashed honesty, Reynolds’s account of his police work in 80s and 90s Compton, California  is an eye-opening tale that serves to change perspectives on law enforcement. This fast-paced story is full of shocking, and not-so-shocking, truths on crime and how it's combatted.

    Prose: Reynolds is a gifted storyteller; his sharp diction and well-rounded descriptions make for a thoroughly enjoyable read. His memories of his past seem photographic, with details down to the cigarettes that were smoked and the music that was played, meticulously remembered.

    Originality: Black, White, and Gray All Over gives readers a rare look at what it was like to be a Black police officer in one of the United States’ most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Reynolds shares honest critiques of the department, the elected officials of the period, his colleagues, and even himself.

    Character/Execution: It’s clear that Reynolds is an observer at heart. Through specific physical descriptions and analytic personality details, he’s able to bring his characters to life, from the officers he spends hours working with, to the gang members he arrests. His ability to empathize adds a heartening dimension to the narrative.

    Blurb: This memoir gives a glimpse behind the curtain of police work, and will serve to challenge stereotypes about officers, criminals, and the politics at play in law and order.

  • Plot/Idea: In The Frog Hunter, Stamper takes his readers from his carefree high school days of burgers at the drive-in to the jungles of Vietnam, where every cracking twig may mean death is lurking nearby. Traumatized by his experiences in the war, Stamper returns to the States to find he no longer fits in anywhere, and encounters a bigger fight—to regain his mental health and find a purpose in the life he was one of the lucky few among his comrades to escape the Vietnam War with.

    Prose: The Frog Hunter is beautifully written. T.B. Stamper is a writer who knows how to create atmosphere, has extraordinary descriptive powers, and is able to detail an inner landscape that is absorbing, sympathetic, and fully engaging.

    Originality: While there are many war memoirs, this is a memoir written by a born writer, and that makes it unusual. Stamper doesn't merely recollect his experiences—he relives them on the page, and the reader is right there with him.

    Character Development/Execution: Stamper has a keen eye for the telling detail and a still keener ear for dialogue. Even the minor characters are as vivid and real to the reader as they are to the author who knew them in life.

  • When I Was Her Daughter: A Memoir

    by Leslie Ferguson

    Rating: 9.00

    Idea: The author's story is captivating, and readily draws the reader into the circumstances of Leslie's heartbreaking and tumultuous childhood.

    Prose: This memoir is descriptive and poetic without overwhelming the pacing of the story.

    Originality: When I Was Her Daughter: A Memoir is the story of many children who experience homelessness and the foster care system in America, but the author's story is personal and uniquely told.

    Character/Execution: The narrator's voice is immersive and distinct, reading like a diary. The voice of 10-year-old Leslie is authentic and reflects the chaotic childhood she endures. The author's reflections on her complex relationship with her mother, and on her mother's condition, are moving.

  • Always Yours, Bee

    by Mia Hayes

    Rating: 8.75

    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.

  • 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. 

  • INVISIBLE INK a family memoir

    by Martha Leigh

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Leigh has written an incredible historical and familial account of the interconnected experiences of her family throughout the years leading up to, including, and directly following World War II. Intertwining the lives of her relatives, she has presented a piece of living history that breathes to life hundreds of letters, books, and other forms of prose written during that time by her family members. This book not only explores the delicate ties between family, but also the experience of unrequited love, coping with homosexuality during a time it was at best considered a mental illness, along with anti-semitism, and trying to survive one of the most difficult times in history. Written with honestly, love, and a desire to reveal even ugly truths, Leigh has cemented her family's important and fascinating history through this literary gem.

    Prose: Where Leigh excels is in her descriptions of feeling, especially regarding Edith's relationship with the piano. She also brings to life Ralph, a lovable, depressed, pained cynic who is trying to accept his gay identity. These two characters carry the work. The others could be more fleshed out, as the chapters devoted to them can feel more like sidebars that are distracting the reader from the main story. Sometimes the prose can be a bit confusing, and the reader may get lost at certain plot points, as there are so many locations, dates, people, and events to keep track of throughout. Overall, it is very pleasant to read and Leigh is an excellent storyteller.

    Originality: Leigh has successfully taken on the daunting task of sifting through countless pieces of writing to formulate this story. She has done a wonderful job of formulating a coherent narrative from snippets of history, glueing it together with historical context. Although Holocaust narratives are not uncommon, Leigh's rings with a special uniqueness due not only to how the story came about through letters and manuscripts, but also the contents therein. Exploring an unlikely love affair between a gay man and a female pianist, Leigh looks into the confusion of love, survival, and family with an objective, gentle, and honest eye.

    Character Development/Execution: Occasionally, it can be easy to get lost in the various stories, and perhaps this could be made clearer by having little summaries throughout, or more of a road map present. Also, if possible, pictures would make the book come to life even more. The reader would love to see these characters in which they have become so invested!

  • 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. 

  • Just a Dreamer

    by Diana Estill

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: The author takes her relationship between her abusive father and emotionally stagnant mother and writes a riveting, poignant book that takes her on a journey of healing through attempts at improving her relationships with her family and finding happiness in her own life.

    Prose: Estill knows how to tell a good story. She knows that from the first sentence of the first chapter you need to pull a reader in, and with these first two sentences she will have readers hooked. She captures the stress and turmoil of being required to care for her brothers so well that readers can begin to ache for her that she and her siblings are in such a dysfunctional home. The author is also effective at conveying emotion in this rollercoaster of anger, laughter, sadness and more. 

    Originality: Readers will be thoroughly captivated by the author's tales of her family. Though the length of the book could be reconsidered, with some tightening and editing of certain stories, the book would be even more captivating and move along at a quicker pace. 

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a great job of not only telling her own real-life story, but weaving in her real-life siblings and parents as viable 'characters'. Their stories become just as important as her own and we learn about their own emotional trauma from the author's childhood. 

  • Love's Journey Home

    by Gabi Coatsworth

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: This is a poignant yet often joyous real-life love story that will invite readers in and hold their interest until the last page. The story unfolds at an even and balanced pace, not giving away too much too soon.

    Prose: Coatsworth is a clear, solid writer. She is able to tell the story in a way that not only holds the reader's interest but offers the right balance of description, action, and conversation. The author also demonstrates a thorough understanding of structure and grammar.

    Originality: This work details the author's personal story, making it unique and original. While unfortunately many people undergo similar heart-wrenching circumstances, Coatsworth is able to make her work stand out through her narrative approach and the small details that distinguish it from other works.

    Character Development/Execution: Coatsworth does an effective job with characterization, helping the main players in her life come alive on the page—particularly Jay, whose emotions overwhelm him but don't reduce him to a sappy lovesick fool. 

  • The Amazing Story of Montagu's Harrier

    by Elvira Werkman

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: While informative and relevant, this work would benefit from some clarity around genre. The author refers to this work as as a memoir, yet the focus alternates between the story of Ben Koks and the plight of the Montagu's harrier. While both are worthy topics, the work would be best served by maintaining focus on one or the other and keeping the secondary storyline second.

    Prose: The author writes in a clear, even style which is very informal and sometimes meanders, addressing the reader directly, which undermines the author's authority as an expert writing on the topic. While the bones of this work are strong, it would benefit from a professional editor who can help the author smooth out narrative issues.

    Originality: This work offers thoughtful insight into a topic most have never encountered. In a world where environmental conservation is in jeopardy, the work is timely, interesting, and original.

    Character Development/Execution: This work centers on Ben Koks and the Montagu's harrier; both topics are presented in a clear, concise manner.

  • My Obit: Daddy Holding Me

    by Kenneth Atchity

    Rating: 8.25

    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.

  • Live the Impossible

    by Jenny Smith

    Rating: 8.25

    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."

  • 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.

  • Eat, Drink & Be Wary: Cautionary Tales

    by Kathy Biehl

    Rating: 8.00

    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.

  • Idea: Buhrman starts with an homage dedicated to her late father, and ends up with a thrilling story about a man who was driven to fulfill his dreams, no matter how far-fetched they may seem. As fascinating as it is educational, Hear the Whistle is an interesting foray into the life of a man who loved trains, planes, and shooting for the moon.

    Prose: Generally, the prose is easy to understand and vivid. Technical passages--particularly those relating to trains--provide texture and verisimilitude. 

    Originality: The subject behind this work led a fascinating and unusual life. Readers will welcome the details about Jack Haley's life and his uncommon aspirations.

    Character/Execution: Buhrman writes with a loving touch and shows a knack for establishing settings, developing characters, and crafting dialogue.

  • 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.

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