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Memoir / Autobiography

  • The Queen of Gay Street

    by Esther Mollica

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: Mollica proves herself to be a capable and experienced writer. Her story is deeply engaging, unusual, and full of humor. Her pick-myself-back-up attitude will inspire readers not to give up on finding love even if the past is not pretty.

    Prose: Mollica's prose is delightful: polished, upbeat, and self-reflective, she tells her story with honesty, integrity, and wit. 

    Originality: The author's experiences and perspective on life, work, and relationships are entirely unique. Her take on New York City also proves to be fresh and insightful.

    Character/Execution: The Queen of Gay Street is finely executed and consistently appealing. The author's individuality shines through the pages, while Mollica's ability to find humor amidst dysfunction and heartbreak is among the book's greatest assets.

  • Mise en Place--Memoir of a Girl Chef

    by Marisa Mangani

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Marisa Mangani takes readers along with her on the journey of finding her purpose and standing up for her dreams in an eye-opening and refreshingly honest memoir.

    Prose: Mangani's candid, fluid, and direct prose captivates readers from the very first line.

    Originality: Mise en Place offers a unique, insider's perspective on working in a male-dominated restaurant business as a female chef. Mangani's career takes her to a variety of vividly conveyed cities and restaurants while offering an emotional chronicle of her personal growth. 

    Character/Execution: Mangani has a clear handle on storytelling and fills her memoir with detailed and authentic descriptions of the many individuals who influence her personal and professional life.

    Blurb: An excellent read for aspiring entrepreneurs trying to pave their own path.

     

     

     

  • Overcoming Deepest Grief: A Woman's Journey

    by Mary Aviyah Farkas

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: The concept behind Overcoming Deepest Grief is simple: one woman's story of how she dealt with losing her partner of 18 years, Margaret. As readers will quickly find, however, it is about so much more, including the compounding loss of her beloved sister, the trauma of finding Margaret dead in their home, and the unceremonious pillaging of Margaret's possessions by her somewhat-estranged family. In this profound narrative, a journal-like collection of essays, letters, and poems written in the months and years after Margaret's death, Farkas records her long, painful, but ultimately joyful, journey to acceptance and happiness.

    Prose: Overcoming Deepest Grief is written in beautiful, emotive prose and verse that can either be savored bit by bit or indulged in a single sitting.

    Originality: While there are certainly many memoirs that address reclaiming one's life after profound loss, Farkas's text stands apart from the pack, in large part because it isn't consciously trying to be any one thing. A curated collection of writings created throughout her period of bereavement, there is such raw emotion and authenticity in the pages of Overcoming Deepest Grief. Many of the essays deal with grief, sadness, and the seeming impossibility of living through her pain, but the collection is also peppered with writings on different subjects—everything from bees, letting go of racist friends, and odes to the moon—that will delight readers. 

    Character Development/Execution: A stunning collection of emotive writing sure to touch the hearts of readers, Mary Aviyah Farkas's Overcoming Deepest Grief: A Woman's Journey takes readers through the author's raw, painful journey through the grief she experienced after losing her beloved sister to cancer and then, just a few months later, coming home from work to discover her partner of 18 years deceased in bed. The essays and poems, which were written in the months and years following the dual deaths, allows readers to follow how Farkas was able to slowly start letting joy back into her life one small moment at a time

  • Somewhere in the Music, I'll Find Me: A Memoir

    by Laurie Markvart

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: This is an engaging story that combines music and moxie while exploring the impact of loss. Markvart undertakes a significant and difficult journey; her story holds the reader's interest as she confronts challenges head-on, emerging as a more empowered and self-fulfilled individual in the process.

    Prose: Markvart's conveys her love for music in a moving and elegant manner, while her emotional pain, anxiety, and the often comfortable moments she endures are palpable on the page. 

    Originality: Somewhere in the Music, I'll Find Me is a unique and personal story about music, grief, and the pressures of pursuing a dream that will undoubtedly inspire readers.

    Character/Execution: Markvart has done a marvelous job of sorting through her own tumultuous past and is very much the center of her own story. Additional characters are organically portrayed and true to life.

    Blurb: Somewhere in the Music, I'll Find Me is the moving and candid story of an aspiring musician whose journey takes her from rock bands to Broadway. 

     

  • Memoirs of a Bible Smuggler

    by Jeana Sue Kendrick

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: This work chronicles the author's courageous and sometimes harrowing adventures as a Bible smuggler during the Cold War. There is much here to engage the reader as the story unfolds.

    Prose: This is a beautifully-written work; the author demonstrates a strong command of language, pacing, and storytelling.

    Originality: This is a highly original work that vividly captures the author's unique circumstances.

    Character/Execution: The author does a fine job of elucidating the reasons she and her husband are called to smuggle Bibles to individuals living behind the Iron Curtain, while also offering insight into the historical era. 

     

  • When the Light Goes Out

    by Lisa Myers

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Myers takes a gut-wrenching journey in uncovering the circumstances surrounding her father's death and mines from that experience an illuminating insight into the world of mental health and trauma.

    Prose: Myers does an incredible job crafting the complexities of pain and shame that bind people to traumatic events without making her book sounding like a clinical textbook.

    Originality: This is truly an original story, not just of Myer's father, but of the patients the author has encountered over the span of her career. While pain is a familiar experience to all humans, the book explores the concept of how it occurs being unique to each person's life.

    Character/Execution: Myers paints a vivid picture of her father, as well as the people she encounters in her search for closure. If it wasn't a memoir, this would read as a riveting mystery novel.

  • When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Chair: A Memoir

    by Ryan Rae Harbuck

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Harbuck's remarkable life story is told in raw, compelling fashion. When I Grow Up I Want to be a Chair: A Memoir is an honest, emotional, and humorous reflection on how losing the use of her legs changed the author's life. 

    Prose: The author discusses some very dark moments in her life, most of which stem from the car accident that left her paralyzed and her boyfriend dead when they were just teenagers, but this darkness is punctuated with hope, acceptance, humor, and a smattering of small miracles that makes it a delight to read. 

    Originality: The author tells the story of her life up to adulthood, but the narrative is structured in such a way that the chapters are more like interlocking essays, each related to the others but also interesting on their own. This polished memoir strikes a great balance between jumping around in time, creating some narrative interest and tension, without confusing the reader. 

    Character Development/Execution: Overall this is an engaging, emotional read that keeps the reader's attention throughout. Readers also may wish for more discussion of the idea behind the title and how it ties into the text. 

  • Map

    by Audrey Beth Stein

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: In this highly impactful memoir, the author takes readers on her journey to self-discovery. The read is easy, but never simplistic. With subtlety and narrative prowess, Stein conveys complex circumstances, poignant moments, and powerful emotions.

    Prose: The author's prose is smooth and approachable, while her voice is candid, gently humorous, and intimate. Readers will have no trouble becoming fully immersed in the storytelling.

    Originality:  While this work of memoir is fairly straightforward in its approach and doesn't take significant narrative risks, Stein's work stands apart for its sense of immediacy, honest emotion, and genuine exploration of queer identity.

    Character/Execution: Map is a finely crafted coming-of-age story. The author emerges as a fully formed individual who develops meaningfully throughout the work. The conclusion to the story is somewhat abrupt; readers may be left wanting even more.

  • Are You Okay? : The Carryover of Kindness

    by A.S. Drayton

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Drayton wears his heart fully on his sleeve, and readers will be drawn in by his vulnerability in this moving memoir that serves as a reminder of the power of kindness.

    Prose: The author shares his story with an introspective tone and clear prose that allows the story to unfold without being bogged down by too many details and jargon.

    Originality: While many memoirs tend to uncover the traumas and hidden difficulties faced by the writer, not all connect their life experiences to a greater overarching lesson for the reader. Drayton's memoir feels like it was written to help others in their own dilemmas and endeavors. 

    Character Development/Execution: Drayton does a great job of helping the reader understand his emotional motivations and his cognitive process of the environment around him. While some descriptive details of other characters could be filled in, he still manages to paint their significance to his story.

  • Plot: This is a straightforward yet riveting account of the author's experiences as a young, Jewish Londoner during World War Two. The author has a talent for bringing both the huge terrors—like the blitz—and the small joys to life for readers.

    Prose: Ehrenkrantz uses clear and engaging prose to highlight her knack for storytelling.

    Originality: So many accounts of WWII focus on what happened in continental Europe (the battles, ghettos, concentration camps, and more) — it is fascinating to read about how a family of English Jews experienced the violence of war (and antisemitism) from British shores.

    Character/Execution: The author movingly narrates her wartime experiences through the eyes of her childhood self while also integrating retrospective wisdom. While the memoir is obviously most focused on the wartime years of the 1940s, readers will be saddened by the mention of her family's ongoing tragedies after the war: news of her Polish family's murder in Auschwitz and the way her parent's relationship crumbled. Wartime narratives don't necessarily stop when peace is declared; spending more time lingering on these post-war events would be very impactful.

    Blurb: Seeking Shelter: Memoir of a Jewish Girlhood in Wartime Britain is a fascinating, fast-paced account of the author's experiences as a young Jewish girl living mostly in London during WWII, and the challenges, fears, and small joys her family endured while dodging bombs from the blitz.  

  • Sober Daughter

    by Fawna Asfaw

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot/Idea: Asfaw openly describes her life experiences, focusing on her idyllic childhood to the harrowing deaths of her parents to grappling with her own alcoholism and time in rehab. Her road from trauma and addiction to recovery and success is truthful and vivid. The author's honesty and willingness to focus on not only the realities but the emotions of each moment make this memoir pack quite an emotional punch.

    Prose: Asfaw writes in direct and conversational prose. While the dialogue and expression of emotions are strong, the descriptive parts aren't as prevalent, which makes the prose feel uneven in certain passages.

    Originality: The author bravely conveys both the highs and extreme lows of her journey. Sober Daughter is a powerful and insightful memoir that might help others take control of their own lives and recovery.

    Character/Execution: Asfaw doesn't hesitate to share her darkest moments. She does a commendable job of relaying the challenges and nuances of addiction. Her parents, however, may benefit from a degree of additional characterization. 

  • The Spirit of Ruchel Leah

    by Lester Blum

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: Part history book and part personal memoir, this narrative triumphs when it shares the personal stories of Blum's ancestors. The historical sections, particularly the beginning, do slow the pace a bit, but readers will be unable to stop reading Ruchel's letters, particularly knowing how her story ends.

    Prose: The jumps between the personal letters and more scholarly prose (particularly the long discussion of U.S. immigration history) can be jarring at times and lend a bit of unevenness to the whole story. Yet, the letters are engrossing--the emotion and fear that Ruchel evokes is powerful and heartbreaking.

    Originality: Blum has crafted a compelling memoir by framing the content of his relative's letters within the history of U.S. immigration policy and the rise of the Nazis in Poland. The translations of the correspondence remind readers of the human part of this horrific history.

    Character/Execution: This memoir has a lot of characters; most are just names or mentioned in relation to the Leah family. Yet the center of the piece is--as it should be--Ruchel. Her voice is complex, engrossing and fully human, with its pleas, fears, anger, and hope fully "felt" through the translated letters.

  • Found

    by Barbara Ann Quinlan

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot/Idea: The author recounts the ups, down, and existential crises of her early life (which was quite an eventful youth). Her stories range from entertaining to meaningful, and she holds nothing back about her sexual experiences, both pleasurable and traumatic.

    Prose: The writing is clear and engaging. The timeline jumps around somewhat, which is largely effective, but there are certain places when the timeline becomes confusing for readers.

    Originality: The author had an action-packed youth, and her narration of these events is largely gratifying and illuminating. There are points at which the author raises issues (like her mother going to great lengths to protect her) that are left as cliffhangers (presumably to be discussed again in later volumes). These left the reader wanting more answers -- and thus interested in reading the next volume in the series. 

    Character/Execution: The memoir keeps the reader invested, but the narrator introduces a number of experiences--particularly those involving violence and trauma--that may leave contemporary readers wanting to gain a deeper sense of the emotional/mental impact of these events. Some of the strongest moments in the memoir occur when the author describes the secondary trauma she experiences concerning the holocaust -- that type of honest vulnerability would have been appreciated in other areas of the memoir, too. 

    Blurb: In Found, the first volume of Barbara Ann Quinlan's memoir series, the author narrators her youthful journey from New York to California and then Paris and Poland as she searches for passion, peace, and love. 

  • Plot/Idea: Cohen offers a moving story of love, grief, and a passionate reflection on the true meaning of devotion. She chronicles her early adulthood path of discovering love in the midst of searching for her place among her family and the world, addressing how she navigated social prejudice against her sexuality and contemplating her choice to date an older woman.

    Prose: Cohen writes with confidence, blending humor effortlessly into the narrative, even during the story’s solemn moments. Her prose flows smoothly and will incite profound sorrow for readers, as well as the nostalgia and poignancy that come with first love.

    Originality: This is an intimate recounting of Cohen’s life and deep connections to her loved ones. The journey is a mixture of grief, joy, and self-discovery.

    Character Development/Execution: Cohen brings her story to life through vivid characters who readers will easily connect with. She sorts through her past brilliantly, and her emotions are raw and utterly convincing. Secondary characters feel natural—anyone who has ever lost a loved one or navigated the pain that often accompanies passion will relish this memoir.

  • Time Traveled

    by KRISTA MARSON

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: A lovely and lyrical compendium that's both poetic and humorous, autobiographical and devotional. Above all, Marson's collection wonderfully shows a clear love of travel and the places where we sometimes find ourselves either by accident or by design, and is a beautiful and compelling read for anyone looking to see the world through new eyes.

    Prose: Marson clearly has the heart of a poet and it shows--most notably through her thoughtful and often elegiac prose that paints a vivid picture of her anecdotal adventures. By turns an ode to nature and the hidden (and not so hidden) corners of the world, Marson's exceptional and enormously engaging style makes Time Traveled a joy to read.

    Originality: Travel memoirs are familiar territory. However, here, the beauty is undoubtedly in Marson's storytelling, which reads less like a laundry list of "places I've been" and more like an examination of how her travels have shaped her life--and her appreciation of the world.

    Character/Execution: Marson's engaging tone and style connect the reader to every place and adventure, while her authentic prose elevates her stories into a well-written and thought-provoking collection that's both entertaining and touching--lovely, lyrical, real, and amusing.

  • Quest

    by John Graham

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: The memoir details the lifelong adventures of a man working in international politics during a tumultuous period of nuclear threat and international conflict. Globetrotting adventures, near-death experiences, and interplay with international politics will keep readers interested and engaged.

    Prose: The book is paced well and reads quickly, with a narrative voice that comes clearly through the pages. The writing is clear and the balance between exposition and introspection is effective.

    Originality: The author's life in the foreign service, amongst other ventures, lends to a variety of settings and events that are unique and will draw the interest of a broad range of readers. The book contains many pictures to further depict the details of the story.

    Character/Execution: The writing is enjoyable and the settings and subject matter make for a relevant and unique story. The author’s reflection on larger, philosophical ideas and ponderings set the book apart from many similarly constructed memoirs.

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