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Memoir / Autobiography

  • Back From Suicide: Before and After the Essential Patrick

    by Marie Lisette Rimer

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/idea: Rimer details the aftermath of her son’s death by suicide in this raw, powerful memoir. As she recalls Patrick’s struggles to find meaning and cope with his depression, his story unfolds in somber tones of heartbreak, depression, and love against the backdrop of a mother’s anguish and guilt. 

    Prose: The prose is concise and expressive, steeped in Rimer’s heartrending pain at the loss of her son. She recounts the events as they happened, allowing readers to view her grief journey organically; that style lends realism and intensity to the memoir.

    Originality: Rimer’s willingness to share her innermost emotions and experiences after her son’s death give the writing authenticity. Her quest to understand why Patrick died, alongside her own crushing regret at not knowing the depth of his pain, will immediately transfix readers. 

    Character/Execution: As Rimer shares her search for answers in the wake of her son’s death by suicide, she includes photographs and mementos from Patrick’s life that animate the memoir, making the family’s pain—and transformation—palpable throughout.

  • Plot/Idea: LaPera recounts the harrowing tale of her father's descent into mental illness and her family's quest to help him in a direct, no-holds-barred approach that invites readers into the situation. Together, author and reader embark on the highs and lows of Joseph's journey, tugging away at a wide range of emotions.

    Prose: LaPera is a talented writer, able to convincingly characterize her father's mental illness and provoke frustration, compassion, and feelings of impotence in readers, similar to the emotions experienced by the author herself.

    Originality: While mental illness and complicated familial relationships are frequently explored in memoir, LaPera offers a uniquely powerful. deeply personal chronicle that will resonate with readers.

    Character/Execution: Characterization is top-notch and intimate, particularly her well-rounded, resonating portrayal of LaPera's father.

  • Loose on the Landscape

    by Joel Everett Harding

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: Loose on the Landscape is an eye-opening and poetic exploration of the natural landscape that offers some fascinating insights into the human condition. Harding investigates the Amazon rainforest, crop circles, and ancient waterfalls, developing a personal relationship with nature and unravelling layers of hidden meaning.

    Prose: Harding takes the reader on an immersive journey into nature in a soothing and gently rewarding book that is full of brilliantly described landscapes and evocative detail. Loose on the Landscape is so rich in texture and tone it literally submerges the reader in the wild. It is also imbued with a depth of historical knowledge and a thirst for scientific investigation.

    Originality: Harding's writing is often imaginative, imbuing the text with a sense of majesty and mystery that sets it apart from other nature books. In addition, his exploration of various ecosystems balances nicely with his lucid and crafty penmanship.

    Character/Execution: The wildlife in Loose on the Landscape is the principal character, positively alive with an abundance of creepers and crawlers. Harding's personal experiences with nature adds a unique touch, as he thrives on his "eco-highs" and deep connection with plants, animals, and ecosystems.

    Blurb: An evocative journey into the undergrowth.

  • Plot/Idea: Readers will be swept into the ebbs and tides of Blue’s life, including her tumultuous relationship with her mother and her spot-on portrayal of society’s marginalization of certain communities. Blue eschews common stereotypes, bringing warmth and life to those citizens who are vilified and relegated to an inferior status.

    Prose: Blue writes with expertise and flair, and her polished style illustrates the stark differences between the homeless population of San Francisco and its posh neighborhoods oozing wealth. This is a nearly flawless memoir, written with grace and finesse. 

    Originality: Blue’s skillful development of underlying themes gives the book notable depth, and she relays those themes through edge-of-your seat storytelling and a stellar sense of timing.

    Character/Execution: Blue is unforgettable in her nimble treatment of a devastating lifestyle that is punctuated by beautiful moments, despite the harsh circumstances. Her personality flourishes, eclipsing the darkest moments in the memoir with a glimmer of hope that carries through to the end, and her purpose—to shed light on the resilience of disregarded populations—is unmistakable throughout. 

  • Renegade M.D.: A Doctor's Stories from the Streets

    by Susan Partovi, M.D.

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: In this fascinating memoir, Partovi details her life as a street doctor who has devoted her medical career to treating society's forgotten citizens.

    Prose: Partovi takes us through her life, beginning with her childhood as the daughter of a neglectful father and a resentful mother, to the present time, where she recounts the challenges of treating homeless patients during a pandemic.

    Originality: The author uniquely brings her knowledge as a physician to the experience of treating those most in need. 

    Character/Execution: Partovi's devotion and humanity shine through every page (e.g. taking a patient to the hospital in her own car, spending her own money to buy underwear and clothing for patients, etc.). Like all good physicians, she learns from her mistakes and fights for her patients, even when it means challenging a system that seems, at times, corrupt and unyielding.

  • Chasing Atoms

    by jesse james kendall

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Chasing Atoms offers a multilayered and sharply rendered look at addiction and recovery, while also broadening the narrative focus to include philosophical questions about matter, meaning, and the origins of existence.

    Prose: The prose is elegant, moving, and provocative in a way that creates an intentional sense of chaos that mirrors the author's experiences. This stated, there are moments in which the controlled chaos of the narration spirals and the passages become abstract to the point of confusion. 

    Originality: Chasing Atoms is a stunningly original take on the addiction memoir genre, both in terms of the author's experiences and his eclectic writing style.

    Character/Execution: The author depicts this version of his younger self in a raw, unfiltered way that does not elide over his own sense of worthlessness and, inversely, creates an intense sense of empathy with the reader.

    Blurb: A raw, unfiltered book about depression, addiction, disability, and, ultimately, life, Jesse James Kendall's Chasing Atoms shows – rather than tells – readers about the life of a queer sex worker in the throes of a serious drug addiction. 

  • Angels on the Clothesline, A Memoir

    by Ani Tuzman

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Angels on the Clothesline is a beautifully rendered memoir comprised of striking autobiographical vignettes. Tuzman, a daughter of holocaust survivors, reflects powerfully on generational trauma, bigotry, the refugee experience, and the challenges of navigating the world as a highly imaginative, sensitive child.

    Prose: Angels on the Clothesline is written in startling and lyrical prose. The measured pacing of the vignettes and their graceful construction, provides a smooth and engrossing reading experience.

    Originality: The originality of Tuzman's memoir lies in its execution. She eschews chronological storytelling in favor of distilled reflections on pivotal moments of trauma and transformation, while the use of second person contributes a level of quiet poetic power to the narrative. 

    Character/Execution: Angels on the Clothesline is a powerful, raw, and unflinching story of family scars and formative emotional experiences.

  • Gifts From a Feral Cat

    by Tian Wilson

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Wilson presents an engaging and surprisingly true story of the bond between humans and animals, centered on her self-described "miraculous" experiences with a feral cat. The narrative will engross readers and capture hearts and minds alike. 

    Prose: Gifts from a Feral Cat is refined and polished, reinforced by Wilson's expressive, metaphoric prose. The writing carries readers into a magical world of hushed splendor and bucolic dreams, where animals and humans come together to spark miracles.

    Originality: This is a rare, heartwarming story that readers will drink in; its premise is distinct, and the feline protagonist makes this work truly stand out.

    Character/Execution: Wilson's skill with characterization is all the more impressive given the narrative's central lead is a cat. She does a beautiful job of merging reality with the unexpected, rendering an unforgettable narrative arc. 

  • Plot/Idea: Love's Legacy is an enrapturing story, in which Fallon follows a thread from a personal connection to unravel a centuries-old mystery. The book is a touching romance, a gripping biography, and a thoughtful family memoir.

    Prose: The writing is exceptional, at once alluring and erudite, with a confident narrative voice.

    Originality: While others could present a biography of Chateaubriand, the crux of Fallon's narrative lies in his family ties to the famous writer. By teasing out the connection of Mary O’Neill through Fallon’s own family artifacts, a unique and memorable work emerges.

    Character/Execution: Love's Legacy is an extraordinary example of nonfiction form. Fallon effectively structures the narrative to form a compelling plot as the story is revealed, and the blending of biography and investigation will enthrall readers. The supplemental materials and artifacts add a rich element to the book.

  • "Get Mahoney!; A Hollywood Insider's Memoir"

    by Jim Mahoney

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Get Mahoney! is a warts-and-all exposé of the inner machinations of Hollywood that details often intense and jaw dropping situations such as the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. Mahoney's memoir is honest and cleverly written, as he is thrust into the dazzling and often cutthroat atmosphere of stardom.

    Prose: Mahoney's text is written in vivid detail, brilliantly capturing the atmosphere and characteristics of the stars he worked with. As well as being gripping, confident and assured, Get Mahoney! is chock full of personal photographs.

    Originality: Get Mahoney! confidently provides an intriguing history of Hollywood from an insider's perspective. Mahoney's affable and candid narration, in addition to memories of working directly with the likes of Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra, are a treat for lovers of the silver screen.

    Character/Execution: Mahoney is a compelling storyteller and the vast cast of notorious players on the Hollywood scene never fails to entertain. Mahoney takes a sharp look at fame as well as the sleazier side of the Hollywood underworld.

    Blurb: A Hollywood insider's vibrant and fascinating memoir.

  • BESA A TRUE STORY

    by Pertef Bylykbashi

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea:  Bylykbashi's striking memoir is an account of his family's painful ordeals following communist takeover of Albania and the subsequent impacts on Bylykbashi as he comes of age and relocates to the U.S., ever-determined to reunite with family members. Readers unfamiliar with the historical events will find the first-hand perspective to be hard-hitting and eye-opening. 

    Prose: Bylykbashi's prose is polished, expressive, and vivid. The work nicely blends evocative and visceral detail relating to the author's direct experiences, with broader historical insights anchoring the text.

    Originality: BESA offers a moving chronicle of generational trauma and the resilience of family bonds in the face of profound adversity. 

    Character/Execution: Bylykbashi's narrative is unflinching, profound, and impactful. His reflections on family, the human capacity for unconscionable cruelty, and the liberation that can come through education, will leave an imprint on readers.

  • Plot/Idea: Asare overcomes a life of poverty, hunger, and illiteracy while growing up in Ghana where education was not important. Determined to learn to read, he eventually applies to a private school that his family cannot afford. His determination to succeed prevails, and he eventually earns a degree in engineering. The lessons that Asare learns will inspire readers to do more even when the odds are against them.

    Prose: Finely written, Asare relays a tough situation to the reader yet never falters by feeling sorry for himself. Instead he focuses on what he can control, notably the pursuit of education. His down to earth approach will compel the reader to understand his plight and cheer for his success.

    Originality: From a childhood of scarcity in Ghana to studying electrical engineering in the former Soviet Union, Asare's narrative is a fascinating and one.

    Character/Execution: Despite the dire circumstances of Asare's upbringing, he brings mature perspective to his past struggles. In addition to detailing the events of his life, Asare offers profound and hard-earned wisdom.

  • The Gift Shop at the DMZ

    by Maureen Hicks

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: The author offers up an intimate and soul-searching exploration of her time as an "MRC," spent counseling soldiers while grappling with her own challenges. Her story is rich and introspective as she reconciles her preconceptions with eye-opening encounters and circumstances.

    Prose: Hicks's prose is candid, straightforward, and immediately engrossing. Her self-reflection and insights into human nature, belief systems, and mental health, are impactful. 

    Originality: Hicks's narrative as a therapist who counsels soldiers worldwide is decidedly unique and fascinating. She offers honest reflections on her own growth and pain, while approaching her patients and their struggles with sensitivity, nuance, and clarity.

    Character/Execution: The author intriguingly integrates her own Buddhist beliefs and worldview with a burgeoning understanding of the the military experience and the lasting impacts of trauma. Hicks's awakening is as compelling as the journeys faced by those she counsels. 

  • Plot/Idea: The author presents a soul-searching exploration into her relationship with her much-older brother whom she lost in a tragic accident. Although the work is a memoir of sorts, it's also a quest meant to truthfully answer the complicated titular question, "were you close?" 

    Prose: The author is a skilled writer, able to share her mission with the reader as she sorts through memories to find the answers she seeks. Her approach is absorbing, tinged with longing and regret, but also with love and appreciation. 

    Originality: This is a touching and original work that is at once highly personal and deeply relatable to readers.

    Character/Execution: Pinkerton vividly and lovingly describes her brother David and the vacancy he leaves in her life after his accident. Readers will readily grasp the complexity and nuances of their relationship as Pinkerton also explores the broader question of whether any individual is truly knowable. 

  • Finding Resilience: A Teen's Journey Through Lyme Disease

    by Rachel Leland and Dorothy Kupcha Leland

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Finding Resilience chronicles the author's painful and horrifying experience with Lyme disease, exploring not only its debilitating impact on her physically, emotionally, and socially, but also sharing asides from her mother, in an effort to sketch the effect on her entire family. The content can be shocking as readers join Rachel and her family in their journey toward healing, but the end result is a compelling look at a devastating chronic illness. 

    Prose: Rachel and her mother are vibrant storytellers, able to sweep readers into Rachel's experience. The writing is accessible and focused, with readable, precise prose. 

    Originality: This is a deeply personal story that readers will find enlightening and original; Rachel's course is singularly heartrending and inspiring.

    Character/Execution: Finding Resilience highlights Rachel's experience with Lyme disease, alongside her family's quest to nail down her diagnosis and find a cure. The narrative is bursting with information, offering surprising perspectives on the effects of the disease and its potential treatments, as well as advocating for medical advancement at the same time.

  • Plot/Idea: The author has crafted an intimate and impactful chronicle that details her decision to prophylactically have her breasts removed after learning she carries the gene for breast cancer. What follows is a candid look at the rationale behind her decision and her experiences both pre- and post-surgery.

    Prose: The author writes eloquently about being "stalked" by cancer and the painful decision to have a mastectomy as a preventative measure. Her prose style is warm, immediate, and deeply reflective.

    Originality: While memoirs of cancer diagnosis are, sadly, familiar, Costa shares the under-explored experience of taking preemptive action to avoid breast cancer. 

    Character/Execution: Costa provides an insightful look at her health-related challenges, while the work's broader examination of bodies, femininity, and notions of beauty, are especially edifying.

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