Memoir / Autobiography
by K E Garland
Plot/Idea: In this fascinating memoir, Dr. Garland details her sex addiction and the deeply unfortunate consequences of her deeply troubled childhood.
Prose: Garland vividly explores the often traumatic formative events in her life, including the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of another child and her father and her mother's death. As an adult, Garland unflinchingly examines her addiction to sex and the subsequent feelings of shame as well as her struggles to emotionally connect to others.
Originality: Stories of addiction and recovery are familiar, but Garland's memoir shines in its willingness to expose the author's darkest, ugliest moments: In Search of a Salve is uniquely unsparing and, ultimately, triumphant.
Character/Execution: Garland's storytelling is candid and meticulous. Her exploration of sex addiction, its origins, and its manifestations, is particularly illuminating.
by L.A. Davenport
Plot/Idea: In this charming memoir, Davenport picks up where My Life as a Dog left off, chronicling his adventures with a temperamental dachshund named Kevin.
Prose: Davenport's prose contains many vivid descriptions of his beloved dog. His phrasing is elegant and clear ("She folds herself into a position that reminds me of an emerald brooch worn by my grandmother.")
Originality: There's a long literary tradition of intimate and adoring dog companion stories. While Davenport doesn't entirely break new ground, his writing is fresh, appealing, and insightful.
Character/Execution: Davenport gives the reader an unsparing look into his present and past, and his life as a pet owner. And while Kevin dominates literally every aspect of Davenport's life, the author emerges as a character in his own right.
by Mike Cavaliere
Plot/Idea: Cavaliere uses horror movies to set the stage for his personal essays on the challenges of adulthood. Humor plays a definitive role throughout, at times masking deeper emotions—such as when his wife suffers a miscarriage or during the more powerful moments of parenting his precocious stepdaughter.
Prose: Cavaliere writes with skill and a solid wit aimed at putting his audience at ease while simultaneously provoking deeper thought at the themes that underlie his jesting.
Originality: The Humorist takes an original approach by incorporating lessons from horror movies into Cavaliere's adulthood journey. That unusual setup is diverting, and, when coupled with Cavaliere's humor, is a unique way to chart his comic misadventures.
Character/Execution: Despite the personal nature of Cavaliere's writing, he comes across as guarded, falling back on a reservoir of humor in uncertain situations rather than allowing himself to be vulnerable.
by Paul Austin Jennings
Plot/Idea: Jennings recounts his childhood years, growing up in the 1930s and ‘40s in California. The fourth of five children born to missionary parents, Jennings shares his experience of frontier life, parceling out entertaining stories of his early upbringing alongside the cultural insights he gleaned living near the Hupa, Karuk, and Yurok indigenous tribes. He delves into the Depression years of his childhood as well, allowing readers a glimpse of the windswept, gaunt days his family spent in the Central Valley of California after 1935.
Prose: The prose is simple but effective as Jennings warmly invites readers into his past, recounting stories in a fireside chat style that drives home the intimacy of his writing.
Originality: Jennings’s perspective is unique, particularly as he shares growing up “the only white boy in a one-room Indian school”; though he is obviously fond of his time spent with indigenous tribes, readers may wish for more perspectives from the indigenous people Jennings grew close to.
Character/Execution: Jennings spins engaging recollections that will draw readers in; his memories of the Depression years are engrossing, as is his early impression of World War II and youthful fascination with the United States’ warplanes. Throughout, he offers interesting reminiscence on the day-to-day aspects of living in a bygone era.
by Jennifer D. James
Plot/Idea: James's chronicle of her battle with breast cancer is clever, exciting, and moving, conveying the reader through every step of her terrifying and ultimately triumphant six month fight.
Prose: The prose is clear and snappy, though at times what is a revelation to James may seem more obvious to readers. Her insight runs from the profound to, as she herself admits, the silly, as she reflects on the overt—and more subtle—changes that accompany a cancer diagnosis.
Originality: Breast cancer stories are frequent, but James's presentation is unique and moving, from the heartbreaking comfort of telling her family, to her discovery of her life's purpose through her arduous journey. Her chapter titles in particular are a clever balance of grounding and humorous.
Character/Execution: James's perspective on her cancer fight offers readers both an educative and realistic glimpse of a nightmarish time, and she peppers the text with hints that will be helpful to readers experiencing similar situations. Throughout, her willingness to frankly address the changes that follow a cancer diagnosis allows much needed levity for a harrowing experience.
by Elisabeth haggblade
Plot: In Trauterose: Growing Up in Postwar Munich, Haggblade examines her past, beginning with her early childhood in Munich following WWII, where she was raised by a foster family before being placed in a children's home. Haggblade powerfully reflects on inequity, historical events, and her conflicted identity as an immigrant raised by parents who supported Hitler.
Prose: Haggblade provides a fine blend of historical content and personal reminiscence. Details of her childhood foster home paint a clear picture of the setting and circumstances. Haggblade's writing is measured and clear, if occasionally flat in its delivery.
Originality: Haggblade's early formative experiences are decidedly unique and will fascinate readers. Her analysis of how life in Munich–and WWII itself–continues to impact her sense of self throughout her adult life, is impactful.
Character/Execution: Although the author's delivery can come across as more analytical than warmly personal, readers are afforded a vivid glimpse into daily life in postwar Munich. Invested readers will empathize with the author as she immigrates to America and eventually begins to pursue her familial roots.
by E.C. Joe
Plot/Idea: Rites of Passage is a compelling collection of essays describing the grandeur and challenge of rock climbing in the Southern Sierra Nevada in California. For those just branching out, as well as seasoned rock climbing experts, Joe offers a compendium of adventure, beauty, and pain through exploring these particular peaks.
Prose: The prose is appealing, though somewhat uneven, and snippets of awkward phrasing edge in at times. However, the narrative moves quickly and will grip readers' attention.
Originality: Joe's topic is specialized, providing readers an intimate view of a stunning natural landscape. The delivery method—entertaining and absorbing stories shared by climbers in the area—adds originality to the book.
Character/Execution: Joe's characters come to life through their riveting stories, as they share exploits, risks, and pleasures gained from their climbing experiences in the Southern Sierra Nevada. The mountains are imbued with a sense of life themselves, evoking a sense of both their danger and magnificence.
by Suzanne Lezotte
Plot/Idea: This is a deeply personal tale recounting the emotional highs and lows of a parent whose son is diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Lezotte unflinchingly shares her frustrations, fears, and hopes as she navigates the unfamiliar—and often treacherous—world of parenting a child with special needs.
Prose: Lezotte's writing is more guarded initially, but as the book progresses and Lezotte opens up about her victories and disappointments, the prose blossoms.
Originality: Raising Owen is a heartfelt memoir that delves into the pain and beauty of parenting a child with special needs, alongside practical advice gleaned from Lezotte's personal experience.
Character/Execution: Lezotte shares her stumbles and revelations candidly, allowing readers to learn alongside her while she maneuvers through uncharted territory. As she hits her stride, the memoir comes alive, and her experiences are unforgettable.
by Lisa Dailey
Plot/Idea: This is an extraordinary journey of recovery, self-discovery, and healing; though extended travel is often considered a form of escape, Dailey views it as a life-changing opportunity for education and growth.
Prose: The text reads smoothly, as Dailey details her search for restoration, both for herself and her family, in this tightly-woven story. Her descriptions of various sites, including the Taj Mahal, are vivid and thorough.
Originality: Transformational travel memoirs are commonplace, but Dailey takes the time to show how each destination, mile, and experience affect her, lending the book a spirit of adventure and tenacity.
Character/Execution: Dailey sketches a clear rendering of her devastation and anxiety following several close deaths, and her transformation into a hopeful, well-adjusted person is vividly wrought. The insight she acquires during her time in several foreign cultures is the catalyst for that transformation, allowing her to regain compassion and self-love.
by Howard Frederick Ibach
Plot/Idea: Kicking off with a masterful prologue, this memoir is highly emotive, drawing readers into the author's personal experiences with adoption. While detours can occasionally take the work off-track, the overall reading experience is gratifying.
Prose: The author is a skilled writer with a knack for creating tension and crafting an emotional connection between reader and narrative.
Originality: While there are many adoption memoirs available on the market, the author's writing skills and emotional honesty make Already Home standout. The reader appreciates how the author integrates opposing theories on adoption, though some of this focus may strike readers as excessive.
Character/Execution: The author is a skilled storyteller and writer who allows readers to enter his world – and journey to find his biological family – with ease. The author's interactions with his newfound sister Susan, with whom he shares a special bond, is particularly moving. As mentioned above, some degree of organizational streamlining may benefit the work.
Blurb: An emotive memoir recounting the author's search for his birth family, Already Home tells the stories of family lost and family found.
by Vincent Gervasi
Plot/Idea: The author explores the roots of his addiction and details how he was able to beat the monkey on his back. His experiences will provide insight for those battling similar demons.
Prose: Gervasi is a solid writer who readily draws readers in to his story. He acknowledges a tendency toward sarcasm, which sometimes undercuts some of its salience and power.
Originality: This is an original work that chronicles the author's experiences. While many have shared their personal journeys through addiction, Simpin' Ain't Easy is unique in its candor and blend of both self-compassion and tough love.
Character/Execution: Gervasi frankly discusses the origins of addictive behaviors, acknowledging that self-defeating cycles frequently begin with a desire for escape, comfort, and/or feelings of belonging and empowerment. His close analysis of his own foibles and unhealthy coping mechanisms is clear-eyed and thought-provoking.
by Kimberly Kearns
Plot/Idea: Kearns's recovery is a worthwhile narrative, charting her course through the highs and lows of her sobriety—an arduous journey that impacts her relationships and self-acceptance on every level.
Prose: The prose is candid and familiar as Kearns recounts the inner demons that plagued her recovery process, and she treats readers as if they are confidantes—though there are a handful of moments that lack emotion.
Originality: Recovery narratives are common, but Kearns illustrates the intensely personal nature of sobriety through her shared experiences and analysis of her own childhood patterns that contributed to her use.
Character/Execution: Kearns comes across clearly as a wife, mother, friend, and alcoholic. Her treatment of recovery and sobriety is logically rendered, and her determination is evident throughout the narrative, bolstered by a supportive husband and her own motivation to be a better mother to her children.
by Tanya Eby
Plot/Idea: Eby candidly reveals her emotions and reactions to a second divorce in her late 40s, detailing her efforts to start over and seek a healthy, balanced relationship. Her journey is amusing, heartfelt, and lovely to watch.
Prose: The prose is comfortable and familiar, akin to coffee chats with an old friend, and Eby is a skilled storyteller, writing even the more challenging recollections with ease.
Originality: Though stories of starting over are common, Eby transforms the mundane into the compelling through attention-grabbing descriptions and spot-on scene setting.
Character/Execution: Both Eby and her friend, Erin, are clearly portrayed: two close friends trying to repair their lives, to understand men, and to find happiness. The memoir reads smoothly, effortlessly relating Eby's attempt to overhaul her life.
by Lester Blum
Plot/Idea: Blum digs into the immigration of Jewish people to the United States during the Holocaust, detailing the bureaucracy and obstacles that cost countless lives. The story unfolds through the eyes of Ruchel Leah, a Polish woman with family in the United States, via historical letters, photographs, and various artifacts, as Ruchel implores her family in America to help process her daughter's immigration. The result is a rich cultural collage that spotlights one family's desperate attempts to survive World War II.
Prose: The prose is thorough and refined, much of it translated from Yiddish, Polish, and French by the author, and Blum includes documents in their original language within the text for authenticity.
Originality: This meticulously researched memoir is original in its careful scrutiny of the struggles Jewish people went through when trying to immigrate to the United States during the Holocaust. Blum offers readers an unparalleled perspective through the voice of Ruchel—a panorama of love, fear, and hope amid the most terrifying of circumstances.
Character/Execution: Blum's character development is intricate and painstaking, including Ruchel's immediate and extended family as well as various neighbors in small town Poland. Readers will be swept into the pain, poverty, and deprivations faced by Ruchel and her family.
by Jody Gelb
Plot/Idea: This is a uniquely told memoir described as a tale of a mother and her relationship to her severely brain-damaged daughter. Gelb writes movingly about the struggles inherent in raising a child with special needs, but the narrative is somewhat sidetracked by focus on the author's husband and their complicated relationship.
Prose: The prose of this book is poetic and honest. The work reads in a somewhat stream of consciousness style, a unique choice for memoir.
Originality: Gelb's memoir is distinctive in its prose style and the work's candid, unsentimental approach to telling a heartbreaking story.
Character/Execution: This is an unflinchingly honest memoir, which presents the hardest parts of Gelb and her family's life. This stated, the writing style results in a somewhat guarded tone that may cause readers to feel distanced from the author.
by Dan Prochoda
Plot/Idea: Prochoda's memoir tells the story of his own psychological awakening after marrying a psychiatrist. He recounts how, while his previously unshakable countenance and outward coldness allowed him to succeed as a SWAT team leader and police officer, these characteristics were ultimately a detriment to meaningful communication and personal growth.
Prose: Prochoda's prose is clear, casual, and confessional in tone.
Originality: Married to a Psychiatrist stands apart through the author's uncommon willingness to expose his own frailties. Readers will undoubtedly relate to many of the defensive mechanisms that Prochoda once employed in his personal and professional life, while his path toward greater self-awareness is well conveyed.
Character/Execution: The growth Prochoda experiences throughout his psychological journey is palpable, while Fredi is a rich character in her own right. Readers–particularly men who might find themselves similarly 'stuck' in unhealthy patterns–will find much to inspire them.