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Memoir / Autobiography

  • In Search of a Salve: Memoir of a Sex Addict

    by K E Garland

    Rating: 8.25

    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.

  • More Life as a Dog

    by L.A. Davenport

    Rating: 8.25

    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.

  • Plot/Idea: The Invention of Fireflies is a tender, charming, and often irreverent memoir that focuses on the author's immediate experiences while bookmarking them with broader moments of cultural significance.

    Prose: Okita's writing is warm, with an appealing poetic lilt. Sentences flow naturally, and the book is thoughtfully organized.

    Originality: Okita's lived experience is unique, and his written account follows suit. Rather than proceed purely chronologically, the narrative selects key moments from the author's life, connecting them thematically. 

    Character/Execution: Okita emerges as an endearing individual and a capable storyteller. While The Invention of Fireflies includes painful reflections on the path to self-discovery and mental health struggles, the vignette-style chapters don't always allow for a true depth of feeling or significant tension.

  • I'm History...But Do I Repeat Myself?

    by Lee Knapp

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot/Idea: I'm History...but do I Repeat Myself sees Knapp examine her values and outlook as she explores the moments in life that define and shape our histories. Her love of history seeps through the pages in a text that is constantly engaging if a little meandering at times.

    Prose: Knapp's text benefits from an exquisite attention to detail that successfully immerses the reader in the book. Her writing is compelling, witty, and insightful, neatly balancing classroom history lessons with educational episodes from her life.

    Originality: Knapp weaves an intricate and illuminating narrative, her classroom experiences often eye-opening and intriguing. She offers an insight into history teaching practices, and her memories and reflections are often touching if sometimes long-winded.

    Character/Execution: Knapp is a confident and accomplished writer, brilliantly managing to evoke vivid recollections from her upbringing. The characters are interesting and well developed, and she clearly forms a deep and meaningful connection with many of her students, whom she talks of fondly.

    Blurb: A stirring and honest memoir.

  • Feisty Righty: A Cancer Survivor's Journey

    by Jennifer D. James

    Rating: 8.00

    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. 

  • The White Boy And The Indians

    by Paul Austin Jennings

    Rating: 8.00

    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. 


  • 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. 

  • 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. 

  • Trauterose: Growing Up in Postwar Munich

    by Elisabeth haggblade

    Rating: 7.75

    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. 


  • Rites of Passage

    by E.C. Joe

    Rating: 7.75

    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. 


  • 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.

  • Already Home: Confronting the Trauma of Adoption

    by Howard Frederick Ibach

    Rating: 7.75

    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. 

  • 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.

  • The Lucky Seven

    by Norman W. Holden

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot/Idea: The book primarily follows James Goebel Jr. as an American airman stranded in Belgium during World War II. As this was enemy territory, the core of the plot is about his survival against seemingly insurmountable odds, his fellow crew members, and the résistance fighters who helped lead Goebel to safety.

    Prose: The Lucky Seven is a finely written and well-researched memoir that offers vibrant historical detail and succeeds in placing readers alongside Goebel and the crew on the B-24 Liberator as they struggle to survive. 

    Originality: Stories from the WWII historical era are familiar, but The Lucky Seven provides a particularly moving and detailed account.

    Character/Execution: While readers may feel one step removed from Goebel's experiences (as the author notes, he wasn't able to fully dive into interviewing his father-in-law before his death), the storytelling remains immersive and alluring. 

  • Plot: Karma and Kismet is the compelling story of Michael Shandler's search for meaning in the 60s and 70s while trying to surmount life's many challenges. His affecting relationship with his father is central to the story's arc, and while there are many grim scenes of tension, there is also an abundance of wit and energy in the text, particularly during Shandler's experimentation with altered states of consciousness.

    Prose: Shandler's text is expertly written in a way that opens up an awareness of the potential for spiritual and psychological understanding. He chronicles time and place in an extremely detailed manner, although the book does feel a tad journalistic in its latter stages.

    Originality: Karma and Kismet is a thoughtful, emotional, and engaging narrative that will particularly appeal to those seeking personal growth and self-fulfillment. The abuse Shandler suffers at the hands of his father is expertly handled and deeply affecting.

    Character/Execution: Shandler is a Jewish South African who has to overcome childhood abuse and forge his own path to peace and prosperity. The tense family dynamics in the Shandler household are sharply observed and compelling, especially his volatile relationship with his father, which is rendered in vivid detail.

  • Hop, Skip and a Jump!: Life: Proceed With Caution

    by David Richard Hughes

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot/Idea: Through vignette-style recollections, Hughes shares entertaining, and sometimes intense, snippets of his childhood into late adulthood. Whether recounting youthful pranks or heart procedures, he opens up to readers in an effort to dispense life lessons and piquant observations.

    Prose: The prose is unadorned and compact, similar to the memoir’s pacing, and Hughes writes with a youthful, refreshing voice that will immediately engage readers.

    Originality: Hughes’s stories are wholly original to his own experiences, offering readers an intriguing slice of his life and its resultant moments of enlightenment.

    Character/Execution: Hughes’s witty style affords his stories a spirit of cheer and buoyancy, with clever observations sprinkled throughout. He develops his revelations subtly, but readers will connect with his easy delivery and sensible musings.