Memoir / Autobiography
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 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 Norman W. Holden
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.
by Michael Shandler
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.
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.
by Douglas E. Busby
Plot/Idea: Busby’s extensive career and life experiences will inspire others to embrace opportunity, seek higher truths, and to always aspire to learn more. His connection to theology and the spiritual world will interest a curious reader looking for proof of divine intervention.
Prose: Busby’s writing is well-organized and evenly expressed. His spirituality comes across as authentic, deeply explored, and never dogmatic.
Originality: Readers looking for proof of divine intervention and spiritual inspiration will find this to be an intriguing read.
Character/Execution: While the many insights are sometimes hidden amidst extensive details, Busby's lived experiences are rich and unique. Perhaps even more intriguing than his life and career, is the author's natural curiosity and zest for life.
Plot/Idea: In this memoir, Vixen, a former sex worker, takes the reader through "a world veiled by neon lights and secrets," detailing his desperation as his reality gets ever more perilous, and not just for him.
Prose: Vixen's prose is often impactful, clever, and vivid. In some portions of the text, however, the language can become overblown, distracting from the otherwise powerful narrative.
Originality: Part memoir, part cautionary tale, Vixen takes the reader into a world few people understand. Moments of humor provide levity while in no way diminishing the serious nature of the author's story.
Character/Execution: Vixen fearlessly chronicles every aspect of his life, the grimy and the shiny, and doesn't spare himself when acknowledging his mistakes. While there's no traditional 'happy ending," he makes clear his determination to live life on his own terms.
by Dvora Treisman
Plot/Idea: When Treisman moves to Barcelona, Spain, to live in her new husband’s hometown, she isn’t sure what to expect—but she quickly learns there is a world of difference in her new setting. Her recollections conjure the excitement and muted anxiety of learning to thrive in an unfamiliar culture, and as Treisman takes readers through her daily experiences, they will be swept into her wistful remembrances and compelling experiences.
Prose: Treisman illuminates, in diary-like snippets, the important, humorous, and culturally significant situations that impact her thinking and life during her time in Spain. The prose is descriptive and expository, and readers will glean much information from Treisman's self-portrayal.
Originality: Treisman is a testament to taking risks, and her decision to live in an unfamiliar culture is as daunting as it is inspiring. Her experiences catalogued throughout the memoir afford readers an inside look at learning to adjust to new settings, alongside the intense self-reflection and growth that comes with it.
Character/Execution: The book's linear structure captures everyday happenings that are sometimes humorous but often serious. Treisman considers a variety of aspects in her new life, from coffee to pets, and her delivery is both entertaining and meaningful.
by Anne Bianco
Plot/Idea: Bianco delivers a chronicle of personal self-discovery that will resonate with other readers searching to better understand their own predicaments and psychological impasses.
Prose: Bianco has an inviting, lively, and compelling writing style that is occasionally hampered by excessive detail. The work would benefit from general tightening for clarity and flow.
Originality: Stories of battling back from addiction and other setbacks are familiar, but Bianco takes a fresh, often darkly humored approach, while also poignantly exploring fault, accountability, and forgiveness when navigating recovery.
Character/Execution: Readers will have no difficulty empathizing with Bianco along her complex journey, while additional 'characters' in her story emerge as equally fully dimensional.
by Autumn Carolynn
Plot/Idea: Carolynn, a former flight attendant, travel agent, and travel photographer chronicles her experiences visiting and exploring 30 countries over the course of 10 years. Readers will value her unique perspective and genuine passion for journeying throughout the world.
Prose: Carolynn's prose style is candid, warm, and finely detailed. The author conveys her emotions and observations in an authentic and vivid manner.
Originality: Though Carolynn doesn't offer a truly distinctive 'hook,' her professions within the travel industry, as well as her striking photographs, provide the work a novel element.
Character/Execution: The author's account of her travels, and her determination to travel to as many places as possible, makes for an engrossing narrative.