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Memoir / Autobiography

  • The Spirit of Ruchel Leah

    by Lester Blum

    Rating: 7.50

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • Married to a Psychiatrist

    by Dan Prochoda

    Rating: 7.25

    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.

  • Rent Boy

    by Vixen

    Rating: 7.25

    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.

  • 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. 

  • Powerhouse Radio: Rough Roads, Radiance, and Rebirth

    by Kingsley H. Smith

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot/Idea: Powerhouse Radio is a thoughtful, entertaining memoir of Smith's career in radio, complete with anecdotes, advice, and asides for anyone interested in the cherished medium. his story is relevant to anyone looking to overcome career obstacles while pursuing a passion that is more than just a way to make a living.

    Prose: Complete with autobiographical detail, anecdotes, advice, and asides, Smith's upbeat prose is a pleasure to read.

    Originality: A fresh take on an eventful career that does not often breed celebrities or household names, Powerhouse Radio is also an interesting historical exploration of an evolving industry and one man's journey as he discovers it--and himself--through determination, hard work, and, of course, talent.

    Character/Execution: Smith's memoir is multi-dimensional; part how-to, part autobiography, part history, part self-examination of a career in a challenging medium. His character as a narrator is knowledgeable, warm, and ever-engaging.

  • Fatherless

    by Charles Randall

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot/Idea: In Fatherless, Randall poignantly explores the negative impact of growing up without the presence of a father or a central governing faith in his life.

    Prose: The author's storytelling is clear, his prose style evenly flowing and inviting.

    Originality: While stories of finding faith are familiar, Randall creates an intriguing link between a father figure in youth with the image of a higher power. His examination of his own psychological and emotional struggles (as well as their origins) is powerful.

    Character/Execution: Randall offers a blend of autobiographical content with a work focused more broadly on filling the space left by an absent father. The author raises pertinent questions about identity, belief, and whether one can transform fully despite growing up with deficits. However, his ultimate conclusions may strike readers as more black-and-white than nuanced.

     

  • No Regrets: A Life in Catalonia

    by Dvora Treisman

    Rating: 7.00

    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. 

  • 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.

  • 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. 

     

  • Plot/Idea: Stanberry initially focuses on his music career in the South, recounting the racism he overcame on his journey to become a successful musician. The narrative arc is engaging, though the book's structure feels fragmented, with some chapters disconnected to the bulk of the memoir.

    Prose: The prose echoes the narrative arc—appealing and magnetic, though erratic at times. Stanberry's style is unreserved and candid as he describes his upbringing and professional ventures. 

     

    Originality: Stanberry's life story as a successful Black musician growing up in the segregated South is compelling, despite his addition of a few elements that feel extraneous to the memoir.

    Character/Execution: The memoir's scope is sweeping, covering a wide range of Stanberry's life, and readers may wish for a more narrow focus on specific timelines or events in his journey.

  • Plot/Idea: Kathy Biehl, a columnist and zine creator, presents a series of light, charming vignettes exploring life, relationships, and distinctively 1990s coming-of-age experiences. 

    Prose: Biehl's reflections on an era before our collective lives played out on social media are humorous, candid, and occasionally profound. 

    Originality: Biehl offers an intriguing framework with dispatches of single life in the 1990s. Many of the pieces cast ordinary (even rather dull) events in an extraordinary light, a testament to the author's engaging prose style. 

    Character/Execution: Confessions of a Third-Rate Goddess features a colorful array of characters and circumstances, including chronicles of Biehl's confusing and largely unsuccessful romantic exploits. Although the book sometimes lacks punch and is a tad overzealous, readers will appreciate the cultural touchstones and the author's amusingly idiosyncratic observations. 

  • confession of a pick pocket

    by danilo beslac

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: In Confessions of a Pickpocket, Beslac seeks redemption through a detailed recounting of his unlawful deeds and their repercussions; Beslac's unflinching honesty and incisive self-reflection are hard-hitting. 

    Prose: Despite some minor structural issues, the prose is straightforward, concise, and vivid. The order of events can become confusing, however, as Beslac chooses to tell his story in a non-linear manner.

    Originality: Beslac's candid revelations and unveiling of his past choices is a decisively original and creative method of storytelling.

    Character/Execution: Beslac's character is clear throughout the memoir. Readers may struggle to accept a number of his choices, but will value the fact that he doesn't sugar coat his misdeeds or shy from conveying even the darkest chapters of his life.

  • A Special Life: The story of a life

    by Tanja Begerack

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot/Idea: The author chronicles her life story, one filled with challenges and also with gifts. Her experiences – from physical disabilities and brushes with death to her communications with higher frequencies of existence – are unusual and compelling.

    Prose: Begerack's ideas and experiences do not always translate effectively to the page. Sentences and word choices are often awkward, while the storytelling tends toward erratic and scattered.

    Originality: Begerack's story is certainly a unique one. Readers – particularly those who have exceptional abilities – will enjoy learning about her spiritual gifts and insights.

    Character/Execution: Readers may struggle to fully understand Begerack's 'clairsentience,' as many of her experiences come across as highly personal and intimate. The book's messaging is also somewhat lost amidst the many layers of storytelling.

  • Before There Was An After

    by Gerad Davis and Lisa Mead

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot/Idea: Told in tandem between a mother and son, Before There Was an After is a grueling and painful journey into the world of addiction that is often stark and compelling. The work is unflinching in its depiction of a vicious and unforgiving cycle of self abuse and crippling anxiety. 

    Prose: The text is written in a powerful and accessible manner that is often grim and difficult to read. And while the simple, straightforward storytelling is affecting, the prose can become repetitive and monotonous as a result of the dual narration.

    Originality: Stories of addiction and the difficult road to recovery are familiar. Before There Was an After does stand apart via its use of two perspectives. Though the storytelling reads as cathartic, the work doesn't fully translate into a stimulating reading experience. 

    Character/Execution: The most affecting chapters of the book are those written from Gerard's perspective as the reader gets a glimpse into the mind and motivations of an addict. Meanwhile, Lisa delves into her son's backstory and reassesses what she could have done differently in a tale of drug addiction that does not always deliver.

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