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Memoir / Autobiography

  • Plot: This novel offers a well-balanced look at appreciating and enjoying life despite a friend's cancer struggle. The author skillfully depicts her experiences as an ally. 

    Prose: The author crafts the story in an informal, conversational tone that allows readers to relate to and feel comfortable during discussions of a difficult topic that hits home for many. 

    Originality: Although this book is similar to memoirs that explore soul-searching adventures, there are unique elements to Lynch's work, such as telling the story from the perspective of a supportive friend and connecting with a loved one's family and friends.

    Character Development: The narrator is easy to become familiar with and relate to, as her candid nature reveals all facets of her personality. The peripheral characters, including the author's diagnosed friend, are warmly described.

    Blurb: Jennifer Lynch's memoir discusses actively responding to a close friend's cancer diagnosis and serves as a reminder that while challenges may be intimidating, it is always worth the effort to fight through obstacles.

  • Plot: This is an extraordinary biography beginning in early twentieth-century Afghanistan that shares the gripping story of a political family that suffered greatly at the hands of a corrupt government. The element of surprise often keeps the pages turning.

    Prose: Siddiq offers emotional narrative arcs that sometimes stray a bit from a journalistic feel, but this book proves to be a just-right blend of the facts and feelings involved in this story.

    Originality: This is an utterly original, inside story of a family’s political imprisonment and their eventual freedom.

    Character Development: The characters are detailed with an intimacy that enhances their individuality. Following what is nearly the entire life of Khaled Siddiq continually adds layers of insight into his personality and behavior.

  • Faithful

    by Becky Graham

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: A couple's struggle with infertility leads readers through hopeful trials, disappointments, and despair. The story ends in a tender and happy conclusion, but it is a hard-earned one; the emotional turbulence experienced by the author along the way, is riveting.

    Prose: This author beautifully and viscerally conveys the heartache experienced by a couple longing for—and struggling to have—a child.

    Originality: The parallel between Becky and Dave's story and that of Job in the Bible is apt. Their journey from infertile couple questioning God's plan to blessed parents is raw and original.

    Character Development: Readers will come to know Becky and Dave as they would their neighbors or church family—this is thanks to the author's beautiful, revealing, and inspirational prose.

  • Plot:  Lorraine Newton's stories of life in the Middle East are a fascinating close-up of history combined with the personal life of a mid-century American couple. 

    Prose: Lorraine Newton is a natural storyteller. Her descriptions paint a vivid picture of time and place, as well as show her consideration and acceptance of people as she explored the globe and encountered a diverse array of individuals. Pamela Newton's inclusion of her own travels and her candle-lighting throughout the world's churches makes a sweet connection between storylines.

    Originality: Family letters and journals are rarely this interesting. Pamela Newton has successfully integrated her personal story within that of her mother's without overshadowing or competing. 

    Character Development: Lorraine, Don, and the people they met while in the Middle East are presented without embellishment or ego. Lorraine's personality shines through in these pages. Her descriptions of the men and women they knew and the people they worked with make readers feel as if they were right alongside the couple in their travels.

  • The Truth About Sunday Minor

    by H.R. Young-Lira

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: More than anything, Sunday Minor wants to be free of the abuse and rage that saturated her childhood. This powerful narrative will evoke strong reactions from readers. Sunday's strength and resilience, as well as her loyalty, are inspiring.

    Prose: Young-Lira masterfully illustrates memories and emotion with simple, straightforward language. The dialogue is clear and clean and enhances the narrative. Sunday's voice is very distinct, but each of the siblings also shines.

    Originality: Abusive childhoods are a staple in memoirs, but Young-Lira weaves together faith, simple joys, and sibling relationships into a complex, multi-faceted narrative that is engrossing to read.

    Character Development: Through a series of flashbacks, Sunday's past unfolds in horrifying detail. However, each triggered memory also illustrates her intelligence and strength. The realization that she is always doing what she's told, to never question authority, is a pivotal moment in this memoir and packs a powerful punch.

  • Leaves from the Autumns of Yesterday

    by Edward C. Larson

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The passage of time in Ed Larson’s nostalgic memoir largely proceeds at a calm, tranquil pace in the wilderness of mountainous Montana. Larson, even through child-like eyes, speaks to the impermanence of structures, places, and even family members and friends, but the relative persistence of memories.

    Prose: Larson’s prose is clean, evocative, and broad-ranging in style and form, from eloquent essays on growing up in Depression-era Montana to long, abstract poems, and even shorter poetic musing, lending a quirky and textured reflection on the past.

    Originality: This labor-of-love project depends on his collection of memories to describe the fleeting nature of time as colored through perception. Larson integrates a variety of mediums, including family photographs, varied and stylized typography, original illustrations, and quotes from famous poets--to create a text uniquely personal to his life.

    Character Development: The story centers around young "Eddie” and his adventures, but occasional minor characters make their way into the story and embellish the memory-world he is weaving. The author as narrator is omniscient, yet views his memories again with a sense of child-like wonder and discovery.

    Blurb: Edward Larson takes a unique approach to the memoir through this multimedia ode to the past; poignant and nostalgic essays, personal illustrations, and heirloom photographs enrich his life story.

  • Act Normal: Memoir of a Stumbling Block

    by Kristy Burmeister

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Praise for Act Normal should include the following: it is so well-paced and plotted that readers may forget that it is not, in fact, a novel.

    Prose: The prose is intensely readable—a side effect of the clean, well-constructed sentences from which the author seems incapable of deviating.

    Originality: The author's ultimate treatment of her past is a familiar one. However, the content of the story feels new and original.

    Character Development: The characters here—primary and secondary—are well crafted, unique, and feel like real people.

  • Plot: This poignant memoir discusses what was lost, tangibly and emotionally, during a soldier's wartime experience in Vietnam, and how the soldier embarks on a journey to recover his internal strength. This book is built on a strong conceptual foundation, and it will resonate with readers of all ages.

    Prose: One of the main strengths of this book is the author's prose, which is vivid and evocative from beginning to end. The sentence flow is smooth and admirable. 

    Originality: Memoirs about war are not uncommon, but this story of a combat unit member in Vietnam finding a way to heal from his dark, internal wounds is unique and riveting.

    Character Development: The characters are composed vividly. The voice of the protagonist is strong, clear, and appealing. The reader will want to take this journey with him, no matter how challenging the subject matter is. 

  • This Side of Heaven: A Memoir

    by VALERIE STAGGS

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: For readers who are unfortunately all too familiar with grief, this memoir is something to be treasured; it reinforces a resolve to go on despite life's myriad and recurring heartaches.

    Prose: Staggs's prose is clean and well-constructed. It provides readers with just the right amount of raw emotion, as well as a calculated reflection that comes only with time.

    Originality: There's nothing inherently original about a memoir involving the death of a close family member. However, Staggs's story is unique in that, while she continues to struggle with the loss of her husband, she is not defined by the loss—her life goes on, and her voice and resolve grow stronger with time.

    Character development: Readers cannot help but feel for Val as she cries on the floor in her bedroom in the weeks following Ken's death. And they can't be blamed for thinking that maybe she might not make it, given the nature of her struggle. But they will be glad to see her gather the strength to move on in the best way she can.

  • Plot: Balge's memoir takes an iterative approach, mimicking the rumination of the anxious mind. Repeated focus on pivotal moments from the past serve to provide insights into the ways that mental illness both shapes and is informed by life events.

    Prose: Balge's prose is solid and succinct, while her anecdotes are vivid and descriptive. The use of repetition is an effective stylistic choice, yet the narrative voice at times possesses a detached quality that may prevent readers from fully connecting to the author's experiences.

    Originality: This narrative offers an insightful perspective on mental illness; the story's originality stems from the author's unique concerns and life circumstances.

    Character Development: Readers will gain a clear understanding of how the author's mental health has impacted her life trajectory and inhibited her sense of self, while her recovery offers a glimpse into who she may become in the future. Depression itself emerges as a disease that is devastatingly real, debilitating, and cruel.

  • An Accidental Awakening

    by Stephanie Hrehirchuk

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Hrehirchuk’s story gently swings between descriptions of her day-to-day family life and career obligations and her retreat from physical pain and stress through a year of yoga. The author describes her pain as motivation for taking steps to relax and enjoy her personal and professional life. The detailed acknowledgment of the narrator’s growth over her year of yoga is inspiring, funny, and heartwarming, and  the narrative comes full circle at the end, focusing on the blessings of family.

    Prose: Prose is often poetic and eloquent, mirroring the calmness and elegance of yoga practice. Hrehirchuk integrates Yoga and meditation terminology as she discovers the practices first-hand. Hrehirchuk’s warm, relatable voice as narrator will keep readers invested, while leading them to accept that they too could aspire to such a spiritual journey.

    Originality: Hrehirchuk’s descriptions of detailed yoga practice poses lends authenticity to the memoir. The use of inspirational quotes offers a sense of closure at the end of each chapter, while they serve as broader reflections on the author’s journey. The witty chapter titles provide a humorous and playful reprieve from the more serious underlying subject matter—rehabilitating oneself physically and spiritually.

    Character Development: In addition to the author herself, primary characters in this memoir are her mind, body, and soul in need of care and repair. Hrehirchuk powerfully emphasizes the connection between the physical and psychological. References to outside characters, including a steadfast friend, a yoga guide, and fellow yogis serve as touchstones.

  • Plot: This memoir is soundly constructed and, at times, reads like a novel. Readers will find the storyline engaging.

    Prose: The prose here is clear, well crafted, and simple. It is also appropriate to the story the author is telling.

    Originality: The author's story is fresh and fascinating. The narrative voice draws in readers and makes the text accessible.

    Character Development: The character development here is very strong. Readers will truly come to know and understand the author, and to identify with her struggles.

  • Clear Seeing Place

    by Brian Rutenberg

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The author's story is engaging and keeps the pages turning, while the inclusion of information and advice about painting and art in general also draws in readers.

    Prose: This is a cut above much memoir writing; impressive turns of phrase and a confident, forthright, and often humorous voice keep readers engaged.

    Originality: Memoirs can often have an underlying theme of guidance, but the shared insights about creating art and working as an artist add to the unique quality of this work.

    Character Development: Rutenberg is thoroughly developed, but many of the supporting characters are static and in need of further development.

  • Burn Zones: Playing Life's Bad Hands

    by Jorge P. Newbery

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Newbery’s memoir stems from a clear thesis about resilience, proceeding rapidly in chronological order, from his entrepreneurial childhood to his adolescent punk and athletic days to his adult life as an investor. The result is a charming, optimistic story of falling down and getting back up again.

    Prose: The author’s voice is youthful, fresh, and relatable. The memoir gracefully balances more heavy-hitting reflections and vivid descriptions with light, witty anecdotes.

    Originality: Newbery’s story is both personal and inspirational. Integrated photographs lend authenticity and relatability to the author’s search for purpose and direction.

    Character Development: Readers gain warm and honest insight into Newbery as an individual. The memoir broadens its focus to include personal and professional friends and associates, emphasizing the role that community plays in one person’s success.

    Blurb: Burn Zones is a charming read with an optimistic message about endurance and the potential for individual success, regardless of hardship and unforeseen circumstances.

  • Plot: Forsyth's story is punctuated with action, but at times the storyline drags. While avid sailors may appreciate the technical details he provides, a general reader will find this information excessive.

    Prose: Forsyth is a gifted writer, both technically and stylistically. He demonstrates a strong command of language and is able to palpably convey his passion for sailing and his love of his boat to the reader.

    Originality: As this is an intense autobiographical work, Eric Forsyth's story is unique and original. A memoir about crossing global oceans and seeking safe passage will prove intriguing and inspiring to readers. 

    Character Development: The author shares the personal story of his love affair with ocean sailing, but, in the process, he chronicles events more than he delves into complex characterization. Overall, the reader will get a good idea of Forsyth's character and will get to know his wife a bit. However, peripheral characters are only minimally developed. 

  • RECKLESS: A Memoir

    by Rebecca Allard

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Allard’s book features a fast-paced, tension-filled plot that will engage readers from the very start. Although this is a memoir, the book feels novelistic at times, with plenty of mysteries, surprises, and drama.

    Prose: Allard’s matter-of-fact, nostalgic but also regretful narrative voice is relatable and effective. And while there are some minor mechanical and grammatical issues throughout, these could easily be remedied.

    Originality: Allard’s tale certainly stands out in the world of memoir. She tells her vivid tale with brutal honesty, wistful nostalgia, and bitter, seething regret.

    Character Development: Allard reveals many intimate details about her motivations, relationships, and fears—and the result is a fully developed, real, and sympathetic character.

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