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Memoir / Autobiography

  • Idea: This illuminating memoir tells the multi-generational story of a “family/activist band” whose members travel the country playing music, sharing stories, and advocating for vulnerable communities.

    Prose: The co-authors write in a style that is both highly readable and informative. Polished descriptive language heightens the country-traversing appeal of the story, allowing readers to gain a clear sense of place and circumstance. Quotations and dialogue read naturally.

    Originality: Original in scope and approach, this book is thoroughly researched and tells a unique story of a fascinating set of activist entertainers. Photos and discographic information chronicle the history of the group, while offering fans greater insight into their dynamics and musical contributions.

    Execution: Part tribute, part history, this well-executed memoir admirably contextualizes  biographical and historical details, while focusing on the spirit of activism and power of music.

  • 33 Percent Rockstar

    by S. C. Sterling

    Rating: 10.00

    Idea: By using a linear narrative, the reader sees Sterling’s progression from budding guitarist to recognizable musician. Circumstances wrap up wonderfully with an ending that is both spot-on and satisfying.

    Prose: Sterling’s voice is straightforward, clear, and offers the perfect balance of humor and candor. His writing is captivating and intimate; readers will readily become lost in the author's story of struggle, growth, and the music that sustained him.

    Originality: Sterling has a life story that is truly one of a kind. His experiences, successes, and failures while playing with multiple bands and band members are relayed in a manner that is honest, amusing, and often poignant.

    Execution: As the central figure in his story, Sterling displays refreshing self-awareness. His personal imperfections and emotional tumult, along with the often gritty backdrop of the music world, allow for this story to be both relatable and compelling.

  • Brownsville Bred: Dreaming Out Loud

    by Elaine Del Valle

    Rating: 10.00

    Idea/Concept: Del Valle's autobiographical tale, adapted from her stage play, provides a textured, vibrant reading experience. Through the author’s rich recollections, she offers both a visceral look at her own upbringing—in all its joys and hours of suffering—as well as perceptive commentary on the changes unfolding in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

    Prose: The author writes with a fluid, rhythmic cadence that heightens the story’s power. The crackling language effectively mirrors young Del Valle's inner turmoil as well as her zest for life and desire to live meaningfully.

    Originality: Memoirs of childhood abound, but Del Valle makes the format her own through her performative writing style and vivid scene building. The work elicits a range of emotions from receptive young readers.

    Execution: Del Valle creatively and successfully weaves a poignant story of her transforming childhood home and the effects such changes have on her, her family, and the broader community.

  • Blossom: The Wild Ambassador of Tewksbury

    by Anna Carner

    Rating: 9.75

    Idea/Concept: An event-filled look at the dazzling personality and daily existence of a semi-tame deer, this amazing account of her fight to survive natural threats as well as the suffering inflicted by harassing humans resonates to the heart’s core. This doe teaches the meaning of love as she interacts with people and other deer, communicating, comforting, playing, and nurturing.

    Prose: As absorbing as a novel, this heartwarming narrative demonstrates poetic flair as well as a grounded and genuine exploration of the sometimes fraught relationships between wildlife and human communities.

    Originality: Tales of companion animals—typically cats, dogs, or horses—are available in abundance, but this unusual tribute to a wild deer surpasses expectations. Unique for its gripping plot and smoldering spotlight on the brutality of hunting these living, breathing fauna, the book compares to no other.

    Execution: This touching story of an orphaned fawn that bonds with the woman who adopted her brings to light the importance of respecting deer and their right to live in peace without the annual threat of extermination. Portrayed as a loving character throughout the book, this perceptive doe leaves an unforgettable impression on a small community torn between longstanding tradition that utilizes rifles, along with bows and arrows, and progressive wildlife management that proposes the use of fertility control vaccines.

  • Concept/Idea: Frank South's A Chicken in the Wind and How He Grew collects columns reprinted from ADDitude Magazine about the author's experiences as a father, son, husband, and writer with ADHD. While many of the columns are short, South recounts and interrogates his life with welcome wit and frankness. South focuses on crucial and compelling details when describing his children's problems in school, his father's health issues, various relatable crises, and the way people with ADHD often get treated by society as "vacant, lying, retarded troublemakers."  Occasionally, he offers well-considered advice for parenting, writing, and facing life with ADHD.

    Prose: South's prose isn't just clear, clean, and lively. It's memorable and epigrammatic, with any page of the book offering pleasing lines and insights. Between the passages of purpose and power dealing with alcoholism and ADHD, or the harrowing experience of helping tranquilize his father, South generously studs the text with phrases and observations that are their own reward.

    Originality: South's experiences are unique, and their treatment is thoughtful, original, and fresh.

    Execution: South's A Chicken in the Wind and How He Grew is as funny as it is wrenching. That said, the reprinted column structure of the book rewards browsing through more than it does reading the collection straight through. Narrative momentum occasionally develops when pieces on related topics follow each other, but often readers will be starting fresh with each short piece, which can create a feeling of repetitiveness. Some of the pieces are longer than others, taking their time to tell their urgent story, while others sometimes feel too short.

    Blurb: Sharp, funny, insightful, and unflinching, Frank South's A Chicken in the Wind and How He Grew illuminates the mind and heart of a father facing life and family with ADHD.

  • I Can't Believe I Lived the Whole Thing

    by Howie Cohen

    Rating: 9.50

    Idea/Concept: Cohen's text is a memoir of his experiences and a journey through the advertising world. He provides many anecdotes that are relatable, but more importantly, are incredibly entertaining.

    Prose: Cohen's lively and often intimate prose is carefully crafted to captivate the reader from the outset and hold their attention. The work offers a fresh and inviting storytelling style with a gratifying narrative arc.

    Originality: Cohen's book is set apart from other, less concept-driven memoirs. The author provides unique insight into the world of advertising in its golden era. References to (sometimes) familiar advertising slogans, provide a highly original element.

    Execution: It is clear that Cohen has a purpose and direction for his memoir, each anecdote being intentionally timed and placed. Overall, the information is presented chronologically, deviating at times, but always for a compelling reason.

  • Idea/Concept: Hill’s narrative progresses from diagnosis to the uneven terrain of recovery at the perfect pace. Nostalgic memories occasionally slow down the plot before things progress forward again.

    Prose: Hill has a fantastic, calculated control over his prose. He expertly blends comedy into his narrative, creating the ideal balance of light-hearted humor and everyday unease.

    Originality: As Hill reminds the reader, everyone’s cancer journey is unique. Hill’s personal history with cancer, combined with his unrelenting candor make his story one of a kind.

    Execution: Hill is raw and reflective, providing an unusually candid look at how prostate cancer affected and forever changed his life. His musings give the reader an intimate look at his psyche as he progresses from an average man in the throes of middle age to a cancer survivor over the span of four months.

    Blurb: A funny and honest look at life with prostate cancer.

  • Walking to Japan - a Memoir

    by Carolyn Affleck Youngs

    Rating: 9.25

    Idea/Concept: The author recounts an exceptional true story in a memoir that is interesting, easy to follow, and dynamic. 

    Prose: Affleck Youngs’s narrative voice is warm, vivid, and inviting. Readers will immediately engage with the conversational storytelling style. 

    Originality: As a memoir, this work is wholly unique to the author. Affleck Young crafts a spirited and inspirational chronicle of finding purpose and meaning by stepping beyond one’s comfort zone.

    Execution: This memoir is a charming and insightful reflection on faith, the impact of trauma, and the uncertain path toward wholeness and healing.

  • Hundred Percent Chance: A Memoir

    by Robert K. Brown

    Rating: 9.00

    Concept/Idea: Brown presents a compelling journey from pre-diagnosis to recovery that movingly explores the impact of leukemia on a young person's life. Frequent unexpected humor provides refreshing levity. Readers battling their own diagnosis--or other overwhelming circumstances--will value Brown's candid insights. 

    Prose: Brown's voice is immediately distinctive and inviting, with a clear and easy storytelling style. 

    Originality: While memoirs of surviving disease are plenty, Hundred Percent Chance stands apart through its genuine humor and unflinching portrayal of both the physical and psychological struggles that accompany a diagnosis of disease. Brown avoids inspirational platitudes, instead demonstrating the need for perspective and perseverance in the face of illness.  

    Execution: Every person Brown introduces, whether their role is significant or small, will leave a memorable impression on readers. This memoir's focus on the tiny moments that ultimately shape and define a life, are particularly poignant and engrossing. 

  • The Human Spirit Under Siege

    by George Baum

    Rating: 8.75

    Idea: A Jewish family torn apart under Nazi rule, most of whom faced extermination, emerge from the pages of this survivor’s illustrated memoir, a heartbreaking account that allows a candid view of their devastation. Historical records and photographs enrich the reading experience, although these images tend to overwhelm the brief text.

    Prose: Succinct, straightforward, and heart-rending, this revealing autobiography reaches into the past to illuminate the present and, like evidence in a time capsule, its contents will educate. Immersion—a nonstop read from beginning to end—is the best way to embark on this journey.

    Originality: Holocaust memoirs have been written in abundance, detailing the horrific genocide during World War II—every approach different, every story unique, every personal tragedy an unspeakable nightmare. This particular account stands out for its clarity.

    Execution: From the viewpoint of an innocent boy, and later, a traumatized man, this haunting look at existence in the former Czechoslovakia under Hitler’s regime, then at the Terezin transitional concentration camp, brings to life the terror of anti-Semitism, even after WWII ended. Loss of business, loss of money, loss of home, loss of family, and finally, loss of life—all are addressed in this work's detailed description of atrocities.

    Blurb: A survivor’s harrowing, photograph-enhanced memoir sheds light on the holocaust.

     

  • She's Got This! Essays on Standing Strong and Moving On

    by Joanne Hartman & Mary Claire Hill

    Rating: 8.75

    Idea: The subjects explored in this empowering essay collection range widely, but are anchored in themes relating to life purpose, transitions, and redefining personal truths.

    Prose: The essays in this anthology, while somewhat inconsistent in overall quality, are varied, engaging, and professionally edited. The contributors powerfully explore seminal moments of their lives with refreshing candor.

    Originality: While anthologies devoted to the topic of female empowerment aren't uncommon, these essays offer fresh, personal perspectives on navigating life changes and achieving self actualization.

    Execution: This collection shows clear vision and professional execution. While each essay stands alone, the editors maintain a sense of thematic consistency throughout the works, providing readers with a gratifying overarching reading experience.

  • Idea/Concept: Garcia’s gratifying exploration of the Self and Being is broken into three well-structured parts in this book. He easily explains a complex topic by dividing his thoughts into digestible pieces.

    Prose: Garcia’s language is straightforward but poetic and eloquent. Under his fine grasp, topics are approachable and enjoyable to read.

    Originality: Garcia’s voice is a blend inspired by Siddhartha and philosopher Martin Heidegger. His musings on Being and the human condition are similar to others on the market, but Garcia brings a uniqueness to the conversation by incorporating his experience as a pediatrician into his musings.

    Execution: Garcia addresses his subject matter efficiently and accessibly, while conveying his own enthusiasm to readers. His section on Being is the shortest of the three, and might have benefit from more expansion, but still addresses the topic appropriately.

    Blurb: Garcia offers readers a clear-eyed, well-informed approach to achieving peace of mind.

  • Mixed Marriage: A Memoir

    by Janet Cheatham Bell

    Rating: 8.75

    Idea/Concept: Bell's polished memoir reflects on an interracial marriage in an era before the ban on mixed marriages was deemed unconstitutional. With its uncommon focus, this work shines a light on a tumultuous moment in history and a society on the brink of change.  

    Prose: Bell's prose is evocative and clear. The author writes with grace and authority, telling her story in a manner that is both inviting and edifying. 

    Originality: By focusing on the life of a marriage, Bell offers a unique framework for her memoir. Though she maintains this narrow focus, the specific circumstances provide a window into the greater social climate, offering a stark perspective on racism, politics, and cultural change.

    Execution: The author effectively places her story within its historical context, blending the personal with the universal, while portraying individuals with compassion and circumstances with nuance.

    Blurb: Bell’s easy and engaging style draws the reader into a story of personal drama inextricably entangled with the background of national turmoil. 

  • Living as a Dead Man

    by Jeff Lester

    Rating: 8.75

    Idea/Concept: An extraordinary survivor is at the heart of this poignant yet uplifting story of outliving a medical prognosis. Vibrant life emanates from every page, making this an astounding accomplishment that proves the will to live overrides all else.

    Prose: Incredibly powerful, this articulate narrative explores every aspect of managing ALS, delving into the practical as well as emotional problems that arise. A straightforward use of language empowers the text, concealing little, divulging even the most uncomfortable incidents.

    Originality: This day-to-day description of the devastating impact of ALS alternately enlightens and disturbs readers. Frank discussion, detailed and graphic, educates the unfamiliar, while demonstrating that no doctor’s opinion is final and a worthwhile existence is possible—an original endeavor.

    Execution: Utilizing specialized computer technology, this candid memoir written by a resilient man afflicted with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, inspires and motivates. Deeply moving, often religious, the book may risk limiting its audience through its tendency to expound on Christian doctrine.

  • Idea/Concept: "The stories of our jobs become the stories of our lives," writes Suzanne Skees in her introduction to this second volume in her "My Job" series. Skees's project surveys the on-the-ground truth of what work is like right now, around the world, as the dynamics of labor are upended by automation and contract work. Skees demonstrates her acumen as a curator and editor -- gathering a diverse roster of workers to tell their stories -- and as a listener. She invites her subjects to discuss their careers, their hopes, their disappointments, and the changes they've seen at length, all with disarming frankness. Her subjects include a nursing student in Honduras; an environmental activist in American coal country; a banana farmer in Uganda; a college admissions counselor in Rwanda; and a "fringe diplomat" in Tel Aviv. Few books dig so deeply into life as it's actually lived, with such unsparing intimacy.

    Prose: Skees's own prose is sharp, clear, and purposeful, but outside of introductions and some notes, most of the book come straight from the mouths of her subjects through first person monologue. Skees breaks the chapters up into short labeled sections. This is helpful for skimmers, but the shortness of the individual sections gives the chapters a stop-and-start feeling, impeding narrative momentum.

    Originality: This isn't the first book to survey workers in their own words about work, nor even the first one by Skees to do so, but the author has selected a fresh, fascinating cross section of people to reveal truths about the world and this current moment.

    Execution: The book offers insights, wisdom, challenges to orthodox thinking, and some arresting first-person storytelling. It's both eye-opening and a pleasure to learn about the day-to-day work of a Zambian "mobile-money agent" and to discover how that work is vital to a population outside of the banking system. That said, the narrators' individual voices sound somewhat similar to each other, and the speakers too rarely offer up surprising or engaging anecdotes. The emphasis here is strongly on the work itself, and the sociopolitical context that created the opportunity for such work. There's great value in capturing that, but the book might prove more enticing for general audiences with a greater emphasis on voice and storytelling.

  • Regression

    by Twilah Hiari

    Rating: 8.50

    Idea/Concept: Twilah Hiari's Regression explores, via a clever and twisty question-and-answer structure, the author's harrowing experiences with indifferent medical personnel, misdiagnoses, medicinal side effects, and institutionalization. The story is urgent, and the structural conceit original.

    Prose: Line to line, Hiari is a strong stylist and incisive observer capable of stirring strong emotional responses from readers. While the story is often anguished, the prose is sharp, memorable, and often mordantly witty. That said, the repetitive nature of the narrative reduces the prose's freshness as the pages pass.

    Originality: Hiari's story is an important, of-the-moment cry for greater empathy and understanding for patients whose chronic symptoms are not easily diagnosed. She recounts in vivid detail her misadventures over decades with a battalion of medical professionals who failed to diagnose, among other things, her apparent autism, sometimes treating her as a problem patient or a grifter eager to score meds or file malpractice suits. Hiari writes upsetting accounts of doctors' disinterest and hostility and ties the narrative together with the inventive device of question-and-answer sessions from what readers assume, at first, is an especially engaged therapist.

    Execution: Despite its sharp prose and memorable detail, Hiari's story is by its very nature repetitive -- this is an account of cyclical suffering. The book covers similar situations again and again, often in protracted scenes, steeping readers at length in miseries that sometimes -- especially in the book's second half -- could be summarized rather than dramatized.

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