A Police Officer’s #Memoir. Black, White, and Gray All Over by Frederick Reynolds, reviewed by @OlgaNM7, for Rosie’s #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Today’s team review is from Olga. She blogs here https://www.authortranslatorolga.com

Rosie's #Bookreview Team #RBRT

Olga has been reading Black, White, and Gray All Over by Frederick Reynolds

This is a memoir, and as far from fiction as one could imagine. In fact, it is so full of facts and data that it can become overwhelming at times. The sheer number of events, of characters (well, not really characters, but real people: relatives, friends, neighbours, infantrymen, police officers, detectives, criminals, victims, local authorities, politicians…), of dates, of cases… make the book overflow with stories: sometimes those the author, Frederick Douglass Reynolds, participated directly in; others, stories providing background information to the situation or events being discussed or introducing some of the main players at the time of the action. I think anybody trying to recount even a small amount of what happens in the book would have a hard time of it, but anybody interested in the recent history of Compton law enforcement and local politics will find this book invaluable.

The author goes beyond the standard memoir, and although his life is the guiding thread of the book, he does not limit himself to talking in the first-person about his difficult childhood, his traumatic past, his petty criminal activities as a gang member in his youth, his time as a Marine Corps Infantryman, his less than stellar experience with personal relationships (until later in life), his allergy to compromise for many years (to the point of even refusing to get involved in the life of one of his children)… This well-read and self-taught man also offers readers the socio-historical-political context of the events, talking about the gangs, the rise of crack cocaine, the powerful figures moving the threads and holding authority (sometimes openly, and sometimes not so much), and he openly discusses the many cases of corruption, at all levels.

There is so much of everything in this book that I kept thinking this single book could become several books, either centring each one of them on a particular event, case, or investigation and its aftermath (for example. although Rodney King’s death didn’t take place in Compton, the description of how the riots affected the district makes readers realise that history keeps repeating itself unless something is done), or perhaps on a specific theme (as there is much about gangs, racism, corruption, the evolution of police roles and policing methods, violence in the streets, LA social changes and local politics, drugs…). Another option would be to focus on the author’s life and experiences growing up, on his personal life (his difficulties with relationships and alcohol, his PTSD…), and later his career, but perhaps mentioning only some of the highlights or some specific episodes, and with less background information about the place and its history (although some brief information could be added as an appendix or in an author’s note for those interested in knowing more).

This is a long book, dense and packed with a wealth of data that might go beyond the scope of most casual readers, but there are also scary moments (forget about TV police series. This is the real deal), heart-wrenching events (the deaths of locals, peers, colleagues, personal tragedies…), touching confessions (like the difficulties in his relationship with his son, becoming grandad to a boy with autism and what that has taught him), shared insights that most will find inspiring, and also some lighter and funny touches that make the human side of the book shine. Although Reynolds openly discusses his doubts, and never claims to be spotless, more upstanding, or better than anybody else, his determination to get recognition for his peers fallen in action, and his homage to those he worked with and who kept up the good fight clearly illustrate that his heart (and morals) are in the right place.

Most people thinking of reading this type of memoir are likely to know what to expect, but just in case there are any doubts, be warned that there is plenty of violence (sometimes extreme and explicit), use of alcohol, drugs, and pretty colourful language. 

I recommend this book to anybody interested in the history of policing in LA (particularly in Compton) from the 1980s, gangs in the area, local politics, corruption, and any major criminal investigations in the area (deaths of rappers included). It is also a book for those looking for an inspiring story of self-improvement, of managing to escape the wrong path, and helping others do the same, and it is a book full of insights, inspiration, and hope.

I wonder if the author is planning to carry on writing, but it is clear that he has many stories to tell yet and I hope he does.

Desc 1

From shootouts and robberies to riding in cars with pimps and prostitutes, Frederick Reynolds’ early manhood experiences in Detroit, Michigan in the 1960s foretold a future on the wrong side of the prison bars. Frederick grew up a creative and sensitive child but found himself lured down the same path as many Black youth in that era. No one would have guessed he would have a future as a cop in one of the most dangerous cities in America in the 1980s—Compton, California. From recruit to detective, Frederick experienced a successful career marked by commendations and awards. The traumatic and highly demanding nature of the work, however, took its toll on both his family and personal life—something Frederick was able to conquer but only after years of distress and regret.

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Dual #Autobiography The Backpack Years by Stefanie And James Wilson.

The Backpack YearsThe Backpack Years by Stefanie Wilson

3.5 stars

The Backpack years is a dual autobiography from the authors of this book and is about their early adult years spent travelling in Asia, Australia and parts of Europe.

It begins a couple of years into the 21st century with separate accounts of how Stef and James came to be backpackers and where they met. Following chapters detail their times together and their struggles with work, relationships and travel.

The book is written in alternate chapters from Stef and James, so at times there is an overlap of a situation or a tale. These are the memoirs of two young people making their tentative steps into adulthood and all the frustrations and responsibilities that a life as a couple brings.

As a memoir about an important era in their lives, I believe that this works well and I’m sure that close family and friends may well enjoy reading this as it will fill gaps in their knowledge of the couple.

However, if you picked this up for its backpacking and travel content, do remember that events took place 15-20 years ago. I’m not sure that I was the right audience for this book, I enjoy armchair travel, but some of the things that these young people saw and took part in made me quite sad.

View all my reviews  on Goodreads

Desc 1

Part travel, part romance, part failing at life, The Backpack Years intertwines two memoirs, charting Stef and James’s six-year journey from happily wandering to miserably settled and back again.

Straight-laced Stef left America to study abroad in Spain, letting loose and falling head over heels for two things: a handsome local and travel. Travel won out.

James had a future in England he felt he’d already destroyed. Fueled by debt and a deteriorating relationship with his father, James fled to Australia and found something better.

After language mishaps in France and a topless night in Tenerife, an awful offal job in Warrnambool and a kidnapped manicure in Bali, Stef and James meet at an Irish pub in Sydney.

Though their adventures are pulling them in different directions, they ditch the single life to forge a path together.

Can the two navigate their way through red-tape, relocation, miscommunication, and a last ditch, make-or-break trip to try to save their relationship, or will this be their last adventure as a couple?

Spanning thirteen countries and four continents, The Backpack Years is a story about how far we’re willing to go to be with the one we love.

Rosie’s #BookReview of #Memoir A Young Lady’s Miscellany by Auriel Roe

A Young Lady's MiscellanyA Young Lady’s Miscellany by Auriel Roe

3 stars

A Young Lady’s Miscellany is a book written in the style of a memoir about a young woman’s experiences of growing up. Instigated by the discovery of a Victorian self-help guide in her Grandmother’s belongings, the author loosely uses ‘advice’ in the book as she weaves her way through life.

I believe that this reflection is about the author’s life rather than a work of fiction which took me a while to work out and to settle into the narrative. The writing pace skips along— never letting up— as we gallop through a vast amount of past history from the narrator’s early teen years to her twenties. Most of the writing is linear in time but sometimes the author dots back to an earlier episode in life.

Memoirs can be an awkward genre to review as their content needs to appeal to enough readers; some are more suited to friends and family who already know the writer, while others have a subject matter within that is interesting to a wider audience. I found this story hard to warm to, although I did become more engaged with the characters the further I got into it and it was the last third which I found most interesting. My main disappointment, however, was that I thought that the book was going to be a Victorian story featuring the lady implied by the book title and part of me kept waiting for that story to begin.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Desc 1

What’s a girl of fourteen to do when she finds herself alone in the world with no one to guide her? Why, follow the Victorian self-help guide, ‘A Young Lady’s Miscellany’, of course! The trouble is, the advice it offers proves less than helpful in a contemporary context. Muddling through, often with disastrous results, she finds a friend in her recently widowed grandmother, the door to whose small house is always open. Inept at any job she is able to get and pursued by a slew of unsuitable suitors, she must instead spend a decade navigating her own miscellany in order to come of age.

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THE SECRET PIANO by Zhu Xiao-Mei #Autobiography #Memoir #China Revolution #TuesdayBookBlog

The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg VariationsThe Secret Piano: From Mao’s Labor Camps to Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Zhu Xiao-Mei
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Secret Piano by Zhu Xiao-Mei is an autobiography or true-life memoir of a talented Chinese pianist. It deals in detail with the Cultural Revolution in China which took place between 1966 and 1971 and how extreme it was.

Mao Zedong’s vision was of a China fee of Capitalism, Imperialism and with a victorious Communist way of living; no rich, no poor, only well fed workers and peasants. The reality was very different.

Xiao-Mei’s family pre-revolution were given opportunities, her mother was a music teacher and at times the sole bread-winner. A change from traditional Chinese upbringing where wives were often seen as being “useful wife” or “wise mother”. Ziao-Mei’s mother had gone to school and been the best student, she stood up to the proposal of an arranged marriage and married the man she loved. They had five girls and no sons which was disapproved of in Chinese society.

As a child Xiao-Mei fell in love with music and her mother taught her to play the piano. she got a place in the Beijing Conservatory a music school where she was intensely taught piano. However Mao’s Cultural Revolution soon caught up, a campaign against culture, and anyone seen as having any connections to a once privilege lifestyle. The people were forced to look inside at themselves and self-criticise first themselves and then others in daily self-denunciation and enforced brain-washing. It seemed that no one was allowed to feel more important than the lowest person in China.

Demonstrations, public humiliation and violence spread out of control, splitting up families, pitting everyone against each other. Millions of Chinese were uprooted and sent to re-education camps which in reality were imprisoned labour camps. Xiao-Mei spent five terrible years suffering in such prisons.

With Mao’s death the harsh grip on China dissolved, but the people were left dazed and disoriented years behind other world cultures. Throughout it all Xiao-Mei’s love of music kept her strong enough to survive. She left China, first for Hong-King , then America and finally found a home in France. The second half of the book tells of her struggles to understand the “free” society first in America and then in France, but she found many helping hands and her music saw her through. Xiao-Mei’s renditions of Bach’s Goldberg variations are very well known in the music world and this book is her life-story.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com available free from Kindle Unlimited

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