Hey everyone! It’s my favorite time of the month; book reviews! But before I begin, I’d like to go over a few “house keeping” items.
First, this is my very first review on the blog but I’ve been a regular book review enthusiast on Salazar’s blog at 14 Shades of Grey, for over a year so you can see many of my reviews on there under her book reviews. Some time later, I may try to post all of those on here so that they can be all together.
And second, November would have most likely been my second book review on the blog with October being the first. But I missed last month’s reviews entirely due to me being in a sort of “emotional comatose-like” state. I’m not afraid to admit that I have issues and when I do and am going through a problem, even favorite, fun activities like reading become nearly impossible for me to do. So I apologize for not being fully prepared for this review, but I didn’t come empty-handed either as I still have one book to review from October. And I’ll share a couple of other reading projects that I’m currently doing this month.
So with that said, let’s get right to it!
First up is a book that I found to be fairly interesting, but not exactly suspenseful or exciting. It’s called Making Friends With Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood. It’s a children’s novel that I found while filing books away (I work in the children’s area at the library so it’s no surprise that this is one of many children’s books that I will be reviewing).
This book, Making Friends With Billy Wong, was a short, quick read for me. It’s a children’s chapter book, just a little over 200 pages so I finished it within a week. While not nearly as fast-paced and vigorous as some of my previous reads this year, this story has a certain charm of its own. In fact, while reading it, it reminded me very much of the classic book To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, as the two main characters seem very similar in terms of temperament and personality.
So here, we have Azalea Morgan, an 11 year old girl living in the year 1952, and she, much to her reluctance, is spending the latter half of her summer break with her grandmother Clark in Paris Junction, Arkansas. And no, Paris Junction isn’t a real city in Arkansas, but the name is still pretty cool, right?
Her parents drop her off at her grandmother’s in order to help her do odd jobs around her house, after suffering from an injury that she sustained. But Azalea isn’t at all pleased to be there and her and her grandmother get off to a rough start.
And while staying in Paris Junction over the last half of her summer, Azalea encounters several people who, in a way, change her life. Several recurring characters make their appearance throughout the story, most notably, Melinda Bowman, Willis DeLoach and Billy Wong, which is the other main character in the story (his name is in the title after all). They, along with Azalea “help” Grandmother Clark in her garden due to her confinement to a wheelchair. But with the exception of Billy, these “helpers”, as they are called, are far from any real help for Azalea, or her grandmother. Melinda is a little “snot prissy girl” who’s more concerned about messing up her hair and getting her shoes dirty than doing any real gardening, and Willis is a bad boy troublemaker and sort of serves as Azalea’s foil and antagonist throughout the book. He sort of reminds me of Huckleberry Finn from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as he’s almost always getting into some kind of trouble.
In fact, like I mentioned above with the To Kill A Mocking Bird example, this story also sort of has that “Tom Sawyer” feel to it as well and it makes me wonder if the author was inspired by both of these classics while writing it.
But getting back to the review, Azalea doesn’t care at all for the “helpers” and only thinks about returning to Texas in time for school to start. And while at first, she is also a bit reluctant to allow Billy Wong into her circle, you can see as you read along that they slowly become good friends. Their friendship becomes stronger as you keep reading, especially seen when Azalea stands up to Willis, several times for his bigoted remarks about Billy being Chinese. And while their friendship does waver from time to time, as most friendships do, you can see an undeniable love that each of them has; not a romantic one but one of friendship.
And what is nice about this story is that by reading in between the lines (an overused cliché I know), you will see that not all of the characters are what they seem to be, particularly Willis. While it is evident that he is clearly the “bad boy” in this story, I like how the author gives him a sort of “softer side” for the reader to see so that you don’t completely hate his guts. Even Azalea’s grandmother, who I didn’t exactly like at first as I seen her as being authoritative and cold, really warmed up to her granddaughter in the end and it makes you happy to see that in some weird way, they both became friends too.
Overall, the story is cute, with a capital “C” and there are no real difficult themes to explore here. I was led to believe that this story was based on of the author’s own life and that she may have in fact, been Azalea, but in the end, she reveals no such detail in her note. But the story she says, is based on of real history and real stories of many Chinese families living in a similar fashion to Billy Wong and his family; owning grocery stores, trying to make a good living, which wasn’t easy during such times when racism thrived. This subject is briefly touched upon in the book as I stated, with Willis giving Billy a hard time because he was Chinese as well as being mentioned that Billy had a hard time getting into all “white” schools, as the schools were segregated back then. But the main focus of the story is Azalea’s and Billy friendship , which is special in and of itself and is what really makes this story a fascinating read.
So with that, I give this book a 3 out of 5. While I thought that it was very well written and it was great to show a growing friendship between a girl and a boy of different “races” (I really hate using that word), I felt that the story was a bit too rushed and that there wasn’t much of a climax, other than Billy’s family store being trashed. While that was tragic, I felt like the solution was rushed too much, like the author didn’t exactly know how to bring it to an end. And some of the characters seemed really one-dimensional, like Melinda and Mr. Henry Jackson, a bike/auto repair man who shows up from time to time throughout the story but doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than to interact with the main character. But I did like how the story was told in first person (from Azalea’s point of view) and throughout the book, we see a sort of “journal entry” thing that’s told from Billy Wong’s point of view and how he feels about some of the characters, so that was kind of cool. So a good book overall, but I think I need something a bit deeper than this to keep my attention.
And there you have it. I apologize for not having a picture of the cover but I lost most of my pictures when my old iPod “died” last week, so I have to re-take a picture of it when I get the book back from the library and I will post it later. I’m not so sure about taking pictures off the Internet; copyright and all that you know…
But I do have pictures of the other two books that I’m currently reading. The first is book 1 of the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage. There are 7 books in all and I plan on reading each one. They are huge books, over 500 pages, similar to the Harry Potter books (they have the whole magic concept thing going for them like J.K. Rowlings’ famous series), so it may take me a while to complete them, but I will. Those who know me know that I’m very intrigued by big books. And that leads me to the next one.
I’ve decided to tackle a huge challenge with this one, and I don’t even know what possessed me to even come up with this idea. But I also decided to read Leo Tolstoy’s famous War And Peace. Pretty crazy, right? I mean, I have my hands full with the Septimus Heap series, which is long enough. But War And Peace?? Pretty darn crazy, right? This monstrous masterpiece is a whopping 885 pages (905 technically if you count the table of contents, introduction, translation notes section, etc.)!! What could I have been thinking, right? Well, I’m willing to give it a try and see how far I get. It was good enough for Charlie Brown after all. 😉
And that’s not all. I’m also embarking on a self-proclaimed reading assignment to read at least one children’s biography on the US presidents. After all of the uproar concerning the election from a few weeks ago, I admitted to myself that I know next to nothing about our presidents and I wanted to know more about them. I just started so I’m up to Thomas Jefferson, the third president of our nation. I won’t talk about these in the reviews but I’ll keep you updated with each review on how far I’ve gotten and when I finish. It should be fun.
And that’s all for now folks. Now that I’m feeling better and not so emotionally distraught, I should have some pretty exciting reviews for you next month. Hope to have Septimus Heap’s Magyk complete by then at least and a good portion of War And Peace complete. Stay tuned!