Amity Middle School Orange Book Blog

Read reviews by an avid young adult book enthusiast.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mind Games by Kiersten White

I liked this book a lot. However, I would only recommend it to advanced readers. Why? The manner in which the book is written can be quite confusing for a less able reader.

Chapters alternate being told by two sisters. Annie, the older sister who is blind, has the ability to “see” things before they happen and her younger sister, Sofia, nicknamed Fia.
Fia has the uncanny ability to immediately tell if something is right or wrong.

Besides alternating the narrator for each chapter, the author also decided to have Annie and Sofia flashback to different times in their lives. The flashbacks are not sequential.
Their parents were killed tragically in a car accident. Their Aunt Ellen has placed them in an “academy” for specially gifted students. Sofia immediately knows the “academy” is wrong for the two of them. Annie has been promised the best doctors to help correct her blindness. She insists they stay.

What neither girl realizes is that they are being used by a very powerful man- Mr. Keane.
By making Sofia use her special gifts to predict the stock market and other things to his advantage, Mr. Keane threatens Sofia with the mistreatment or death of her blind sister if she doesn’t comply. He is playing a powerful mind game.

Mr. Keane’s demands escalate to even include murder! How will the girls ever be able to escape his hold on them? Read this mind bender to find out!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Outlaws and Lawmen: Crime and Punishment in the 1800s

Since I really knew very little about how our crime and punishment system came into being in the United States, I found this book very informative.

The first part deals with the years 1800-1834.  In the 1700’s most crimes were punished by public ridicule.  The use of stocks, where people were publically on display in village greens, was common as were hangings for more serious crimes.
The religious influence of the Quakers changed the public displays to “houses” where criminals were separated from society and each other and placed in solitary confinement to contemplate their crimes.

When huge influxes of immigrants arrived in NYC due to the potato famine in Ireland, gangs formed to avoid persecution.  By 1850, police were formed to try to control the rising violence.

By the 1860’s political corruption- buying off the police, controlling the courts, etc. had sprung up. “The appearance of the law must be upheld, especially while it’s being broken.”
Meanwhile, in the West—especially Texas--large groups of settlers needed protection. Rangers were formed. Their duty was to protect the new settlers from Native Americans and to deal with cattle thieves.

The second period of the book deals with the years 1838-1865. Many crimes in this period revolved around slavery.  The Civil War would rage for four years before some disputes would be settled.

The third part of the book deals with outlaws in the Wild West from 1867-1889.   Greed for gold, land, or cattle proved to be the real cause of crime in the West.
Primary source documents help the reader see how both outlaws and lawmen operated at that time.

This book scratches the surface on crime and punishment in the 1800’s, but does provide a vehicle for understanding the time period.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee by Katherine Don

Harper Lee is best known for her first and only novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Katherine Don has written an extensive piece on Nelle Harper Lee’s life.

She has researched Lee’s early years with her family in Monroeville, Alabama.  Harper’s close relationship with Truman Capote is evident. Anyone who has read To Kill a Mockingbird will realize the character of Dill is fashioned from her childhood days with Truman Capote.

The author traces Harper Lee’s years in New York City. What was interesting to me was the author’s assertion that Harper Lee was not a recluse as she aged. Rather, she was just very particular with whom she associated.

It is a rare thing in our culture to shun notoriety and publicity to maintain a low profile of true friendships.

I learned a great deal about Nelle Harper Lee from this thoroughly researched piece.

Kennedy’s Last Days by Bill O’Reilly


Bill O’ Reilly’s book entitled Kennedy’s Last Days is easily accessible for middle school readers. It gives a brief history of the Kennedy family, but the majority of the book details the 1,036 days of his Presidency.

It is chilling to see the cover of the book. There is a photo of John Kennedy seated beside his wife Jackie as their motorcade winds its way down a street in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. The next moment, a sniper’s bullet hits John Kennedy delivering a fatal blow. The assassin is Lee Harvey Oswald.

Filled with archival photos of John and Jackie Kennedy and their children Caroline and John, the text is easy to follow providing just enough detail without confusing the reader.

Students who desire more information can follow the reading of this book with Killing Kennedy, also by Bill O’Reilly. Killing Kennedy was written for an adult audience but motivated readers can easily follow it.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

Malencia Vale lives with her mother and father and four brothers in Five Lakes Colony. There have been seven wars fought which have destroyed much of civilization and laid waste to the land. 

Malencia’s father has been lucky enough to have a university education and is developing new ways in which to grow crops and rejuvenate the drinking water and the soil.

At Malencia’s graduation, there is much hope that some members of her class will be chosen to participate in the grueling process known as The Testing to see if any will have the chance for an education at the university.

When Cia (Malencia’s nickname) is chosen along with three others from Five Lakes Colony, her father gives her strict advice- “TRUST NO ONE!” Her father should know as he survived The Testing himself.

The four are transported to Tosu City to begin The Testing.

Will Cia follow her father’s advice? Surely she must be able to trust Tomas her childhood friend! Will any of the four from Five Lakes Colony survive the ordeal?

Read this chilling dystopian thriller to find out.

Out of Bounds by Bob Moseley

Bob Moseley, a local author residing in Shelton, CT. has written his first young adult novel, a sports mystery.

Jason Jefferson has suffered a torn ACL- blowing out his knee. Desperately wanting to be playing football with his school team, he remains sidelined for the entire season due to this injury.

Mr. McCloud, his journalism teacher, encourages Jason to join the school newspaper. Reluctantly, Jason shows up after school and makes a stab at writing for the paper. Combining his love of football with journalism, Jason decides to focus on writing about the highly successful football season. 

When he receives a typewritten paper with the following cryptic message, “There’s something serious going on with the football team. You need to investigate.” Jason shifts into high gear trying to solve the mystery.

I thoroughly enjoyed this sports mystery. I believe it will appeal to both boys and girls as several of the characters are girls in the novel.

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus

What an interesting story!

Set in 1917 in England, Soldier Dog tells the story of the messenger dogs used during WWI.

Stanley is only fourteen-too young to join his older brother Tom and enlist to fight the Germans. Instead he is stuck at home with his dad known as Da. Lord Chorley owns the land where they reside. They raise horses for him and prize dogs.

Problems arise when Stanley accidentally lets out their prize female dog Rocket when she is in heat. Da is furious! The mixed breed pups will be of no use to them. They will be more expense than they are worth. 

Stanley nurses the pups and is horrified when Da says he will drown them. Without his brother to intervene and since his mom’s sudden death, Stanley does not stand a chance of standing up to the wrath of his father. 

Stanley makes the decision to run away and enlist by passing as an older boy.

When Stanley is chosen to be a part of a special service group which trains messenger dogs, he is paired with a large dog Bones.

Will he and Bones be sent to France? Will Stanley be able to find his brother Tom? Will the reality of war be more than a fourteen year old boy can endure?

Read Soldier Dogs to find out!

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor lives with his mom, his grandma, and his two younger sisters- Lizzie and Margaret (affectionately called Boots) in an apartment in New York City. Gregor’s father went missing nearly two years ago. He simply left the apartment one day, never returned, and disappeared without a trace.

Gregor is feeling quite sorry for himself as it will be his job to care for his two-year-old sister, Boots. As an eleven-year-old boy, Gregor would much prefer attending summer camp. Little does Gregor realize that he and Boots are in for a major adventure!

When Boots accidentally is sucked behind a dryer in the basement of their apartment where they have gone to do the laundry, Gregor knows he has no choice but to follow her. As they are both pulled into a downward current, Gregor wonders, “Could this be what happened to my father?”

Soon Boots and Gregor learn that the Underland is comprised of many facets. Giant spiders (spinners), huge cockroaches, giant rats (gnawers), and enormous bats are existing in a tenuous peace.

They recognize Gregor as Gregor the Overlander who is part of a prophecy. Gregor desperately wants to return home with his sister as he knows how completely devastated his poor mother will be when she realizes two more members of her family have disappeared.

What will it take for Gregor to return with Boots to the Overland (NYC)? Much more than he could ever have realized he was capable of doing!

Read Suzanne Collins’s first book in the Underland Chronicles to find out.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney

 Gregory is the younger brother of Roderick. His tales continue as he tries to negotiate middle school. Can he possibly have more things go wrong with his life? You betcha!!
He desperately wants to be noticed by the opposite sex so he can have a date for the Valentine’s Day Dance in the gym at school. Despite advice from his four times divorced Uncle Gary who is freeloading at Gregory’s house, he still doesn’t have a date. Surprise! Surprise!
Abigail seems like a likely choice when her original date has another obligation. Rowley’s dad can transport the three of them, Rowley, Abigail and Gregory to the dance and back.
Nothing is simple for Gregory. When the night of the dance arrives, someone has the chicken pox. Will that deter this unlikely trio?
Read Diary of a Wimpy Kid the Third Wheel to find out all about Gregory’s misadventures.

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

“The First rule of surviving the 4th wave is don’t trust anyone anymore. It doesn’t matter what they look like. The Others are very smart about everything. In the 4th Wave, you can’t trust that people are still people. But you can trust that your gun is still your gun.”

In Cassie’s world she has only her father and her younger brother Sammy left alive. Her mother has passed away due to what has been known as the Red plague. Each successive wave of the alien invasion of earth has brought mass death. The 3rd Wave took 3.5 billion people. The Others are truly ingenious in their design to inhabit the Earth.
When Cassie’s father and Sammy are separated, she must fend for herself. If she is lucky to find “humans alive, can she trust that they are human- even though they look like they are?

This is a fast paced book- not for the faint of heart. I would only recommend this book to mature, advanced readers. Warning- it may give you nightmares!

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson

The Civil War in the United States was a fight to retain the union. Even after Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army, surrendered to Ulysses Grant on April 19, 1865, there were still major divisions in our nation. One such group was the band of men who wanted to kidnap President Lincoln.

In James Swanson’s book for young adult readers entitled Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, he details the plot which was originally designed to kidnap Lincoln to reveal when it changed to an assassination plot against Lincoln, his vice president, Andrew Johnson and his Secretary of State. John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor of the time period, was the mastermind behind the plot.

He and he alone shot President Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre in Washington as he was watching a play with his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Lincoln and his wife and another couple were seated in the balcony of Ford’s Theatre in a special Presidential theater box. The guard who was supposed to be stationed outside the Presidential box had left his post after the play started to have a drink in a local bar. John Wilkes Booth was able to easily gain entrance to the box and shoot Lincoln. The gunshot to his neck lodged in his brain and led to his death many hours later. Booth escapes by jumping from the box onto the stage of Ford’s Theatre. He breaks his leg in the fall. This does not deter him. He makes his getaway despite the pain he is suffering.
Swanson details the manhunt to find all of the coconspirators as they fled from Washington.

Swanson’s award winning adult title Manhunt is a more detailed version of this title. For students who enjoy Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, they may want to read the adult title for further information.

Personally, I loved this highly accessible account of the dark days following one of the darkest days in American history.

Thimble Down by Pete Prown

Thimble Down is the name of a quaint country village where its residents reside in burrows.  This fantasy has the feel of The Hobbit.

Dorro Fox Winderiver is the book master and head of the library. Well respected by all of the residents, Dorro is also a master crime solver. He finds a mysterious boy- Wyll Underfoot- hiding in his garden shed. Who is the boy? Where did he come from? Is he a thief?

When Bing Rumple, his brother Farroot Rumple and an acquaintance of Farroot’s Bill Thistle, show up in Thimble Down with a priceless gem that Bing is wearing underneath his cape which he is boasting about, all the residents are highly suspicious of how Bing and his cronies obtained such a magnificent piece. Since Bing is such a poor excuse for a “Halfling”- swearing, gambling, and constantly being suspected of petty crimes-- Dorro knows there is a mystery which needs to be solved.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this title as I am not a fantasy lover. This is very well written with plenty of twists in the plot which kept me engaged.
Another interesting fact is that the author Pete Prown attended Amity Junior High Orange in the 70’s so he is a graduate of our school which makes this title extra special!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Incredible Transcontinental Railroad by R. Conrad Stein

What an amazing feat it was to complete the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

Imagine the time before this great railway was completed.  If you wanted to get from the Eastern seaboard of our country to the Gold Rush in what was to become the State of California in 1849, you would either have to book passage on a boat which would go around South America and especially the treacherous rounding of Cape Horn and then through the Pacific.  The passage would take anywhere from 6 to 8 months to complete.  Or you could take the overland route across our vast country by horse and covered wagon.  This overland route would take from 4-5 months.

Once the railway was completed a passenger could travel from New York to San Francisco in a week’s time!

What is so amazing about the accomplishment of the railroad is the timing of its completion and the sheer engineering feat.

Our country was divided in 1861-1865 by the Civil War.  Once the war was over, the country united to get this completed.

The Union Pacific Railway was started in Omaha.  The Central Pacific was started in Sacramento, CA.  The two mountain ranges- the Sierra Nevadas in California and the Rockies in Colorado-- had to be conquered.

I was lucky enough to walk through the 20 foot high tunnel at Summit Peak in the Sierras this summer.  It was 1500 feet long through granite.  It was one of the 15 tunnels needed to go through mountains.  It was awe inspiring to see!

Read this highly accessible book for young teens to find out just how amazing this engineering feat proved to be.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Sixteen year old America Singer lives with her family in a society based on castes.  Her family is considered a Five.  They are artists and musically inclined.  There is little chance of changing one’s caste in the country known as Illéa.

Illéa is a country formed where the United States used to exist after several wars have occurred.  There is still unrest in Illéa due to Northern and Southern rebel groups who are still fighting.
When a letter arrives at America Singer’s house announcing a Selection, America’s mother is keen for having her daughter apply.  If America is selected to be one of the thirty-five women chosen to be part of the Selection, it will help with her family’s finances which are always a problem; it will possibly elevate America’s movement within the strict caste society.

The Selection is being conducted to help the Prince of Illéa , Prince Maxim, find his future wife.

It seems like this would be an easy decision for America to make, but what her parents don’t know is that America has had a secret boyfriend, Aspen, from a lower caste, for the past two years.

If America applies, will she make the Selection?  If she makes the list of thirty-five women selected, will she have a chance of falling in love with Prince Maxim since she has such strong feelings for her first love, Aspen? Read this dystopian romance to find out!

The Journals of Lewis & Clark

I like how this book starts with a description of primary and secondary sources.  The primary sources are from the journals kept by the men.

This is a very easy to read documentary of the historical journey that Meriwether  Lewis and William Clark made to find a passage from St. Louis to the Pacific through the mountain ranges and uncharted territory of what we now know as North and South Dakota, Idaho, Montana and Washington states.
By navigating down the Ohio River to the Mississippi River at St. Louis, they c continued following the river upstream, to where it connected to the Missouri River.  They needed the help of local Indian tribes to navigate the Bitterroot Mountains and the Rockies.
What an arduous, dangerous journey it proved to be.  Their journey spans from May to 1804 to September of 1806.

Luckily for our country, they kept journals which detailed their famous excursion.

Read this book in the series entitled Documentary U.S. History to find out just how courageous these brave men and their party of men were.