Sunday, June 27, 2010

MiddleWorld by J & P Voelkel

book cover

The Jaguar Stones:
by J & P Voelkel

Trade Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Egmont USA
First Released: 2005, 2010

Book Website

Source: Review copy through Goodman Media International, Inc.

Back Cover Description:
“As I see it,” said Max, “all that stands between humankind and the end of the world is two talking monkeys, a crazy archaeologist covered in red paint, and a couple of kids with blowguns. Am I right?”

Fourteen-year-old Max Murphy, video-gamer extraordinaire, is furious when his archaeologist parents cancel the family vacation to go on a dig in Central America. But things go from bad to worse when Max is summoned to join them, only to discover that his parents have vanished. With the help of Lola, a fast-talking, quick-thinking Maya girl, Max embarks on a quest to find out just what’s going on. Soon Max and Lola are running for their lives in the perilous rainforest, as they unlock ancient secrets, meet mysterious strangers, and begin to understand that, in San Xavier, nothing is ever as it seems.

Fate has delivered a challenge of epic proportions to Max Murphy. But can a teen whose biggest talent is for video games rescue his parents from the Maya Underworld and save himself from the villainous Lords of Death?

MiddleWorld is a fast-paced adventure (with some fantasy elements) for boys and girls ages 10 and up. Both kids and adults will find it very entertaining; however, the authors used enough "big words" that I wondered if tweens and teens really were their target audience. Sometimes even I didn't know what the words meant. In a few cases, I think it was actually a typo (there were a noticeable, though not huge, number of misspelled words in the book).

The characters were engaging and realistic, and I cared about what happened to them. Though the main plot points were rather fantastic, the main characters also struggled with problems that every teenager deals with and they acted like teenagers do. (The adults were all a little wacky.) The teenager characters learned how to appreciate each others' strengths and to work together to achieve their objective.

The suspense built nicely throughout the story. There was also a humorous tone to the novel that kept the very real danger to the kids from seeming too scary.

The world-building was excellent, with details about the setting and the ancient Maya woven into the story. Black and white illustrations were scattered throughout the novel. There's also a glossary and some bonus information about the Maya at the back of the novel.

Usually, I don't like the frequent use of figurative language because it rarely clarifies a point or mental image. Often, it doesn't even make sense to me though it might sound nice. This novel had a good amount of figurative language, but it made the descriptions clearer and more vivid. It really, really worked for me.

The only religion mentioned was the ancient Mayan religion. Though the main characters were initially skeptical, by the end of the novel, they'd met several Mayan gods and believed they were real. The Maya gods weren't portrayed as nice or worthy of worship, but they were treated as real. The magic in the book consisted of the Jaguar Stones and the powers of the Mayan gods.

There was a very minor amount of bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd recommend this fun novel as engaging, mostly clean fun.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
All was quiet.

Suddenly a flock of parrots explored from the trees, shrieking and squawking, and three men burst out of the rainforest. One of them pushed a hostage, a young girl, in front of him. The other two shot at anything and everything as they ran across the clearing toward the steps of the pyramid.

The noise was terrifying--guns shooting, men shouting, birds screeching--but Max tried to stay calm, waiting for the right moment. He knew he would only get one chance. And, armed with only a blowgun, he also knew the odds were against him.

In the end, it happened so quickly that he hardly had time to think.

Just as the men reached the bottom step, something caught their attention high above Max's head, and they stopped to blitz the treetops with bullets. He crouched behind a log, not daring to breathe, as leaves and twigs explored and rained down onto the forest floor. An animal shrieked and fell through the branches, landing with a thud somewhere behind him.

It was now or never.

Adrenaline pumped through his veins as he fired his three darts in quick succession.

Yes! Yes! No!

He'd hit the hostage--again.


Max threw down the controller in disgust.

What was he doing wrong? He'd jumped over the massive tree roots, sidestepped the boa constrictor sleeping in the leaf pile, bypassed the battalion of army ants, and outswum the hungry crocodiles that lurked under the surface of the river. He'd got everything right, but he still couldn't get past this level.

And what was that cross-eyed monkey trying to tell him?

He grabbed the case and scrutinized the small print. Nope, definitely nothing about cross-eyed monkeys. In fact, no rules at all.

Stupid game.

Where had it come from anyway? It was just lying on his bed when he came home.

Read an excerpt from chapter ten.

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