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Middleworld: The Jaguar Stones    by J. Voelkel & P. Voelkel Amazon.com order for
Middleworld
by J. Voelkel
Order:  USA  Can
Egmont, 2010 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Lyn Seippel

Max's summer isn't turning out anything like he'd planned. Max is looking forward to visiting Italy with his family so he is devastated when his parents, both archaeologists, trade their vacation plans for an important dig in San Xavier, a small country in Central America. They leave immediately. Max now faces summer camp in the Great North Woods of Maine instead of a long awaited trip to Italy where his mother grew up. He'll be eating camp food instead of meals prepared especially for him by his Nonna.

Max's housekeeper Zia has lived with his family as long as Max can remember. She cooks and cleans, but otherwise steers clear of the family. He knows little about her except that she is weird, wearing dark glasses even indoors and carrying a crumpled handkerchief to wipe away tears that frequently roll down her cheeks. While waiting for camp to begin, Max is under her supervision at home. On the morning Max is supposed to leave for Maine, Zia gives him his passport and an e-ticket to San Xavier. She tells him that he is special and must not keep them waiting. Max's adventure in the tropical rainforests of Central America is about to begin.

Fourteen-year old Max meets the challenges of the Mayan Underworld and the Lords of Death with all the cunning and bravery of a hero. This is a lovely book, full of maps, black and white illustrations, and Mayan history.

Review of the new edition by Ricki Marking-Camuto (Rating:3):

With 2012 approaching in a few short years, there has been a plethora of books and movies about the end of the Mayan calendar. Middleworld, the first book of The Jaguar Stones trilogy (by husband and wife team J & P Voelkel) tackles this topic in a unique way and one that middle readers can understand.

Max Murphy is tired of his archeologist parents jetting off to foreign destinations especially when it means canceling summer vacation in Italy. While Max is moping around the house, avoiding the Murphys' odd housekeeper Zia, his parents are in San Xavier, studying Mayan temples. However, Max's lonely yet selfish life in Boston ends when Zia packs him up and puts him on a plane to his uncle's mansion in San Xavier.

Upon arrival, Max learns that his parents are missing and his uncle is mixed up in shady dealings with Count Antonio De Landa, descendant of a friar who stole precious artifacts from the Maya two of the five jaguar stones. Max soon finds himself running for his life from De Landa, accompanied only by the headstrong Lola and her two pet howler monkeys. Lola wants to teach Max to respect the ancient culture, but Max is determined to save himself. In order to do so, though, he must listen to Lola, or an enemy greater than De Landa will destroy them all.

Middleworld is a really fun adventure reminiscent of Indiana Jones. Max, an unlikable, selfish brat who would rather be home playing video games than learning a new culture in tropical San Xavier, is put to the test as he must rely on his gaming skills to survive in the jungle. During his trials, he comes to realize there are more important things than saving himself he must save his friends, too. While Max is initially easy to despise, he grows into a mature young man who learns a lot about himself and others along the way. It also helps that he finds himself in the type of situation many middle-schoolers, especially those into gaming, dream about.

While Middleworld is definitely written for preteen boys, many older readers (girls, too) will enjoy Max's adventures. The Voelkels have crafted a wonderful adventure story, something missing from today's market.

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