The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

This book is going to be huge.  Get your pre-orders in and block off some time on October 18th. This is a book you won’t be able to put down so you will have to read it straight through in one sitting.

The Scorpio Races is like nothing I have read before. The Scorpio Races is a stand-alone fantasy novel that Stiefvater says has been in her head for many years. The time that this story had to percolate in her imagination resulted in pure perfection. The prose is magical and haunting. The characters are true and life-like. The setting will surround you, with fog settling around you and drops of saltwater sticking to your skin.

Kate “Puck” Connolly lost her parents to the capaill uisce , the water horses, many years ago. She and her two brothers have been struggling to survive ever since.  They barely make ends meet on the tiny island they call home.  When her oldest brother announces that he is leaving to go to the mainland, Puck is stunned and heartbroken.  In a crazy bid to keep him home longer, she enters the Scorpio Races.  Every November, the capaill uisce wash upon shores of the island. The water horses are deadly, but the lure to tame one long enough to ride in the Scorpio Races is hard to resist for the island residents.  The promise of prize money has tempted many young men, including her brother’s friends. But  Kate swore to have nothing to do with the capaill uisce after her parents’ death.  Instead, she  enters the race as the first female rider in the race’s history, but plans to ride her own horse, Dove.

And then there is Sean.  Strong, silent, and the island’s most famous resident.  He is the returning champion of the Scorpio Races and he and his water horse, Corr, are known far and wide.  But Sean is silently struggling.  He wants to free himself from his overbearing employer but won’t leave his job without Corr, who belongs to the stable.  Winning this year’s Scorpio Races will win them both their freedom.

Sean and Puck meet while training for the races.  But don’t think this is just a love story.  It’s so much more than that.  The center of the story is that both Puck and Sean’s futures hinge on how well they do in the race.  But only one can win.  And while there is tension between the two, Stiefvater’s tale is about the water horses.  I was not familiar with the mythology of water horses before picking up this ARC and that made the story all the more delicious.  I had no idea what was coming.  I fell in love with the gorgeous and deadly water horses, and I’ve been reading everything I can about them ever since I finished the book.  Stiefvater’s prose is haunting and I could hear the hooves pounding on the beach while the waves crashed in the background.  The world-building is spot-on and the atmosphere will haunt you.

This is a book that will fly off the shelves in October.  I have already passed it on to my students, and they took it home this summer to pass around amongst themselves.  I know they are going to love it.  I certainly do!

(I plan to look for some water horses when I am in Ireland later this summer.  😉  )

*ARC courtesy of the publisher at BEA

The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld by J&P Voelkel

If you have been following my blog for any length of time then you know that I have a special place in my heart for books that focus on Mesoamerica/Mesoamerican culture.  When I saw that Egmont was publishing The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld by J&P Voelkel, I was very excited. A combination of Percy Jackson and Mayan culture? Sign me up! Thankfully, I was not disappointed. This is a fantastic adventure book that I highly recommend to middle school and YA readers!

Max is looking forward to a summer vacation in Italy. But when his academic parents come home and inform him of a sudden change of plans- they will be canceling the Italian vacation and taking a research trip to the (fictional) country of San Xavier. A seemingly sudden change of heart sends Max to meet them in San Xavier a few weeks later. Max arrives in the rainy country of San Xavier only to find that his parents have disappeared. Mysterious Uncle Ted becomes Max’s de facto guardian, and the search for his parents begins. At the time of their disappearance, they were exploring an ancient Mayan pyramid deep in the rain forest. While things get stranger and stranger, Max soon finds himself lost in the rain forest that may be responsible for his parents’ apparent death.

Love, love, love this book! Like Riordan’s Percy Jackson, The Jaguar Stones is a rollicking adventure.  Along the way the reader is immersed in Mayan culture.  I know in my own experience, Mesoamerican culture is frequently skipped over in ancient history curriculums so students will be very interested in the mythology and culture strewn throughout the story.  At the same time, Max is easy to relate to.  But my own favorite character is Lola, a Mayan girl who Max meets in his search for his missing parents.  (Yes, there are still Mayans!)  Lola is spunky, brave, and a little fresh at times.  A great female character for a great adventure.

Another great aspect of the book is the appendix at the end.  Including calendar explanations and a recipe, it really enhanced the story.  The Mayan culture is fascinating and the Voelkel’s expertise really shines through in the text.  Hopefully, this series will catch on and today’s students will become more interested in Mesoamerican culture.  Come on- in many ways they were far more advanced than their European counterparts!  I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment in the The Jaguar Stones series!

*review copy courtesy of publisher

Night Tourist by Katharine Marsh

I purchased The Night Tourist by Katharine Marsh after a few students begged me for more stories based on Greek mythology. It was one of the books always on my wishlist but it never made it to the top. I’m glad my students pushed me to purchase it and I can’t wait to pass it on to my mythology buffs.

Jack is a shy ninth grader who lives at Yale with his professor father. A loner, Jack doesn’t do much besides translate Latin and study. He and his father get along well enough but they don’t really talk alot. His mother died in a tragic accident and his father hasn’t been the same since her death. But when Jack gets hit by a car things start getting weird. His father sends him to get checked out by a special doctor in NY but won’t go with him. While in Grand Central Station he meets a girl who says she can show him the real NYC, the underground part. For the first time in his life, Jack decides to take a risk so he goes with her. Little does he know that she isn’t who she seems to be. Suddenly everything Jack knows about his life is turned on its head. Is his mother really dead? Is she somewhere in the Underworld? Is he who he thinks he is?

I already know which student will be getting this book from me tomorrow. He read the Percy Jackson series and finished it before anyone else and he has been begging me for more books based on Greek mythology. I just read his most recent letter-essay and he again asked for more books like Riordan’s. I know that The Night Tourist will satifsy him because Marsh doesn’t mess around in the beginning.  Almost immediately the reader is thrust into the action alongside Jack.  My students frequently complain about books that “take forever to start” but The Night Tourist is not one of those books.   And while I didn’t find The Night Tourist as laugh-out-loud funny as Riordan’s books, it does have its moments.  Plus, as someone who took Latin for 4 years, I appreciate any book that trusts Latin and it’s mythology into the limelight.  And while I love the mythology aspect of the story, I really appreciated the history of New York that was included.  The story includes pieces of the city’s hidden, lesser-known history, including Grand Central’s secret Track 61.  Yes, a secret track!  (It was used for President Franklin Roosevelt’s personal train.)  So cool!

My only complaint is that I didn’t feel like I knew Jack as well as I know Riordan’s characters.  It’s not that he was flat.  He just didn’t have a lot of character development.  I was dying to know more about Euri and wish Marsh had delved into her backstory a little bit more.  However, this was only a minor concern for me and I don’t think it will even register with my Percy Jackson-addicts.  The Night Tourist is a fun, quick read and I look forward to reading the sequel.

*Copy purchased by me

Tween Book Buying Guide for the Holidays- Mythology Buffs

Mythology is huge in my classroom.  I imagine it will only get crazier with the upcoming February release of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief movie.  But there are lots of other mythology books out there for tween readers.  If you are looking for some great mythology-based books for your favorite tween, here are some of my favorites…..

We have to start with one of my all-time favorites- Percy Jackson.  I read the first book in the series aloud to my students each year and they love it.  Percy is funny, always getting in trouble, and easy to identify with.  I’m sure when the movie is released there will be a second wave of Percy Jackson fans running around my hallways at school.  The entire series has been released and there is an awesome boxed set available: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Hardcover Boxed Set: Books 1 – 5.

Maryrose Woods’s Why I Let My Hair Grow Out is a fantastic romp through Celtic mythology.  It’s a different culture and very different from the typical Greek and Roman mythology typically seen in middle grade/YA literature.  Plus, I’m Irish and I love seeing Irish mythology/literature in mainstream middle grade/YA books!

Irish mythology not what your tween is looking for?  How about some Egyptian mythology? Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos is the first book in a series that focuses on the ever-popular Egyptian mythology. Theo is like a combination of Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones. While not focused solely on Egyptian mythology, the story deals with ancient Egypt and evil curses. How can that not be fun?

The Seven Serpents Trilogy is a reissuing of Scott O’Dells fantastic epic based on Mayan culture and mythology. It includes all three books in the original series, repackaged into a single book.

Finally- I have many tweens who want to know every.single.thing. about Greek mythology. I’ve recently discovered the Mythlopedia series from Scholastic and I can not keep it on my library bookshelves. The books include: All in the Family: A Look-it-Up Guide to the In-laws, Outlaws, and Offspring of Mythology (Mythlopedia), Oh My Gods!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Gods of Mythology (Mythlopedia), She’s All That!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Goddesses of Mythology (Mythlopedia), and What a Beast!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Monsters and Mutants of Mythology (Mythlopedia).  Each book is set-up like Facebook profiles which really appeals to my students.  Plus, I’ve even learned a lot while reading!

This is just a taste of some of the mythology books out there for tweens.  Do you have any favorites I forgot?  Please leave them in the comments!

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out by Maryrose Wood

When Morgan is dumped by her boyfriend on the last day of school, she reacts in typical teen girl fashion- by shaving her head and fighting with her family.  Her parents, upset with her new attitude, decide she needs a change of scenery.  Before she realizes what is happened, Morgan is shipped off to Ireland for a two-week bike tour.  

Morgan isn’t thrilled to be in Ireland, though she does perk up a bit when she meets Colin, the very-easy-on-the-eyes tour guide.  While she tries to come up with ways to hook-up with him she pushes her fellow tour riders away with her oh so pleasant attitude.  However, a bump on the head suddenly transports her to a mythical  dream world of faeries and Irish mythology.

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out is a fantastic and fun read that I can’t wait to share with my students. I am constantly on the lookout for books that fit with our mythology unit and I think this series will be perfect (the sequel is already on my wishlist) for many of my students!  The story is full of romance and humor, and the Irish mythology is awesome.  I love the Irish mythology angle because it’s a set of myths that most kids aren’t familiar with.  I absolutely recommend this book and can not wait to read the second and third book.  (And take a look at the gorgeous cover!)