Tag Archives: middle-grade novels

A Circle of Five, The Pha-Yul Trilogy by Jan Raymond: A Book Review

Circle of FiveFive students are sent to detention for various reasons. When an electric storm erupts there is a disturbance but they wake the next day with very little remembrance of it but a shared confused. That’s not all they share now. What really happened is that Ryan, Cassie, Sam, Sebastian, and Maya are infused with special power.

I don’t want to spill any spoilers but i do want to emphasize that the author very skillfully transitions the plot from the “every day” high school drama played between these five to an “out-of-this-world” story-line that will keep the reader turning pages.

There are two teachers at the school who noticed the change in these five students. One of them, Mr. Harris, helps the five get control of their very special new powers. I won’t comment on the other teacher, because again, I’m not giving anything away.

The story centers on the five students, their relationship between each other and their growing understanding of a much bigger world than their small town school. And by bigger, I mean outside of the norm where time-travel is believable. There is nothing unusual about their school and their society, with drugs and booze available they must scale their desire to be like everyone else because their destiny is larger than what they know is apparent. Despite their differences and their “normal” dramas about class schedules and girlfriends and boyfriends, they must learn to get along and to help each other out, especially when one of them goes missing.

One central drama centers around the wealth or lack of wealth between the five and how this creates tension, there is also racial tension, the tension created when one of the five lies about another, and the tension between the children and their parents. All very believable and because I used to teach high school, very realistic.

This may be a YA novel but it could be a middle-grade. I recommend for ages 9 to 16.

Time to announce the Novel


The Dry POSTER (2)






The time has come, the time is now… to announce the novel. TA DA!




I began this novel in 2004. Originally, the opening scenes included a fight between two men witnessed by a child and a mine collapse. These two events are not in the present novel. Sometimes an author must delete the best scenes in order for the story to move forward in a timely manner.


Don’t worry, the novel is full of things that will keep the reader turning pages.


The story is much like a Wizard of Oz story with a little boy as protagonist. He is sent on a quest (as Dorothy had to retrieve the witch’s broom), one that he does not want to go on. He does. All the plot elements are there. There are no flying monkeys. I don’t want you to be disappointed so there are giant insects. “For good or evil who is to say?”


Here is what the back cover says to explain in less than 200 words what the book is about:


West Virginia, 1895.


A deadly dry spell has left the earth parched and souls desperate. Crops are failing. Cities are starving. A missing newspaper man doesn’t account for much in times so terrible, except to the twelve-year-old son he left behind. When Elliot Sweeney discovers the search for his father has been called off, he boards a train alone to find him.


His quest leads Elliot into the depths of an abandoned mine, with a peculiar pocket watch, a blind burro, and a gutsy girl at his side. He discovers a world he never dreamed of, even in his worst nightmares, and lands smack in the middle of a war between two kingdoms. Monstrous insects, smiling villains, and dark riddles are everywhere. Deciding who to trust may prove to be his greatest challenge, while the fate of the world above hangs on Elliot’s choice.


Here is the link to Amazon where you can buy a book for yourself or a loved one for the New Year. May it be a happy one full of good reading!



An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wond...
An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also known as The Wizard of Oz, a 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)