Review of The Beat on Ruby’s Street by Jenna Zark

rubySynopsis: The last thing eleven-year-old Ruby Tabeata expected to happen on her way to a Jack Kerouac reading was to be hauled to the police station.

It’s 1958 and Ruby is the opposite of a 1950s stereotype: fierce, funny and strong willed, she is only just starting to chart her course in a family of Beat Generation artists in Greenwich Village. Ruby dreams of meeting famous poets while becoming one herself; instead, she’s accused of trying to steal fruit from a local vendor and is forced to live in a children’s home.

As Ruby struggles to return to family and friends, she learns her only choice is to follow her heart.

Join Ruby’s journey as she finds unexpected friendships, the courage to rebel against unjust authority and the healing power of art in this inspiring middle-grade novel by Jenna Zark.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Beat on Ruby’s Street is a novel intended for middle-grade students, as the protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Ruby, and the story is told from first-person point-of-view. Ruby’s voice is realistic for a girl her age, and I think this book reads appropriately for kids around the same age.

The details of New York in the late 1950s and the Beat Generation of the time are also fleshed out well in the backdrop. There’s a certain freedom to being a kid 60 years ago that I feel no longer applies nowadays. A girl like Ruby can wander the streets with her friends for hours at a time and be safe. I am reminded of stories my mom told me about how far she’d ride her bike or how she’d ride on public transportation when she was about Ruby’s age and be gone all day, yet her parents didn’t have to worry.

Ruby is also an aspiring poet. She wants badly to meet famous poets like Jack Kerouac and is on her way to one of his readings when…

The freedom Ruby experiences is threatened when she is accused of stealing fruit, however. A social worker steps in and begins to question Ruby’s home life. The reader discovers that Ruby’s parents aren’t married. Their apartment isn’t kept up. Her dad, Gary Daddy-o, is a musician who is on the road for weeks at a times. Her mom, Nell-Mom, is an artist is is oblivious to the comings and goings of Ruby and her brother, Ray. Ruby and some of her friends attend “school” at a store called Blue Sky, where they learn some stuff from the owners, Sky and Blu, but they aren’t being properly educated.

Everything Ruby thought was true and normal about her life is suddenly threatened. She spends some time in a children’s home. Her childhood innocence is ripped away from her. To see the shortcomings of adults through a child’s eyes is a unique perspective. I remember when I was a kid thinking my parents knew everything and that I would understand everything about life once I was grown up. To have that worldview shattered, to realize your parents are far from perfect and that your home isn’t the nice place you thought is scary and also realistic, a part of growing up.

This is a quick read. Being much older than the intended audience, I found the novel had its charms and was good for middle-grade readers, and yes, it reminded me of what it was like for me when I was 11 or 12, but I didn’t get much else out of this novel. It’s a good story, but not great. It doesn’t necessarily stand out from much else I’ve read, but it was enjoyable enough.

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Review of Second Week in November by Kathleen Joyce

secondweek

Summary: Tucked in a cozy corner of the Pacific Northwest, the charming town of Amelia Bay becomes the focus of the media who have descended on the community seeking a sensational tabloid story. A beautiful young waitress, from Harrigan’s Irish Pub, disappears. Did she simply walk away, was she kidnapped, or worse? Clare Harrigan’s brother, Finn, a successful movie producer, finds himself up to his neck in hot water. The new Chief of Police believes he has his man. Can Clare clear Finn? She and her friends have to solve another murder amid the hubbub of getting ready for Thanksgiving and her son’s wedding. Someone is determined to stop Clare from finding the truth.

Join the Harrigan Clan and their friends, as they serve up more delicious meals of comfort food served around cozy fireplaces, in the second book of the Amelia Bay Mystery series.

Note: I am part of a writers group that has read and critiqued this novel during its creation. I am also a good friend of the author and served as an editor for her. My opinion is honest and unbiased.

Kathleen Joyce is back with her engaging cozy mystery series involving Clare and her group of gals in lovely Amelia Bay. Just coming off the horrific events of the first novel, Clare is looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas and her son’s wedding, but murder is happening again in this sweet fictional Pacific Northwest small town. When a young waitress named Bets who works at the local pub disappears and a mysterious group of people belonging to the cult Evening Star walk into the bar one evening inquiring after her whereabouts, things turn bad for Clare’s ladies’ man, Hollywood producer brother, Finn, who was dating Bets. Just as one murder seems bad enough, another woman’s body turns up…on Clare’s property. Clare and her friends are determined to clear Finn’s good name and get to the bottom of these murders, but someone has it out for Clare and her family. The stakes grow higher as the story progresses, and amidst delectable desserts, warm fires, glasses of wine, and tasty meals and the elaborately-brought-to-life background of Amelia Bay, you can’t help but be written right into the action yourself. Joyce tells a carefully crafted tale that delivers a satisfying ending.

Her writing style reads smoothly. Even lengthy descriptive passages that are part of the cozy-telling formula are well-rendered and don’t get in the way of the plot. The dialogue between various characters is engaging and often delightfully humorous, as sweet as the desserts in the book and just a little sassy. Such dialogue plays an integral part in bringing Clare and her friends to life.

You will want to be sure to read the author’s final and third book in the Amelia Bay series when it’s released later this year.

My review of the first book in this series is here.

5 out of 5 stars

Purchase Second Week in November (An Amelia Bay Mystery Book 2) on Amazon

 

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

Sarah studies Zelda’s face, the slight frown lines around her mouth and the line between her eyes that’s deeper than it should be for someone her age.  Teardrops cling to her eyelashes like dew on grass on a summer morning.  Zelda’s olive skin clashes with her reddened cheeks on a thin face cloaked by untamed curly black hair.  “You’re beautiful,” she says.  “And nothing’s the matter with you.  You’re fucking beautiful, you understand me?”

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

The concrete sidewalk is still wet.  He moves his gaze to the flat, brownish grass, then to the flowerbeds.  The mulch needs to be replenished.  The plants are mostly dormant, but then he sees it: a crocus, the tiniest flower, is smiling back.  “Here, look.”  He gently touches Shelley’s arm, then points.

“What?”  She follows his gesture.  “Oh.”  Her voice lights up like someone has turned on a light after a long time, like a child has just gotten a puppy on Christmas morning.

“Yes, oh.”  Mike chuckles.  “Beautiful, ain’t it?”  He moves his eyes away from the flower to Shelley’s face.  “Strong, resilient, keeps on keeping on.”

Shelley blinks, stares at him for several seconds.  She reaches for his age-spotted hand and takes it, squeezes it.  “Thank you.”

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post an excerpt every Saturday.

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Pay It Forward…A Reminder

‘Tis the season…

To be jolly?

To go into debt?

To give.

Because God first gave to us His son, Jesus.

In the midst of the craziness of shopping, stressing, overspending, and stressing some more, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters.  Whether you’re Christian or not, whatever reason you celebrate Christmas–whether religious, secular, or both–I believe that this season can bring out the very best in people.

Goodwill toward men, indeed.

I went into this holiday season trying to not overspend on gifts.  Having three young kids, it’s easy to fall into the trap of buying them things they just don’t need, especially when they’re inundated with commercials for the latest hot toys.  What five-year-old doesn’t tell their mom at least once an hour, “I want that, Mom?”

It’s a trap.

Seriously.

No joke.

I kid you not.

Kid.  Ha, I was talking about kids and wanting stuff.  Anyway, pardon my bad sense of humor.  I digress…

I fell into the same money pit this year by spending too much on my family, and I was torn between wanting to give, give, give and wanting to take some of the things back.  In the end, a mom’s desire to see her kids’ excitement on Christmas morning when it came time to open the gifts won out.

However, I am vowing to go about this insanity differently next year.  I want to donate or give to charity the same amount that I spend in gifts on my family.  That’s not an original idea, but I heard it somewhere, and it stuck with me.  I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not all talk. (Update: This was written in 2016. Now it’s 2017, and I am happy to say I lived up to this challenge of giving equally to charity what I spent on gifts.)

See, when I put my mind and heart to something, I can accomplish it.  Case in point: Almost two years ago, I sat down and said I was serious about writing an original story.  I would write at least fifteen minutes a day.  If I missed a day, okay, but I wouldn’t let more than two days pass without writing.  Ten months later, I had my first draft completed.  That was almost a year ago.  Now, I have the first draft of a second novel completed that’s currently being read and edited by a writers group at the library.  I have self-published my first novel after going through the arduous process of querying a hundred literary agents and getting many rejections, but I kept at it.  I am well into writing my third novel.  I have the first chapter written of my fourth and have an idea for a fifth. (2017 update: I have finished drafts of novels three and four.  I am well into my fifth.  I self-published novel number two.  I have ideas for six and seven.)

pablo (13)So, if I can write and be dedicated to it, I can be more generous next Christmas.  I can give more to those who really are in need and give less to my own family, who already has plenty of things.  We don’t need more stuff.

You might think, “Okay, that’s all well and good to make plans about what you’re going to do next year, but what are you doing about it right now?”

I do regularly give to charity.  I sponsor two children through Children International, but for me, that wasn’t enough this Christmas.  I became aware of a family in need.  The father had just lost his job, and having a kid to support, you can understand why I wanted to help out.  Also, this family is close to heart, so if there was something I could do to help them, it would be all the more important to me.

I didn’t have the means to personally give them much as far as money goes, so I organized a Go Fund Me campaign and rallied my friends and family for several days to give to this family.  It was a beautiful thing to see the response.  Many gave, and it’s not a matter of how much you give, but giving what you can.  In the end, I was so happy to be able to give them a sizable amount of money to help them pay their bills and put food on the table, and while I was a part of that, I cannot and do not take full credit.  So many people stepped up, and I love that.

Another friend told me about the local Elk’s Club wanting to give a large box of food and gifts to local families in need, and she thought of the family I was supporting.  Needless to say, I got in touch with the Elk’s Club, and they were so generous and kind to deliver such a box to this family. (2017 update: This family is doing well this Christmas, although her sister lost a child and doesn’t have the money to pay for much of a Christmas for her other kids because of funeral costs. Not only did the family I helped last year help this devastated family, but I was also moved to send them some gifts. There is always someone in need who you can bless.)

In the midst of all this, I have my own troubles, but to help others lifts the burden of my problems.  I firmly believe that reaching out and helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.  Everyone benefits.  There is nothing lost, for, you see, love has no end.  It’s funny how the more love you give, the more love grows.  The more love you receive.

So, I did my little part in paying it forward.  I had no expectation of getting anything in return from those I helped, so you can imagine how moved I was to be on the receiving end of the generosity of others who felt they wished to help my family.  I never asked for it, nor expected it.

A Christmas card arrived from my church a couple of weeks ago with a hundred dollars in gift cards to a grocery store!  The card was simply signed “From your friends at church.”  I have recently expressed my heartache to some friends at church about the struggles my autistic son and my family are going through, so I can only guess that someone did this kind deed because of that.  I cannot be sure.

As if that weren’t enough, on Christmas Eve, my husband and I dressed to play Mary and Joseph and were waiting in a classroom for our entrance into the sanctuary when a friend approached me and handed me an envelope.  “It’s not really a Christmas gift,” she said, “but a couple of us from our ChristCare group (a Bible study group of sorts) wanted to help you out.”  I smiled, thanked her, and tucked the envelope in my purse.  Hours later, after the service was over, the kids were in bed, and the presents were under the tree, I opened the envelope to find three hundred dollars inside and a note that said, “For your son’s therapies.”  Tears streamed down my face for the second time this Christmas season because of the kindness of others.

So, as another year winds down, I am thankful.  It started around Thanksgiving with the extra intention of choosing kindness.  As Christmas came upon us, I made the extra effort to pay it forward in terms of generosity, just one form of kindness.  And it certainly came back around to touch me.

If you don’t believe that what goes around comes around, maybe you’ll think my story is just that–a nice little story.  To me and many others, it’s more.  Much more.  May we all go into the New Year with a sense of wanting to reach outside ourselves, and you’ll see.  It will come back to you.

Merry Christmas!

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Out-Poured

 

When darkness claims the day,
And sadness won’t go away,
When God seems so far,
And clouds cover every star,
When doubt and fear close in,
And you feel you just can’t win,
When friends are lost,
And you don’t know the cost,

That’s when faith can grow,
And God’s light will show.
It’s sometimes the harder path,
Where we feel the world’s wrath,
So much suffering and pain,
Wondering what there is to gain,
That teaches us what matters,
Even when our spirit is in tatters.
There is no price for love,
Heaven-sent from above.
Keep your feet on the ground,
And strength will abound,
But hold fast to the Lord
And His mercy out-poured.

I wrote this for all those who are going through hard times, especially feeling alone and/or sad at Christmas. Remember Who loves you! I pray for you always. 

All These Things I Believe

 

God calls us Home,
Each in His own time,
And that is why life is precious.
Do not fill your days with worry and fear,
But rather, be grateful for the life given you.
Mourn lost loved ones,
But rest safely in the comfort of knowing they are with their Lord.
Do not bemoan getting older;
Each year is another gift from God.
It’s true that life is short,
So don’t waste time on anger, bitterness, and all forms of negativity.
Blessings surround you more than you know;
Embrace them.
The pain and suffering of this world cannot compare to the One who has overcome the world.
You are God’s precious child,
Deserving of love like everyone.
All these things I believe.