Friday, July 23, 2010

DIAMOND RUBY - Joseph Wallace

FIRST LINE: "Ruby Thomas had never seen anything as beautiful as Ebbets Field, with its brick exterior and half-moon windows that reminded her of slices of jelly candy."

When the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 wiped out Ruby Thomas' family, the 13-year-old was left to take care of her two nieces. To stay alive she kills squirrels and other small animals for food. She kills them by throwing rocks at them. This skill earns her a side show spot at Coney Island where life is good for awhile. Her nieces have tasks at her side show and she's able to provide for them. She also meets Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsy. But things go downhill when the owner dies and his replacement abuses Ruby and the girls while he is sneaking alcohol into the country during Prohibition. Fate frees Ruby from the evil clutches of her boss only to dump her into equally threatening situations. The corruption of 1920s New York hits Ruby square in the numbers: gangsters, rumrunners and the Ku Klux Klan.  All the while her mother's dying words echo in her soul, "don't waste your life."

Have you ever been on one of those reading roles? The ones where you read fabulous book after fabulous book and with each new one you pick up, you're filled with dread that THIS one will be the one that breaks the role? Well, I'm in the midst of one of those roles. And I picked up DIAMOND RUBY having read some staggeringly great books. This book was in for a challenge to maintain the level of superiority I'd been reading. DIAMOND RUBY didn't even bat an eyelash. This book held it's own and my role continues.

DIAMOND RUBY wasn't marketed as a crime fiction novel, but it's steeped in all the crime that surrounded the 1920s in the United States. To not qualify it as a crime novel would be overlooking a vital element of the plot.

Wallace does an astounding job of bringing his characters to life, which is quite a feat considering he's writing about a female child in a completely different era. Ruby is an outsider for the better part of her childhood and the reader is able to feel her isolation, her pangs of inferiority, her frustration. Wallace reminds us that these are universal feelings: age, gender and time period matter not. Her young nieces are wonderfully colorful. The youngest practically bounds off the page with her energy and the older one almost mirrors Ruby with her contemplative nature and care-giving ways. She's wise beyond her years. Wallace expertly connects the reader with these characters, which helps to augment the evil in his antagonists. How could anyone perpetrate crimes against these beautiful girls who have done nothing but struggle their entire lives?

Wallace's research shines through in his setting. Where he lets the reader feel emotion with Ruby, he touches on the reader's other senses with his setting: hearing the carnies of Coney Island or the smack of the baseball hitting the catcher's mitt, smelling the baseball stadium that breathes life back into Ruby or the stale alcohol that plagues her brother. This is a book that in every way, wraps itself around the reader and pulls him/her in so that there's no choice but to become a part of the story, to be sitting in the bleachers at Coney Island or in the stands at the Polo Grounds for the Dempsey-Firpo fight.

"The language of baseball. Ruby loved it." And Joseph Wallace nailed it! I connected with DIAMOND RUBY on multiple levels and didn't have a choice but to love it. This will be a book I recommend to an awful lot of people. So consider me recommending it to you, too.

DIAMOND RUBY is available in trade paperback from Touchstone Books (ISBN: 978-1-4391-6005-3).

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Julie P. July 23, 2010 at 7:19 AM  

I just adored this book too! And Joe is a fantastic guy! I can't wait for the next two books!

Beth F July 23, 2010 at 7:55 AM  

I have this up for August and I really cannot wait to read it. It has all the elements I like.

Kay July 23, 2010 at 8:46 AM  

I'm looking forward to reading this book. I've got a copy and it is definitely on the planning calendar. Glad it worked so well for you even if it was technically out of your usual reading sphere.

bermudaonion July 23, 2010 at 9:10 AM  

This book has been on my radar since I read Booking Mama's review of it. I've got to get my hands on a copy - it sounds fabulous!

Naomi Johnson July 23, 2010 at 6:39 PM  

This sounds wonderful!

Jen Forbus July 25, 2010 at 5:55 PM  

I hope everyone enjoys DIAMOND RUBY as much as Julie and I did. Joe promised me he would visit the blog to talk more about the book, so stay tuned for further developments! :-)

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