All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Southern Ruby by Belinda Alexandra

southern-rubySouthern Ruby
Belinda Alexandra
Harper Collins AUS
2016, 519p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In New Orleans – the city of genteel old houses and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss, of seductive night life, of Creole culture, voodoo and jazz – two women separated by time and tragedy will find each other at last.

Amanda, orphaned as a child and suffering the loss of her beloved grandmother, has left Sydney in search of a family she never knew.

Ruby, constrained by the expectations of society and class, is carrying a lifetime of secrets. Amanda’s arrival sparks revelations long buried: a double life, a forbidden love, and a loss that cannot be forgotten.

Southern Ruby is a sweeping story of love, passion, family and honour. Alternating in time between the 1950s and the eve of Hurricane Katrina, it is also a tribute to a city heady with mystery, music, and superstition, which has borne the tumults of race and class and the fury of nature, but has never given up hope.

Southern Ruby is one of my favourite types of story – a blend of contemporary and historical where both threads of the plot are equally as interesting. In the modern day setting we have Amanda, an orphan who was raised by her grandmother in Sydney after the death of her parents in her father’s homeland America. When her grandmother passes away, Amanda finds some letters in her belongings that state that her father’s family desperately fought to be in her life, something her grandmother never indicated and deliberately hid from her. Grieving and yet also experiencing anger and frustration about the things that were kept from her, Amanda flies to New Orleans to meet her other grandmother, her father’s mother Ruby as well as her father’s sister.

Ruby is very much a Southern belle, well bred but experienced poverty as a child. As Amanda gets to know her second grandmother and falls in love with her beautiful house, she learns that it houses some of Ruby’s deepest secrets. The reader is taken back to Ruby’s life as a young girl, struggling to care for her ill mother when there was no money. Ruby had been raised to be pretty, always looked turned out well and hopefully catch herself a wealthy husband in order to improve the family fortunes. Women of her class certainly didn’t work but Ruby finds herself with no offers from men and in a dire situation.

I haven’t read much set in New Orleans but it always seems like such an interesting place with its unusual landscape and its deeply troubled history. Southern Ruby spans from the time of segregation right up until Hurricane Katrina devastated the state in 2005 and it’s a really interesting journey through time. Ruby hits adulthood around the time where there is increased campaigning to end segregation and promote integration but it’s not something that is welcomed by everyone and there are some really ugly moments.

Ruby is such a progressive character…..some of this seems to be through necessity and some of it seems to just be part of her character. She holds a very forward-thinking view on integration and is willing to actually stand up for what she believes in and be involved. Her circumstances mean that she has to make some very tough decisions and although I enjoyed her process, I would’ve liked a bit more adjustment to her completely changing lifestyle. She just seems to sail through all these different challenges effortlessly. I understand she’s both determined and motivated but it’s quite a change from the lifestyle she would’ve been raised to partake in.

Amanda really has quite an emotional journey to go on. She has to deal with her feelings over her nan’s deception during her life as well as meet and get to know the American branch of her family. She will finally learn about her father as a person, rather than someone who her nan just believes is the reason for her mother’s death. She feels at home in New Orleans, connected to that side of her heritage almost immediately. I really loved the scenes where Amanda gets to go exploring or where parts of the history are discussed or shown. Ruby lives through some very turbulent and fascinating times for Louisiana/New Orleans and it was really interesting to be immersed in those periods.

This is a decent chunkster of a book – over 500p and I’ve got to be honest, I don’t read a huge amount that are this size anymore! It’s probably a little too long – there are a few parts that do seem like they could maybe have been snipped down a bit but I have to say that I was enjoying the story far too much to really care. It seemed to take no time at all to rip through it – both Amanda’s story and Ruby’s story were equally interesting and I never wished the narrative would switch back to the other. I really felt like I was visiting New Orleans in all its glory (and it’s not so glorious too). There were a few surprises I didn’t expect or guess which I felt were revealed really nicely.

This is the first Belinda Alexandra book that I have ever read, but I do have another one on my TBR shelf that I picked up ages ago. Definitely going to have to bump it up my list because this was one of my most enjoyed books of the year. I just really loved the story and the way in which history and culture were weaved into such an enjoyable narrative.


Book #212 of 2016

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