Book Club: Southern Ruby

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Author: Belinda Alexandra
ISBN: 978-0-7322-9644-5
RRP: $32.99

Southern Ruby is compelling, sensual and captivating. I love New Orleans, I love the history and I love that it is the birthplace of Anne Rice’s Louis de Pointe du Lac and a host of other dark and gothic characters, not to mention magnificent musicians. There is a mysticism and a magic about New Orleans, a romanticism even but I think that’s more from the exposure I have had to the state than anything else. Much of my knowledge of the state comes from fiction but Belinda Alexandra has woven a lot of the history into her story, and a lot of the more recent reality.

Orphaned as a toddler and now in her mid-twenties suffering the loss of the grandmother who raised her Amanda discovers a link to family she never knew. Feeling lost and adrift in Sydney without her beloved Nan Amanda flies out to New Orleans to meet the rest of her family.

Growing up with just her Nan, who couldn’t bear even the mention of her father, Amanda has always felt a little alone; never quite belonging because there was one whole half of her heritage missing. Amanda is hoping that her trip to New Orleans will fill in some of those gaps.

Alexandra has written of New Orleans in a way that evokes the passion and sensuality of the state, the humidity, the music and the laid back pace of the aging city and its glorious historic buildings. The French Quarter, The Garden District, the newer suburbs and the poorer districts; all are intricately detailed both in the present and the past.

Amanda finds herself welcomed into a family who have always loved her, though she knew nothing about them. She is overwhelmed by a sense of family and a homecoming, as she was born in New Orleans and went back to Australia after her parents death. An entire life lived with nothing of her father and now she’s surrounded by his family, his childhood and his career.

Amanda’s grandmother is a fascinating older lady, Ruby, with a heart full of love, memories and secrets. Now that she has her grand-daughter back she feels it’s time to start letting go of some of those secrets by passing them on to Amanda so that her story doesn’t die out with her.

southern ruby

Ruby’s tale is rich with the history of New Orleans in the 1950s, a time when desegregation was beginning and emotions ran high. A time when a classy young French Creole woman’s only ambition should be marrying well; reputation was to be protected because that could be the only thing to save you if the family was to find themselves in more difficult times.

Ruby was a strong young woman who found her fortunes changed by the men who were supposed to look after the family, instead of protecting the family fortune one after the other they dwindled it away until Ruby is left pawning the furnishings to take care of her mother, who is a traditional Creole believing that a woman’s place is in the home. Forced to look for work Ruby has to hide it from her mother who would never allow it, even if it is their only way to survive.

I loved Ruby, she is strong and independent and years before her time. She is willing to risk everything for her family and go against the expectations of her society and her class.

Southern Ruby is a book that tackles the issues of racism, desegregation and prejudice; both in the 1950s and the present day.

Amanda’s trip to New Orleans happens in the lead up to Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath. I remember seeing bits of the news coverage but never really totally understood the scale. Alexandra takes us inside the devastation that is Hurricane Katrina with a birds eye view and it is absolutely eye-opening for someone who has never had to be concerned about hurricanes before.

Alexandra illustrates the changes that still need to happen in society that are starkly demonstrated in the wake of a disaster of this magnitude.

Southern Ruby is a fascinating read from an historical, cultural and musical point of view. It has romance, it has suspense and it highlights important moments in the history of New Orleans. I am so glad to have read it, and to have been introduced to the writing of Belinda Alexandra.

Southern Ruby is book #42 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.

Thanks to HarperCollins Publishers 10 of our Beauty and Lace Club members will be reading Southern Ruby so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.

Southern Ruby is available now through HarperCollins Publishers, Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

Belinda Alexandra can be found on Facebook and her Website.

10 thoughts on “Book Club: Southern Ruby

  1. Thankyou Beauty and Lace for giving me the opportunity to review ‘Southern Ruby’ by Belinda Alexandra.
    This book was àmazing I was enraptured from beginning to end. It was difficult to put down as I wanted to know outcomes. The story begins with Amanda (Amandine) an architectural graduate leaving Sydney after the very sad and sudden death of her maternal grandmother who has brought her up after both her parents were killed in an accident. She is going to New Orleans to meet her paternal grandmother and aunt whom she has never met. She finds her grandmother Ruby a wonderfully warm person with secrets which she eventaully discloses to Amanda. Her ancestry is Creol (French) and we find that Amanda’s father was a famous jazz musician which finds her discovering her own talent. Later there is involvement wth Huŕricane Katrina.
    ‘Southern Ruby’ was a lovely book and beautifully written. I felt I knew all the characters personally they were so credible, the architectural details made the houses easy to picture. The food I could almost taste, and the flowers I could see and smell. Everything was so descrptive and real. I loved the book, and will definitely be reading Belinda Alexandra again!

  2. Michelle’s review of this book is spot on, so I can’t really add anything more to that summary.

    I LOVED this book, I could hear the jazz music wafting through my head and stirring my soul.
    The book was very easy to read, but oh so hard to put down – 3 hours went like 10 minutes when reading this. The story line was interesting, well written, and easy to follow as it went back and forth between Ruby’s life in 1950. and Amanda’s life in the 2000’s.
    The description of the houses and vintage clothes was vivid and brought clear pictures to my mind.
    The retelling of the Hurricane Katrina events made me cry. It portrayed details of unjustness during the disaster that I never knew about, which filled me with sorrow, and then anger.. I hope that such things would be handled much better next time USA experiences such devastation, and that rescue efforts are rapid and well organised, to save and comfort as many as possible quickly.

    I found the ending of the book satisfying, and I will actively seek out other books by Belinda Alexandra.
    This is the best book I have read this year.
    Thank you once again Beauty and Lace, and Harper Collins Books, for the opportunity to read this wonderful story.

  3. Was such a delightful read. The book brought to life the colours, grace, magic and excitement of New Orleans! The juxtaposition of the new and old lives of both the city as well as Amandine and Ruby her grandmother. Was fascinating to read about the rich, exotic life of Ruby and all the things she endured through her life, especially living through the African American civil rights movement. A beautiful story of strong women and the role they play in family and societal life through the generations.

    It also made very real the painful events of Katrina and the devastating toll it took on the most vulnerable in society. Stepping down history lane into the past of New Orleans , the detailed descriptions of it beautiful historical homes and gardens,made the loss of all its beauty more poignant.

    And yet the ending is one of survival, of beating the odds and triumphing when life is hard. Both the main characters Ruby and Amandine and the city they both love – New Orleans are fighters and survivors. Beautiful story, was a really good read.

  4. Thank you so much for the opportunity to read Southern Ruby by Belinda Alexandra.
    I loved the book and didn’t want it to end – and would really enjoy a sequel.
    The story follows Amanda living in Sydney, when she suddenly finds herself on her own. She finds out about family in New Orleans and travels there to find out more. New Orleans comes alive with Belinda’s writing and everyone seems so real. Amanda’s Grandma Ruby is a fascinating lady with secrets of her own. These are discovered through her story from the 1950’s with many twists and turns.
    There are many themes explored, including racism, family secrets and Hurricane Katrina – and mostly love. I was totally on the journey and could agree with most decisions. I would thoroughly recommend this book.

  5. Thank you very much for the chance to read this amazing book . I was unsure if I would enjoy this as it’s totally different to my normal genre . So I am pleased to say I really did like reading this , I found it hard to stop reading once I started .. I love New Orleans ( not that I’ve been there) I enjoyed reading about the past of New Orleans and about hurricane Katrina . Full of family secrets and survival . I shall now pass this book onto my mum as she loves a good book .

  6. This is the perfect book if you’re looking to hide away in your house for a couple of days, get food delivered and leave your phone on silent. Thoroughly engaging characters, easy to read, interesting and compelling enough to make you not care that you haven’t bothered to even get dressed. The perfect ‘pyjama day/two days’ book.

    *note – if you can’t get food delivered, you should pregame your book by stocking up supplies before you start reading. Once you get reading, you’re not going to want to get dressed and leave the house just to buy supplies.

  7. Great read! I finished this book last night and was left with so much going on in my head that it took awhile to fall asleep.
    The book tells of a time when desegregation was starting and the caos that came with it, as a little girl Dad would tell stories from that time (he is American and in his 70s now) the stories were intense and I partly thought be embellished…I now believe that’s not the case. I love Ruby she was amazingly strong and everything she does is so honourable even though she doubts that. Ruby’s story telling chapters I loved.
    I didn’t warm to Amanda at first but after her New Orleans self comes out I took to her too.
    The twists and turns I could pick early on but I still loved how they come about and there were parts that weren’t exactly how I pictured. I have so much to discuss with Dad when I speak to him next and I’ve taken away so much from this book. New Orleans is just fascinating.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book.
    Thank you so much for another great review.

  8. Thank you for the opportunity to read this modern sweeping tale, Southern Ruby.
    I enjoyed the juxtaposition between modern and fast paced Sydney and relaxed, culture laden New Orleans. Initially I found the main female character Amanda a bit stand offish but this is part of her appeal and through out her discovery and connection with her past, she becomes more open and warm. I was able to feel myself in the warm and balmy New Orleans districts and enjoyed getting to know the eccentric but strong characters. Although we are worlds apart in our experiences, I could see some of myself in Amanda and could not put this tome down until the final compelling chapter! A very readable and well written story, I have already recommended it to others and will pass it on to friends who need a good escape.

  9. Loved loved loved this book! I didn’t want it to end it was just so well written.
    Southern Ruby is about 2 main characters Ruby and Amanda. Amanda is a young woman from Sydney who discovers the existence of her father’s side of the family only after the death of the grandmother who raised her due to her parents being killed when she was a little girl. They are from New Orleans and on an impulse she decides to go and meet them. All of the current parts of the story are written from Amanda’s perspective.
    Ruby is Amanda’s other grandmother from New Orleans and from her you get the historical side of the story. What it was like growing up when desegregation was starting I found absolutely fascinating.
    The story unfolds as Ruby discloses her past and secrets to Amanda. It is beautiful to read how Amanda learns about the past and comes to terms with some big revelations. The descriptions of New Orleans were spot on. Having visited there and falling in love with the place it was wonderful to be transported back and I also found it enthralling to read about the past and how times have changed (sadly perhaps some still not so much).
    The book ends after Hurricane Katrina hits and I really felt devastated when reading this part. I remember seeing it on the news a bit when it hit but never taking much notice so I found this made me quite sad to get this point of view about it. I wish I had known more so I could have visited some of the areas worst hit when I was over there now.
    This book had so many different themes to it, it was really hard to put down. Belinda Alexandra is an incredible author whose other books I cannot wait to discover now. Well and truly hooked and love the fact she is an Aussie too! Thank you Beauty and Lace and HarperCollins Publishers for allowing me the chance to review. I will be highly recommending this book and Belinda Alexandra to family and friends.

  10. I’m a little late with my review because I was sick for the first week after I got the book and couldn’t start reading straight away.

    So very glad that I got the chance to read this book! It’s probably not something that I ever would have chosen for myself, but now that I’ve finished it I will definitely want to get my hands on the other books by this author.

    The story was extremely engaging, the characters were warm and lively, and the settings were divine. I wanted to rush to New Orleans straight away, it was described so beautifully. I also really enjoyed the elements of fact woven with fiction. It was quite horrifying to read about the actual devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the delay with helping the poor people. I had never realised just how bad things were.

    I highly recommend this book and, like nikki cashion I am also going to pass it on to my mum now 🙂

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