Jennifer Conner has had her nose in a book for as long as she can remember. In an attempt to redefine her identity after motherhood, she began blogging at The Literate Housewife Review in January 2007. It was a difficult bedtime routine with her daughters that first prompted her to pursue audiobooks. After listening to Simon Vance narrate The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she discovered that she is a true audiobook geek at heart.  Imported from Michigan, she currently lives in Southwest Virginia with her family.

In addition to her blog, you can find Jennifer on Twitter as @lithousewife.   

Diamond Ruby: A Novel

Written by Joseph Wallace,  Narrated by Lorna Raver

-An Audio Book Review-

Review by Jennifer Conner

It’s said to be a curse to wish that a person live through exciting times. If that’s the case, Ruby Thomas was cursed many times over. By the young age of 14, she had lost a brother and her parents to the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. She remained afterwards with her eldest brother Nick, who was never the same after he recovered from that flu, her beloved sister-in-law Evie, and their two daughters. Not long thereafter, her sister-in-law is killed in the tragic Malbone Street train accident. Nick, who was not whole before his wife died, was more than simply useless after her death. He was an impediment to their very survival. Ruby has only her inner strength and a talent for pitching baseballs due to her unusually long arms to keep the remains of her family off of the street and out of the morgue. Her journey from eating rodents to pitching against the great Babe Ruth is filled with drama that only New York can provide during prohibition: gangsters, horrible working conditions, baseball and even the Ku Klux Klan.

There is nothing that says summer more than baseball, which made listening to Diamond Ruby the perfect choice as the weather became warmer. For the record, I’m not a Yankees fan. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that I despise the Yankees. No matter, Joseph Wallace told this story so well that for a time I felt like a New Yorker who had normal New Yorker inclinations. I felt the joy of a newly opened ball park, the fear and anxiety over the Spanish Influenza outbreak, and the despair of those hard financial times. I was out in the snow with Ruby holding vigil as she killed squirrels and other small rodents to feed her family. I was there on Coney Island watching Diamond Ruby pitch, waiting with baited breath as the speed was tallied. I wanted Ruby to succeed at all things, even if that meant success for the Yankees.

Joseph Wallace writes a very strong, determined and believable woman in Ruby Thomas.  The things she endured as an adolescent shouldn’t have to be endured by an adult. However, those extraordinary circumstances in her youth were the building blocks of her triumph as an adult. If she did not have to struggle to survive and feed her young nieces during long, hard winters, if she didn’t have to find a way to deal with and work around her mentally ill brother,  and if she hadn’t made huge sacrifices to keep her family in their meager apartment, Ruby would have probably lived a good, simple life. Sure, her ability to pitch a baseball might have been something to amuse friends and family during a picnic or a pickup game, but she never would have achieved the greatness for which she was destined. Ruby’s mother, a suffragist, did not see Ruby’s interest in pitching as a worthwhile pursuit. She told her to strive for an extraordinary life, never seeing that pitching would bring her just that. She might not have believed so at the time, but Ruby did follow her advice and make something spectacular and important out of her life.

Lorna Raver is in no small part responsible for the realistic sights, sounds and even smells of New York. Her voice, tone and pacing exude New York City. I cannot imagine Ruby with another voice. After listening to this book, I knew that I had experienced a little audio book magic – a book read by the perfect narrator. This was my first experience with Raver. I’m looking forward to my next listen. Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge is sitting in my library waiting for me. I’m curious to see how her voice and talent will interact with the other narrators.

If I had to find a fault in Diamond Ruby, it would be that there are parts of the Coney Island storyline that felt long because there was so much going on in Ruby’s story. By the time I reached the end of the book, I could see most of those scenes were important to setting up the conclusion. Still, there were some elements that could have been combined or removed without taking anything away from the story. For example, Ruby was associated with the mob due to Nick and her place of employment. But she also had people against her because she was a woman in a man’s world. Either of those things and most certainly both of them together were big enough at that time to be a huge threat to her future and those she loved. The Ku Klux Klan wasn’t necessary to the plot, as it was one of so many troubles in Ruby’s life, that it could have been cut without losing anything. In the end, I enjoyed the ride. It certainly didn’t prevent me from appreciating the story or rooting for Ruby.

Diamond Ruby is a perfect summer read. While it was that much more enjoyable to me because I love baseball, one needn’t be a baseball fan to enjoy it. Much of Ruby’s time pitching took place in a Coney Island sideshow, an environment that just can’t help but be entertaining. I would also recommend this book highly to young readers. It was an interesting way to get a feel for life in the early 20th century and Ruby is one hell of a strong woman. Reading this book will make you long for the ballpark. I wish I could buy you all tickets to a game – so long as it’s not a Yankees game, of course.

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