The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

Check out the tour page for more reviews, interviews, and more. 

Narrator: Moira Quirk

Publisher: Jennifer R Kincheloe LTD (2016)

Length: 12 hours 44 minutes

Series: Book 1 Anna Blanc

Author’s Page

Set in 1907 Los Angeles, Anna Blanc is at the top of the social ladder. She has pretty French clothes, a handsome fiance, in vogue friends, and fancy makeup. Yet she longs for more. She secretly reads detective novels and desperately wants to have at least one murder mystery adventure before her life is sealed with a wedding. She comes up with a scheme to become an assistant police matron at the Los Angeles police department, assuming an alias (Anna Holmes) and a rough spun ugly uniform that doesn’t quite hide her lovely form. Pretty soon, Anna learns that this is more than just a fancy whim of hers; real people need her help and are affected by what she does or doesn’t do. However, if she’s discovered by either her father or her fiance, she stands to lose quite a bit. She has to choose between being an obedient daughter and fiance or catching a killer who is murdering prostitutes.

This was such a delightful book! I really enjoyed it. I thought it would be a bit intense, it being a murder mystery and historical fiction. The book does have those qualities, but the author took things a step further and threw in plenty of well-timed humor. First, Anna’s character is a strange yet compelling mix of innocence, curiosity, determination, and sleuthing ability. She’s had a mostly sheltered life so the salty atmosphere of the mostly male police force and the even saltier streets continuously fascinate her. She’s quick to learn, except when it comes to deciphering the reasons for the scowls she gets from certain coworkers.

There’s plenty of sexual innuendos throughout the story. Anna, being nearly completely innocent, misses the full meaning of most of them. Occasionally, another character will take a bit of pity on her and explain things. I also loved the hit and miss budding romance between her and fellow police officer Joe Singer. She first meets him when he’s dressed as a woman and very obviously drunk. Meanwhile, she has to be all proper when passing time with her fiance, Edgar. She wants him to be a little naughty and steal a kiss or two, but he’s all about being proper even when no one’s looking. I especially loved the arrow collar man advertisements and the interesting bit about how hysterical women are clinically treated. Funny and also a little window into the past.

As for the murder mystery, that had me guessing right up to the end. I felt like I had good company though as Anna was guessing up to the end as well. There was also a side mystery concerning a serial rapist that Anna helps close. These mysteries provide a backdrop to show how men and women were treated quite differently in the early 1900s, no matter their social status or skills. For instance, I didn’t realize that women could be arrested for smoking in public at that time. The humor keeps this from being a brow beating on social justice for women.

I’m definitely looking forward to Book 2. By the end of this book, Anna’s life has quite changed from where she started out. She’s a determined young lady but also still a bit prim, a bit focused on expensive girly things, and a bit innocent on how the majority of people live. I’m sure finding out how she handles a bit more first-hand knowledge will make a good story.

I received a free copy of this book via The Audiobookworm.

The Narration: Moira Quirk did an excellent job with this book. She was perfect for Anna. I loved how she handled the humor and the innuendos. I would love to hear her blooper reel on this one! I also thought she did a great job with the regional accents, giving a stiff upper lip to the socialites and a more salty accent to masses.

What I Liked: The setting; educational and funny!; great narration; Anna is such a fun character; the budding romance; I didn’t guess the killer until Anna did; great ending setting Anna up for some interesting life lessons in Book 2.

What I Disliked: Nothing – I thoroughly enjoyed this novel!

About the Author Jennifer Kincheloe

Jennifer has been a block layer, a nurse’s aid, a fragrance model, and on the research faculty at UCLA, where she spent 11 years conducting studies to inform health policy. A native of Southern California, she now lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and two teenagers. She’s currently writing book three in the Anna Blanc Mystery series. Book two, THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK, is coming out in Fall of 2017 from Seventh Street Books.

Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Goodreads ~ Pinterest

About the Narrator Moira Quirk

Moira grew up in teeny-tiny Rutland, England’s smallest county, which is fitting as she never managed to make it past five feet herself.  Moira’s work spans the pantheon of the voiceover world: plays for BBC radio, plays for NPR, video games, commercials, television promos, podcasts, cartoons, movies and award winning audiobooks. She’s won Multiple Audie Awards, Earphone Awards, as well as Audible’s prestigious Book-of-the-Year Award. She has lately set foot in front of the camera again, appearing in “Pretty: the Series” and the Emmy-winning “Dirty Work.”

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website

Book Blurb for The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

It’s 1907 Los Angeles. Mischievous socialite Anna Blanc is the kind of young woman who devours purloined crime novels, but must disguise them behind covers of more domestically-appropriate reading. She could match wits with Sherlock Holmes, but in her world women are not allowed to hunt criminals. Determined to break free of the era’s rigid social roles, Anna buys off the chaperone assigned by her domineering father and, using an alias, takes a job as a police matron with the Los Angeles Police Department. There she discovers a string of brothel murders, which the cops are unwilling to investigate. Seizing her one chance to solve a crime, she takes on the investigation herself. If the police find out, she’ll get fired; if her father finds out, he’ll disown her; and if her fiancé finds out, he’ll cancel the wedding. Midway into her investigation, the police chief’s son, Joe Singer, learns her true identity, and shortly thereafter she learns about blackmail. Anna must choose – either hunt the villain and risk losing her father, fiancé, and wealth, or abandon her dream and leave the killer on the loose.

Audible ~ Amazon

Over Her Head by Nora Fleischer

FleischerOverHerHeadWhere I Got It: Review copy from the author (thanks!).

Narrator: Anna Starr

Publisher: Jennifer Lee Goloboy (2014)

Length: 2 hours 26 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in early 1900s Maine, Frances Schmidt isn’t your average historian. Nope. She’s a woman. She has worked very hard to get her peers to ignore this fact so that she can finish her degree. She’s so close and the last big hurdle is completing her dissertation, one that she has focused on the myths and legends on merpeople. So she must travel to Maine to try to persuade Garrett Hathaway of letting her study his collection of such legends and tales. Since he is a very private person, she has quite a challenge ahead of him.

The bulk of this story is told through Frances eyes and I really enjoyed her character. She’s chosen a field that is male dominated and has a passion for it. Her peers are a mix of men; some support her efforts, some don’t mind her as long as she doesn’t act like a woman, and then there are some who actively try to block or sabotage her efforts. Also, I liked that she isn’t tall and willowy, but rather short and curvy. Some even call her stocky.

Garrett starts off as a pretty ordinary, if a little reclusive. However, he has a secret, one that has both left him lonely and hating himself but also given him such glee. I also suspect it is the reason he has such an athletic body.

The relationship between these two starts off perfectly professionally. Frances stays at a boarding house while in Maine, making sure to leave Garrett’s house each day before sunset. Propriety must be maintained. She initially bribes him with cookies she baked herself. This later turns into a mutual enjoyment of baking. It was quite sweet to watch the romance blossom between these two, and come to near disastrous ruin a few times due to misunderstandings. These two had to work for their love!

Sprinkled throughout the story are tidbits on merpeople – fanciful bits tossed in by the author but then also poems and works by other authors are cited by the main characters. These were especially nice touches.

My one little quibble occurs near the end of the story, and as such, deals with a spoiler. SPOILER ALERT It wasn’t clear to me how or why Frances became a mermaid when she takes a swim with Garrett. He thinks he transmitted a disease to her, but surely he (or other merpeople) have swum with other people and they didn’t run into merpeople. I could have used a few lines stolen from mythology to make this more plausible. Or perhaps some mystical/magical reason for the transformation. END SPOILER

Other than that one minor criticism, I really enjoyed this novella. The mix of merpeople myths, historical fiction, and romance kept me listening and not wanting to set the book down.

The Narration: Anna Starr was a good pick for Frances. She had a solid, no nonsense voice for her that could also be a bit vulnerable when it came to matters of the heart. Starr had a range of voices that allowed both male and female characters to come through distinctly. 

What I Liked: Merpeople myths and legends; woman in a line of work that is male dominated; romance born out of mutual interests; very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: The cover art doesn’t encompass all the awesomeness contained in this book; the how and why of the transformation of a character needed a little solidifying.

BannerOnceUponATimeIXTis the season for fantasy reading. I am participating in this year’s Once Upon A Time IX reading event hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Anyone is welcome, so swing by SSD to join.

What Others Think:

Night Owl Romance

Long and Short Reviews

Amber Stults

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

MontgomeryAnneOfGreenGablesWhy I Read It: I never read this series as a kid and decided to give it a try.

Where I Got It: Reviewer copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Fans of Pipi Longstalking, and other tales that  mischievous and curious kids.

Narrator: Colleen Winton

Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press (2013)

Length: 10 hours 7 minutes

Author’s Page

The elderly Cuthberts have decided they need an extra pair of hands around the farm, especially for all those pesky chores in the long Canadian winters. They decided to adopt an orphan boy. That alone was cause for talk among the neighbors. Unfortunately, the mistress of the orphan house makes a mistake and sends a young lass instead, Anne Shirley. Matthew Cuthbert takes her home anyway until things can be sorted out. Along the way, Anne falls in love with the land, and the farm. Matthew starts to change his mind about keeping her but Marilla Cuthbert just won’t have it. So Anne’s first challenge in this book (but certainly not her first in life and not her last) is to convince the Cuthberts to keep her on. Full of wonder and joy at life, many learn to overlook her penchant for speaking her mind. In fact, some become outright charmed by it. Set in the early 1900s rural Canada, Anne fills her world with wonder and magic.

Somehow, I missed this series in its entirety (never read it, never watched the many version of it, no plays, etc.) growing up. But I know by now the fine work the folks at Post Hypnotic Press do. So I gave it a try. And I was charmed. In fact, if I was ever a cleaned mouthed, less jaded person, I think I may have been much like Anne. I can be distracted by beetles, I have a tendency to be blunt, and I love the realm of fantasy. Anne is a little heavier on the romance in her likes, but I am sure she and I could be friends.

While it is obvious that the book is set in the early 1900s, with the ‘proper’ roles of women (like women don’t have the legal right to vote), church is a mandatory weekly occurrence, and there was one remark about letting strangers in the house that could be construed as racist (against Italians, which seemed odd to me), these few negatives are balanced out by Anne’s huge imagination, and the trouble she gets into. This novel spans several years of Anne’s life, so there are plenty of humorous events to enjoy.  Anne hates her red hair, and attempts to dye it black. But it comes out this muddled green. So, they have to shave it off. Haha! I found this pretty humorous, and part of it was because of the location and times. In today’s day, green hair, or a bald head isn’t so unusual. But for 1909 Canada, well…I expect it was the talk of the village for at least a week.

Besides the humor, there are also scenes of more seriousness that give this tale a weight that many children’s’ books lack. Anne was an orphan and spent time in several homes before coming to the Cuthberts. Most often, she was set right to work taking care of the children and hence wasn’t allowed to be a child herself, to go to school, or attend social events. On one house, she had to contend with an alcoholic. While much of Anne’s life before the Cuthberts was merely alluded to, there was enough there to let the life experienced reader fill in the gaps.

All in all, I enjoyed this book more than I expected. I found it a good mix of magical innocence of growing up in the countryside and remembered hardship of starting off an orphan. Anne’s lasting friendships with the people of Avonlea were also quite touching.

The Narration: Colleen Winton was an excellent choice for this book. She performed with abandon, just as I imagined Anne would. Winton imbued Anne’s voice with wonder, Marilla’s with steadfastness, Anne’s friend Diana with constant curiosity in Anne’s shenanigans.

What I Liked: Country living; plenty of imagination; red hair gone awry; a slightly more serious side balances out the innocent humor; narration was top notch.

What I Disliked: While not particularly pertinent to the story, I find the cover boring.

What Others Think:

Nerdy Book Club

Teen Ink

Pretty Books

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Cats: Picky readers.
Cats: Picky readers.

Why I Read It: The description of this book drew me in as I always find oddity shows interesting.

Where I Got It: Review copy from the publisher (thanks!).

Who I Recommend This To: Interested in the less well known populace of 1911 New York City? Check this book out.

Narrators: Judith Light, Grace Gummer, Zach Appelman

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2014)

Length: 12 hours 18 minutes

Author’s Page

This tale follows two people as they try to make sense of their lives in 1911 New York City. Coralie is the daughter of Professor Sardie who is the mastermind behind the Museum of Extraordinary Things, which is located on Coney Island. While the reader meets her as a young lady, we have glimpses of her childhood; from a young age, she has been swimming, learning to hold her breath ever longer, and attuning herself to chill waters. By 1911, she is a remarkable swimmer who frequents the Hudson River. She soon joins the Wolfman, the Siamese Twins, and the Butterfly Girl in her father’s daily show; her part is the Mermaid. Eddie Cohen (born Izkiel) fled the Ukraine with his father after his village was burned to the ground. Immigrating to the US, they become slave-wage workers in a clothing factory. Eddie eventually leaves that life, his religion, and his father to seek out something more and stumbles into a stable and the life of a photographer. By the time we meet Eddie in 1911 NYC, he is a photographer in his own right, having learned the skill and craft well from his mentor.

This was my first Alice Hoffman book but it will not be my last. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a tale of the human spirit, the limits it can be pushed to, and the simple, beautiful things that bring it back to life. OK, it’s about more than that. Hoffman captures the essence of 1911 New York from the working person’s point of view, using characters that were considered the outcasts of the mainstream. Coralie, born to the life of the ‘freak show’, doesn’t really see her coworkers as people first. Maureen, her constant companion and the all-around maid of the house, has been scarred by acid many years ago. the Wolfman, Mr. Morris, is well-read and a proper gentleman at all times, except when doing his daily show for the Museum of Extraordinary Things, at which sits in a cage and growls at the paying crowds. The Museum was also filled with other odd things such as rare birds and insects, and taxidermied beasts (Professor Sardie may have modified with big wolf or shark teeth).

I was fascinated by Coralie’s life. At first, she is simple, having been told a simple, but beautiful, story of her dead mother and how her father and her came from France to New York. Coralie’s mild deformity is a gift, one that allows her to entrance the public and her father puts it to good use. However, as the story moves forward and Coralie starts to push against her father’s rules, she starts to see him as the egotistical control freak that he is. The Museum slowly changes from a place of wonder and magic to a place of oppression as Professor Sardie squeezes every coin he can from his workers, his creations, and the public.

It took me longer to warm up to Eddie. Perhaps I didn’t immediately see the charm in this young man who severed himself from his emotions at such a young age. In many ways, he is a man of two worlds. He sees, vaguely and always in the distance, what life could have been for his father and himself – both pursuing the scholarly Jewish life. On another path, he could have stayed with his father, stayed in the Jewish quarter, and stayed working at the clothing factory. But he had to walk away from that life too. He found magic and beauty in photography and was lucky enough to find a mentor willing to teach him. He is a full photographer when the historical Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurs.

I had not heard about this factory fire before reading this book, even though the aftermath of this event was instrumental in setting safety standards for workers. It was described so well, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. This event and other historical bits from the time were effortlessly woven into the storyline. Out of this also comes a murder mystery which made for an interesting side plot.

The ending was horrific, terrifying, filled with hope, and satisfying. Deeply satisfying. I was horrified by the tragedy that wraps up this tale (I’ll leave that for you to discover). I was terrified that my two lead characters may not make it out alive. I had also become attached to Maureen, Mr. Morris, the tortoise, and Mitts (Eddie’s pitbull). How would they all make it out of this book alive, healthy, sane? But there was hope as these characters rallied together, along with other side characters. And the ending gave me great satisfaction as I felt the main evil doers got some decent payback.

Narration: The narration on this book was excellent. I can’t fault any of the narrators. Having three allowed the listener to easily follow the different view points.  The three narrators each managed to give Coralie a young voice and Eddie a jaded voice. The characters’ voices were distinct.

What I Liked: Coralie was instantly likeable; Eddie’s dog Mitts won several characters’ hearts; the mystique of the Museum of Extraordinary Things; Mr. Morris and his love of books; Coralie’s mysterious past; learning about the Triangle Factory fire; the ending was quite satisfactory.

What I Disliked: This is a very small point: the murder subplot is pushed along by a convenient character popping up and providing key information that allows the murder to be solved. In this one regard, the subplot felt manufactured. But this one tiny criticism will not keep me from reading more Hoffman.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

Navigating the Stormy Shelves

Book of Secrets

A Universe in Words

Quixotic Magpie