The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

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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.

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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.”

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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

One for the Baron by Catherine Cruzan

CruzanOneForTheBaronWhere I Got It: Won a copy

Narrator: Andrea Emmes

Publisher: Catherine Cruzan (2015)

Length: 1 hour

Author’s Page

Lydia has an interior design degree and works in Los Angeles. She’s soon heading out on a job with her coworkers to New Orleans. Strange dreams start to plague her before she leaves and the strangeness continues once she gets to New Orleans and the French Quarter.

For such a short story, there’s a pretty large cast. There’s a lot going on here and I’m not sure I followed it all. There’s some interesting dynamics going on with Lydia, so I liked her as the central character.  Her mother, Margaret, is a judgy sort and enjoys climbing the social ladder. She remarried at some point and now Lydia has a much younger half sister named Margery. I missed exactly what her job is in New Orleans but I did catch the fact that she calls her beat up car Smitty.

Anyway, she and her coworkers David and Bethany fly to New Orleans and Lydia finds herself in the French Quarter. There she meets a shopkeeper, Maman Margo. Things get voodooish at this point as the bones are consulted. More questions arise about The Baron, the strange man Lydia keeps seeing in her dreams. Everything is pretty good up to this point.

Then the ending was open ended and I am not sure I got it. Lydia has to make a choice but she’s not happy about it. The scene then shifts back to Los Angeles and a minor character who we met early in the story is back in play. Then it just ends. The mysterious Baron isn’t really explained and the scene doesn’t shift back to New Orleans to wrap things up with Lydia and Maman Margo. I definitely felt there was more to this story that needed telling.

 

I won a copy of this book via the narrator from Audio Book Reviewer.

The Narration: Andrea Emmes was a great pick for this story. She had a steady voice for Lydia and a snooty voice for Margaret. Her little Margery voice was also good. Then she pulled off a French Quarter accent for Maman Margo.  

What I Liked: Starts off strong; Lydia is an interesting character with some history; the mystery of the Baron; voodoo French Quarter.

What I Disliked: The story peters out without wrapping things up; still not sure what the deal is with the Baron; story left open ended.

The Know Circuit by Gary A. Ballard

BallardTheKnowCircuitWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Gary Ballard (2015)

Length: 5 hours 20 minutes

Series: Book 2 The Bridge Chronicles

Author’s Page

Set in 2028, Los Angeles, Artemis Bridge is a wheeler and dealer. He makes his money on trading information and connections. Indeed, he believes in living life with as little work-related exertion as possible. Then an explosion over Boulder, Colorado is reported and Artemis finds himself caught up in a road trip.

Aristotle, who provides protection and some common sense to Artemis, has a grandmother in Boulder. So he is going with or without Artemis. But Artemis also needs some answers. When the event happened, some people (Artemis among them) collapsed into some kind of brief seizure. Only people with certain cyber implants were affected this way. Artemis calls in the assistance of another shady guy and together, the three of them take a trip to Boulder.

They set up with some back to nature survivalists just outside of Boulder. Artemis is awed by what they see – a giant, black, shiny dome has appeared over part of the city, centered over the university. Unfortunately for Aristotle, he fears his granma is trapped within that dome. Artemis’s implant seems to be tugging him towards the dome. Eventually, they head towards it only to meet with resistance from the corporatized Colorado police and then a fire-breathing dragon named Carl.

The cutting edge tech is all throughout this book and what Artemis finds within the dome is both spooky and fascinating. I never feel like the book has slipped back to 2015 because we have all this well integrated tech. In Book 1 (Under the Amoral Bridge), we had more cyberpunkian stuff with the full-body kresh immersion. That’s still mentioned here when Artemis calls on his girlfriend Angela to assist in creating fake credentials, etc. Still, we have the implants and then all the cool stuff going on within the dome.

There’s only a handful of female characters, though they are more than eye candy. Angela is this guru within the kresh and helps Artemis more than once. Anna Angst needs a favor from Artemis to get her news story. There’s a lady (Lydia) within the dome that also is a computer geek. Then there is Aristotle’s granma. Still, none of them are particularly plot integral.

I didn’t find this book as dark as Book 1. Instead, it had more of an adventure quality to it, exploring the cutting edge. I enjoyed both books even though they differed in this manner. I will say that this book spends a fair amount of time telling us how amoral Artemis is, but never actually showing that. His actions are to the contrary. Plus, we never hear of or see him doing truly immoral things like pimping children or enslaving the elderly. So his reputation on this front is mostly hype and after a while I did tire of being told how amoral he was, because that just wasn’t so. He’s self-centered and definitely looking out for himself, but he’s also doing more than just accidental or self-serving good along the way.

Through out the book, there is an ongoing strain of discussion about various ways to govern large bodies of people. Aristotle likes to get into the philosophy behind various historical leaderships. Also, there’s plenty about how state and national governments in 2028 are more and more corporatized, giving large companies control over government agencies and laws. I found all of this pretty interesting and they added something to the story instead of distracting from it.

My favorite part of the tale was what happened within that dome. Now it would be a big spoiler to chat about it in specifics, so I won’t do that. What Artemis finds disturbs him. There’s some cutting edge science that has inadvertently gone awry and there might not be a way to fix it. It was geeky and a little sad too since things and people were lost permanently. Since not everyone makes it out alive for one big hugfest, the story had weight, and I enjoyed that quite a bit. It showed that the story was taking itself seriously and there was, indeed, consequences.

I received a copy at no cost from the narrator (via the Goodreads group Audiobooks ) in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Joe Hempel did another fine job with this sequel. His voices were all distinct and easy to recognize. There were a few accents required, which he did fine with. I especially liked his voice for the dragon! 

What I Liked: The cover art; road trip to Boulder; Artemis helps out his bodyguard; the cutting edge tech throughout the story; there are consequences to actions; a dragon!

What I Disliked: There are no plot-central female characters; we’re told that Artemis is an amoral person but his actions are to the contrary of this.

 

Under the Amoral Bridge by Gary A. Ballard

BallardUnderTheAmoralBridgeWhere I Got It: Review copy from the narrators via the Goodreads group Audiobooks (thanks!).

Narrator: Joe Hempel

Publisher: Self-published (2015)

Length: 4 hours

Series: Book 1 The Bridge Chronicles

Author’s Page

In this cyberpunkian near future novel, Artemis Bridge is a fixer – the go-to guy for when you need something illegal or under the radar. Bridge doesn’t care how foul your need is, he simply finds you the guy who can make it happen, taking a small fixer fee along the way. He’s proud to say he himself never does anything indecent; he merely facilitates. Of course, that all goes sideways when a dying associate feeds him a recording of the present mayor doing something quite distasteful.

Our main character Bridge likes to think of himself as a cool cat, making his money on the morally depleted but never dipping in the dirty waters himself. I can’t say I particularly liked this character, but he was so fascinating I didn’t have to. He obviously has morals concerning his own behavior and yet holds back on enforcing those morals on others. Plus he makes most of his money off of one type of degenerate or other. He has a body guard (Archimedes is his handle) who is paid to look aware and tough but not paid enough to take a punch for Bridge. I found their banter and dynamic both comical and interesting.

While there are few females in this story, they are integral to the plot (hurray!). The main female character is Bridge’s ex-girlfriend. I think she got all the brains in the relationship. She too is an interesting character with her own values and hobbies and actions. Much of the cyberpunk hardware belongs to her and hence, much of the the cyberpunk scenes include her.

The plot has a few unexpected twists and turns and they were a treat to watch unfold. Bridge has to call in favors, rely on friends, and outwit the bad guys. However, bad guys are nearly all he deals with, so there’s plenty of fancy foot work to stay ahead of a bullet. All in all this was an enjoyable ride with an original lead character. Definitely worthy of my time.

The Narration: Joe Hempel had a variety of voices, each distinct, for all the characters. He even pulled off a few accents as the roles required. While I found his voice for Bridge more of a boy-next-door voice instead of shady, slick, psuedo-criminal, he still made it work and I connected with the character through the narration. He even went the extra length with one of the cyberpunk voices, giving it the echo described in the scene.

What I Liked: The cover art; unique interesting lead character; ladies are integral to the plot; unexpected twists and turn; nitty gritty vibe; cyberpunk elements; good narration.

What I Disliked: Could have used one or two more females to balance out the cast.

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