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.

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Butterfly by Kathryn Harvey

HarveyButterflyWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Laura Jennings

Publisher: Cherry Hill Publishing (2015)

Length: 18 hours 18 minutes

Series: Book 1 The Butterfly Trilogy

Author’s Page

This book is about far more than simple seduction and erotic fantasies. The author spins a deep and engrossing tale that spans decades, showing what the drive of one young women can build over time. Butterfly is a unique and exclusive club that caters to women’s fantasies. The men, staff, and clients are all hand picked for their ability to be discrete. As a counter to that, there is the simple, elegant, and irreproachable Beverly Highland, who has become quite the businesswoman over the years. Her support of the evangelist-turned-politician Danny MacKay has helped him rise to his high station. But does she have ulterior motives? This book also has several engaging flashbacks to Rachel Dwyer in the 1950s. We meet her as a 14 year old girl and follow her through her troubles, watching her eventually transform into something else.

I’m sure this book has been labeled erotica or chick lit or romance and none of those labels do this book justice. True, it does have some of those elements, but they combine with other elements (suspense, historical fiction, etc.) to become something much more impressive. First, all the characters are so engaging. Even if I didn’t like some of them, I understood where they were coming from and wanted to know more about them. Second, the setting was interesting too. The modern-day parts happen mostly in Beverly Hills, California. The historical fiction elements happen in Texas, New Mexico, and California. Third, the plot had several unforeseen elements that kept me pleasantly surprised and turning the pages (well, listening to yet the next MP3 file and the next and the next).

The book opens with Dr. Linda Marques. She has a few failed marriages under her belt and that’s mostly due to her frigidity problems. She can’t seem to find joy in the bedroom. Her recent visits to Butterfly, where she dons a mask, have helped her start to face the deep reasons for her lack of enthusiasm. Trudie, who is head of a pool construction company, wants a man that considers her an equal, but she’s having a hard time finding such a person. Her regular hook ups at clubs and the occasional dalliance with someone else in the construction business have all left her unsatisfied. Yet her experiences at Butterfly, which often entail having entertaining arguments over brainy books, have shown her just how good things in the bedroom can be. Jessica, a lawyer for the celebrities, has a controlling and dismissive husband. She’s never really considered what she might be missing, that is, until she gets an exclusive invitation to Butterfly. There, she finds that she can call the shots in romance and it thrills her.

Now let’s bounce back to the 1950s and Rachel Dwyer, who was my favorite character. At age 14 she has to leave home as her father has made it quite clear, in his drunken abusive way, that she can’t stay there. She plans to head to California to beg a job from her mom’s friend but things go astray and she ends up on the wrong bus. Without enough money to make it to California, she feels stranded. That’s when she meets the young Danny McKay who offers to take her to his family’s farm and help her find a job. She instantly becomes smitten with him and they start a romantic relationship. Things become twisted when he places her in a house of prostitution. Rachel, still being somewhat naive, holds onto the hope that she will marry and have kids, that her love for Danny isn’t wasted. Rachel’s story shows us a woman who reaches her breaking point and at that point instead of accepting that life is awful and there’s no real escape from it, she becomes completely determined to find another way. At first, I thought Rachel’s story was one of those train wrecks that you can’t look away from, but really it’s about a young woman metamorphosing into something greater.

The men, while fewer that the female characters, are no less interesting. Of course, Danny MacKay is the lead male in this drama. We know from Rachel’s story that he’s not a great guy. From present-day Beverly Highland’s story, we see Danny for the political powerhouse he has become. He has the backing of his religious evangelical organization, plus other business people like Beverly. He has also invested in several properties and businesses over the decades, making him rich in his own right. He’s well known and now hoping to run for President. He’s still a very cruel man. I enjoyed very much hating on him throughout the book as he gives us so many reasons to dislike him.

This book does have several sex scenes, giving it an erotic flair. The scenes are quite varied showing what women desire at Butterfly, but also what they experience in the average, every day world (which usually lacks in quality when compared to Butterfly). A few of the scenes are violent and/or abusive (such as some of Rachel’s experiences) but the author doesn’t linger over them nor use them as shock factors. Instead, they reveal key points about the characters’s natures.

This was just an immensely satisfying book. I didn’t expect to like it so much when I dived into it. Quite frankly, I was expecting 16 hours of erotica with maybe 2 hours of character and plot development. What I got, which is much more desirable, is the opposite; the author built these amazing characters and did an excellent job revealing the plot. Going into it, I had no idea what Rachel would become, how Danny would rise so high, how Beverley would execute her end game. Truly, there is much more here than first meets the eye.

I received this audiobook at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Laura Jennings did a pretty good job with this book. I really liked her distinct voices for all the ladies. However, several of her young male voices all sounded very similar. She did well with the older male voices. She was excellent at imbuing the text with emotions, and there were plenty of them in this book, several of them subtle. I also liked her Spanish accent for Carmella.

What I Liked: It’s a well-matched mix of romance, historical fiction, and suspense with a few erotic scenes; Rachel Dwyer really is the star of the book; great character arcs; the Butterfly club itself; the surprise turns in the plot; the very satisfying ending.

What I Disliked: Some of the male voices in the narration weren’t very distinct – they all sounded like Danny MacKay.

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