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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A Concise History of Modern Europe by David S. Mason

MasonAConciseHistoryOfModernEuropeWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrator: Charles Henderson Norman

Publisher: University Press Audiobooks (2016)

Length: 8 hours

Author’s Page

In general, this book covers happenings in Europe from 1789 (the French Revolution) through 1989 (the fall of Communism). There’s a little bit after that on the formation of the European Union and what current hurdles Europe as a whole faces. The book doesn’t focus overly on one country or another, rather covering significant events and people who shaped Europe for better or worse.

Having been raised in the American public school system, there were bits and pieces of European history that I knew some little about, but this book does a great job of putting them into perspective. I’m really glad I gave this book a listen because it makes me feel smarter for it. What follows here in my review are some of the little interesting nuggets I took from this book.

During and after the French Revolution, women demanded legal rights and some of those rights were granted; however, they were denied the right to education. Alas, then came Napoleon who was very fond of the patriarchal family hierarchy: Women and children were subject to the rule of the man of the house. Oddly, his laws on many things remain a cornerstone to French law, law within parts of Turkey, and law in the state of Louisiana. Ha! That does explain some things….

One of things that helped lead England into the Industrial Revolution was the use of turnips. Yep! Behold the mighty turnip! The English started farming turnips which did two things for them: turnips help add nutrients to the soil, so a field could be used longer; and also turnips can be fed to winter livestock, allowing the English to winterover more of the flocks instead of doing a major slaughter and preserving prior to snows setting in. Alas, boiled turnips did very little to excite Europe over English cuisine.

Karl Marx spent much of his life in poverty (along with his wife and kids) dedicated to his writings and studying so he could make more writings. He had patrons here and there that allowed him to occasionally keep a roof over his family’s head and the kids fed. Karl Marx gave us an interesting piece of political philosophy (The Communist Manifesto), but I think his family would have appreciated him having some kind of steady job instead. Only 11 people attended his funeral.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was published and it took some little time for most European countries to accept it. The US was (and perhaps still is) one of the last major world powers to accept the Theory of Evolution. Darwin happily married his first cousin and they had 10 kids together. The Crimean War was the first war covered by journalists and also the first war where women were officially allowed to serve, but only in the Nursing Corps (i.e. Florence Nightingale).

Ethiopia and Liberia avoided colonialism during the rush to claim Africa, though Liberia was primarily a colony for liberated native Africans and remained mostly under US control until they gained their freedom. In Asia, Japan remained free from colonialism while many other Asian countries (in part or in total) were colonized. I’ve always known that the term ‘first world country’ refers to places like western Europe, Canada, the US,  while the term ‘third world country’ usually refers to much of South America, Asia, and Africa. However, I didn’t know if there was a ‘second world country’, having never heard the term. Turns out that phrase refers to the communist Soviet block. One of the outcomes of World War I was the League of Nations proposed by US President Wilson. However, the US didn’t join it, nor did  Russia. Germany was prohibited from joining it until 1926. So it wasn’t particularly effective.

So those are just the little nuggets of info I pulled out of this book. I am sure there are plenty more that I would pick up on or understand better on a second read through. Mostly, I am grateful for the perspective this book gave me, how one event feeds into another. The author did a great job of providing a few key dates here and there, but not inundating the reader with a ton of dates that will be quickly forgotten. After all, this is an overview of 200+ years of European history, not a blow-by-blow recounting of it.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the narrator (via Audiobook Boom) in exchange for an honest review.

Narration: Charles Henderson Norman did a great job narrating this. He has a voice somewhere between a news reporter and a story telling uncle. His personal interest, and sometimes even joy, in the subject comes through clearly in his narration.

What I Liked: I never felt bogged down with dates, names, or places; this book really put the events in perspective; no single country was the focus of the book; I learned several interesting facts that will either boost my standing at the next work party or kill it entirely.

What I Disliked: Nothing – a great addition to European history books!