Acquired Book By: I am a reviewer for Prometheus Books and their imprints starting in  as I contacted them through their Edelweiss catalogues and Twitter. I appreciated the diversity of titles across genre and literary explorations – especially focusing on Historical Fiction, Mystery, Science Fiction and Scientific Topics in Non-Fiction. I received a complimentary copy of “The Secret Life of Anna Blanc” direct from the publisher Seventh Street Books (an imprint of Prometheus Books) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.
Why I picked this as my first Prometheus Books title:
(a portion this was originally shared with the publicist who sent me my copy)
I was most enthused finding The Secret Life of Anna Blanc in Seventh Street Books catalogue via their publishing website. The allure for me to read this title is due to how much I love reading Cosy Historical Mysteries and Historical Thrillers and Suspense. It’s a special niche of the Mystery | Suspense genre that I happen to fancy and my review history reflects this as I cannot help but become excited when I find a ‘new story and a new author’ to become introduced too! Equally joyful in this regard is that Seventh Street Books found me on Twitter and thus, introduced me to this lovely new imprint for Mystery novelists! This is how I originally started to interact with the publisher Prometheus Books whilst becoming acquainted with their imprints and releases.
I happen to be a Sherlockian to boot and I love finding spunky characters with the moxie to win-over their peers by proving their salt for the field they are passionately working inside! It’s hard not to be curious about this novel!
I remember when it arrived and how much I wanted to read this back in December, however, the timing was not right for me to soak inside it’s chapters until the Spring. I personally love finding Cosy Historical Mysteries as it happens to be an active pursuit of mine – a few lovely things have happened since I received my copy of the novel, including being able to interact a bit with the author via Twitter but also, finding out a favourite author of mine has joined Seventh Street Books! Susan Spann’s Shinobi Mysteries are now *Hiro Hattori Novels* under this imprint and are set to release August 2016! I cannot wait to find out where The Ninja’s Daughter will take me as previously I have been wondrously happy inside her novels! To learn how I came to review for Prometheus Books, kindly view my End of the Year Survey, 2015. The sweet part is that as I’m revealling my impressions on behalf of Anna Blanc, Spann’s latest novel has arrived by Post! Talk about celebratory blissitude for Seventh Street Books!!
When I first started working with Seventh Street Books, I wanted to focus on their Crime Fiction, as I have a penchant for well-conceived plots and strong characters within Crime Dramas & Suspense! I am a regular reader of these kinds of stories – therefore, from the offerings of front list titles, this is the one that stood out to me because of how convincingly brilliant the synopsis sounded! I could well see why Ms Kincheloe has attached the tagline of “for readers who love Phryne Fisher” as her character, Anna Blanc is also living inside a man’s world where women are not generally allowed to pursue a career outside of what society deems is proper and right.
I’ve followed the #MissFisher Murder Mysteries solely through the adaptive serial starring Essie Davis, and had entertained reading the mysteries starting lateron this year, until through a twitterverse convo with my bookish mates, I learnt the sad truth that revealled Jack isn’t the object of Miss Fisher’s eye in the novels! To me, having gone through the serial first rather than the books, it would be too hard to back-track and thereby, I’m a Miss Fisher supporter via the adaptations only. However, having said that, if this book holds true to the sentiment that Anna Blanc is a mirror composite of Phryne by strength, ingenuity and moxie, I knew instantly I’d become her ally! We need more characters like Phryne especially set in the historical past to help illuminate how women have always tried to find a foothold towards freeing the rights we deserve to stand on equal footing as our male peers.
Notation on Cover Art Design: This is the most dearly loved cover art I’ve come across recently – not just for the image of Anna Blanc but because of it’s velvety softness upon touch! This clever cover is lovely to hold in your hands because it’s texture is truly a one of a kind original! I even loved how the typography has this fade in / fade out styling and how Anna Blanc herself is tipping her hat away from the camera as if to take the attention off herself and leave it on the story!
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 and stop pouring money into her father's collapsing bank. 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.
Places to find the book:
Published by Seventh Street Books
on 3rd December, 2015
Format: Paperback Edition
Available Formats: Paperback and Ebook
Converse via: #SecretLifeOfAnnaBlanc
A woman on the verge of her independence:
As we are deposited inside Anna Blanc’s life before she’s succeeded in curing her independence, we get the prime pleasure of watching her emerge out of her shell and enter into a life lived on her terms, not her father’s. In some ways, her life mirrors Phryne Fisher’s on the level she had to make something of herself and not rely on her family to support her or to grant her permission to live outside where society dictates. Blanc has a spirit inside her that is a fiercely lit fire towards stepping outside her father’s shadow, but it is a hard-won fight, as she had to find the right fuell to keep her from the sphere in which his omnipresence could not penetrate her plans.
Anna Blanc makes choices most women in her generation might blanch at finding out about, but she’s on a singular mission to sort out her life by living it to the extreme degree of self-directed maturity. One of the tricky bits towards gaining her independence was the balance of fashion and the clothes in which she had to trade with her less-than-honourable chaperone who allowed her to barter payment in kind in order to keep herself in a role she devised. It’s a credit to Kincheloe as she honed in on the class differences and the ways in which what you wear in clothes can dictate so much in social settings, it was quite plausible for someone like Anna Blanc to ‘blend out of sight’ simply by exchanging one style for another.
Her chaste innocence combined well with her strong grit to bite back her own fears and buckle down the courage she would need to draw on time and time again to do what was right rather than what was expected of her. She’s not the type to succumb to what society wishes for her but at the same time, was not attuned to the differences between where she was brought up and the ways of the world for commoners below her in class. She never saw the divides until she made a conscious choice to step outside her station and see if it were possible to live a life where she was in full control of it’s course.
My Review of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc:
Anna Blanc is self-assured and a women who doesn’t take kindly to be ‘put in place’ by her controlling father – as soon as she announces her presence on the scene, you want to know more about her as she’s a formidable woman straight from the gate! Her cheeky cleverness to hide whilst attempting to flee by rail and to be fashionable even though necessity dictates that to be a difficulty when trying to outfox someone from finding out your whereabouts – Anna Blanc has a charm about her that lends well to become entranced by a character you can tell is going to surprise you at each new turning of her story! How can you not help but smile when things go her way? She has this curious aplumb about her that delights the expectation of where she’s about to take you on her adventure!
As Anna and her beau disembark from the train, they arrive in the Spanish influenced architectural city of Riverside – which I can happily say I am familiar with as I have a friend who resides there! She graciously gave me an insightful impression about Riverside’s Spanish history and how the city has become a living testament of it’s legacy; seeing it through Kincheloe’s eyes was an added joy! Especially as she has taken her love birds to the Mission Inn* – the city’s featured jewel! Although the setting of this scene was exquisite it was simply meant for the ethers of memory as Anna’s father truly had a long arm in reaching her whilst her independence from him was attemptable but not obtainable.
Kincheloe has this cheeky sense of humour threading through her ink, as right when you think Anna Blanc has mastered the art of deceiving her father for the goodwill of her future, he pulls back twice as strong as before – leaving Anna with a shattered bit of hope and a firm displeasure of injustice. When she meets up with the Suffragettes, I was not too shocked to find her winning a wink towards their cause – as their cause was her cause!
The mysterious stranger who rescues Anna from situations out of her control turnt out to be the one bloke who was not afeared of her father and thus, promptly became the only beau who would dare court her whilst knowing her true character. It was a mystery to Anna what drew Edgar Wright’s attention towards her, but whilst he was in business affairs with her father, she could at least take a breather from too much fuss being put on her indiscretions which truly were her only ways in which to assert her right to live independently. Wright is hard to sort out as he keeps things close to his chest, same as Anna; neither disclosing more than what is warranted and yet, each in their own way is up to something the other is not in knowledge of.
Anna has certainly taken herself out of her depth as she becomes bold as brass to enlighten her life by embracing the dark gritty streets as an Assistant Matron of the LAPD. If her life hadn’t been as sheltered as it were, her actions towards this new line of work would not have belied her ignorance on the goings-on of the world; such as it were as she first tackled a case involving a recently orphaned three year old from a part of town a woman of her statue would never enter. Her heart was in the right place, her mind was observant enough for sleuthing but it’s a far cry from yearning to become something and finding the courage to follow through to where no one would suspect your acting a part rather than being the confident woman your intending to be.
It is a bit strange – I never warmed to Edgar Wright as I felt from the quick he had something up his sleeve – the more I saw of him, the less I wanted him as a match for Anna! He was a bit too smarmy and never said something out place. He’s the sort of bloke you hope is on the level but cautiously wonder, what’s his game!? As Anna starts to take flight outside her ancestral home and exchange it for wings to sleuth, she finds herself buckled by not only her father but her fiancee who appears to have the same traditional viewpoints on women’s rights. The complication is high – from having to sort out a way to be a matron for the police whilst never letting on outside of that position she’s doing anything deemed ‘less than a lady of means’ would do; erstwhile, keeping up appearances on all fronts both personally and professionally without any side of her life merging into the other half!
The most vexing person in Anna’s life by half is her comrade in arms, Joe Singer who was the sole person who recognised her for whom she truly is rather than the charade of being a matron of the police. He’s a quirky fellow as despite his misgivings on her motives, there is an attraction between them that defies their stations yet a working relationship developed between them, as well. She challenges Singer to be a better police officer and a better gentleman, and I think that’s half the rub that sits wrong with him because he’s quite bent on being a bachelor. Singer is the one who grants Anna her first outing as an investigator and also, true to his nature vexes her to such a degree as to put her life in danger quite accidentally which granted us the first look-see at how she handles pressure in dire circumstances.
The best attribute Anna Blanc has within her is a self-motivating resolve to become self-educated as it was such a joy to watch her expand her mind in a fervent attempt to understand the underpinnings of motives and causes of the crimes that were leeching through her city at such a fast rate of alarm. She did not just want to sleuth for the sake of detection but to fully understand the methodology behind the crimes and I think this is a nod to the writer’s (Kincheloe) curiosity being piqued by true crime stories straight out of the historical archives from whence she draws her inspirations. Kincheloe also under-writ a stunning historical survey of early Forensic techniques which inspired Anna with her investigating – especially in regards to understanding the differences between murder and suicide. This became quite pivotal in the story as Anna Blanc made her transition from socialite to female detective.
The beauty of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc are the little bits of plot your not expecting to find encircle through the evolving story – there were little clues fluttering through it’s context, but the joy was not completely sorting it all out until the very last chapter – wherein, your heart swoons with glee and you champion the success Anna Blanc had in closing her second case! This is a bit of a guilty pleasure for historical fiction readers – Kincheloe has tempted us with her wicked sweet prose where a heroine peppers the scenes with her feisty personality and a penchant for seeking out the truth from a sea of lies!
I found this unputdownable – I read it straight through in one sitting!
I found it deliciously refreshing as Anna Blanc is a heroine who made her mark on the world on her own terms whilst owning the truth of her heart. I cannot wait to see what Ms Kincheloe will give us to devour next when this novel’s sequel is released – with a bit of hope, she won’t leave us in suspense too long!
*for more photos of the Mission Inn, visit their Gallery
On the historical styling of Jennifer Kincheloe:
Sophisticated in her ascertainment of conception behind Anna Blanc, Kincheloe has writ such a lively character, you drink in her words with such a joy of delight! She has a fast paced narrative, where the humour is smitten by the sophisticated edging of her character’s personality, matched equally brilliantly by the grace of a Cosy Historical Mystery backdrop! She’s captured the turn of the century atmosphere aptly, as she tucks in recognisable familiarities to alight in your imagination as you turn the pages; replete with gaslights and other bits which correlate with the era.
I loved the way in which Kincheloe turnt a phrase, using words not oft found in historical fiction as her novel is a good primer of words that are wicked to say aloud and used in descriptive narratives such as this one! The phrases themselves are a delight for readers who love words as much as wordsmiths, which Kincheloe definitely excels at including whilst giving Anna Blanc a crafty choice of words to express her emotional duress! She also found a clever way to include Anna’s religious background by having her talk to the Saints when a mood or a moment fitted the hour; it was quite an interesting way to thread faith inside a mainstream novel and I liked the author’s candor.
As I have grown up on the East Coast, there has been a certain curiosity about the West Coast – to which level of interest has yielded many a happy reading of a novel set in California (or by comparison, I’ve seen numerous police & detective dramas set there as well!) – however, it’s the California within the pages of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc which hearken to the golden age of the state’s heyday, where Los Angeles is not overly populated (although whose blueprint for expansion is starting to be seen) and where the setting is firmly grounded in the aesthetics of it’s physical environment. I appreciated the care and attention Kincheloe gave towards this end, giving us a rounded impression of California from every angle she could whilst having the conception of California from afar well intact.
Knowing a bit of the back-story about Phryne Fisher through the serial adaptations, I know she pulled herself up by the bootstraps as a war-time nurse, having seen the harsher side of reality first-hand. It was through her days as a nurse, Phryne grew and matured into who she became lateron as a women detective as it emboldened her and gave her more confidence to be the woman she longed to be as a whole. If you were to peer inside the time-frame of the innocent years of Miss Fisher, I think we might have found a composite of Anna Blanc – a woman not quite sure of herself and not entirely certain of how to right her sails to be whom she desires most. Kincheloe has written a character who is self-defining herself through the actions of a woman desperate to live outside the constraints of society and the control of her father; whilst running head-long into the double-sword of where women’s rights were not on equal ground in deference to those of men.
This book review is courtesy of:
Book Bloggers & the book blogosphere are celebrating this release:
- Review | The Lit Bitch
- Review | Ageless Pages Reviews
- Review | Bolo Books
- Review | Books, Books and More (New) Books
- Review | My Literary Leanings
- Review | Geeky Godmother
- Review | Jen’s Book Thoughts
- Review | Book Stop Corner
- Q&A | Book Stop Corner (with news about Anna Blanc No.2!)
- Interview | Stephanie Carroll (with an expanded synopsis about Anna Blanc No.2!)
- Interview | Lori Rader-Day
- Interview | The Thrill Begins (mentions Anna Blanc No.2!)
- Q&A: 6 Questions by Happily Ever After (part of USA Today)
- Character Q&A: Feat. Anna Blanc | Karen Doctor
Embedded inside this tweet is an interview with Jennifer Kincheloe via BlogTalkRadio!
— Seventh Street Books (@SeventhStBooks) February 17, 2016
THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC has been nominated for the Colorado Author's League Award for Genre Fiction.
Thanks Colorado Author's League!
— Jennifer Kincheloe (@jenkincheloe) April 4, 2016
According to this tweet s/o, the novel is also up for an award at the esteemed Bouchercon 2016; which is the same convention I had wanted to attend in person this year!
I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst bloggers who picked up the same story to read.
By the by, in closing I should note this is my 601st blog post!
As yesterday when I published my review on behalf of Masks and Shadows I reached:
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) April 13, 2016
Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.
I’m a social reader | I tweet as I read
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) April 13, 2016
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) April 14, 2016
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) April 14, 2016
@joriestory I thought I heard there were plans for more…I sure hope so because I love her! 💚
— The Lit Bitch (@thelitbitch) April 14, 2016
— Jorie Loves A Story (@joriestory) April 14, 2016
Comments via Twitter:
I'm enraptured by your review @joriestory :)
— Jennifer Kincheloe (@jenkincheloe) April 14, 2016
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge