Reading the synopsis of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, I was instantly drawn to it as it has so many components that I love in historical fiction: a look into the customs and culture of the time period in which it takes place; a resourceful, intelligent female battling against the set stereotypes of the time; some sort of drama/action/adventure to keep me interested. I've also been hearing great buzz about this audiobook version and was delighted at the prospect of finding another delicious audiobook to make my commute less frustrating and boring then it typically is. I'm happy to say that I did enjoy listening to Anna's story unfold very much, even if I did have some issues with the main heroine herself.
Speaking of Anna Blanc (or Anna Holmes or Ami Amour depending on whether she was using one of her aliases or not), I'm sorry to say that I wasn't a huge fan of her as a character. She was quite selfish, impulsive, and arrogant and this all served to undermined her natural talents at detective work and obvious intelligence. She seemed to act without any regard for how her actions would effect other people and even destroyed the property of other people without seeming to care. She also came off as somewhat flighty at times, which made for a really odd dichotomy between her obvious abilities and her ditzy persona. She seemed shocked when people didn't take her seriously, but then did things over and over again that would make anyone not take her seriously! I'm not sure if I missed something by this being a listening experience over reading the actual book but I just had the hardest time wrapping my head around Anna Blanc.
Now, that being said, I loved almost all of the other characters! Joe Singer was an amazingly charming character and the brothel girls were hilarious. Actually, there was quite a bit of humor amongst most of the characters and I found the banter to be very entertaining. The actual search for the killer of the brothel girls was interesting as well and I can honestly say that I had no idea who the killer was and was surprised when he revealed himself.
Even with the delightful secondary characters, my absolute favorite aspect of this audiobook would have to be the narrator, Moira Quirk. She was amazing! Her ability to change her voice and make every single character distinct was unlike any other narrator I've listened to before. She was easily able to express the humor and danger and romance wherever it needed to be and made me excited to keep turning it on to listen to a little bit more whenever I could.
Anna Blanc herself aside, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was very entertaining. While I didn't connect with this particular heroine I can see how others might really enjoy her contradictory nature and, regardless, her adventures searching for a killer definitely keep your attention. ...more
I have read and enjoyed each of Sandra Byrd's historical novels and A Lady in Disguise is no exception. I'm always amazed with how well Ms. Byrd draws the reader into the time periods, customs, and cultures her characters inhabit and how transported I always feel by her stories. A Lady in Disguise is the third novel in her Daughters of Hampshire series but, as with the other books in both this and her Ladies in Waiting series, this is a standalone novel with a wholly original storyline and characters and situations unlike any of the others.
The main plot of this story centers around Gillian Young's search for the truth about whether or not her father's death was really an accident, whether he might have been involved in illegal dealings as a police officer, and whether either man vying for her attentions are true to their words. With so much uncertainty, the reader is forced to question everyone's intentions and to wonder who is behind the more nefarious actions going on. While I can't say that the main "bad guy" came as a surprise to me (I figured out pretty quickly who that was going to be) I was surprised by some of the revelations regarding some of the secondary characters, not only in regards to things they were doing behind the scenes but the reasons behind those actions. With all the reading I do, any time an author can slip in some surprises for me, especially when dealing with historical fiction, I am always pleasantly surprised.
The writing style and dialogue felt very authentic to the Victorian era that the story took place in and it was very interesting to see how a woman making her own money by her own hands fit into this very traditional and uniformed world she inhabited. Her position in that world is also unusual as she comes from money and status on her maternal side but working class stock on her paternal side....something that did not happen very regularly during this time period. This sort of middle world she inhabits, one that cannot quite be pigeonholed in this time period, makes her grasp on her situation that much more tenuous and has her somewhat isolated from either side she might be able to seek help from.
With all this being said, my absolute favorite part of the novel was the detail given to developing the backstage world of the theatre and the unfortunate children who worked for it, as well as the beauty and detail that went into the art of costuming. While the theatre was quite exciting and somewhat provocative for the times, the abandonment of the child actors once they were no longer useful was abhorrent. The reader gets to see how people took advantage of these misplaced young girls and the kind of adult world they would find themselves in without the help of the various charities set up to help them, such as the Cause so prominent in A Lady in Disguise. Learning of the training and assistance given to these children by these charities, in the hopes of giving them the chance for a good future, was really interesting and something I'm sad to say I never even thought of before. The details given to Gillian's costume designing and learning of the skills and time it takes to create the beautiful pieces not only shown on the stage but in the ballrooms of the elite was also fascinating. While I'm not personally that into fashion, learning the intricate details makes me realize just what an art form costuming really is.
A Lady in Disguise is wonderful historical fiction. There is quite a bit of talk of Christianity and scripture, however given the overall characteristics of the story and players, it never felt preachy or overdone to me. In the same vein, while romance is never something I gravitate towards, the romantic situation Gillian finds herself in isn't overly done and is therefore something that can be enjoyed by those that do enjoy romance but not something that will be a turnoff for those that don't. There's even an excellent author's note at the end of the story that cements the facts from the fictions within the story, something I always look for with historical fiction. I definitely recommend this novel, along with all of Ms. Byrd's historical fiction novels, to anyone looking for an escape into another time and place they might otherwise never get to experience....more
Everything that I loved in The Girl in the Ice, the first installment in the DCI Erika Foster series - the main characters, especially Erika and her "sidekick" Detective Moss, the depth given to showing police procedures and politics, the gritty nature of the murders and the cat and mouse presentation that keeps you turning the pages - are all here again in this newest installment and felt like an excellent and accurate continuation of the series. Adding on a deeper exploration of Erika's personal life (or lack thereof) as well as her trying to better navigate the politics of her job in the hopes of getting a promotion just made me appreciate her even more. The Erika in this installment is just as determined and unbendable as previously shown, just maybe a little wearier and more inclined to want some sort of life away from the force.
What was most intriguing for me about The Night Stalker was the way the killer's identity was unwound for the reader/listener and the time given to keeping us guessing. Interspersed with Erika's hunt for this newest serial killer are online chat room conversations between the killer and someone they are sharing their actions with. These were particularly creepy as the killer shows no remorse and the person they are chatting with seems to egg them on. We also get little peeks into the killer stalking their victims and then the actual attacks themselves. These do so much to keep the tension building and to create a sense of urgency for the police to find the killer and stop them before they strike again. There's also something particularly unique about this serial killer, but you'll have to read the book to figure out what that is!
Regarding the audiobook version, the narrator is once again Jan Cramer and she did just as great a job with this installment as she did with the last. She does an excellent job of giving the characters unique voices and keeping the tension tight when it needs to be and injecting a bit of humor when that is required as well. I really enjoy her as an audiobook narrator and will look for more from her in the future.
The Night Stalker is a wonderful installment in the Erika Foster detective series. It gave me all the elements I loved in the first installment while advancing the narrative and character development appropriately in this one. The ending leaves off with Erika possibly looking to change some aspects of her life and I am dying to see if she does so in the upcoming story, Dark Waters! ...more
Please excuse me while I completely gush over The Orphan's Tale! I've read a few books by Pam Jenoff (The Winter Guest, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach) but this newest book has now become my favorite. I will try to organize my thoughts as concisely as possible for this review, but I'm on a kind of reading high at the moment after finishing this so please excuse any rambling.
First off, I cannot think of a more interesting and complicated setting for a novel than a European traveling circus during WWII. Where else would you find such a dichotomy in one setting: the cold, bleak, terror-filled landscape of Nazi occupied Germany and France and the bright, bold, exhilarating circus that washes through to bring excitement and mystery to the people? Pam Jenoff does an exceptional job of bringing both aspects to life and creating a sense of both hopelessness and freedom within the hearts of the characters and the reader. This background also serves as the perfect hiding place for these vagabond characters as they all have things they are hiding or running away from, whether that be literal or figurative, yet they are all front and center when the Big Top opens.
Speaking of characters: it has been quite a while since I've found myself genuinely caring about what happened to the characters in the book I'm reading. My heart ached for not only Noa and Astrid but for Pete, the circus clown with a broken heart, Herr Neuhoff, the circus owner who used every resource he had to keep those in his care safe, and so many more. Each character is remarkably complicated and just as contradictory as the setting. I was particularly drawn to the relationship between Noa and Astrid and watching how each helped the other when they needed it the most even when it put their own lives in danger. And the ending....it is a true testament to the sacrifices one will make for those they love. These characters go through so much, both physically and emotionally, and yet for so many of them it made them seem to fight that much harder and sacrifice that much more for those that are innocent and those they loved.
One aspect I wasn't quite expecting but which I ended up really loving was the time spent developing this circus life that plays such a huge part in the story. Everything surrounding the circus is just so fascinating! Learning about the dedication, skill, and practice it takes to be a performer, the customs and culture, what it takes to physically and logistically move such a large production around...everything is just so intricately presented with all the bright lights, colors, and grit by the capable hands of the author.
The Orphan's Tale is top tier historical fiction. There are so many contradictions within the characters and the setting and these very contradictions are what fleshes it all out so perfectly. It's a beautiful look at the many and varied faces of love and family and the mesmerizing fact that both are not always found where you expect them but forged when people are brought lowest and their real nature shines through. I recommend this book to everyone!