Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Books: New Novels From Tamron Hall, Nicci French, & Annabel Abbs


As The Wicked Watch

By Tamron Hall

William Morrow; hardcover, 384 pages; $27.99; available Tuesday, October 26th

Tamron Hall is one of the most well-respected television journalists. She is the host and executive producer of the self-titled daytime talk show, Tamron Hall, which has won an Emmy Award and a Gracie Award. She also hosts Dateline: Crime With Tamron Hall on Investigation Discovery after her long career on the TODAY show, in which she was the first African American female co-host.

As The Wicked Watch is the first in a thrilling new series, about a reporter who delves into the disturbing mystery around the deaths of two black girls at the hands of a serial killer terrorizing Chicago.

Crime reporter Jordan Manning leaves her hometown in Texas and moves to Chicago to work at a television station in Chicago. This brings her one step closer to her dream of being a national network anchor. She has star power, is known for her style, is smart and aggressive, and stands out because a lot of times she is the only woman of color in the newsroom.

What also sets Jordan apart, most of all, is that she arrives first on the scene of whatever is happening, where he puts her master's degree in forensic science, as well as superb instincts, to impeccable use. Her background has allowed her to balance her dueling motivations of breaking every big story and giving a voice to the voiceless.

Jordan thought that her experience in Texas would prepare her for Chicago, but it would be a whole new challenge. She is able to navigate a crime scene as well as a newsroom, and is called on to cover the murders of black females, many of them sexually assaulted, brutalized, and most are quickly forgotten.

That all changes when Jordan comes across the story of Masey James, a fifteen-year-old girl whose body was found in an abandoned lot. Masey becomes the embodiment of the frustration Jordan has about her her job, how she has to keep a required distance and repress a lot of emotions.

Jordan puts aside her work and her trying personal life to give the story the detailed reporting it deserves, and that a missing black child is unlikely to get. 

Three young boys are eventually charged with Masey's murder, but Jordan remains unconvinced. She believes this is the work of a serial killer, who is hiding in plain sight.

The Unheard

By Nicci French

William Morrow Paperbacks; 464 pages; $16.99; available Tuesday, October 26th

Nicci French is the pseudonym of English wife-and-husband writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. They have written plenty of acclaimed novels of psychological suspense, including Losing You, The Other Side of the Door, and What To Do When Someone Dies; which have sold eight million copies worldwide.

Their newest standalone novel, The Unheard, is about a single mother who suspects her young daughter is witness to a horrible crime when she draws a disturbing picture, and the deadly path to uncover the truth could cost her everything.

Tess could be considered overprotective, but handing her daughter off to her ex and his new young wife gives her a massive sense of dread. She doesn't think that Jason is a bad father, but it still stings to see him enjoying married life with someone else. Despite this, she still owes it to her daughter Poppy to make this arrangement work.

Poppy returns from her weekend with her father tired and withdrawn, and when she shows Tess a crayon drawing that is so simple and violent that Tess can't make sense of it. The only explanation she gets from Poppy is, "He did kill her."

Tess is certain that Poppy saw something, or something happened to her, and she is too young to understand. Jason insists that the weekend went off without a hitch, and doctors advise that Poppy might just be having a reaction to her parents' separation. 

As the days go on, Poppy's disturbing memory seems to fade, but a mother knows her daughter, and Tess is determined to discover the truth. Tess' search will set off an explosive tempest of dark secrets and buried crimes, with possibly more than one life at stake.

Miss Eliza's English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorial Cookery and Friendship

By Annabel Abbs

William Morrow Paperbacks; 400 pages; $16.99; available Tuesday, October 26th

Annabel Abbs grew up in Wales and Sussex, with stops along the way in Dorset, Bristol, and Hereford. She has a degree in English literature from the University of East Anglia and then, at then from the University of Kingston, she earned a Masters in Marketing. She ran a consultancy for fifteen years, and took a career break to raise her four children before returning to her first love of literature. 

The Joyce Girl was Abbs' debut novel, and it won the 2015 Impress Prize for New Writing and the 2015 Spotlight First Novel Award, and was longlisted for the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award and the 2015 Bath Novel Award.

Abbs' new novel, Miss Eliza's English Kitchen, is based on the life of Eliza Acton, who revolutionized British cooking and cookbooks in her time. Her first cookbook sold thousands of copies for decades, even after Mrs. Beeton and other writers of the day lifted material.

Eliza Acton is rated as the most important food writer ever by famous chefs like Elizabeth David and Delia Smith, but she is completely unknown today. Acton's life is documented by lost letters, destroyed wills, and family rumors that have stalked her for generations. 

Abbs looks into the last bits of Acton's life to create this novel full of powerful and dramatic details. This also has plenty of Victorian recipes that Eliza creates during the story, which readers can certainly try out at home. Annabel also includes some of her own recipes that readers can make themselves.

Set in England in 1837, Victorian London is chockful of exciting new ingredients from spices to exotic fruits. Eliza Acton initially has no desire to spend her days cooking, and is determined to be a poet. She is shamed by the suggestion of writing a cookery book, but tragedy strikes her family.

Eliza's father flees the country after he files for bankruptcy and leaves the family in poverty. As a woman, Eliza has few options, so she starts to collect recipes and teaches herself the mysteries of the kitchen. It didn't take her long to see she is talented in the kitchen, and she loves it.

Eliza takes the step of hiring an assistant, seventeen-year-old Ann Kirby, the impoverished daughter of a war-injured father and a mother losing her grip on reality. Ann learns about poetry, cooking, and love, while unraveling a mystery in her teacher's past.

Through their mastery of cooking, Eliza and Ann develop an unusual friendship and break the mold of traditional cookbooks by adding elegant descriptions and ingredient lists, which are still used to this day.

Miss Eliza's English Kitchen is told in alternate voices, and it is an inspiring story of female friendship, the joy and creativity of cooking, as well as resurrecting the legacy of Eliza Acton.

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