‘The Last Dance of the Debutante’ by Julia Kelly is a frothy tale of parties and upper-class British snobbery but it’s touching and inspiring

The Last Dance of the Debutante
by Julia Kelly

“The Last Dance of the Debutante,” Julia Kelly’s historical fiction about the last group of British debutantes who got presented at Court to the Queen in 1958 is, as might be said about many of the debutantes, a frothy delight. Getting to sneak vicariously into debutante parties and reading about the effort and expense that went into a debutante’s season in 1950s England is fascinating, and Kelly provides us with the inside story. It was a time when, at least for upper class women, their goal as debutantes was to meet other debutantes and expand their social circle, all in the pursuit of one overarching aim: to find a husband who would increase their social value. So the daughters of the extremely well-connected and wealthy might demand a suitor with a title or prospective title, and the daughter of an impoverished but noble family might simply need a suitor who could provide the funds to keep the family estates going. Each debutante had slightly different goals, but almost all were in pursuit of a husband.

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‘Find Me’ by Alafair Burke is a mystery filled with red herrings and possibilities

FInd Me by Alafair Burke

In Alafair Burke’s gripping new release, “Find Me,” what appears to be the biggest mystery from the start ends up not being as important as the many other questions and problems that arise over the course of this well-written, engaging novel. We meet Hope Miller, someone who lost her memory after a horrific car accident fifteen years previously. She still has not regained her memory, but thanks to her close friendship with Lindsay Kelly, who is now a defense lawyer, she has had a safe place to live and work in the town of Hopewell, New Jersey, where Lindsay’s father was the chief of police.

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‘Just Like the Other Girls’ by Claire Douglas a suspense-filled mystery

Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas

Sometimes, we read a murder mystery, and almost from the start, we feel as if we know who did it. Don’t worry. “Just Like the Other Girls” by Claire Douglas is not like that. Douglas does present us with several red herrings, and a few seem as though they just must be the real killer. But then she reveals more and more about the characters’ backgrounds and motivations, and boom—what we thought we knew is wrong.

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‘Lucky’ by Marissa Stapley is a story about love, deception, and family

Lucky by Marissa Stapley

The best books are often the ones that grab you by the collar and hook you so thoroughly that you can’t stop reading, no matter the time of day, no matter other pressing responsibilities. Sometimes, we need books that don’t present complex philosophical insights or force us to consider world problems, but rather books with a wonderful story that is engaging and fun to read. “Lucky,” by Marissa Stapley is a perfect example of a novel in which the main character, Lucky, is a sympathetic and likable person. We like her immediately and want to keep reading to see where her madcap life will take her next. We learn about her at three stages of her life: as an infant abandoned in front of a church; as a child growing up with her charming grifter father; and in her current situation as it grows more and more dire.

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‘No Beauties or Monsters’ by Tara Goedjen is filled with surprise and mystery until the lovely ending

No Beauties or Monsters

“No Beauties or Monsters” by Tara Goedjen is the ultimate mystery novel. For most of the story, we have little idea what is happening. Why does main character Rylie lose track of time—for hours—and have no recollection of what happened? What is going on in Twentynine Palms and the nearby military base to which her mother was just transferred and where they visited her grandfather when Rylie was a child? And, in fact, what happened when Rylie was a child to estrange them from her grandfather?

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‘Everything We Didn’t Say’ by Nicole Baart is about passion and betrayal in small town Iowa

Everything We Didn’t Say by Nicole Baart

Open up this mystery, “Everything We Didn’t Say” by Nicole Baart, take a trip to small-town America, and visit Jericho, Iowa. This is as small town as America gets, a town where everyone knows each person’s business—or at least thinks they do. In reality, as we learn, there are always secrets that sometimes remain hidden for decades.

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‘Wish You Were Here’ by Jodi Picoult is a tale of COVID and life

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

It’s both fascinating and repelling to read a novel about New York during the worst of COVID, our modern-day version of the Black Plague. Many authors choose to skip any references to COVID for many reasons, but in “Wish You Were Here,” author Jodi Picoult writes unflinchingly about the worst of it, sparing us no details about the deaths, the few instances of people recovering from being intubated, and the fallout from that intubation. This novel is both delightful and horrifying, but at heart it’s what we expect from this prolific author—it’s thoughtful and life-affirming.

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‘The Christmas Bookshop’ by Jenny Colgan is just what we expect — a sweet, touching story of family and romance that warms our hearts

The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan

Jenny Colgan’s books are predictable, but we like them — a lot — nonetheless. We know that in the pages of her books, we are treated to a “vacation” of sorts in whatever exotic locale she chooses (although if you live in Edinburgh, it’s not quite so exotic), wherein ordinary people will have extraordinary adventures and end up the better for it. And those adventures aren’t epic and huge, but small events that serve to change the lives of the people involved.

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‘Grave Reservations’ by Cherie Priest is a cleverly amusing paranormal murder mystery

Grave Reservations by Cherie Priest

“Grave Reservations” by Cherie Priest is a perfectly charming paranormal mystery that features a slightly flaky but very personable main character. There’s nothing that says self-deprecating like a travel agent who calls herself “ninety-nine percent worthless as a psychic.” Leda Foley runs Foley’s Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy, a travel agency. In the first chapter, she changes a client’s connecting flight without letting him know in advance. When he calls her as he’s rushing to get to the original gate, she tells him that if he wants to get home that evening, he must take the rebooked flight. Priest explains that Leda “didn’t know why she’d changed his flight. It’d been a feeling, hard as a fist in her stomach.” After being sorry in the past when she ignored those feelings, she doesn’t ignore them now. And when his original flight explodes, he’s thankful for Leda’s feelings.

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‘The Wish’ by Nicholas Sparks is a two-hanky read

The Wish by Nicholas Sparks

True to form, Nicholas Sparks’ latest novel, “The Wish,” covers the gamut of emotions from love to loss and will have readers crying gently into a tissue before the end. In this story, we meet Maggie Dawes, a noted photographer who is dying from melanoma. So from the very start, Sparks is upfront that this book is about someone who will probably die by the end of the story. We are forewarned. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some surprises in store for us.

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‘The Ballad of Laurel Springs’ by Janet Beard is historical fiction about the songs that might just define us

The Ballad of Laurel Springs by Janet Beard

“The Ballad of Laurel Springs” by Janet Beard is historical fiction that begins in the present and gives us context for the ballads that are repeated through each woman’s tale — for this is a story that runs for over century, told about and by women all related by blood or circumstance. Each woman shares her story, some taking place in a year, some over many years, in first person narrative. At times, it almost feels like they are speaking directly to us. Pearl’s first sentence to us is, “I don’t believe in witches…Seems to me folks just like to blame their troubles on someone. If your cow stops giving milk, it’s probably sick, and if your horse up and dies, it’s probably gotten old. It’s not a witch’s fault—just bad luck.” That attitude changes horrifically later in her story.

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‘Drown Her Sorrows’ by Melinda Leigh is the third mystery in her Bree Taggert series

Drown Her Sorrows by Melinda Leigh

I’ve really enjoyed books about women sheriffs, and Melinda Leigh’s Bree Taggert series fits the bill nicely. The third book in the series, “Drown Her Sorrows,” can be read as a stand alone book, but the whole series is so good, why not start with the first one, “Cross Her Heart” and then continue with “See Her Die.” Bree Taggert has returned to her hometown, Grey’s Hollow, where her abusive father killed her mother as eight-year-old Bree cowered under the porch with her four-year-old sister and infant brother. In the first book, Bree returns to solve her sister’s murder, and she stays when she is offered the position of county sheriff.

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