For 2022, one of the goals that I’ve set for myself is reading at least 5 books a month, inspired by a recent Penguin Books tweet inquiring about everyone’s goals for this year. Fingers crossed that 60 books for 2022 is not too lofty a goal given my past record.
I’m already 3 books into that goal for this month, and I’m sharing my thoughts on those three titles, along with two others that are releasing later this month. (I’ll share my reviews on those two titles by updating this post at the end of the month, so be sure to check back.)
Of the three books that I’ve read so far this month, there was one book that I couldn’t put down until I’d finished it (making it my favorite book of 2022 so far!) Read on to find out which one!
The Last Dance of the Debutante
The latest novel from Julia Kelly the author of The Last Garden in England, will bring a thrill to any fashion lover’s heart. From the first page, we are whisked away to post-WWII London, where the very last of the debutantes are presented at court. As you follow along with young debutante Lily Nichols you have an invite to all the best cocktail balls and cocktail parties, where she makes friends with two women who couldn’t be more different. Leana Hartford comes from old money and her moods are as changeable as the weather and then there’s Katherine Norman aka The Millionaire Deb whose father is in the newspaper business and dreams of becoming a reporter.
But nothing everything is about finding the perfect gown or securing an invite to the best coming out parties and balls of the season. Lily discovers a secret that has been hidden from her since birth and she is forced to make a difficult decision that will change her life forever.
The Last Dance of the Debutante was one of those books that you can’t put down once you start reading it. From the descriptions of the fashions of the time to the glamorous parties, you immediately find yourself attached to the heroine of the novel, wondering what’s going to happen next in the world that author Julia Kelly has created. If you enjoy historical fiction set in post-war London (and are intrigued to find out exactly what secret Lily discovers) this novel is definitely one that you should check out!
The Last House on the Street
A community’s past sins rise to the surface in New York Times bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s The Last House on the Street when two women, a generation apart, find themselves bound by tragedy and an unsolved, decades-old mystery.
Growing up in the well-to-do town of Round Hill, North Carolina, Ellie Hockley was raised to be a certain type of proper Southern lady. Enrolled in college and all but engaged to a bank manager, Ellie isn’t as committed to her expected future as her family believes. She’s chosen to spend her summer break as a volunteer helping to register black voters. But as Ellie follows her ideals fighting for the civil rights of the marginalized, her scandalized parents scorn her efforts, and her neighbors reveal their prejudices. And when she loses her heart to a fellow volunteer, Ellie discovers the frightening true nature of the people living in Round Hill.
Architect Kayla Carter and her husband designed a beautiful house for themselves in Round Hill’s new development, Shadow Ridge Estates. It was supposed to be a home where they could raise their three-year-old daughter and grow old together. Instead, it’s the place where Kayla’s husband died in an accident―a fact known to a mysterious woman who warns Kayla against moving in. The woods and lake behind the property are reputed to be haunted, and the new home has been targeted by vandals leaving threatening notes. And Kayla’s neighbor Ellie Hockley is harboring long-buried secrets about the dark history of the land where her house was built.
Two women. Two stories. Both on a collision course with the truth–no matter what that truth may bring to light–in Diane Chamberlain’s riveting, powerful novel about the search for justice.
If you’re looking for a book that you won’t be able to put down, The Last House on the Street, is definitely that book.
From the very first chapter you’ll be drawn into both Ellie and Kayla’s world, as author Diane Chamberlain expertly weaves the stories between two different timelines. Both women continue on in the face of tragedy, looking for the answers the dark secrets that bind them together.
It’s hands down one of the best books that I read in 2021(I was lucky enough to get an advanced readers copy) and I literally can’t recommend it enough. From start to finish you’re on the edge of your seat, and by the end, you could never have expected the truth that is revealed.
Be sure to sign up for my newsletter at the bottom of this post so you won’t miss my interview with Diane that goes live on the books release date, 1/11.
The Paris Bookseller
THE PARIS BOOKSELLER opens in 1917, as World War I ends and Paris is alive as a thriving center for culture and modernity. With new ideas rapidly taking the post-war world by storm, Sylvia Beach moves to Paris and opens the doors to her new English-language bookshop with the help of fellow writer and bookseller Adrienne Monnier. What starts as a partnership and friendship with Adrienne soon blossoms into a romance, and the women work together to create a haven for English writers and readers.
Sylvia quickly falls in love with James Joyce’s prose, especially his unpublished manuscript, Ulysses. When the contentious novel is banned in the United States for its obscenity, Sylvia takes a massive financial and personal risk, deciding to publish it under the auspices of Shakespeare and Company. She quickly realizes that the success and notoriety of publishing the most influential book of the century comes with steep costs. While many patrons applaud her efforts, some believe she has marred the integrity of Shakespeare and Company as she remains staunchly loyal to Joyce. Even worse, the future of her beloved store is threatened and her most enduring friendships are put to the test when Ulysses’ success leads to Joyce being wooed by other publishers. Now on the cusp of World War II and facing financial ruin, Sylvia must decide how far she will go to keep Shakespeare and Company alive.
I’ve always had an interest in the original Shakespeare & Co and the modern day location that is run by a woman named after the founder of the original bookshop, Sylvia Beach. In this novel we get an inside look at the life of Sylvia Beach and the how she moved against the societal norms to create a world where book lovers and famous authors could meet to converse about books. Through her bookshop and with the help of a fellow bookseller, Sylvia’s world expands and leads her to a life she never could have imagined.
If you enjoy reading books set in pre-war Paris, and want to immerse yourself in the literary world, this is definitely a book to check out. (Read my previous interview with Kerri Maher.)
Her Hidden Genius
She changed the world with her discovery. Three men took the credit.
Rosalind Franklin has always been an outsider―brilliant, but different. Whether working at the laboratory she adored in Paris or toiling at a university in London, she feels closest to the science, those unchanging laws of physics and chemistry that guide her experiments. When she is assigned to work on DNA, she believes she can unearth its secrets.
Rosalind knows if she just takes one more X-ray picture―one more after thousands―she can unlock the building blocks of life. Never again will she have to listen to her colleagues complain about her, especially Maurice Wilkins who’d rather conspire about genetics with James Watson and Francis Crick than work alongside her.
Then it finally happens―the double helix structure of DNA reveals itself to her with perfect clarity. But what unfolds next, Rosalind could have never predicted.
Marie Benedict’s latest novel, Her Hidden Genius shares the story of a real-life scientist, Rosalind Franklin who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA. While Rosalind’s work was mostly hidden by the men, there were several of her male colleagues that were staunch supporters of her work. (It was the factor of her life, and also the fact that she would disregard her own personal safety with the amount of radiation that she was exposed to, that caused me as a reader much frustration as I read the book. Like several scientists in her field at that time, she ended up losing her life to cancer caused by radiation poisoning.)
It’s clear from the detailed descriptions of Rosalind’s discoveries that the author did considerable research into Rosalind’s work prior to writing the novel, but it was the descriptions of her life outside of the lab with her friends that intrigued me the most. Whether your interests lay in the scientific world, or if you simply want to learn more about one of the most brilliant female scientists, this novel will be a delight to read!
The Magnolia Palace
Eight months since losing her mother in the Spanish flu outbreak of 1919, twenty-one-year-old Lillian Carter’s life has completely fallen apart. For the past six years, under the moniker Angelica, Lillian was one of the most sought-after artists’ models in New York City, with statues based on her figure gracing landmarks from the Plaza Hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge. But with her mother gone, a grieving Lillian is rudderless and desperate—the work has dried up and a looming scandal has left her entirely without a safe haven. So when she stumbles upon an employment opportunity at the Frick mansion—a building that, ironically, bears her own visage—Lillian jumps at the chance. But the longer she works as a private secretary to the imperious and demanding Helen Frick, the daughter and heiress of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick, the more deeply her life gets intertwined with that of the family—pulling her into a tangled web of romantic trysts, stolen jewels, and family drama that runs so deep, the stakes just may be life or death.
Nearly fifty years later, mod English model Veronica Weber has her own chance to make her career—and with it, earn the money she needs to support her family back home—within the walls of the former Frick residence, now converted into one of New York City’s most impressive museums. But when she—along with a charming intern/budding art curator named Joshua—is dismissed from the Vogue shoot taking place at the Frick Collection, she chances upon a series of hidden messages in the museum: messages that will lead her and Joshua on a hunt that could not only solve Veronica’s financial woes but could finally reveal the truth behind a decades-old murder in the infamous Frick family.
Fiona Davis’ most recent novel, The Magnolia Palace is a delight to read. Set between the early 1900s and the 1966’s, the novel tells a story revolving around the art world, a stolen diamond, and a death surrounded by mystery.
In the novel, we meet the artist’s muse, Lillian Carter (know professionally as Angelica) who takes a position as a private secretary to the daughter of the wealthy Frick family (whose home was turned into a museum at the wishes of the family patriarch Henry Clay Frick.) Lillian finds herself at the mercy of her employer’s changeable moods while trying to keep the secret of her past from coming to light.
In the 1966’s we meet Veronica, who travels to America for a Vogue photoshoot and finds herself trapped in the Frick Museum over a long weekend. There she meets Joshua a young intern, and together they work to unravel the clues from a decades-old murder.
I read this book over the course of several evenings, because it’s just too good to rush through, and the ending is definitely worth it! I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves art, mysteries, and family drama.