Review by Veronica

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“Lily cast about for anyone else in the room she might speak to. Her eyes landed on a stranger near the door. He had clearly been watching her, and even now, he didn’t look away. His charcoal suit covered his long frame, and his light brown hair parted deeply on the right and swept back off his forehead the way Cary Grant wore it. 

She must have been staring for longer than she realized because the man’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled and lifted his drink slightly in acknowledgment. She looked away with a hasty blush.” 

The Last Dance of the Debutante is a captivating book that will remind readers why they love to read. 

When it’s announced that 1958 will be the last year debutantes are to be presented at court, thousands of eager mothers and hopeful daughters flood the palace with letters seeking the year’s most coveted invitation: a chance for their daughters to curtsey to the young Queen Elizabeth and officially come out into society.

In an effort to appease her traditional mother, aspiring university student Lily Nichols agrees to become a debutante and do the Season, a glittering and grueling string of countless balls and cocktail parties. In doing so, she befriends two very different women: the cool and aloof Leana Hartford whose apparent perfection hides a darker side and the ambitious Katherine Norman who dreams of a career once she helps her parents find their place among the elite.

But the glorious effervescence of the Season evaporates once Lily learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her entire family. Faced with a dark past, she’s forced to ask herself what really matters: her family legacy or her own happiness.

I am a huge fan of historical fiction books, but there are times when I get tired of reading books set during World War II. That is why when I was given a copy of The Last Dance of the Debutante, I was incredibly excited to read something that was set in England during the late 1950s. All I have to say is, Julia Kelly is a master storyteller, and her latest book just swept me off my feet and took me on an emotional rollercoaster ride.

I could not put this book down; I was drawn into the story right from the first chapter. The story is beautifully crafted and has such vibrant characters that feel real. Lily is a fabulous main character, and I could not think of a better person to explore the world of debutantes than her. She is kind, intelligent, and someone you can’t help but root for. I loved watching as her world grew, and she was able to make new friends and start to stand up for herself. Lily also won me over because of her love of books (hello, fellow bookworm!). The secondary characters also added so much depth to the story. I loved every single one of them, even the ones that made me so angry. I do love a good villain.  

I don’t know if I would survive a season of being a debutante. It is not all parties and pretty gowns. There is a lot of scheming going on, and it’s a cut-throat environment. Some of those ladies are scary. A debutante’s every move, gown, and social interaction is done for a reason, and that reason is to find a suitable husband and to be the Debutante of the Year. I like how Julia balanced the debutante season’s glitz and glamour with its darker behind-the-scenes world. It was fascinating and added many twists and turns, which I loved because it kept me guessing.

I often hold historical fiction books to a higher standard as a reader. I expect the book I am reading to have correct period details and a story that fits during that period. I can tell that Julia did her research for this book, the period details were spot on, and I loved how she captured what was happening in English society during the late 1950s. For me, it was interesting watching this struggle between old upper-class traditions and new modern societal norms, especially when it came to women’s roles in society. Lily and Katherine wanted more out of their lives than just getting married. Lily wanted to go to University, and Katherine wanted to work as a reporter. But both were pressured by parents and grandparents to follow those old traditions, and it was something that both characters really struggled with. It’s hard to find that balance between family duty and living your own life.

The romantic relationships in this book were not the story’s primary focus. But romance is woven throughout the plot, and I loved every moment Lily and Ian shared. It was beautiful watching these two interact with each other. Their chemistry was so real, and all I could think was these two better end up together at the end of this book, or I would be so mad. LOL, I am not going to say if they did, you will have to read the book to find out. I personally like the fact that Lily’s relationship with Ian was not the main focus of this book’s plot. I think it would have taken away some of this story’s richness. Julia did a fantastic job balancing the romance, history, characters while also adding some mystery to the story.

Usually, in my reviews, I go on and on about the food talk in a book. This time, I will rave about the clothing descriptions in this book. The everyday clothes and gowns made me wish I owned a time machine so I could go back into time and go shopping. Julia did a wonderful job at bringing fashion to life in her book, and I felt like I could feel the fabric and see all the fine details in the gowns. It added this extra layer of fabulousness to the book.

The Dance of the Last Debutante is a must-read for anyone who loves historical fiction.

Thank you, Simon and Schuster Canada for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Read our 5 minute quickie with Julia Kelly here.