This was a very nicely written opener for a new series. The plotting and pacing are well done and I really liked the characters. I will mention that the quick and easy social acceptance between classes is anachronistic. Those characters all add greatly to the story, but I can’t picture the young woman who makes her living by catching and selling fish being invited to a grand ball being given by a countess. That isn’t the only anachronism, it is just the one that was foremost in my mind at the moment.
Hazel Lively was born into a very loving family whose father was a butcher. As the only child, there was love and hugs aplenty. Her father called her ‘his little hazelnut’. Then, at the age of nine, she lost them both (I don’t think we learned how) and she was thrown onto the mercy of the world. It appeared she was headed for the hard life of a foundling home until her lively, brilliant mind, and obsession with books won her a place at Miss Haywinkle’s School For Girls – as a charity student. Now, at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Hazel has finally brought a long-held dream to reality. She’s moved to Bellhaven Bay and opened the Bellhaven Academy of Deportment. It is her dream to have enough students who can pay for their schooling so she can take on more ‘charity’ students. To be a success in all of that, she knows that she, her school, and even her students must keep their reputations beyond reproach. The slightest touch of scandal could cause parents to begin withdrawing their daughters. So, when an earl approached her about accepting his niece, who was his ward, as a boarding student, she was happy – until she heard the history of this young woman, encountered her attitude, and encountered the attitude of the earl. No, Hazel didn’t think Kitty Beckett would be a good fit for the school. Even when the earl offered to triple the tuition, she didn’t think it would be a good fit. Then, things happened, and she realized Kitty was a tragically lost young woman and needed her help.
Gabriel Beckett (his name was never used in the book, but it was in the blurb), Earl of Bladenton, known as Blade, was stunned to discover he had a niece and that she was now his ward. He and his younger brother had been estranged for many years and Blade had no idea his brother had a fifteen-year-old daughter. He had no idea what to do with a young woman other than put her in a boarding school – so that is what he proceeded to do. Kitty managed to get herself kicked out of school after school after school because of her bad behavior. By the time Blade got around to Bellehaven, he’d exhausted all of his other options and was willing to pay whatever he had to pay in order to get them to accept her – and KEEP her. However, those additional demands the Headmistress put on him – well, he’s not sure he can agree to those. Those demands would interfere too much with his life in London – particularly in his pursuit of Lady Penelope as his wife.
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Hazel come to slowly (VERY slowly) realize there was life and happiness outside her school. Then, to see Blade come to realize (less slowly) that the life he was pursuing was a cold and ultimately lonely one and perhaps his chance for true love and happiness wasn’t in London at all.
Kitty was a delight to read. Watching her grow from a lost young lady to one who has opened herself to others, who accepts others, and who has come to truly love her uncle, was truly heartwarming. When Kitty and the other students at the school put their heads together – things happen – some good things, some not so good things – but happen they do.
I can definitely recommend with book and hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an Advanced Reader Copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.