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ARC Review: Girls Before Earls by Anna Bennett


Publishing Date: December 28, 2021



To survive her difficult childhood, Miss Hazel Lively relied on two things:a tough outer shell and a love of books. Now, at the age of twenty-eight, she’s finally realized her life-long dream of opening a school for girls. She’s hoping that the wealthy families who flock to the shore for the summer will entrust their daughters to Bellehaven Academy―and help pay the way for less fortunate students. All Hazel must do is maintain a flawless reputation and raise a good deal of money. It’s a foolproof plan…till a sinfully handsome earl strides into her office.


Gabriel Beckett, Earl of Bladenton, has had a monstrous headache since the day his teenaged niece became his ward. She’s been expelled from two London boarding schools and is doing her damnedest to scare off his potential fiancée. But Blade has a plan of his own―enroll his niece at Bellehaven Academy, where she’ll be out of town and out of his hair. He just needs to convince the buttoned-up headmistress with the soulful brown eyes to take on his niece.


When Blade makes a generous offer to the school, it’s impossible for Hazel to refuse. But she has one non-negotiable condition: the earl must visit his niece every other week. Soon, Blade discovers there’s much more to Hazel than meticulous lesson plans. In moonlit seaside coves and candlelit ballrooms, their sparring leads to flirtation…and something altogether deeper. But the passion that flares between them poses a threat to Hazel’s school and Blade’s battered heart. They say a good thing can’t last forever, but true love? Well, it just might…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a sweet romance between a bookish headmistress with some rather radical ideas and a rakish earl who has been hurt so badly in his past that he feels he’s too damaged to love and has just had a headstrong and trouble-making niece dropped into his care.

I loved the found-family aspect of it, with Hazel, who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by the headmistress of a finishing school, determined to provide both a place and a *home* for the girls in her care – both the wealthy ones and those who are poor foundlings like her. Her relationship with the girls deepens wonderfully over the course of the novel, and the scenes with the girls were some of my favorites. Kitty blossoms at the school and that was a joy to see, as well as Hazel’s gradual loosening up and coming out of her shell.

Which is not to say that I disliked Hazel and Blade’s relationship. I liked it very much – especially how he respected her and showed her many small kindnesses over the course of the story. I liked that their friendship and regard for one another wasn’t overshadowed by their physical attraction and chemistry.

I loved the setting of the novel as well, with the ocean and the sea air and the small quirky beach community offering a place for them all to heal. It wouldn’t have been the same story in London.

I will definitely be seeking out further books by Anna Bennett.

*Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an e-arc for review.

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