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~The Charm School~

by Susan Wiggs

      Heroine:   plump/voluptuous

       Frumpy, dumpy Isadora Peabody doesn't want much out of life, just to be left in peace and quiet with her many academic tomes.  That, and to be the wife of Chad Easterbrook, the handsome son of another prominent Boston family.  But Isadora knows this dream will never come true, for she lacks the beauty, grace, and poise her lovely sisters possess, and she will never garner Chad's attention by hiding herself away behind potted plants at every social occasion.  Instead, she comforts herself by reading travel books about far away exotic lands, and political tracts speaking out against that hated transgression against mankind: slavery. 

        After a putting in a particularly dreadful appearance at a party, Isadora is grateful to make the acquaintance of one Lily Raines Calhoun, a lady most anxious to find her son's ship down at the harbor.  Some strange impulse prompts Isadora to lead the elegant woman to the Silver Swan's berthing, but her feeling of goodwill and accomplishment turns to shock when the pair of ladies crash an orgy of Bacchanalian proportions being held on deck.

       Fiery of both hair and temper, Ryan Calhoun is a man with a mission.  A man who will stoop to any level to accomplish that mission, including lie, cheat, and steal if that's what it takes to see justice done for his former-slave-turned-business-partner.  Ryan's taken on sailing for Abel Easterbrook under false pretenses, and finds himself on a vessel bound for Rio minus a crewman fluent in Portuguese.  When his employer makes an unfortunate visit to the ship mid-celebration during their first night in port, Ryan is certain he will lose his job, with his mother and some strange dowd in her company at hand to witness his shame!

      But to his surprise, his employment is secure, and he finds himself taking the conniving frump on as a hand on his crew after she finagles the translating job from Easterbrook!  The last thing Ryan wants is to be saddled with this blue-stocking female, but he needs a translator and she is more than qualified.

      The timid spinster and reckless captain can't help but be thrown together during the long months at sea.  And while Ryan begins the voyage by going out of his way to make poor Isadora miserable, her keen wit and willingness to pitch in with the chores soon win the handsome captain over, and he discovers that they have much more in common than he could have ever dreamed. 

      Life at sea was simple enough when Isadora was a disheveled dowd, but as she comes out of her shell Ryan sees her for the beauty that she truly is, and is soon faced with the dilemma of how to avoid the only attractive young woman on board a very small ship.  A woman who is rapidly falling in love with him!

 What worked for me:

       It's always nice to see a well-educated woman in a story, and I had the utmost respect for Isadora's astounding level of education, especially when it came to math and foreign languages, two areas I never really excelled at myself.

       I thought it was endearing how our hero, gorgeous though he was, had no fashion sense and couldn't refrain from wearing clashing, loud-colored clothes, an offense made all the worse when paired with his long red locks.

       Size-wise Isadora was extremely tall, plump, and unstylish at the beginning of the novel.  However, trading in a life of books for a life spent climbing a ship's rigging caused her to tone up and lose a little weight.  I thought that it was rather realistic, though, that Isadora did not shed her milk-toast personality as soon as she dropped a few pounds.  It took her a lot longer to learn to how to have confidence in herself when faced with members of Society.

       What didn't work for me:

       When they say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, they are referring to the title as well.  A name like "The Charm School" had me thinking that this would be a novel set in Regency London, not on the high seas of the Atlantic during Victorian times.

       Isadora began the story as something of a ninny.  Thank heavens her journey gave her some strength of character!

       As I've mentioned before, I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes the physical side of romance.  The fact that the hero bedded women other than the heroine in this story bothered me somewhat.

       Some scenes in the book went beyond the bounds of plausibility, enough so that it pulled me out of the story.


       "The Charm School" is a solid read for fans of American Historicals or novels with a "caterpillar-to-butterfly" theme.

Warning: There is some coarse language, sexy scenes, and recreational drug use in this story.

   If you liked "The Charm School" you might also enjoy "The Accidental Bride", "The Last Days of a Rake", "Unmarriageable", "The Bride and the Beast", "The Fire-Flower", "Suddenly You", "Enchanting Pleasures", "A Country Christmas", "The Hero's Best Friend", or "No Ordinary Princess".

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