by Donna MacMeans, historical (2007)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21830-3
The Education Of Mrs. Brimley is pretty fun for, oh, 50 pages before the heroine's antics start to cause my brain to atrophy. It's a pity. Donna MacMeans' debut historical romance has an excellent roguish hero and a potentially enjoyable premise, but she then treats the whole story like a painful shock therapy session for the heroine. I'm far from amused, to say the least. This book makes me feel as if I'm Queen Victoria disapproving of everything and anything and boy, I don't like that feeling at all, I tell you.
Emma Brimley's life in London is far from a social success. An orphan, she was born out of wedlock and her uncle treated her as if she's Cinderella. Since she has no fairy godmother, Emma decides to run away when she spots an advertisement in the paper looking for teachers at the Pettibone School for Young Ladies. Located at provincial Leighton-on-the-Wold and as far from London as she'd want it to be, the School is an opportunity to escape her uncle and his petty daughter. Alas, the School is looking for a widowed teacher. Well, Emma will pass herself off as a widow then!
Imagine her shock when she arrives at the School and realizes that the reason the headmistresses are seeking a widow is because they want this person to teach their students about the events that happen in the marriage bed. Emma has no idea of what the specific details are, as you can probably imagine. Luckily for her, the rake that lives in the estate next to the school, Nicholas Chambers, is willing to teach her all she needs to know... provided that she is willing to pose nude for him. He's an artist, you see, and he needs to paint a fancy Greek thing in order to be admitted into the Academy in London. Emma is going to be his muse for Artemis. But once he gets her clothes off, he will find her more inspiring in so many different ways, heh.
This story could have been fun. It is fun in its first 50 pages. Nicholas is an excellent hero - a naughty fellow full of irresistible charm and naughtiness without any overblown angst to make him pout. Emma manages to get in a few hilarious lines, especially the one where she compares a man's testicles to "two small potatoes in a twisted sack" and wonders why people make such a fuss over those ugly things.
However, it doesn't take long before Emma's insecurities rise to the forefront and make the story as enjoyable to read as it is to watch a cow in prolonged and difficult labor. When Nicholas manages to coax an item of clothing off her, she starts complaining about the impropriety of the act. When Nicholas calls her beautiful, she bursts into tears or tears into him angrily for "lying" to her. Every touch of his on her body causes her to writhe in pleasure and flail about in self-loathing that it's like... I don't know, following a schizophrenic arguing hysterically with herself. I understand where poor Emma is coming from, since the poor young lady has a really screwed-up perspective about sex, but yikes, following her is a painful ordeal.
I'm not sure that Emma learns anything by the last page as well. Emma is painfully naïve here. For example, when she experiences her first sexual pleasure with Nicholas, she gets furious when he offhandedly remarks that she can experience such sensations with other men. You see, in her mind, what they have is special and she can't imagine doing such things with anyone else ever so now she has to run away - again - and cry because that is how she deals with such emotions. She may be in her early twenties but she thinks and feels like a thirteen-year old girl, sigh. I don't see any credible sexual awakening or education here. All I have here is, to be blunt, Emma getting laid and loving it despite protesting hysterically about how this isn't proper and that isn't right for what seems like six million years. It's a good thing, therefore, that Nicholas isn't a cad or poor Emma will come to a most unhappy end.
The fact that poor Emma is so ignorant only makes this story come off even more discomfiting to read than it would otherwise be. After all, here we have a story where a man is needed to show the ignorant wee woman what part goes into where as well as to reassure her of her self-esteem and beauty. I will feel a little better, I suspect, if Emma is more proactive in learning those things and if she enjoys getting schooled a little bit more instead of squealing non-stop like a lamb being sheared for the first time.
It is most disappointing that the heroine is really painful to follow because this story has a wonderful cast of secondary characters and a hero that is too adorable at times. The Education Of Mrs. Brimley could have been a pleasure to read if the heroine has a completely different kind of personality. Oh well, maybe the next book will be better. I guess I will just have to wait and find out.
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