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The Education of Mrs. Brimley by Donna…

The Education of Mrs. Brimley

by Donna MacMeans

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The Education of Mrs. Brimley was my first read by Donna MacMeans and also her debut novel. I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I picked it up. On the one hand, the premise sounded sweet and sexy, and I also discovered that the book won RWA's prestigious Golden Heart award. On the other hand, the GoodReads rating for the book is kind of middle of the road. I'm happy to say that I generally enjoyed the story and thought it was well-done for a first effort, but at the same time, it wasn't quite perfect, so I could see why some of the lower ratings came into play.

Our heroine, Emma, was born on the wrong side of the blanket. The author never really explains what happened to her father, but she was raised solely by her mother who passed away just a short time before the story begins. Emma and her mother lived under the good graces of her uncle, who treated them both poorly. He constantly berated Emma for being dowdy and plain, telling her she'd never snag a husband, and essentially using her as a servant to his own daughter. While Emma's mother still lived, she acted as something of a buffer between Emma and her uncle, but after her death, Emma overhears the uncle saying he's going to sell her to a man. At this point, Emma runs away. She responds to an ad for a teaching position at a girl's school far away in the country. The only problem is, they're looking for a widow to fill the job. After forging a reference and posing as a young widow, Emma gets hired. Then she finds out exactly why they wanted a widow: they need someone to teach “bedroom etiquette” or what amounts to sex ed. Of course, she knows nothing about the topic, but is desperate to keep the job. When the school library turns up no books that are helpful, she decides to risk a visit to the school's next-door neighbor, whom she's been warned is a rakish artist. Emma only intends to borrow a book, but soon finds herself making a deal with the “devil” to be the model for his latest painting in exchange for unlimited information about intimacies between a man and a woman.

Emma is a sweet, bookish young lady with a bit of an intellectual streak when it comes to literature, the other class she's teaching at the school. She has a particular interest in poetry, and discovers her neighbor apparently does too when they share a carriage ride at the beginning of the story. Even in an inebriated state he seems able to complete lines of poetry she begins, creating an instant connection between them. I could relate very well to Emma being made fun of and looked down on most of her life. Given those circumstances, it makes perfect sense that she doesn't believe Nicholas at first when he tells her she's beautiful nor does she believe that someone like him could be interested in a nobody like her. I enjoyed watching her grow to become more comfortable in her own skin as well as to accept her own beauty and her being deserving of the love of a good man. She's a great teacher, who immediately becomes a wonderful asset to the school and a friend to all the girls. The only thing that would have made Emma better is if she'd come to realize Nicholas's love for her sooner. With her perceptions colored by the lens of her uncle's cruelty, she has a tendency to often misconstrue things that Nicholas says or does and this continues right up until the very last pages of the book, which became somewhat tedious and frustrating.

Nicholas has endured his own share of ridicule. His father never believed in his ability as an artist and frequently derided Nicholas for his continued pursuit of art. As a result, he's taken up residence in a country manor house practically in the middle of nowhere, far from his family. Aside from traveling around to the local taverns and occasionally bringing one of the serving wenches home to model for him, he's pretty much a loner, who's completely immersed in his work. I think what frustrated me a bit about Nicholas's character is that there aren't very many scenes from his POV (at least not until toward the end) and those that are present generally don't last for more than a couple pages. This made it somewhat difficult to get inside his head and understand what he's thinking. The author hints at a lot of things about him, such as family conflict, a possible connection with one of the girls at the school, sensitivities about both his crippled leg and his art, and what exactly happened to cripple his leg, but she takes quite a while to actually reveal much about him. Even when she does, some of the questions I had were merely answered and then over with in the blink of an eye. Some examples of this were nothing more than a very brief mention of what happened to Nicholas's leg and his father and brother instantaneously coming around to support his artistic endeavors after viewing just one painting (though granted it was a masterpiece). I just think Nicholas would have been a fuller richer character if more of these things had been explored in more detail. As is though, I did like him, most especially for how he's able to put Emma at ease and help her come to believe in her own beauty and worth. I also loved how he's so much more than the rake he's perceived to be, and in reality can be a true gentleman and a trustworthy secret-keeper.

Where I thought the book could have really been improved is in certain aspects of the writing and plotting. From the moment I read the cover blurb, I was intrigued and thought the premise would lend itself well to being a rather steamy book, but unfortunately it didn't quite get there. Yes, there are certain parts that are rather sensual, but despite Emma modeling for Nicholas wearing (eventually) next to nothing, I didn't feel a great deal of sexual tension until quite a ways into the story. Part of the reason for this is probably that Emma is very prudish and even a little fearful in the beginning, so there's not much of a turn-on factor there. Once she begins to emotionally reveal herself to Nicholas, the sense of connection does improve dramatically, but just as things are getting good, the author takes a step back from their burgeoning relationship, leaving them dangling in the wind again. Then they keep doing this same dance throughout the rest of the story. I've never been a big fan of miscommunication or misunderstandings being used as the primary conflict in a book and here I felt like they were somewhat overused and at times felt rather forced. It seems like every couple of chapters one of them, usually Emma, is misconstruing something, which became rather tiresome. As to the sexual tension, my personal favorite scene is when Nicholas gets Emma to undress in front of him, telling her every little thing to do. That scene was exceptionally well-done. On the downside, after all this build-up of Emma and Nicholas frequently discussing sex and her modeling nearly nude, I was expecting some great love scenes that sadly never materialized. There's only one, which wasn't anything all that special and which was over in a matter of a few paragraphs.

There were a couple of other little things that also bugged me. Firstly there are a number of incorrect words used. In most cases they're the type that sound and/or look similar but simply aren't the right word for the situation. Eg. soothed instead of smoothed, shuddered instead of shuttered, crumbled instead of crumpled, etc. I realize typos are to be expected in any book, but there are enough of these mistakes to call attention to themselves and to make me pause in my reading to figure them out. Also I found a factual error. Late in the story a character is kidnapped using the old cloth saturated with a drug over the nose trick, making them pass out. The problem is the drug used is stated at least three times to be laudanum. I immediately questioned the veracity of that. Upon looking it up, I discovered, as suspected, that there is no indication for the use of laudanum in that way and that it would only render a person unconscious if taken internally in a liquid or pill form. What the author should have and probably meant to say is chloroform, which would also match her description of the odor quite well.

I freely admit that I'm not entirely certain of the historical accuracy of the premise of the story either. It seems somewhat unlikely that a proper girl's school would offer what amounts to sex education, but I was willing to go with it. Especially after it's revealed how that class came to be taught, it made a good deal of sense, so in the end, I felt like my trust wasn't misplaced. It certainly made for an entertaining premise even though the sexual tension of the situation wasn't fully realized the way I was hoping. Generally speaking, the characters were likable, and flaws aside, the story was reasonably well put together. I was somewhat confused by where the author was going with Nicholas's brother, William. At times, he comes off in a less than favorable light, but I guess he must be a pretty decent guy, because he becomes the hero of The Seduction of a Duke, the next book in the Chambers Trilogy. Although we barely get a glimpse of her, their sister, Arianne, the heroine of the third book, is seen as well. Overall, The Education of Mrs. Brimley may not have hit the heights of perfection for me, but it was still a pretty good read, good enough to make me continue with the series at some point. ( )
  mom2lnb | Jan 21, 2016 |
The Education Of Mrs. Brimley is a sensational debut novel by Donna MacMeans.

Emma Heatherston flees London after she overhears her uncle's plans for her future. She runs to Yorkshire to be a teacher at The Pettibone School for Young Ladies. There Emma takes on a new role as widow Emma Brimley. Emma's first night she meets her neighbor the notorious Lord Nicholas Chambers.

Lord Nicholas Chambers likes his quiet peaceful life painting in the countryside. His first meeting of the Widow Brimley intrigues him. For a widow there is something innocent about Emma.

Emma is shocked to learn that besides literature she is to teach bedroom etiquette. Emma turns to Nicholas for help. But this help has a price. Nicholas makes a deal with Emma, he will answer all her questions if she poses for him.

What starts out as a test of wills turns into a love of a lifetime. But can Nicholas protect Emma when her Uncle finds out where she has been hiding?

The Education of Mrs. Brimley is a superb novel. It's witty, tender and passionate. The characters feel like old friends by the time you are finished. I am really looking forward to the next book by this author. ( )
  bhryk0 | Nov 16, 2010 |
I enjoyed this book. I read for entertainment, and this book fit the bill! Some of the other reviews I've read were not quite stellar. It is a light romance with engaging characters that you want to know further. Very charming. Am looking forward to more from author. Thanks Donna MacMeans for an enjoyable trip! ( )
  aimeef | May 22, 2009 |
couldn't bring myself to finish it. ( )
  susanj | Jun 25, 2008 |
Emma Brimley has gotten herself into hot water. To obtain a job teaching at a young ladies' academy, Emma claimed to be a widow. Only now she's expected to prepare the girls for their marital duties - something she knows absolutely nothing about. She sees no other choice but to turn to the school's roguish neighbor Lord Nicholas 'Bedchambers' Chambers.

Chambers is an artist in desperate search for a model to inspire a painting good enough to be accepted into the London Academy. So he strikes an unorthodox bargain with Mrs. Brimley - one truthful answer to her question per item of clothing she removes to pose for him. And Emma has a lot of questions.

I really enjoyed this novel. I have a soft spot for artists - whether poets, sculptors, or painters. So the descriptions of Chambers' painting and how he is inspired by Emma's transformation into a goddess really worked for me. I love stories where the heroine is a muse for the hero - and that definitely happens here.

I also enjoyed Mrs. Brimley's interactions with the girls at the school, although I thought those aspects were sadly neglected at times in order to focus more on the situation with Chambers. I had hoped for more scenes between the teacher and the girls under her charge - perhaps truly demonstrating how she becomes the girls' favorite teacher.

Despite some flaws, this story was fun and sexy. A good first effort, and I'll keep an eye out for more by this author.

Posted at my blog. ( )
  Caramellunacy | Feb 16, 2008 |
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Perched on her trunk, her nose numb, her toes paralyzed, the January cold burrowing bone deep, Emma Brimley huddled on an empty train platform agonizing over her decision to leave London for Yorkshire.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425218309, Mass Market Paperback)

Emma Brimley pretends to be a widow to find employment at an all-girl's school. But when she's expected to teach the intimacies of marriage, she strikes a scandalous bargain with a neighboring artist-a man well-versed in bedroom etiquette.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:10 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

As Emma Brimley, masquerading as a widow, starts her new post at the Pettibone School for Young Ladies, she is dismayed to learn that she is expected to prepare her students for the intimacies of marriage, of which she knows nothing about until she meets a neighboring artist.… (more)

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