Thursday, September 15, 2011

The School for Brides

The School for Brides by Cheryl Ann Smith 912

Evangeline, the bastard daughter of a nobleman and his long time mistress Charlotte, has been masquerading as the prim, proper, and homely Miss Eva Black for years. Her father and mother were in love but after his death the two women were at the mercy of the law and her father's very bitter wife. Determined to help girls escape the life that her mother led Eva opened a school to train courtesans how to act and behave as proper ladies in order to prepare them for advantageous marriages, if not for marriage into the nobility. Nicholas, the Duke of Stanfield, is furious at Eva for stealing his mistress, Arabella, and shocked when he discovers what she had done with the former courtesan. Bent on revenge he buys up the debts that Charlotte had accrued during the mental decline she suffered after her protector's death and demands immediate payment from Eva. But Eva's reaction intrigues Nicholas and suddenly he realizes the perfect solution to his problem is for Eva to take the place of the mistress she had "stolen" from him.

Eva is horrified at the prospect of becoming a courtesan, but not only does she need to save her home as a safe place for her mother, she is tempted by Nicholas and the pleasure he promises her. She goes to him and he is stunned to discover that she is a virgin and he knows that one night with her will never be enough. However, Eva does not want to become like her mother and risk falling in love with a man who could never belong to her. Making things even more complicated for Eva is the sudden appearance of one of her half-sisters, a woman Eva had been lead to believe wanted nothing to do with her and only wished her hard. Suddenly Nicholas is forced to confront the truth about the woman he seduced under false pretenses and rethink his plan to marry a boring society maiden and keep a mistress on the side. But just as he's thinking about changing the course of his life one of Eva's reformed courtesans goes missing and helping her could be just what he needs to do to prove to her that despite her past, their future together is what counts and that as long as they love each other they can weather any storm.

The plot of this book was incredibly intriguing to me and I really like the idea of a school that is dedicated to helping courtesan's find husbands, not reform them because of religious or moral reasons, but because she genuinely wants these women to have more options. It came across as very advanced thinking for that time, but also realistic for someone with her back ground and past experiences. This made Eva such an admirable character and I liked that she cared deeply for her mother, but there were also elements of her that were frustrating. She held onto her belief that she was not good enough for Nicholas long after I felt that every obstacle in her path, from Nicholas to his mother to her way of contributing to society. It got to be a little much and I wanted her to just accept that she was good enough. Nicholas is a very hard to define character because he certainly started off as a douche to put it bluntly, and while he did make some definite improvements throughout the course of the book, I still felt like he was a bit of a snob and a misogynist.

Nicholas and Eva spent a lot of time together, which does often lead to a likable romance, but their initial few meetings were marred by the blackmail and the abject hatred they both seemed to harbor for each other. Things definitely got better the more time they spent together, but were still tinged with something that made me a little uncomfortable because I felt like they weren't coming at each other on equal footing until he discovered who her father was (like I said he was a bit of a snob) and he started thinking about marrying her. Once that occurred I liked it more because I liked that he was the one with the disadvantage and he was genuinely going after her. The sex between them was really hot, if somewhat long and drawn out, and there really was a decent amount of it spread throughout the course of the book. I also liked the brief side plot involving the missing courtesan because it was quick, but I did feel like it got a little too cutesy and featured too many "sassy" women working together as the bestest best friends. Side characters were really well done and I wish we'd seen more of both of their mothers.

Rating: A decent book that was easy to read and I enjoyed something genuinely new and interesting to me, but there were problems with the hero not reforming as much as I would have liked.

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