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The Charm School

(Calhoun Chronicles #1)

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  3,050 ratings  ·  248 reviews
An awkward misfit in an accomplished, Boston family, Isadora Peabody yearns to escape her social isolation and sneaks aboard the Silver Swan, bound for Rio, leaving it all behind.

Ryan Calhoun, too, had a good family name. But he'd purposely walked away from everything it afforded him. Driven by his quest to right an old wrong, the fiery, temperamental sea captain ba
Mass Market Paperback, 391 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by Mira (first published April 1st 1999)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,050 ratings  ·  248 reviews

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The Charm School was a good book about an ugly duckling heroine who finds new life when she travels aboard a ship to Rio. The hero is a bit of a rakish daredevil who slowly falls for the heroine over the long ship journey. The story had a lot of great detail about life on a ship and really brought the setting and characters to life. The heroine's transformation from a plain, plump spinster who was too smart and horrible at social situations to a confident woman who believed in herself was the ma ...more
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: American 1850's fans
I adored this book. I liked the whole Ugly Duckling premise. He wasn't too much of a rogue and the scenes that put him in that light were bearable. If anyone has any other Ugly Duckling suggestions please let me know!!

I got this one from the library but I think I will make it a keeper soon!
Julie (jjmachshev)
May 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a reissue of a 1999 release.

What a wonderful story about love and transformation Susan Wiggs has penned in “The Charm School”. It combines the lure of “Pygmalion” with the fairy tale of “The Ugly Duckling” and even throws in a dash of anti-slavery activism. And it all comes together beautifully in a story that validates hopes and dreams of love and freedom.

Isadora is the ugly duckling. In her family of slim, pale blondes, she’s a full-figured, tall brunette; and in 1850s Bo
The classic ugly duckling story - of course she has to lose weight to be beautiful! Of course she has to lose her glasses to be beautiful! Of course she has to smoke weed by a waterfall to be ... wait. What?
During the early 1850's, a motley crew of men managed a ship captained by Virginian Ryan Calhoun. They have returned to Boston in record time for their employer, Able Easterbrook, to earn a sizable amount of money. Before heading to Brazil on another mission, Ryan met the withdrawn and frumpy Isadora Dudley Peabody. Aware of her prestigious family, he sensed there was more to Miss Peabody than meets the eye. He was kind to her.

Preparing for the voyage, he found out that Isadora had been hi
May 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Isadora Peabody is a shy, pasty duckling who can't get no man. Ryan Calhoun is a brassy redheaded Captain who is a bad man. They end up on a sea voyage and Isadora gets hot and Ryan also gets hot and then they get hot together before the devastating realization of feelings.

1. Uninspired 'ugly duckling' story: Isadora wears glasses and is plump and is pale and has allergies and is educated omg. Then she goes on a Voyage of Discovery and no longer needs glasses! And loses weight! And gets tan! And, somehow, loses her allergies e
Nov 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of periodical historical formulaic romances
2.5 stars
Was the quintessential romance.. with the usual formulas put to good use
1. Ugly duckling turning into a beautiful Swan
2. This change brought about by a man
3. This man being the proverbial Rake
4. Not only a rake, but also a handsome, blacksheep of the family who have women swooning over sort of rake
5. Initial antipathy between the two opposites
6. The principles of opposites attack being put to good use
7. The realization at the end
8. A
Miranda Davis
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of historical romance w/exotic ports of call
What a corker of a tale! Set in Boston 1850's, the open sea and Brazil.
Isadora Peabody, an intelligent, uptight, recessive spinster ugly duckling in a gilded Beacon Hill Boston family escapes the constraints of her life and blossoms at sea on a voyage she finagles with the shipper, another eminent Bostonian.

The ship's captain is a southerner with secret plans involving his childhood companion and freed slave, Journey. He's talked his way into captaining a ship to Brazil with a
Jun 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
I'm this book 2.5-3 stars, which is really bifurcated between 3.5-4 for the writing, atmosphere, setting, and plot and 2 for the romance.

3.5-4 = The author does a nice job of weaving magical descriptions of exotic Rio and earthy shipboard life. I learned a lot of nautical terminology after searching Google while reading. The characters were pretty well drawn, even though I didn't necessarily like them (if that makes sense?). Isadora's life in Boston w
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars.

Seriously, this book needs an epilogue. I want to know what happens to Ryan and Isadora. Do they go sailing the seas? Do they live in Boston? WHAT HAPPENS!!!
I loved that this story was a kind of Ugly Duckling retelling. Though a highborn lady, Isadora was too ungraceful, intelligent, and not pretty enough to fit in with Boston high society. Therefore, she manipulated her way onto the ship the hero, Ryan, was captaining. She knew some foreign languages, and as they were going to Brazi
I love this era in history. It's hard to find stories that specialize in American life (considering there is an excess of westerns from this time period). Considering that most of the book too place on a ship, there was ample interaction between the H/h and allowed the heroine to grow. Isadora has a cool name, but she was a pretty pitiable creature during the beginning of this story. Smart, but socially awkward and a bit of a coward. Ryan (also love this name) is really a great guy, despite the ...more
Susan (susayq ~)
This was a a great book. What I liked most about it was that we got to see Ryan fall in love with Isadora. Usually in romance books, we get more of the female perspective and get to see her fall in love. Don't get me wrong, we saw Isadora go from an ugly duckling who didn't quite fit in anywhere to a confident woman who learned to not be scared of being noticed and who could speak her mind (and all it took was six months at sea with a ship full of misfit sailors to help her do it ;0) ) as she fe ...more
By Susan Wiggs. Grade: B
I read the back blurb and was immediately excited because it showed a lot of promise. Historicals almost always have the same recurring theme – you guessed it, reformed rakes – and I thought this change was refreshing.
Isadora Peabody is an awkward misfit in her beautiful and accomplished family. Shunned by those she yearns to befriend, she gives her heart to a man who doesn’t even know she exists. With nothing to lose, she seizes the chance to journey to a won
The Charm School
2 Stars

Socially inept and isolated, Isadora Peabody is an ugly duckling in a family of peacocks. Deciding to make a change, Isadora finagles her way on to The Silver Swan bound for Rio and ends up charming the pants off the surly captain, Ryan Calhoun, and his eccentric crew.

To begin with, the book synopsis bears very little resemblance to the actual storyline. Isadora doesn't "sneak aboard"; she is hired as a translator. Ryan doesn't "barely register" Isadora; he is smitte
May 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wonderful, charming, delightful. A coming-of-age for a Boston ugly duckling who has adventure in her heart but can't match the beauty and glamour and confidence of her Boston Brahmin family. She's smart, with a hidden beauty that only needs the right partner to let her blossom.

That's our cranky, flashy-dressing, handsome sea captain of a hero who reluctantly sails his commercial ship to Brazil with his mother and our heroine in tow. I have no answer as to why I hadn't read this book
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it! Vibrantly written, with a charming scoundrel hero, a repressed, uptight heroine, and a vivid cast of well-drawn supporting characters. The author brings the world of the story -- from stuffy Boston society, to a ship sailing the high seas, to sultry Rio de Janeiro -- to life, and does a good job showing the hero and heroine growing to care about each other as their sparring turns to friendship and love. Funny, sexy, romantic - a great read from beginning to end.
Suzanne (Under the Covers Book blog)
Isadora Peabody is a complete misfit in her rich Boston family, tall and curvy where they are willowy, unruly brown hair where they have sleek blonde locks, intelligent and clever when they are all social butterflies. Bound into a life she hates and doesn't fit in to she grabs the chance to get away on a ship to Rio when it presents it self, despite the insufferable arrogant and rakeish Captain Ryan Calhoun.

I pretty much devoured this book, I devoured it in one sitting, I love a plai
Historic Romance Nope

Sad to say, but this one has not held up to the test of time, I found very little to like. The hero and heroine are at odds with each other the entire book, up until the last chapter or so.

The heroine is unlikable, another of those who has never had a friend. That would make her unfriendly, and, side note to all authors, prickly, unfriendly people are not appealing!

The hero doesn't fare much better, the intimate scene made me cringe. And that, on a whole, is the best way to de
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
0_0 this book was brilliantly written...ok it's not what i would typically read because i don't really like that time era but oh gosh i thoroughly enjoyed it!!!!! The characters were amazing and it was just...believable! i love how Ryan and Isadora are so honest hehehehe and they both grow together in the book...All the characters i loved and i was actually dreading when i knew this book would finish...But such a beautiful story that i really really loved...i have read a lot of plain jane books ...more
I loved Isadora's transformation, though I struggled with how long it truly took her to shake off her spinster mantle. And while the book makes it seem as though we actually spend time with the crew, watching them train her, that's really very little of the book.

I hated how Ryan spent time with two different girls, right in front of Isadora too. And the first time they kissed? Oh after he'd come from having sex with a woman. Which he openly admits to her. No thanks. I don't need celi
Jan 31, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After reading, and loving Ms. Wiggs Tudor Rose Trilogy, this was a disappointment. I guess the biggest reason was the ending. I hate it when I've invested the time and emotion in a storyline only to have it suddenly wrapped up, tied up and finished in the last few paragraphs. Forgive me but after 408 pages, it could have spared a few to help me understand what happened. Instead it was "I'm back...Great, because I love you..... The end".
Maria Ines Alvarez
this book is getting 2 stars only because of the whole ugly duckling thing, i am a sucker for transformations. i didnt really made a connection with hero therefore i didnt put myself in the heroine shoes. the whole red hair and then the colorful clothes just didnt do it for me. even thou the heroine thought he looked great.
Jul 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Taking a break from my usual PNR and UF reads I picked up Charm School by Susan Wiggs on the reccomendation of several book blogs.
I was interested in the idea of an awkward, none to pretty heroine and how the romance between her and the hero would progress.
Charm School is a wonderful read. If you like history, you'll enjoy a look into the shipping industry, abolitionist movement and politics of the American South in the 1860's (approx.), if you like romance you'll enjoy the dynamic b
Blodeuedd Finland
I am writing both reviews at once since I finished the books so close to each other.

The first one is a classic ugly duckling story, she does not feel at home, and she is not as popular and praised as her sisters. Not to mention that Isadora loves books. But she sees a way to get out and she manages to convince the owner of captain Ryan's ship to let her travel with them as a translator/companion to Ryan's mother. The captain is not pleased but she gets her will and steps aboard the s
I picked this up at the library. I have seen it listed as a favorite several times so I thought I'd give it a try. My first to read by this author. An interesting take on the Ugly Duckling fairy tale. Isadora Peabody was the ugly duckling, living with a family of beautiful ducks. Ryan Calhoun is the captain of a ship called The Sliver Swan and they are heading for Rio. Isadora manages to get on board as a translator, despite the objections of the captain. I found the story to be rather delightful an ...more
Marion Marchetto
An engaging tale of a proper Boston young miss who becomes transformed while on a sea journey to find herself. I found this approach to the historical romance genre refreshing. However, I would caution against letting impressionable young ladies reading this.

While the sensuality falls short of page after page of explicit details, there is enough to give one pause. First is the fact that our heroine becomes 'one of the guys' aboard ship after she is hired as translator. One would need to be pret
Wicked Incognito Now
I love Susan Wiggs, although I've not read many of her books (yet).

I am most impressed with her ability to handle heavy issues without a heavy hand. I usually can't stand to read about heavy issues. I'm not looking for a lot of depressing melodrama in a book. Wiggs is never melodramatic, but she doesn't flinch from real life.

I think this book (and series) is an earlier effort, and I didn't feel her light-touch and uncanny sense of humanity and character here.

The story an
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It was a historical romance set in Virginia and Rio - two unique places to me while reading HR, usually they are set in the London drawing rooms.

I usually don't like books set on ships (they get very predictable, one bad guy always seems to try to rape the heroine) but this book didn't fill those patterns. It was a book about growth, joy, acceptance, it was humorous (they get high! Definitely haven't read that in a HR before!), but also very touching (
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Susan Wiggs's life is all about family, friends...and fiction. She lives at the water's edge on an island in Puget Sound, and she commutes to her writers' group in a 17-foot motorboat. She serves as author liaison for Field's End, a literary community on Bainbridge Island, Washington, bringing inspiration and instruction from the world's top authors to her seaside community. (See She's been featu ...more

Other books in the series

Calhoun Chronicles (5 books)
  • The Horsemaster's Daughter (Calhoun Chronicles #2)
  • Halfway to Heaven (Calhoun Chronicles #3)
  • Enchanted Afternoon (Calhoun Chronicles #4)
  • A Summer Affair (Calhoun Chronicles #5)
“She watched the gap between ship and shore grow to a huge gulf. Perhaps this was a little like dying, the departed no longer visible to the others, yet both still existed, only in different worlds.” 75 likes
“She had always been good at dreaming, but what she had never done before was believe a dream could actually come true. She believed now. The wonder of setting sail created possibilities she had never considered before.” 5 likes
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