This book is for every woman who has ever wished to be swashbuckled into a sensual adventure with her very own handsome sea Captain. Isadora Dudley Peabody is an over-corseted, overweight, allergy-ridden, bespectacled New England spinster, forced to watch as her lovely siblings get themselves married off in the proper manner. A disappointment to her parents, Isadora has had little to occupy her time but books - with the result that she is fluent in several languages and has an amazing grasp of a variety of non-traditional subjects. Harboring a dreadful crush on eligible bachelor Chad Easterbrook, Isadora is content to be the butt of everyone's humor as long as she can be around him.
Content, that is, until the chance comes for her to join a ship sailing to Rio de Janeiro. Her intellectual skills and a great deal of Machiavellian maneuvering get her a post as interpreter- cum-navigator on board the Silver Swan, and before she knows it she is off to Rio under the command of one Captain Ryan Calhoun. The Captain has unwillingly noticed Isadora and as the voyage progresses, she gets quite neatly under his skin. Life at sea in the 1850's involves lots of healthy exercise and sea rations (kind of a Victorian Weight Watchers program) and before Isadora realizes it her whole life is subtly shifting into an entirely new area. Ryan finds himself constantly challenged around her and the crew takes her to their hearts as she becomes one of them. With her spectacles gone, her hair lopped off (that's a wonderful scene), and the sun bringing color to her skin, Isadora arrives in Rio to be further seduced by the freedom she finds there.
Taken under the collective wings of Ryan's mother and aunt, the caterpillar turns into a sensation- seeking, sensual butterfly and Ryan is only too glad to help her fly. Susan Wiggs takes them (and us) up into the rainforest to a magical waterfall where the deeply ingrained virtues that Isadora has held on to so tightly drop away and emotions rise higher and higher - with a little help from some of the local flora! It's the ultimate romantic moment - a perfectly written scene of seduction. Sigh!
Ryan Calhoun is a delightful character. Part pirate and part gentleman, he is prone to the urges of the flesh that all sailors seem to suffer; yet he is unapologetically secure in himself. His attraction to Isadora clearly begins long before she emerges from her frumpy persona, and we like him more for that - he responds to Isadora for what she is, not what she looks like. Ryan's loyalty to his crew gets him into some very hot water, and for a while things look grim for the lovers - Isadora sets foot on dry land without her Captain.
However, Susan Wiggs doesn't let her readers down - the ending of this story will have you standing on your chair and cheering, or at least smiling with pleasure as you turn the last page. Isadora has definitely found a much better weight-loss program than mindless hours on the treadmill!