A Courtesan's Guide To Getting Your Man
by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan, contemporary (2011)
St Martin's Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-53256-7
A Courtesan's Guide To Getting Your Man showcases two authors who are usually more well-known for their romantic comedies, but this one, fair readers, is a drastic departure from their individual backlists. Why? Because this one has enough graphic sex scenes that will make any virtuous granny's toes curl. Indeed, if there is one reason to read this book, it's the fact that this is one of those rare sexy books that succeed wonderfully in combining humor, eroticism, and even emotional poignancy in apparently effortless ease. There are some sexy books that are filled with angst, others are sexy books that are all about the cheese, but this one is all about sex, love, and a genuine sense of fun.
Do bear with the first few chapters of this book, though. The authors do things in broad swathes of extremes here, so the heroine Piper Chase-Pierpont starts off as a complete wreck. She's actually gorgeous - duh - but a suffocating childhood of being raised by food Nazis has left its mark on her. Repressed, bitterly unhappy, and yet afraid to make any changes for the better in her life, she is stuck in a rut until she stumbles upon the hitherto-hidden diaries of Ophelia Harrington, one of Boston's most famous 19th-century abolitionists. Those diaries are explicit chronicles of Ophelia's early years in London where she was - gasp - the courtesan known as the Blackbird. Ophelia chose that path for herself because she was determined to control her own fate in a time when a woman had little options in life. It is through Ophelia's frank accounts of her life that Piper finds the inspiration to reinvent herself and even snag Mick Malloy, the one that got away.
This book also contains first-person accounts of Ophelia's life, so you're getting two stories in one here. Ophelia's story is a drastic opposite of Piper's. Where Piper reinvents herself to find happiness with a man, Ophelia's story is the tale of a woman who refuses to settle for anything less than a relationship with a man that is based on equal respect as well as affection. Of course, Ophelia eventually finds happiness by settling down with the man who taught her the ways of the bedroom, but her story is far more than another tale of a woman who wants freedom only to realize that she really wants a man. That is Piper's story. Ophelia finds happiness with a man only after they have both mellowed and learned to accept each other and even make compromises to be with each other. Another plus is that Ophelia continues to fight for other people's rights after she has found happiness with a man.
Compared to Ophelia's story, Piper's story is disappointingly typical, but that's not really a bad thing, as her story with Mick is brimming with fun and sparkling comedy. The chemistry is great - there is a clear sense of friendship and genuine fondness underlying the playful sexual tension. Piper starts out as a complete trainwreck, but as someone who does everything with style, she undergoes a makeover that is dramatic, exaggerated, and just plain hilarious. Yes, it's disappointing that she goes this length to take control of her life only to get her man and hitch her life to his instead of carving out her own identity and her own life, but I guess we need to please the more traditional readers out there too. Mind you, Piper eventually writes a book about Ophelia, a book that shares the same title as this book, and that's about as insultingly flat out missing the point about Ophelia's life as one can get. Piper's all about getting her man while Ophelia is more about the fighting for the freedom to live your own life.
Having said that, A Courtesan's Guide To Getting Your Man is just fun from start to finish. Piper and Mick bring on the romantic comedy moments with verve and joie d'vivre while Ophelia provides some sober gravity to balance out the frothy humor. And most enjoyably, both stories manage to pack an emotional punch by the last few chapters. The length of this book means that both stories could have been developed some more under other more favorable circumstances, but this book is fine enough as it is to deliver a laugh-out-loud tale that celebrates love, laughter, and, of course, those deliciously naughty things people do in the bedroom.
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