Guilty Pleasures, by Laura Lee Guhrke

>> Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Laura Lee Guhrke is a bit of a buried treasure. You don't see her discussed all that much online, and yet all three of her books that I've read have been quite good (one of them, Breathless, even made the Top 100 list I'm putting together for the AAR poll, which I'll have to post here whenever I finish sorting out the order I want), including Guilty Pleasures, one of the books I read last weekend.

For prim and shy Daphne Wade, the sweetest guilty pleasure of all is secretly watching her employer, Anthony Courtland, the Duke of Tremore, as he works the excavation site on his English estate. Anthony has hired Daphne to restore the priceless treasures he has been digging up, but it's hard for a woman to keep her mind on her work when her devastatingly handsome employer keeps taking his shirt off. He doesn't know she's alive, but who could blame her for falling in love with him anyway?

Anthony thinks that his capable employee knows all there is to know about antiquities, but when his sister decides to turn the plain young woman in gold-rimmed glasses into an enticing beauty, he declares the task to be impossible. Daphne is devastated when she overhears… and determined to prove him wrong. Now a vibrant and delectable Daphne has emerged from her shell, and the tables are turned. Will Anthony see that the woman of his dreams has been right there all along?

What I noticed in all of this author's books that I've read is that they have had an element of freshness, something that sets them apart from much of the derivative pap that is put out these days. Guilty Pleasures did feel fresh and quite original, too, even if it's set in a more popular period than the other books and the "shy wallflower gets the rich, sought-after rake" plot is a staple of the genre. My grade: a B.

I especially liked the heroine, Daphne, even though her infatuation with Anthony at first made me cringe a bit. Once she gets over that, however, and starts to stand up to this very arrogant man, the story gets good. I liked that once her eyes are opened, she applies the very bright intelligence she's been applying in her work to other areas, and realizes that a man who's behaving towards her as Anthony is, isn't worth her attention.

As for Anthony, well, he did not make a good impression at first, what with his very shallow way of looking at people and his outlook on what a satisfying marriage should be, but once he started noticing Daphne, I enjoyed the way he changed. This is very much a story which has a pursuing hero, and the way Anthony courted Daphne was really romantic!

Something that struck me very positively was how the situation with Daphne's family was dealt with. Her mother married "beneath her station", and so Daphne's maternal family refuses to acknowledge her. At one point, her grandfather now approaches her (for quite self-serving reasons) and wants a rapprochement. For a moment I thought we were going to get the "blood is thicker than water, you have to make up with your grandfather, even if he treated you abominably in the past" lecture, but Guhrke turned this on its ear, and allowed the heroine (with some very pragmatic prompting from her friends) to realistically consider the implications of what her pride asked her to do and to simply do what was most advantageous for her. It was just a perfect little bit cynical of her, and I respected her for it.

As a negative, I can't help but mention the love scenes. I'm perfectly able to enjoy stories with kisses only sensuality, and though I enjoy a steamy love scenes as much as anyone, I hardly *demand* them in every book. However, in the case of Guilty Pleasures, I thought the level of sensuality of the whole novel required love scenes that were a bit more elaborate, and a bit longer!

That was just a niggle, though, and on the whole, Guilty Pleasures was a winner.

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