Guilty Pleasures
by Laura Lee Guhrke, historical (2004)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-054174-1


Laura Lee Guhrke's debut for Avon, Guilty Pleasures is a very enjoyable take on the ugly duckling fantasy with the added bonus of the duckling in question getting to rub her transformation all over the hot guy that initially scorns at her apparent lack of beauty. I have some quibbles with this story, but at the end of the day I enjoyed reading this book the way I would savor a delicious cup of chocolate.

Daphne Wade has a secret: this mousy assistant to the budding archeologist Anthony Courtland, the Duke of Tremore, is infatuated with her employer in the five months since she's started working for him. It's just me, probably, but I am quite disappointed that Daphne is actually a beautiful woman that wants to hide under a mousy exterior (read: glasses and bad hairstyle) when I would have preferred reading about a real Plain Jane type of heroine. Oh well. Anthony has only praise for her work at drawing and cataloging, but when it comes to describing Daphne as a woman, he is less than kind. Daphne realizes this one day and decides to show the man by accepting his sister's offer to give her a proper Season.

Daphne's father was knighted for his work in archeology so a Season for her isn't entirely out of order. Anthony wants to marry some shallow and self-absorbed society lady because he doesn't want love, yadda yadda yadda, but as he is roped in to teach Daphne to dance and more, he starts to appreciate her for her beauty. It will be very easy to be skeptical here as Daphne is already beautiful, so this isn't exactly a true ugly duckling story, but the author's deft handling of her characters so that their developing relationship rings real make this story very enjoyable. Anthony is reluctant to lose a good employee at first but soon he realizes that he appreciates Daphne for more than her skills in the office. Uh, that sentence sounds dirty but you can read that any way you want and you'll still be right.

Daphne and Anthony are essentially familiar characters in romance novels. Ms Guhrke, however, manages to develop the characters a little deeper than usual so that the characters come off as her own in their own right. Anthony's desire for a loveless marriage, despite his parents being happily married, has some valid basis as he was forced to shoulder his father's responsibilities too early when this father descended into deep depression and eventually madness after the death of Anthony's mother. Such melodramatic Wagnerian background story could inspire someone to distrust love so much, I guess. Daphne may be a familiar heroine and her "transformation" feels like a cop-out but she doesn't emit the brainmush vibes like so many romance heroines tend to be. Her chemistry with Anthony is very well done and it helps that when she's described as intelligent, she really is. I enjoy following this couple to their happily ever after.

With apparently little effort, Ms Guhrke ropes me in and makes me care for her characters. As a result, despite my disappointment with some of the fundamental aspects of this plot, I grow to emphatize, root for, and cheer Anthony and Daphne on. The plot isn't anything new, but because the characters are compelling, I want to read on regardless of how predictable the story can become. This book may be called Guilty Pleasures, but this is one book that can and should be openly enjoyed. Maybe with a book cover though, because whoever did the embarrassing, corny, and gawdawfully hideous cover for this book should be knocked in the head hard.

Rating: 88


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