With a fresh, fun premise and plenty of creative touches, Cathy Yardley whips up a great read in Guilty Pleasures, a book that lives up to its title. It’s not very deep. It’s not even close to being great literature. But it was a pleasure to read.
Chef Mari Salazar is struggling to keep her restaurant, Guilty Pleasures, afloat when Nick Avery walks through the door. Formerly a chef at one of San Francisco’s top restaurants, he was forced out when his business partner framed him for embezzlement. Now, eager to prove himself all over again, he finds no one willing to hire him, until an old mentor from culinary school sends him to Mari.
Mari knows what it’s like to start from scratch. Early in her career, her parents pushed her into business with a social friend of theirs. Young and inexperienced, she let others force her into business decisions with which she wasn’t comfortable. The restaurant failed spectacularly, and Mari took the blame. It’s taken her years to get Guilty Pleasures off the ground, with its own eclectic menu of foods people love that don’t tend to be served up at four-star restaurants. She’s determined to do it her way. Nick is just as determined to make a name for himself all over again. It isn’t long before their friction in the kitchen leads somewhere else.
One element I appreciated about Guilty Pleasures, especially compared to most Blazes, is the refreshingly guilt-free approach to the sexual relationship. Sex isn’t something either Nick or Mari is afraid of or desperate to have. It’s treated as a normal thing between two healthy, consenting adults. They meet, they’re attracted to each other, they sleep together. Other than the perfectly reasonable thought by the heroine about the effect this will have on their working relationship, there’s no hand-wringing about what it all means. Admittedly, this won’t appeal to every reader, but it was a relief to find a book where the premise and the conflict didn’t center around the characters’ sexual relationship.
While the characters do engage in a number of sex scenes, the best parts of the book are the characters and the humor. Yardley keeps the sexual content high when the actual act isn’t taking place by giving the story an extra twist. Mari and Nick are looking for a new theme for the menu. Given that this is a Blaze and the all-too-appropriate name of the restaurant, you can probably guess what the theme ends up being. Soon the different courses are being renamed (Appetizers become “foreplay”), as are the dishes (“cock a vin”, anyone?). It’s a development that earns them disdain from the story’s villains (One character mocks Guilty Pleasures as “That pornographic Denny’s”), but lets the author show a lot of creativity through the characters’ different ideas. Goofy? Sure. But after a string of serious romances, I thought it was a hoot.
With such a lightweight premise, it was something a surprise to realize I cared about the characters. Both Mari and Nick are given clear-cut goals that are perfectly understandable given everything that Yardley reveals about their pasts. It’s easy to want to see them succeed. This results in a climax which, in another book would seem contrived, but is perfectly understandable with how driven they both are to succeed. It was also nice how the story takes place over several months, not just a couple of days. By the time the ending comes, they’ve weathered some bumps in their relationship, and it was easier to believe they know each other well enough to be ready for a lifetime commitment.
I should probably feel guilty about giving such a weightless book such a high grade, but I enjoyed it too much to give it less. For a book filled with sizzle, humor, and not least of all, food, Guilty Pleasures fits the bill.