In the land of guilty pleasures, food is a go-to theme, for good reason: it’s hard to make a decadent meal sound anything but tempting. Cooking also lends itself to metaphor, which is part of its appeal to Vanessa, a chef and the narrator of Dirty Girls author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s newest romp, The Husband Habit.

A troubled woman, Vanessa is frustrated in her career and love life. She works for a monomaniacal chef at a chic Albuquerque restaurant who takes credit for her brilliant creations without apology. That’s bad enough, but then there’s her habit of—purely by accident—falling for men who turn out to be married. It’s happened three times in a row, so Vanessa is understandably a little gun-shy when she meets her parents’ new neighbor, Paul.

Her overprotective sister, Larissa, has warned her about Paul already, so Vanessa puts on her best above-it-all act, but Paul is difficult to ignore. He’s charming and persistent, and confounds Vanessa’s expectations at every turn: despite being an ex-military guy with a crew cut who listens to speed-metal in his garage and has a yellow-ribbon magnet on his SUV, Paul is enlightened—even a pacifist—and a very good cook.

There’s no complexity to the novel’s story arc, and the author’s transparent political agenda could’ve used some finesse, but then this is a beach read—agendas are second to the love story, and that simmers along nicely. Vanessa and Paul are multidimensional characters with the capacity to surprise each other and the reader. And there’s a lot of good cooking along the way. The Husband Habit might not be a particularly nutritious read, but it’s not just empty calories, either.  

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