cover image A Capital Holiday

A Capital Holiday

Janet Dailey, . . Zebra, $6.99 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8217-7224-9

Jocelyn Wakefield, the president's gorgeous unmarried daughter, receives more press attention than Jackie in her heyday. Longing for a single day without scrutiny, she enlists her grandmother's aid, dons a disguise and escapes into Washington via a secret tunnel. Before Jocelyn can begin to enjoy her newfound freedom, she bumps into political columnist Grady Tucker. He falls in love with her at first sight, despite her dark makeup and ugly clothes, and contrives an injury to entice her to hang around. She lingers to help yet remains wary, fearing that he'll discover and report on her antics. When Jocelyn and Grady finally part, she doubts she'll ever see him again. But Grady talks his way into the president's private residence a few days later to persuade her that his love is real. Dailey (Calder Pride, etc.) references the film classic, Roman Holiday, in both title and text, but this version lacks the movie's sophistication. The couple's aimless banter and the frequent interventions of a Santa reincarnation spouting Christmas lore leave little room for the bold conflict and romantic tension that mark the author at her best. With his corny one-liners and country-boy "good gollies," Grady falls especially flat. Could any Washington columnist—much less any true romantic hero—be quite this clueless? (Oct.)

Forecast:The bizarre plagiarism scandal that tarnished Dailey's career in the early '90s is gone but not necessarily forgotten, and this first book for Zebra will be the subject of some attention. Despite print advertising in the New York Times and the perennial popularity of Christmas-themed love stories, this awkward misfire will do little to rebuild the author's status.