One need only look to the rapid growth of the chick-lit genre and the proliferation of such titles as Rachel Greenwald's Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School (Ballantine) and John T. Molloy's Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others (Warner) to know that there's one thing that's never far from many people's minds--relationships (or their lack thereof). As the average marrying age increases, more and more singles are seeking guidance on sex, dating, love and marriage, and the publishing industry has pumped out plenty of books to quench this thirst. There are books on how to love Goomba style, how to reenter the dating scene after a failed marriage, how to browse the Web for "the one" and even how dog lovers can use their furry friends to fetch the love of their life. But how does one navigate this sea of relationship-centered books?

Here PW reviews titles being published between December 2003 and February 2004 that will be of the most interest to readers come Valentine's Day, whether they're looking for love, hoping to renew the spark in a relationship or celebrating their singledom.

Edited by Susie Bright. S&S/ Touchstone, $14 paper (272p) 0-7432-2262-8

Variations on the standard hook-up fantasy alternate with stories based on more elaborate, imaginative conceits in this year's edition of Bright's annual collection. One of the most amusing offerings is David R. Enoch's "Sex in Space: The Video," in which an astronaut seeks public revenge when his libidinous space lover cheats on him with another astronaut. John Yohe offers a more earthbound erotic turn in "They're for My Husband" when a woman takes her cross-dressing spouse shopping for lingerie, only to team up with the female sales clerk for an unexpected exercise in humiliation. More cutting humor is on display in James Strouse's "Joanie," in which a chubby 16-year-old girl finds a novel way to rebel against her parents when she is sent to feed the tropical fish of her father's out-of-town coworker. Magazine writer Touré chips in with a snappy piece of sex talk poetry titled "The Guest," and Broadway star Alan Cumming tells the story of a coke-fueled romp that ends in tears; other contributors include Geoffrey Landis, Jerry Stahl and Maggie Estep. Some entries disappoint with by-the-numbers plotting, but the quality of the writing is generally high, and Bright's quick-hit format offers plenty of instant gratification. (Feb. 3)

Whitney Lyles. Berkley, $13 paper (336p) ISBN 0-425-19513-9

For any bridesmaid who's gone down the aisle too many times accompanying others, Lyles's uneven but perky debut will provoke many grins and groans. Wedding-weary Cate Padgett, kindergarten teacher, freelance photographer and reluctant San Diego single, has endured more than her share of "bride's slave" duties. She's had to buy overpriced shower presents, don nightmarish wedding garb she can hardly afford and suffer through a bachelorette party where she's given a lipstick vibrator for a favor, along with a penis crown she's supposed to wear while having a lap dance from a male stripper her pal Val calls "Cheesedick." Cate would much rather plan her own wedding, but she's having trouble figuring out who her groom should be--GQ-cool "No Call Paul" or her faithful friend, caterer Ethan Blakely? Although Lyles's prose style wavers from wooden to wonderful, her eye for delightful details--a bride who becomes a controlling and fiendishly demanding diva, the ubiquitous wedding drunk, over-orchestrated "fairy tale" touches that backfire (brides falling off of bucking horses are so not Martha Stewart) and a freakish costume change at a Hotel del Coronado wedding that leads to Cate's happy ending--makes this the ultimate bridesmaid gift. Agent, Julie Burton at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Feb. 3)

Donna Kauffman. Bantam, $11 paper (384p) ISBN 0-553-38234-9

Kauffman follows The Big Bad Wolf Tells All with another fairy tale—themed comic romance, this one focusing on heiress Darby Landon, who has forsaken her family's glitzy life in favor of a rugged existence on a Montana ranch. When Darby agrees to help out her baby sister Pepper by showing their powerful father's Scandinavian business partner around Washington, D.C., Darby realizes that she may need some style assistance before she can reenter high society. On the way to her makeover at Glass Slipper, Inc., Darby meets Shane Morgan, who has reluctantly returned from abroad to handle the corporate empire he inherited from his grandmother. In between Shane's business dealings and Darby's outings with the sexy but sinister Stefan Bjornsen, the two make time for some sizzling encounters. And as they work together to figure out what Stefan's evil plans are concerning the Morgan conglomerate, they realize that their attraction is more than just sexual. It takes Pepper's unlikely help to foil Stefan, and hard thought by Shane and Darby to blend his footloose existence with her longing for home on the range. Though the fairytale conceit never quite works--Darby is simply too wealthy and attractive to ring true as a downtrodden Cinderella--Kauffman writes with warmth, wit and swashbuckling energy. (Jan.)

Laurie Graff. Red Dress, $12.95 paper (448p) ISBN 0-373-25046-0

Disguised as yet another chick-lit novel about disastrous dating, this book moves beyond genre constraints to offer a provocative and intelligent look at the ways that people search for a meaningful life. Cleverly titled chapters such as "Weight Listed" and "A Clue in Time Saves Nine" describe actress Karrie Kline's dating adventures, but there's a continuity in her narration that makes this novel more than the sum of its parts. Several themes recur throughout, including Karrie's admiration for her mother and stepfather's marriage and her relationship to Judaism, and though romance may come hard to Karrie, her love for New York City is constant, even when she briefly expatriates to Los Angeles. While Karrie's dates are truly hilarious--like the man who wears the same outfit every day, and the man who barks like a dog to show affection--there's also a sense of poignancy as Kerrie truly attempts to give each man his due. Her dates wind through the decades, tracing history as they do, and what's left when the laughter dies down is a normal woman looking for a normal type of happiness, but one who passes by her lucky break like a ship in the night. Those expecting a light and fluffy confection will likely be pleasantly surprised by this more substantive fare. (Jan.)

Diane Stingley. Downtown, $12 paper (306p) ISBN 0-7434-6491-5

Samantha Stone, a wisecracking, 30-something freelance photographer, copes with the ramifications of a little white lie in Stingley's cute debut. To escape one more round of Yahtzee on Thanksgiving, Sam invents a date and a boyfriend. "Why isn't he spending Thanksgiving with his family?" Sam's mother asks. "He's an orphan," Sam quips. More improbable, fictional details follow, and before she knows it, she's got to hire an actor. Fake boyfriend Alex Graham fools a whole host of folks: lesbian best friend Shelley, exasperating ex Greg, comically silent Uncle Verne and anti-bacterial soap fanatic Mom. There are certain advantages to hiring a boyfriend for holiday parties, Sam discovers: "I'm telling you, Halle Berry could walk by topless and if I'm there, he wouldn't give her a second look." But there's a downside, too: the actor, Mark Simpson, is a little too serious about his craft: "I'm looking for the person underneath the orthodontist who skydives. Why did I become an orthodontist? What was my motivation?" Stingley sometimes slips from funny to just plain corny, but Sam's voice is winning, even when she's spouting drivel. With an ending that's hopeful rather than picture perfect, this is a bright, fun and fluffy modern fairy tale. (Dec.)


Cindi Myers. Harlequin Flipside, $4.50 (224p) ISBN 0-373-44184-3

"Life Is Too Short to Date Dull Men" is Lucy Lake's motto, but when this bad boy—loving shopaholic is evicted after one too many shopping sprees, she finds herself leaning on the well-muscled shoulder of good guy Greg Polhemus, the son of her dead mother's gardener. Greg comes in handy when Lucy tries to save her mother's dying roses, and he even offers her a job as office manager at his eco-friendly landscaping business, despite the fact that Lucy is fearful of caring for the environment because "it might involve wearing ugly shoes or doing without certain essential beauty products." Greg is willing to lend a lot more, but Lucy rejects him, knowing he possesses too much integrity to be a bad boy. But when Greg proves that his love for Lucy is stronger than his desire to keep a big client, she comes to realize that good guys have their merits. Myers's tale is as simple and superficial as its heroine, but it's not without charm. The protagonists' chemistry and Lucy's spunk keep this fluffy novel grounded. (Feb.)

Catherine Anderson. Signet, $6.99 (416p) ISBN 0-451-21075-1

Anderson (Sweet Nothings, etc.) again explores the ways in which a physical disability can impact a relationship in this moving contemporary romance, set in picaresque Crystal Falls, Ore. Blind since birth, Carly Adams is celebrating the surgical restoration of her sight with a friend at a Western bar when she meets rancher Hank Coulter. Hank plies Carly with liquor, intent on a one-night stand, but he gets more than he bargained for when he learns that their brief encounter has resulted in pregnancy. Neither consider abortion for a second even though pregnancy will have dire consequences for Carly's sight and her plans to attend graduate school. Nor does Carly worry that her child might inherit her condition, lattice dystrophy. Instead, Hank bullies her into marriage. Hank redeems himself as the story progresses, treating Carly with tender care as she deals with her pregnancy and her deteriorating sight, but his most daunting hurdle may be her emotional insecurities. It's evident that Anderson has thoroughly researched lattice dystrophy, and this, more than anything, will help readers gain a better understanding of Carly. The last-minute revelation that Carly was burned in a previous relationship feels superfluous, but readers will embrace Anderson's characters and her message--that love bridges all divides. (Dec.)

Claudia Dain. Leisure, $6.99 (400p) ISBN 0-8439-5220-2

The spunky characterizations and sprightly pacing of Dain's previous novel, To Burn, are absent here, but Dain delivers on other fronts, offering protagonists who will pique readers' imaginations and an unconventional story line that plays out in 12th-century England. The first half of the novel moves like molasses as pious Elsbeth of Sunnandune, who longs for a quiet convent life, comes to terms with the fact that her calculating father has sold her in marriage to gorgeous and glib Hugh of Jerusalem. For his own purposes, Hugh is determined to make the marriage work, but Elsbeth is just as determined to prove that she's an unfit wife. Their battle of wills and words makes up the bulk of the novel and quickly grows tedious, but an element of intrigue spices up the final half, as do some tantalizing near-love scenes. The book's religious overtones may put off some readers and others will find themselves gnashing their teeth over Hugh's arrogance ("He had not yet met steel that he could not best, and so it was with the steely heart of his wife. Or would be"). However, Dain succeeds in capturing the atmosphere of the period and in creating protagonists whose fears, dreams and temperaments reflect the era. (Dec.)\


WHY WE LOVE: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love
Helen Fisher. Holt, $25 (320p) ISBN 0-8050-6913-5

Anthropologist Fisher argues that much of our romantic behavior is hard-wired in this provocative examination of love. Her case is bolstered by behavioral research into the effects of two crucial chemicals, norepinephrine and dopamine, and by surveys she conducted across broad populations. When we fall in love, she says, our brains create dramatic surges of energy that fuel such feelings as passion, obsessiveness, joy and jealousy. Fisher devotes a fascinating and substantial chapter to the appearance of romance and love among non-human animals, and composes careful theories about early humans in love. One of her many surprising conclusions suggests that, since "four-year birth intervals were the regular pattern of birth spacing during our long human prehistory," our modern brains still deal with relationships in serially monogamous terms of about four years. Indeed, Fisher gathered data from around the world showing that divorce was most prevalent in the fourth year of marriage, when a couple had a single dependent child. Fisher also reports on the behaviors that lead to successful lifelong partnerships and offers, based on what she's observed, numerous tips on staying in love. And though she's certain that chemicals are at love's heart, Fisher never loses her sense of the emotion's power or poetry. (Feb.)

I'M WITH STUPID: One Man. One Woman. 10,000 Years of Misunderstanding Between the Sexes Cleared Right Up
Gene Weingarten and Gina Barreca. Simon & Schuster, $21 (256p) ISBN 0-7432- 4420-6

When Washington Post humor columnist Weingarten (The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death) paired up with Barreca (They Used To Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted), a professor of feminism and women's humor at the Univ. of Conn., to "plumb important sociological verities," the ensuing result is this fairly predictable but entertaining he-said, she-said, literary battle of the sexes. Marked by a lively, irreverent tone and presented as an extended transcribed conversation between the two writers, the book explores topics ranging from infidelity and finances to bathroom differences and body image, in a friendly teasing style. While the underlying premise--men and women are alarmingly different--wears somewhat thin and feels gimmicky by the end, the book makes up for it with comedic highlights such as a gender test to see where one falls on the Betty Boop—Jesse Ventura continuum. Also fun are the authors' poems, lists of favorite vacation destinations with reasons and signs that sex has become too important in your relationship. (Feb.)

HOW TO SATISFY YOUR WOMAN EVERYTIME: The Straight Guy's Guide to Housework and Good Grooming
Jane Moseley and Nigel Browning. Betterway Books, $12.99 paper (144p) ISBN 1-55870-714-X

Offering such advice as "If toenails are between the sheets, romance won't be," this housework and hygiene guide for guys certainly starts off on the right foot. Catered to the truly clueless male, this comprehensive manual presents step-by-step instructions on how to maintain each room of the home and tackle such diverse tasks as carving a chicken and caring for houseplants. Helpful charts assist readers in making daily, weekly, monthly and yearly plans of action, but even the cheerfully colorful illustrations cannot mask the fact that these authors are fanatical about housework. Women who long for tidier men may balk at a boyfriend who insists on airing the bed every day or a husband who washes out the garbage bin each time he takes out the trash, and hygiene suggestions such as moisturizing one's feet with mashed fruit lend the book an air of the absurd. Still, those who persevere will come away with useful advice on how to make their loved one's life a little easier and a whole lot cleaner. (Feb.)

QUIRKYALONE: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics
Sasha Cagen. Harper San Francisco, $19.95 (176p) ISBN 0-06-057898-X

The morning after Cagen, founding editor of the independent magazine To-Do List, attended a "New Year's Eve Party Totally Devoid of [the] Midnight Kiss," she had what she calls a "spontaneous exclamation." She and her friends were "quirkyalones." The word came to her fully formed, and in this zany, untraditional book, she explains the word and the movement it spawned. "Quirkyalone stands in opposition to saccharine, archaic notions of romantic love. It stands for self-respect, independent spirit, creativity, true love, and confidence," Cagen writes, her words echoing with the uplifting message that it's not strange to be single; rather, single is the new norm. Cagen speaks out against dating for the sake of being in a couple and highlights the celebrities who fit and don't fit the quirkyalone mold (Oprah: "of course"; Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks: "[E]nemies of quirkyalones everywhere"). The primary text is spiced up with quotes that zip sideways along the margins, profiles of self-proclaimed quirkyalones, rough pencil drawings and jazzy lists, and the book ends on a suitably quirky note--with a short story Cagen wrote when she was 13. Fun, inspirational and provocative, this book is the perfect antidote to the Valentine's-inspired coupling craze. (Jan.)

EAT CHOCOLATE NAKED: And 142 Other Ways to Attract Attention and Spark Romance!
Cam Johnson. Sourcebooks, $14.95 paper (352p) ISBN 1-4022-0097-8

Behind the eye-catching cover and provocative title, Johnson, a Northwest television anchor and gardening show host, offers hundreds of inspirational tips, projects and ideas for reconnecting with one's femininity and becoming a more romantically authentic you. Johnson began writing when she realized her own flame had been "burning on the low side" for a while, and her narrative is guided by the premise that "women are by nature romantic, sensual beings." She doesn't believe that men are to blame when the romance fizzles, or that shifting one's thinking has great consequences in the relationship. Drawing on studies, relationship experts, personal observations and anecdotes, Johnson offers lots of advice, which ranges from the practical (getting enough sleep and turning off the phone) to the fun and light-hearted (making out in the car wash and buying temporary tattoos of your partner's name). (Dec.)


BLUSHING: Expressions of Love in Poems & Letters
Paul B. Janeczko. Orchard, $15.95 (112p) ISBN 0-439-53056-3

The cheesy title may put readers off, but the contents, compiled by Janeczko, are the real thing, though weighted toward the giants of English literature. Entries include a letter from John Keats to Fanny Brawne ("Do not I see a heart naturally furnish'd with wings imprison itself with me?"), Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Time Does Not Bring Relief" and Percy Shelley's rather brutal dismissal of Harriet Shelley ("I am united to another; you are no longer my wife") as she prepared to deliver their second child. This collection contains 60 pieces in all, ending with Naomi Shihab Nye's "I Still Have Everything You Gave Me": "I do not ache.// I would not trade." (Jan.)


HOW TO MAKE LOVE AND DINNER AT THE SAME TIME: 200 Slow Cooker Recipes to Heat Up the Bedroom Instead of the Kitchen
Rebecca Field Jager. Adams Media, $12.95 paper (246p) ISBN 1-58062-918-0

Food writer and proud owner of five slow cookers, Jager blows the dust off of Grandma's favorite cooking device and tells working women how they can make "love-me-tender" meals that will bring husbands and boyfriends to their knees--all without spending more than 33 minutes (and, in some cases, less than seven) in the kitchen. Jager persuasively outlines the advantages of "doing it slowly" (saving on electricity, preparing meals the night before, etc.) and lays out her recipes in an accessible, course-by-course manner. The dishes range from the inventive (Prune Pockets Stuffed with Wild Rice and Smoked Turkey; Lamb in Ginger-Pear wine Sauce with Lima Beans) to the basic (Easy Corned Beef Brisket; Beef and Vegetable Stew), but all are guaranteed to leave the chef with plenty of time for other mouth-watering activities. Though geared more toward women, with its sassy girl talk sidebars, this book would also be a good companion for men looking for tasty recipes that are free of "fancy foreign f words like fricassee and flambé." (Jan.)

BOOTY FOOD: A Date-by-Date, Course-by-Course, Nibble-by-Nibble Guide to Cultivating Love and Passion Through Food
Jacqui Malouf with Liz Gumbinner. Bloomsbury, $24.95 (264p) ISBN 1-58234-263-6

If Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw cooked, and wrote a cookbook, this might be it. It's a sassy collection of recipes and menus for the occasions and stages of relationships (from flings to marriage), with dating advice, sex sidebars and a dash of etiquette--a primer on "caviar for newbies"; a key to the pronunciation of wines and international foods; suggestions for successful key exchange--thrown in for good measure. Malouf, co-host of Hot off the Grill with Bobby Flay and host of the WE network's Full Frontal Fashion, offers stories from her own dating life along with simple-chic recipes such as Funky Mimosas for the morning-after breakfast; Pan-Roasted Chicken with Rosemary-Lemon Butter, Blue Cheese Arugula Salad with Honeyed Walnuts, and Grilled Asparagus with Balsamic Vinaigrette for the first home-cooked meal; and Chicken Ramani, Cucumber Raita, and Minty Cuban Mojitos for keeping things "hot." Readers in any phase of a relationship--and especially readers in no relationship at all--will be entertained and informed by this volume and will enjoy its modern design and fun photographs by Ben Fink. (Jan.)


Joyce Dunbar, illus. by Sophie Fatus. Scholastic/Orchard, $15.95 ISBN 0-439-47431-0

As Dunbar's (Tell Me Something Happy) brief story starts, the feathered title character--clad in a pink frock--stands atop a tree, calling out, "Love me! Love me! Love me!" Though her plea brings no answer, she wakes up Shut-Eye the owl, who suggests alternative means of soliciting a suitor. When he advises her to try "Romance. Glamour. Finery and frills," the hopeful critter "plucked and primped and preened until her wings were shaped like hearts." All for naught, alas, as the continued crooning of her refrain still attracts no mate. Nor is she successful when she follows the owl's directives to act helpless, play hard to get or build a nest. The bewildered bird doesn't pick up on Shut-Eye's clue when, responding to her comment that the new nest will be a "love-me nest," he corrects her, calling it a "love-each-other nest." Finally, the wise owl recommends she change her tune to "Love you-ooo!" and another Love-Me bird swoops out of the sky to land at her side. Fatus's (The Story Tree) stylized, cheerfully hued pictures reveal the lovelorn heroine in some amusing poses. Kids may well absorb this worthwhile message about the pitfalls of self-absorption and the rewards of focusing on the needs of others. All ages. (Jan.)

Miriam Moss, illus. by Anna Currey. Dial, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 0-8037-2920-0

Moss's (The Snow Bear) Valentine from mother to child follows a working parent trundling her lively bear cub to nursery school. The nostalgic watercolors bridge the gap between the demands of modern and old-fashioned worlds. British artist Currey portrays a timeless, idealized world, but includes enough familiar details to make the story feel contemporary. Billy's mother wears a granny apron in the kitchen and an ankle-length, flowered dress, but she also dons sensible shoes and carries a portfolio-sized purse. As the two eat breakfast and run through the rain to school, Billy blames his tardiness on his toy rabbit (e.g., "I think Rabbit's got a tummy ache"). Mama, late for work, abruptly leaves Billy at the school door; "Mama didn't say I love you," he sadly tells his teacher. Currey portrays the toddler-size tragedy through Billy's forlorn facial expressions and drooping posture as he searches in vain for his beloved rabbit. Luckily, his mother quickly returns with the rabbit in tow (she had tucked it into the purse to speed things along) and, most importantly, says, "I love you." Although the early scenes and dialogue seem occasionally stilted, the rapid resolution of the plot carries the reassuring message that although parents may make mistakes, their children's needs nearly always come first. Ages 2-up. (Jan.)

Eleanor Hudson, illus. by Mary C. Melcher. Scholastic/Cartwheel, $3.50 paper ISBN 0-439-52109-2

The title is sweetly misleading, since the ursine narrator enjoys everything having to do with February 14: immersing oneself in the valentine-making process ("Cutting paper and lace,/ smearing glue sticks/ and paste"), giving them to friends near and far, fashioning a class valentine for the teacher and, of course, being on the receiving end of a paw-shaped heart (made by the bear's pet dog). Melcher works in soft colors and tones, and populates her pictures with a cuddly menagerie, but she also peppers the pages with visual humor (the bear stands on his dog's head in order to reach the mail slot), and she consistently picks interesting framings. In a scene in which the teacher hands out class valentines, the illustrator shows the children at desk level, crowding together in eager anticipation. Hudson's concise rhymes make this a quick read--and an ideal prelude to preparing valentines for the class or launching into a heart-themed craft. Ages 3-5. (Jan.)

Eve Bunting, illus. by Melissa Sweet. Scholastic/Cartwheel, $8.95 ISBN 0-439-45086-1

Little Brown Puppy makes a spontaneous present of a "big, beautiful bone" to his mother, kicking off a chain reaction of offspring-to-mother gifts among all his friends. The story culminates with a boy, who says to his mother, "Here's a kiss, and here's a hug,/ and here's my very special bug." The little ones always make their presentation in rhyme ("If all the lily pads are taken,/ please sleep on this until you waken," says Tiny Frog as he leaps through the air bearing a humongous leaf), and the mother dog's reply--"I love the bone, my Little Puppy. And I love you"--serves as a model for each grown-up's grateful response. Bunting and Sweet smartly scale their work to both the modest concept and the book's small paper-over-board format, and the results are beguiling. The economical text skips nimbly across the pages, while the delicate watercolors pack a surprising emotional intensity: when Mama Frog gleefully hoists her baby in the air, the little fellow spreads his arms wide and closes his eyes in sheer ecstasy. Ideal for year-round giving, this Valentine leaves no doubt that being loved is the greatest gift of all. Ages 3-5. (Jan.)

Rebecca Doughty. Putnam, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 0-399-24176-0

Structured like the Peanuts book Happiness Is a Warm Puppy (but without all the charm), Doughty's (39 Uses for a Friend) picture book most resembles an elaborate greeting card. The title page hints at a Valentine theme with an illustration of a rabbit at the top of the stairs anxiously awaiting a pig who stands at the bottom hiding an envelope, sealed with a heart. Pig's verses to his friend brim with praise. "I believe you are to me.../ the very best the best can be./ .../ You're roller skate,/ you're sun and moon,/ you're bicycle,/ you're May and June." The illustrations exude the pig's enthusiasm. The porcine protagonist does handstands to "You're ultrabest, the superfest,/ you're marvelest,/you're bluebird nest." Although some of the verses make more sense than others, the text often strains for a rhyme or an idea. Doughty's childlike, flat watercolors often show the characters silhouetted against a white background (making valentines, sharing a snack), then horseback riding or water sliding against full-bleed spreads. Whether pig and rabbit are flying kites or catching lightning bugs, the pair shares more adoring glances than they do fun, but the affection shared here is right on target for the elementary school crowd. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)

Niki Burnham. Simon Pulse, $5.99 paper (208p) ISBN 0-689-86668-2

As one of the launch titles in the Simon Pulse teen romantic comedy series, Burnham's Cinderella-like novel throws in a few fun twists. When Valerie's mom leaves her dad for another woman, her father, the chief of protocol at the White House, accepts a new job working for the royal family of the fictional country of Schwerinborg. Valerie, who doesn't want to live with her mom's girlfriend and fears the reaction to her mother's new identity, decides to go along, leaving behind her friends and longtime crush. When she arrives at the palace, she quickly bonds with Georg, not realizing at first that the "mesmerizing" teen is actually a prince. But although he kisses her when they're alone, he ignores Valerie at school. Some of the pop culture references may feel forced ("all this giggling is probably making me sound like one of those bimbettes who goes on The Bachelor"), but Valerie's funny, lively voice reads as mostly authentic, and readers will appreciate the romantic details (including dancing in the palace's reception hall). The lesbian parent subplot and the e-mails Valerie exchanges with her friends back home keep the story feeling fresh (though readers may wish her protocol-minded dad had been played for more laughs). There are enough loose ends here to spark a sequel, and readers will likely want to know what happens next. Also releasing this month in the series, How Not to Spend Your Senior Year by Cameron Dokey (-86703-4). Ages 14-up. (Jan.)