Girl in search of Mr. Right -- or Wrong

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The chicks are growing up. Sort of. Their stories still include the usual martinis, jet-setting and Jimmys (Choo, that is), but the complications in their lives are a little bigger than what to wear.

Like how to have Mr. Right say "Will you marry me?" without having to go through the whole bother of actually dating him.

In Gigi Levangie Grazer's Maneater (Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $21.95), manipulative beauty Clarissa Alpert makes the Sex and the City ladies look like rank amateurs when it comes to dating and relationships.

Clarissa is poised, polished and determined to marry her way up the social register. She has planned her life around looking beautiful and snagging men. Ever efficient, she makes an annual top-10 list of men she'd most like to hook up with in a given year and the probability of making it happen. The list always includes the power players, and this year the No. 1 prospect is Aaron Mason, a hot new -- as in rich -- producer fresh from Atlanta.

Poor fashion sense aside, the stepped-out-of-a-romance-novel Aaron has marriage material written all over him. And when Clarissa is calling reception halls and dropping off engagement announcements before their first date is even over, you know Mr. Mason isn't going to last long.

Still, when Clarissa finally has her lavish wedding and the mega-rich husband (sans pre-nup, of course), it turns out all is not right with this Hollywood ending, and that's when the catty fun begins.

Grazer (Rescue Me) has made Clarissa so perfectly rotten that every new miserable revelation about Aaron, every downward step Clarissa takes on the social ladder, is just one more guilty thrill for readers. The writing is quick, snappy and perfect for devouring in a couple of afternoons.

Who knew it could be so much fun watching the mighty fall?

From power lunches downtown to play dates in posh neighborhoods, Legally Blonde scribe Amanda Brown has big changes in store for Wall Street broker Becca Reinhart.

In Family Trust (Dutton, 368 pages, $23.95), Becca is at the center of a perfectly orchestrated life. When she's not managing company portfolios or jetting to an exotic country to meet with corporate executives, she's, well, sleeping.

Then her best friend, Amy, and Amy's partner, Arthur, are killed in a tragic accident, and Becca's world comes to a halt: Amy has named her guardian of her 4-year-old daughter, Emily, while Arthur's choice for Emily's guardian is his friend Edward Kirkland.

The courts aren't too happy with the idea of two inexperienced singles caring for Emily. Becca is overscheduled, and Edward, a handsome trust-funder, is more accustomed to gala fund-raisers and weekends in the Hamptons than taking care of a small child. They agree to the arrangement on one condition: The first one who weds will receive permanent custody.

Becca and Edward go from glamorous lives to the utterly foreign world of preschools, French lessons and "Mozart for Babies" classes. These complete opposites learn to work together and come to love each other as much as they love Emily -- until a spiteful woman threatens to break up their happy family.

Family Trust is classic Amanda Brown -- a romantic comedy that's fun, sweet summer reading.

Yes, there's a quirky, but likable heroine. Yes, there's an unhealthy obsession with high-priced shoes and makeup. And yes, there's even a scruffy-but-likable love interest.

Sushi for Beginners (William Morrow, 432 pages, $24.95) has a lot of the basic elements of chick lit, but Angels author Marian Keyes succeeds in putting a new spin on an old formula. Ashling Kennedy is a slightly neurotic Irish magazine writer who has just landed a dream job on a new Dublin women's magazine, Colleen. Except the dream job comes with the nightmare that is Lisa Edwards, the acerbic editor fresh from London.

For Lisa, who had been angling for an editorship in New York, living and working in Dublin is like being on a permanent campout. She can't seem to find any of the essentials, such as a decent boutique, trendy cafe or hot nightspot, in the whole city.

The only person who is worth hanging out with is her assistant Ashling's polished best friend, Clodagh, with her seemingly picture-perfect house, gorgeous husband and beautiful children.

Then there is always Jack, Colleen's cute and slightly messy managing editor. Except the sparks don't fly in Lisa's direction. They fly toward plain old Ashling.

There's the usual mix of heartbreak, childhood trauma, affairs and betrayals, but it is the unexpected path the characters travel that makes Sushi interesting. It takes Keyes a few chapters to break Ashling and her friends out of their molds, but then each new situation, even an innocent sushi dinner, pushes the boundaries just a little further. The result is satisfying, indeed.

To Holly Appleton, dating should be as simple as the right girl meeting the right boy -- which is precisely why she started Girl Meets Boy, a dating service for London's hip (OK, semi-hip) professionals.

With the help of her friend Nigel and sister Rachel, she sets out to set up the lonely and maybe even find someone to help her get over her breakup with long-term fiance Nick. Things, however, don't always go so smoothly in the grown-up world, as Holly learns in Anna Maxted's Behaving Like Adults (Regan Books, 400 pages, $24.95).

As a lark, she sets up a date for herself with a new client, Stuart, a successful solicitor who's not only classy but also charming. At least, that's how he looks on paper. In person, though, he's aggressive and ends up sexually assaulting her after a date.

Maxted, who wrote Running in Heels, handles the attack and its aftermath with refreshing honesty, despite a few convenient plot twists. Holly is a person who, for once, doesn't know how to handle her problems and doesn't always have the right answer.

What she does know is that she must put her life back together. And that might mean losing her friends, her relationships, even Girl Meets Boy.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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