In an age of whiny novels about 30-something singletons whose sole goal in life seems to be snagging a decent man, Must Love Dogs is a refreshing antidote. Yes, 40-year-old Sarah Hurlihy is edging back into dating after a particularly nasty divorce, and yes, she wants to meet the right man. But author Claire Cook flips the same tired story upside down, serving up a hilariously original tale about dating and its place in a modern woman's life.

Sarah's life centers around two things: her job as a preschool teacher and her family. Her overbearing Boston Irish siblings walk into her house without knocking to grill her on her love life and grumble about their own. But their efforts to set her up yield consistently gloomy results. A blind date to a family lobster bake ends in an exchange of profanity after her dopey date, all dressed up for the occasion in a sailor hat and shiny loafers, gets a little too familiar.

So sister Carol goes proactive, placing a want ad on Sarah's behalf. Sarah halfheartedly juggles the responses, furtively donning a pink boa to boost her confidence before she calls a potential candidate. In truth, Sarah admits, she'd rather be watching Brady Bunch reruns and eating macaroni and cheese prepared with wine (a surprisingly good dish discovered after she runs out of milk).

Some of the men she meets are losers, a few aren't bad and one is quite promising, but Sarah still must decide what it is she's looking for in a relationship. Is it really as simple as placing an ad and insisting that her soul mate must love dogs? Cook's previous novel, Ready to Fall, was well-received, partly for its innovative construction: the story was told completely through the main character's e-mails. Must Love Dogs relies on no such device and doesn't need it. Reading about Sarah Hurlihy's travails is like talking to a comedic self-deprecating friend. Cook's humor breezes through the pages as she details the perils and perks of plunging back into the dating scene. Amy Scribner is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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