Who better to welcome the holidays than a so-homely-he's-cute pug sporting a Santa hat and promising baked goods? In her third novel, Pupcakes, Annie England Noblin (Sit! Stay! Speak!) delivers a romance that's sweet and satisfying but not sticky.

In Brydie Benson's messy divorce, she lost not only her unfaithful husband but their jointly owned and operated bakery, too. Lonely and bereft, she moves to the neighboring city of Memphis, where her realtor best friend provides a house--with a caveat. The lovely old home is rent-free, but Brydie is now foster parent to Teddy Roosevelt, a lonely (and stubborn) pug. The owner of the house and the dog require Brydie to bring him for weekly nursing home visits. But in a series of delightful coincidences, Nathan, the handsome man with the rascal wolfhound Sasha at the dog park, is the nursing home's doctor, and the dogs (and their expanding pack of off-leash park pals) love Brydie's creative homemade biscuits. Soon Brydie and Teddy share a circle of friends, including Mrs. Neumann, the homeowner.

A job in a big-box store's bakery, while not her own shop, further expands Brydie's world and her confidence. She cautiously returns Nathan's affection, discovers secrets in Mrs. Neumann's basement and scrambles to fill orders as dog treat demand (cinnamon apple! zucchini vegetarian!) spreads. The plot's loose ends are nicely tied up in a Christmas Eve surprise, and the epilogue explains why, if one looks closely, it's obvious the pug on the cover is smiling. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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