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Sparks fly when a star soccer player meets his team’s sponsorship manager in this fifth installment of a series.

As a top player for the LA Lords soccer team, Jace Connor is accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle and plenty of attention from the media and adoring female fans. Love is the last thing on his mind until he meets Brooke Derringer, the team’s new sponsorship business development manager. Brooke needs a fresh start after weathering the breakup of a long-term relationship and leaving her job at a fashion magazine. She is excited about the position but nervous because the LA Lords’ coach is her father, Stephen. She wants to prove that she was hired for her business experience and not because of family connections. Jace is immediately attracted to Brooke, but she is wary of getting involved with him because she does not want to mix her personal and professional lives as she did at the magazine. While working with Jace on endorsement opportunities, Brooke discovers another side of him, one devoted to his family and community. Jace is determined to win Brooke’s heart, and their impromptu dinners and workout sessions at the gym blossom into a passionate romance. Jace and Brooke want a future together. But when Jace’s dispute with a jealous teammate spirals into a public relations nightmare, the couple must decide whether their love is worth fighting for. This installment of Hagen’s (Only With You, 2019, etc.) Connor Family series is a briskly paced and satisfying contemporary romance that builds on the author’s talent for creating endearing characters and heartfelt and deeply passionate love stories. Hagen sticks with the engaging narrative style found throughout the series. The lively and fast-moving chapters alternate between Jace’s and Brooke’s first-person perspectives. This technique allows the author to fully develop the characters and their motivations, particularly Brooke’s initial desire to establish personal and professional boundaries between her and Jace. Their romance develops at a gradual pace as they navigate the dynamics of a workplace relationship. While Jace and Brooke’s bond is the primary focus of the novel, a well-developed subplot involving the athlete’s teammate Levi provides the tension that leads to a crisis for the nascent couple. Fans of the series should also enjoy return appearances from members of the Connor family.

A sizzling, sexy romance and a rewarding continuation of a family series.

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Master fantasist Yolen (How To Fracture a Fairy Tale, 2018, etc.) and her son Stemple collaborate on a novella that merges dragons with the Russian Revolution.

Cycling among the points of view of the last tsar, Nicholas II, his wife, the tsarina Alexandra, the notorious Grigori Rasputin, Leon Trotsky, and an unnamed court official, the story tells of the downfall of tsarist Russia and the rise of the revolution—but if you think you know the story, think again. Because in this Russia, the tsar sends out flights of black-scaled, fire-breathing dragons to harass his enemies, especially the Jews, and Leon Trotsky (known in the book by his birth name, Bronstein) has managed to secretly raise an army of his own dragons—these are red and fighting for the revolution. Despite the high stakes, the story feels quite intimate as it leads us to gaze on each player in turn: the tsarina, a foreigner to her husband's country, plagued with worry over her ill son and believing that only Rasputin can save him; Rasputin himself, driven by his madness, lusts, and ambition; Bronstein, who struggles to keep hold of the weapon he has given to the revolution; and our nameless court dignitary, whose hatred of Rasputin drives much of the action. The dragons themselves are never afterthoughts—their effect on the characters, even when they are not present, worms its way into nearly every scene—but they are also not the players of the drama. Like the impending revolution, their presence simply hangs over the characters with the shadow of brutal, impersonal violence.

Where the characters end up is not surprising—we know the history, after all—but getting there is delightful, carried along by crisp, tight prose and the authors' marvelous imaginations.

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When New York society’s infamous ugly duckling is forced into an engagement with a Gilded Age Prince Charming, they join forces to save themselves from each other and soon realize they make an outstanding team.

As a “gawky, ungainly girl of thirteen,” Daisy Swan was dubbed Ugly Duck Daisy by beautiful Theodore Prescott the Third, Manhattan’s favorite heir. The horrible nickname stuck, cementing Daisy’s outcast status, so she’s horrified to learn her mother expects her to marry him. Daisy’s been looking forward to spinsterhood and living a life of independence, launching a business around the complexion cream she’s developed using her chemistry degree from Barnard College. However, after a particularly embarrassing scandal, Theo’s father, a celebrated tycoon, decides marriage to a sensible girl will rein in his restless son. Theo and Daisy meet, express their shared abhorrence for each other, then conspire to launch Daisy’s product, hoping for financial freedom so they won’t have to marry. Despite his wastrel reputation, Theo has always wanted to prove himself somehow, and it turns out he’s very talented at marketing. Using his packaging ideas and advertising copy, the complexion cream is an instant success and leads to more business ideas. Meanwhile, working together forces them to look beyond the surface and uncovers a surprising attraction, making them question whether they actually want to cancel the wedding. Scandal rises again, from an unexpected source, and as social and familial pressures change, suddenly being together is the challenge. Rodale’s (Duchess by Design, 2018, etc.) second Gilded Age Girls Club title hits the romance sweet spot with an uplifting, empowering love story that underlines the point that the best adventures happen not when the prince saves the princess, but when two people bring out the best in each other, fall in love, and change the world in the process.

Completely satisfying and delightful.

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Christmas in the Cotswolds in Atherton's (Aunt Dimity and the King’s Ransome, 2018, etc.) latest.

The holidays have come to Finch, close to where Americans Lori and Bill Shepherd and their three children live and where Bill runs the British branch of his family’s law firm. Unfortunately, the seasonal festivities are blighted by a virus that’s laid the village low. Lori is thrilled when her healthy group is invited to Christmas dinner at Anscombe Manor, where her best friend, Emma Harris, lives with her husband, Derek, and runs a riding school. The dinner, which includes an Indian sweet recipe Emma found in a handwritten cookbook left by a former owner, is a smashing success. But Emma seems out of sorts, and their friend Bree Pym announces that her fiance has just dumped her. An unexpected ice storm traps them and gives them an extra guest: Miss Matilda Trout, whose car slides into a ditch when she stops to ask for directions. Emma, who’s recently cleared out a room full of junk, is puzzled about the original use of the room, which is windowless with six wall sconces and linenfold wainscoting and is in the oldest part of the house, built by the Mandevilles in the 16th century. Self-effacing Tilly Trout identifies it as a Roman Catholic chapel and suggests that there may be a priest hole as well. Indeed there is, one containing a statue of the Hindu goddess Parvati, numerous jewels, and a large golden heart with the initials C and M. Lacking Christmas festivities to keep them busy, Lori and her friends benefit from Tilly’s expertise on almost every subject as they try to track down the person who made the shrine. Love blooms as both Tilly and Bree find new swains and discover an old love affair.

Atherton's fans can count on the charm of her picture-perfect Cotswold village and the warm Christmas feelings, as long as they don’t expect much of a mystery.

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A mermother sings her merbaby to sleep in the age-old tradition of mothers and babies.

A wealth of words and phrases related to sleep characterizes this gentle bedtime song: “hush,” “sleep,” “close your eyes and dream,” “peace,” “nap,” “rock,” “shush.” The ocean-themed vocabulary is just as rich: “foam rocker,” “wave maker,” “tide breaker,” “sea talker,” “pond wader,” “deep diver,” “shell keeper.” In furthering the enticement to sleep, promises are made: “Waves will rock you”; “Whales will sing you”; “Sea stars a soft light will bring you.” The full-bleed illustrations, done in what appears to be colored pencil, have a gentleness to them that goes hand in hand with the text, the palette employing plenty of blues as befits an ocean theme. Merbaby can be seen playing with a dolphin, swimming with an otter, racing waves with fish, enjoying a coral reef, observing a tide pool, and just swimming with its mother. In the end, goal achieved and merbaby’s eyes closed, mermother plants a kiss on ocean-tussled hair “Be your finny mother’s sleeper.” Mermother and baby have pale skin, wavy blue/black hair, and golden, fish-scale tails.

A soothing lullaby for a merbaby—or a human one. (Board book. 1-2)

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The theme of persistence (for better or worse) links four tales of magic, trickery, and near disasters.

Lachenmeyer freely borrows familiar folkloric elements, subjecting them to mildly comical twists. In the nearly wordless “Hip Hop Wish,” a frog inadvertently rubs a magic lamp and finds itself saddled with an importunate genie eager to shower it with inappropriate goods and riches. In the title tale, an increasingly annoyed music-hating witch transforms a persistent minstrel into a still-warbling cow, horse, sheep, goat, pig, duck, and rock in succession—then is horrified to catch herself humming a tune. Athesius the sorcerer outwits Warthius, a rival trying to steal his spells via a parrot, by casting silly ones in Ig-pay Atin-lay in the third episode, and in the finale, a painter’s repeated efforts to create a flattering portrait of an ogre king nearly get him thrown into a dungeon…until he suddenly understands what an ogre’s idea of “flattering” might be. The narratives, dialogue, and sound effects leave plenty of elbow room in Blocker’s big, brightly colored panels for the expressive animal and human(ish) figures—most of the latter being light skinned except for the golden genie, the blue ogre, and several people of color in the “Sorcerer’s New Pet.”

Alert readers will find the implicit morals: know your audience, mostly, but also never underestimate the power of “rock” music. (Graphic short stories. 8-10)

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An antic novel assembled from connected metafictional stories that stretch metaphors to their breaking points and beyond.

The 17 stories, several of which have been published earlier in one form or another, feature as their narrator a hapless antihero who shares a name with the author. This Christopher Boucher (only slightly to be confused with the author of Golden Delicious, 2016), a writer who lives in the fictional town of Coolidge, Massachusetts, has either been kicked out by his wife, Liz, or is on the point of being so. He encounters one odd situation after another, generally coping with them less than gracefully. In the title story, for example, a giant face floats through the sky following the narrator until his friend shoots it and stuffs it into an old storage unit. In “Call and Response,” Chris gets a job at a City Hall prayer switchboard, where he's assigned to zap the majority of the prayers that come in, prayers the size of a Volkswagen or a refrigerator, until they eventually threaten to physically crush him. Often, the stories morph words into physical objects. “The Language Zoo” imagines a place with “strange, slithering adjectives, followed by propositions hanging high in their cages or burrowing low in hollowed-out logs.” When a stampede begins, sentences like “I’m so sad and lonely” and “How do I live without love?” break free only to rear their heads in the white spaces of other stories in the volume. The novel's primary problem is that its chapters are all basically variations on a theme. Though the final chapter, “The Unloveables,” offers a bit of hope and a sense of closure, those that precede it are more or less interchangeable.

Best suited for those with a high tolerance for whimsy and literary play.

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Who would have guessed from standard-issue histories of the space race that the spacesuits worn on the moon were largely the work of women employed by the manufacturer of Playtex bras and lines of baby wear?

Here, in a profile that laudably focuses on her subject’s unusual skills, dedicated work ethic, and uncommon attention to detail rather than her gender or family life, Donald takes Eleanor “Ellie” Foraker from childhood fascination with needle and thread to work at ILC Dover, then on to the team that created the safe, flexible A7L spacesuit—beating out firms of military designers and engineers to win a NASA competition. Though the author clearly attempts to steer clear of sexist language, she still leaves Foraker and her co-workers dubbed “seamstresses” throughout and “engineer” rather unfairly (all so designated presenting male here) defined in the glossary as “someone who designs and makes things.” Still, her descriptions of the suit’s concepts and construction are clear and specific enough to give readers a real appreciation for the technical challenges that were faced and solved. Landy gives the figures in her cleanly drawn illustrations individual features along with period hair and clothing, varying skin tones so that though most are white, at least two are women of color.

An outstanding contribution to the recent spate of reminders that women too helped send men to the moon. (Informational picture book. 7-9)

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It’s a race against time when a psychokinetic spook is framed for a crime she didn’t commit.

Teagan is the only psychokinetic in the world—as far as she or anyone else on her black ops team knows. The deal is simple. Teagan carries out top-secret, totally off-the-books missions for a government spook named Tanner, and Tanner keeps Teagan from becoming a lab rat for scientists curious about how her powers work. But when one of the team’s targets turns up murdered in a way that has "special abilities" written all over it, that deal is precariously close to disintegrating and landing Teagan in a government lab and the rest of the team in jail. Now she has 22 hours to clear her name by proving that there is, in fact, a second psychokinetic out there. Meanwhile, Jake, a drifter who’s never known why he has the power to move things with his mind, is on a mission, too: Complete three simple tasks and he gets the information he needs about who he is and where he came from. Teagan is a frank and funny narrator for this wild ride, which starts off with our heroine falling from the 82nd floor of a skyscraper and pretty much never slows down. Readers will be glad to learn that it's set for a sequel.

A fast-paced, high-adrenaline tale that manages to get into some dark themes without losing its sense of fun.

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Simple comforts for young fretters and overthinkers.

Recycling themes and even some images from The I'm Not Scared Book (2011), Parr first enumerates a selective list of things that can cause anxiety (fears of the dark or of having to go to the doctor, having too much to do, being bullied) and times that worrying can happen. The latter include lying awake in bed, watching TV, "looking at screens too much" (a frazzled-looking person holds a tablet), and overhearing "bad news"—exemplified with an image of a flying saucer, travelers from abroad (of one sort or another) being much on people's minds these days. He then goes on to general coping strategies ranging from taking deep breaths to visiting friends, dancing, squeezing a toy, or just thinking about "everyone who loves and takes care of you!" "Worrying doesn't help you," he concludes, but talking about concerns will. Readers searching for books that address deeper-seated anxiety might be better served by Me and My Fear, by Francesca Sanna (2018). In Parr's thick-lined, minimally detailed illustrations, the artist employs his characteristic technique of adding blue, purple, and bright yellow to the palette of skin tones; he also occasionally switches out human figures for dogs or cats behaving as people would. It's a strategy, though it leaves the cast with a generic look overall.

Vague, slapdash reassurances to readers growing up in a worrisome world. (Picture book. 2-5)

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