New romances feature hurt souls, snarky enemies, and business rivals.
Evvie Drake Starts Over
By Linda Holmes
Ballantine Books, 287 pp, $26
Evvie Drake Starts Over is the impressive debut by Linda Holmes, the host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Evvie is the recent widow of a popular and respected doctor in a coastal Maine town. The book opens with Evvie having decided to leave her husband, Tim. She is in the process of putting her suitcase into the car when she gets the call that her husband has been in a terrible car accident.
A year later and Evvie is still paralyzed by her secret guilt as everyone else assumes she is grieving. She had not even been able to tell her best friend, Andy, about her marital problems and cannot share with him her hidden emotional turmoil.
One day, Andy asks whether she is still thinking about renting out the apartment in the back of her big house. He says his friend Dean is looking for a quiet place to get away for a few months. Dean’s career as a pitcher for a major-league team imploded when he started suffering from a nightmare case of the “yips” — he can’t throw straight anymore and no doctor or therapist can find a reason why.
When they meet, Evvie and Dean hit it off and agree to the apartment arrangement, with a condition: She won’t ask him about baseball and he won’t ask about her husband. Dean can get away from all the talk about being a head case and Evvie won’t be treated with excruciating sympathy.
Evvie and Dean fall into an easy friendship. After a memorial service where everyone spoke about what a wonderful guy Tim was, Evvie opens up to Dean, telling him that her husband was emotionally abusive to her in secret, and that when people tell her how much they miss Tim, she doesn’t know what to do. Dean admits that no one can tell him why he can’t pitch anymore and he doesn’t know what to do, either. They find common ground in their dysfunction.
As they get closer, their friendship grows into a romance. However, they both still have unresolved issues. Evvie has not told anyone else about her guilt and anger. Dean late at night goes out to practice pitching, desperately trying to recapture his magic. Their struggles build to a head, affecting their relationship with each other and their loved ones.
Holmes, a native of Wilmington, has written a novel full of heartfelt emotion. You root for these two broken people to find a way to let love heal them.
By Christina Lauren
Gallery Books, 416 pp, $16
Olive Torres is celebrating the wedding of her identical twin, Ami. While Ami is a four-leaf clover, Olive is a walking mishap. Ami has managed to win giveaways and contests that almost entirely pay for her posh reception and honeymoon. Meanwhile, Olive has recently been laid off. And now she is stuffed into a shiny green (but free) bridesmaid gown and about to walk down the aisle with her nemesis, the brother of the groom. Olive and Ethan got off on the wrong foot when they met, and can barely have a civil conversation now.
Ami’s carefully planned celebration goes horribly wrong when almost everyone gets sick with food poisoning at the reception. Too violently ill to go on their free honeymoon to Maui, the bride and groom tell Olive and Ethan to use the reservations. For a free vacation, Olive is willing to have a truce and pose as the new Mr. and Mrs. Thomas with the hot but obnoxious Ethan.
Despite some delightfully snarky conversations and hilariously embarrassing situations arising from their deception (couples massage?), Olive and Ethan soon start to relax and discover that they are enjoying themselves and each other.
Olive begins to feel that maybe she is finally getting lucky in love. But once they leave paradise, regular life puts their fragile new relationship in danger.
Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of the witty rom-com writing partners Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings.
Brazen and the Beast
By Sarah MacLean
Avon, 400 pp, $7.99
Brazen and the Beast is the second in Sarah MacLean’s engaging Bareknuckle Bastards series. The first, Wicked and the Wallflower, was sexy, funny, and emotionally rich, and this follow-up continues the story about three brothers bound by a secret.
Lady Henrietta Sedley is about to turn 29, and she has decided that this will be the Year of Hattie (as she is known). Very tall and plump, she has no real prospects for a husband, so she decides she will make her own fate. She has a head for business, having managed her father’s shipping business for years, and she wants to take it over when he retires instead of it going to her lackwit brother. Knowing that such a thing is unheard of for a lady, she has decided to visit a notorious brothel for women. By ruining herself, she will be free to pursue her own future.
However, her plans go awry when she discovers a bound, unconscious, and beautiful man in her carriage. She knows that her useless brother was somehow involved and has gotten himself into trouble. But she is expected at her appointment at the brothel, so she decides to go ahead with her plans.
Saviour Whittington, known in London’s streets as Beast, comes to in the carriage after having been attacked while transporting one of his shipments of smuggled goods. He is shocked to discover his captor is a lushly curved woman who looks like she is on her way to a ball.
Whit tries to demand answers, but Hattie tells him she inconveniently found him as he was and she can’t risk him taking revenge tonight as she has plans. So she gives him a kiss, cuts his binds, and pushes him out of the carriage.
But this happens in Covent Garden, the tangled streets that are the domain of the powerful Bareknuckle Bastards. He and his siblings have spies everywhere, and he easily tracks Hattie to her destination.
As she nervously awaits the man whom she will pay to rid her of her virginity, she is instead shocked to see Whit enter the room. He demands to know who is responsible for stealing his shipment. Hattie refuses to say, but she does explain what she is doing in the brothel and what her plans are for the Year of Hattie.
Hattie tries to bargain with Whit, saying she will repay what he has lost, with interest. Whit says she is in no position to make offers and says he will have all of it, including her.
Whit finds himself desiring the fascinating, brave woman, and wanting to help her achieve her goals. But he is the Beast, who lets no one escape retribution. Hattie is drawn to Whit also, but he is a distraction from her plans.
As they become rivals in business, the headstrong Hattie is sometimes frustratingly single-minded and Whit stubbornly resistant to letting her get closer to the Beast. But as they both face danger from the Bareknuckle Bastards’ enemy, they must rely upon each other and their growing love.
Bingeworthy Series Alert
A Kiss From a Rogue (Verity Jane Publishing, $10.99, 255 pp) is the satisfying finale of Elisa Braden’s 10-book Rescued from Ruin series, which I obsessively binge-read recently after randomly reading the fourth book in the series and becoming hooked. I immediately went back and started reading the other books in order. Laugh-out-loud funny, oh-my hot, and at times heartbreaking, the series features flawed protagonists who, despite their best efforts to resist, find their often-surprising true love, helped by the machinations of the formidable Lady Wallingham.
One More Thing