Book Review: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Title: Evvie Drake Starts Over
Author: Linda Holmes
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: June 25, 2019
Length: 289 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out.

 

Evvie Drake is not your typical widow. She’s hidden herself away not out of grief, but from fear that everyone will discover that she’s NOT actually grieving. Evvie’s late husband Tim was her high school sweetheart, a respected town doctor, and behind closed doors, a nasty man with a tendency toward gaslighting and emotional abuse. Evvie’s little secret is that the night Tim died, Evvie was packing her car and getting ready to leave — but now, the whole town treats her with kid gloves and tells her how much they loved her husband, and she just can’t seem to shake the feeling that she’s at fault somehow.

Meanwhile, Dean is the current ultimate failure in sports, going overnight from star pitcher to a guy who can barely throw a ball. He’s been mocked and publicly humiliated, so finding a haven in a little town in Maine seems like a good idea. When Evvie rents him her spare rooms, it’s a good solution to both of their most immediate problems, and pretty soon they fall into an easy friendship, each understanding that the other has been hurt badly and just needs a little room to breathe and recover.

Of course, their connection develops into more, but it’s complicated. As the story progresses, they both have to face certain truths, and discover that moving forward can only truly happen when they let others in and start dealing with and sharing their secrets.

This book has been popping up on my recommendation lists ever since its release in June, and as with most hyped books, I was resistant. I’m so glad I finally gave in and grabbed a copy when I saw it at the library!

The writing is light and breezy and engaging, even when dealing with the more serious and troubling issues concerning Evvie’s marriage. The author presents a realistic look at Evvie’s process of shock, guilt, anger, and loss, and follows her through her coming to terms with what’s holding her back and seeking help. Likewise with Dean, there are no easy answers or fixes. As much as Evvie wants to find the solution to Dean’s pitching problem, it’s not something within her power, no matter how badly she wants to help him. Dean too has to go through a process of loss and anger in order to find acceptance and a way to move on.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is filled with likeable characters and small-town charm. I loved the New England town with its quirky characters and deep connections. where everyone knows everyone… and probably knew their grandparents too. Evvie’s relationship with her best friend Andy feels authentic, and I struggled along with Evvie as their paths seemed to diverge and their friendship suffered under the weight of Evvie’s secrets. Evvie and Dean’s relationship was pretty much pitch-perfect (*groan* — sorry for the baseball pun!) — rather than subjecting us to the dreaded insta-love scenario, the author allows their friendship to grow and blossom into romance with all the caution and hesitation that people in such precarious points in their lives might experience.

I really enjoyed this book, and heartily recommend it! There’s real emotion and some sad and painful moments, but there’s love and joy and friendship and family too, and overall the vibe is hopeful and a celebration of being open to life and connection. Don’t miss Evvie Drake!

Warning: This book may make you want to move to a small coastal town, get a dog, live by the water, and attend local sporting events. Proceed at your own risk.

Take A Peek Book Review: Coming Up For Air

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Swim. Eat. Shower. School. Snack. Swim. Swim. Swim. Dinner. Homework. Bed. Repeat.

All of Maggie’s focus and free time is spent swimming. She’s not only striving to earn scholarships—she’s training to qualify for the Olympics. It helps that her best friend, Levi, is also on the team and cheers her on. But Levi’s already earned an Olympic try out, so she feels even more pressure to succeed. And it’s not until Maggie’s away on a college visit that she realizes how much of the “typical” high school experience she’s missed by being in the pool.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Maggie decides to squeeze the most out of her senior year. First up? Making out with a guy. And Levi could be the perfect candidate. After all, they already spend a lot of time together. But as Maggie slowly starts to uncover new feelings for Levi, how much is she willing to lose to win?

 

My Thoughts:

Miranda Kenneally excels at showing a straightforward view of the complicated lives of teens. Her lead characters tend to be strong, dedicated young women, almost always hard-driving athletes, who are not afraid to go for what they want, no matter the resistance they meet along the way. And while the athletic achievements of her characters might be super-special, their inner lives keep them grounded and relatable.

In Coming Up For Air, Maggie is a girl who has spent her whole life in a pool. She adores swimming, and devotes herself to it, almost to the exclusion of everything else, because she loves it so much. She pushes herself to be her best, takes her coach’s rules about training and non-swimming behavior seriously, and drives herself forward toward her dream of getting an Olympic trial.

At the same time, Maggie depends on her three best friends for their Friday burger nights to keep her grounded — but she starts to realize how much she’s missed out on by giving so much of her life over to training. She’s never hooked up, has only had one real kiss, and is starting to feel like she’s the last high schooler left who’s so inexperienced. She asks her best friend Levi to teach her how to hook up, but isn’t prepared for how intensely they connect physically, and neither knows how to deal with the fall-out when their no-strings fling starts to feel like it could be a relationship.

As in all of this author’s books, the characters deal with sex in a very down-to-earth way. It’s not needlessly graphic, but it does get into details of what they do together and how it makes them feel. It’s not prettied-up sex, and doesn’t pretend that every encounter is full of fireworks. I appreciate the healthy attitude toward sexual exploration, protecting oneself, and owning one’s own sexual desires and needs.

It’s always refreshing to read Miranda Kenneally’s stories about determined, talented young women, and I think teen readers will appreciate seeing how universal feelings of self-doubt and insecurity can be, even for people who seem to have it all. It’s also refreshing to see the portrayal of the different home lives and coping mechanisms the various main and secondary characters have, and to get pretty good solid advice about life in general by paying attention to the words of the characters’ coaches.

As with the author’s earlier books, the storyline is set in Hundred Oaks, Tennessee, and familiar characters from other books pop up in cameo roles. While all of the Hundred Oaks books work perfectly well as stand-alones, it is pretty fun to read several (or all) and see the connections and shout-outs.

I heartily recommend Miranda Kenneally’s books for teen readers and for adults who like realistic, optimistic, honest depictions of young adult life.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Miranda Kenneally:
Racing Savannah
Breathe, Annie, Breathe
Jesse’s Girl
Defending Taylor
Catching Jordan

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The details:

Title: Coming Up For Air
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: July 4, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Young adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Take A Peek Book Review: Catching Jordan

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

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Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

What girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn’t just surrounded by hot guys, though — she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. They all see her as one of the guys and that’s just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she’s ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he’s also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan’s feeling vulnerable. Can she keep her head in the game while her heart’s on the line?

 

My Thoughts:

Miranda Kenneally’s young adult novels take place in and around Hundred Oaks High School in the fictional town of Franklin, Tennessee. Each book has a teen girl at its center, and while the stories interweave a bit, with familiar faces from earlier books popping up later in supporting roles, each book stands alone nicely as well.

I stumbled across these books more or less accidentally, when I picked up an ARC of the 4th book, Racing Savannah. Since then, I’ve read two more, and now I’m finally going back and trying to read the first three Hundred Oaks books, starting with the author’s very first novel, Catching Jordan.

Jordan Woods is a high school senior, an amazing quarterback, and captain of her school football team. She’s the daughter of a world-famous NFL quarterback, and sees no reason why she shouldn’t follow in his footsteps and pursue her dreams of QBing a top-tier college team — despite her dad’s lack of support due to fear of her getting injured.

Jordan’s closest friends are the guys from the team, especially Sam Henry, the quintessential boy next door who’s been her absolute best friend since childhood. Jordan and Sam’s friendship is tested when a hot new guy moves to town — a guy who not only is competition for the QB role but also wants to date Jordan.

Jordan is a total jock, and she’s not ashamed of it. She also refuses to cede any ground in her fight to be taken seriously, and throws herself into her love of football wholeheartedly. (I’m a big fan of Jordan’s, even if I’m not at all a jock myself!)

One of the things I love about these books is the fresh take on teen friendships and social roles. Yes, there are some mean, gossipy cheerleaders — but there are also a couple of nice, positive cheerleaders who actually are supportive friends, once Jordan drops her guard and allows herself to hang out with girls. Jordan is always afraid of looking soft in front of the guys, but she eventually learns that she can wear a dress and makeup if she wants to (and she very rarely wants to) without giving up any ground as the football authority.

I also appreciate the honest look at high school relationships in Catching Jordan. These teens definitely do hook up, and sex is a pretty casual thing for most. Jordan faces her first kiss and losing her virginity within the space of a week, and it’s not because she’s taken a stand or hasn’t been interested. She’s just never before figured out how to balance having a love life with her status as captain and one of the guys.

I almost hesitated to include the book synopsis while writing this “Take a Peek” review, because frankly, the synopsis makes the book sound kind of cheesy and stereotypical, and that’s so misleading. I mean, “what girl doesn’t want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out?” and “amazingly hot”? Really?

Ignore all that, and just pay attention to this: Catching Jordan is a terrific young adult novel about a strong, self-sufficient young woman who values friendship and loyalty, knows what she wants out of life, but has to figure out who really matters to her and how to find the kind of love she really craves. The small-town, Southern vibe is lots of fun, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the two remaining Hundred Oaks books that are calling my name.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Miranda Kenneally:
Racing Savannah
Breathe, Annie, Breathe
Jesse’s Girl

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The details:

Title: Catching Jordan
Author: Miranda Kenneally
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: November 11, 2011
Length: 283 pages
Genre: Young adult contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased