Review: First Step Forward by Liora Blake (Grand Valley #1)

Note: This mass market paperback was provided by Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

"For the record, I want us to be partners. I never wanted anything else." 
He tips his head wearily and locks his gaze on mine. 
"But I need you to be sure. I've spent most of my life doing one thing, given it everything I had in me. I'm hardwired for that kind of focus. So, whatever comes next?" 
Cooper blinks once, looks over my shoulder at nothing. "It has to be forever."

I first fell in love with Liora Blake's writing when I read True North, and then I found myself falling for the next two books in her True series. With her second one, I readily admit that I was both excited and anxious when the publisher generously provided me with all three books in the now completed Grand Valley series. As a side note, can I just say that I found it weirdly fascinating that I had a different format for each novel--mass market paperback for book one, trade paperback for book two, and ebook for book three? I love books in any format, but I confess that traditionally published books, whether paperback (mass market or trade) or hardcover hold a special place in my heart. But I digress. Blake's latest trilogy of small-town romances has, unsurprisingly, captured my heart again.

First Step Forward pits thirty-two-year-old professional football player Cooper Marcus Lowry and orchard owner Whitney Willow Reed, whose age I'm guessing may be anywhere from late twenties to early thirties. Cooper has been in the league for eight years and while his spirit is always more than willing, his body, however, is currently weak, no thanks to a hard hit on the field. Advised to focus on healing rather than on football, he finds the perfect albeit unexpected distraction in the form of Whitney. The hippie vibe she gives off and her filter-less way of communication are just part and parcel of his fascination with her. But with more injuries come more doubts about his future in the sport and the precarious state of Whitney's orchard also have her worried she's about to lose her orchard and home. They may be exactly what the other needs, but is depending on someone else what they want?

There was nothing usual about this series starter, with the author taking it in a direction that caught me off-guard and had me digging in, wanting to see how grumpy Cooper and cheery Whitney were going to weather the storms that they could only sidestep for so long. Between the two, it was Cooper who seemed to have evolved more, coming to terms with where he was headed in his career and what his life would look like should he be forced to let go of the sport he loved. Admittedly, there were moments, especially near the end, where I seriously wanted Whitney to open her eyes and see what was right there in front of her. For all her declarations that she wished to handle the situation with the orchard on her own, she clearly needed help and she was being stubborn for far too long. I'm not saying she was the only hard-headed one in this relationship; Cooper definitely had his moments, but he came to particular realizations far more quickly than Whitney did, plus how could anyone even resist the guy?!

I loved how this felt like an unlikely love story, especially given how different Cooper and Whitney were as individuals and how distinct their lives were, making you wonder if they would be able to find any middle ground or if one or both would have to make concessions. Seeing Cooper in Whitney's world and vice-versa had me thoroughly entertained and it was difficult to stop the smile from growing on my face whenever these two had their almost oddball exchanges. They also happened to have several interesting and noteworthy peripheral characters, two of whom have their own stories to tell in the series--Garrett Strickland, who was forced to sell his family's land and now works at the co-op and is one of Whitney's closest friends, and Braden Montgomery, game warden, fellow grump and Garrett's best friend--plus Aaron Bolden and his wife Kendra, Aaron being Cooper's best friend and teammate. Just like Crowell, Montana in the author's True series, Grand Valley, Colorado has proven to be a place you'll want to go back to again and again. First Step Forward was, indeed, a five-plus-starred step ahead. ♥

Date Read: 04 November 2017

Learn more about Liora Blake.

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