Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
When you get to the acknowledgments of Kilby Blades’s offering to the SmartyPants Romance universe, Forrest for the Trees, you find a few sentences from Blades about the saving grace of Penny Reid’s The Knitting in the City and Green Valley worlds. I think, for those of us who have also lost ourselves in Penny Reid’s infectious stories, we too have felt the ignition wrought from Reid’s stories. Yet, for Kilby Blades, it saved her storytelling. And after reading her book, I am so utterly thankful.
You see, for me, Blades is such an unassuming author in the world of romancelandia, and her stories invoke emotional responses. I still think of her Gilded Love series, a series that more people should read because Blades’s ability to develop characters and take you through twisted plotlines is impressive. This is also found in Forrest for the Trees, book 1 of the Green Valley Heroes books. Her hero, Forrest, and her heroine, Sierra, are developed so thoughtfully that you cannot help but fall in love with their journey.
This story is touted as an enemies-to-lovers story. Interestingly enough, that enemies part is one-sided: Sierra sees Forrest as one of the “good old boys” crafting policy for her beloved national park through their established and dated male hierarchy. As such, for the first third of the book, she struggles with her physical feelings of attraction towards Forrest in contrast to her disdain for his ability to politick. And I felt that. “Playing the game” is commonplace in the workforce, and for those of us who detest the artificiality of it, it’s difficult to work your way through the complexity of these types of relationships. However, when the workplace already has equity struggles (especially for a Sierra, a woman of color who is also from California (an outsider to Green Valley and its surrounding areas)), the artificiality seems elevated. Kilby Blades, a BIPOC author herself, walks us carefully through Sierra’s difficulties without allowing it to be the only theme of her story. I’ve read romances where these discussions are heavy-handed, and they don’t feel organic to the story. But not Blades’s story.
Instead, Forrest for the Trees focuses us on the challenges of nature and wildfires, interracial relationships, personal vulnerability, and even male/female connections. Forrest is the treasure of this book once you stop judging him as Sierra does. When you recognize his abiding attraction in Sierra, and Blades allows him to fully acknowledge what he respects and likes about her, Sierra owns him. Initially, you believe he is everything Sierra believes him to be except that he has an emotional maturity that allows him to patiently wait on Sierra to acknowledge her feelings for him. He respects her immensely, and he believes she is the best at her job. This makes him an attractive hero in Blades’s story.
Finally, the development of the suspense of Sierra and Forrest’s story makes the book a page-turner. That suspense isn’t resolved until almost 90% in, making you rabid for the resolution. Even more, for this California girl reader, I LOVED the allusions to my state with the nod to In-N-Out and our state’s unfortunate penchant for wildfires.
The bottom line: Kilby Blades’s Forrest for the Trees is another incredible Kilby Blades book and another fantastic story in the world of Green Valley. It reminded me, once again, how much I wish I could live in Penny Reid’s Green Valley world.
In love and romance,