As the first installment in a new “Championship Valley”series, Winner Takes All does not disappoint. Blake is disgraced, begrudingly retired football star who’s return to his hometown with one season to turn around a high-school football team’s losing record. Annabelle is a control-freak physical therapist who refuses to quit on the team, even if it means she’s constantly under Blake’s skin. The two make for an interesting pairing – they both want the best for the team, but are constantly fighting (not well) their own attraction for each other.
I am pleased with Kern’s newest release. Books from her “Trouble” series did not disappoint, so I came in with high expectations. She continues to create well-developed main characters who are relateable and realistic. Their motivations aren’t always spelled out in an elementary way, but there’s enough detail for readers to understand the various choices they make. Both Blake and Annabelle are flawed, but their story is interesting and actually entertaining to watch. Their playful banter coupled with frustrating work interactions makes for a story that’s simply fun to read. At times it’s emotionally draining, but never overly so.
I also appreciated the inclusion of peripheral characters who brought both a serious tone and humor at various points. This helped balance the romance and showed how true-to-life this story is – life isn’t sunshine and daisies, and sometimes real life is hard. These characters had a reasonable amount of “face time” in the book, but the amount was appropriate. As this is a series, there’s enough foreshadowing to see which characters will likely return in subsequent titles. I am particularly interested in how Naomi, Annabelle’s younger sister, and Blake’s cousin Brandon and friend Cameron show up in future books (hint, hint!?).
I was impressed with Kern’s method of addressing addiction in the story. Part of Blake’s fall from grace is around an injury sustained while playing professional football and his following treatment. It factors heavily into the later part of the book, and Kern treated this backstory with honesty. It was apparent that some research was done to portray Blake as realistic in how he, and those around him, approached his addiction.
The only detraction I have in this story is that I personally am not into football. Luckily, it doesn’t overpower the story. There are a few passages about practice and games, but I never felt bored while reading. Whether you’re a fan of Kern’s work or this is an introduction to her writing, Winner Takes All, is a solid read. I recommend it, and am certainly looking forward to what comes next.